(Sorry, but I’m back) Quick Hits

So, vacation followed by a Political Science conference in New Orleans plus getting ready for the semester starting this week, put the blogging on the way back burner.  Should hopefully be getting back up to regular speed this week.  I did read plenty of good stuff this past week, though, and I’ve decided these are worth your time:

1) NYT editorial, “Capital Punishment Deserves a Quick Death.”

The death penalty is not and has never been about the severity of any given crime. Mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood abuse or neglect, abysmal lawyers, minimal judicial review, a white victim — these factors are far more closely associated with who ends up getting executed. Of the 23 people put to death in 2017, all but three had at least one of these factors, according to the report. Eight were younger than 21 at the time of their crime.

More troubling still are the wrongful convictions. In 2017, four more people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated, for a total of 160 since 1973 — a time during which 1,465 people were executed. In many of the exonerations, prosecutors won convictions and sentences despite questionable or nonexistent evidence, pervasive misconduct or a pattern of racial bias. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extrapolated from known cases of wrongful convictions to estimate that at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. Against this backdrop, it would take an enormous leap of faith to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed.

2) Can an algorithm better help social services protect endangered kids?

3) Very nice Jay Rosen post on how to create real transparency in journalism.

4) Gallup with America’s favorite spectator sports.  Pretty amazing to see the drop-off in baseball (of course, I used to be a big fan and now pay pretty much zero attention):

Americans' Favorite Spectator Sports, 1937-2017

5) This is so cool.  How artificial intelligence can create completely realistic-looking fake photos:

At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

6) Something we need to do to cut down on sexting– tell our teen sons not to ask for naked pictures.  Seriously.

7) Center for Science in the Public Interest strikes me as often going too far and often being needlessly hyperbolic, but the evidence is pretty clear that they have brought lots of important and needed attention to some off the worst abuses of Big Food.

8) Of course, one could do a whole quick hits just on Michael Wolff’s new book on Trump.  And how Trump is like really, really smart, and like totally a stable genius.  But, I’ll leave it to two things.  First, loved Dan Rather’s tweet for it’s obvious truth and broad applicability:

Also, Michele Goldberg with a nice column:

But most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail. As Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter essaybased on the book, over the past year, the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

And yet these people continue to either prop up or defend this sick travesty of a presidency. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve: The “mess that might do serious damage to the nation, and, by association, to your own brand, might be transcended if you were seen as the person, by dint of competence and professional behavior, taking control of it.”

This is a delusion as wild, in its own way, as Trump’s claim that the “Access Hollywood” tape was faked. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.

9) Loved this story of how the widowed spouses of two memoirists came together and found love.  Can’t speak for The Bright Hour, but When Breath Becomes Air was terrific.

10) Lee Drutman with the case for proportional voting.  I really like his historical explanation of the “big sort” (and the reason he argues we know need proportional voting).  This is a more succinct version of what I try and explain in a variety of my classes.  It’s important and under-appreciated.

And yet, many would argue, American politics once functioned quite well as a two-party system, with Democrats and Republicans working out plenty of historic bipartisan compromises to accomplish landmark legislation — particularly in the mid- to late-20th century. What’s wrong with the two-party system that can’t be restored by recovering the lost art of political compromise?

Such nostalgic arguments are quite common among elder statesmen in Washington, the kind who attend panels and write op-eds about the need for “political courage” and “regular order.” What they fail to understand is that the bipartisanship of yore was not just a matter of political character, but a matter of political incentives, party organization, and genuine common ground.

Bipartisanship flourished because voting coalitions split parties on an issue-by-issue basis. Liberal (Northern) Republicans and liberal (Northern) Democrats had many positions in common, as did conservative (Southern) Democrats and conservative (Western) Republicans. There were few permanent enemies and few permanent allies. Both parties also held a broadly shared consensus on American values, largely united against a shared enemy: the evil empire of the Soviet Union.

In retrospect, the pre-1980s era of American politics was not really a two-party system at all, but instead a four-party system within the broader container of a two-party system. Both party coalitions held together liberals and conservatives, who operated as independent factions within the parties. As a result, both parties looked modestly centrist as a whole, and could compete everywhere because their brands were capacious enough to take on different forms depending on local values.

Because partisan identities were less distinct, and complicated by other, cross-cutting regional and ethnic identities, politics lacked the militaristic us-versus-them dynamic it has now fallen into. It was perfectly reasonable for Democrats to sometimes vote Republican, or Republicans to sometimes vote Democrat, because they liked a particular candidate or liked the idea of parties checking each other. Though cross-partisan presidential-support scores have fallen into the single digits and split-ticket voting is a rare phenomenon, such things were common during the mid- to late-20th century.

This bipartisanship began to unravel as the parties realigned in the 1980s and 1990s. New cultural fissures that had emerged out of the ’60s and ’70s reshaped the dividing lines of American politics. And in an era of growing affluence, post-materialist “values voting” replaced pocketbook voting for many voters, and battles over abortion, religion, and social justice took center stage.

As a result, the culturally conservative South moved from solidly Democratic territory to predominantly Republican territory, turning the Republican Party into a much more culturally conservative coalition. Meanwhile, as Democrats gained dominance on the coasts and in the big cities and lost their Southern conservative “Blue Dogs,” the Democrats became much more uniformly culturally liberal. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats essentially went extinct. The overlapping ideologies and loyalties that used to cross-cut the parties realigned along party lines. Politics became regionalized, and without any cross-cutting dimension, partisanship became totalizing.

11) It’s almost like they designed this study to be maximally interesting to me– how does exercise affect your microbiome?  As with most microbiome stuff, it’s actually not all that clear, but there the answer is that there are clear effects and they are quite likely beneficial.

12) Is everything we know about depression wrong?  Maybe.  Given what a fabulous job Johann Hari did on explaining how everything we know about drug addiction is wrong, he’s well-worth hearing out.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) Kind of fascinating to see NYT run a health column about sodium and high blood pressure and get so much wrong.  Unlike most on-line comments (which are a cesspit), NYT readers are an impressive lot and these comments are actually far more informative than the article.  Including linking to this earlier NYT piece which is far more accurate on the matter.

2) It seems crazy that we should need an Op-Ed to argue that we should not be criminally charging sexual assault victims with lying.  But we do.

3) Yes, it is overblown in conservative media, but, damn, sometime PC liberalism really does run amok at universities.

4) Jeffrey Toobin on the cultural legacy of Charles Manson:

Manson died on Sunday—remarkably, he was eighty-three years old. His era had long passed by the time of his death, but his legacy was surprisingly durable. In media, in criminal law, and in popular culture, Manson created a template that, for better or worse, is still familiar today.

5) Honestly, the case for Lena Dunham as a racist is the reason that conservatives think liberals are way too ready to cry racism.

6) Jon Bernstein on the case for superdelegates:

So why keep them? Supers have several practical functions. Their votes for the winner of the primaries and caucuses extends the delegate lead, adding both legitimacy and certainty to the nominee. That’s something they’ve done in close contests, such as the 2008 cycle. 2 But they’re also a fail-safe if something goes wrong. The proportional system of delegate allocation makes it possible that the winning candidate will fall just short of a delegate majority if one or more spoiler candidates hang on and accumulate delegates even after they no longer have a chance to win. Supers, if that happens, would presumably put the plurality winner over the top, avoiding an ugly and counterproductive deadlocked convention.

Both of those possibilities are more likely than usual in 2020, a year without any obviously strong Democratic frontrunners (Sorry, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders: Party actors and voters are not rushing in large enough numbers towards either of you to clear the field). It’s likely the Democratic field will wind up more similar to those of 1976, 1988, or 2004, with no clear early leader and at least a possibility that multiple candidates will remain viable well into the primaries and caucuses.

7) So, we know that lots of mass murderers have a red flag of domestic abuse.  What’s really interesting is that offenders who choke and strangle their victims are basically waving a bright red flag that we really ought to be paying attention to.

8) For some reason, I always find the subject of how sporting events (in this case NFL games) are assigned to different regional affiliates to be really interesting.

9) This big NYT feature on the problems with the NYC subway system is pretty amazing.  And not in a good way.

None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians — governors from George E. Pataki to Mr. Cuomo and mayors from Rudolph W. Giuliani to Bill de Blasio. Each of them cut the subway’s budget or co-opted it for their own priorities.

They stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the M.T.A. by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways and also by demanding large payments for financial advice, I.T. help and other services that transit leaders say the authority could have done without.

They pressured the M.T.A. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability, while leaving the actual movement of trains to rely on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables.

They saddled the M.T.A. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay.

In one particularly egregious example, Mr. Cuomo’s administration forced the M.T.A. to send $5 million to bail out three state-run ski resorts that were struggling after a warm winter.

And, my God, the pay!

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

New York is more expensive than most other cities, but not by that much. The latest estimate from the federal Department of Commerce said the region’s cost of living was 22 percent higher than the national average and 10 percent higher than the average for other areas with subways.

Mr. Samuelsen rejected the idea that subway workers were overpaid, arguing that it is a dangerous job in which assault is common. “We earn every penny that we make,” he said. “This is New York City. This isn’t Mayberry. It costs $700,000 to buy a house in Brooklyn. What do you want us to make? Fifteen dollars an hour?”

10) Dave Leonhardt on how America is an outlier in driving deaths:

But it’s not just speed. Seatbelt use is also more common elsewhere: One in seven American drivers still don’t use one, according to the researchers Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak. In other countries, 16-year-olds often aren’t allowed to drive. And “buzzed driving” tends to be considered drunken driving. Here, only heavily Mormon Utah has moved toward a sensible threshold, and the liquor and restaurant lobbies are trying to stop it.

The political problem with all of these steps, of course, is that they restrict freedom, and we Americans like freedom. To me, the freedom to have a third beer before getting behind the wheel — or to drive 15 miles an hour above the limit — is not worth 30 lives a day. But I recognize that not everyone sees it this way. [emphasis mine]

Which is part of the reason I’m so excited about driverless technology. It will let us overcome self-destructive behavior, without having to change a lot of laws. A few years from now, sophisticated crash-avoidance systemswill probably be the norm. Cars will use computers and cameras to avoid other objects. And the United States will stand to benefit much more than the rest of the industrialized world.

Until then, be careful out there.

11) And the six main causes of automobile accidents in Slate.

12) On how to raise girls and boys to counter-act gender stereotypes.  I especially liked the part about parenting boys:

What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls — fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home. While parents and other adults teach girls to protect themselves against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, that doesn’t do much to stem the tide of Weinsteins. Raising our boys differently would.[emphasis mine]

Parents should also shift the ways they teach girls to protect themselves. When we’re young, many of us were told to tell Mom and Dad if anyone ever touched us in a way that felt icky; as we grow up, we are armed with pepper spray and rape whistles, with instructions to always carry cab fare, not leave our drinks unattended at a bar, that no should mean no.

This is an understandable impulse, and some of the advice is good. But what girls don’t learn is how to be the solo aviators of their own perfect, powerful bodies — to happily inhabit their own skin instead of seeing their physical selves as objects to be assessed and hopefully affirmed by others; to feel entitled to sex they actively desire themselves, instead of positioned to either accept or reject men’s advances. Nor are we allowed full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when we are mistreated. No wonder we try to politely excuse ourselves from predatory men instead of responding with the ire that predation merits.

One of the most important ways to move forward at this moment is to simply be aware that these assumptions and prejudices exist, and to deal with them head-on instead of pretending they aren’t there. Here, daughters of conservative men are at a particular disadvantage: Three-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This Dana Priest piece on Russian election meddling as a failure of US intelligence is really good.

2) Seth Masket on how liberals and conservatives respond differently to sexual harassment claims.

3) Nice NYT editorial on Trump’s embrace of authoritarian leaders:

Authoritarian leaders exercise a strange and powerful attraction for President Trump. As his trip to Asia reminds us, a man who loves to bully people turns to mush — fawning smiles, effusive rhetoric — in the company of strongmen like Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Perhaps he sees in them a reflection of the person he would like to be. Whatever the reason, there’s been nothing quite like Mr. Trump’s love affair with one-man rule since Spiro Agnew returned from a world tour in 1971singing the praises of thuggish dictators like Lee Kuan Yew, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Mobutu Sese Seko and Gen. Francisco Franco.

Mr. Trump’s obsessive investment in personal relations may work for a real estate dealmaker. But the degree to which he has chosen to curry favor with some of the world’s most unsavory leaders, while lavishing far less attention on America’s democratic allies, hurts America’s credibility and, in the long run, may have dangerous repercussions.

4) Kate Harding with a very pragmatic case behind, “I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.”

5) How conference divisions (among other things) are ruining college football.

6) Catherine Rampell nails it, “If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?”

7) How to stop bullying?  Kids need to put their reputations on the line and be willing to embrace their low-status peers.

As a result, a child at the bottom of the social ladder becomes “untouchable.” Even if that child has a delightful personality and loads of friends elsewhere, in a social system in which she lacks social capital, she is not likely to acquire friends. Befriending an untouchable doesn’t earn the higher status child any social capital, and the idea is so overwhelmingly unattractive that it is generally not even considered. Science writer Amy Alkon coined the term “social greed” to describe the unwillingness to risk social capital without an anticipated return on investment.

Children with status erroneously believe that the reason untouchables have no social status is because they are repulsive, but in truth, it is precisely the reverse. The lack of social status is what makes an untouchable appear repulsive. This is why the single most effective peer intervention for eliminating bullying is for children to befriend those who are targets. But out of fear that associating with an untouchable could result in their own fall down the social ladder, children manufacture reasons to dislike low-status children, and justify their refusal to spend social capital to help them.

8) Somehow I missed this when it came out in September, but Siddhartha Mukherjee’s New Yorker article on re-thinking cancer is so good.  Short version: cancer is the seed are bodies are the soil.  The soil matters a ton, but we’ve been concentrating almost exclusively on the seeds.

9) Hans Noel’s take on the important role for party leaders in primaries, ” Party leaders should lead, not get out of the way.”

10) Lifting the ban on elephant trophies would actually probably help elephants.  I hate that there are horrible people out there that want to hunt elephants, but this can indirectly lead to protecting them.

11) Here’s an awesome idea– tax companies for using our personal data.

12) Totally agree with Frank Bruni, “Their Pledges Die. So Should Fraternities.”

“Imagine a world,” she said, “in which everything was the same about higher education except there have never been Greek organizations. An 18-year-old waltzes into a dean’s office and says, ‘I want to start an exclusive club on campus that doesn’t allow women and serves mostly white and privileged students and we’re going to throw parties all the time that are illegal, and at these parties, all the bad stuff that happens on campus is going to happen disproportionately. What do you think?’ ”

Wade’s hypothetical 18-year-old leaves out the part where undertakers cart the casualties away. Even so I think the dean turns his proposal down.

13) Conor Friedersdorf on how occupational licensing is way out of control.

Too often, occupational-licensing laws are less about protecting workers or consumers as a class than they are about protecting the interests of incumbents. Want to compete with me? Good luck, now that I’ve lobbied for a law that requires you to shell out cash and work toward a certificate before you can begin.

14) I had no idea there was a fun little game to play with Chrome when your internet connection is out.

15) Ryan Lizza on the “boil the frog” strategy to save Trump:

Boiling the frog works in politics, too. On Monday, Julia Ioffe reported, in The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks, which the American intelligence community sayscollaborated with the Russian government to distribute Democratic Party e-mails and try to help elect Donald Trump, regularly sent private messages from its verified Twitter account to Donald Trump, Jr., from September, 2016, until July, 2017. Last October, in the heat of the Presidential campaign, when top Trump campaign officials indignantly denied having any communication with WikiLeaks, such a disclosure would have been politically earth-shattering. But, after a year of incremental Trump-Russia revelations, the press and public’s capacity to be shocked by the details of the Russia scandal may be diminishing…

It helps to take a step back and remember how politically explosive it would have been, a year ago, to know that the Trump campaign was colluding with WikiLeaks.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Meant to do a post on this last week.  Anyway there are myriad examples of Donald Trump’s sad, little mind.  But few are better than his interview with Lou Dobbs.  Yglesias breaks down just how pathetic it is.

2) Speaking of sad minds… there’s a pesticide that experts believe likely (admittedly, the science is only suggestive not confirmed) damages children’s brains.  But why take chances with children’s brains?  So corporations can make more money, damnit!  The power to damage brains through presidential control of the bureaucracy.

3) Really liked Sarah Kliff’s piece on Bernie and Candanian health care:

Earlier this year, New Yorker write Atul Gawande went to the Appalachian area of Ohio, where he grew up, to ask people this question.

One of the things he ran into again and again was an opposition to health care as a right for people who don’t seem to deserve it. One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande notes in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was perceived to be the type who merited such help.

In his speech at the University of Toronto, Sanders argued that a universal health care system would only come as the result of political revolution…

On his Canada trip, Sanders seemed to recognize that core to a system like Canada’s is a belief, by the people, that all other people ought to have equitable access to health insurance. Sanders is bullish that this belief exists to a wide extent in the United States too.

“Frankly, in the United States, I think most people do believe it is a right and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or if you’re poor,” Sanders says.

But polling and reporting suggest otherwise. They show that belief doesn’t seem to exist in the United States right now. The question is whether Sanders can change that, whether he can persuade Americans to see health care the way he does — and the way Canadians do too.

4) Nice compilation on DJT’s absurd Halloween tweet.

5) It’s kind of hard to stop obsessing about tax cuts when that’s all Republicans talk about.  But EJ Dionne has a damn good point:

It is a victory for Republicans that the political conversation — when it’s not being hijacked by President Trump’s assorted outbursts and outrages — is focused on tax cuts. No matter how critical the coverage gets, the sheer amount of attention risks sending a message that taxes are the most important issue confronting the country.

This is entirely wrong, and it’s essential to challenge the whole premise of the debate. The United States does not need tax cuts now. Reducing government revenue at this moment will do far more harm than good. Conservatives are proving definitively that they don’t care in the least about deficits. And their claims that tax cuts will unleash some sort of economic miracle have been proved false again and again and again.

But there is an even bigger objection: The opportunity costs of this obsession are enormous because it keeps us from grappling with the problems we really do need to solve.

6) Some of the truly preposterously bad people Trump is trying to place in our government.

7) New theory on why humans eventually replaced Neanderthals in Europe.

8) Anatomy or Russian facebook ads.  Yes, Russia acted with malice.  But it could not have worked without millions of Americans stupid enough (and largely primed by right-wing media) to believe this crap.

9) Enjoyed this NYT feature on NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Never even heard of the guy till last week.  Not only is he putting up amazing numbers, he has an amazing story.

10) Megan McArdle on Republicans using the tax code as a weapon.

11) And what they are proposing on Higher Ed and taxes is just stupid and counter-productive.

12) NYT with a nice winners/losers summary on tax proposals.  Short version– corporations and rich people win big.  Surprise surprise.

13) When your body is severely taxed and it’s got to choose between the brain and the body, it chooses the brain.

14) So that pumpkin pie filling in cans.  Not really so much real pumpkin.  But the whole “pumpkin” thing is actually complicated.

15) While watching the Redskins struggle mightily with a lineup decimated by injuries, it got me thinking that over the small sample of 16 regular season NFL games, the luck of the draw surely plays a hugely disproportionate role.  It does.  This was the best article I could find on it.

16) Sticking with sports, the case of NC State basketball player, Braxton Beverly, shows how stupid, stupid, stupid, the NCAA can be.  Beverly transferred to NC State after starting a summer class at Ohio State, but then OSU fired their coach.  Beverly never even practiced basketball with OSU, but the NCAA thinks he needs to sit out a year for trying to get a head start on his college coursework.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: The NCAA has a waiver process for a reason, and it should always be used with common sense and decency. I’m not sure how anybody could disagree with that sentence. And yet there’s nothing decent or sensible about the way the NCAA handled the cases of Jalen Hayes and Evan Batteylast week. And now the NCAA has doubled-down on stupidity and punished Braxton Beverly for reasons that even Duke fans find appalling.

Which is perfect, isn’t it?

The NCAA’s handling of this case is so indefensible it has Duke fans taking up for an NC State player. Thus, the people who reached this conclusion should be embarrassed and ashamed. Braxton Beverly deserved better. And if the folks who handled his waiver are too dumb to realize that — and too tone-deaf to avoid yet another public relations hit — then perhaps they should be replaced by decent humans who actually put student-athletes first the way the NCAA has forever pretended to do but so rarely actually does.

17) Nice summary of what my Chinese Politics scholar friend was telling me:

Perhaps most ominously, Xi envisions his updated police state as a model for the rest of the world. Twenty-five years ago, the liberal democratic system of the West was supposed to represent the “end of history,” the definitive paradigm for human governance. Now, Xi imagines, it will be the regime he is in the process of creating. “It offers a new option for other countries and nations,” he said during a three-hour, 25-minute speech that was its own statement of grandiosity. “It offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.” …

It would nevertheless be dangerous not to take China’s strongman seriously. He is imagining a world where human freedom would be drastically curtailed and global order dominated by a clique of dictators. When a former chief political adviser to the U.S. president applauds that “adult” vision, it’s not hard to imagine how it might prevail.

18) Jelani Cobb on John Kelly and the Civil War.

19) Adam Serwer with a great take on the pernicious persistence of false beliefs about the reality of the Civil War.

That the nation’s rebirth, in which the promises of its founding creed first began to be met in earnest, is regarded as sorrowful is a testament to the strength of the alternative history of the Lost Cause, in which the North was the aggressor and the South was motivated by the pursuit of freedom and not slavery. The persistence of this myth is in part a desire to avoid the unfathomable reality that half the country dedicated itself to the monstrous cause of human bondage. The freedom that the South fought for was the freedom to own black people as property. The states’ rights for which the South battled were the right to own slaves and the right to expand slavery.

20) Will Saletan on John Kelly’s dishonesty.  Indeed.

In the days ahead, you’ll hear a lot about Kelly’s character. On the left, you’ll hear that he’s a racist. On the right, you’ll hear that he’s a patriot. Some of these arguments hinge on interpretation or speculation about his motives. But this dispute doesn’t. Either Kelly told the truth about Wilson, or he didn’t. The evidence says he didn’t. Instead of admitting error, he’s repeating his smears and trying to make his story impossible to check. If anyone else behaved this way, you’d call that person a liar and a coward. That, four stars or not, is what John Kelly is.

21) And while we’re at it… I was reviewing the assigned reading for Women in the Military next week and noticed that John Kelly features prominently in this as the chief opponent of women having combat roles.  (And here’s something you can probably actually access).

22) The Politico feature on John Boehner that everyone was talking about earlier this week.  Good stuff.

 

Just wrong

I’ve been following the UNC scandal reasonably closely– a lot of the excellent reporting on the matter was done by my beloved hometown N&O.  That said, I had not fully appreciated just how depraved was the legal defense that allowed UNC to escape any NCAA sanction for decades of fraudulent classes.  I understand that there’s a good argument to be made that we don’t want the NCAA meddlingin curriculum issues, but damn, was UNC breathtakingly disingenuous and intellectually dishonest in how they abused the process.  As a professor who cares about academic integrity, this is really depressing.  As a NC resident who cares about the academic reputation of our state’s University system it’s really depressing.  This nice N&O piece linked to a number of really good takes.

Dan Wetzel explains it nicely:

In perhaps the most outlandish defense in NCAA infractions history, the school acknowledged that the classes that were taken were essentially bankrupt of any kind of teaching, learning or supervision … but that was perfectly OK with them.

To defend the basketball team, the university had to claim it wasn’t really a university.

“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.” [emphases mine]

That isn’t a college class. That might not even count at the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. Yet the University* of North Carolina is completely cool with that and continues to consider it worthy of full academic credit for not just basketball players, but all the other students who took it over nearly two decades.

Welcome to the Age of Tarkanianism, a complete rejection of the NCAA to the point where Carolina not only isn’t ashamed of academic fraud, it’s practically celebrating it.

By doing so, and since regular students also took the class, they didn’t violate NCAA rules. Sure, they took a shotgun to their academic credibility, but, hey, those championship banners get to stay. The truth is, alums probably care more about hoops anyway.

“The NCAA defers to academies on matters of academic fraud,” the NCAA conceded. “As institutions of higher education, the NCAA membership trusts fellow members to hold themselves accountable in matters of academic integrity.”

UNC was playing chess against the NCAA’s checkers. That was damn impressive, true Tark-level trolling.

Carolina even changed its argument for the NCAA. When the school was in front of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits it as an actual university, it declared that no-show, no-professor, no-work classes were wrong.

“UNC reported to its accreditor that what occurred for nearly 18 years on its campus was academic fraud,” the NCAA report stated. ” … Specifically, UNC admitted [it] demonstrated that, ‘the academic fraud was long-standing.’”

Now, though, the classes weren’t fraud. They were fine. The NCAA was astounded. The Committee on Infractions asked how this was possible.

And Yahoo’s Pat Forde:

NCAA bylaws basically say that if you’ve got a sham degree program available to the general student population at your school, and it just so happens that a high percentage of athletes are in that program, that’s your issue and not ours. As it clearly signaled it would last spring, North Carolina exploited that loophole. And as Sankey noted on the NCAA conference call to discuss the ruling Friday, UNC assailed the accuracy of the Cadwallader report its own school signed off on, which “troubled” the COI but proved persuasive.

Those strategies paid off.

“The panel is in no way supporting what happened,” Sankey said. “What happened is troubling. But the panel applied the membership’s bylaws to the facts.”

And the bylaws say that the NCAA isn’t in the business of legislating curriculum.

“The NCAA is a red herring in a lot of ways,” Yeager said. “The NCAA is not going to go in and say, ‘At Syracuse this qualifies but at Springfield College it doesn’t.’ You’re not getting into something where you’re wading in and saying, ‘The quality of your coursework sucks.’”

Meanwhile, Jason Kirk’s cynical take is absolutely correct:

Two more things that are true, based on the NCAA’s self-assigned role in college sports:

  1. If the University of North Carolina wants to offer an automatic A to anyone in the student body for a class that involves no meetings, little faculty oversight, and grading by the secretary, that’s not the NCAA’s jurisdiction. It is the jurisdiction of accreditation agencies, though, and UNC was placed on probation.
  2. If such a class were only offered to athletes, it would be the NCAA’s jurisdiction…

What’s stopping a school from setting up a similar “paper course” and making sure it’s open to all students, then sending athletes through it?

UNC did it for 18 years, winning national titles in multiple sports that sent athletes through the class, and is now off accreditation probation. Throughout this seven-year NCAA ordeal, the only actual dings it suffered were to its football program, and those were for dealings with agents and ineligible players taking the field, not for this course. The Heels took a recruiting dip, due to NCAA uncertainty, but that’s over now — and they’re the reigning March Madness champs anyway.

Yep.  I’m a college sports fan, but I hate that it is a disgusting cesspit of corruption.  To see it so totally corrode that academic mission of a premier public university is beyond depressing.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Julia Belluz on Trump’s absurd anti birth control argument, “The Trump administration’s case against birth control is a stunning distortion of science:

As to why the White House is ignoring the evidence, we have some clues. One of the architects behind the new birth control rules is reportedly Matthew Bowman, a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy (and anti-choice) group. Another top Trump adviser on health care is Katy Talento, an anti-abortionist who has claimed that side effects of hormonal birth include cancer and miscarriages. Trump put Teresa Manning, another anti-abortion lawyer who once said giving people easy access to the morning-after pill was “medically irresponsible” and “anti-family,” in charge of Title X, HHS’s federal family planning program. Trump’s positions on abortion have been wishy-washy, but it’s well known that Vice President Mike Pence has been crusading against reproductive rights for years.

2) The NYT’s [post-Trump] Republican’s guide to Presidential etiquette is terrific.

3) “Christian” women gather on the National Mall to criticize feminism.  And they’re pathetic:

For Linda Shebesta of Burleson, Tex., it was a day to pray alongside the family members of three generations who traveled to Washington with her. “We believe our nation was founded as a Christian nation. The enemy is trying to take it in another direction, not Christianity,” she said. She saw lots of proof of Satan at work during the Obama administration, especially the Supreme Court’s ruling authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide, she said. She’s relieved to see the Trump administration undoing many of Obama’s policies.

“We believe God put Donald Trump in,” Shebesta said.

Damn, God must have one hell of a sense of humor.

4) And the Onion nails it again, “EPA To Drop ‘E,’ ‘P’ From Name.”

5) Very nice TPM piece on how Russian propaganda exploits America’s prejudices.

6) Drum on Trump’s attempt to destroy the healthcare marketplace.  This is not hyperbole:

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil.

7) Apparently, rather than relying on common sense, many in Silicon Valley are over-reacting to sexual harassment in the workplace in ways that are also harmful to women.

8) Sad story of an escaped Circus tiger.  I love the amazing exploits of humans in the circus.  I hate that the circus engages in horrible animal abuse while they are at it.

9) Why is Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate so high?  Because they are disturbingly, inhumanely, punitive about drug crimes.

10) Interesting to see how American sports fandom has changed over the past 5 years.  Yeah, professional soccer!

11) Interesting column on how the mistreatment of returning Vietnam Veterans is almost completely false and very persistent myth.

12) Seth Masket on the silliness of blaming Democrats for Harvey Weinstein’s behavior:

Harvey Weinstein’s support for Democrats, however, is highly unusual as political scandal material. His reprehensible and likely criminal alleged behavior has only become widely known in the past few weeks — nearly a year after the 2016 presidential election. To be sure, quite a few people in the entertainment industry seem to have known about the behavior he’s accused of for years to one extent or another. But it strains credulity to suggest that Clinton and Obama (whose teenage daughter interned for Weinstein last summer) knew the extent of Weinstein’s predatory tendencies in the past.

In sum, Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats are being blamed for having taken money in the past from someone who has recently been widely accused of being a sexual predator. It is akin to holding fans of the 1970s Buffalo Bills and the 1978 film Capricorn One accountable for O.J. Simpson’s behavior in 1994.

This sort of scandal coverage may be useful in the long run by promoting a discussion about the obligations candidates have to their donors and about the campaign finance system in general. But the idea that a recipient is somehow culpable for the later-disclosed criminal activity of a donor seems rather thin gruel.

13) Love Drum on the rage of rural voters:

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or: they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much: both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

14) Tom Ricks with a great personal essay on the importance of a good editor.

15) Dana Milbank: the Bible according to Trump.  Good stuff.

16) Loved this post from Dan Kennedy on journalists’ obsessive needs for “both sides!” when it comes to the political parties.  No, it’s not both sides:

Washington Post columnist Dan Balz, who epitomizes establishment thinking as David Broder once did, went out of his way to balance the Democrats’ “leftward movement” with the Republicans’ “rightward shift” and warned that Democrats “must find a way to harness the movement into a political vision that is attractive to voters beyond the Democratic base.”

The problem is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the two parties’ ideological shifts. Long before the age of Trump, the Republicans established themselves as the party of no. A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was impeached because of a personal scandal that would have — should have — remained a secret but that was revealed through a partisan Republican investigation. The filibuster became routine under Republican rule, making it impossible to conduct the business of the Senate. The Republicans refuse to talk about gun control or climate change. The party hit bottom by refusing even to consider Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee — a deeply transgressive breach of longstanding norms on the part of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. And all of this was before the race-baiting, white-supremacist-coddling Donald Trump became president…

The institutional desire for evenhandedness, though, is so deeply ingrained that journalists struggle to move beyond it. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has called this the “production of innocence,” meaning that the press reflexively adopts equivalence between the two major parties as its default position even when the facts scream out against balance. “The conceit is that you can report and comment on politics truthfully while always and forever splitting the difference between the two sides so as to advertise your own status as perpetually non-aligned,” Rosen wrote. “What if that is not even possible? What if you have to risk the appearance of being partisan in order to describe accurately what is going on in a hyper-partisan situation?”

On a related note, so excited to be bringing Jay Rosen to NCSU in 10 days.

 

17) Digging around in SlateStarCodex the other day and really liked this post about adult developmental milestones.  Of course, I particularly liked it because I think I (and any decent social scientist, and many others, of course), have all of these.  And, because I think these are super-important.

Here are some other mental operations which seem to me to rise to the level of developmental milestones:

1. Ability to distinguish “the things my brain tells me” from “reality” – maybe this is better phrased as “not immediately trusting my system 1 judgments”. This is a big part of cognitive therapy – building the understanding that just because your brain makes assessments like “I will definitely fail at this” or “I’m the worst person in the world” doesn’t mean that you have to believe them. As Ozy points out, this one can be easier for people with serious psychiatric problems who have a lot of experience with their brain’s snap assessments being really off, as opposed to everyone else who has to piece the insight together from a bunch of subtle failures.

2. Ability to model other people as having really different mind-designs from theirs; for example, the person who thinks that someone with depression is just “being lazy” or needs to “snap out of it”. This is one of the most important factors in determining whether I get along with somebody – people who don’t have this insight tend not to respect boundaries/preferences very much simply because they can’t believe they exist, and to simultaneously get angry when other people violate their supposedly-obvious-and-universal boundaries and preferences.

3. Ability to think probabilistically and tolerate uncertainty. My thoughts on this were mostly inspired by another of David Chapman’s posts, which I’m starting to think might not be a coincidence.

4. Understanding the idea of trade-offs; things like “the higher the threshold value of this medical test, the more likely we’ll catch real cases but also the more likely we’ll get false positives” or “the lower the burden of proof for people accused of crimes, the more likely we’ll get real criminals but also the more likely we’ll encourage false accusations”. When I hear people discuss these cases in real life, they’re almost never able to maintain this tension and almost always collapse it to their preferred plan having no downside.

18) Finally saw Blade Runner 2049Vox a few days ago.  Loved the visuals, the general story, and the themes.  That said, a good example of more is less.  This would have been a much better 2 hour movie than the 2:45 it was.  Also, I was really disappointed in the score as I so love Vangelis’ score for the original and here the composers seemed to want to make up for lack of melody with loudness.  Appreciated Alyssa Wilkonson’s review for also pointing out these flaws.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Ross Douthat’s lacerating take on Hugh Hefner.

2) Love Megan McArdle’s take on universities using graduate schools as a cash cow:

We should, however, be concerned because the cost is spreading. Having finally reached the limits of American parents to bear ever-increasing bills for undergraduate tuition, struggling colleges are now turning to graduate programs to fund their operations. Indeed, schools often encourage graduate students’ naïve faith, painting a rosy picture of future employment prospects that is, to say the very least, highly selective. 3

It’s bad enough that schools do this; it’s worse still that the American taxpayer is helping them. For it is hard not to suspect that the proliferation of master’s degrees programs has less to do with exploding employer demand for advanced degrees in Jewish studies or public history, and more to do with the availability of student loans to fund those degrees. The government caps the amount that undergraduates can borrow, but offers graduate students considerably more rope with which to hang themselves.

3) Of course Republicans don’t want you to see a report with inconvenient findings on corporate taxation.

4) Why the recent Supreme Court case is the perfect one for overturning the scourge that is gerrymandering.

5) Joe Nocera on the FBI and NCAA College basketball, “The FBI Is Doing the NCAA’s Dirty Work: Charges of corruption and bribery in college basketball are about amateurism rules, not laws.”

6) Brian Resnick on fake news and the illusory truth effect:

But each time a reader encounters one of these stories on Facebook, Google, or really anywhere, it makes a subtle impression. Each time, the story grows more familiar. And that familiarity casts the illusion of truth.

Recent and historical work in psychology shows mere exposure to fake news makes it spread. To understand why — and the extent to which false stories seep into our brains — we need to understand the psychology of the illusory truth effect…

The illusory truth effect has been studied for decades — the first citations date back to the 1970s. Typically, experimenters in these studies ask participants to rate a series of trivia statements as true or false. Hours, weeks, or even months later, the experimenters bring the participants back again for a quiz.

On that second visit, some of the statements are new and some are repeats. And it’s here that the effect shows itself: Participants are reliably more likely to rate statements they’ve seen before as being true — regardless of whether they are.

When you’re hearing something for the second or third time, your brain becomes faster to respond to it. “And your brain misattributes that fluency as a signal for it being true,” says Lisa Fazio, a psychologist who studies learning and memory at Vanderbilt University. The more you hear something, the more “you’ll have this gut-level feeling that maybe it’s true.”

Most of the time, this mental heuristic — a thinking shortcut — helps us. We don’t need to rack our brains every time we hear “the Earth is round” to decide if it’s true or not. Most of the things we hear repeated over and over again are, indeed, true. But falsehoods can hijack this mental tic as well.

7) That whole IRS Tea Party scandal, we now know (and had clues back then), was not actually a scandal.  The reporters and editors involved should be embarrassed:

The issue might have become part of what Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan has called the “scandal attention cycle” — the rapid surge of attention as reporters race to cover an issue followed by a similar decline as the news media loses interest. “The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out,” Nyhan has written. “By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.”

Indeed, the original claims by Republicans were widely reported “without much investigation,” said DeWayne Wickham, dean of the journalism school at Morgan State University and a former columnist for USA Today.

News organizations, Wickham said, “do too much repeating and not enough reporting. As a result, journalists often use the work of other journalists as the primary source of the news they report. In the case of the IRS story, this problem was compounded by an obsession that a lot news organizations have with proving they are balanced in their coverage of the warring between the political right and left.”

8) And Paul Waldman on what this tells us about Republican corruption.

9) Really nice Dahlia Lithwick piece on Supreme Court jurisprudence on gun control and the current ambiguity.

10) Michael Shermer, “Guns Aren’t a Bulwark Against Tyranny. The Rule of Law Is.”

Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true…

If you think stock piling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional…

A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public. [emphasis mine]

11) Thomas Edsall with a deep dive on how changing attitudes towards immigration in the Midwest did in Hillary.

12) Nice Upshot graphic (and article) on what gun control policies experts think are effective and have public support.

13) This “why we never talk about ‘Black on Black crime'” essay is terrific.

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