Quick hits (part I)

1) Don’t know how I missed this before, but “why conservatives are more susceptible to believing lies” is really good:

The answer, I think, lies in the interaction between reasoning processes and personality. It’s each person’s particular motivations and particular psychological makeup that affects how they search for information, what information they pay attention to, how they assess the accuracy and meaning of the information, what information they retain, and what conclusions they draw. But conservatives and liberals typically differ in their particular psychological makeups. And if you add up all of these particular differences, you get two groups that are systematically motivated to believe different things.

Psychologists have repeatedly reported that self-described conservatives tend to place a higher value than those to their left on deference to tradition and authority. They are more likely to value stability, conformity, and order, and have more difficulty tolerating novelty and ambiguity and uncertainty. They are more sensitive than liberals to information suggesting the possibility of danger than to information suggesting benefits. And they are more moralistic and more likely to repress unconscious drives towards unconventional sexuality.

Fairness and kindness place lower on the list of moral priorities for conservatives than for liberals. Conservatives show a stronger preference for higher status groups, are more accepting of inequality and injustice, and are less empathic (at least towards those outside their immediate family). As one Tea Party member told University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild, “People think we are not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees. But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”…

These conservative traits lead directly to conservative views on many issues, just as liberal traits tend to lead to liberal views on many issues. But when you consider how these conservative traits and these conservative views interact with commonly shared patterns of motivated reasoning, it becomes clearer why conservatives may be more likely to run into errors in reasoning and into difficulty judging accurately what is true and what is false.

It’s not just that Trump is “their” president, so they want to defend him. Conservatives’ greater acceptance of hierarchy and trust in authority may lead to greater faith that what the president says must be true, even when the “facts” would seem to indicate otherwise…

Similarly, greater valuation of stability, greater sensitivity to the possibility of danger, and greater difficulty tolerating difference and change lead to greater anxiety about social change and so support greater credulity with respect to lurid tales of the dangers posed by immigrants. And higher levels of repression and greater adherence to tradition and traditional sources of moral judgment increase the credibility of claims that gay marriage is a threat to the “traditional” family.

2) I didn’t think this was actually a new finding, but college professors sacrifice pay– as compared to comparable professionals– for greater flexibility in how they use their time.  A trade I’m grateful for every day.

3) The current flu vaccine market is broken and we need to fix it.  Or more flu.

4) NYT Op-ed on our hackable political future:

Imagine it is the spring of 2019. A bottom-feeding website, perhaps tied to Russia, “surfaces” video of a sex scene starring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the product of a user-friendly video application that employs generative adversarial network technology to convincingly swap out one face for another.

It is the summer of 2019, and the story, predictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talking point. “It’s news,” political journalists say in their own defense. “People are talking about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior senator from New York State announces her campaign for the presidency. At a diner in New Hampshire, one “low information” voter asks another: “Kirsten What’s-her-name? She’s running for president? Didn’t she have something to do with pornography?”

Welcome to the shape of things to come.

5) I’m so going to start noticing now that cartoon villains often speak with foreign accents.  And, yes, of course that has implications for what our kids learn.

6) Great upshot piece on the “able-bodied” poor in American society:

The “able-bodied” are now everywhere among government programs for the poor, Republican officials point out. They’re on food stamps. They’re collecting welfare. They’re living in subsidized housing. And their numbers have swelled on Medicaid, a program that critics say was never designed to serve them.

These so-called able-bodied are defined in many ways by what they are not: not disabled, not elderly, not children, not pregnant, not blind. They are effectively everyone left, and they have become the focus of resurgent conservative proposals to overhaul government aid, such as one announced last month by the Trump administration that would allow states to test work requirements for Medicaid.

Able-bodied is not truly a demographic label, though: There is no standard for physical or mental ability that makes a person able. Rather, the term has long been a political one. Across centuries of use, it has consistently implied another negative: The able-bodied could work, but are not working (or working hard enough). And, as such, they don’t deserve our aid.

“Within that term is this entire history of debates about the poor who can work but refuse to, because they’re lazy,” said Susannah Ottaway, a historian of social welfare at Carleton College in Minnesota. “To a historian, to see this term is to understand its very close association with debates that center around the need to morally reform the poor.” [emphasis mine]

7) This NYT look at how the two Koreas have diverged since the last Korean Olympics (1988) is truly fascinating.  Here’s one of the amazing charts.

8) Of course rural North Carolinians think that a sexual education curriculum that teaches that everyone is not straight and birth control is a thing is the work of the devil.  Of course, the county gave in and pulled the curriculum.

9) Really interesting piece from science journalist Ed Yong from how he worked assiduously to reduce gender bias in his stories.

10) Academia-twitter lit up this week in response to a tweet suggesting that graduate students should plan on working at least 60 hours a week, since that’s what professors are working.  Ummm, no.  Turns out that the 60 hours upon which the tweeter based this comes from a single study of 30(!!) non-random professors at Boise State.  Please!

11) Love this from John McWhorter on Trump’s linguistic style and his mental fitness:

Two and three decades ago, Mr. Trump spoke to David Letterman and Rona Barrett in the quietly composed phrasing we expect of public figures expressing serious thoughts. So why does the same man now toss off word salad?

Because he can.

The younger Mr. Trump, albeit as self-obsessed as now, was not yet a rock star, and he had a businessman’s normal inclination to present himself in as polished a manner as possible in public settings. Especially as someone who grew up in the 1950s, when old-school standards of oratory were still part of the warp and woof of American linguistic culture, Mr. Trump instinctually talked “up” when the cameras were rolling. To him, cloaking his speech in its Sunday best would have been part of, as it were, being a gentleman.

However, for him this would always have been more stunt than essence. Since he is someone who neither reads nor reflects, his linguistic comfort zone has always been the unadorned.

At a certain point, Mr. Trump became the man who felt – and was comfortable saying publicly – that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and retain his supporters’ allegiance. Someone with that mind-set, especially a sybaritic person unaccustomed to sustained effort, has no impetus to speak in a way unnatural to him in public.

Mr. Trump is equally unmoved by any sense that to speak as a president is a kind of kabuki or performance art, in which one doesn’t so much talk as signal. He has learned that he can just show up and run his mouth, and he’ll be adored regardless.

Some suppose Mr. Trump started talking down deliberately in order to portray folksiness. But this imputes to him a sociological sensitivity, a reflective, outwardly focused theory of mind, that he shows no evidence of otherwise. More likely, Mr. Trump has simply taken the path of least resistance.

12) Trump’s solution for the opioid crisis?  Be really mean to drug dealers.  Jeff Sessions?  Blame marijuana (which evidence indicates, might actually mitigate it).

13) New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino asks, “Is there a smarter way to think about sexual assault on campus.”  You don’t need to read the article to know the answer is, “hell, yes!”  That said, it is worth reading as a thoughtful discussion of the issue.

14) Good Lord, Chuck Todd is an idiot, as Erik Wemple nicely points out.

15) This new mutant crayfish species that reproduces asexually and has taken over Europe in just 25 years is a hell of a story:

Over the past five years, Dr. Lyko and his colleagues have sequenced the genomes of marbled crayfish. In a study published on Monday, the researchers demonstrate that the marble crayfish, while common, is one of the most remarkable species known to science.

Before about 25 years ago, the species simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the marbled crayfish in an instant.

The mutation made it possible for the creature to clone itself, and now it has spread across much of Europe and gained a toehold on other continents. In Madagascar, where it arrived about 2007, it now numbers in the millions and threatens native crayfish.

“We may never have caught the genome of a species so soon after it became a species,” said Zen Faulkes, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who was not involved in the new study…

Only about 1 in 10,000 species comprise cloning females. Many studies suggest that sex-free species are rare because they don’t last long.

In one such study, Abraham E. Tucker of Southern Arkansas University and his colleagues studied 11 asexual species of water fleas, a tiny kind of invertebrate. Their DNA indicates that the species only evolved about 1,250 years ago.

There are a lot of clear advantages to being a clone. Marbled crayfish produce nothing but fertile offspring, allowing their populations to explode. “Asexuality is a fantastic short-term strategy,” said Dr. Tucker.

In the long term, however, there are benefits to sex. Sexually reproducing animals may be better at fighting off diseases, for example.

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

The marbled crayfish offers scientists a chance to watch this drama play out practically from the beginning. In its first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well turn.

16) Really liked this Op-Ed about saying no.  One key is to say, “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.”   I use this on telephone solicitations all the time.

Second, it’s easier to say no when you know exactly how to say it, so come up with a few anchor phrases for different situations. “No, I don’t buy from solicitors” for door-to-door salespeople, for example. “No, I don’t go out during the week” for co-workers who want to go on a drinking binge on a Monday night.

When you have these phrases ready, you don’t have to waste time wavering over an excuse. And you start to develop a reflexive behavior of saying no.

17) So, I thought this InsiderHigherEd piece on making academic conferences more family-friendly to benefit women scholars had some good points, but I feel like it was really remiss to not even discuss the dynamics that make things hard for women scholars with young children, but presumably not male scholars.  Seems we could be expecting more of these female professor’s husband’s/partners to be able to step up for a few days.

18) I really enjoyed this article on one of the very few conservative Democrats remaining in the House, Dan Lipinski, because I knew Lipinski back when he was a political science graduate student at Duke (he was briefly a PS professor before taking over his dad’s Congressional seat).  He is an example of how the time has come to challenge certain Democratic legislators from the left.

Of the 34 Democrats who broke with the party on that most consequential vote eight years ago, just three remain in office. And none have had it quite so easy as Lipinski, a low-key former college professor who in 2005 inherited a Chicago-area House seat that his father held for two decades.

He’s escaped any real threat from Republicans; they defeated most of the other anti-Obamacare Democrats but couldn’t compete in his solidly blue district. And the left has been too busy defending the law and fighting other battles in the years since.

But Lipinski, 51, is now facing a serious primary challenge for the first time in a decade, in what progressives say is a long-overdue political reckoning for a congressman whose voting record has gotten too far to the right of his constituents. Illinois’s third congressional district, which includes a portion of Chicago and suburbs to the south and west, went for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary and backed Hillary Clinton by 15 points in the general election.

19) Rob Schofield on how North Carolina’s legislative politics is increasingly conducted in the dark.

In some ways, of course, this is not a new story. Ever since Republicans seized control of the General Assembly in 2011, there has been a broad and steady decline in open debate and fair process.

Whether it’s cutting off debate on legislation, holding surprise, late night sessions, regularly ignoring the committee process, burying new and controversial laws that were never previously discussed in omnibus budget bills that cannot be amended, holding an endless series of “special” legislative sessions, refusing to record and archive all sorts of important proceedings, or even directly and blatantly punishing lawmakers who dare to speak up during debate, Republicans have evidenced little shame. Much as has been the case with gerrymandering, legislative leaders have not so much invented new tactics and tricks as they have cynically perfected and expanded the use of old ones.

20) Kurt Andersen with an excellent piece on how the conspiracy theory wing of the Republican party took over.

This is not just symbolic wankery. Take Agenda 21, for instance. In 1992, the U.N. held an Earth Summit to start getting everyone on the same page concerning the environment, especially on CO2 emissions. It adopted a voluntary blueprint called Agenda 21, which nobody outside the environmental do-good sector paid any attention to for many, many years. From 1994 to 2006, there was exactly one reference to Agenda 21 in the New York Times.

But then the right discovered it—exposed it!—and refashioned Agenda 21 as a secret key to the globalist conspiracy. By 2012, Americans on the right knew to be scared, very scared, of this vague, 20-year-old international environmental plan. When the Obama administration created the White House Rural Council to promote economic development in places like Appalachia, a Fox News anchor warned that it was “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one-world order.” When Newt Gingrich was briefly the front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination and mentioned it during a debate, applause prevented him from finishing the thought. At that moment, Glenn Beck had just published his dystopian novel, Agenda 21, and provided a perfect glimpse into the conspiracist mind on his TV show, where one of his Agenda 21 experts said, “You’re not going to find anything that isn’t Agenda 21 these days. … People recognize many, many things that are wrong but they don’t realize that they’re all connected.”

21) As Yglesias put it, “another crippling blow to MS 13.”  The CNN story, “‘Pillar of the community’ deported from US after 39 years to a land he barely knows.”

22) Man, I used to love to read newsmagazines, and subscribed to Time for years and years.  On the demise of Newsweek.

23) Among the many, many stupid and counter-productive prison policies, many prisons now make it absurdly difficult for prisoners to get decent books.  Can’t we even let prisoners have good stuff to read?!

24) The headline says it all, “Military parades are about ego and power. Of course Trump wants one.”

25) So much for my compact disc collection.  Best Buy won’t even be selling them anymore.  Of course, it’s been a long time since I actually listened to a CD, much less purchased one.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) The headline and subhead of this National Review article are spot-on, “Law-Enforcement Unions Have Too Much Power: In serving the interests of cops and prison guards, they hinder criminal-justice reform and encourage irresponsible public spending.”

Law-enforcement unions shape our criminal-justice policies for the worse and encourage irresponsible public spending to achieve their own ends. “Take prison guards,” says John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School who researches criminal justice. “They’re always going to fight efforts to decarcerate, because if you start emptying out prisons, you’re going to get demands to close facilities.” In New York, for example, the prison population fell by more than 20 percent in recent years, yet the state struggled to close any prisons, wary of putting unionized corrections officers out of work. These unions also support the laws that contribute to incarceration in the first place. California’s correctional-officers union is infamous for having wielded its political clout on behalf of the state’s three-strikes law. To a certain kind of conservative, that law was a triumph at the time, but in the long term it fueled government’s growth at the expense of defendants.

2) Yes, there is gravity in space.

3) Pretty wild that secret military installations were uncovered by shared fitness tracker data.

4) Well, I’ll say this for NC Republican legislators– at least they’re not as bad as Oklahoma where schools are operating on four-day weeks due to budget cuts.

5) On re-writing the history of Tonya Harding due to the new movie.  (TLDR: She really was a very bad actor in the series of events).

6) Chait, “Trump’s Law Enforcement Purge Is Now Republican Policy.”

7) Apparently stealing from automated self check-out scanners is rampant.  Shame on people.

8) Not only is it unconscionable to be deporting  productive members of society who have lived here crime free and are successfully supporting American families, it is stupid, stupid, stupid as a matter of public policy.  Welcome to Trump’s ICE.

9) I’m so glad I didn’t spend any time on post SOTU blogging.  I told myself, that this will all be forgotten within two days and it’s just not worth the time. So right.  Perry Bacon and Julia Azari have a nice discussion on 538 about the value, or not, of the SOTU.  I’m in Bacon’s camp– forget it.

Second, the State of the Union tends to produce peak “Green Lanternism.” The “Green Lantern theory of the presidency” was coined by Dartmouth government professor Brendan Nyhan — riffing on a Matthew Yglesias concept — and likens how Americans view the power of the president (no matter who he is) to the DC Comics’ character Green Lantern, who has a ring that lets him will anything he can think of into existence. This theory of the presidency imagines that willpower and “leadership” can solve any problem, without considering how presidents are constrained by public opinion, the Congress, the judiciary and other factors.

The media seems predisposed to Green Lantern thinking at the best of times, but the State of the Union tends to make it that much worse. What could be a more inaccurate portrayal of how American government actually works than having the president (any president, not just Trump) spend an hour laying out his agenda unfiltered, as if what he decrees will then become law? And in fact, most of what presidents propose in State of the Union addresses never gets enacted — in the past few years, the vast, vast majority goes nowhere.

10) I like that Drum points out that, in many ways, the Nunes memo is simply not news:

But I want to highlight a point I made in the previous post: we’ve known what was in the memo for weeks. There have been hundreds of stories about it, and the actual charges it lays out are so weak that they’ve usually been treated as just a brief aside. The main story has always been about the partisan fight over releasing the memo.

In other words: we’ve had weeks to mull over the possibility that the FBI’s FISA application for Carter Page relied partly on the Steele dossier, and nobody has cared much. There have been no blaring headlines about it. There have been no experts telling us that this is a bombshell. It hasn’t spawned any new reporting, or if it has, the reporting has come up dry. The accusations in the memo just aren’t very important even if they’re true.

So now the memo is out, and it says what we all thought it said. Nobody cared very much before, so there’s no reason to care very much now. It’s all just spectacle.

11) And, yes, we knew it all, and yes I’m quasi-guilty of obsessing on it (mostly, because it tells us so much is wrong with the Republican Party and so much is wrong with the media), but while we’re at it, this NYT editorial shoots it done in a very effective and succinct manner.

12) I saw an article in the Post recently titled, “How the Koch network learned to thrive in the Trump era.”  Ummm, not exactly a trick question.  Huge tax cuts for rich people and corporations and massive planet and health-endangering deregulation.  Chait is nicely on top of things with a nice post about the GOP’s “Libertarian moment”

The now-close working partnership is not as surprising as it might appear. Before the election, I argued that the Republican party was evolving into a synthesis of libertarian ends and authoritarian means. The party’s core elites were motivated by an economic agenda that bore little support among the voting public. Indeed, libertarians have understood this problem for decades; many of them see democracy as a process that enables the majority to gang up on the rich minority and carry out legalized theft through redistribution. Their highest notion of liberty entails the protection of property rights from the democratic process, and they have historically been open to authoritarian leaders who will protect their policy agenda.

13) I think Andrew Sullivan may go a bit far on the nature side of nature vs. nurture in this take.  But I think his basic argument that for many feminists the “nature” argument is basically taboo, is pretty much correct.  It seems to me we ought to be able to say that there really are some differences (just on average, of course) between male and female brains (I like to argue that we really shouldn’t think sex differences run from the feet to the neck) without that being inherently sexist or hierarchical.  I’m not naive enough to think people don’t/won’t use it that way, but I don’t think we do ourselves any favors denying empirical reality, which strongly suggests there are modest, but real, differences between male and female brains.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Apparently, there’s all sorts of cool new medical treatments based on ultrasound.

2) Loved this about the myths behind speed reading and how to actually improve reading speed.  TLDR: read:

The serious way to improve reading—how well we comprehend a text and, yes, speed and efficiency—is this (apologies, Michael Pollan):

Read. Reading skill depends on knowledge acquired from reading. Skilled readers know more about language, including many words and structures that occur in print but not in speech. They also have greater “background knowledge,” familiarity with the structure and content of what is being read. We acquire this information in the act of reading itself—not by training our eyes to rotate in opposite directions, playing brain exercise games, or breathing diaphragmatically. Just reading.

As much as possible. Every time we read we update our knowledge of language. At a conscious level we read a text for its content: because it is a story or a textbook or a joke. At a subconscious level our brains automatically register information about the structure of language; the next chapter is all about this. Developing this elaborate linguistic network requires exposure to a large sample of texts.

Mostly new stuff. Knowledge of language expands through exposure to structures we do not already know. That may mean encountering unfamiliar words or familiar words used in novel ways. It may mean reading P. D. James, E. L. James, and Henry James because their use of language is so varied. A large sample of texts in varied styles and genres will work, including some time spent just outside one’s textual comfort zone.

Reading expands one’s knowledge of language and the world in ways that increase reading skill, making it easier and more enjoyable to read. Increases in reading skill make it easier to consume the texts that feed this learning machinery. It is not the eyes but what we know about language, print, and the world— knowledge that is easy to increase by reading—that determines reading skill. Where this expertise leads, the eyes will follow.

3) This Washington Post feature on the peril of women freezing eggs until later was really, really good.  It’s no guarantee, though for some women it works great.  A big key is how many eggs can be harvested (as this chart below shows) and that varies a lot.

4) Loved Caitlyn Flanagan’s latest take on #metoo:

And then came the allegations that Al Franken had groped six women, and forced a kiss on one of them. While many of his colleagues in the Senate dithered about whether this was really grounds for banishing him, Gillibrand wrote a 600-word Facebook post entitled “Senator Franken Should Resign.” Within 90 minutes, 15 more Democrats, and one Republican, had joined her in a coordinated push for his ouster. By day’s end, the great majority of Democratic senators sided with her—perhaps because she had persuaded them, and perhaps because #MeToo has made cowards of many people who are terrified of having the mob turn on them. It was after this victory that she gave her news conference about having “the wrong conversation.”

There were a few women who were willing to stand up for Franken. The law professor—and feminist—Zephyr Teachout wrote in The New York Times that she was not convinced Franken should quit: “Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality.” These words—a balm of Gilead for anyone hoping to strengthen the movement by adding reason and fairness to its core ideals—seemed not to register within the larger, “burn it down” spirit animating the mob.

Bill Maher told his audience about the trouble Matt Damon got into for saying that “There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation.” That prompted Minnie Driver to tweet, “No. You don’t get to be hierarchical about abuse. You don’t get to tell women that because some guy only showed them his penis, their pain isn’t as great as a woman who was raped.”

It was like the kind of hyper-gendered conversation that women’s magazines of yesteryear loved to decode for their readers: He was talking about facts; she was talking about feelings.

Holy shoot– something is really wrong with somebody is as traumatized from seeing a flasher as they are from being raped.  Damn straight you get to be hierarchical about abuse.  Life is a serios of judgments that some things are better/worse than other things.  Damn.

5) Turns out podcast listeners (That’s me!) are advertisers’ holy grail.  Also, after a twitter discussion on the matter, I’ve switched from the Apple podcast player to Overcast.  Very happy with it so far.

6) “North Carolina Mismanaged Itself Into Electoral Chaos.”  I.e., North Carolina Republicans mismanaged…

7) Love Penzey’s Spices.  Now even more so that I have learned their owner/founder is unapologetic about mixing his liberal politics with his spices.  Also enjoyed learning about the family dispute in the Wisconsin mail-order spice business.

8) Oh, man, the malfeasance and lawlessness of this Baltimore police unit are absolutely disgusting.  Meanwhile, Trump’s DOJ has pulled back federal oversight of this.  Ugh.  Radley Balko:

It gets worse. Here are some other highlights from the trial, as reported by the Baltimore Sun:

• [Former detective Maurice] Ward testified that his squad would prowl the streets for guns and drugs, with his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, driving fast at groups of people and slamming on the brakes. The officers would pop their doors open to see who ran, then give chase and detain and search them. Ward said this occurred 10 to 20 times on slow nights, and more than 50 times, “easy,” on busier nights.

The officers had no reason to target the crowds other than to provoke someone who might have drugs or a gun into running.

• Ward said Jenkins liked to profile certain vehicles for traffic stops. Honda Accords, Acura TLs, Honda Odysseys were among the “dope boy cars” that they would pull over, claiming the drivers weren’t wearing seat belts or their windows were too heavily tinted. …

• Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.” He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone. …

• Ward testified that he and [Marcus] Taylor once conducted a “trash run” on a home in preparation for obtaining a search warrant. They found marijuana residue in the target’s trash, but realized the trash can belonged to another resident. They proceeded anyway, submitting an affidavit for a search warrant falsely claiming the drugs had been found in the target’s trash can. …

• Rayam said the unit made regular use of illegal GPS trackers to follow suspects.

• Rayam said the officers once recovered a pound and a half of marijuana and a gun in a search conducted before they had secured a warrant. Jenkins told him to “just get rid of it,” and Rayam said he and another officer sold the drugs and gun back onto the street.

Keep in mind, these weren’t inexperience beat cops. This was one of the elite police units in the city. Also keep in mind that the only reason we know about all of this is because of — yes — a federal investigation.

9) Wow.  This US Navy “Fat Leonard” scandal is absolutely something else.

In a case that ranks as the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, the Justice Department has charged 15 officers and one enlisted sailor who served on the Blue Ridge with taking bribes from or lying about their ties to Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based tycoon who held lucrative contracts to service Navy ships and submarines in Asian ports.

For the better part of a decade, as part of a massive scam to defraud the Navy, Francis systematically infiltrated the Blue Ridge to a degree that is only now coming into focus, more than four years after the defense contractor’s arrest, according to the documents from federal court and the Navy, as well as interviews with Navy officials and associates of Francis.

10) Love this New Yorker piece on carob.  I had literally forgotten about it’s existence, but I definitely remember it’s heyday in my childhood as a supposed chocolate substitute.

11) Of course Trump’s appointee to head the CDC bought tobacco stock one month after taking over the agency.

12) Pretty interesting essay on all that’s gone wrong with people posting crazy stuff on YouTube.

13) Of course Trump’s infrastructure “plan” in completely empty.  Yglesias:

That Democratic plan was always going nowhere but it existed as a trial balloon to test one potential theory of Trump-era governance.

Maybe Donald Trump who, after all, lacked personal or institutional ties to the Republican Party or the conservative movement, would govern as a kind of free-agent. Sure, Trump would say and do racist stuff that Democrats didn’t like. But maybe they could work with him on infrastructure and other elements of his “populist” persona.

What we’re saying today is that persona is dead, if it was ever really alive to begin with. Like his vaporware plan to reduce prescription drug costs, or his long-forgotten promise to expand health insurance coverage, Trump’s infrastructure plan is a rhetorical conceit with no relationship to the actual way he runs the federal government. Authority is vested in the hands of a handful of aides who largely defer to congressional Republicans, while the president busies himself tweeting and plotting against Robert Mueller. There is no infrastructure plan and there never will be.

14) Love this Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the misguided obsession with metrics in academia:

The key components of metric fixation are:

  • the belief that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment, acquired by experience and talent, with numerical indicators based upon standardized data.
  • the belief that making such metrics public assures that institutions are carrying out their purposes.
  • the belief that the best way to motivate people is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.

These assumptions have been on the march for several decades, and their assumed truth goes marching on.

The pernicious spillover effects became clear to me during my time as chair of the history department at the Catholic University of America. Such a job has many facets: mentoring and hiring; ensuring that necessary courses get taught; maintaining relations with the university administration. Those responsibilities were in addition to my roles as a faculty member: teaching, researching, and keeping up with my field. I was quite satisfied.

Then, things began to change. Like all colleges, Catholic gets evaluated every decade by an accrediting body. For my university, that body is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. It issued a report that included demands for more metrics on which to base future “assessment” — a buzzword in higher education that usually means more measurement of performance. Soon, I found my time increasingly devoted to answering requests for more and more statistics about the activities of the department, which diverted my time from research, teaching, and mentoring faculty members. New scales for evaluating the achievements of our graduating majors added no useful insights to our previous measuring instrument: grades.

Gathering and processing all this data required the university to hire ever more specialists. Some of their reports were useful; for example, spreadsheets that showed the average grade awarded in each course. But much of the information was of no real use, and read by no one. Yet once the culture of performance-documentation caught on, department chairs found themselves in a data arms-race. I led a required yearlong departmental self-assessment — a useful exercise, as it turned out. But before sending it up the bureaucratic chain, I was urged to add more statistical appendices — because if I didn’t, the report would look less rigorous than that of other departments…

Metric fixation, which seems immune to evidence that it frequently doesn’t work, has elements of a cult. Studies that demonstrate its lack of effectiveness are either ignored or met with the claim that what is needed are more data. Metric fixation, which aspires to imitate science, resembles faith.

15) Brian Beutler on the Republican war on empirical reality.

16) Drum on how Republicans like to use human misery as a bargaining chip.

Here’s the problem for Democrats: taking this position will almost certainly cause some human misery. Republicans won’t fold easily, and in the meantime Dreamers will indeed get deported to a country they’ve never lived in. But liberals don’t like human misery, and Republicans hold them hostage to this sense of basic decency all the time. It happened with CHIP. It happened with the shutdown. And it’s happening now with DACA. Democrats fold because they actually care about the pain that their actions might cause.

Republicans are well aware of this, so they perversely have an incentive to deliberately provoke human misery as a bargaining tool against Democrats. This is the kind of tough-guy politics that makes me ill, but maybe it’s time for Democrats to stop providing this incentive.

17) Heartbreaking essay from the wife of a brain-damaged former NFL player.

18) Something tells me that the shortage of high school referees is because they get treated like crap and everybody seems to think that’s fine.

19) Jamelle Bouie on nativism and Trump’s immigration policy.

The cohesion Trump espouses isn’t national or ideological. It is racial. The fight over immigration isn’t between two camps who value the contributions of immigrants and simply quibble over the mix and composition of entrants to the United States. It is between a camp that values immigrants and seeks to protect the broader American tradition of inclusion, and one that rejects this openness in favor of a darker legacy of exclusion. And in the current moment, it is the restrictionists who have are the loudest and most influential voices, and their concerns are driving the terms of the debate.

20) In-car navigation systems are trying to come to grips with the fact that nobody uses them because they are so much worse than what we all have in our phones.  The built-in navigation on my Jetta is a joke compared to Apple or Google maps.  Furthermore, thanks to Apple CarPlay, Apple Maps can basically be my in-car navigation system (also, one of the reasons I’m glad I decided on the Jetta over the Mazda 3).

21) Somehow I had missed this 2016 Wired article asking if the Honeycrisp apple is engineered to fail.  Honeycrisps are good, but not nearly good enough to justify their price premium.  I far prefer the more reasonably priced Jazz and Braeburn.  But why in the world are Red Delicious apples still even for sale anywhere??!!

22) Can’t say I agreed with everything in this essay about “the female price of male pleasure” but it certainly made me think.

23) Finally watched my open tab of John Oliver’s takedown of junk forensic science.  It was so good.  Especially his CSI dramatization at the end.

24) If you haven’t listened to Ezra Klein’s “How Democracies Die” interview you really should.  It’s terrific.  That said, nice summary of the argument from Ezra here.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on the legal marijuana economy:

That growth is driven, start-ups in the industry say, by a simple idea: The humble hand-rolled joint was holding marijuana back.

By breaking marijuana free from smoking and its paraphernalia, new delivery methods — especially portable vapes — are transforming the image and utility of cannabis, and helping it grab a mainstream audience. In the booming new market, the drug of lazy stoners is being rebranded by start-ups as the “wellness” drug of tomorrow. It’s a cure-all for an anxious, tech-addled society — a salve for every ailment, a balm for every mood, ibuprofen meets a glass of red wine cut with Prozac and a hint of Deepak Chopra, all delivered to your door.

2) Really interesting article about how little we still understand about colic.  Other than that it’s hell for new parents.  (Those were the days, 18 years ago).

3) Robots that use algorithms to shake cherry trees and the future of robots in agriculture.

4) I find the Mormon debate on whether the religion actually forbids all caffeinated drinks or just coffee and tea really fascinating.  I first learned about this from a Diet-Coke-loving LDS friend back in graduate school.

4) Tyler Cowen on how police unions work to undermine the rule of law.  Really pretty disgusting stuff:

Earlier I wrote about how police unions around the country give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.

In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.

The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.

By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.

Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?

How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?

5) CRISPR is definitely an awesome technology, but getting it to the point where it can cure genetic diseases in humans is no simple task.

6) Loved this two-minute Pew video on how random sampling works.  This will definitely be shown in future Intro classes.

7) Yglesias on how Trump isn’t really the president (or, as he admits on twitter, a very, very weak one):

The two big Republican policy pushes of 2018 — the failed drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the successful push to enact a large corporate tax cut — were led primarily by Congress rather than by the executive branch. That’s natural given Trump’s hazy level of interest in policy detail and the intense interest of the GOP caucus in these matters.

What’s become clear over the past few weeks as immigration has taken center stage, however, is that even in a process that is very much driven by the executive branch, it’s notdriven by Donald Trump. Trump has stronger feelings about immigration and a stronger political profile on it than either Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. But he simply lacks the disposition and intellectual capacity to do the job of president of the United States as it’s conventionally defined. He doesn’t have a handle on the contours of the NAFTA negotiations, the state of the economy, or even “his own” immigration policy.

He seems unaware of both the origins of the current standoff and the main subjects of disagreement between the parties. He’s the one who installed the team of anti-immigration hardliners — Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and senior adviser Stephen Miller — who appear to be actually driving the process, so he’s responsible for what’s going on. But he’s not actually doing the work and, indeed, seems to have much less familiarity with his own policies and negotiating stances than a typical journalist or member of Congress.

8) Nice interview with Bill Kristol (or “woke Bill Kristol” as liberal twitter likes to refer to him).

9) No fixing gerrymandering is hardly a panacea that would solve our political ills, but it is still very much worth doing.  Harry Enten pretty much admits as much while making the strong case that gerrymandering is as much a symptom than a cause.  This chart is really something else:

10) Interesting take on how McGahn’s refusal to fire Trump is the Republican establishment striking back:

Imagine trying to return to Jones Day—or some equivalent firm—after firing Robert Mueller. In the words of Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar, who has tussled with McGahn for many years, “He didn’t want that personal baggage. What’s he going to do for a living, go live in a frat house with Steve Bannon and Dr. Price and Sean Spicer and people that can’t get a job?”

McGahn may have genuinely believed firing Mueller was wrong. But people don’t always do the right thing because a small, still voice tells them to. Sometimes it’s the loud, collective voice of their community threatening them with excommunication.

It’s worth remembering that Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, were both deeply ensconced in the Washington establishments of their day. Richardson had already served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and under secretary of Defense. Ruckelshaus had been the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both men’s careers in government preceded the Nixon administration. By contrast, the third in command in Nixon’s Justice Department, Robert Bork, was more of an outsider. He had spent his career outside Washington, in academia, and reportedly fired Cox, in significant measure, because of his deep belief in the constitutionality of executive power.

It’s become commonplace to note that many establishment Republican politicians privately consider Trump unfit to be president but won’t challenge him publicly because he enjoys the support of their constituents. For McGahn, the calculation is different: The members of the Washington Republican establishment are his constituents. And they’ll be around long after Donald Trump is gone.

11) Why we forget most of what we read.  So true!!  I also find it interesting how much more I forget about what my son David and I read together, than he forgets.  That said, he’s horrible at remembering author’s names.

The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

12) Of course North Carolina’s inexperienced, 34-year old, new Superintendent of Public Instruction who earns $127,000/year thinks $35,000 is a great starting salary for NC teachers.

13) Unfortunately, nobody wants your used clothes anymore.  Or, at least the market for them in developing countries has largely collapsed.

14) Alas, it’s basically impossible to create a test for intoxication due to marijuana:

You see, different people handle marijuana differently. It depends on your genetics, for one. And how often you consume cannabis, because if you take it enough, you can develop a tolerance to it. A dose of cannabis that may knock amateurs on their butts could have zero effect on seasoned users—patients who use marijuana consistently to treat pain, for instance.

The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It’s a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.

 But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It’s 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that’s important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
15) Finally got around to reading Daniel Engber’s classic contrarian Slate take on the evidence for the backfire effect– the idea that exposure to information contrary to your beliefs makes those beliefs stronger.  Turns out, maybe not so much.  Good stuff.  And props to Brendan Nyhan for following the data instead of digging his heels in, like so many social scientists.

16) He links this pretty cool research, which I had not seen yet:

The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians’ perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents’ support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. [emphasis mine] Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.

17) So, I read about the “Butter chicken lady” in the New Yorker.  And my wife ordered her Instant Pot cookbook.  Damn, was that fortuitous.  Great butter chicken and so easy for Indian food.

18) I think both of my regular JP readers will enjoy this story on how craft beer is a great American economic success story.

19) Seth Masket on efforts to reshape the Democratic primary process:

Superdelegates are people who become national convention delegates not through primaries or caucuses but rather by virtue of their current role within the party. They are generally Democratic governors, members of Congress, and elected DNC members. Unlike those delegates picked through state primaries and caucuses, their votes are not automatically pledged; they can vote for whomever they want. The role of superdelegate was created in 1984 as a way for the party’s leaders to re-assert some control over the nomination process at a time when rank-and-file party voters were seen as too powerful.

Under the new reforms, elected DNC members would still get to be convention delegates, but their vote would be pledged to whichever candidate won their state’s primary or caucus. This would have the effect of reducing the number of unpledged votes by roughly 60 percent. (Superdelegates made up about 16 percent of delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.)…

Now, who benefits from these changes? From what I’ve been able to gather, these proposals are a compromise position for Commission members—Sanders people wanted a good deal more to change, while the Clinton folks were fairly content with the way things had previously been run. But these changes undoubtedly tilt party nomination procedures away from insider-favored candidates like Clinton and more toward outsider-favored candidates like Sanders. That is, they erode some of the advantages that Clinton had going into 2016 (the backing of superdelegates, big advantages among registered party voters, etc.) and make it easier for someone without a lot of support within the formal party to win a lot of delegates.

We shouldn’t overstate this impact, of course. The biggest advantage Clinton had—the enthusiastic backing of the vast majority of party leaders, donors, organizers, etc., long before any voting occurred, scaring off many strong Democratic opponents—would not have been affected by these reforms. An insider-favored candidate could still draw on such advantages in future races.

Nonetheless, the Democratic Party is conceding that its “establishment” has had too much power in recent elections. The next Democratic presidential nominee will not necessarily be Bernie Sanders, but whoever it is will have had to navigate a system that Sanders and his supporters, to a large extent, designed. And it will probably be someone whose campaign bears a stronger resemblance to Sanders’ than to Clinton’s.

As many political scientists pointed out discussing this on Facebook, the lesson from President Trump is not that parties should make it easier for outsiders to capture the nomination.

20) On the pretty heinous efforts of NC Republicans to remake the NC court system because those pesky judges don’t see everything their way.

21) Apparently now that you can learn anything about anybody on the internet, the on-line dating world lives largely in the world of first-name only.  Really like somebody?  Then it’s last name time.  Damn am I glad I just met my wife in our college dorm.

22) So, technology allows you to put one person’s face pretty effectively on somebody else’s body in a fake porn movie (or fake anything), but, disturbingly, this is a very grey area of the law where you don’t have much protection.

23) Totally loved this Atlantic story on the rise of German board games.  Think I’ll celebrate it by playing Ticket to Ride this weekend.

 

Quick hits (part I)

Now coming to you at 6:00am sharp, by special request of DJC…

1) I still love my Diet Coke (and so does JP, if he’s reading this), but not so much the rest of America.  And, of course, Diet Dr Pepper is the greatest drink known to humans.

2) Of course Trump has an unqualified 24-year old running the Office of National Drug Control Policy during our opioid crisis.

3) I’m feeling safer already.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/01/16/too-old-for-daca-a-michigan-father-is-deported-after-three-decades-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.afe95d8e0d15

4) Fake news!

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

5) Jennifer Rubin on those who demean themselves for Trump:

For the sake of argument, let’s say she doesn’t personally recall the president’s statements. By now, she is aware that both Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) know what was said. She now has to consider — not from a legal sense, but from an ethical one — whether she wants to serve a president who plainly prefers white Europeans to black and brown people, and is prepared to lie to the public about his statements and views. Public service is honorable, but not when you are enabling elected officials to lie and to pursue racist ends.

In a nutshell, this is why you cannot serve a president who is racist, dishonest or personally corrupt. You inevitably wind up enabling racism, dishonesty and corruption. If you thought you could remain untainted, you were wrong. And now, you need to either quit or face the legal and personal consequences.

6) We keep talking about the importance of investing in pre-school, but meanwhile, we don’t seem to be willing to invest in preschool teachers.

7) I learned about the developmental milestone of your kids lying to you way back when I first read Nurtureshock.  So, yes, you should be happy when your kids start lying to you.  And it’s also worth noting that teenagers lie to their parents all the time and it’s perfectly normal (you almost surely did it way more than you would admit to your kids).  That said, I may be related to a certain teenager who could at least limit his lying to parents about non-school-related topics.

8) Amy Davidson Sorkin on Trump’s willing liars:

Among others present, John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has not commented; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, said on Fox News on Sunday that she didn’t “recall him saying that exact phrase.” (On Tuesday, in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said that she didn’t “hear” the word, but acknowledged that the President had used “tough language.”) They all need to speak more clearly, about shitholes or shithouses, if nothing else so that the public has a good gauge of who is willing to lie, and how blatantly, for the President.

Trump seems to be curious about that question, too. According to the Post, members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,” since the President had, again, reportedly talked to others about using derogatory language. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false. Indeed, he has said that they were proof that “Dicky Durbin” and other Democrats didn’t care about a deal on Dreamers, and were willing to blow up the negotiations by lying about him. Why the change? It is hard to know what is in the President’s mind. Perhaps he was struck by the vehemence of the backlash. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play: first, he got to slur whole nations. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize: the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy. They didn’t need to do so—after their Sunday appearances, Lindsey Graham said, according to the Post and Courier, “My memory hasn’t evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said”—yet they chose that route. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you. Maybe it’s time for the Republicans to stop lying to themselves about that, too.

9) This is from 2014 (friend recently shared on-line), but this article about the human factor in airline crashes is so good.  Reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts ever (listen, David Greene!), 99% Invisible on the Automation Paradox.

10) Thought this on disappearing hotel “do not disturb” signs and what’s driving it was pretty interesting.

11) Every 1990’s TV commercial ever.  Pretty much.

12) Ezra Klein’s 12 thoughts on the “shithole shutdown.”

2.  Republicans have a natural advantage in a shutdown because they care less how well the federal government works, and the parts of government they care most about — like the military and immigration enforcement — are exempted….

12. Taken in its entirety, the “shithole shutdown” is the perfect encapsulation of governance in the Trump era: dysfunction and chaos driven by anger and fear toward America’s changing demographics, and the congressional GOP’s cowardly acquiescence to Trump’s ever-shifting demands.

13) Naturally, Trump’s appointee to oversee government service programs is an absolutely atrocious human being.

14) Alas, also naturally, prosecutors in New Orleans repeatedly kept on prosecuting people even when it was clear they had the wrong guy.

15) Michael Tomasky on Trump’s shithole enablers.

16) It’s the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.  Julian Zelizer on how it undermined faith in government. Coincidentally, I r-watched Platoon this week (streaming on HBO Go, for you fellow subscribers) for the first time since 1986 (I think).  Thought it held up pretty well.  David certainly liked it and led to some great discussion about the Vietnam War.

Besides the damage that Tet imposed on Johnson, the surprise attack and the revelation that the administration had vastly oversold the prospects for success were a severe blow to public confidence in American government leaders to tell the truth and to do the right thing.

The right also took its own lessons from Tet and other parts of the increasingly critical wartime coverage, namely that the media could not be trusted. As reporters focused on Tet as evidence of failure, hawkish Democrats and Republicans were quick to note, rightly so, that the U.S. counter-offensive had been successful. Johnson felt this way and tried to hammer away on the point that the media was misrepresenting what happened. For decades, coverage of Tet would remain to conservatives a symbol of why the “liberal establishment” could not be trusted to give the public a realistic assessment of national security issues.

17) Loved this Edutopia piece about how making an extra effort to really get to know students in a Nevada school district is paying dividends.

18) Army National Guard officer analyzes the repeated tactical failures of the Resistance in the Star Wars movies.

19) Sam “I’ll eat a bug” Wang and Brian Remlinger with a great explainer on gerrymanders.

20) How are we not talking at all about the fact that a presidential campaign paid hush money to a porn star during the campaign??!!  This, more than about anything, is a testament to how Trump continuous and shocking bad behavior has inured us to his awfulness.  Michelle Goldberg:

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of “Good Will Humping” during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

Liberals, in general, can’t work up much outrage, because the encounter between Trump and Daniels was by all accounts consensual. And few social conservatives are interested in criticizing the president, since they’ve talked themselves into a posture of hardheaded moral realism in order to justify their support for him. In 2016, for example, Bennett himself condemned “Never Trump” conservatives for their “terrible case of moral superiority.”

If there’s a significant scandal, it will lie in the origins of the $130,000, or in other encounters Trump has covered up. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president. [emphasis mine]

 

Russia hacking and the weakness in American democracy

This piece from political scientist Henry Farrell is really, really good:

It is not surprising that Russia is trying to use social media against the United States. The real puzzle is why these operations are succeeding so well.

As soon as Russian leaders figured out a decade ago how to counteract online agitating and organizing in their own country by, to quote the New Yorker’s Adrian Chen, “seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space,” they began to weaponize these techniques for use against populations abroad, spreading confusion in Ukraine, the Baltic republics, the Nordic democracies, France, Germany, and, eventually, the United States. The evidence suggests, however, that Russia’s operations have always been poorly organized and opportunistic. Sometimes, they are laughably inept. Fake posts developed for use in the United States, for instance, are often written in bad English. Russia’s reported spendingon Facebook advertising was a pitiful trickle compared to the torrents of cash spent by both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to influence voters.

Russian online influence operations nonetheless seem to be working better against the United States than other countries. Research suggests that Russia’s “MacronLeaks” operation was far more successful in attracting the attention of English-speaking alt-right activists than French voters. Germany, too, seems to have been better able than the United States to shrug off efforts to shape its political conversation.

Russia’s relative success in the United States is not thanks to the unique strategic insight of Putin. It is because Russian operatives have chanced upon real weaknesses in U.S. democracy, and American elites are unintentionally giving them a helping hand. While France and Germany have their own social divisions, they do not face the specific problems that America faces.

In America, more than in most other Western countries, there is a basic failure of democratic knowledge. In a well-functioning democracy, citizens agree broadly on facts and have some trust in the democratic system, allowing democracy to harness different perspectives and put them to good use. In America, in contrast, distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.

Over the last two decades, the common knowledge of American democracy has been undermined. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned could happen, the structures of shared knowledge are being weakened by democratic politics itself. Politicians — especially on the right — have cast doubt on sources of authority such as science and government, telling their supporters that they shouldn’t trust experts… [emphasis mine]

Yet when people with different perspectives stop sharing a common basis of knowledge, democracy is liable to pull itself apart. Parties become enemies rather than competitors. When people stop trusting any institutions, they are likely instead to start thinking that the democratic process is rigged, and to pin their hopes instead on cranks and conspiracy mongers.

And, of course, social media makes this all so much worse.  Very thought-provoking read.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great David Graham take on the “shithole” countries and how immigration actually works:

His presumption seems to be that other nations are deliberately sending to the United States their least-desirable citizens. That sounds a lot like the Mariel boatlift of 1980, in which Cuba released a number of inmates from jails and mental facilities, dispatching them to the United States as part of a massive refugee exodus. It seems to shape the way Trump views all immigration—he and aides have cited it repeatedly.

But in the vast majority of cases, this is not how immigration works. Governments are not deciding who to send. People are deciding to leave, often at great risk, out of personal motivation. Those who come are the ones “who had a special love for freedom and a special courage that enabled them to leave their own land, leave their friends and their countrymen, and come to this new and strange land to build a New World of peace and freedom and hope,” as Ronald Reagan once put it.

This entirely different paradigm is one reason Trump, unlike most of his fellow Republicans, wants to limit not only illegal immigration but legal immigration as well; he seems to object not just to illegality, but to much immigration itself.

This zero-sum mentality is why he approaches refugees as safety threats and drains on U.S. government resources, seldom considering the reasons refugees have been driven to leave. There’s a middle ground—there are people who believe that on the one hand, refugees deserve aid but that on the other hand the United States must work within its means, and safety threats must be eliminated—but Trump’s comments, both previously and about Haitians and Salvadorans now, demonstrate this is not his view.

Trump’s decision to label these places “shitholes” is coarse and revolting, but the greater failure is his inability to connect his assessment with what it means for the people who live there. He either cannot see or is not interested in the conflicts and violence and poverty that immigrants are seeking to leave behind, and he is not interested in the extent to which the U.S. has contributed to these problems through interventions in El Salvador and Haiti.

2) Julia Azari makes the case that political amateurs are a threat to democracy.

3) Yes, of course Trump is a racist, but I do think there’s something to the fact that not everybody sees calling non-white countries “shitholes” as inherently racist because how liberals and conservatives see “racism” is different.  Drum: [emphases in original]

And come on, their thinking goes, all those third-world countries really are shitholes. Everyone knows it, but only Donald Trump has the guts to just say it.

Until Donald Trump comes along. He’s basically saying that we all know those fancy words are just the liberal elitist version² of “shithole countries,” and he’s giving Joe permission to say so. Go ahead and use the words you know and ignore the faux gasps from all those liberal scolds who believe the same thing but just won’t say it in plain language. You’re no more racist than they are.

Right or wrong, this is liberating for them. Trump isn’t so much appealing to racism as he is telling people you’re not a racist. J

4) Interesting take on how Facebook is redoing its newsfeed, “Facebook Couldn’t Handle News. Maybe It Never Wanted To.”

5) Female professors are asked for favors more than are male professors.

6) Some rather dispiriting research thusly summed up, “Men Are Destroying Our Planet Because They Don’t Want to Seem Girly.”

A new study from the journal Scientific Americansuggests men are less likely than women to engage in ecofriendly behavior, not because they’re less concerned about the environment, but because they’re worried it might undermine their masculinity. Because nothing makes you seem more like a wimpy little girl than wanting froufrou things like “breathable air” and for “whole continents not to sink under rising seas.”

In seven experiments conducted with over 2,000 American and Chinese participants, researchers found both men and women had a “green-feminine stereotype,” and judged ecofriendly purchases and behaviors as more feminine than their non-green alternatives. For example, individuals who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store were perceived as more feminine than those who used plastic bags. Another experiment found that men who were presented with a pink, floral gift card were more likely to purchase environmentally unfriendly items than men who were given a standard gift card.

Well, this feminine guy is going to stick with his reusable bags, damnit!

7) The scientific controversy over whether lobsters feel pain.

8) This is so good, “A Storm Trooper reconsiders his support for Snoke.”

9) Brett Stephens “shithole” column on immigration may be the best I’ve read yet.

10) Loved this Atlantic article on how pretty much all animals are susceptible to “sleep pressure” and how poorly scientists ultimately understand it:

In particular, this need to make up lost sleep, which has been seen not just in jellyfish and humans but all across the animal kingdom, is one of the handholds researchers are using to try to get a grip on the bigger problem of sleep. Why we feel the need for sleep is seen by many as key to understanding what it gives us.

Biologists call this need “sleep pressure”: Stay up too late, build up sleep pressure. Feeling drowsy in the evenings? Of course you are—by being awake all day, you’ve been generating sleep pressure! But like “dark matter,” this is a name for something whose nature we do not yet understand. The more time you spend thinking about sleep pressure, the more it seems like a riddle game out of Tolkien: What builds up over the course of wakefulness, and disperses during sleep? Is it a timer? A molecule that accrues every day and needs to be flushed away? What is this metaphorical tally of hours, locked in some chamber of the brain, waiting to be wiped clean every night?

In other words, asks Yanagisawa, as he reflects in his spare, sunlit office at the institute, “What is the physical substrate of sleepiness?”

11) Global warming is sending sea turtle sex ratios way out of wack.

12) James Hamblin with one of the more thoughtful and informative takes on whether Trump is mentally ill.

13) That said, also love this, “Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He’s Just a Jerk.”

There is another problem with the current debate over Mr. Trump’s mental condition: It assumes his behavior isn’t voluntary, and that his shocking or “unpresidential” conduct is a symptom of mental illness. This kind of thinking contributes to the stigmatization of mental illness. It’s entirely possible that he simply has certain personal qualities we don’t find ideal in a leader, like being a narcissistic bully who lacks basic civility and common courtesies. That he is, in a word, a jerk. But that alone does not make him mentally unfit to serve.

14) Satirical high school reading list.  Good stuff.

15) Ron Brownstein on voters abandoning Trump:

A massive new source of public-opinion research offers fresh insights into the fault lines emerging in Donald Trump’s foundation of support.

Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.

Trump retains important pillars of support. Given that he started in such a strong position with those blue-collar whites, even after that decline he still holds a formidable level of loyalty among them—particularly men and those over 50 years old. What’s more, he has established a modest but durable beachhead among African American and Hispanic men, even while confronting overwhelming opposition from women in those demographic groups.

16) My pencil-loving son (i.e., not the one reading this blog post) loved this NYT feature on America’s last pencil factory.  Amazing images.

17) Pretty sure my non-pencil loving son who is reading this blog post will love this terrific video on how the editing made the original Star Wars so much better.  So will fans of Star Wars and those interested in film-making.

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