Quick hits

Sorry to be so late.  Had a great time visiting DC on a “learning lab” with NC State’s Park Scholars.  Learned a lot and had so much fun.

Anyway…

1) I loved Stephen Pinker’s “Linguist’s guide to quid pro quo” (I think my son, David, really appreciate this one– read it!)

It’s true that the transcript of the reconstructed conversation does not reveal a smoking sentence with an “if” and a “then.” But to most readers, Mr. Trump’s claim that he was merely musing about his druthers does not pass the giggle test. That is because people in a social relationship rarely hammer out a deal in so many words but veil their offers in politeness and innuendo, counting on their hearers to listen between the lines.

People can certainly issue naked offers and threats. But the clarity of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” or “Your money or your life” comes with costs. The exchange may be taboo, as in prostitution, bribery or extortion, and even when it is legitimate, overt deal-making can be disagreeable. Each side must hold the other to the terms of a hard bargain, sacrificing flexibility and making the relationship feel cold and transactional.

For these reasons people often cloak their exchanges in the trappings of a communal relationship, in which friends, relatives or comrades share goods unstintingly, with no one keeping track. Deals that are struck under the charade of a fictive friendship may have more forgiving terms, and the parties may throw in sweeteners to secure the other’s loyalty and cement the relationship.

Thus, businesspeople may treat their customers as faux friends. Conversely, casual companions (who often do have to exchange favors) take pains to avoid any impression that they are dickering for goodies or bossing each other around. They soften each other up with sympathetic banter and pleasantries. And they couch any request as an idle observation, such as “I was wondering if you could pass the salt,” knowing that the hearer will mentally fill in the premise that turns the non sequitur into a sequitur.

Often the genteel hint consists of a prerequisite to the favor. It makes no sense to ask someone to pass the salt if you already have the salt, if you don’t like salt or if the hearer is incapable of passing the salt. So by airing a thought like “There isn’t any salt down here,” “I could use some salt” or “Can you pass the salt?” a polite diner can plant the desired next step into the head of his tablemate and get what he wants without seeming to treat her like a flunky.

2) Good stuff from Seth Masket in LA Times, “Opinion: The trouble with Democrats who are still reliving 2016”

I’ve been interviewing political activists in the early primary and caucus states as part of my research project on how party insiders decide on the best direction for their party in the current political environment and settle on a nominee for the next presidential election. In some ways, those activists and party leaders are doing what they usually do — weighing the strengths of the candidates on the issues and trying to figure out who has the best shot of getting elected.

But what’s unusual is how these people who, in many cases, have been volunteering and working in politics for decades, still talk about being traumatized by the 2016 presidential election and how it changed their understanding of politics. That disorientation is playing a central role in whom they’ll choose for 2020.

One Iowa activist, who has been working on presidential campaigns since the 1980s, said fears of tearing the party apart continue to haunt her and her colleagues. “One of the most negative things out of 2015 and ’16 was the animosity between many of Hillary supporters and many Bernie supporters. People don’t want to pick too early because they don’t want to get sucked into the internecine conflict.”

The other trauma was Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump despite her consistent polling lead and her strong performances in the debates. The outcome undermined many activists’ longstanding beliefs about just what sorts of candidates are electable.

3) Of course the Ukraine scandal has it’s roots in Russia.  Jeffrey Toobin is on it.

But the Russia and Ukraine scandals are, in fact, one story. Indeed, the President’s false denials in both of them capture the common themes: soliciting help from foreign interests for partisan gain, followed by obstruction of efforts to uncover what happened. Both, too, share roots in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Mueller’s two indictments of Russian interests—the first involving the use of social media and the second the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails—are perhaps the most detailed chronicle ever published of foreign interference in a U.S. political campaign. Trump’s team was appreciative. When a public-relations adviser to a Russian oligarch’s family e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering dirt on Hillary Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the candidate’s son gave a straightforward reply: “If it’s what you say I love it.”…

Mueller famously closed his investigation without rendering a judgment on whether the President committed crimes. “We did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct,” he wrote. The time, though, for ultimate conclusions is approaching. One way of looking at Trump’s evolution from candidate to President, from Mueller’s time to Schiff’s, is that his abuses are accelerating, with each unpunished act serving as a license for more. The Constitution gives Congress the tools to halt this cycle in Trump’s out-of-control Presidency. The question now is whether the people’s representatives will use them.

4) This is good from Robinson Meyer, “Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like.”

5) Vox on the backlash against meatless meat

But if the emergence of meatless meat a few years ago was hailed unanimously as a good thing, the response to its mainstreaming has been tinged with skepticism. The adoption of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products by fast-food chains hasn’t exactly been welcomed in some quarters, even among those you would think would be more supportive of this development.

Call it the backlash against the fast rise of meatless meat.

For instance, the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle both criticized Beyond and Impossible products, calling themtoo highly processed. Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long called on Americans to eat less meat, criticized “the new higher-tech vegan meats” for not addressing “resource use and hyperprocessing” (though he has hailed them in the past). His website, Heated, has also given plant-based meats some favorable coverage, but recently wrote nostalgically that “not so long ago … Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.” Meanwhile, numerous articles have questioned the health impacts of the products.

There’s certainly some truth to the critiques. The Beyond and Impossible burgers aren’t exactlyhealth food (something I’ve written about previously), though they’re not more unhealthy than the meat products they’re displacing. The Impossible Whopper might help save the planet, but it’s still high calorie, greasy, and probably not a good idea to eat everyday.

But the critiques go further than just observing that fast food isn’t health food. Often, critics end up voicing disdain for the whole process of producing food at scale in the way it has to be produced to feed hundreds of millions of people. In that way, as the Breakthrough Institute’s Alex Trembath has argued,the plant-based meat backlash reflects how much classism and elitism creep into our national conversations about our food system — and how they might stand in the way of fixing it.

6) I love Sandra Boyton so much.  I can still recite all of Hippos Go Beserk by heart.  I had no idea it was her first book. Loved this short profile of her in the Atlantic.

7a) NPR asks, “Did Secretary Pompeo Forget His West Point Pledge?”  Ummm, I think you know the answer to that.

7b) Dan Drezner, “Why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should resign: He’s been an unmitigated disaster at everything except catering to President Trump.”

8) Sad, but true, “Don’t be mad at the NBA. Hundreds of U.S. companies have sold out to China’s regime.”

9) Great stuff from Annie Lowery on the political and social failure that billionaires represent:

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Dramatic inequality in wealth means dramatic inequality in terms of political power means a political system unresponsive to what most people want. Wealth inequality, in other words, is an anti-democratic force. [emphases mine] A remarkable study by Lee Drutman found that just 31,385 people—one ten-thousandth of the population—accounted for more than a quarter of all political donations in the 2012 campaign cycle, with politicians getting more money from fewer people than in any other year analyzed. No wonder low-income households’ policy preferences have little effect on political outcomes in the United States, whereas high-income households’ policy preferences do, as research by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern forcefully shows. One of those political outcomes? Inequality itself: Unequal societies tend not to correct their own inequality, because of the political influence of the rich.

The country’s inequality is also stifling mobility and damaging the country’s human capital. As the country has become more unequal, it has also become more sclerotic and class-dominated. Despite all the money the government spends on public education, private education, health, and welfare, rich kids are likely to stay rich and poor kids are likely to stay poor. Measures of absolute mobility have fallen: Children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of doing better than their parents did, whereas children born in the 1980s had just a 50 percent chance of the same. The steps of the income ladder are too far apart for kids to climb them, in other words…

Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.

10) This was interesting from law professor Ilya Somin, “Immigration Law Defies the American Constitution: Immigration restrictions have been held to a far lower constitutional standard compared with almost any other exercise of government power.”

11) As always, there’s a lot of Atlantic stories.  The difference is that if you want to read them, now, you have to pay for it.  It’s worth it.  Then again, I just looked and they more than doubled the price I paid last year– wow!  Still, I shall re-up.

12) Nice NYT magazine feature, “The W.N.B.A. Is Putting On Some of the Best Pro Basketball in America” and nobody cares.

13) Kevin Kruse with a useful history of presidents and candidate supplying their tax returns.

14) How repeated exposure to falsehoods leads us to believe them:

Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the Nazi German government of the Third Reich, understood the power of repeating falsehoods. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” he asserted, “people will eventually come to believe it.” This phenomenon, pervasive in contemporary politics, advertising, and social media, is known in cognitive psychology as the “illusory truth effect.”

Though multiple studies have found that repeated statements seem more truthful than novel ones, the illusion was thought to be limited to uncertain statements, or those in which people had no other information available, such as prior knowledge.

A recent study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review indicates that, contrary to accepted knowledge, belief in all statements, be they plausible or implausible, increases with repetition…

The implications for daily life, where consumers of news and products are often repeatedly exposed to both plausible and implausible falsehoods, is that even patent lies may slowly become more credible, provided enough repetition. Considering this vulnerability, it becomes critically important to not repeat falsehoods, even while we attempt to debunk them—lest we legitimize lies by reiteration itself.

15) Historian Jordan Taylor on the Founders efforts to protect us from foreign interference.

16) William Barr is awful.  Supposedly, he wasn’t always this way.

17) Watched the new Netflix Breaking Bad movie with my aforementioned firstborn today.  It was really, really good.  If you were a fan of the show, definitely worth your time.  And if you’ve never watched the show, what are you waiting for?!

 

 

 

 

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie makes the case for Democratic court-packing in response to the Republicans:

President Trump bragged on Twitter recently about his success filling up the federal judiciary. “I want to congratulate” Senate majority leader “Mitch McConnell and all Republicans,” Trump wrote: “Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench. Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!”

This is just a slight exaggeration. After 32 months in office, Trump has made 209 nominations to the federal judiciary, with 152 judges confirmed by the Senate, including two Supreme Court justices. That’s nearly half the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

His picks fit a mold. They’re overwhelmingly white (87 percent, compared with 64 percent of Obama’s), overwhelmingly male (78 percent, compared with 58 percent of Obama’s), staunchly conservative and fairly young — the average age of judges confirmed under Trump is 50. His youngest confirmed nominee, Allison Rushing of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, is 36…

So what should Democrats do? They should play hardball back. Congress, according to the Judiciary Act of 1789, decides the number of judges. It’s been 150 years since it changed the size of the Supreme Court. I think it’s time to revisit the issue. Should Democrats win that trifecta, they should expand and yes, pack, the Supreme Court. Add two additional seats to account for the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh nominations. Likewise, expand and pack the entire federal judiciary to neutralize Trump and McConnell’s attempt to cement Republican ideological preferences into the constitutional order.

The reasoning underpinning this proposal isn’t just about the future; it’s about the past. We have had two rounds of minority government in under two decades — two occasions where executive power went to the popular-vote loser. Rather than moderate their aims and ambitions, both presidents have empowered ideologues and aggressively spread their influence. We are due for a course correction.

2) My daughter loves Raina Telgemaier books.  I did not realize what a phenomenon she is.

3) Really enjoyed Edward Snowden’s interview on Fresh Air.  I thought this part was particularly noteworthy:

On deciding to share classified material with journalists and setting conditions for the publication of the material

I tried to reconstruct the system of checks and balances by using myself to provide documents to the journalists, but never to publish them myself. People don’t realize this, but I never made public a single document. I trusted that role to the journalists to decide whatthe public did and did not need to know. Before the journalists published these stories, they had to go to the government, and this was a condition that I required them to do, and tell the government, warn them they’re about to run this story about this program and the government could argue against publication and say, “You’ve got it wrong,” or “You’ve got it right.” But if you publish this is going to hurt somebody. In every case I’m aware of, that process was followed, and that’s why in 2019 we’ve never seen any evidence at all presented by the government that someone’s been harmed as a result of these stories.

4) George Conway and Neal Katyal, “Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.”

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

5) Dahlia Lithwick argues that Lewandoski hearings this week– conducted by an able attorney instead of grandstanding politicians– show the potential of impeachment hearings.

6) Love this fro Paul Waldman, “Trump finally realizes being president is hard”

You might think this idea — that we could quickly end the war in Afghanistan by killing everyone in the country — would never even occur to a sane person. But Trump keeps bringing it up. Back in July, he said, “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.” The point is always how easy it could be, compared with what he has to do now.

I think what underlies these repeated statements is a genuine frustration on his part with how complicated being president has turned out to be. This was something Trump was plainly unprepared for. A few months in, he told Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Yes, Trump actually believed that being president of the United States, the most important job on the planet, would be easier than running a midsize brand-licensing firm.

This was probably because he figured that being president was mostly giving speeches and throwing out a few ceremonial first pitches (though he is the first president since William Howard Taft not to do the latter, most likely because he’s afraid of being booed). How hard could it be? He saw presidents on TV and thought they were all idiots; obviously he could run circles around them.

Then he got to the White House and learned that everything was more complicated than he thought, especially legislating. You’ll remember him lamenting, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” when in fact everyone except for him was quite aware. Which is why the only major piece of legislation he passed was a tax cut, and it isn’t exactly hard to get a Republican Congress to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

7) This is a helluva story:

Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities.

8) This NYT Magazine feature, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty” was soooo good.  And, honestly, pretty much anything I’ve ever read by William Langewiesche is so good.

The paradox is that the failures of the 737 Max were really the product of an incredible success: a decades-long transformation of the whole business of flying, in which airplanes became so automated and accidents so rare that a cheap air-travel boom was able to take root around the world. Along the way, though, this system never managed to fully account for the unexpected: for the moment when technology fails and humans — a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills — are required to intervene. In the drama of the 737 Max, it was the decisions made by four of those pilots, more than the failure of a single obscure component, that led to 346 deaths and the worldwide grounding of the entire fleet.

If you were to choose a location in the developing world in which to witness the challenges facing airline safety — the ossification of regulations and in many places their creeping irrelevance to operations; the corruption of government inspectors; the corruption of political leaders and the press; the pressure on mechanics, dispatchers and flight crews to keep unsafe airplanes in the air; the discouragement, fatigue and low wages of many airline employees; the willingness of bankers and insurers to underwrite bare-bones operations at whatever risk to the public; the cynicism of investors who insist on treating air travel as just another business opportunity; and finally the eagerness of the manufacturers to sell their airplanes to any airline without restraint — you would be hard pressed to find a more significant place than Indonesia.

9) I thought I had a pretty good handle on 19th century U.S. History.  But not this and this is still so important.  Historian Heather Cox Richardson, “When Adding New States Helped the Republicans
Putting new stars on the U.S. flag has always been political. But D.C. statehood is a modest partisan ploy compared with the mass admission of underpopulated western territories—which boosts the GOP even 130 years later.”

In the face of an emerging Democratic majority, Republicans set out to cement their power. [emphases mine] The parties had scuffled for years over admission of new states, with Democrats now demanding New Mexico and Montana, and Republicans hoping for Washington and Dakota (which had not yet been divided in two). Before the election, Congress had discussed bringing in all four states together, but as soon as the Republican victory was clear, Democrats realized they had to get the best deal they could or Republicans would simply admit the Republican states and ignore the Democratic ones, as they had done in 1876. So on February 22, 1889, outgoing President Cleveland signed an act dividing the Dakota Territory in half, and permitting the two new territories, along with Montana and Washington, to write constitutions before admission to the union the following year. They passed over New Mexico, which had twice the population of any of the proposed states.

Republicans did not hide their intentions. In the popular Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, President Harrison’s son crowed that the Republicans would win all the new states and gain eight more senators, while the states’ new electors meant that Cleveland’s New York would no longer dominate the Electoral College. When the Republicans’ popularity continued to fall nationally, in 1890 Congress added Wyoming and Idaho—whose populations in 1880 were fewer than 21,000 and 33,000 respectively—organizing them so quickly that they bypassed normal procedures and permitted volunteers instead of elected delegates to write Idaho’s constitution.

Democrats objected that Wyoming and Idaho would have four senators and two representatives even though there were fewer people in both together than in some of Massachusetts’s congressional districts, but Harrison’s men insisted that they were statesmen rather than partisans. They accused Democrats of refusing to admit any states that did not support their party—a reversal of the actual record—and claimed Republicans supported “the prosperous and growing communities of the great West.” But moderate Republicans sided with the Democrats, pointing out that the Harrison administration had badly undercut the political power of voters from populous regions, attacking America’s fundamental principle of equal representation.

Harrison’s men didn’t care. “The difference between the parties is as the difference between the light and darkness, day and night,” one supporter argued in Frank Leslie’s. The Republican Party, he insisted, must stay in power to protect Big Business. If that meant shutting more populous territories out of statehood and admitting a few underpopulated western states to enable a minority to exercise political control over the majority of Americans, so be it. Today, the District of Columbia has more residents than at least two other states; Puerto Rico has more than 20. With numbers like that, admitting either or both to the union is less a political power play on the Democrats’ part than the late-19th-century partisan move that still warps American politics.

10) You know I am a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.  But, especially because I like her and have great respect for her intellect and policy chops, stuff like being fundamentally dishonest about Michael Brown really bugs me.  It shouldn’t be impossible to say that Ferguson police were horrible and completely abused their police and that Michael Brown was not murdered.  Yet.  Fred Kaplan:

Several of the current Democratic candidates have accused the officer who shot Brown of murder. Brown’s death was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a murder. When Democrats claim it was, and when they refuse to correct that mistake, they cast doubt on their commitment to truth. And they undermine the cause of criminal justice reform. [emphasis mine]

Brown became an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement for understandable reasons. He was unarmed, and the man who shot him, former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, is white. Racial bias in law enforcement was and is a pervasive problem. Ferguson’s police force has a history of discrimination. That history, the well-earned distrust it fostered in the black community, and the indignity of Brown’s body lying in the street for hours after the shooting ignited outrage. Ferguson became a flashpoint for protests and riots, and police responded with military gear and excessive force. The whole episode was a disaster. It awakened many white Americans to the mistreatment that black Americans had long felt at the hands of police.

But at the core of the story, there was a problem: The original account of Brown’s death, that he had been shot in the back or while raising his hands in surrender, was false. The shooting was thoroughly investigated, first by a grand jury and then by the Obama Justice Department. The investigations found that Brown assaulted Wilson, tried to grab his gun, and was shot dead while advancing toward Wilson again.

Despite these findings, three Democratic presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and billionaire Tom Steyer—said last month that Brown was murdered. These candidates haven’t backed down in the face of press queries and fact checks. Warren even dismissed a face-to-face question about the DOJ report that cleared Wilson…

Warren’s answer compounded her initial falsehood by adding a second myth. As awful as it was that Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours—an affront that even Ferguson’s police chief acknowledged and regretted—it isn’t true that Brown was left to die. (According to the DOJ report on Brown’s death, Wilson’s final shot killed him “where he stood.”) But what’s most concerning is Warren’s failure to admit error, particularly when the error is an accusation of murder. Does she respect facts that don’t fit her narrative? If she becomes the Democratic nominee, will voters see her as a truth teller in the face of Donald Trump’s lies, or as an ideologue? If she becomes president, will she listen to information that complicates her plans? Or will she plow ahead?

Candidates should talk about police bias. They should honor the memory of those whose lives have been taken. There’s no need to rely on a false narrative to tell the truth that black lives matter

11) Drum on the inanity of a “confess your climate sins” website:

Congratulations, NBC. This is probably the most efficient possible way to ensure that nothing gets done about climate change. In one stroke it:

  • Perpetuates the myth that voluntary individual action makes much of a difference.
  • Makes people feel guilty about ordinary, everyday activities.
  • And then turns the whole thing into a game where we absolve ourselves with a public confession.

Climate change isn’t a game, and trying to make people feel bad about living their lives isn’t going to increase support for the kinds of things that really make a difference. It just gives people a reason to put climate change out of their minds in order to avoid having to feel guilty about it. Knock it off.

12) This essay was really, really good, “Women Poop. Sometimes At Work. Get Over It.”

We may be living in an age where certain pockets of the corporate world are breathlessly adapting to women’s needs — company-subsidized tampons, salary workshops, lactation rooms. But even in the world’s most progressive workplace, it’s not a stretch to think that you might have an empowered female executive leading a meeting at one moment and then sneaking off to another floor to relieve herself, the next.

Poop shame is real — and it disproportionately affects women, who suffer from higher rates of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In other words, the patriarchy has seeped into women’s intestinal tracts. Let’s call it the pootriarchy.

Girls aren’t born with poo shame — it’s something they’re taught.

In “Psychology in the Bathroom,” the psychologist Nicholas Haslam writes that girls tend to be toilet trained earlier than boys, learning at a young age to neatly keep their bodily functions contained (our words, not his).

When those girls get a bit older, they learn to pass gas silently — while boys do it loudly, and think it’s hilarious. (Yes, there is a kind of Kinsey scale to gas-passing and it goes like this: According to a study called “Fecal Matters” that was published in a journal called “Social Problems,” adult heterosexual men are far more likely to engage in scatological humor than heterosexual women and are more likely to report intentionally passing gas. Gay men are less likely to intentionally pass gas than heterosexual women, and lesbian women are somewhere in between.)

“If a boy farts, everyone laughs, including the boy,” said Sarah Albee, the author of “Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up.” “If a girl farts, she is mortified.”…

“The bathroom is saturated with gender in fascinating ways,” said Mr. Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, who noted that women’s aversion, particularly at work, is not entirely unfounded: One unpublished study he mentions in his book found that a woman who excused herself to go to the bathroom was evaluated more negatively than one who excused herself to tend to “paperwork” — while there was no difference in the way participants viewed the men.

“At one level it’s an association of women with purity,” said Mr. Haslam, referring to the double standard. “At another it’s a double standard applied to hygiene and civility, where the weight falls disproportionately on women to be clean, odorless and groomed.”

13) As a long-time Netflix subscriber who shuns Hulu and a Seinfeld lover, I’m actually quite excited about Seinfeld coming on over next year.  But I have to agree with this Wired column that it does not actually seem like a cost-effective strategy to attract subscribers.

14) So, this was really interesting… how a shift towards electric cars helped contribute to the strike against GM:

UAW membership has ticked upward in recent years, recovering from its post-financial-crisis nadir. Now it faces a new threat from the next great shift for the auto industry. The electric car may be great for the planet and glorious for drivers, but it’s no good for jobs…

It has balanced that withdrawal with plans to introduce 20 new, all-electric models by 2023, its first big step in an $8 billion bid to (someday) stop building gas- and diesel-powered rides altogether.

That change comes with a worrisome footnote for auto workers around the world. Last year, a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that by 2030, a moderate shift to electric propulsion could leave 75,000 Germans out of work—even accounting for the creation of 25,000 new jobs. That’s because batteries and motors are far simpler machines than internal combustion engines, and require a few hundred parts instead of a few thousand. That’s the same reason maintenance costs for EVs are so low—a problem for dealerships that rely on servicing cars for profits. Fewer parts mean fewer people. [emphasis mine]

15) Really enjoyed this video on Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury and the use of idiolect by actors in biographical roles.

16) Really enjoyed this backstory on one of the most iconic song/video’s of the 80’s, “Take on me.”

17) Another great NYT magazine feature, “an the N.F.L. Turn a 360-Pound Rugby Player Into a Football Star? Jordan Mailata had never played football before the Eagles drafted him last year. Now he has to prove himself in one of the sport’s most technically demanding positions”

18) I hate those new point-of-sale touchscreen terminals that ask you for a tip when you use a credit card.  Y’all already know how I feel about tipping as a general rule and the last thing we need is to be pushing it for transactions that don’t even involve employees relying on tips for wages (which, in a better world, would be none).  Among other things, when confronted with these I am more likely to pay in cash.  Good NYT article on how the systems are confounding customers on what to do worldwide.

19) I’ve seen some of those horrible ads that are clearly intended to get you to pay more for health care but dupe you into thinking that the people running the ads are the good guys.  I meant to do some research and write a post.  Good thing I waited because Drum is on the case:

One of the most outrageous aspects of American health care is surprise out-of-network billing. Most people, if they go to a hospital that’s “in-network,” quite reasonably assume that this means “the hospital’s doctors are in-network.” But that’s not the case. Sometimes hospitals contract with doctors who aren’t part of your insurance network, and these doctors can charge whatever they feel like. Your insurer won’t cover this—that’s what out-of-network means—which means that when you get home you’re likely to be greeted by a $40,000 anesthesiology bill.

This is obviously bad, and both Democrats and President Trump favor legislation to end it. However, there’s one group that thinks out-of-network billing is just fine: the private equity firms that own the medical groups that specialize in out-of-network care.

But this presents a problem: how do you make it sound bad to prohibit surprise out-of-network billing? Hmmm.

Here’s the answer: Attack the ban as “rate setting” by “big insurance companies.” Then add some scary stuff about not being able to see your doctor anymore and “profiting from patients’ pain” and you’re all set. Who wants to involved with anything like that?

But the best part of this particular attack ad comes at the very end: “Put Patients Before Profits.” How Trumpian! The whole point of out-of-network billing is to allow doctors to make lots of money at the expense of their patients. But who cares? You just say the opposite and then get huffy if anyone suggests you’re being a wee bit untruthful.

Out-of-network billing is hardly limited to medical groups owned by private equity firms. Still, they’re the only ones with the organized greed that’s required to mount an advertising campaign telling us that up is down and black is white. I wonder if it will work?

Just evil.

20) Perhaps you heard about the “Obama Netflix?” tweet.   I watched “American Factory” this week.  So good.  Trust me and watch it.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting video on the “Rat apocalypse” in New Zealand and the promise and peril of using Crispr plus gene drive to combat the problem.  Perhaps I’m too much of techno-optimist, but I say go for it.

2) Not all that long ago I think I had somewhat overly brought into the promise of STEM education as the best path to a future job.  I’m still a big fan of STEM, but definitely somewhat more skeptical now.  Caitlyn Zaloom, “STEM Is Overrated: College is not just job prep, and the job market changes constantly.”

At any rate, the rise of temporary work means that college graduates can expect to face spikes and dips in income as they lose or finish one job and worry about when the next will come and from where. On top of this volatility, they also have to contend with the rapid transition to automation in white-collar work. Although media discussions tend to pit robots directly against humans in the quest for jobs, today human abilities are more often complemented by automated tasks. Still, together the temporary nature of work and automation undermine arguments for educations that prepare students for specific skills and jobs. If students accept the argument that their college years should be dedicated to job preparation, graduates cannot be certain that the lucrative jobs they envision will still be available, let alone secure…

Dewey’s argument is sharply relevant today. Rather than impressing on college students that they should commit to particular jobs and the direction of corporate executives, colleges and universities ought to enhance students’ ability to experiment and prepare them for an open future, even one in which automation may play a significant role. When universities can broaden “their reach to become engines of lifelong learning,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun has argued, they will also “robot proof” education.

Today’s students need universities and colleges that will help them navigate a world where constant changes are the norm and where learning how to adapt is the central problem of living and of citizenship. The idea that the college years should be primarily about potential is not idealistic or naive; it is prescient.

3) You know what’s always struck me as dumb?  Painting all “processed foods” with an extremely broad brush.  The Kashi Go Lean I have for breakfast is chock full of whole grains, protein, and fiber.  Sorry, but that’s good– processed or not.  It’s not exactly oreos.  And, sure my vanilla greek yogurt has added sugar, but it sure beats tortilla chips.  Anyway, really liked this in Wired,”Let’s All Just Chill About Processed Foods”

But it’s time to get real about processed foods. For one, processed doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and indeed it’s only because of certain processed foods that people around the world get the nutrition they need. Two, processed foods keep better, cutting down on food waste. And three, if we expect to feed a growing population on a planet with finite arable land, we have to engineer new sources of food, protein in particular.

The core of the confusion around processed foods is definitional. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, processing is—and get ready for this—“one or more of a range of operations, including washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, heating, freezing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, frying, drying, concentrating, pressurizing, irradiating, microwaving, and packaging.”

So … virtually everything you put in your mouth is processed. “Highly refined foods like yogurt, olive oil, and bread have many, many processing steps, and they don’t look anything like the original product they started with,” says Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University…

What people likely mean when they invoke processing has more to do with ingredients. Any bread will involve grinding, mixing, fermenting, and heating. But white bread goes through an extra step to bleach the flour, which removes some natural nutrients, which are later added back in to make it fortified. And something like a Twinkie takes processing to a whole new level, with added corn syrup and, for good measure, high fructose corn syrup thrown in as well.

It’s the added ingredients that have given processed foods a bad name, because while not all processed foods are junk foods, all junk foods are processed. Supercharging taste with saturated fat, sugar, or salt can be easy, but they’re unhealthy hacks when taken too far. [emphasis mine]

4) It’s been a while since I’ve seen “American Beauty” and I recognize that certain elements don’t hold up all that well 20 years later, but I still think it’s a damn entertaining movie, as opposed to the “worst best picture winner of the modern era.”

5) In the totally unsurprising headline, but it still important to mention category, “Trump’s trade war has killed 300,000 jobs.”  So much winning!

6) Okay, apparently I’m five years late to this, but I’m blown away by how good Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is.  I thought no way would I listen to a whole 3+ hour podcast on just the prelude to WWI, but damn is Carlin good.  I’m not on episode two devoted entirely to August 1914.

7) Hurricane forecasts are pretty amazing now.  I really enjoyed this “tale of two hurricane forecasts” comparing Dorian to Cleo in 1964.

8) Speaking of hurricanes, a little old, but Philip Bump placing Trump and Hurricane Dorian directly into the 1984 Orwellian context was the best thing I read the matter.  Also, if you haven’t, you really, really need to read 1984.  

9) Nicholas Kristof on Seattle’s experiment with Raj Chetty’s insights on social mobility to improve outcomes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future: A low-cost experiment in Seattle is breaking the cycle of poverty.”

One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving.

In Rath’s new “high-opportunity neighborhood” in Renton, a suburb, a low-income 2-year-old like Amina will on average earn $260,000 more over a lifetime than growing up in her old neighborhood, Chetty calculates. Such a girl will also be 8 percent less likely to have a baby as a teenager.

The Seattle program is an outgrowth of a national initiative called Moving to Opportunity, which in the 1990s provided vouchers for low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Early evaluations suggested it had failed: Adults who received the vouchers didn’t earn more money.

Then in 2015, a follow-up study shook the policy world. While the moves hadn’t helped the adults, those who moved as toddlers were more likely to go to college, to marry, to earn more money and to pay more taxes — enough to pay for the program with interest.

Subsequent research has backed this finding: Neighborhood matters enormously, for young children. That’s the reason for the focus on Amina: Older siblings will also benefit, but the impact is greatest on those who move young and grow up entirely in a high-opportunity neighborhood.

Chetty has developed an online “Opportunity Atlas” that shows how some neighborhoods around the country, without being more expensive, consistently help children get ahead. It’s still unclear what the secret sauce is, although it apparently has something to do with decent schools, less poverty, lots of dads present in families and positive social norms.

10) I’m confident that JDW (and hopefully others) will enjoy this New Yorker article and video in appreciation of the forehand in tennis.

11) NPR’s Greg Rosalsky with “the case for summer vacation.”  Count me in!

12) This Heather Havrilesky provocatively asks “is marriage obsolete?” but the answer is definitely no.  As with summer vacation, also a big fan of marriage:

It’s hard enough just to live peacefully with someone by your side making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done, interrupting, undercutting, begging to differ. Once you throw in Tinder, internet porn, and our scrolling, tl;dr attention spans, marriage seems not just antiquated but utterly absurd. So why do I love this torturous state of affairs so much? The daily companionship, the shared household costs, and the tax breaks are not enough. Maybe I’m the sort of weak bird who would rather wait for her very flawed mate to come home than go out preening and showboating just to wind up with another flawed mate in the end.

And yet there’s something distinctly reassuring about breaking down, falling into disrepair, losing your charms, misplacing your keys, when you have an equally inept and irritating human tolerating it all, in spite of a million and one very good reasons to put on his walking boots and take his love to town. If marriage is irrational, in other words, as with child-rearing and ambition and art, that’s also part of its appeal. Even when my husband and I go through a rough time, bickering more than usual over how many tantrums a 12-year-old should throw per day or how long a particularly fussy loaf of bread should be left to rise, after we’ve spent a few weeks staring at our phones at night instead of enjoying each other’s company, I can always trust that we’ll enter an equal and opposite period of humble satisfaction and connection. The other day, in the wake of such a market correction, we began our morning walk with the dogs (who are too neurotic to be walked by one person alone), and my husband announced, “The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning was, You don’t have what it takes. You never did and you never will.” This made us both laugh loudly for a solid block.

Marriage can’t simply be about living your best lives in sync. Because some of the peak moments of a marriage are when you share in your anxieties, your fears, your longing, and even your horrors. That commitment, the one that can withstand and even revel in the darkest corridors of a life, grows and evolves and eventually transcends a contract or a ceremony the way an ocean overflows and subsumes a thimble of water…

But by unearthing our most discouraged moments together without turning away, by screeching at the moon side by side, admitting “This is all our fault,” we don’t just reaffirm our love, we reaffirm our shared and separate ability to face the unknown from this point forward. That’s why sickness and death are key to marriage vows. Because there is nothing more divine than being able to say, out loud, “Today, I am really, truly at my worst,” knowing that it won’t make your spouse run for the hills. My husband has seen my worst before. We both know that our worst is likely to get worse from here. Somehow that feels like grace.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I must say, my Wired subscription has been a great investment.  My 13-year old loves reading the hardcopy every month (reminds me of my love for Discover when I was his age) and I get unlimited online access to all their great articles.  Really enjoyed this on the technical and logistical challenges facing the power grid by dramatically ramping up renewable energy:

The fundamental challenge with integrating solar and wind energy into the US electric grid is that the areas that are best for generating these types of clean energy are usually very remote. The Great Plains is the place to harvest wind energy, and the Mojave Desert gets sun 360 days a year, but these locations are hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away from America’s biggest cities, where clean energy is needed most. Piping this energy from wind and solar farms means building more interstate high-voltage transmission lines, which are expensive, ugly, and loud. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want transmission lines near their homes, so new builds often face stiff political resistance from locals.

The design and management of the US electric grid itself doesn’t help. The national grid comprises three main regions—the Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections—and each of these regional grids operates independently of the others. Within the three interconnections, there are a number of regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, which are nonprofit entities that manage the transmission and generation of electricity by utilities in their region. The Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency within the DOE, are responsible for identifying when and where new transmission is needed, but it’s up to the states to pick the patch of dirt where the transmission lines are built, while the utilities within the states decide who will pay for them.

Even in the complex world of energy policy, placing new transmission lines is a gordian knot. “The transmission issue is a hybrid of a federal issue and a state issue, which makes it challenging from the standpoint of policy, because you have different jurisdictions for different things,” says David Hurlbut, a policy and economic researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Furthermore, he says, transmission lines spanning several states raise complex questions about cost allocation, which requires determining who benefits most from the new infrastructure.

2) This was a pretty good fact check on US men’s versus women’s soccer team and what they earn.  The women certainly should be earning more, but there’s a lot of bad arguments out there.  My favorite take is Mike Pesca’s, starting at about 25:40 here.

3) This is great from Brendan Nyhan, “Trump Lost the Citizenship Debate, but He’s Still Corroding Our Politics”

An even more worrying example concerns the president’s relationship with the Department of Justice. Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly called for investigations into his political opponents and simultaneously demanded that investigations into his own administration be curtailed. These statements call for actions that would violate long-standing norms and policies at the DOJ that have helped to preserve its independence under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Luckily, Trump’s pleas have been largely ignored by his appointees at the DOJ, which allowed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation and issue a public report. Again, bureaucratic and legal resistance has protected the stability of the political system; Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric has not yet politicized the rule of law in the way that liberals feared.

However, Trump’s statements have again expanded the scope of what is possible. Since taking office, Attorney General Bill Barr has not defended the independence of the DOJ and federal law enforcement. Instead, he has launched his own inquiry into the Russia investigation and the public servants who were investigating the Trump–Russia connections, a frequent target of Trump’s ire. In this way, it may chill future inquiries into potential administration wrongdoing, preventing future Mueller reports from seeing the light of day.

This recurring cycle of challenge, resistance, and accommodation is more complex than our political discourse can accommodate — it’s neither the end of democracy in America nor is it politics as usual. Trump’s challenges to our norms will continue to meet stiff resistance, but even his defeats can sow the seeds for future democratic erosion. [emphasis mine]

4) You know I can’t get enough moon landing.  Love this NYT interactive photo feature of the first walk on the moon.

5) Great stuff from David Brooks:

In Trump’s version, “American” is defined by three propositions. First, to be American is to be xenophobic. The basic narrative he tells is that the good people of the heartland are under assault from aliens, elitists and outsiders. Second, to be American is to be nostalgic. America’s values were better during some golden past. Third, a true American is white. White Protestants created this country; everybody else is here on their sufferance.

When you look at Trump’s American idea you realize that it contradicts the traditional American idea in every particular. In fact, Trump’s national story is much closer to the Russian national story than it is toward our own. It’s an alien ideology he’s trying to plant on our soil.

Trump’s vision is radically anti-American.

The real American idea is not xenophobic, nostalgic or racist; it is pluralistic, future-oriented and universal. America is exceptional precisely because it is the only nation on earth that defines itself by its future, not its past. America is exceptional because from the first its citizens saw themselves in a project that would have implications for all humankind. America is exceptional because it was launched with a dream to take the diverse many and make them one — e pluribus unum.

6) David Graham, “Trump Goes All In on Racism: The president’s tweets are an invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning political strategy.”

Yet Trump’s racist Twitter attacks on Democratic congresswomen over the weekend still managed to shock, even in this benumbed age, because of his willingness and eagerness to place racism at the center of his political platform in a run for reelection to the presidency. It is not simply the employment of racist ideas for political advantage—that has been a staple of campaigns in both parties for some time. It is the invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning strategy, that astonishes.

7) I’m with Jeet Heer, though.  It’s not a winning strategy.  Given our present economy, his approval would surely be over 50% if he was not a braggadocios bigot.  Sure, the deplorable base really loves it, but there truly are a good number of right-leaning Americans who are turned off.

Many analysts believe that Trump’s strategic racism is a shrewd play. Amy Walter, national editor of Cook Political Report, tweeted, “This fight w/ the squad is exactly where Trump wants 2020 fought. The more media/Dems engage him, the better for him. All this fight does is re-polarize the partisans and leaves the up-for-grabs voters (who want to hear about bread-butter issues) tuned out.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper retweeted Walter and added in a quote from Steve Bannon, “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

This diagnosis misreads the role racism plays in Trump’s politics. While it’s true that racism has been crucial for allowing Trump to take over the Republican party and remains key to his strength among GOP partisans, there’s little evidence that racism is actually a winning gambit in national elections. A close look at recent elections shows that if Democrats stay united, they can crush Trumpian racism…

Ramping up xenophobia might not help Republicans win elections, but it does serve Trump’s purpose by keeping the GOP in line. Even Republicans who say they don’t like Trump’s overt expressions of prejudice tend to rally behind the president when he’s being attacked by outsiders.

8) I’ll be honest, Nate Cohn yesterday was scary, “Trump’s Electoral College Edge Could Grow in 2020, Rewarding Polarizing Campaign: Re-election looks plausible even with a bigger loss in the national popular vote.”

9) Though Tom Jensen makes a pretty good case for the Southern route to a Democratic win.

10) Ahhh, Chait: “Republicans Baffled Why Trump Keeps Saying Racist Things”

Republicans usually avoid acknowledging Trump’s long history of discriminatory actions (it’s the past!) or private racist comments (hearsay!) But because Trump is not clever enough to gauge the point at which his racist insinuations cross the line into the kind of overt racism that will discomfit his party, he sometimes does it in public, too. Famous examples include his insistence that a Mexican-American judge is inherently biased, the Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” and his recent attribution of foreignness to nonwhite Democrats in Congress.

Representative Mike Turner has gone further than almost any other Republican by using the word “racist” to describe the president’s comments. But even here, he holds out the phantasmal prospect of repentance. Trump’s “tweets from this weekend,” he scolds, “were racist and he should apologize.”

But Trump is not going to apologize. So what happens then? The answer is that they will continue to support him, perhaps disapprove of his next public racist outburst, and the one after that, repeating the ritual as many times as necessary, until he has finally passed from the public stage. Their ability to identify patterns in his rhetoric and actions, and to cast judgment on his character, ended when he won the election. Trump used to be a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. Now he is president of the United States.

11) Took George Conway a while to see what was in front of his eyes, but he does now:

And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.

No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.

But Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president. Trump could have used vile slurs, including the vilest of them all, and the intent and effect would have been no less clear. Telling four non-white members of Congress — American citizens all, three natural-born — to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from”? That’s racist to the core. It doesn’t matter what these representatives are for or against — and there’s plenty to criticize them for — it’s beyond the bounds of human decency. For anyone, not least a president.

12) And Elaina Plott makes a good point, “Trump Supporters Don’t Make Chants About Men”

13) Nice to see most mainstream media organizations properly on the “racism” train now (if they have any doubt, they should read Conway).  Good piece from Margaret Sullivan:

Now the question is the word “racist.”

Were Trump’s tweets portraying Democratic legislators of color as foreigners merely “racially tinged”? Were they just sprinkled with racially tinted pixie dust?

And should descriptions of what Trump stands for be put only in the mouths of his critics — a step removed from the journalists themselves?

Or should stronger language and sharper focus be used?

It depends on only one thing: whether journalists want to be clear about saying what’s right there in front of everyone’s eyes and ears…

Former New York Times reporter and columnist Clyde Haberman, in a Sunday tweet, put it simply and well, describing his own transition:

“Despite decades of evidence that Trump is a racist, I’ve resisted calling him one because it’s polarizing language that’s rarely helpful. But his go-back-where-you-came-from harangue tears it for me. He’s a bigot, and if GOPers don’t call him out, they’re complicit.”

That goes for the news media, too.

Journalists don’t need to see themselves as political advocates when they say obvious things in plain terms. And doing so doesn’t make them Democratic operatives as their pro-Trump critics are sure to charge.

It just means they are doing the most fundamental job they have: telling the truth as plainly and directly as possible.

14) I don’t watch a lot of tennis any more, but really enjoyed Federer-Djokovich the other day.  And I really enjoyed Josh Levin on how Federer has re-tooled his game.

15) I’ve long seen far too many Evangelical Christians as driven by a constricted, sex-obsessed, un-empathetic view of Christian morality.  But damn has their embrace of Trump down more than anything to put the lie to their “Christian” faith.  Pete Wehner:

There’s a very high cost to our politics for celebrating the Trump style, but what is most personally painful to me as a person of the Christian faith is the cost to the Christian witness. Nonchalantly jettisoning the ethic of Jesus in favor of a political leader who embraces the ethic of Thrasymachus and Nietzsche—might makes right, the strong should rule over the weak, justice has no intrinsic worth, moral values are socially constructed and subjective—is troubling enough.

But there is also the undeniable hypocrisy of people who once made moral character, and especially sexual fidelity, central to their political calculus and who are now embracing a man of boundless corruptions. Don’t forget: Trump was essentially named an unindicted co-conspirator (“Individual 1”) in a scheme to make hush-money payments to a porn star who alleged she’d had an affair with him while he was married to his third wife, who had just given birth to their son.

16) Linda Greenhouse: “A ‘Train Wreck’ Was Averted at the Supreme Court, but for How Long?
While the rule of law prevailed in the census case, it still hangs by a thread.”

There’s a strong temptation to extract a triumphalist narrative from the president’s grim-faced and rant-filled surrender last Thursday. After all, didn’t the rule of law prevail — and perhaps even emerge stronger for having been so sorely tested? Didn’t the country dodge a “constitutional train wreck,” as Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, wrote in The Washington Post the next day?

Well, maybe. But it was way too close for comfort. And given the Trump administration’s undimmed determination to lock the Supreme Court into a permanent if uneasy partnership, it’s important to realize that the train is still hurtling down the track, destination highly uncertain.

So as the census saga fades from view, it should be remembered, in all its bizarre aspects, not as outlier but as exemplar. Why should we have been shocked that a president would countermand his lawyers’ judgment with a tweet, requiring them to inform a flabbergasted federal district judge that no, the case was not over, and plunging the Justice Department into chaos over a holiday weekend? This is, after all, a president who makes foreign policy via Twitter...

Think of how many contingencies had to fall into place for the census story to end the way it did. Only Chief Justice John Roberts knows whether the revelations from the hard drive of a dead Republican operative, fortuitously brought to light weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral argument, influenced his conclusion that “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.” There was already ample evidence to that effect, evidence that had led a federal district judge in New York, Jesse Furman, to invalidate the addition of the citizenship question.

17) Krugman:

And since we’re having this moment of clarity, there are several other points we should address.

First, this isn’t just about Trump; it’s about his whole party.

I don’t just mean the almost complete absence of condemnation of Trump’s racism on the part of prominent Republicans, although this cowardice was utterly predictable. I mean that Trump isn’t alone in deciding that this is a good time to bring raw racism out of the closet.

Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.

Put it this way: The Nazis had some very good generals, too. But the world would be horrified if Germany announced plans to start celebrating Erich von Manstein Day. There are, no doubt, some Germans who would like to honor Nazi heroes. But they aren’t in positions of power; their American counterparts are…

Second, although most of the commentary focuses on Trump’s demand that native-born Americans “go back” to their home countries, his description of their imaginary homelands as “crime infested” deserves some attention, too. For his fixation on crime is another manifestation of his racism…

It’s tempting to say that Republican claims to support racial equality were always hypocritical; it’s even tempting to welcome the move from dog whistles to open racism. But if hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, what we’re seeing now is a party that no longer feels the need to pay that tribute. And that’s deeply frightening.

18) How cool is this?  Footage of a giant squid.  Via Wired.

You’re looking at what has been called the “holy grail of natural cinematography.” This is the first-ever footage of a live giant squid in U.S. waters. Pretty much everything scientists know about giant squids comes from ones that been caught in nets or have died and floated ashore. Until now.

Here, we can see they are active, visual predators. This one watches its prey (the camera) for a while before deciding to strike. It’s most likely a juvenile, measuring about 12 feet long with its tentacles unextended. For context, a full adult can get as tall as a four-story building.

Oh, and shortly after capturing this historic footage, the ship the researchers were on was struck by lightning. Here’s the story of how they filmed this mysterious creature: https://wired.trib.al/nCiScrH

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why would it be more satisfying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How and why to end penalty kicks as we know it

Good lord soccer drives me crazy.  Such a great game with abysmal organizations in charge and some really, really dumb rules.  Lots of appropriate controversy with the Women’s World Cup about the insane new handball rule.  The new rule say it’s a handball if the defender’s arms are out of the silhouette of the torso, unless preventing a fall.  This is insane!  Short version: defenders are apparently supposed to run at all times with hands behind their back.  Try running in a meaningfully athletic way and see where your arms are.  That’s right– out from your body.  I hate that soccer’s rulemakers see that as something to penalize.

But, even worse, is the gigantically outsized role of the penalty kick in a game with so little scoring.  I’ve long been making family and friends listen to my rant on this.  How nice to discover that a Yahoo sportswriter, Henry Bushnell, has basically the same take and proposed solution.  I love this:

The real problem here isn’t specific to handballs. It’s that when they occur in the area, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

That cross that Kirby hit on Sunday? Had it not been blocked, its expected value was still a tiny fraction of a goal. Because it happened to strike a Scottish arm, its worth multiplied exponentially, to roughly 0.75 goals – or whatever Nikita Parris’ penalty conversion rate is.

That, when you think about it, is completely absurd. It’s mind-bogglingly stupid. Illogical. Backwards.

The incentives are so perverse that players in Kirby’s position, or Sadio Mane’s eight days earlier, will soon come to realize: Aiming for an opponent’s arm is a more effective strategy than trying to pick out a teammate at the back post. Mane probably didn’t do that last Saturday, but he might as well have.

Is this how we want the beautiful game to be played?

A similar incentive already compels forwards to hurl themselves to the ground under minimal contact rather than have an off-balance shot at goal. It’s an awful trend – but, from a player’s perspective, a rational one.

The onus, therefore, isn’t on them to reform their ways. It’s on soccer’s lawmakers to rethink a rule that is only in place because, well, it has been since the 1890s. And because this sport is so senselessly resistant to change.

How the penalty rule should be overhauled

The penalty box is an extremely arbitrary thing. Why, for example, should a foul occurring here be a free kick from this exact position …

View photos

… but a foul occurring here be an unobstructed one, 12 yards out from the center of the goal?

View photos

The 18-yard box itself can remain for goalkeeper handling purposes. But any foul, handball or otherwise, that does not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity should simply be a direct free kick from the spot of the foul.

The only other tweak required would be an expansion of the definition of “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity,” enough to discourage pervasive tactical fouling. This would make punishments proportional to crimes.

Yes!!!  I couldn’t agree more.  In a game where one team scoring 3 goals is a lot, the idea that you give a .75-.8 chance at a goal for any foul in the penalty box, regardless of it’s likelihood of impacting a goal-scoring opportunity is beyond preposterous.  Just because something has been around since 1890 is soooo not a good reason to keep it.

Quick hits

1) From a couple weeks ago, but I still really like it.  Doris Burke is a great basketball analyst but doesn’t get her due because she’s a woman.  I love when I hear her call games.

2)Jesse Singal suggests the “coward’s like” could save twitter.

One of the reasons Twitter is so terrible and shrieky has to do with the skewed nature of the feedback users receive — the platform is basically a giant preference falsification machine. Back in January I put into paragraph form a really good tweetstorm from the philosopher and psychology researcher Brian Earp laying out the general issue (if you click on that link, scroll down a bit to get to this part):

I have a hypothesis about what might contribute to *moral outrage* being such a big thing on social media. Imagine I’m sitting in a room of 30 people and I make a dramatic statement about how outraged I am about X. And, say, five people cheer in response (analogous to liking or retweeting). But suppose the other 25 people kind of stare at the table, or give me a weird look or roll their eyes, or in some other way (relatively) passively express that they think I’m kind of overdoing it or maybe not being as nuanced or charitable or whatever as I should be.

In real life we get this kind of “passive negative” feedback when we act morally outraged about certain things, at least sometimes. Now, a few people in the room might clear their throat and actively say, “Hey, maybe it’s more complicated than that,” and on Twitter there is a mechanism for that: replies. But it’s pretty costly to leave a reply pushing back against someone’s seemingly excessive or inadequately grounded moral outrage, and so most people probably just read the tweet and silently move on with their day. And there is no icon on Twitter that registers passive disapproval.

So it seems like we’re missing one of the major in-real-life pieces of social information that perhaps our outrage needs to be in some way tempered, or not everyone is on board, or maybe we should consider a different perspective. If Twitter collected data of people who read or clicked on a tweet, but did NOT like it or retweet it (nor go so far as write a contrary reply), and converted this into an emoji of a neutral (or some kind of mildly disapproving?) face, this might majorly tamp down on viral moral outrage that is fueled by likes and retweets from a small subset of the “people in the room”… Thoughts?

3) Did you know that there’s really a non-crazy-conspiracy chance that Russia messed with North Carolina’s voting in the 2016 election?

4) Single-family zoning is really bad.  Great upshot feature including maps of cities all over the country.

Single-family zoning is practically gospel in America, embraced by homeowners and local governments to protect neighborhoods of tidy houses from denser development nearby.

But a number of officials across the country are starting to make seemingly heretical moves. The Oregon legislature this month will consider a law that would end zoning exclusively for single-family homes in most of the state. California lawmakers have drafted a bill that would effectively do the same. In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted to end single-family zoning citywide. The Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Julián Castro have taken up the cause, too.

A reckoning with single-family zoning is necessary, they say, amid mounting crises over housing affordability, racial inequality and climate change. But take these laws away, many homeowners fear, and their property values and quality of life will suffer. The changes, opponents in Minneapolis have warned, amount to nothing less than an effort to “bulldoze” their neighborhoods.

Today the effect of single-family zoning is far-reaching: It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home.

And let’s be clear, residents, including many “liberals” who rail against changing the zoning are mostly motivated by the desire not to live around more people of a lower socio-economic strata.  Which are, of course, quite often racial minorities.  And, yes, for the record, there’s a bunch of duplexes and triplexes right around the corner from my house.

5) Recently learned about this approach to bring people together and help overcome the partisan divide.  The workshop featured in this Atlantic article was in my hometown of Cary, NC!  I’m a skeptic because of the selection bias:

The bigger problem is that the kind of people who are willing to spend a morning or a day on such an exercise are the kind of people who are already convinced that dialogue is important, and are more willing to hear the other side out. As participants went around, many had strong political views, but many had also participated in other efforts at cross-partisan dialogue. Reducing affective polarization will require getting more of the affectively polarized to show up at events like this. Still, even this group found the exercises useful, if largely as self-abnegation.

6) One of my favorite podcast episodes ever was 99% Invisible presenting an episode of John Green’s “Anthropocene Reviewed” and an utterly delightful interview of John Green by Roman Mars.  Five stars.  I’m now a huge fan of Green’s podcast, with which I was heretofore unfamiliar.  And John Green’s paean to Diet Dr Pepper was perfect.

7) Still really annoyed that we’re hardly talking about Oregon.  At least Brian Beutler is:

Oregon Republicans have successfully nullified a Democratic climate change bill by literally leaving town (making it impossible under the Oregon Senate’s quorum rules for the chamber to vote) and then threatening violent retaliation against state police officers dispatched to retrieve them. This is bullshit, and if Democrats don’t figure out how to get this bill through, it’s a template Republicans will replicate across the country wherever they can, whenever they’re out of power.

8) This report on America’s changing demographics and the predicted effect on partisan patterns is pretty interesting stuff.  Lots of data.

Our investigation turns up a number of key findings that illuminate how significantly the compositions of the Democratic and Republican parties have changed over the years and are likely to change in the future. We show that the 2016 election was the most demographically divisive election in the past 36 years. The parties were more divided by age, race, and education than in any prior election in modern political history.

Reflecting these intensifying divisions, the parties were more compositionally different in 2016 than at any point in the prior 36 years. This election was the first presidential election white noncollege voters did not make up a plurality of both parties’ coalitions, with white college voters exceeding the share of white noncollege voters in the Democratic coalition.

Nonwhites will continue to grow as a share of both parties’ coalitions, especially Hispanics. We find that, by 2032, Hispanic voters will surpass black voters as the largest overall nonwhite voting group. And, by 2036, black voters will make up a larger share of the Democratic coalition than white noncollege voters.

9) Really looking forward to seeing the new movie, “Yesterday.”  Really enjoyed this Vox interview with screenwriter Richard Curtis.

10) Loved this from Drum, “Tough on Crime” Makes No Sense — Unless You Understand the History of Crime.”  Yes, our criminal justice policies are absurd now.  But there really was a huge crime wave in America and it’s historical amnesia to ignore that context:

I sometimes feel like the current discussion surrounding crime and incarceration is a lot like wondering why the United States invaded Europe in 1944. Unless you know that Hitler had conquered most of the continent, it doesn’t make any sense. Once you do know that, it makes no sense to suggest that FDR did anything wrong.

It’s the same with crime. All of the tough-on-crime sentiment of the ’70s through the ’90s makes no sense unless you know that violent crime had more than doubled since the mid-’60s:

That said, nothing about this era makes sense unless you understand that crime really was rising and it really was scary. The absolute number of violent crimes tripled from 1970 to 1990 and people—black and white alike—were afraid to walk the streets at night. They demanded action, and they got it. There were tons of mistakes along the way, but the fundamental motivation for the tough-on-crime movement was the fact that there was a lot of crime.

10) This was a really cool NYT feature interviewing a variety of Hollywood big shots on how movies may survive and evolve over the next decade.

11) It’s quite well-documented that student evaluations of professors’ teaching are biased and flawed instruments.  But that doesn’t mean that peer evaluations are a panacea.  It’s not like most college professors are trained, reliable, assessors of college teaching.  James Lang:

Much of the work that we put into our teaching cannot be evaluated, or even accessed, via the two most common strategies that institutions use to evaluate our teaching effectiveness of their faculty: student evaluations and peer observations…

But even at teaching-intensive colleges like mine, just piling on lots of documentation to the process doesn’t resolve all of the challenges raised by the attempt to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Evidence doesn’t speak for itself, after all — it needs informed experts who can analyze and understand what the data means. What story does the evidence tell about the teacher’s work? What does it show about how much students have learned?

Understanding how to gather and evaluate evidence of good teaching strikes me as a fundamental and ongoing challenge for all of higher education. Very few academic administrators or tenure-committee members will bring to those roles professional training or scholarly backgrounds in the evaluation of teaching — or in the practice of teaching, for that matter.

12) Great essay from Lara Bazelon, “I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids: I love them beyond all reason. But sometimes my clients need me more.”

13) Great NYT Op-Ed, “The Travel Ban Shows What Happens When the Supreme Court Trusts Trump.”

A year ago, the Supreme Court upheld, by a 5-4 vote, President Trump’s imposition of a ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s decision was gravely disappointing the day it was handed down. A year later, it looks even worse — particularly because it rested on three premises pushed by Trump Administration lawyers that have proven thoroughly unfounded…

In the travel ban case, first, the more conservative justices emphasized its temporary nature. The decision acknowledged that the provision of federal immigration law relied on by President Trump refers to a president’s authority to “suspend the entry” of foreigners to the United States; it further acknowledged that the word “suspend” means something temporary rather than permanent. Moreover, the majority opinion emphasized that, according to the same federal law, the president could maintain the ban only “for such period as he shall deem necessary.” The ban was thus upheld as something merely temporary — as required by law.

Yet here we are, a year since the court upheld Mr. Trump’s third version of the ban, almost two years since that version took effect and nearly 29 months since Mr. Trump issued the ban in its original form. The ban upheld by the court remains in full effect, and there’s not a whisper from the White House that it will be repealed. What the court’s majority accepted as temporary looks increasingly permanent…

Third, the court’s decision noted that, even while the ban remained in place and even for countries still subject to it, “case-by-case waivers” were available for individuals to allow them to travel to the United States if they could show “undue hardship.” The chief justice’s majority opinion emphasized that the availability of waivers made Mr. Trump’s travel ban more similar to actions of earlier presidents. It also underscored the direction given to consular officers to assess waiver applications while addressing any public safety concerns and broader implications for the national interest.

The waiver program looked like a sham a year ago, as a consular officer made clear in a sworn affidavit in another matter and as Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized in his powerful dissent. It looks like even more of a sham now.

The Travel Ban showed that 5 of the Court’s conservatives were entirely willing to let the federal government brazenly lie to it.  The Census case this week showed that Roberts has a limit to the brazenness (especially when there’s a good paper trail).  The others, sadly, will accept anything.

14) Love this from one of my favorite political scientists, Larry Bartels, “A Lot of Candidates May Make It Seem Like Democracy Is Working, But It Isn’t: The two major parties have made choosing among contenders far too hard, with dire consequences.”

Cognitive psychologists tell us that human information-processing capacity is limited to seven objects, plus or minus two. But when the objects are as complex and unfamiliar as the current crop of presidential candidates, that rule of thumb is much too optimistic.

Research on primary voting demonstrates that voters make better-informed and more coherent choices when the race involves just two or three major contenders. That’s why political elites and political institutions have a crucial role to play in shaping the options presented to primary voters.

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has created a complex set of standards for candidates to qualify for inclusion in televised debates. Senator Michael Bennet, a latecomer to the race who could be barred from the next round of debates by Mr. Perez’s rules, has said, “It’s all just completely arbitrary, and I wish it weren’t.”

Unfortunately, there is no non-arbitrary way to do what needs to be done. Relying on polls gives an unfair advantage to candidates who are already well known. (The current poll standings mostly reflect name recognition.) Using fund-raising as a standard risks making affluent donors even more influential than they already are.

What is largely missing from this process is the professional judgment of people who actually know the candidates — officeholders and party officials. But the Democratic Party’s attempt to insert the judgment of “superdelegates” at the end of the nominating process, after primary voters have already had their say, has generated bitter complaints about “undemocratic” elites overriding the will of the party rank and file.

The time for political professionals to play a constructive role is before the primaries, not after. Their job should be to commend the party’s most promising potential candidates to the attention of the public, not to make the final choice themselves.

Short version: total failure of Democratic “leadership.”  And having so many people with zero chance of being elected President in 2020 on the debate stage this week very much makes this point.

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