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.

 

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Quick hits (part II)

Look at this, your first double quick hits, on-time, weekend in forever :-).

1) Truly, the everyday corruption of the Trump administration is just astounding.  And the politicization of the Department of Justice is among the worst parts.  NYT:

President Trump’s Justice Department — for it is increasingly clear that the department has been reduced to an arm of the White House — has opened an antitrust investigation of four auto companies that had the temerity to defy the president by voluntarily agreeing to reduce auto emissions below the level required by current federal law.

The investigation is an act of bullying, plain and simple: a nakedly political abuse of authority.

The department is supposed to prevent companies from acting in their own interest at the expense of the public. The four automakers, by contrast, are acting in the public interest.

That the government of the United States would fight to loosen emissions standards in the face of the growing threat posed by climate change also boggles the mind. Not content to fiddle while the planet burns, Mr. Trump is fanning the flames…

If the Justice Department wants to get serious about antitrust enforcement, there are plenty of places to get started. This investigation is an embarrassment. It might as well wheel out the statue of Lady Justice and replace it with a bronze marionette.

2) Oh, and why we’re at it, how about making immigrant kids go hungry.  Seriously, of course.  My friend and colleague, Sarah Bowen, in the NYT:

Between 2012 and 2017, as part of a study of how low-income mothers feed their children, we talked with women who had moved from Mexico and Central America to the United States. They came here because they wanted to be able to offer their children more than they’d had growing up, including a full belly at the end of every day. Over the course of our research — amid increasing ICE raids, tightened work restrictions and growing anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by President Trump’s rhetoric — we found that many families became afraid to apply for food assistance programs. The Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule will intensify this kind of fear for immigrant families, including those who are in this country legally. One result will be more hungry families and children.

By allowing the government to deny permanent legal status (also known as green cards) to people who have received public benefits like housing assistance, SNAP or Medicaid, the new rule — which will go into effect Oct. 15 if it survives legal challenges, including suits by CaliforniaNew York and Washington — will force families to choose between putting food on the table and the promise of future citizenship.

3) Wired feature on the wagon wheel effect of water going up and other fascinating illusions is pretty cool.

4) Thanks to JPP for sending me this, “It doesn’t matter if it’s sugary or diet: New study links all soda to an early death.”   From my response to his email,
“Thanks, of course. I find this one particularly interesting in that they have 400K+ people and still can’t truly make useful conclusions about diet soda. Just too many unmeasured factors, even with their controls. And, while we all understand the potential deleterious mechanisms for excess sugar, I would argue that it is incumbent upon them to add a scientifically plausible mechanism of action for aspartame leading to diseases of the circulatory system.”  Some studies make me honestly assess my commitment to diet soda.  This was not one of them.

5) Is there anything dumber than Republicans’ asinine, bad-faith “republic, not a democracy” nonsense (well, sure, of course there is, but this is really annoying)?  Jamelle Bouie:

But the crux of Crenshaw’s argument is his second point. “We live in a republic.” He doesn’t say “not a democracy,” but it’s implied by the next clause, where he rejects majority rule — “51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.”

You can fill in the blanks of the argument from there. The Founding Fathers built a government to stymie the “tyranny of the majority.” They contrasted their “republic” with “democracy,” which they condemned as dangerous and unstable. As John Adams wrote in an 1814 letter to the Virginia politician John Taylor: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.”

But there’s a problem. For the founders, “democracy” did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece, in particular, was a cautionary tale. When James Madison critiqued “democracy” in Federalist No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort: “a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.” This he contrasted with a “republic” or “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” Likewise, in a 1788 speech to the New York ratification convention, Alexander Hamilton disavowed “the ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated.” They “never possessed one good feature of government,” he said. “Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”…

It’s worth asking where this quip — “we’re a republic, not a democracy” — even came from. Nicole Hemmer, a historian of American politics and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” traces it to the 1930s and 40s. “When Franklin Roosevelt made defending democracy a core component of his argument for preparing for, and then intervening in, the war in Europe, opponents of U.S. intervention began to push back by arguing that the U.S. was not, in fact, a democracy,” she wrote in an email…

These origins are important. If there’s substance behind “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government. There’s really no difference, in the present, between a “republic” and a “democracy”: Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.

The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few. [emphasis mine]

6a) Really interesting NYT feature on how Phoenix is adapting to climate change by moving more and more activities to the night-time.  Also, speaking as a resident of an almost temperate rainforest climate, people really should not move to the desert by the millions.

6b) And very, very cool interactive Washington Post feature on how climate change is already affecting all sorts of places across America.

7) Paul Waldman, “if we told the truth about guns”

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.

And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.

8a) This was a really good piece from Perry Bacon Jr last month, “GOP Politicians Are Much More Resistant To Gun Control Than GOP Voters Are.”

8b) Relatedly, Dylan Matthews from last year on how gun ownership because a political identity is really good:’

In 1972, about 66 percent of gun owners voted for Richard Nixon, compared to 55 percent of non-gun owners, for a gap of 11 percentage points.

In 2012, 56 percent of gun owners voted for Mitt Romney, compared to 26 percent of non-gun owners. The gap was 30 percent, almost triple what it was in 1972. Joslyn and Haider-Markel updated their study in 2017, and found that the gap in 2016 wasn’t quite as large as in 2012 — 62 percent of gun owners and 38 percent of non-owners voted for Trump  but it did remain significant and far larger than in the 1970s and ’80s.

The gun gap could just be an artifact of other demographics. For instance, we know that for a whole host of historical reasons, black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and whites mostly vote for Republicans; whites are also likelier to own guns, so the gap might reflect racial differences. Same goes for partisan gender gaps (women are more likely to be Democrats and less likely to own guns), rural/urban gaps, and so forth.

But Joslyn and company find that even after you control for gender, race, education, age, rural/urban status, and even party affiliation, gun ownership still correlates strongly with presidential vote choice. Indeed, they find that in their regressions, it “exerts a greater influence on likelihood of voting Republican than gender, education, or rural residence, and rivals age.”

These regressions can’t prove causality — that is, they can’t prove that gun ownership causes people to vote Republican. But they do show that the phenomenon we’re seeing isn’t just an effect of which racial groups or genders are likely to own guns.

8c) And while wer’re at it, Nate Cohn from 2017 with lots of cool graphics on how “Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun.”

9) My wife particularly loved this story about the problems faced by those left behind in gentrification.  I really don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think preventing the revitalization of urban cores by wealthier residents (and an important reversal of decades of white flight) is a bad thing.

10) Speaking of my post on ebooks, good stuff from Wired on “The Radical Transformation of the Textbook.”

11) Good stuff from Lili Loofbourow on “sharpiegate.”

More interesting in Trump’s ongoing lie is what his absolute fixation on maintaining it says about the state of his White House and its relationship to the information environment. So clumsy and obvious was the Sharpie-drawn extension that it seemed like a test—how much can I get away with? Authoritarians frequently gauge their subordinates’ loyalties by ordering them to agree to things that are plainly untrue. This is the very first thing Trump did to then–press secretary Sean Spicer, who was forced to publicly defend the president’s claim about crowd sizes at his inauguration despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Spicer obliged, teaching Trump that he could use weak people to help him bend reality as president.

Here’s a theory about why Trump couldn’t let it go this week: One of his staunchest allies didn’t seem to have his back. It may have rattled him. Fox News, which he has recently started attacking for being insufficiently slavish—has let him down…

And if #Sharpiegate can be said to serve any non-embarrassing function, it’s as a test of another kind, to see which institutions and people have rotted under the president’s hysterical commands and which ones haven’t. On Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown issued a statement taking responsibility for the president’s out-of-date information. On Thursday, a source from the White House informed CNN that Trump had personally directed Brown to make this statement. The president was forcing a high-ranking military official to cover for him. On Friday evening, the NOAA released a peculiar, unsigned statement throwing the Alabama NWS under the bus for contradicting the president-who-shall-not-be-contradicted. (The NWS Employees Organization wasn’t having it, and neither were many former NOAA officials, who professed themselves stunned.)

What’s noteworthy about all this is not that Trump is forcing the government to write him notes of excuse; that’s old news by now. It’s that his critics have not merely shrugged and gone away, and that even the façade of his defense has shown cracks. It was a White House aide who revealed the John Roberts visit to the Oval Office, and, according to the Washington Post, it was a White House official who broke with the administration line to admit that the president of the United States had marked up an official NOAA map in order to avoid even a whiff of admitting fault.

“No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the source said. Trump can sell whatever he wants; he’s seeing what happens when people don’t buy it.

12) This is excellent and true, “The Guy Who Open-Carried an Assault Rifle Into Walmart After El Paso Is America’s Best Gun Control Activist”

On Aug. 3, a 21-year-old Texas man shot 46 people in an El Paso Walmart with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 22 of them. On Aug. 8, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor and carrying a semi-automatic rifle entered a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, in what police say he intended as a “social experiment” to see if the store would honor the state’s open-carry law in the wake of the El Paso killings.

The experiment got results. After shoppers panicked and a store employee pulled a fire alarm to trigger an evacuation, the man—his name is Dmitriy Andreychenko—was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat; prosecutors argue that he recklessly disregarded the possibility that his actions would cause dangerous chaos. If you’ve been following the rise of politically motivated “tactical” open-carry culture in the last six or so years, what happened next was surprising: Walmart—and a number of its competitors, like Kroger, Wegmans, CVS, and Walgreens—have announced that they are “requesting” or “asking” customers not to display firearms in their stores even in states where the practice is legal.

As private entities, the stores have the right to set rules for their property. Walmart says it will take a “a very non-confrontational approach” to enforcing its request, but gun proliferation is a cultural issue as well as a legal one, which is why certain gun enthusiasts have been so eager to make a public show of openly carrying—and why the company’s move, however non-confrontational, carries weight. Gun activists’ goal has been to make ordinary citizens accept the presence of people who could kill at any moment—to deliver the message that visibly armed citizens ought to be part of everyday life, to express the power of the gun-rights movement, and to convey the idea that arming oneself, rather than collectively disarming society, is the proper response to feeling unsafe.

Open carry has been hard to stop at the legal level in states where Republicans control legislatures, which, of late, is most of them. The Supreme Court has not recognized a constitutional right to carry guns in public, yet, but it hasn’t struck down any open-carry laws either. Advocates of gun control (or gun safety, if you prefer) have been attempting for years to do an end-run by persuading chain stores and restaurants—which can be more responsive to national, general-public opinion than legislators in gerrymandered states—to ban open carry, with some success.

None of their efforts, though, have been as instantly effective as Andreychenko’s stunt in making the point that wearing military protective gear and carrying a semi-automatic weapon should perhaps not be considered an acceptable way to behave, during peacetime, around people who are shopping for paper towels. [emphasis mine]

13) Been a huge fan of Lizzo’s music since I discovered her via Fresh Air earlier this year.  So good!  And, thus, very intrigued to learn that it wasn’t even her terrific songs on her new album that finally brought her to the success she deserves.  De gustibus non est disputandam!  I even discovered when following the youtube links, that she’s playing in Raleigh this Friday.  Alas, I don’t have to worry about being the weird middle-aged white dude at her concert, because it’s sold out.  Obviously booked this small venue before she really took off.

14) New Yorker with some of the truly amazing detail NC GOP gerrymanderer-in-chief Thomas Hofeller had on his computer.

15) How two-factor authentication with your phone may no longer keep you safe.  Turns out that the massively weak link is the cell phone companies.  And, apparently, they don’t care.  Seems to me maybe the government needs to make them (I can dream).

16) Have I mentioned how much I love Netflix’s Dark?  A nice appreciation in Wired.

17) Wow, here was quite the hot take in the NYT, “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience:
Spaying and neutering puppies shouldn’t be standard policy — and it isn’t automatically the “responsible” choice either.”  Steve’s take.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to treat them well, but… they kind of are here for our convenience.

18) Michele Goldberg made the case for Cory Booker back in early August.  I’m still hopeful he’ll catch on as a real contender.

19) Some health news I really like, “Flavonoids in Plants May Help Protect Against Major Killers: Those who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods had a lower risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.”

Consuming flavonoids, a large class of nutrients found in plant foods, may reduce the risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.

Researchers used data on 56,048 Danes, following their diet and health prospectively for 23 years. During that time, 14,083 of them died. The study is in Nature Communications.

After controlling for smoking, hypertension, cholesterol and many other health and dietary factors, they found that compared with people in the lowest one-fifth for flavonoid intake, those in the highest one-fifth had a 17 percent reduced risk for all-cause mortality, a 15 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular disease death, and a 20 percent reduced risk for cancer mortality. The association peaked at about 500 milligrams of flavonoids a day, and was stronger for smokers, heavy drinkers and the obese.

Good sources of flavonoids include tea, chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, berries, apples and broccoli. One cup of tea, one apple, one orange, and three-and-a-half ounces each of blueberries and broccoli would supply more than 500 milligrams of total flavonoids.

Yeah, not so much the brocoli, but love me berries and citrus.

20) This was a disturbing and sadly unsurprising Op-Ed, “A Child Bumps Her Head. What Happens Next Depends on Race: My black and Latino clients are accused of abuse when their kids have accidents.”

Quick hits (part I)

Finally.  The first Saturday 6am quick hits in seemingly forever (I’m thinking of your happiness DJC).  Enjoy.

1) Timothy Egan on why people hate religion (or at least the horribly hypocritical “Christian” Trump supporters)

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor,the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicalssay their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump,” said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior.

2) It is possible that estrogen protects women from mental illness and that they become more susceptible after menopause?  Quite interestingly, yes.

3) It is possible that my phone was listening while a friend was telling me about this research and that’s why the article showed up in my FB feed later that night?  Yes!  And creepy!

4) So, to raise a reader I should neither reward my kids for reading or punish them for not reading, but simply model my love of reading.  You know what?  That latter approach so does not work for my kids.  So, yeah, sometimes I just make them do it.  And, hopefully, if they read enough they’ll actually realize reading is awesome.  But, otherwise, it would be all Fortnite all the time.

5) OMG it’s awful and horrible what’s going on with radical Islamist women at a refugee camp in Syria.  Really, really disturbing read.

6) And a story in the Post, too, “At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule

7) Well, it dropped from the news really quickly (appropriately so, I think), but good work from Ben Wittes on the ridiculous anti-Comey report from the DOJ Inspector-General:

And there it is: the inspector general of the United States Department of Justice taking the position that a witness to gross misconduct by the president of the United States has a duty to keep his mouth shut about what he saw. Remember, after all, that Comey was a witness here as well as the former FBI director. That’s an extraordinary position for a law enforcement organization to take. If that is what FBI policy and an employment agreement required of Comey under the extraordinary circumstances he faced, so be it. I’m glad both were given their due weight.

8a) Yglesias is quite right, “The wild corruption of Trump’s golf courses deserves more scrutiny: Mike Pence is staying three hours outside of Dublin so Trump can make money.”  Democrats really need to sink their teeth into this.  Pretty much any other government employee would be fired over such egregiously corrupt behavior.

8b) Unsurprisingly, Chait is really, really good on this:

As an ethical violation, what’s notable about Pence going (literally) out of his way to stay at a Trump property is the meagerness of the stakes and the black-and-white clarity of the offense. Any government official below Trump’s rank who engaged in a similar offense would be fired. Just imagine if some assistant secretary was running a hotel on the side and told one of their subordinates to stay there on official business. They’d be fired on the spot.

It might seem strange for Trump and Pence to incur the awful publicity that comes with engaging such corruption in broad daylight, especially when the payoff — a handful of additional customers at a resort — is relatively small. But it is precisely that disjuncture between the brazenness and the scale that makes this episode significant. Pence is establishing the principle that Trump is entitled to profit from his office, and — far more importantly — his participation signals his culpability in the scheme.

Trump is generally an outgrowth of the party’s broader authoritarian evolution, but one way in which he is an outlier is his determination to blend his business with his public duties. Before Trump, Republicans never contemplated the idea that a president could run a private business while serving in office. Trump has blurred this line so repeatedly it barely registers when he does so. His staffers promote his daughter’s brand, he touts one of his resorts as a potential host site for next year’s G7 summit, his Washington hotel becomes a marker for foreign and domestic allies to pay tribute — the accretion of small violations gradually implicates the entire party establishment.

9) Some good PS research… why are young Evangelicals sticking with the Republican Party?  Abortion and the stickiness of Party ID.

10a) I read very few autobiographies or memoirs, but I read Andre Agassi’s Open upon the strong recommendation of my friend Laurel (i.e., “Elder” in all the “Elder and Greene” parenthood and politics research) and I’m really glad I did.  The New Yorker found it worth remembering 10 years later.

10b) Which reminds me.  I really should check out some from this NYT list of best memoirs of the past 50 years.

11) Loved this history lesson on the political party system in the 1850’s (I actually wrote a graduate school paper on the topic) for never Trumpers:

Ex-Democrats in the 1850s and 1860s didn’t have to become Whigs. They were able to join a new political party—albeit one dominated by former Whigs.

The shrewdest of today’s Never Trump Republicans realize that they face only one clean choice, and it is, of course, more jarring: Become Democrats or, like the prominent GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, become independents and support Democrats. Third parties have rarely taken flight in American history, and when they have, they rarely stay airborne for long.

Like the Iowan who felt as though he were “tearing [himself] away from old home associations,” Never Trumpers will find it a bitter pill to swallow.

But history offers them some consolation.

In the process of abandoning their party allegiance, most Democrats-turned-Republicans disenthralled themselves from political prejudices that no longer made much sense. In Congress, they avidly supported distinctly Whiggish policies like the Homestead Act, the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, all of which established a foundation for the country’s post-war economic growth. On some level, the war catalyzed this political realignment. But something equally fundamental may also have been at play: Having concluded that their former Whig enemies shared their fundamental commitment to the good of the nation, ex-Democrats freed themselves to imagine a larger space for political collaboration.

12) This was really interesting, “Why Euthanasia Rates at Animal Shelters Have Plummeted: A cultural transformation: Spaying and neutering are now the norm, and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.”

13) I think I might have mentioned (if not here, at least on twitter), my frustration with Elizabeth Warren rejecting nuclear power.  Henry Olsen, “Don’t trust candidates who ignore nuclear power.”  I know he’s forgotten these days, but hooray for Cory Booker.

14) Good stuff (as always!) from Thomas Edsall on the growing education split in the parties:

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.

This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.

The authors, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, political scientists at Duke and Ohio State, make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

For the record I took my Intro to Comparative Politics class with Kitschelt 27 years ago.

15) So, apparently there are three pillars of charisma:

Olivia Fox Cabane, a charisma coach and the author of the book “The Charisma Myth,” says we can boil charismatic behavior down to three pillars.

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

To master this pillar, Ms. Cabane suggests imagining a person you feel great warmth and affection for, and then focusing on what you enjoy most about your shared interactions. You can do this before interactions, or in shorter spurts while listening to someone else speak. This, she says, can change body chemistry in seconds, making even the most introverted among us exude the type of warmth linked to high-charisma people.

16) The miracle treatment for poverty?  Cash for poor people.  Seriously .

17) I had no idea that typical electric cars had a single-speed transmission!  This was really interesting.

To go with a 0 to 60 mph time under three seconds, 750 horsepower, and the ability to refill its battery in just over 20 minutes, the engineers at Porsche gave their all-new, all-electric Taycan a two-speed gearbox. And while that feature is unlikely to grace any headlines, it represents a potentially major shift for the electric car market.

Apart from the Taycan, every production EV uses a single-speed transmission, and gets along just fine. Internal combustion engines need a bunch of gears because they have a narrow RPM window within which they can operate efficiently. For electric motors, that window is much wider, so a single-speed works for both low-end acceleration and highway driving. It does require some compromise, and so EV makers favor low-end acceleration over Autobahn-worthy top speeds. Where most electrics top out around 125 mph (Tesla limits its cars to 163), the Taycan will touch 161 mph.

18) When Sean Trende says, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas” the GOP should worry about Texas.

19) Some interesting research:

There are many reasons people fail to act in environmentally friendly ways. Inertia, for some. Fatalism, for others. Then there’s the difficulty of fully grasping the long-term consequences of our actions.

New research points to another, more surprising disincentive for going green: the fear that others might question our sexual orientation.

As a 2016 study confirmed, environmentalism is widely perceived as feminine behavior. Even today, caring and nurturing behavior is associated with women—and that includes taking steps to sustain the environment.

But as this new paper points out, specific types of pro-environment behavior can align with either masculine or feminine stereotypes. It also reports that engaging in the “wrong” type of environmentalism can lead people to wonder about your sexuality, and perhaps even avoid socializing with you.

20) This really bugged me, “Whole Foods CEO on plant-based meat boom: Good for the environment but not for your health.”  Sure, I’m biased because I love the stuff, but I don’t think the point of this is that it’s health food.  Yes, it is highly processed, but nobody is mistaking fake meat for broccoli and blueberries and it surely lacks some of the bad stuff for you in real meat.  But far more importantly, relative to real meat, plant-based meat is so damn good for the planet.  That’s why I am happy to eat all I can.

21) This interactive NPR feature is really, really cool (and informative!), “PLASTICS
What’s recyclable, what becomes trash — and why”

Quick hits (part I)

1) The total disrespect for science out of the Trump administration is so depressing.  USDA version (one of many there):

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

2) So, apparently that walking around with a water bottle all day to hydrate may not be so great.   Some interesting research suggests hydrating is much more effective with meals.  Hooray for me and my 60 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper with pizza lunches:

“If you’re drinking water and then, within two hours, your urine output is really high and [your urine] is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says…

“People who are drinking bottles and bottles of water in between meals and with no food, they’re probably just peeing most of that out,” Nieman says. Also, the popular idea that constant and heavy water consumption “flushes” the body of toxins or unwanted material is a half-truth. While urine does transport chemical byproducts and waste out of the body, drinking lots of water on an empty stomach doesn’t improve this cleansing process, he says.

3) This is cool. “Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong.”

Consider the assumptions underlying that common answer:

“Gravity is the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “force.” We can say gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces, but it’s such an outlier that the word “force” becomes nearly meaningless. The strong nuclear force (which keeps atomic nuclei intact) is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which creates the light spectrum), which in turn is up to 10,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force (which facilitates the subatomic interactions responsible for radioactive decay). Three forces, all within six orders of magnitude of one another. Then comes gravitation. It’s about a million billion billion billion times weaker than the weak nuclear.

To put that discrepancy into perspective, you can try this experiment at home. Place a paper clip on a tabletop. There it remains, unmoving, anchored to its spot by its gravitational interaction with the entire planet beneath it. The Earth’s mass is 6,583,003,100,000,000,000,000 tons. A paper clip’s mass is 4/100 of an ounce. Now take a refrigerator magnet and wand it over the paper clip. Presto! You have counteracted the gravitational “force” of the entire Earth with a wave of your hand…

So: “Gravity is.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “is.” We know what gravity does, in the sense that we can mathematically measure and predict its effects. We might anticipate what happens when two black holes collide or when we let go of a rock. But we don’t know how it does what it does. We know what its effects are, and we can give the name “gravity” to the cause of those effects, but we don’t know the cause of that cause.

Not that cosmologists particularly care. In science, knowing what you don’t know is a good start. In this case, it has led scientists to believe that finding a quantum solution to gravity is a key — perhaps the key — to understanding the universe on the most fundamental level. Until then, they will work with what they do know, no matter what every bone in their bodies tells them:

Gravity is not the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.

4) I find it astounding and depressing that we still have headlines like this in 2019.  How clueless of a school administrator do you need to be to not get this.  “Georgia school faces backlash over display of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ black hairstyles.”

5) Don’t quite understand what the Fed does and feel like you should?  Just take 5 minutes with this from Planet Money.

6) Michelle Goldberg asks, “Why Not Cory Booker? He’s winning the debates and he’s great on paper. When will he catch on?”  I’m not about to put money on him, but Booker is good stuff and I think there’s still a non-trivial chance he’ll catch on.  I would be a very enthusiastic supporter.

7) Our criminal justice system is so disgustingly screwed up in systematically unfair ways.  This Radley Balko headline kind of says it all, “A young black football player was arrested after claiming ‘cocaine’ on his car was bird poop. It was bird poop.”

This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.

Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.

  • Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
  • Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
  • Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
  • 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere? …

Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaptortilla doughdeodorantbilliards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mintsloose-leaf teaJolly RanchersvitaminsKrispy Kreme doughnut glazeairTylenoljust about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience storedry wallBC powdercotton candypowdered sugar, and now . . . bird poop.

8) Dahlia Lithwick with the best take of the photo of the Trump’s with the orphaned baby in El Paso:

Trump is really only good at one thing: being on television. Any event that can be engineered to look like a scene from The Apprentice can be fudged to his advantage. Stadium rallies, press availability from inside the Oval Office, even canned speeches read from a teleprompter can be salvaged; so long as he is essentially only producing a simulacrum of presidenting, he can shift along. But reality confounds him. Take him out from behind the oceans of fawning MAGA hats and put him next to a real survivor of sexual violence, and all the grinning and preening tricks fail him. Put him next to actual heads of state discussing actual international policy, and he sulks and mopes. Oh, he can pull off the photo-op; this is a man made of photo-ops. But time and time again, when he is called on to deal with real people—not glassy superfans but genuine human beings whom he allegedly serves as president—he fails to meet the occasion. The consummate reality-TV president is unerringly confounded by reality.

It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans—that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.

Trump cannot function in reality. He lives in a hall of mirrors with his made-for-TV family, as the national security apparatus, the national intelligence apparatus, the foreign service, and foreign policy detonate all around him. And on the rare occasion on which he is called to step out from behind the glass panopticon that he has built, he fails, spectacularly, because that which really matters can’t be tweeted or reduced to a campaign video.

9) Another only-in-America health care story (at least among industrialized nations), “He lost his insurance and turned to a cheaper form of insulin. It was a fatal decision.”

10) Love what David Morse is doing with his students, “I teach my college students to lie. Honestly. Whoppers. It’s good for them.”

To begin, each student adopted the persona of a real-world politician, journalist or so-called expert, then used a Twitter-style platform to advance their arguments, criticize their opponents and introduce new “evidence.” With gusto, the Liars took advantage of the tools in the deceivers’ playbook, larding their lies with facts (e.g., government experiments on vulnerable populations), asking leading questions, posing worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, the Truthers, beholden to the facts, could not provide an accurate answer to the liars’ demands as to the location of the missing prisoners. Instead they feebly attempted to shift the debate to the jobs that NASA creates, or criminal justice reform.

11) As much as I love Vox on policy, articles like this always end up with me rolling my eyes in dismay, “Orange Is the New Black celebrated diverse women. It also exploited their stories.”  One of the few shows that tells stories of diverse women to a mainstream audience, apparently, because the writing is sometimes cliche and mediocre, they are actually “exploiting” these women.

12) David Graham on presidential appointments:

Ideally the goals of serving the president and serving the people and the Constitution do not conflict, but the important moments are the ones when they do. Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the withdrawal of Representative John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican he’d tapped to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. That abortive nomination lays bare how acute this tension has become in the Trump administration.

13) I watch Jurassic Park movies pretty much every time they are on basic cable TV (I still love having cable and just flipping through the guide on weekends to see what’s on).  Anyway, was utterly fascinated to learn this about amber fossils:

That amber fossils exist at all is a bit of a miracle—a succession of miracles, even. First, a tree has to be oozing sap (in the Dominican Republic, amber forms from the sap of the Hymenaea tree). Healthy trees don’t dribble goo—trees do so only when they are stressed by damage, insects, fires, or disease. The resin acts like a translucent bandage, protecting the tree from further injury.

Then, an insect or other creature has to be trapped in the resin. The most common victims are flies (about half of biological inclusions are flies), but social insects such as ants, bees, and termites are also often found in stalactites of resin. The creature either drowns as the sticky goo fills its mouth and spiracles (bug lungs) or starves as it struggles to escape the resin. Most insects or arthropods fossilized in amber are less than seven-eighths of an inch long, since larger creatures can usually pull themselves out of the resin’s deadly grasp.

The resin must then land on wet, swampy soil and, eventually, end up in a freshwater current—if the resin lands on a dry forest floor, it will disintegrate into powder or crack into pieces. Once in freshwater, the resin must flow to an ocean or marsh, where it can be covered by sediment in an oxygenless environment. In this prehistoric kitchen, with millions of years of time plus pressure, the resin hardens into a polymer, in the same way plastic is made from petroleum. The resin has then become amber—nonreactive, stable, and a perfect preserver for the life caught inside.

When plate tectonics or erosion brings the amber to the surface, human hands can pick it up or chisel it out of the surrounding gray layers of lignite.

14) Good stuff in Wired on the difficulty of human spaceflight all the way to Mars.  Maybe a good pillow would help.

15) Misunderstanding of the nature of opioid addition are so common.  Great stuff from Sally Satel:

In tightening controls on doctors who prescribe pain relievers, state and federal agencies were focusing on the aspect of the problem most subject to regulatory intervention.

To some degree, the strategy worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths declined by around 5 percent in 2018—a dip attributable almost exclusively to fewer deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids. (Fentanyl deaths are still climbing.) Now that the fever of the opioid crisis may be breaking, Americans can revisit some of the stories we have told ourselves about the role of prescription medication in the crisis.

Did policymakers and public health experts correctly assess who was at risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications? Were their views on the addictive potential of such drugs realistic? Did they anticipate the consequences of policies devised to constrain doctors from over-prescribing? In retrospect, policymakers seriously misjudged the answers to these questions, overestimating the risk that these drugs posed to the average patient while simultaneously doing too little to urge clinicians to identify those most vulnerable to addiction. The best time to correct course is now—while the opioid problem still commands public attention, and before the restrictions imposed at the height of the crisis harden into permanent practice…

In fact, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication report receiving the drugs from their doctor, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Misuse is a term that includes anything from taking an extra pill beyond the quantity prescribed by a doctor to full-blown addiction.) About half obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative, while others either stole or bought pills from someone they knew, bought from a dealer, or went out looking for a doctor willing to write prescriptions.

People who abuse pills are rarely new to drugs. The federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, revealed that more than three-fourths of misusers had used non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, or inhalants. A study of OxyContin users in treatment found that they “were not naive individuals with accidental addictions who were introduced to painkillers by their physicians as reported by the media…[instead they had] extensive drug use histories.”

Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in single digits; studies show an incidence from under 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed towards the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

16) Jonathan Bernstein: “The Long, Slow Destruction of the U.S. Government: The Trump administration continues its attacks on foreign policy, innovation and economic management.”

Item: Sue Gordon announced her plans to retire as principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking decades of experience with her, in a less-than-appreciative letter — what Dan Drezner called “Mattis Letter II.

Item: A Foreign Service officer resigned in an op-ed, saying “ I can no longer justify … my complicity in the actions of this administration.”

Item: The Donald Trump administration is finding creative ways to destroy the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which Catherine Rampell describes as “arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency.”

That’s all from Thursday. They are hardly the only examples of how the administration is, to put it bluntly, destroying the U.S. government.

We’ve seen this from the start of Trump’s presidency, and it continues. I don’t think there’s any full accounting of all the damage that’s being done, whether it’s attacks on government statistics or the capacity to do science or the well-publicized war against an accurate census.

Some of this, like the attacks on the intelligence community, seem to be a combination of Trump’s personal preferences and conspiracy-minded thinking in Republican-aligned media. Some of it is mindless budget-cutting from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Trump likely neither knows or cares about. Some of it is what happens when the government is turned over to the short-term interests of major corporations.

But in the long term, the U.S economy will likely pay dearly for it. Economic management will suffer without reliable statistics. Productivity will suffer without government assistance in innovation (regardless of what ideologues on one side or the other will claim, innovation in the U.S. has always been a product of both public and private initiatives).

And the same thing for U.S. foreign policy, and really everything else.

This is of course not to say that everything the federal government does is worthwhile or running at maximum efficiency. Or that every federal bureaucrat is delivering for the nation. But there’s nothing systematic about any of what’s happening here. No plan. No strategy. No effort to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. It’s just basically random attacks on random pieces of the government. It will take years to recover from. In some ways, perhaps the nation will never recover.

17) This is really good from Peter Beinart, “What the Measles Epidemic Really Says About America:
The return of a vanquished disease reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.”

Declining vaccination rates not only reflect a great forgetting; they also reveal a population that suffers from overconfidence in its own amateur knowledge. In her book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jennifer Reich notes that starting in the 1970s, alternative-health movements “repositioned expertise as residing within the individual.” This ethos has grown dramatically in the internet age, so much so that “in arenas as diverse as medicine, mental health, law, education, business, and food, self-help or do-it-yourself movements encourage individuals to reject expert advice or follow it selectively.” Autodidacticism can be valuable. But it’s one thing to Google a food to see whether it’s healthy. It’s quite another to dismiss decades of studies on the benefits of vaccines because you’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. In an interview, Reich told me that some anti-vaccine activists describe themselves as “researchers,” thus equating their scouring of the internet on behalf of their families with the work of scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways, the post-1960s emphasis on autonomy and personal choice has been liberating. But it can threaten public health. Considered solely in terms of the benefits to one’s own child, the case for vaccinating against measles may not be obvious. Yes, the vaccine poses little risk to healthy children, but measles isn’t necessarily that dangerous to them either. The problem is that for others in society—such as children with a compromised immune system—measles may be deadly. By vaccinating their own children, and thus ensuring that they don’t spread the disease, parents contribute to the “herd immunity” that protects the vulnerable. But this requires thinking more about the collective and less about one’s own child. And this mentality is growing rarer in an era of what Reich calls “individualist parenting,” in which well-off parents spend “immense time and energy strategizing how to keep their children healthy while often ignoring the larger, harder-to-solve questions around them.”

18) Definitely the summer of Fornite for the Greene kids (and the neighbor kids who are over here playing it with them every day).  And, oh my, is my poor wife tired of it.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum expands on Jared Bernstein’s four economic myths and adds one:

You can read the whole thing here, but the details are less interesting than his entirely correct conclusion:

Pegging the “natural rate” too high, ignoring the harm from exposure to international competition, austere budget policy, low and stagnant minimum wages — all of these misunderstood economic relationships have one thing in common.

In every case, the costs fall on the vulnerable: people who depend on full employment to get ahead; blue-collar production workers and communities built around factories; families who suffer from austerity-induced weak recoveries and under-funded safety nets, and who depend on a living wage to make ends meet. These groups are the casualties of faulty economics.

In contrast, the benefits in every case accrue to the wealthy: highly educated workers largely insulated from slack labor markets, executives of outsourcing corporations, the beneficiaries of revenue-losing tax cuts that allegedly require austere budgets, and employers of low-wage workers.

It’s funny how mistakes like this always seem to point in the same direction, isn’t it? And I’d add at least one more: that lower taxes on the rich are good for the economy. There is, at best, some thin evidence that this is true if top marginal rates are very high, but that’s about it. In the America that we actually live in today, there’s simply no reason to think that cutting taxes on the rich will have any effect other than the rich paying lower taxes and the budget deficit going up.

But don’t expect to stop hearing this anyway—or any of Bernstein’s other four examples. They’re just too convenient for the rich and powerful.

2) This from Nick Hanauer was really good in the July Atlantic, “Better Schools Won’t Fix America
Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.”  Alas, I was shocked that smart people could be so willfully naive on the issue of education.  But, motivated reasoning.  Damn.  At least Hanauer has opened his eyes to something I thought all liberals already knew (though, apparently not the super-rich philanthropic class):

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself…

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem. [emphasis mine]

3) OMG, how had I never heard of musical political satirist Randy Rainbow before this week’s Fresh Air.  So good.  Just watch some of these.

4) Drum again, on race:

For what it’s worth, this was mostly the conclusion of Republicans themselves, too. The famous post-election autopsy written by the Republican National Committee after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, said this:

In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white….According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country….The Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.

But there was always a glaring problem with this strategy, one that everybody was keenly aware of: reaching out to black voters would only work if Republicans also ceased their tolerance of white bigotry. In other words, they’d almost certainly lose votes on a net basis at first, which would mean handing over the presidency—and maybe much more—to Democrats for upwards of a decade or so. That’s just too big a sacrifice for any political party to make.

So instead they took another route: they went after the white vote even harder. In Donald Trump they found a candidate who wasn’t afraid to appeal to racist sentiment loudly and bluntly, something that simply hadn’t occurred to other Republicans. They never thought they could get away with something like this in the 21st century, and normally they would have been right: it would have lost them as many votes among educated whites as it won them among working-class whites. But after eight years of a black president in the White House, racial tensions were ratcheted up just enough that Trump could get away with it. Only by a hair, and only with plenty of other help, but he did get away with it, losing 10 points of support among college-educated whites but gaining 14 points among working-class whites.

The entire Republican Party is now all-in on this strategy. They mostly stay quiet themselves and let Trump himself do the dirty work, but that’s enough. Nobody talks anymore about reaching out to the black community with a spirit of caring or any other spirit. Nor is there anything the rest of us can do about this. Republicans believe that wrecking the fabric of the country is their only hope of staying in power, and they’re right. If working-class whites abandon them even a little bit, they’re toast.

4) Jamelle Bouie on the gleeful hatred at Trump rallies:

The chanting was disturbing and the anger was frightening, but what I noticed most about the president’s rally in Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday night was the pleasure of the crowd.

His voters and supporters were having fun. The “Send her back” chant directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was hateful but also exuberant, an expression of racist contempt and a celebration of shared values.

This dynamic wasn’t unique to the event. It’s been a part of Trump’s rallies since 2015. Both he and his crowds work from a template. He rants and spins hate-filled tirades; they revel in the transgressive atmosphere. The chants are their mutual release. Sometimes he basks in them.

To watch raucous crowds of (mostly) white Americans unite in frenzied hatred of a black woman — to watch them cast her as a cancer on the body politic and a threat to a racialized social order — is to see the worst of our past play out in modern form.

To be clear, the Trump rally was not a lynch mob. But watching the interplay between leader and crowd, my mind immediately went to the mass spectacles of the lynching era. There’s simply no way to understand the energy of the event — its hatred and its pleasures — without looking to our history of communal racial violence and the ways in which Americans have used racial others, whether native-born or new arrivals, as scapegoats for their lost power, low status or nonexistent prosperity.

5) Have we hit “peak podcast“?  Probably.  Just a ridiculous amount of great content out there now.  That said, this is definitely harder than it looks, as a lot of mediocre podcasters have learned the hard way:

There’s no available data comparing podcast formats, such as how many interview shows exist and how many are news programs or narrative journalism. But industry analysts and production companies say that so-called “bantercasts,” in which the host and guests chitchat for an hour or more, likely comprise the bulk of new productions.

“So many of these are just painful,” said Tom Webster, the senior vice president of Edison Research, which tracks consumer media behavior. “We revere the great interviewers, but it’s an incredible skill that nobody has. What did Terry Gross do before she had her own show? Well, she was an interviewer, not a marketer for a software company.”

6) Great satire from New Yorker, “This Password is Invalid.”

Thank you for creating your new online account! Please choose a password.

password: lovedogs

error: Password must contain at least nine alphanumeric characters, including one number.

password: ilovemydog2

error: Password must contain at least one hard-to-guess number.

password: ilovemydog8

error: Getting warm, but not quite.

password: ilovemydog88

error: Uh-oh. Getting colder.

password: mydogismybestfriend1

error: Yeesh. Password must be less sad.

7) For you, DJC, “Born to Walk Barefoot: Shoes protect our feet, but they also alter our strides and could increase the wear on our leg joints.”  I will say I love my summertime barefoot walks.  Though, when it gets too cold in October, back to the shoes.

8) OMG what a scam safe deposit boxes are.  Clear lesson– don’t actually put anything truly valuable in them.

9) Nice essay from Dahlia Lithwick on all the damage Trump is doing to the rule of law:

The rule of law is a curious thing. It is made up not only of the skeletal legal rules, the ability of the courts and other authorities to enforce them, but also a range of norms, precedents and assumptions—the tissue, ligaments and nerve endings that hold those bare bones in place. These too are, in practice, essential to checking the caprice of brute power, and ensuring justice is pursued without fear or favour. Had the transition lasted longer than a couple of months, there might have been an interesting discussion among conservative and liberal critics of Trump about where the threat would come from—might his White House literally refuse to do the courts’ bidding? Might it instead subvert or bully those courts? Or might, in the end, all the sound and fury of the campaign trail be seen off by America’s trusty old political culture and constitution?…

When we look for evidence of erosion of the rule of law, it is not necessarily to be found in the “Muslim ban,” or the new anti-abortion regulations, or the big showy policy changes, many of which will be halted in the courts. The erosion of the rule of law is both much larger and far smaller than any of those big-ticket actions. It is happening because the crash barriers of constitutional order as anticipated by the Framers—a free press, an independent judiciary, a congress jealous of its own prerogatives, independent government agencies—have lost public trust. The very nature of language and truth have become confounded and confused. Far more worrying than any single cruel policy or a host of bad life-tenured judges, will be the lasting Trumpian legacy of a public that no longer believes in rules, in laws, or in the soft tissue of democracy itself.

10) So, this is cool, “Team Sports May Help Children Deal With Trauma: Training, working hard and learning to win and lose help children develop resilience, experts say.”  Also, playing on and/or coaching a soccer team is so much fun :-).

11) I have to say, 1984 is probably one of my favorite books ever.  And for something written in 1948 it is amazing how relevant it is to the world today.  Nice essay from George Packer on the meaning of 1984 today.  Also, if you haven’t read it, you really, really should.  And it’s a really good read, too, not just something you need to feel obligated to read.

12) An interesting argument that we are doing elementary education all wrong by putting too much emphasis on reading comprehension and not enough on knowledge.  Not sure I’m sold on this, but definitely an interesting argument.

Photo of the day

Great Atlantic photo gallery of the moon landing.  I’m a sucker for cool, reflected images.

A close-up view of Buzz Aldrin as he walks on the moon, with a reflected view of the Lunar Module and his photographer, Neil Armstrong, visible in Buzz’s visor.  NASA.

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

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