Photo of the day

So many incredible images in this Reuters gallery of best of Rio.  Something about this one particularly appealed to me.

Jennifer Oeser of Germany watches as athletes compete in 10,000m final. REUTERS/David Gray

Quick hits (part II)

1) Jacob Hacker explains why we really need to add a public option to Obamacare.

2) Solid, quality journalism costs money.  If you care about journalism, you should support it with your dollars.

3) Does the first amendment protect deliberate lies?  Indeed:

Why would free speech protect them?

Under U.S. law, many falsehoods—even some deliberate lies—receive the full protection of the First Amendment. That is true even though “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact,” as Justice Lewis Powell Jr. wrote for the Supreme Court in 1974. Nonetheless, the Court has often refused to allow government to penalize speakers for mistakes, sloppy falsehoods, and lies. Political lies are strongly protected; but even private lies sometimes are as well.

Why?

Imagine if you will, the following impossible scenario: Candidate X says of Candidate Y, “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being—you know—shot. … That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”

Shouldn’t this ridiculous, petty, cruel, and destructive lie be punished?

The answer, under First Amendment law, is probably not. The strictly imaginary comment above, however crude and stupid, is nonetheless a statement about an important political issue: determining the presidential nominee of a major party. So, if there is a “hierarchy” of speech under the First Amendment, this allegation starts out at the top. Candidates for president sling all sorts of mud at each other—one candidate, for example, may claim another is planning to “rig the election”; was involved in the “murder” of a government official even though an investigation had found suicide; or was theco-creator, with a sitting president, of a terrorist conspiracy against the United States.

Such allegations—not that anyone would make them—would be contemptible; but I would be worried about a system in which the government could silence them

4) John Yoo is a war criminal who should be in jail, not teaching law students.  But even he opposes Donald Trump.

5) And here’s an intersting story about pretty much the only person in the national security establishment who has not rejected Trump, General Michael Flynn.

6) Really enjoyed this about reaction time in sprinting (with a fun, interactive game to test your own reaction time).

7) No evidence for any “Bradley effect” for Trump in the polls (i.e., social desirabilitiy results affecting poll results depending upon the mode).

8) One of my favorite pieces on Usain Bolt— the science behind his speed.

9) So, basically most of the Olympic table tennis players are Chinese, but the vast majority are playing for other countries.

10) How genetic engineering could affect the limits of human athletic performance.

11) NPR is ending comments on its website because only a tiny handful of readers ever comment.

12) NYT Editorial making the case for affordable child care as the secret to a better economy:

The losses are even more profound when multiplied over the economy.International comparisons indicate that more family-friendly policies in the United States, including quality child care, would allow roughly 5.5 million more women to work, assuming the economy was adding jobs at a reasonable pace. All else being equal, that surge could generate an astounding $500 billion a year in economic growth, or about 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.

Proper child care also lays the foundation for future productivity gains. Research shows that public investment in early education yields benefits for children far in excess of its cost, including higher academic and career achievement well into adulthood, as well as better health. McKinsey researchers estimated that closing academic achievement gaps between low-income students and others would increase the size of the economy by roughly $70 billion a year; closing racial and ethnic gaps would add $50 billion annually.

13) Matt Grossman on one of my favorite themes (and his– he’s got a book on it), the asymmetry:

My new book with David A. Hopkins, Asymmetric Politics(link is external): Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, sheds light on the longstanding advantages of each political party and their bases of mass support. We argue that the Republican Party is the vehicle of an ideological movement that prizes the general principles of limited government, American nationalism, and cultural traditionalism. The Democratic Party is instead a coalition of myriad social groups, each with specific programmatic policy concerns.

14) This interview with Sasha Issenberg on how Trump’s campaign is like a campaign from 1980 is terrific.  Hits all the key points on how campaigns have changed and evolved.   If I was teaching campaigns and elections now, it would be going straight into the syllabus.

15) Can I say how incredibly tired I am of people using posting from nobody morons on twitter to make their points?!  You can prove any thesis you want if all you need is for rubes to post about it on social media.  As if there had actually been some actual mainstream attacks on Gabby Douglas or mainstream defenses of Lochte’s deplorable behavior.

16) Frum says Trump’s choice is to lose like Dukakis or Goldwater.  I think he may be right, but I have a hard time imagining Trump taking anything but the Goldwater route.

17) On a similar note, yes, I feel bad for the incredibly difficult position Caster Semenya is in (there’s just no easy answer), but I have read at least three different posts this week saying the equivalent of this from Olga Khazan:

It’s unclear how much of an advantage testosterone gives women in running—or in anything else. [emphasis mine] Men are faster, on average, than women, but testosterone is not the only reason: Men also have more red blood cells and bigger hearts and lungs. Due in part to the lack of scientific clarity, in 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the IAAF’s testosterone regulations for two years.

#$%#$ing seriously??!!  Right, we really have no idea how testosterone affects women’s athletic performance.  If only there had been something like “steroids” or “the East German Olympic team” to look to for any kind of evidence.  A shame.

 

Quick hits (part I)

This will be an Olympics heavy week– sorry, but I love them.

1) Texas set to execute man who did not kill anyone (nor pay/direct anybody to kill someone).

2) Parenting advice that really works:

If the David Brookses of the world were honest, their parenting advice would begin: Have a healthy kid, live in an affluent area (with low crime and good schools), be from a socially privileged demographic, and make a decent amount of money. From there on, it’s pretty much coasting.

Working so far (though I wonder if my oldest might not be on a better track with better parenting).

3) How Giuliani is ruining his reputation in service to Trump.

4) NYT Editorial says to stop treating marijuana like heroin.  Hell, yeah.

5) The second in Nicholas Thompon and Malcolm Gladwell’s conversations about Olympic track is likewise fascinating.

6) In a similar vein, I was totally fascinated by David Epstein’s discussion of the 800m race.

7) Why the French Burkini ban is stupid and how it fits into very different conceptions of religion and public life in France versus the US.

8) Somebody made up a crazy fake PPP memo (about their secret poll of Trump at 74% in Florida) that a bunch of wingnuts actually believed.  Really good stuff.

9) Have their been occasional sexist comments during network coverage of the Olympics?  I’m sure.  But I’m with Drum.  And, honestly, as you know I love Vox, but sometimes they really go off into SJW territory.

10) The “Carolina Comeback” that wasn’t.

11) Julia Azari asks whether America’s political parties aren’t too resilient for their own good:

Though there’s some benefit to the stability of a longstanding system, the long, rigid reign of two parties also limits the flexibility of American politics, reducing complex national decisions to simple binary contests and yoking together seemingly unrelated ideas—gun control, tax reform and health care, for example—in ways that make it impossible for any of them to move forward

This problem also creates problems for the parties themselves, in ways big and small. On the small side, as the Democratic coalition has become more diverse and reliant on voters who are people of color, Democratic state parties have run into some criticism for celebrating Jefferson-Jackson Day—usually an annual fundraising gala that celebrates two historic, slave-owning Democrats, hosted by a party that now prides itself on embracing racial equality. For the Democratic Party, there’s a point at which celebrating the heroes of its troubled past jeopardizes its political necessities for the future.

For Republicans, the problem is more immediate and profound: The party’s history of ideological unity and organizational continuity will tie future Republicans to the Trump candidacy, regardless of efforts to distance themselves from his positions. The story of parties’ remarkable resiliency gives a sense of how they’ve survived so long, but also how their survival might prevent American politics from representing all citizens and facing modern challenges.

12) Durham, NC is listening to science and not the whiners and moving their high school start times later.  Good for them.  Would love Wake County to do the same (especially as I have 3 high-schoolers to go).

13) This NYT feature on the history and fragility of Michelangelo’s statue of David was so fascinating (if, a little longer than needed).

14) Really, really good piece from Yglesias on the relative role of economic anxiety (very little) versus racial resentment (very much) on support for Trump.

15) Also a nice piece from Yglesias on how Trump’s first campaign ad shows he is doubling down on being Trump:

Donald Trump is running his first campaign ad for the general election, and it offers all the proof you’ll need that, in a fundamental sense, no meaningful change of approach can or will ever emanate from his campaign.

Because this is an ad, it’s professionally done and well-considered in its language — it’s not an off-the-cuff remark or full of anything so crazy that it will make lifelong Republicans cringe. But there’s nothing in here about free markets or traditional family values or America’s role as the world’s indispensable nation and guarantor of liberty.

 Instead it’s a pretty simple proposition — Hillary Clinton will let foreigners kill you and Donald Trump won’t [emphasis mine]

16) And Nate Silver argues that in his shakeup of campaign staff, Trump is doubling down on a clearly losing strategy.

17) Former Baltimore narcotics cop talks about the problem of cops being bad role models for each other.

18) Good for the Chinese Olympic swimmer being willing to discuss her period.  It really is crazy how taboo we treat such an ordinary part of women’s lives.

19) I’m sorry, say what you will, but race-walking is just stupid.  Worse than the breast stroke.  And hurdles are not like a slow swimming stroke, they test your ability to run and jump.

20) Continuing the Olympic roll, I love this 538 chart on how serving affects your chances of winning a point in various sports (especially as my son David was just asking me about this the other day).  You do not want to serve in beach volleyball.

serv

21) Yeah, the Supreme Court is important, but this lifelong Republican ask how you can even consider that when you think about giving Trump control of our nuclear arsenal.

Photo of the day

I got such a huge kick out of watching Andre De Grasse pushing Usain Bolt during the last 20 meters of the 200m semifinals.  The smiles they were exchanging while running near super-human speeds were priceless.

usain-bolt.jpg

Usain Bolt and Andre de Grasse share a joke in the men’s 200m Getty

Photo of the day

Another from the Wired Olympics gallery.  Talk about a scenic venue:

Gallery Image

Sunset at the Beach Volleyball Arena on Day 1.  Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Photo of the day

Nice Wired gallery of Olympics photos.  Simone Biles, of course.

Gallery Image

Simone Biles does the splits mid-flip while crushing the balance beam during the Women’s Individual All Around Final on Day 6. Biles took gold. ALEX LIVESEY/GETTY IMAGES

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Frum on why the Supreme Court is not a good enough reason for Republicans to vote Trump:

Yet Trump’s supposed commitment to appointing conservative judges is still not reason to support him—and here’s why:

1) It’s a Trump commitment, and Trump commitments are notoriously worthless. The only thing you can be sure you get with Trump is … Trump himself. Every other offer is subject to cancellation without notice.

2) Trump’s lack of understanding and interest in constitutional issues is notorious. This is the man who imagines there are 12 articles in the Constitution, and who believes that generals must obey any order from the commander-in-chief whether it is lawful or not. He wouldn’t be able to identify the next Antonin Scalia if a reincarnation of the great conservative justice were to sing opera in front of him.

3) President Trump’s judicial selections will therefore be driven not by him personally, but by his White House staff. Yet we’ve all seen the kind of people Trump surrounds himself with: incompetent at best, thuggish at worst. Trump chose the reality-TV star Omarosa to direct his outreach to African Americans. Who’s he going to put in charge of judicial selection?

2) At least in one experiment, those with high interest in science are less susceptible to motivating reasoning.  I certainly know that at this point in my life I am more interested in reading things that challenge, rather than confirm, what I think I know.  That’s how you learn new things.  Major caveat, we are talking about the fact-based world (i.e., not going to start reading conservative blogs anytime soon).

3) Fascinating discussion between Malcolm Gladwell and Nicholas Thompson on Caster Semenya, gender, unfair advantages, and the logic of Olympic competition.  Semenya is a tough case, but I’m with Gladwell:

The physiologist Ross Tucker had a wonderful piece on this issue recently, and it’s worth—I think—quoting from it at length:

We have a separate category for women because without it, no women would even make the Olympic Games (with the exception of equestrian). Most of the women’s world records, even doped, lie outside the top 5000 times run by men. Radcliffe’s marathon WR, for instance, is beaten by between 250 and 300 men per year. Without a women’s category, elite sport would be exclusively male.

That premise hopefully agreed, we then see that the presence of the Y chromosome is thesingle greatest genetic “advantage” a person can have. That doesn’t mean that all men outperform all women, but it means that for élite-sport discussion, that Y chromosome, and specifically the SRY gene on it, which directs the formation of testes and the production of testosterone, is a key criterion on which to separate people into categories. . . .

So going back to the premise that women’s sport is the protected category, and that this protection must exist because of the insurmountable and powerful effects of testosterone, my opinion on this is that it is fair and correct to set an upper limit for that testosterone, which is what the sport had before C.A.S. [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] did away with it.

When Semenya’s testosterone was lowered to “normal” levels, she ran in the two-minute range for the eight hundred metres, which put her comfortably among the best in the world. Now that that restriction has been lifted, she is running six seconds faster. She has gone from being very good to being, potentially, the greatest half-miler in the history of women’s running. No one will beat her in Rio. She could run the last fifty yards backward and still win. How do you think the other women in that race feel about that? …

I used to be something of a doping/natural-advantage skeptic. But the deeper I get immersed in the world of athletics—and the more seriously I take track and field—the more of a purist I’ve become.Sports is the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles. If athletes can’t accept that fact, they should try another sport—like, say, football, where getting busted for doping apparently makes not a whit of difference to coaches or fans.

4) And David Epstein on the difficult of drawing lines of fairness in sports (and if you are a sports fan and haven’t read The Sports Gene, what are you waiting for?!)

5) Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Hillary’s emails:

Washington right now is in a period of enforced transparency, with Edward Snowden; WikiLeaks; Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee; and the alleged Russian operative, or operatives, Guccifer 2.0. What they have revealed is not some new hidden system of levers beneath the capital but, rather, the same old system that we’ve more or less tolerated all along. Access to governmental power depends too much on personal relationships; rich friends of politicians have too easy a time gaining an audience. “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal,” the journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, during the George H. W. Bush Administration, and for a long time that was regarded as a truth about Washington. As a matter of ethics, it still holds; as a matter of politics, it seems outdated.

6) Kristof thinks Trump is making America meaner.  I think he’s right.

7) We’ve learned less from HM’s brain than you might think.  Brains are complicated.

8) Not surprisingly, planning your meals well ahead leads to much better food choices.  I try and do this as much as I can, but it’s hard to stick with the plan when you are in the moment and confronted with pecan pie, cake, pizza, etc.

9) Interesting article about Facebook fighting back against ad-blockers.  Personally, I never use ad blockers.  Facebook (and all on-line media) is not actually free!  The cost is access to my personal data and my eyeballs on their advertisers ads.  That’s how the world works.  If there were not on-line advertising there would not be all the awesomeness on-line.

10) Reeves Weideman says women’s gymnastics needs better tv coverage.  Hell yes.

Biles is perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time, and these Olympics may be the only time most Americans will get to see her perform. Might they want to know what makes her so good? There is, for instance, the fact that she requires fewer steps and less speed to get into the meat of tumbling runs, enabling her to fit more skills, and score more points, in her routines. Or that her lift off the floor is so huge that Jonathan Horton, a 2008 Olympic medallist, told me that he was embarrassed to work out with her. Or that Martha Karolyi, the American national team’s coördinator, believes Biles could be world-class on the uneven bars, the only event in which she is not the gold-medal favorite, but that for a long time Biles was too scared of the bars to commit to the apparatus. Biles’s toe-crossing on her vault may seem minor, but it’s a tic no less notable than Michael Jordan sticking his tongue out on his jump shot, except that it actually affects competitions—she loses a tenth of a point each time.

11) Rapid advances in battery technology making renewable energy far more cost-effective in the near future?  Maybe.

12) There’s been a lot of pieces of late about “what we learned” about Trump supporters based on a Gallup analysis of 87,000 interviews.  Actually, those paying attention didn’t learn all that much.  Race!

“The results show mixed evidence that economic distress has motivated Trump support,” he writes. “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support.” Rothwell adds that his results do not present a clear picture of the connection between social and economic hardship and support for Trump. The standard economic measures of income and employment status show that, if anything, more affluent Americans tend to favor Trump, even among white non-Hispanics. Surprisingly, there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign…

But Rothwell also found a second factor that correlates highly with Trump support:

This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors constant, support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.

In other words, race is important.

13) The Republican war on public universities.

14) Seriously, we need to teach new drivers the zipper merge and have signs on roads telling drivers to do it.  Oh, and Traffic is an awesome book.

15) New research strongly suggests that humans first came to America not by land bridge, but by boat.

16) Okay, Michael Phelps is awesome and amazing.  But swimming has way too many events.  I went on a swimming rant the other day for my friends and thought I’d see if I could find one on-line.  This from 2012 makes almost exactly the same points I did:

It’s long bothered me that swimming hands out so many medals. At the 200-meter distance, Phelps’ specialty, they hand out five individual gold medals. In 2008, three of his medals came at this same distance, as he swam the 200-meter freestyle, the 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter medley.

For the same distance that Usain Bolt got one medal, Phelps got three…

Phelps has rarely been the fastest person in the pool at any distance. At only one distance in one Olympics was Phelps the fastest person. In 2008, he had the fastest 200m time of any swimmer at any stroke. Why? Because the freestyle is the fastest way to get from point A to point B. Every other Olympic games, he wasn’t the fastest person at any distance.

Do you think if Phelps was trying to evade a great white shark he’d break into the butterfly? Like Dressage in Equestrian, he mastered the form of an artistic swim stroke, and he’s taken advantage of it.

Swimmers will say I don’t understand the sport, that I don’t understand the nuances of each stroke and how difficult it is to master two of them. I understand it just fine. I realize there are different skills, different muscles, used for each event. I understand the butterfly is very different from the backstroke.

But imagine if track and field took swimming’s lead and created distinct ways to get to the finish line, confusing the measurement of simply being the fastest.

We’d have the 100-meter “skip,” where athletes have to skip down the track as fast as possible. The 400-meter “backwards run” would be a crowd favorite, as athletes put their quads – and spatial awareness – to the test, running backwards around the track. My personal choice would be the 200-meter “cartwheel,” where athletes would have to do cartwheels all the way around until they crossed the finish line.

If track and field went the direction of swimming, Carl Lewis would have 30 Olympic medals.

17) Haven’t actually read this NYT Magazine feature on the fracturing of the Arab world yet, but it’s obviously a must read.

 

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