Quick hits (part II)

Sorry– busy weekend with a super-fun soccer tournament with my daughter.  Onward…

1) Isaac Chotiner interviews Linda Greenhouse about the Supreme Court and abortion:

When you look at the history of abortion law in the United States, is there anything about this law in Georgia or the proposal in Alabama that you find interesting, or new, or different?

Well, they’re shockingly aggressive. They purport to take us back to the pre-Roe regime, where abortion was criminal until the mid-sixties in all fifty states—despite the fact that, by the time the Court decided Roe, Gallup and other polls showed that a strong majority of the public believed that abortion should be left as a matter between a woman and her doctor. And the pro-choice majority held throughout all demographics: men, women, Catholics, Republicans. Republicans were the pro-choice party at that time. So what’s happening today is pretty breathtaking, actually.

What specifically in these laws do you see as the biggest challenge to Roe?

I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme even though these laws can have the extreme effect of destroying the abortion infrastructure and cutting off access for most women. I’m referring to, for instance, the laws that Louisiana passed to require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A challenge to that law is right now pending before the Supreme Court, and it is a complete twin to the Texas law that the Court overturned in 2016, before Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court. The vote in that case was 5–3, Justice [Antonin] Scalia having died.

2) Believe it or not, the generic drug industry just might be the most evil industry out there.  Also FDA inspections of foreign drug production facilities are, sadly, a complete joke.

3) And a great Fresh Air interview on all this.

4) Making playgrounds a little more dangerous.  Sounds good to me.

5) Joan Walsh, “Yesterday Was a Dark Day for the Rule of Law: When Lindsey Graham told Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena from Senate Intelligence, he told him to commit a crime. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

6) Really interesting Op-Ed at the various legal reasonings behind attacking abortion laws and the potential for unintended consequences if the anti-abortion folks get their way:

Natural law-based arguments for fetal personhood were pursued by anti-abortion scholars and jurists for much of the 1960s and 1970s to little avail. These anti-abortion scholars avoided originalism, the prevailing conservative approach to constitutional interpretation, and instead focused on rebuking the Supreme Court for not recognizing the fundamental right to life that would have made all abortions illegal, including in the Roe case.

By the early 1980s, abortion foes generally gave up on this strategy. That’s because neither judges nor many other conservative lawyers, it seems, felt fully comfortable with recognizing rights not detailed in the text or history of the Constitution. After all, conservatives had long invoked the specter of judicial activism in criticizing their liberal colleagues, including those who issued the Roe decision.

And, as abortion opponents grudgingly recognized, natural law could open a Pandora’s box. If the Supreme Court recognized fetal personhood, the justices would probably subsequently confront claims about fetal rights in a variety of contexts, from Social Security benefits to tax law. Very early on, conservative originalist jurists like Justice Antonin Scalia called on the court to “get out of this area.” It was hard to imagine judges wanting to take on the even messier project of developing a fetal personhood jurisprudence.

And so abortion foes turned to originalism-based arguments that stressed that the law did not recognize a right to abortion at the time the 14th Amendment — whose due process clause was the basis of Roe’s privacy right — was ratified. These promised a constrained court, one that was above politics. But these aren’t the arguments that lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are making.

What’s more, Alabama’s law, rather than claiming to protect both women and fetal life, instead casts abortion as a zero-sum game, chastising “abortion opponents” as those who would “speak to women’s rights,” but “ignore the unborn child.” Many of the other “heartbeat” laws around the country similarly focus almost exclusively on fetal rights.

This approach ignores what many anti-abortion lawyers believed to be the lesson of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision preserving RoeAt the time that Casey was being decided, many expected the justices to reverse RoeIn earlier decisions, the court had upheld abortion restrictions and suggested that Roe was incoherent and potentially unworkable and that the reasoning underlying it was unpersuasive.

7) I used to spend a fair amount of time on the history of abortion in my lectures, but in recent years I have cut back somewhat to allow more time to cover contemporary controversies.  But the history is really important and most people are utterly ignorant of it.  Great Atlantic piece from 1997 on the matter:

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening” (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism (“taking the trade”). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business—including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press—was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her “Female Monthly Pills.”

In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians. The American Medical Association’s crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of “regular” physicians over midwives and homeopaths. More broadly, anti-abortion sentiment was connected to nativism, anti-Catholicism, and, as it is today, anti-feminism. Immigration, especially by Catholics and nonwhites, was increasing, while birth rates among white native-born Protestants were declining. (Unlike the typical abortion patient of today, that of the nineteenth century was a middle- or upper-class white married woman.) Would the West “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens?” the physician and anti-abortion leader Horatio R. Storer asked in 1868. “This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” (It should be mentioned that the nineteenth-century women’s movement also opposed abortion, having pinned its hopes on “voluntary motherhood”—the right of wives to control the frequency and timing of sex with their husbands.)

8) My 7th grade son recently watched/discussed a Twilight Zone for his English class.  So, we’ve started watching some.  A whole bunch of lists recommended “The Invaders.”  I did not recall it, so we watched.  The lists were wrong– it was tedious and absurdly over-acted.  But I like the approach of this list— the episodes that have aged the best.  Just watched “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” tonight, which I’ve already seen multiple times.  Now that holds up.

9) Is Game of Thrones are last great watercooler show?  I sure hope not.

10) This from Ed Yong is really good and disturbing, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers: Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?”

11) Jon Cohn on politics of a much needed tax hike to pay for decent roads in Michigan.

As a candidate last year, Whitmer tapped into frustration over those conditions, promising in every speech and media appearance to “fix the damn roads.” It was more than a specific policy pledge. It was a signal about the kind of governor she would be: a savvy, pragmatic leader who would get things done.

Now Whitmer has her chance to make good on her promise, and she has put forward a plan to increase annual road funding by more than $2 billion. But less than a year after literally mocking suggestions that such an initiative would require a big tax hike, she is calling for precisely that ― specifically, a three-stage increase in the gas levy that would raise it by 45 cents a gallon

Pretty much everything Democrats talk about doing nowadays, from simple, relatively uncontroversial increases in school funding to sweeping, polarizing plans for single-payer health insurance, would require raising new revenue. The essential argument on behalf of these ideas is the same as Whitmer’s pitch on the roads: that the benefits people would see are worth the higher taxes they would pay.

There was a time in American history when this case wasn’t so difficult to make, because voters had more faith in government and Republicans were more open to taxes. But that was long ago. The country now seems stuck in a self-destructive cycle ― one in which funding shortfalls make public goods and services inadequate, fueling yet more cynicism about government’s ability to solve problems and making it harder to get the funding that these programs need.

It’s a cycle that has plagued Democrats for decades, especially in states like Michigan that frequently hold the key in national elections. Can Whitmer break it? [emphasis mine]

12) I found this to be a really interesting take in thinking about fiction writing more broadly and how the GOT writing has really suffered since the end of the books:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written.

George R.R. Martin describes this distinction in terms of architects and gardeners. He’s firmly among the latter. He plants character seeds and carefully guides their growth, and when the show was directly adapting his A Song of Ice and Fire series, the approach paid off. It’s why every emotional beat and fair-in-hindsight surprise landed with such devastating weight: The terrible things that happened to these characters happened because of earlier choices they’d made. Those ever-blooming stories were a boon to the showrunners, who had their pick, but they’re also the reason the narrative momentum of the books slowed over time.

13) Some really interesting PS research on how much all that campaigning in swing states mobilized voters:

Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate. [emphasis mine]

14) John Pfaff with five myths about prisons.  #1 and #2 are especially widely believed:

MYTH NO. 1
U.S. prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders.

Asked recently about voting rights for felons, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of the Democratic presidential candidates, claimed that “we locked up more people for marijuana in 2017 than all the violent crimes combined.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has echoed that view, suggesting on Twitter that the prison system is defined by nonviolent people “stopped w/ a dime bag.”

But the simple truth is that, at a minimum, 55 percent of those in state prison have been convicted of a violent crime — and more than half of these people, or nearly 30 percent of the total prison population, have been found guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Slightly less than 15 percent are incarcerated for drug crimes, even though most Americans believe the figure to be about 50 percent. (Drugs play a bigger role in the federal prison system, but that holds only about 10 percent of all prisoners; most incarcerated people are in state prison.)…

MYTH NO. 2
Private prisons drive
mass incarceration.

When people try to explain how the United States ended up with nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, they often point to firms that directly profit from incarceration by running prisons or by providing services to public facilities. At a recent presidential campaign event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blamed private prisons for mass incarceration (“We need to get rid of for-profit, private prisons”). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused on private prisons in his 2016 presidential bid and is doing so again (“The private prison racket has got to end”).

There are two central flaws in this claim. First, only about 8 percent of all state and federal prisoners are held in private facilities . Most of those in private prisons are held in just five states, and there is no real evidence that prison populations have grown faster in those states than elsewhere.

Second, of the roughly $50 billion we spend on prisons, about two-thirds , or $30 billion, is spent on wages and benefits for public-sector employees. In comparison, private prison firms collectively earn a few billion in revenue and (more important for their incentives to lobby) about $300 million in profits — just 1 percent of the public-sector wage bill. So public-sector correctional officer unions have a reason to lobby against reforms that would reduce inmate populations, especially since prisons often provide some of the only well-paying jobs in the rural communities where they are located.

15) Wonkette on how all the most “pro-life” states don’t seem to care for baby’s lives so much once they are, you know, actually born.

16) Loved this Planet Money episode on Jeopardy phenomenon, James Holhauser.  Planet Money reporter Kenny Malone’s sister is married to Holhauser’s brother, so they share nieces and nephews.  Malone is definitely not the coolest uncle any more.

17) Short-term rental electric scooters briefly took over Raleigh and the NC State campus area this past year.  Seems like the business model, though, is set up for a crash.

18) I really liked Conor Friedersdorf on Harvard’s cowardly actions on Ronald Sullivan:

The vital work of criminal defense has managed to endure in spite of such attacks, thanks to a core of sober-minded citizens in each generation who know better than to pile on. They understand that to defend an accused criminal is not to defend his or her alleged crime—and that conflating the two by imposing social sanctions on attorneys would make criminal trials more like popularity contests.

Educational institutions ought to teach young adults this justice-enhancing logic. Harvard is now teaching its undergraduates how to undermine it.

Its shameful capitulation to popular passions began earlier this year when Ronald Sullivan, an African American law professor and faculty dean with a long history of freeing marginalized innocents from prison, announced that he would be working as a defense attorney for the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students,” The New York Timesreported

Either way, Harvard administrators were warned about the unavoidable conflict between upholding an important civic norm––that legal representation for even the most reviled is a service to the community, not a transgression against it—and giving in to the demands of the undergraduates most aggrieved by their faculty dean’s choice of clients. And rather than infer a responsibility of the extremely privileged to uphold civic norms for the benefit of those in society who most need them, this institution, which purports to educate future leaders, chose to prioritize transient discomfort felt by its most aggrieved students. [emphasis mine]

19) I would like to live in a world where policy did not have absurdly over-militarized drug raids and where they were held accountable if they got these raids lethally wrong.  That world does not yet exist.  Radley Balko:

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. …

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) This from Jennifer Reich was really interesting, “How modern parenting culture is driving the anti-vaccination movement.”

But the larger and more interesting group to discuss is the significant portion of American parents who say they believe in vaccines but just don’t want them for their children — or don’t want all the vaccines that experts insist are safest and most efficacious. As much as 20 to 25 percent of American parents fall into this latter group, and they arguably pose the greatest threat to herd immunity. They are also the most likely to be persuaded as long as we don’t call them ignorant and selfish.

Finally, parents who refuse vaccines are most likely to be white and college-educated, and to have a higher-than-average family income. I believe their decisions are less about how informed they are and more about the culture of what I term individualist parenting — one that insists parents are personally responsible for their own children, but not other children. Individualist parenting has encouraged mothers to trust their own judgment more than that of experts and believe they can manage their way out of disease risk, even as their choices present risk to others.

2) Greg Sargent, “Only one 2020 Democrat fully grasps the threat Trump poses.”  It’s Warren.

Warren is comprehensively treating Trump both as a severe threat to the rule of law in his own right, and as inextricably linked to a deeper pathology — the GOP’s drift into comfort with authoritarianism.

Trump’s authoritarianism and his corruption are two sides of the same coin. Trump’s tax returns, which he rebuffed a House request for — something his government participated in, with dubious legality — may conceal untold levels of corruption, from possible emoluments-clause violations to financial conflicts to compromising foreign financial entanglements.

3) I wish the WSJ would at least give me a few free articles per month so I could read this without reading the ugly database version for the NCSU library website, “In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between Haves and Have-Nots: Local newspapers are failing to make the digital transition larger players did — and are in danger of vanishing.”

4) This is from a bit ago, but just discovered it.  I have a new non-Hurricanes favorite NHL player: Braden Holtby:

Canadian goaltender Braden Holtby said he will not visit the White House with his Washington Capitals teammates, joining forwards Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly as players who have declined the invitation to honor the team’s Stanley Cup victory Monday.

“I’ve got to stay true to my values, and I’m going to respectfully decline the offer,” Holtby said Friday morning. “In saying that, it’s a tough situation for everyone to be in, to be forced to make a decision of that standing. You’re a team and you want to stick together no matter what, so I hope everyone kind of blows it away and that we don’t worry about who goes and who doesn’t.

“For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in, and in order to stick to those values, I think I have to do what I feel is right, but that doesn’t make a difference on everyone else’s decision. We stick by every single teammate we have and their decision. That’s about it.”

5) I’ve only marginally followed the NYC high school admissions test controversy.  But John McWhorter’s take seems to make a lot of sense, “Don’t Scrap the Test, Help Black Kids Ace It”

6) Jordan Weissman on Trump’s huge business losses:

Somebody seems to have slipped the New York Timesa decade’s worth of Donald Trump’s tax information, and as a result, we now know that our president claimed losses from his businesses every single year between 1985 and 1994, totaling more than $1 billion.

If it turns out that those losses were real, it would be devastating for Trump’s personal mythology. The story suggests his image as a successful business mogul was a mirage virtually from the start—that his empire was in deep trouble well before the early ’90s real estate bust or his casino bankruptcies nearly brought him to the brink of a public downfall. “He’s got to be, quite literally, the most successful con artist of all time, right?” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wondered after the story published. “Who comes close?”

The president, however, claims that his only illusion was the red ink. On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump explained that the losses were just the result of tax games, which he called a “sport.”

Whichever story is closer to the truth, the Times’ revelations should be politically damaging for Trump, and any Democrat who runs against him in 2020 ought to throw it in his face whenever they’re on a debate stage together.

To people who follow politics, the idea that Donald Trump is a self-promoting fraud who was born into a wealthy real estate family and ran various businesses into the ground before reinventing himself as a branding guru and reality TV star is basically old hat. This is part of the reason that the Times’ big scoop last October showing that Trump received some $413 millionover the years from his real estate developer father was greeted with a bit of a shrug in media circles, even though it made a mockery of Trump’s old line about how he started in business with no more than a $1 million loan from his dad.

As Matt Yglesias notes, however, many Americans do not actually know the president’s life story. Instead, they believe Trump was the self-made entrepreneur he played on TV—and that shapes their opinion about him.

7) And Alexandra Petri with some Trump math problems:

Here are some Trump math problems:

Q: If you have $1 million and then you lose $55, how many dollars do you have to live on?

A: Whatever my father, Fred Trump, has.

Q: If you are $418 million in the red, do you have more money or less money than someone who has zero dollars?

A: More, $418 million more!

Q: If you have $5 of debt and someone else has zero dollars, who has more money?

A: I definitely have more money than the loser with zero dollars.

Q: It costs $0.08 to buy a banana. You have -$0.05. Can you afford to buy a banana?

A: I don’t know, let me ask Deutsche Bank.

8) Really enjoyed this in 538, “How Mapping Shots In The NBA Changed It Forever.”  And the one chart to rule them all:

9) I had no idea the NHL kept emergency backup goalkeepers on-hand.  Definitely a unique situation in professional sports.

10) How should the courts handle the Trump administration’s pervasive lawless defiance?  With speed!  “The Court Handling Trump’s Lawsuit Must Move at Breakneck Speed: The president deserves his day in court. But the American people deserve that day to come quickly.”

11) This was actually my favorite negative take (i.e., it actually got me thinking) of anything I read on last week’s GOT episode.

12) I like this from Tayari Jones, “There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground.”  I’d change that to “there’s not always something virtuous in finding common ground,” though.  But, good stuff:

I recall this experience now, over 40 years later, as we are in a political moment where we find ourselves on opposite sides of what feels like an unbreachable gulf. I find myself annoyed by the hand-wringing about how we need to find common ground. People ask how might we “meet in the middle,” as though this represents a safe, neutral and civilized space. This American fetishization of the moral middle is a misguided and dangerous cultural impulse.

The middle is a point equidistant from two poles. That’s it. There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there. Buried in this is a false equivalency of ideas, what you might call the “good people on both sides” phenomenon. When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? Rather than chattel slavery, perhaps we could agree on a nice program of indentured servitude? Instead of subjecting Japanese-American citizens to indefinite detention during WW II, what if we had agreed to give them actual sentences and perhaps provided a receipt for them to reclaim their things when they were released? What is halfway between moral and immoral?

When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle?

The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Certainly, they reason, this current moment is somehow a complicated misunderstanding. Perhaps there is some way to look at this–a view from the middle–that would allow us to communicate and realize that our national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably, and with a bow. The headlines that lament a “divided” America suggest that the fact that we can’t all get along is more significant than the issues over which we are sparring.

13) The NYT take a look at the process of gentrification in a Raleigh, NC neighborhood.  The Upshot?  It’s complicated.

14) I quite liked David Brooks on the difference between happiness and joy:

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. It’s smart to enjoy happiness, but it’s smarter still to put yourself in situations where you might experience joy.

15) Successful people avoid the sunk cost trap.  “Sometimes You Have to Quit to Get Ahead: Winners are just people who know when to quit — and do it often.”  Heck, I may have over-learned the lesson; I’m an unapologetic quitter.

We’ve all heard the saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

But what if we’ve been looking at quitting all wrong? What if, rather than a step backward, quitting with intention can be a way to leap toward your goals?

Enter “strategic quitting,” a seemingly counterintuitive approach to helping you free up moretime, money and energy for the things that matter. (Another way to look at this: learning the power of “no.”)

Let’s say you want to write a book. That’s a monstrous, energy-consuming undertaking that, in all likelihood, will require you to “quit” your other creative pursuits or hobbies, according to Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a —-.”

“What I give up when I’m writing a book is creativity in other arenas,” Mr. Manson said. “I have a limited amount of creative juice to use each day,” so writing a book gets the majority of that creativity quota…

In other words, trying to do and cling to too many things cannibalizes our precious limited resources that might be better spent elsewhere — but we’d never know.

That’s where strategic quitting — and understanding opportunity costs — comes in. Simply put, this is the idea that in order to pursue one option, we must forgo certain others, Mr. Godin said. This means choosing between four hours of “The Office” on Netflix, or working on your masterpiece or studying a new skill.

“That’s really expensive,” Mr. Godin said, “because all these hours you could have spent reading a book, coaching the local handball team, or giving back to the community, you chose to be watching television.” At that point, the monetary cost of Netflix is far surpassed by the opportunity cost it represents, he said.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Matt Yglesias‘ essay on why it is important to pay members of Congress and their staff a lot more is really great.  You should read it!  Short version: Congress will be better and our democracy will be better:

Congressional pay has been declining in inflation-adjusted terms since the mid-1960s, even while incomes for other professional occupations have risen. Today, a House member earns $174,000 a year — a bit less than the average dentist and quite a bit less than the average doctor — which is certainly not a poverty wage but also not exactly an elite salary. Newly elected members are typically 50-something with professional backgrounds in law and business who are earning less than what they were previously making in the private sector and less than they could make by quitting and going to work on K Street.

Evidence from state legislatures indicates that better pay would attract a larger, more ideologically diverse candidate pool and potentially generate a Congress that actually does things.

But the quality-of-life problems members of Congress face do not stop at salary: They also include the high cost of housing in the Washington, DC, area, and inadequate office staff.

Most House members have unusually high costs of living since they need to maintain two households — one back home in their district and another one in Washington. Dozens of less affluent members sleep in their offices during the workweek.

Meanwhile, members are constantly getting in trouble for things like having staffers do personal errands for them or engaging in corrupt-looking insider trading.

So in addition to reversing the decline in pay for members of Congress, America should make some provision for the housing problem, and offer an adequate level of staffing across the institution so members can get help with their policy development and their dry cleaning.

Then we should hold members of Congress to a higher standard of conduct, with curbs on outside income and stock trading. We should offer staff a real HR department. There are a million things wrong with the American political system and no silver bullet for any of them. But a good place to start is that if you want a great Congress, you need great people, and that means you need to make it a job they’d actually want to do.

2) The reason I first became a fan of Cory Booker is because he was about the only one talking honestly about the fact that truly reforming mass incarceration means thinking differently violent crime.  Then, he kind of lost me with his seemingly naive, overly bipartisan presidential campaign thus far.  But, he’s sure winning me back with rigorous proposals for gun control:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) sums up his ambitious new gun control plan in one sentence: “If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun.”

On Monday, Booker unveiled his proposal to tackle America’s gun problem as part of his bid for the presidency, detailing a plan that sets a high bar for the rest of the Democratic field.

His plan includes the typical Democratic proposals: universal background checks, an assault weapons banbetter enforcement of existing gun laws, and more funding for gun violence research.

But Booker’s plan goes further by requiring that gun owners not just pass a background check but obtain a license to be able to purchase and own a firearm. It’s a far more robust gun control proposal than any other presidential candidate has proposed. The idea has solid researchbehind it, and real-world experience in nine states that currently require a license or permit for at least handguns, including Booker’s home state of New Jersey.

The plan would go toward addressing a very serious issue: America currently leads the developed world in gun violence. One big reason for that is that America has the laxest gun laws — and the most guns — of any developed country. The research has consistently found that places with easier access to guns and more firearms have more gun deaths.

3) Dahlia Lithwick virtually assembles some great legal minds to ask if we are in a “Constitutional Crisis.”  Lots of varied, thoughtful responses.  But I do love Laurence Tribe’s:

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe agrees that this probably isn’t the time to parse legal language: “Crisis schmisis—what’s in a word? We’re under an ongoing cyberattack from a hostile foreign power that helped install an imbecilic self-seeking con man as our leader, who committed numerous felonies to avoid being held accountable for his illegitimate election, who is encouraging ongoing attacks by that same foreign power and others, who violates his oath of office daily, and who seems secure from removal by virtue of a spineless Senate abetted by a cowardly House. Our constitutional norms are in meltdown as we watch in helpless stupor waiting for the monster to steal or cancel the next election. If this doesn’t qualify as a crisis, the word should be retired forthwith.”

4) Great Jamelle Bouie piece on the problems with the Senate.  For what it’s worth, I’ve been complaining about the fundamental unfairness of the Senate for as long as I’ve been teaching.

The Republican coalition of rural whites, exurban whites and anti-tax suburbanites may not be large enough to win the national popular vote in a head-to-head matchup with Democrats. But it covers a much larger part of the country’s landmass, giving it a powerful advantage in the Senate. And while this coalition — or its Democratic counterpart of liberal whites and the overwhelming majority of nonwhites — isn’t set in stone, it could be years, even decades, before we see meaningful change in the demographic contours of our partisan divides.

5) Thanks to EMG for sharing this piece on what it takes to count the cats in DC.  With fun infographics, too.

6) On a related note– a pretty interesting scientific effort to count all the squirrels in Central Park.

7) It’s long past time to stop sacrificing our kids to the “right to bear arms.”  It’s so morally twisted.  Kristof:

Politicians fearful of the National Rifle Association have allowed the gun lobby to run amok so that America now has more guns than people, but there is still true heroism out there in the face of gun violence: students who rush shooters at the risk of their own lives.

Let’s celebrate, and mourn, a student named Kendrick Castillo, 18, just days away from graduating in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who on Tuesday helped save his classmates in English literature class from a gunman.

“Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” Nui Giasolli, a student in the classroom, told the “Today” show. Kendrick was killed, and eight other students were injured.

At least three boys in the class — one of them Brendan Bialy, who hopes to become a Marine — tackled and disarmed the gunman. “They were very heroic,” Nui said. Bravo as well to the police officers who arrived within two minutes of the shooting and seized the two attackers.

The courage of those students in Colorado echoes last week’s bravery of Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Riley, 21, charged a gunman there and continued even as he was shot twice. As he tackled the gunman he was shot a third time, in the head, and killed, but he ended the shooting.

Riley was deservedly given a hero’s funeral, and presumably the same will happen with Kendrick. But their parents didn’t want martyrs; they wanted children and grandchildren. And it is appalling that we as a society have abandoned American kids so that they must die to save their classmates. [emphasis mine]

8) I think Kevin Drum is probably right on unions:

In the last 60 years, as private-sector unions disintegrated, labor’s share of national income dropped and dropped and dropped. There was a brief recovery during the dotcom boom, but that was quickly put paid. The Great Recession did even further damage, and by 2019 labor’s share had dropped by 13 percent since 1960. That amounts to about $700 billion in lost wages, or roughly $6,000 per working family.

Why did this happen? Because it could. Without unions to push back, owners of capital took a bigger share for themselves and there was no one to stop them. Nor was this any kind of accident. Throughout the entire postwar era, there is nothing—not abortion, not tax cuts, not opposition to social welfare—that Republicans have been more united and aggressive about than destroying unions. This is because the business class that supports Republicans knows perfectly well that unions are their core problem. You have to kill them off before you can get your tax cuts or your stock buybacks or your executive compensation that’s 300x the average worker.

If you want to know if someone supports the middle class, one question will do the job: do you want labor unions to regain their power? If you don’t, then like Donald Trump, you’re just faking it. Granted, it’s a scary thought for some liberals, too, since a re-empowered labor movement means that a bunch of blue-collar workers would have real power of their own and start calling a lot of the shots on the left. But what other way is there to break the power of corporations and the right?

9) And Tom Edsall asks, “Can Democrats figure out how to get unions back into the equation in 2020?”

Even as many Democrats appear to accept organized labor’s decline, Republicans recognize the crucial importance of unions and are determined to gut them further.

The conservative who may understand labor’s ongoing significance best is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

In a 2017 essay for OZY.com, “Why Republicans (and Trump) May Still Win Big in 2020 — Despite ‘Everything’,” Norquist, a longtime anti-tax, anti-labor activist, argued that continuing the right-wing’s effort to crush labor’s power will be of vital importance to the outcome of the next election…

The problem in building support for a resurgent labor movement is that many liberals and Democrats do not appear to recognize the crucial role that unions continue to play not only in diminishing the effects of inequality, but in voter mobilization and campaign finance. Unfortunately for labor, and for the future of the Democratic Party, groups that are shrinking in numbers and in financial resources lose political leverage and influence, the two commodities unions are most in need of.

What too many on the left of the political spectrum also ignore (or fail to understand) is that labor unions are inextricably intertwined with the economic condition of women and minorities — and, for that matter, of white men. In other words, Democrats make a fundamental mistake if they engage in the politics of subtraction, downgrading the priority of battered but pivotal institutions like the labor movement. They would be wise to commit to the politics of addition instead — amplifying the power of labor to lift up the most loyal Democratic constituencies.

10) OMG I loved Yglesias‘ proposal for “Medicare for Kids.”  Why aren’t Democrats doing this?

Behind the scenes, Democrats in Washington are trying to think about what they’ll do if the party wins the White House in 2021 on a Medicare-for-all platform but still hasn’t made much progress on the critical question of what taxes you’d raise to pay for it.

A natural fallback is to try to find ideas that put the country on the path to the single-payer vision without requiring nearly as much in the way of immediate tax hikes. To many, that means gravitating toward an idea that almost happened in the late stages of the original Affordable Care Act debate — opening up Medicare to a younger class of older people, either by reducing the Medicare eligibility age to 55 or at least creating a structure for the 55-and-older crowd to “buy in” to Medicare.

A much better idea, however, would be to do the reverse and create a universal health insurance program for children. It’s much cheaper, meaning it could be paid for with relatively modest and politically popular tax hikes on the rich and provide a clear, simple benefit to millions of families. New polling shows it’s an extremely popular idea. And most importantly, because kids would age out of the program rather than aging into it, they and their parents would create a natural constituency for further expansions so they can hold on to a benefit they currently enjoy and would fear losing… [emphasis mine]

The great thing from a political economy perspective is that if the beneficiaries of Medicare for Kids liked the program, they would end up having a direct personal incentive to favor its expansion.

Parents who’d loved the fact that they never had to worry about their children’s insurance would hear plans to extend the program up to age 25 or 30 as further reassuring that their kids wouldn’t end up losing out. What’s more, if the government-provided insurance turned out to be good, parents might start to want some for themselves. The basic challenges of program expansion — it costs money, people don’t like paying taxes, and special interest groups will complain — would still be there, of course, but the incentives would be aligned for success to spur program expansion.

Creating special programs for the elderly, unfortunately, has tended to have the opposite impact, and accepting a half-a-loaf strategy to extend Medicare coverage to a larger population of older people might make it harder to eventually achieve universal health care.

Medicare for Kids, by contrast, is the kind of half-measure that would actually keep the country on the path to eventually delivering a real guarantee of health insurance for everyone.

11) So meant to do a post on this.  Alas.  Anyway, love how Jennifer Victor presents Mueller on Trump’s obstruction as almost exactly how we build a social science argument:

 Volume 2 is all about the possibility that President Trump engaged in the criminal act of obstruction of justice during the investigation about his campaign.

The maneuver that Mueller uses in Volume 2 is extraordinary. It’s a social scientist‘s delight and should be used as a case example in research methods classes. Special counsel Mueller uses the logic and procedure of the scientific method to arrive at his conclusion in his investigation about the possibility of obstruction of justice. This is unusual because it is not the typical route that an attorney would use in building a case or preparing an investigatory report. In short, rather than providing evidence to support a claim of obstruction, Mueller essentially sets out to falsify a null hypothesis that obstruction did not occur.

The double-negative language that describes this procedure can be confusing. Here’s how it works. The scientific method that all scientists, natural or social, use involves a process called falsification. The method was popularized by a philosopher named Karl Popper, who in the mid 20th century wrote a book called The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Popper argues that in science it is not possible to “prove” anything; rather, scientists seek to theorize all the possible explanations for a phenomenon, and then seek evidence to disprove as many of those explanations as possible.

It’s a process of elimination. And this is exactly what Mueller does in his report. Mueller does not set out to prove that the president engaged in obstruction of justice; rather, Mueller recognizes that he is bound by the Attorney General’s interpretation of the law, which says the sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. In light of this legal interpretation, it would be futile for Mueller to build a case and demonstrate that the president should be charged with the crime of obstruction. So Mueller does something incredibly clever: He falsifies all of the alternative explanations. [emphasis mine]

12) And what Ben Wittes learned from the Mueller report:

Trump’s complicity in the Russian hacking operation and his campaign’s contacts with the Russians present a more complicated picture.

No, Mueller does not appear to have developed evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was involved in the hacking operation itself. And no, the investigation did not find a criminal conspiracy in the veritable blizzard of contacts between Trumpworld and the Russians. But this is an ugly story for Trump.

Here’s the key point: If there wasn’t collusion on the hacking, it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. Indeed, the Mueller report makes clear that Trump personally ordered an attempt to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails; and people associated with the campaign pursued this believing they were dealing with Russian hackers. Trump also personally engaged in discussions about coordinating public-relations strategy around WikiLeaks releases of hacked emails. At least one person associated with the campaign was in touch directly with the Guccifer 2.0 persona—which is to say with Russian military intelligence. And Donald Trump Jr. was directly in touch with WikiLeaks—from whom he obtained a password to a hacked database. There are reasons none of these incidents amount to crimes—good reasons, in my view, in most cases, viable judgment calls in others. But the picture it all paints of the president’s conduct is anything but exonerating.

Call it Keystone Kollusion.

13) Sarah Kliff on the three most important things she’s learned as a health care reporter.

14) John Cassidy, “Donald Trump’s business failures were very real.”

In May, 2019, this is all distant history, of course. But don’t let anyone tell you—not Trump, nor Newt Gingrich, nor any of the President’s other apologists—that the businesses Trump operated were successful, or that the huge losses they sustained were simply tax dodges. They weren’t.

15) Really interesting piece on how to fix poverty in the developing world.  I did not love the “liberals won’t like what I have to say” frame.  I liked it just fine.  Of course, societies without basic safety and security are going to suffer horribly and that this fact of life will dramatically reduce the potential beneficial impact of other charitable and philanthropic programs to improve the situation:

f you’re a progressive Democrat in the United States, you’re supposed to care about poverty, education, and women’s rights. If you’re a conservative Republican, you’re supposed to care about terrorism, crime, and controlling immigration. But in real life, all these issues are connected. To solve the problems you care about, sometimes you have to listen to the other side.

Here’s an example: To help the world’s poor people, you have to fight crime.

This is the work of the International Justice Mission, a human rights organization. Its founder, Gary Haugen, outlined the global challenge at an April session of the Faith Angle Forum, a conference on religion and society. In 1994, Haugen led the United Nations investigation into the Rwandan genocide. Three years later, he launched IJM. Through his work and his book The Locust Effect, Haugen makes a compelling case: Today, the principal cause of misery and stagnation in the world isn’t a lack of food or education. It’s violence and lawlessness.

In the United States, crime has sunk to historic lows. But across much of the globe, it’s rampant. The crisis isn’t just war. It’s what Haugen calls “everyday violence”: sex crimes, slavery, and theft. Based on World Health Organization data, Haugen says sexual violence and domestic violence cause more death and disability among women aged 14 to 44 than war, malaria, and car accidents combined. In Peru, he recalls, a doctor reported seeing 50 cases of rape in the preceding five days. All the victims were less than 15 years old.

These crimes are rarely prosecuted. In some countries, statistically, you’re less likely to be convicted of sexual assault than to die from slipping in the shower or being struck by lightning. In such places, ordinary people don’t expect police or the courts to protect them. Often, the police are predators. Kenya, for instance, went through a 25-year period in which, despite chronic police abuse, not one officer was convicted of murder…

The violence is bad enough. But it’s also thwarting development assistance. International organizations throw money at poor countries, often without much to show for it, in part because predators get in the way. One key to development, for example, is educating girls. But in much of the world, what keeps girls out of school is violence. It’s dangerous to walk to school, it’s dangerous to be in school, and many girls face violence at home that keeps them from leaving.

Haugen argues that lawlessness, like joblessness or illiteracy, is a form of deprivation. It’s part of a class structure. Poor people face high crime rates for the same reason they get the worst food and the worst health care. In colonized countries, Western powers designed courts and police to protect their own interests, not the public. In many places, even today, if you want protection, you have to buy it. In the developing world, according to Haugen, the private security industry is four to seven times bigger than public police forces. It’s the largest employer in Africa. [emphasis mine]

Totally makes sense to this liberal.  Let’s do something about it.

16) Tom Nichols on the overly-woke students trying to run elite universities.  Fortunately, I’ve seen only the slightest hints of this at NC State.  This does seem to exist disproportionately among the most over-privileged college students:

When did college students get it into their head that they should be running the university? The distressing trend of students somehow thinking that they’re the teachers began in earnest in the 1960s, a time when at least some of the grievances of campus protesters—from racism and sexism to the possibility of being sent to die in Southeast Asia—made sense.

A more noxious version of this trend, however, is now in full swing, with students demanding a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like. This is a dangerous development—a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education.

It is no surprise to find Camille Paglia, a professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts who has been outraging people across the social and political spectrum for three decades, embroiled in one of these controversies. Paglia proposed to give a talk titled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art.” According to a letter released by two student activists, “a gender non-binary creative writing major” had “brought this lecture to the student body’s attention through social media and raised their concerns to Title IX and other University administration about the school giving Camille a platform.” This led to a group of students demanding that Paglia (who self-identifies as transgender) be removed from the faculty “and replaced by a queer person of color.”..

To some extent, unbridled and performative student activism is a disease of affluence. Young people who are working their way through school or who are immersed in difficult subjects have less time, and often less economic flexibility, to engage in protest.

Indeed, students at Brown University noticed the time-consuming nature of changing the world, and in 2016 demanded less schoolwork so that they could devote more effort to their “social-justice responsibilities.” As one anonymous undergraduate told the Brown school newspaper, “There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on.” A senior with the wonderfully appropriate name of Justice Gaines told the paper, “I don’t feel okay with seeing students go through hardships without helping and organizing to make things better.”

17) New research complicates the push for the $15 minimum wage.  You know me– let’s follow the research and not just be ideological about this.  $15 works politically, but it does seem there’s a good case for regional variation, etc.

18) This was a really enjoyable read in Vox, “The mess that is elite college admissions, explained by a former dean: Eight things I wish people understood about my old job.”  In no surprise to anybody genuinely familiar with higher education, “5) Rankings are arbitrary, misleading, and poisonous”

19) This Op-Ed is right, “We Are Taking Religious Freedom Too Far: We have a right to practice our beliefs, but we don’t have the right to discriminate against others, or endanger their lives.”

20) In the sad, pathetic, and entirely unsurprising files, “Nearly half of white Republicans say it bothers them to hear people speaking foreign languages.”  Definitely had me thinking about Prius or Pickup.

21) Has Norway figured out youth sports?  Maybe:

Imagine a society in which 93 percent of children grow up playing organized sports. Where costs are low, the economic barriers to entry few, travel teams aren’t formed until the teenage years — and where adults don’t start sorting the weak from the strong until children have grown into their bodies and interests. Then, the most promising talents become the most competitive athletes in the world, on a per-capita basis.

I am talking about Norway…

“I like being outside and active with my friends,” Julia Stusvik-Eide, an 11-year-old from Oslo, told me at her neighborhood club as she balanced on cross-country skis with the aid of two classmates, arm-in-arm.

Julia’s comment is hardly a revelation. These are the priorities of most children, anywhere in the world. What’s distinctive about Norway’s sport model is how deliberately it tries to align with those needs.

The country’s Children’s Rights in Sport is a document unlike any other in the world, a declaration that underpins its whole sports ecosystem. Introduced in 1987 and updated in 2007 by the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, the eight-page statement describes the type of experience that every child in the country must be provided, from safe training environments to activities that facilitate friendships.

The statement places a high value on the voices of youth. Children “must be granted opportunities to participate in planning and execution of their own sport activities,” according to the document. They may “decide for themselves how much they would like to train,” and can even opt out of games if they just want to practice.

Want to transfer clubs in midseason? Go ahead, no penalty. Suit up with a rival club next week, if you wish.

“We believe the motivation of children in sport is much more important than that of the parent or coach,” said Inge Andersen, former secretary general of the Norwegian confederation. “We’re a small country and can’t afford to lose them because sport is not fun.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

Oh my, I have been a complete loser blogger this week.  Cannot believe I’ve gone quick hits to quick hits with nothing in between.  And late, too.  Forgive me.  I promise a better week next week.

1) I order a lot from Amazon and thus have a non-trivial amount of Amazon returns.  I was actually somewhat surprised recently when I got my refund as soon as UPS scanned the return package.  I presume Amazon has some algorithm that says I’m a good customer that does not abuse the return process.

2) I also wondered what would happen to the electric razor that I was unhappy with (for my oldest son– I’m all about the Mach 3 Turbo).  Enjoyed this story about trying to make money on bulk Amazon returns.  I imagine, alas, that used electric razors end up in the trash.

3) Stephen Moore is such an absurd hack that it is offensive to hacks to call him a hack.  It’s a very good thing he will not serve on the Federal Reserve.  And to the utter shame (as is so much) of today’s Republicans that they ignored his horrible qualifications and nutty economic ideas, but only gave up on him for his absurd sexist remarks.  Great take from Yglesias:

Stephen Moore is a charlatan who plays a policy expert on TV

If you consume a lot of conservative media, you could easily be under the impression that Moore is one of the top economic policy thinkers in the country.

He has written extensively over the years for the Weekly Standard and National Review, long the two leading intellectual magazines of the conservative movement. He’s a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He’s a contributor to CBN News and a former Fox News guy who jumped to CNN in 2017. But, again, even though Trump probably best knows him from television, he’s not just a television pundit. He published in the American Enterprise Institute’s in-house journal and was the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute for many years.

In short, the institutional conservative movement appears to regard him as a serious heavyweight thinker on economic policy…

Moore’s nomination deserved to sink because he’s a crank. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, he complained of imminent hyperinflation at the height of the Great Recession while now arguing that the economy faces deflation when there’s no evidence of this in economic data. He “advocates — at least when politically convenient — crank economic ideas, including returning to the gold standard.” Paul Krugman reminds us that in 2007-’08 when the country was tumbling into recession, he called for interest rate hikes that would have greatly exacerbated the problem.

4) The economics of creating new antibiotics are really not good in today’s big Pharma world.  The good news, is that there are some innovative policy ideas to encourage the creation of new antibiotics.  And we really need them.

5) A good friend of mine recently had to have his daughter treated with anti-venom for a copperhead snakebite.  Sounded like an all-around nightmare. Especially wondering if his insurance (same as mine!) was going to cover the $14,000 anti-venom.  Christopher Ingraham on why it costs so damn much (only in America, of course), “The crazy reason it costs $14,000 to treat a snakebite with $14 medicine”

Shockingly, the cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.

6) I finally watched John Oliver’s take on how prosecutors are the fundamental problem in our criminal justice system.  He’s right.  And, of course, it’s a really good segment.

7) I just came across this Conversation piece from a few years ago by an NC State professors on the genetics of Eastern Coyotes and how coywolfs are not a thing.  I had no idea that there was always a mix of dog in there:

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

8) Chait, “Trump Claims He Can Ignore Subpoenas Because Congress Is Mean”

This same argument runs nearly all of Trump’s refusals to abide congressional subpoenas. “These aren’t, like, impartial people,” the president declared of Congress. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

The first thing to understand about this legal theory is that it is not a legal theory. Congress is a coequal branch of government which has a legal right to conduct investigations, including of the Executive branch and its officials. There is a legal gray zone around “executive privilege,” which describes the right of officials in the Executive branch to have some confidentiality around their internal discussions.

But Trump is not articulating a theory of executive privilege here. Nor would such a privilege cover a president’s right to maintain a business empire that accepts payments that may or may not be bribes disguised as legitimate reimbursements in complete secrecy from Congress and the public.

Essentially Trump’s argument is that congressional oversight is simply “politics” and, therefore, somehow null and void. Trump’s Deutsche Bank lawsuit has a passage that could have been lifted from an op-ed written by a sophomore member of the College Republicans. It quotes Nancy Pelosi promising “checks and balances to the Trump administration,” then asserts she was “not referring to legislation.” It proceeds to quote a series of journalists describing Congress’s investigations as being unpleasant for Trump:

9) Can’t say I find this Jesse Singal headline all that surprising,”Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising.”

10) Here’s my tweet on the latest Game of Thrones episode:

That said, I loved this tactical analysis of the battle from Angry Staff Officer.

11) Given how much the abortion debate tends to focus on the much more complicated issue of later abortions, this chart from Drum is very useful:

12) I’ve often wondered why getting pictures framed is so damn expensive.  I really would like to framed art in my house, but, the framing always seems like such a rip-off.  Vox is on the case:

Higher pricing is the consequence of frame stores keeping options on hand

According to a 2018 IBISWorld report, there are 9,000 local frame shops in the United States, and if you’ve ever been to one, you know it to be a pretty intimidating experience. You go in knowing you only need one black frame, but are then bombarded with a host of options: There’s matting (a piece of paper or cardboard that goes inside the frame and mounts the print or photo), molding (decorative embellishments on the outside of the frame), glass (referred to as glazing, which can be made of glass or acrylic, and, depending on what you choose, can offer UV protection), and the frames themselves.

According to Mark Klostermeyer, a member of the Professional Picture Frames Association, it’s the sheer amount of mattings, moldings, glazings, and frames a shop provides that drives up prices. The fewer options a business offers, the more able they are to order in bulk, therefore cutting down costs.

Klostermeyer has owned Design Frames, a local custom frame shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for 50 years. “I’m a second generation framer,” he tells me. Klostermeyer offers 2,000 different frames at his shop, along with hundreds of mats and specialty fabric matting options. He also gets custom moldings from eight different vendors.

13) This account of a (non-tenure-track) Duke professor being fired because he may have offended some small percentage of students with just horrible due process is really depressing.

14) Really liked reading about the idea of “decoupling” in Jesse Singal’s article about erisology, the study of how to argue effectively:

The concept of decoupling is erisology at its best. Expanding on the writing of the mathematician and blogger Sarah Constantin, who was herself drawing on the work of the psychologist Keith Stanovich, Nerst describes decoupling as simply the idea of removing extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own, rather than the fog of associations, ideologies, and potentials swirling around it.

When I first heard of decoupling, I immediately thought about the nervous way in which liberals discuss intelligence research. There is overwhelming evidence that intelligence, as social scientists define and measure it, has a strong hereditary component; according to some estimates, genetic factors account for about half the variation in intelligence among individuals. None of that has anything to do with race, because races do not map neatly onto genetic difference. But because the link between intelligence and genetics is so steeped in oppression and ugly history—that is, because charlatans have so eagerly cited nonsense “research” purporting to demonstrate Europeans’ natural superiority—discussions even of well-founded studies about intelligence often end in acrimony over their potential misuse.

Once you know a term like decoupling, you can identify instances in which a disagreement isn’t really about X anymore, but about Y and Z. When some readers first raised doubts about a now-discredited Rolling Stone story describing a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, they noted inconsistencies in the narrative. Others insisted that such commentary fit into destructive tropes about women fabricating rape claims, and therefore should be rejected on its face. The two sides weren’t really talking; one was debating whether the story was a hoax, while the other was responding to the broader issue of whether rape allegations are taken seriously. Likewise, when scientists bring forth solid evidence that sexual orientation is innate, or close to it, conservatives have lashed out against findings that would “normalize” homosexuality. But the dispute over which sexual acts, if any, society should discourage is totally separate from the question of whether sexual orientation is, in fact, inborn. Because of a failure to decouple, people respond indignantly to factual claims when they’re actually upset about how those claims might be interpreted.

15) I really enjoyed telling my wife about the Vegetable Lamb this week:

It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.

According to 19th-century naturalist Henry Lee, who penned an exhaustive 60-page treatise on the history of the vegetable lamb, in Europe this legend “met with almost universal credence from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Its source, it seems, was the Middle Ages’ most famous traveler, Sir John Mandeville, whose fantastical accounts of his roamings abroad in the 1300s led to no small number of misconceptions back in England.

Mandeville writes in Middle English, so I’ll go ahead and just paraphrase for you: In Tartary (what is now Russia and Mongolia), there grows a plant that produces gourds, and from these issue forth tiny lambs, which men eat. Mandeville, who likely made up a good chunk of his travelsand pulled from reference material instead, wrote that in his experience, they are quite delicious. So based on vegetable lambs not actually existing, we can confirm that Mandeville was somewhat of a liar. (Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, refers to him hilariously as “the problematic Sir John Mandeville.”)

16) Aaron Rupar on the generally sad media coverage of Trump’s latest lie-fest rallies: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses
Lying is still being recast as ‘reviv[ing] an inaccurate refrain.'”

17) You’ve likely noticed that I like Wired and that it has a paywall.  I’m a subscriber to the print magazine (I love that my 13-year old devours it when it shows up every month), so I happily get the digital as part of that.  I enjoyed reading their lessons from a year behind the paywall:

But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattledindustry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.

First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent over the year before. We don’t know if they’ll resubscribe (please do); we don’t know if they’ll ultimately pay higher prices (please do); we don’t know if it’ll be as easy to get the next batch of people to join (please do). But the early signs are good, particularly for a year in which the bottom fell out from some traffic referrers that used to drive subscribers (hello, Facebook) and the greatest growth was on a platform (hello, Apple News) where getting direct subscribers in 2018 was as easy as hitting a bank shot 3-pointer, and getting subscribers in 2019 will now essentially require a half-court heave.

The second lesson: The stories that led people to subscribe were a little surprising. When we started this, we invested in three new kinds of pieces: longform reportingIdeas essays, and issue guides. All three types overindex in generating subscriptions.

18) Ken Tucker reviewed a new Lizzo album at the end of a Fresh Air episode this week.  I had never heard of her before.  Not my usual type of music, but damn is she good.  I’ve really been enjoying on Spotify this week.  In fact, I’m listening as I work on this post.

19) Black incarceration rates are down.  That’s good.  And we still need to do better.  The charts:

20) So many great takes this week on the amazing awfullness that is William Barr.  Kept meaning to write a post.  I still will,  But this is good.  “Mueller Spent Years Collecting Evidence. Barr Is Pretending It’s Not There.: The special counsel meticulously collected backup for his claims. Barr’s testimony Wednesday dismisses it.”

21) I really hate the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to overlook all sorts of evidence to pretend that Trump’s administration is acting in good faith when it is so transparently not.  Ugh.  Drum on the census case:

In oral hearings yesterday, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives made it pretty clear that they intend to allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers a pointed and largely correct explanation of why this is so bad:

Everyone knows that in the census case Ross “papered” a rationale to justify a decision made for other reasons. But the Court can overturn the decision without finding that he lied — simply by holding that it was arbitrary and capricious to sacrifice the accuracy of the count to obtain citizenship data that could be obtained (at least as accurately, and perhaps more accurately) through administrative records without adding a question to the census. That seems a pretty reasonable holding given that the Constitution itself focuses on an accurate count of the whole population.

But if the Court goes the other way, it is truly an “emperor has no clothes” opinion. The Court will uphold the reasonableness of Ross’s “determination” even though everyone knows those were not his real reasons — in other words, basing its ruling on what everyone knows to be a fictional story, concocted to pass judicial muster. If the Court is willing to tolerate that, what won’t it tolerate?

And then there are the plainly partisan consequences of the ruling. Combine it with the almost-certain rejection of constitutional challenges to gerrymandering, and other election-related decisions and everything points in the same direction — entrenchment of Republican power to resist the forces of demographic change.

Ross lied initially about the citizenship question, saying it had been requested by the Justice Department even though it hadn’t been. Then he badgered DOJ into requesting it. Then he finally asked his own census experts to weigh in, and they said pretty clearly that they could get better data and a more accurate count without the citizenship question. However, they couldn’t be absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of that, and that was enough for Ross to hang his hat on. If there was even a 1 percent chance of the citizenship question producing better data, then by God, the census would have a citizenship question…

Republicans know that they’re in a demographic death spiral, so they’ve been doing their best to nickel-and-dime additional votes over the past decade. They’ve tried voter ID laws, gerrymandering, targeting of black voters, and now the census. In every case, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has taken their side. It’s hard to think of a series of cases that could more clearly demonstrate that Republicans on the Supreme Court are naked partisans when it comes to voting issues, but they don’t seem to care. This is why Mitch McConnell broke the Senate in order to get another Republican on the court, and it looks likely to pay off yet again. [emphasis mine]

 

 

How to learn

Love this from James Lang which pretty succinctly sums up the best approach to learning new information that you actually want to retain (here, for the purposes of good college grades, but, this is universally applicable stuff):

Practice Testing.  Memory researchers have learned in recent decades that our brains have enormous storage capacity.  The challenge for our memories is not so much cramming stuff in there; it’s being able to retrieve information or ideas from our memories when we need them (i.e., when you’re sitting down in front of a test).  It turns out that the more times you practice retrieving something from your memory, the better you get at it.  Highlighting and re-reading do not require you to use your memory at all; practice testing does.  So if you want your memory to go to work for you in the exam, give it lots of practice when you study. Close your book and test yourself.  You can use flashcards; you can take practice quizzes online; or you can even just practice writing and re-writing the key ideas or information that you want to remember.

Spaced Study.  You probably know this one already, so I won’t belabor it.  But the evidence for it is irrefutable.  You will have a much greater long-term grasp of your learning if you space out your study over multiple sessions instead of cramming it all into one.  In one very simple experiment that demonstrated this, students who studied foreign language vocabulary for ten minutes three days in a row outperformed their peers who studied the same vocabulary words in a single thirty-minute session.  Your parents and all of your previous teachers were right: spacing out your study sessions over time beats cramming—by a lot.

 Making Connections.  When we learn something deeply, we relate it to other aspects of our lives and our existing knowledge. We have thick networks of connections between what we know already—or what we experience outside of school—and what we are learning.  As you are studying, try to make connections between what you are learning and other things you have learned or experienced.  Ask yourself connection-making questions: Have I ever encountered this before?  Have I learned anything similar in another course?  In what real-world contexts would this concept or skill operate?  Why is it significant?  This strategy will work best if you write these ideas down; fill out your notebook or your texts with new connections, rather than with highlighting or underlining

All three of these strategies require more work than highlighting or re-reading.  Learning isn’t always easy.  In fact, some learning researchers suggest that struggle in learning is beneficial.  When we grasp things easily and quickly, we also forget them easily and quickly. [emphasis mine]

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It…comes pretty surprisingly close to meaning that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s “unbelievable” about imperfect extemporaneous speech?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This NYT story addresses the dynamics at work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My strengths

I was talking with a student the other day who was raving about the Clifton Strengths Assessment she had done.  Unsurprisingly, this piqued the skeptic in me and I did a little research whether there’s any scientific validity behind this.  Short version: not much.  Did not find all that many good takes, but this from Harvard Business Review seemed pretty good:

1) There’s no scientific evidence that it works. Despite popular belief, the strengths-based approach to management is not grounded in science. I have seen no scientific studies (independent research published in peer-reviewed academic journals) to support the idea that developmental interventions are more successful if they ignore people’s deficits or provide no negative feedback.

Of course, absence of evidence does not necessarily imply evidence of absence. But the main postulates of the strengths-based approach are incongruent with well-established academic findings. For instance, meta-analytic evidence shows that negative feedbackand lower self-estimates of ability do improve performance. Furthermore, high-performing leaders tend to get better by developing new strengths, not just enhancing old ones.

Moreover, although the pioneers of the strengths movement argued that traditional development and training programs — which are not focused on strengths — were doomed, scientific meta-analyses show that they are in fact rather effective. The average psychological interventionfeedback session, or executive coachingsession improves desirable work outcomes, such as job performance, by half a standard deviation. That means that 70% of individuals in a control group — who did not receive any feedback or coaching — would perform below the average of the intervention group. How would this compare to a strengths-based intervention, specifically? We simply don’t know. To date, I have yet to see any independent peer-reviewed studies providing evidence on this. (If you know of any, please add them to the comments section below.)

Of course, me being me, I had to do a strengths assessment.  No way was I going to pay money to Gallup for the Clifton Strengths, but this free Via Strengths seemed as valid as any other.

And the results were shocking!!  Kidding.  The results were totally unsurprising.  It’s almost that after 47 years, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are.  And because inquiring minds want to know…

  1. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing & caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
  2. Judgment: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
  3. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
  4. Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
  5. Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.

Yep.  Eye-rolling names aside, that is pretty much me.  So, kudos, I guess, to the assessment.  On the other hand, pretty sure I could have told you I really value human connection, humor, weighing evidence, etc.  And I suspect most people who know me could have come up with something similar.  And, arguably, I’d be better off knowing my weaknesses and working on them (for the record, humility and perseverance are at the bottom of my list– again, not surprising).

 

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