Quick hits (part I)

Now, featuring a fair amount of Non-Covid 🙂

1) WP editorializes, “Tech firms must prove that digital contact tracing is worth the privacy intrusion.”  My take: it is.

Relying also on precise location information, as states such as North Dakota and Utah are already piloting, might assuage some problems, but conjures up a new set of privacy harms. It’s almost impossible truly to anonymize such data, or to compare two people’s paths without some potential for identification. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology group proposes redacting carriers’ location trails to mitigate the risk, instead encrypting each individual time-stamped location. These data, the researchers write, could even be publicized to help civilians see hot spots in their area, not to mention used by public health officials to spot outbreaks and assess where they might ease restrictions.

It’s tempting. But more invasive strategies have their downsides. See South Korea, where amateur investigators attempted to sniff out and shame the infected based on government-released information. That same worry here could spook people out of even getting tested. Other countries have taken more draconian measures — such as the scannable codes China assigns its citizens based on the likelihood they’ve been exposed. These determine whether someone can enter a building or leave home at all.

Making the most difference may require eroding the most protections, and right now no one really knows how much of a difference tech-centric contact tracing can make in the first place. Everyone is looking for a miracle, but the inventors promising one must prove their proposals are more than moonshots. Then they should explain to the rest of us why the proposals are worth it.

Nobody is asking for a “moonshot” here.  Until we have a widely available vaccine, every little bit that helps 1) slow transmission, and 2) reduce disease severity should be our goal.  And this would seem to have the potential to make a meaningful impact on disease transmission.  And, yes, the lives saved from that are worth a bit less digital privacy.

2) I really liked this in Politico “Admit It: You Are Willing to Let People Die to End the Shutdown: The question is how many and how soon. In the pandemic, everyone is a moral relativist.”

The pandemic highlights a different way of understanding relativism. It is not that values are no more than a matter of taste, in the way that you like pistachio but I like vanilla. It is to acknowledge—in a way our politics usually does not—that any important value is inevitably, at key moments, in competition with other important values. Individual liberties are in tension with public order. Respect for tradition is in tension with tolerance for diversity. And, yes, averting some number of tragic deaths from coronavirus is in tension with the need for a much larger number of people to resume life—sometime after it is no longer reckless to do so but sometime before it is perfectly safe.

An honest brand of politics, which we urgently need, admits the tension and tries in good faith—with reference to evolving evidence and with acknowledgment of uncertainty—to resolve it in the public interest. A dishonest brand of politics, of which we are wearily familiar, assumes a pose of superiority and certitude, and cares about evidence mostly as it can be deployed as a weapon or shield in a partisan argument that began long before the issue at hand and will continue long after.

Yes.  The reality is that some level of deaths is acceptable.  What we have now is too high.  What happened in NYC is way too high.  But we’ve clearly decided that .1% fatality rate for the flu is okay.  To some degree, we have to decide what that’s going to be for Covid.

3) Good stuff with Carl Bergstrom (one of my favorite new twitter followings) in the Guardian:

You’ve been teaching a course and have co-written a book about the concept of bullshit. Explain what you mean by bullshit?

The formal definition that we use is “language, statistical figures, data, graphics and other forms of presentation that are intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener with a blatant disregard for truth or logical coherence”.

The idea with bullshit is that it’s trying to appear authoritative and definitive in a way that’s not about communicating accurately and informing a reader, but rather by overwhelming them, persuading them, impressing them. If that’s done without any allegiance to truth, or accuracy, that becomes bullshit.

We’re all used to verbal bullshit. We’re all used to campaign promises and weasel words, and we’re pretty good at seeing through that because we’ve had a lot of practice. But as the world has become increasingly quantified and the currency of arguments has become statistics, facts and figures and models and such, we’re increasingly confronted, even in the popular press, with numerical and statistical argumentsAnd this area’s really ripe for bullshit, because people don’t feel qualified to question information that’s given to them in quantitative form.

It requires a lot of discipline to argue really hard for something but also be scrupulously open about all of the weaknesses in your own argument.

But it’s more important than ever, right? A really good paper will lay out all the most persuasive evidence it can and then in the conclusion section or the discussion section say, ‘OK, here are all the reasons that this could be wrong and here are the weaknesses.’

When you have something that’s so directly policy relevant, and there’s a lot of lives at stake, we’re learning how to find the right balance.

4) Really, really liked this on Dan Crenshaw (GOP Congressman who does a great job pretending he’s all about intellectual honesty and civility at the same time he is a Trump defender) in the Bulwark:

In a new book out this month, a Republican member of Congress offers one of the most brutal and surgical eviscerations of President Trump’s leadership style that has been put to print.

“The problem with today’s society is that it is swelling with the wrong role models,” he writes. “Abandoning traditional heroes for new and exciting villains who represent self-indulgence, loud-mouthed commentary, angry fist-shaking activism, or insulting spitfire politics.”

This is, he says, infecting our entire society, which “has grown out of control often at the expense of logic, decency, and virtue.” We now “mock virtue without considering how its abandonment accelerates our moral decay” and “don a mantle of fragility, of anger, of childishness, and are utterly shameless in doing so.”

“A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart,” he argues.

On Earth 2, this may have been the launching pad for a courageous and ambitious primary campaign that stands up for virtue in the face of our fragile, angry, childish, shameless, self-indulgent, loud-mouthed, insulting, self-pitying, and resentful president.

Here on Earth 1, the book is called Fortitude and its author is Rep. Dan Crenshaw, one of the most visible defenders of Donald Trump…

And then there’s the fact that before Crenshaw’s political fortunes required a baseline level of Trumpitude, he candidly assessed Trump’s failings himself, writing on Facebook that the then-candidate was an “idiot” whose rhetoric was “insane” and “hateful.”

Such assessments are no longer convenient for the former Navy SEAL who at first pitched himself to voters as a McCain-style antidote to the bitter partisanship that defines Trump’s Washington.

Eighteen short months later Crenshaw has found himself as part of a colloquy of pleasers jockeying for a spot at the pinnacle of Trump’s GOP with a path to succeeding the president in 2024. (That is, should Trump’s children or Trump himself take a pass on the race.)

He has ingratiated himself by putting on a masterclass in anti-anti Trumpism, using his considerable debate skills to spar with the worst excesses of the left and savage what he argues is media bias against Trump. At key inflection points, such as the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, Crenshaw has risen to defend Trump and suggest that anyone who thinks that the leader of the free world’s words and behavior matter is lacking nuance and seriousness.

In Fortitude, a book ostensibly about courage in the face of adversity, Crenshaw demonstrates that the values instilled in him as a SEAL that he believes will save the country apply to everything except his own political career…

In the story Dan Crenshaw tells himself, he sees himself as a good man, a rational man, a man who can make the world a better place by staying in it and fighting for truth and virtue. All of that may be true. But there’s just one catch: The price of admission is that Crenshaw must put one large, but inconvenient, truth in a box over to the side. And he must never open it, or even speak about it.

Because if he does, the insane, hateful idiot who leads the political cult Crenshaw belongs to will excommunicate him and force him out of public life.

So this is Crenshaw’s choice:

Say out loud the second part of the thoughts he holds in his head. And be consigned to exile with Mia Love and Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney and the others.

Or:

Fudge the truth about Trump and subject himself to the most devastating mental state he can imagine: One where he is helpless to stand up to someone who isn’t half the man he is, who is the embodiment of everything that he thinks is wrong with our society, who in any other circumstance he would regard with disdain. But have the chance to make a difference.

5) So, you probably saw this about an Alaska school board and some books:

An Alaska school board removed five famous — but allegedly “controversial” — books from district classrooms, inadvertently spurring renewed local interest in the excluded works.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison were all taken off an approved list of works that teachers in the Mat-Su Borough School District may use for instruction.

The school board voted 5-2 on Wednesday to yank those works out of teachers’ hands starting this fall. The removed books contained content that could potentially harm students, school board vice president Jim Hart told NBC News on Tuesday.

“If I were to read these in a corporate environment, in an office environment, I would be dragged into EO,” an equal opportunity complaint proceeding, Hart said. “The question is why this is acceptable in one environment and not another.”

I just couldn’t let that last quote from an elected official go with comment as it is monstrously stupid.  Hmmm, it’s almost like, I dunno… context matters!!

6) Drum on his Covid beliefs.  I don’t actually agree with all of them, but I really liked this:

However, we still have very little idea of which countermeasures provide the biggest bang for the buck. School closings? Stay-at-home orders? Mask wearing? Restaurant shutdowns? It’s critically important that we try to get a handle on this. If, for example, it turns out that schools can be re-opened with only small effects as long as we keep doing everything else, that would relieve a mountain of pressure from a lot of people…

I don’t especially blame Donald Trump for not endorsing lockdowns and quarantines and so forth until mid-March. In this, he was probably following expert advice fairly reasonably. What I do blame him for is: not planning for the worst case when he had the chance during February; consistently providing the country with bad information about vaccines and cures and bleach and so forth; declining to take testing seriously; turning the entire operation into a partisan crusade; using the month of April to fire up his base to “liberate” red states; wasting time blaming China and WHO and Democrats and governors for his own mistakes; putting Jared Kushner in charge of an important task that needed someone experienced and competent; and just generally acting like a buffoon the entire time. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

7) So, this was fascinating that almost all pigeons in the Northeast corridor are the same species.  Except Boston.  “The East Coast is made up of two pigeon genetic megacities, and a patch of Connecticut seems to be what’s keeping them apart.”

8) Zoom definitely has it’s uses and I’ve been using it a lot.  But definitely no subsitute for the real thing.  And definitely cognitively just weird.

Not only does this mess with our perception, but it also plays havoc with our ability to mirror. Without realizing it, all of us engage in facial mimicry whenever we encounter another person. It’s a constant, almost synchronous, interplay. To recognize emotion, we have to actually embody it, which makes mirroring essential to empathy and connection. When we can’t do it seamlessly, as happens during a video chat, we feel unsettled because it’s hard to read people’s reactions and, thus, predict what they will do.

“Our brains are prediction generators, and when there are delays or the facial expressions are frozen or out of sync, as happens on Zoom and Skype, we perceive it as a prediction error that needs to be fixed,” said Paula Niedenthal, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who specializes in affective response. “Whether subconscious or conscious, we’re having to do more work because aspects of our predictions are not being confirmed and that can get exhausting.”

9) Now this is one super-cool evolution story.

 But by proving how a lizard would try to grit its way through hurricane-force winds with sheer grip strength, those whimsical experiments led Dr. Donihue, now at Washington University in St. Louis, and a team of other researchers to a profound suggestion: Extreme weather events may bend the evolutionary course of hundreds of species. A paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers deeper evidence of their earlier finding.

Across Central and South America and the Caribbean islands, scientists found that lizards with larger toe pads seem to be more common in areas that have been hit by storm after storm in the last 70 years. That suggests that severe but fleeting cataclysms don’t just leave lasting scars on people and places. They also reshape entire species.

First came Hurricane Irma, a screaming maelstrom of 160-mile-per-hour winds. Two weeks later came Hurricane Maria. When Dr. Donihue returned, trees were down and lizards were scarce. On average, he found the surviving anoles seemed to have much bigger, grippier toe pads than the population had averaged before, as if those with less sticky feet had been carried away by the storms.

That initial finding came out with the leaf blower videos. But the team kept digging. Eighteen months after the storm, Dr. Donihue went back to Turks and Caicos a third time to find a new generation of lizards scampering across new plant growth. Those carefree children of the survivors had kept their parents’ generation’s bigger toe pads.

10) Love the Ear Hustle podcast literally produced inside San Quentin prison.  So good.  This week had a great story of a former inmate who was sentenced to Life Without Parole at 18 for murder and completely turned his life around in prison.  Great to see that California recognized the utter folly of locking a man like this up forever.  I was especially drawn to the story as he is Steven Green.

11) I haven’t been following the Flynn pardon stuff to closely except to know that it’s utterly absurd.  Also, it is pretty funny that Republicans are shocked(!!) that law enforcement lies and coerces to get their way.  And it’s perfectly legal.  Ummm, welcome to America’s criminal justice system, conservatives.

12) So, totally out of left field, but quite interesting, the disastrous and failed re-branding of Tropicana orange juice in 2009.

13) UVA Center for Politics with a great analysis of the key 2020 Senate races.

14) Don’t call me a hypocrite, but I just don’t find Tara Reade a credible accuser of Joe Biden.  Here, a former prosecutor makes the case.  Also, in an entire lengthy public career (where he was sometimes too touchy and sometimes too in personal space), nobody else has made an allegation remotely similar to Reade’s.  And in a Senate where the staff always knows who the “good guys” are and who to watch out for, Biden was widely known as a good guy:

►Lack of other sexual assault allegations. Last year, several women claimed that Biden made them uncomfortable with things like a shoulder touch or a hug. (I wrote a column critical of one such allegation by Lucy Flores.) The Times and Post found no allegation of sexual assault against Biden except Reade’s.

It is possible that in his 77 years, Biden committed one sexual assault and it was against Reade. But in my experience, men who commit a sexual assault are accused more than once … like Donald Trump, who has had more than a dozen allegations of sexual assault leveled against him and who was recorded bragging about grabbing women’s genitalia.

Also, sorry, but the pathological love for Putin from Reade?

15) And Brian Beutler in his newsletter:

I wrote about the whole controversy at length here a couple weeks ago, and my thinking hasn’t really changed. The allegation just isn’t strong or substantiated enough to assume Biden’s guilt or call on him to step out of the race—at least as it stands. And as it stands—even if the Archives finds no complaint, as Biden seems confident it won’t—it’s also basically unfalsifiable. Which means absent new inculpatory evidence, or evidence of Reade’s deceit, we’re going to be left about where we are. Without ironclad closure, this controversy will become part of a larger mythology of liberal hypocrisy among left-wing critics, many of whom seemed more interested in embarrassing Democrats, or in smearing them, than in the truth of the matter. Yes, many Democrats have in recent years espoused a standard of deference to female accusers that makes their continued support for Biden a bit awkward. But I don’t think there’s much actual hypocrisy here. Lindsey Beyerstein has wise words to offer on this score. A moment of reckoning may await Biden and the liberal establishment in the future, but it hasn’t arrived, and hopefully it will not.

16) And here’s the great tweet he just linked:

17) And while I’m at it with newsletters, great stuff from Eric Boehlert: “”The insults don’t matter” — ABC reporter gives Trump a pass on vicious media attacks”

Asked on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” why reporters don’t get up and walk out of the briefing room when Trump launches one of his name-calling tirades, Karl insisted, “The insults don’t matter.” He added, “Who cares if the president is going to make personal attacks on us, the reporters in that room?” The claim that “insults don’t matter” is quite amazing. It’s the media voluntarily creating new, separate standards for the Trump era, and giving him a hard pass.

Karl, who serves as the president of the White House Correspondents Association and just released a new book, Front Row at the Trump Show, was echoing a familiar claim that journalists should never become the story, and that when the focus is on the press the real news is being missed. It’s a mantra used for generations and it often made sense. “As a reporter, the last thing you want to do is to turn this into a story about yourself,” Karl recently told the Hollywood Reporter, while discussing Trump.

That cover story doesn’t hold today because we have a ruler who has made it plain that he wants to destroy public faith in newsgathering for purely political purposes. In three years has launched more ugly, damaging attacks on the free press in America than the previous 44 U.S.  presidents, combined.

Now is not the time to hide behind the claim that “insults” don’t matter, that it’s irrelevant how the President of the Untied States behaves in public, and to ignore how he’s running a textbook authoritarian propaganda campaign to destabilize the free press.

This country has operated on a premise of acceptable, decent behavior among public officials, and especially the President of the United States, for more than two-and-a-half centuries. Trump has gleefully obliterated all those standards. The idea that his rancid behavior, which is signified by the insults he hurls at reporters, doesn’t matter, represents a deeply misguided way of looking at the damage Trump has done to this country, and specifically our public life.

“To me, I don’t care if he criticizes reporters or if he criticizes me. That is not what’s important or relevant,” Karl recently stressed.

Is Karl signaling to all future presidents that it’s fine if they call journalists nasty, unpatriotic people, as Trump does? Karl can’t possibly think that’s okay. What Karl is really saying is, there are no rules for Trump and we’re simply not interested in holding him accountable. Instead, journalists want to make sure they keep their “front row” seats to the Trump “show.”

Does anyone think that if a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama had filled their press briefings with nasty name-calling, labeling the press “enemies of the people,” that the White House press corps would have spent years collectively shrugging their shoulders and chalking up the ugly attacks as Clinton and Obama personality quirks?

18) While learning about Covid this week, I also learned the latest on Zinc and the common cold.  I’ve actually been persuaded by the evidence for years, but I loved that this study really breaks it down to the type and amount of Zinc.

19) Maybe llama blood holds the key to the next amazing treatment.  Seriously.

20) Interesting stuff on how much Covid spread may be dependent upon crowds:

Ever since a new coronavirus emerged in China late last year, public health experts have debated why it was so dangerous. Now, as we consider how to reopen communities in the United States and across the world, we’re learning that the closer people live and work together, the more threatening and deadly the virus can be.

Models we created at PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, tracking and forecasting outbreaks in 211 counties in 46 states, as well as in the District of Columbia, revealed that crowding and population density, whether in densely populated areas in New York City or a meatpacking plant in South Dakota, are the most important factors in determining the havoc the virus can wreak.

After we accounted for age distribution and health issues, it was clear that risk not only of infection but of death broke between two groups: those in densely crowded areas, and everyone else. Large, densely populated areas like New York and Chicago had nearly twice the rate of transmission in the first two weeks of their outbreaks than the least densely populated areas we are tracking, like Birmingham, Ala., or the metro area of Portland, Ore.

Yes, we did find that warming spring temperatures in some areas are helping to reduce transmission, but that effect is dwarfed by the impact of population density in our largest cities, particularly in the North.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

Happy Leap Day.

1) I am so not getting a PSA screening until there are outcomes way better than this:

In the most definitive study done to date to assess the value of PSA screening, the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer concluded that 781 men aged 55 to 69 when they enrolled would have to be screened to prevent one man from dying of prostate cancer after 13 years. In this study, approximately one man in six who were screened was falsely identified as possibly having prostate cancer, and two-thirds of positive PSA results in the first round of screening were false-positives.

2) Loved this “Virtual imagery that would make me run faster on the elliptical”

My onscreen avatar is carrying a laptop and it is just beginning to rain. Also, she’s wearing suede…

I snatch a golden idol from a pedestal in an ancient temple, and, as I smirk, thinking how easy that was, rocks fall from the ceiling. The roof is going to collapse! I sprint down a corridor, idol in hand, while arrows shoot from the walls, each a near miss. My colleague’s there, waiting for me, telling me to give him the statue first and then he’ll help me across the pit that gapes between us—but he betrays me, stealing the statue and leaving me to die. I leap over the pit, slide under a closing stone door, and BAM, there’s my colleague, dead. Arrows got him. I recover the statue, pausing for a moment to catch my breath, maybe wipe the sweat off my brow with a lemongrass-scented towelette, but there’s no time! A massive boulder comes rolling down out of nowhere, and if I don’t keep running, I will be crushed!

3) David Roberts on how Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who understands the procedural reforms necessary to restore trust in American government.  But, sadly, that doesn’t exactly resonate with voters.

4) Wired, “Will Your Cat Eat Your Corpse? The short answer is maybe. The long answer won’t make you feel any better.”

5) Atlantic with good stuff from EJ Dionne’s new book:

The broad idea of dignity and its specific connection to work has been on my mind ever since. The idea appealed to me because it rang true to the core idea of Catholic social thought—“the equal dignity of every person”—that helped shape my own politics long ago. But to see it used so explicitly in a campaign was instructive. The idea finds its power from a deep intuition that the anger in our public life, across many of our lines of division, arises from a felt denial of dignity.

Blue-collar workers of all races—very much including the white working class, which has loomed so large in political analysis since 2016—have experienced this denial of dignity. But it is also experienced by African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants across classes. In the Trump Era, these workers confront a rise in racism and nativism championed by the president himself. Women who experience sexism, and young Americans who see themselves denied opportunities their parents enjoyed, feel it, too.

In my new book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country, I argue that dignity should be the central purpose of a new post-Reagan economics and a new post-Trump politics. Dignity binds together progressives and moderates opposed to Trump. It can also bring together constituencies who now find themselves opposed to each other. A focus on dignity may thus have immediate political power, but it also has a deep moral resonance.

Dignity is compelling because it is a value, not an ideology or a program. But neither is it an empty slogan. Dignity has strong implications for both policy and our culture. And it answers a moral yearning felt both individually and collectively. Lifting up dignity as a core national purpose is essential to renewing a society that has lost track of the powerful “We” that opens our Constitution. A commitment to equal dignity can play an important role in pulling together a nation that Trump has devoted himself to dividing.

6) On Adam Cohen’s new book on how the Supreme Court overwhelmingly has protected the rich over our history:

Many progressives hold these truths to be virtually self-evident. The United States Supreme Court has the hallowed role of protecting the most vulnerable in society. At a minimum, it does not engage in judicial activism to burden them further. And only now, when the court has shifted decisively to the right, is it in danger of relinquishing that function.

Adam Cohen’s “Supreme Inequality” shows that these beliefs utterly fail to capture the court’s treatment of the poor. For 50 years, he explains, it has exacerbated economic inequality through its aggressive jurisprudence…

Cohen’s insight that the court has been an activist for income inequality is important. Commentators have widely excoriated income inequality as the scourge of our time (Cohen quotes the hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s description of it as an “existential threat” to the nation). Yet many attribute income inequality to broad trends like advances in technology or globalization — and even commentators who point to the actions of governmental institutions rarely mention the court. After Cohen’s book, progressives should add the court’s jurisprudence to the list of causes for income inequality. What’s more, they should include income inequality on the list of negative consequences to be feared from future courts, especially now that Brett Kavanaugh has joined the court.

7) I haven’t yet read McKay Coppins big Atlantic cover story on the massive Republican disinformation campaign that’s coming, but it’s been the talk of the town and a must-read.  I did listen to his Fresh Air interview, though.  And, damn, it really is scary as hell.

8) Soft “g” for .gif, damnit!  If you were actually using the internet back in the 1990’s, like I was, there was no controversy, that was just how it was pronounced.

9) I think/fear Brian Beutler is spot-on about the media’s 2016 malpractice almost sure to be repeated if Bernie is the nominee:

Trump has only just begun treating Bernie Sanders as his likely 2020 opponent, but Sanders’ lengthy public career and progressive politics have already aroused the same professional habits that brought us the email craze four years ago.

Political journalists face strong incentives to portray the two major parties as roughly similar moral and ethical entities that happen to share different philosophical values. Reporters are often trained to approach their subjects this way, until the practice becomes so ingrained that the supposed equivalence between the parties becomes axiomatic to them. These incentives drove mainstream media outlets to amplify the email controversy and downplay Trump’s cascade of outrages until their coverage appeared balanced, but thus left consumers with wildly inaccurate perceptions of the candidates’ relative trustworthiness.

To allow moral and ethical distinctions between partisan agendas and tactics to seep into reporting would be extremely disruptive. One party’s conduct might be consistently less ethical and principled than the other’s, but acknowledging as much, and allowing it to shape coverage, would alienate sources in that party, and drive its followers to outlets willing to sanitize the truth. But if the background assumption of most news producers is that both parties engage in dirty tricks, politicians of all stripes lie, and the nature of empirical fact itself is contestable, it creates a huge loophole that allows unscrupulous, dishonest actors to game news coverage itself, until it no longer conveys reality. [emphasis mine]

Sanders’s candidacy comes as an enormous relief to practitioners of this kind of journalism. As the most left-wing member of the Senate, and perhaps of the whole Congress, he allows political journalists to fall back on platitudes about the parties catering to their extremes, without examining the content of their agendas or their political styles.

10) Linda Greenhouse, “The Supreme Court Nears the Moment of Truth on Religion: The majority’s view of the Constitution’s free-exercise clause poses a threat to civil society.”

The startling fact of the matter is that Judges Griffin, Stranch and Donald were applying the law as they found it — as the Supreme Court has handed it to them in a series of decisions instructing judges to accept almost any religious claim, no matter how preposterous, at face value and to put the government to an extremely tough test to justify any infringement on a “sincere” religious belief. In the Hobby Lobby case six years ago, the court gave dispositive legal weight to the claim by owners of two for-profit businesses that the legal requirement to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans would make them complicit in the sin of birth control.

“It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

Rather than looking at the Sixth Circuit prison decision, Fox v. Washington, as an outlier, we need to see it as a harbinger, a frightening one. I don’t know whether this particular case will end up at the Supreme Court. But there are plenty of cases like it, making claims that would have been dismissed out of hand not too many years ago and that now have to be taken seriously by those of us worried about the growing threat that an increasingly weaponized free-exercise clause poses to civil society, along with the statutes meant to extend its reach.

11) Lessons from a Buddhist monk on facing death.  Good stuff, but… We’ll see how I feel about this when I’m old, but what really scares me about dying at this point in my life is not actually dying, but the certainty of suffering for those I would leave behind.  Even if one is comfortable with their own death, you cannot get everybody who loves you thinking like a Buddhist monk.  And it’s a lot easier to deal with the death of a loved one at an older age than when you feel you’ve lost somebody way to early.

12) Well, of course Republicans want to make poor people freeze to help fund Corona virus response.  Yes, seriously.  These people are the worst:

It’s now looking like coronavirus is threatening a potential public health emergency. And a battle has broken out between the White House and Democrats over how much money to allocate to the crisis, with the White House pushing for less than Democrats think is called for.

But at the core of this dispute is something that’s hasn’t yet gotten public exposure — and is potentially very troubling.

House Democrats tell us they are outraged by one aspect of the White House response in particular: The White House appears to have informed Democrats that they want to fund the emergency response in part by taking money from a program that funds low-income home heating assistance.

A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families.

13) I actually quite like Turkish Delight (I used to have a colleague who would regularly return with it from Turkey), but I do so love this post, “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”

14) Yes, we totally should do toilets like the Japanese do.  To some degree, though, it would almost be worse to get used to a better toilet experience at home and then have to suffer in comparison when going anywhere else in America.  But, hey, if this actually starts taking off, I’m ready to be an early adopter.

15) Very good stuff here, “I was a juror in the Roger Stone trial. Attacking our foreperson undermines our service.”

These events raise serious concerns for me not merely as a juror in the trial but also for the threat to our bedrock principles.

Elected officials have no business attacking citizens for performing their civic duty. The jury system is rooted in English common law and enshrined in both Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; it is fundamental to the American system of justice. All of us need to be concerned when this process is attacked. More than 1.5 million Americans are impaneled on juries every year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal service is more rare than state-level service, but a 2007 center report found that more than a third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point in their lifetimes. Jurors are not merely expected but required to judge facts fairly. We are required to disclose any potential bias and are asked whether that potential bias would prevent us from rendering an impartial verdict.

16) Drum with a good take on the outrage machine (and, damnit, I did read this article before I saw Drum’s post):

Can someone please tell me why this tiny local story is on the front page of a national newspaper?

Oh, right: it “went viral.” Therefore it must be covered.

STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Everything is caught on camera these days. Everything is outrageous these days. Everything goes viral these days—if by “viral” you mean that a few thousand people took five seconds to retweet something.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we let local stories stay local unless they truly have some kind of national significance? Why do we insist on stoking outrage at every opportunity? It’s not as if we lack for plenty of genuine national-level outrages, after all.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting new research, “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t”

It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

2) Hell, yeah, there’s a good case for sticking with bail reform.  Especially because the opponents are pretty much just fearmongering:

Judges can also still set bail on almost all violent felony offenses, any case involving sexual abuse or misconduct, all felony and some misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, and witness intimidation and tampering cases. The most common charges for which release must now be allowed are drug possession, theft and unlicensed driving.

The best evidence for the success of bail reform comes from Brooklyn. Prosecutors there stopped demanding bail for almost all misdemeanors in April 2017. Over the next year, the number of people held on bail in Brooklyn declined by 43 percent, and Brooklyn has also experienced a decline in crime, with fewer shootings and the lowest number of murders in the borough’s history in 2019, according to the district attorney’s office.

3) Philip Bump actually goes to the trouble to assess six key points of Trump’s impeachment defense.  Of course, the whole defense is based on well-established historical and legal principles.  Kidding!

4) Meanwhile, in a great example of “NYT commenters are smarter than the Op-Ed writer” a law professor argues that Trump did nothing wrong, because of course politicians consider personal political benefit in their public policy actions.  I will leave you to puncture his arguments yourself if you are so inclined.

5) Of course, for people paying attention, it’s been pretty damn clear that Trump is not responsible for a good economy (and, of course, we give all presidents too much credit and blame for the economy).  Nice column from Joseph Stiglitz:

Again, the low employment rate is not a surprise, not least because unhealthy people can’t work. Moreover, those on disability benefits, in prison – the US incarceration rate has increased more than sixfold since 1970, with some two million people currently behind bars – or so discouraged that they are not actively seeking jobs are not counted as “unemployed.” But, of course, they are not employed. Nor is it a surprise that a country that doesn’t provide affordable childcare or guarantee family leave would have lower female employment – adjusted for population, more than ten percentage points lower – than other developed countries.

Even judging by GDP, the Trump economy falls short. Last quarter’s growth was just 2.1%, far less than the 4%, 5%, or even 6% Trump promised to deliver, and even less than the 2.4% average of Obama’s second term. That is a remarkably poor performance considering the stimulus provided by the $1 trillion deficit and ultra-low interest rates. This is not an accident, or just a matter of bad luck: Trump’s brand is uncertainty, volatility, and prevarication, whereas trust, stability, and confidence are essential for growth. So is equality, according to the International Monetary Fund.

So, Trump deserves failing grades not just on essential tasks like upholding democracy and preserving our planet. He should not get a pass on the economy, either.

6) So, I was intrigued by this headline in the NYT Opinion section, “In Defense of Donald Trump: Legal experts examine the strongest and weakest points of his case.”  But, unsurprisingly, it’s not much of a defense, as even the strongest points are pretty weak.

7) I definitely know some people who apologize too much.  And they are invariably women.  But if somebody says “I’m sorry” in the generic sense of “I’m sorry that that happened to you” and a person says “oh, it’s not your fault” that latter person has a serious lack of social skills.  Like many words, sorry means many different things depending on context.

By definition, an apology is an acknowledgment of offense or failure, but words don’t always mean their dictionary definition: Context matters, Dr. Tannen said. Words are defined in how they’re used and an apology is used in many different ways, so it serves many different functions. Some apologies are meant to repair a relationship, like when you forget to pick up your friend at the airport. Some apologies show respect, like when you submit a report to your boss and it’s a day or two late. And some apologies are simply meant to smooth out a conversation, Dr. Tannen added. Gender and culture influence the way we use apologies, and sometimes what we say gets lost in translation.

“A typical thing for women is that people think they’re being overly accommodating when they apologize, even if they’re not using the apology that way,” Dr. Tannen said. Sounds like that’s what the woman in the wet jacket was thinking.

8) Snake anti-venom is complicated to make and expensive and saves lives.  But to make it happen you have to milk a real live snake for venom.  But with cool technology, maybe not for too much longer.

9) Ruy Teixera sums up the latest political science on 2016 that’s all the rage.  According to this, it was not racial resentment that was key to Trump’s election.  Longish summary:

No, “Racial Resentment” Didn’t Elect Donald Trump

I don’t suppose I’ve succeeded in getting many of you to actually read the Grimmer and Marble paper I linked to the other day. That’s too bad because it really is a very important paper. The paper is basically an accounting exercise–and I love accounting exercises!–which establishes very cleanly and clearly, using straightforward mathematics that is not really arguable, that “racial resentment” (itself a vexed term–see the famous Ryan Enos/Riley Carney paper) and similar attitudes simply cannot explain where Trump got the votes to be elected. And if that theory–to this day, the dominant theory in political science and general discourse–cannot explain where Trump got the votes, then what good is it since it doesn’t, you know, explain anything.

But if I can’t get you to read the Grimmer and Marble paper, admittedly a bit of an academic political science slog, perhaps I can get you to read Policy Tensor’s crisp summary and explanation of the findings. And, yes, I do think the findings have political implications–important ones.

“An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial prejudice. But the paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory,” does much more than that. It explains why the vast bulk of the literature that has emerged got it so very wrong. And it does so by mathematically demonstrating the limitations and biases of previous analyses in a straightforward manner that is a model of simplicity and elegance. This is easily the most significant work to appear on the question. In many ways, it is as much a theoretical intervention as an argument over 2016; one that has all the hallmarks of a seminal work — that creates a before and after. And it has the potential to irrevocably change the conversation in both academic political science and sophisticated political consulting. So what have Grimmer and Marble shown?

They begin by noting that, in order to understand 2016, or any other election, it is not enough to show that voters with such and such attribute (denoted by x, eg racial resentment) voted for this candidate at higher rates. This is so because the effect may be swamped by compositional effects (ie, the share of people with that attitude in the population may have fallen) and turnout rates (ie, the people with that attitude may have turned out at lower rates). In order to understand how a candidate won, we must pay careful attention to all three factors at once: composition, turnout, and vote choice.

The number of votes that Trump received from voting bloc (ie, whatever attribute) x is given by the product of (1) the share of the electorate in voting bloc x, (2) the turnout rate conditional on voting bloc x, and (3) the rate at which they voted for Trump conditional on turnout and bloc. This a mathematical fact, there is no arguing with it:

The problem with the vast bulk of the literature is that it pays no attention to these confounding effects and pays near-exclusive attention to the vote choice of various blocs (“authoritarians” &c). In a survey of 83 papers analyzing 2016, they found a mere 5 that had paid attention to all three. The vast majority of reported results, 94 percent, are suspect because they fail to take into account these mathematical facts. This includes the entirety of the vast literature supporting the racial resentment thesis.

Once you start adding up the correct way, the racial resentment thesis turns out to be flat out wrong.”

Read the Policy Tensor piece for charts from the paper and clear explanations of what they mean.

https://williammarble.co/docs/vb.pdf

https://scholar.harvard.edu/f…/rkcarney/files/carneyenos.pdf

https://policytensor.com/2020/01/20/how-did-trump-win/

10) Nice review/summary of the Very Stable Genius book.  Also a good Fresh Air interview.

11) Good policy is important.  But so is how policy interacts with culture.  Atlantic, “Why Icelandic Dads Take Parental Leave and Japanese Dads Don’t: A generous policy is of little use when work culture heavily discourages men from taking time off.”

The hype around Koizumi’s minimal leave reflects the disconnect between his country’s official parental-leave allowances and how things work in practice: Japan offers one of the most generous paternity-leave packages in the world (a full year), yet the rate at which eligible fathers working in the private sector take leave is quite low (about 6 percent).For a host of reasons, Japan’s government would like that rate to be much higher. Research indicates that dads who take leave are more involved as their kids grow up, which improves both the kids’ and the dads’ physical and mental health (and moms’ too, no doubt). And in Japan in particular, where low birth rates have led to a scarcity of workers, if more fathers took parental leave and picked up more child-care responsibilities, mothers might have an easier time entering, or staying in, the workforce (and, in the longer run, Japanese families might be encouraged to have more children.

What’s more, a 2017 Japanese government-commissioned study found that just over a third of new fathers wanted to take paternity leave, but didn’t. What’s stopping Japanese dads from taking time off?Policy and cultural norms each play a role when it comes to who takes parental leave and how much, and in Japan, culture has been the more powerful force. According to Machiko Osawa, the director of the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University, the country’s work culture strongly discourages dads from taking time away from the office. “Taking paternity leave is more likely to reduce promotion possibilities in the future, since this is a signal that a man values his private life,” she wrote to me in an email. “In Japan, those who put work as a priority and work long hours receive high evaluations and are more likely to be promoted.”

Also, I’m glad I don’t live in Japan.

12) Did I ever do a post on this great David Leonhardt column, “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You”?  I really should have.

13) Yeah, yeah, I’m good with not stigmatizing people for being overweight and for recognizing just how complicated this is.  Just don’t go around telling me that we cannot even say that some foods are healthier than others:

A central aim of the antidiet project is to divest the language of bodies and food of all its moral content. That’s why the critics focus so hard on language. Harrison just won’t let the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” (or for that matter “wellness,” “overweight,” or “clean eating”) slip the bonds of her pointed quotation marks. And to hear her take her rapier punctuation to the truisms around food, bodies, and exertion is to feel the wires loosen in your head. Quote-unquote overeat. How could these slippy-slidey phonemes about diet culture and the body ever have had any moral sway over me?

Sorry, that handful of raspberries and an apple I had this afternoon definitely healthier than the part of the 100 Grand Bar I had after dinner.

14) I missed this from 2017, but you know I always love reading about the rise of quality board games.

15) Law professor Julian Davis Mortensen argues that we’ve been way over-interpreting “executive power” in the Constitution.  I think he’s quite likely right:

After years of research into an enormous array of colonial, revolutionary, and founding-era sources, I’m here to tell you that—as a historical matter—this president-as-king claim is utterly and totally wrong. I’ve reviewed more than a thousand publications from the 17th and 18th centuries for each instance of the word root exec-, and have read most of those texts from cover to cover with the topic of presidential power squarely in mind. I’ve read every discussion of executive power and presidential authority that appears in the gigantic compilation of archival materials known as the Documentary History of the Ratification of the United States Constitution. And with the help of a team of research assistants, I’m most of the way through flyspecking the full records of the Continental Congress—including committee reports, floor debates, and delegate correspondence—with the same question in mind.

All this work has left me with both the confidence to share this conclusion and the sense of obligation to do so as bluntly as possible. It’s just not a close call: The historical record categorically refutes the idea that the American revolutionaries gave their new president an unspecified array of royal prerogatives. To the contrary, the presidency that leaps off the pages of the Founders’ debates, diaries, speeches, letters, poems, and essays was an instrument of the law of the land, subject to the law of the land, and both morally and legally obliged to obey the law of the land.

If you had the same third-grade history class I did, you might think this all goes without saying. But in the realm of constitutional law, these findings represent a tectonic shift.

For more than two centuries, jurists and statesmen have intoned that “ours is a government of limited powers.” That proposition is the foundational principle of federal power. The Constitution did not grant Congress open-ended authority to regulate in the public interest. Instead, the Founders wrote a laundry list of highly specific legislative authorities. This enumeration strategy, the Supreme Court has explained, is why courts must carefully consider the national government’s legislative limits: “If no enumerated power authorizes Congress to pass a certain law, that law may not be enacted.” From this starting point comes the endless constitutional sparring over the scope of the powers to regulate commerce, to tax, to spend, and to enter into treaties—just to name a few. Almost everyone agrees that unless legislators can point to an affirmative grant of constitutional authority, Congress simply can’t act.

A funny thing happens, though, when it comes to the presidency. Suddenly you see hand-waving that would be laughed out of the room just about anywhere else…

The constitutional text doesn’t actually authorize the president to do very much. It enumerates the veto, appointments, and pardon powers. It grants the president “the executive power” and the office of commander in chief. It authorizes the president to receive foreign ambassadors, demand reports from his subordinates, and deliver a State of the Union address. But aside from a few miscellaneous process authorities, that’s just about it.

The way president-as-king theorists see it, this fact is more than just inconvenient; it’s downright dangerous.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that so many of the idolaters of the Constitution pretty much ignore all this and go all-in on extreme executive power.  At least when the executive is a Republican.

16)There’s been some interesting recent controversy over whether it was the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, or widespread volcanic activity.  Latest research– pretty sure it’s the meteor.

17) This is cool– some wolf pups will play fetch.

18) Is rationality overrated?  Maybe.  At least if aim to be reasonable instead of rational:

New research says there’s another way to look at it. What if people often choose to be irrational in cases where doing the rational thing would violate something they value more — like socially conscious behavior? And if that’s the case, should we actually embrace some instances of irrationality rather than discounting it as an embarrassing nuisance?

That’s one of the possibilities raised in an interesting psychology study published last week in Science Advances. Researchers based at the University of Waterloo in Canada wanted to understand what prompts people to use rationality — or deviate from it — in their decision-making. To get at this, they first analyzed reams of text to see what people generally take rationality to mean. Then they conducted 12 experiments, recruiting people from Amazon Mechanical Turk to play classic economic games like the Dictator Game online and answer questions about their behavior.

The study starts by distinguishing between two terms: there’s rationality, where you focus on maximizing the chance of getting what you want, and there’s reasonableness, where you strike a balance between what you want and social norms.

Although we might sometimes use rational and reasonable interchangeably, the study shows that people generally associate the former with the cold hard logic of self-interest and the latter with socially conscious traits like kindness or cooperativeness. A computerized analysis of billions of words — drawn from soap operas, Supreme Court opinions, and Google Books — showed that these associations hold true across several countries…

Let’s get clear on something: Nobody is arguing that rationality is a bad thing. It’s more that our understanding of rationality has, over the past few decades, become impoverished.

“What philosophers since the Enlightenment meant by rationality is much more complex than what economists talk about now,” Grossmann told me. “If you look at Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith, their notion of rationality is much more nuanced and it does include social norms. Yet behavioral economists have this very narrow notion of rationality: abstract, formal, self-interested, and not at all about social norms.”

In other words, rationality used to be this capacious concept that included reasonableness. By ripping reasonableness out of it, we ended up with a standard of judgment that the average person won’t see fit to apply in all situations — and then we assumed that indicates there’s something wrong with them.

According to Grossman, we’ve lost the more useful notion of rationality, but “the reasonableness standard can help to recover it.”

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this on Trump’s GOP “takeover” from Eric Levitz:

Yet McConnell is “staying put.” His caucus’s principled conservatives believe that when the state intervenes in the pharmaceutical market to raise prices and juice profits (by awarding patent monopolies that restrict competition), that is free-market economics — but when “big government” intervenes to aid consumers at the expense of Merck’s shareholders, it’s socialist tyranny. And, at the end of the day, the GOP’s long-standing principles (a.k.a. the GOP donor class’s long-standing demands) ostensibly count for more than one president’s whims.

What, then, do we mean when we say that Trump has “taken over” the GOP? If a president cannot convince his congressional allies to buck their party’s established orthodoxy on his “next major priority” — even when his position is popular, and the orthodoxy is not — in what sense has he attained the “complete fealty” of his party’s lawmakers? The discrepancy of Trump’s supposedly historic power over his party — and his demonstrable inability to rally congressional Republicans behind his legislative goals — reflects a fact that’s too often elided in discussions of Trump’s “hostile takeover of the GOP”: The mogul’s conquest of the American right owed as much to strategic surrenders as it did to tweeted blitzkriegs.

Trump began accommodating the GOP Establishment from the moment he secured the nomination. In the early weeks of his primary campaign, Trump endorsed universal health-caretax hikes on hedge-fund managers, and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. After Trump won the Republican primary — and, thus, the hearts and minds of many previously adversarial GOP donors — he either abandoned or de-emphasized such heresies. Once in power, he outsourced his agenda to Paul Ryan. Trump could have devoted his “honeymoon” to his (broadly popular) ambitions for improving U.S. infrastructure. Instead, he let the Randian speaker try and fail to take health-care from poor people, before successfully delivering (deeply unpopular) tax cuts to wealthy ones.

Notably, subordinating his own political interests to the GOP Establishment’s fiscal agenda did not earn Trump any “fealty” on his campaign’s defining issue: When the White House’s official immigration plan (which included full funding for a border wall, and cuts to legal admissions) came before the Senate in February 2018, 14 Republicans voted against it.  (Mitch McConnell held votes on three other immigration bills that same day; all won more support than Donald Trump’s.)

To be sure, the president has occasionally flouted his party’s orthodoxy on trade and foreign policy. But even in those realms, Trump’s heresies are often overstated. Every modern Republican president has dabbled in protectionism at the behest of his favorite industries. And Trump did not ultimately tear up NAFTA, but merely negotiated a nearly-identical replacement. Meanwhile, Trump’s personal affections for Vladimir Putin notwithstanding, his administration has pursued the hawkish anti-Russian foreign policy that Mitt Romney once demanded. The president’s betrayal of Syria’s Kurds may have ruffled some neoconservative feathers. But then, betraying the Kurds has long been a pastime of Republican presidents – and for all of Trump’s vows to withdraw U.S. troops from the region, “large-scale operations” in Syria are ongoing. 

Put simply, it isn’t that hard to complete a “hostile takeover” of a party when your hostility does not extend to anything that that party truly values. The GOP Establishment did not wage holy war on Trump in early 2016 because it found his incivility or xenophobia unconscionable; it did so because it doubted Trump’s ability to defeat Hillary Clinton, and his willingness to implement the conservative agenda. By delivering the White House to Republicans, the regulatory state to the Chamber of Commerce, the tax code to plutocrats, and the judiciary to the Federalist Society, Trump has dispelled those fears.

The mainstream press exaggerates Trump’s power over congressional Republicans because it refuses to recognize the gulf between the GOP’s stated values and its actual ones. The modern Republican Party has never been a stickler for balanced budgetsunfettered trade, or constitutional restraints on executive authority (when the executive is a Republican). It has always been happy to abet presidential lawlessness when doing so advanced the conservative movement’s ideological goals. Thus, the fact that House Republicans are willing to forgive Trump’s illicit efforts to sabotage the Democratic front-runner is much less significant than the Times suggests.

2) Jesse Singal on “toxic wokeness” with an analogy to human sacrifice and I kind of love it:

It sounds like you’re describing life in a toxic online social-justice community. Toxic SJ communities are, of course, no less toxic because they center around fundamentally worthy causes. One thing I’ve noticed about them is no one seems to be happy. When happiness does appear to manifest, it’s a strained, performative type of happiness.

Allow me my first of what are going to be several digressions. Earlier this week I got started on the latest “Fall of Civilizations” podcast, which is about the Aztecs. One of the many things the host, Paul M.M. Cooper, does masterfully is pick the right spots to zoom in a bit, to encourage listeners to really think, if only for a few minutes along what is an hours-long journey inside a particular civilization’s downfall, about some issue or moment.

One such moment in this podcast involves the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Cooper treats the subject with sufficient care, given that, as he points out, human sacrifice was one of the rationales the Spaniards used to justify their plunder of the New World (the colonizing Spaniards were, of course, deeply concerned with human rights — real humanists, that lot). But human sacrifice did occur. A priest would stab someone to death with an obsidian dagger at the top of a pyramid and pull out their still-beating heart. Their blood would run down the steps of the pyramid and their body would be tossed down it, its parts fed to animals. Many people would watch; it was a big social and religious ritual.

Cooper invites us to imagine would it would be like to be in the crowd. What did the average member of this (in other ways) incredibly successful, astoundingly impressive civilization think of the practice? In all likelihood, he points out, there was a range of opinions, just as the Europeans of the era likely had a range of opinions on the very public executions that would take place thousands of miles from Tenochtitlan, in starkly different cultural settings.

It’s hard not to imagine some half-hearted cheers. At root, these grisly sacrifices, often perpetrated upon prisoners of war, were demonstrations of state power. This was, at the time, a powerful civilization that believed, as so many powerful civilizations do, that it had the power of the gods themselves on its side, and that it was important to stay in their good graces. So maybe you cheer a bit louder than you feel like cheering, because what are you going to do, not cheer? Deny the self-evident wonder and righteousness of what you’re witnessing? When the consequences of being a hated and defeated outgroup member are presently tumbling down those endless holy stairs, right toward you?

There is this stock response when people do what I’m doing now, when they put dysfunctional online social dynamics in the context of the really bad stuff from our human past — sacrifices or witch burnings or the Red Scare and so on. The response is incredulous outrage: How could you compare one to the other??? Then the indignant person shuts down and refuses to discuss the matter at hand. My theory is that when they chant the mantra You can’t compare them! loud and fast enough, it drowns out their own doubts; it allows them to avoid interrogating their own role in making the world a meaner and crueler place than it needs to be.

So, for the record:

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

The whole point is that there are certain aspects of human nature that pop up again and again and again, in different forms at different times. One of them is in-group insecurity. Are you a member in good standing? Is someone else poised to overtake you in the local hierarchy? What can you do — must you do — to hang on? A huge amount of human social life is oriented toward determining and broadcasting people’s status — whether they’re in or out and just how in or out they are.

Toxic online social-justice communities are miserable places largely because they are fueled by stilted, superficial outrage, and because there is an accurate sense that if you say the wrong thing, all your friends will instantly throw you under the bus. Since so many members of these communities don’t know each other in real life, and in fact have no firm connection to one another other than explicitly stated political values, people naturally develop a rather insecure sense of in-group attachment — one premised almost entirely on avoiding wrongthink and on reciting the right parts of the liturgy at the right times.

3) Really like this Wired list of 24 best movies of the 2010’s as I’ve actually seen most of these and agree with many of the picks.  Since this is Wired, it is a sci-fi heavy list.  I love “Looper” and am very pleased to see “Edge of Tomorrow” get some much-deserved love.  Also a huge fan of Arrival.

4) Shockingly, none of the Trump administration’s justifications for the Solemani killing actually hold up.  Paul Waldman takes them all down.

5) Frank Bruni lets loose on Nikki Haley and false notions of patriotism in his weekly newsletter:

Shame on Nikki Haley.

In the aftermath of the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, she didn’t merely praise President Trump — a show of support that may well reflect her own, like-minded assessment of events and is absolutely her right.

She denigrated Americans who took a different view by disingenuously describing their reaction. “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Suleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” she told Sean Hannity during an interview on Fox News. Of course he thrilled to that characterization.

Which is an utterly bogus one. Democrats aren’t mourning the Iranian military commander’s death. They agree that he was a dangerous actor, with blood on his hands. But they are asking why Trump ordered his killing now, whether the administration has a fully fleshed strategy beyond this extraordinary strike and whether Iran will be less or more bellicose as a consequence of it. These are important, necessary questions. Republicans should be asking them, too. The answers could determine whether we wind up at war.

There’s this popular, recurring notion — you’re going to hear more and more of it from Trump’s loyalists in coming days and weeks — that when America is threatened by an adversary, Americans must exhibit unity. Some readers will surely admonish me for failing to do that in my midweek column, about the mismatch of Trump and this moment.

“Partisan politics should stop when it comes to foreign policy,” said Haley, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, telling Hannity that “we need to be completely behind the president” and that “every one of those countries are watching our news media right now.” Forget a free press and skeptical public. She wants a cheering section.

And that’s not patriotic. It’s the opposite. And it’s foolish.

I agree that we should tamp down pettiness and check reflexive, press-a-button partisanship when the country is imperiled and American lives are on the line. Hell, we should do that all of the time.

And in matters of state we should be especially careful, which is why there was a long if imperfectly followed tradition of presidents not using their trips overseas to continue or start political spats back home.

You know who flouted that? Trump. I can still see the backdrop of white crosses in a Normandy graveyard as he trashed Nancy Pelosi in a television interview. He has repeatedly mocked Joe Biden while abroad — and of course tried to use his presidential sway to get a foreign country to do its own besmirching of Biden.

So please, Ambassador Haley, don’t lecture me on how foreign policy should be a partisan no-fly zone, certainly not on behalf of this president, whose ingrained habit of lying intensifies the imperative of not blindly accepting what our leaders tell us as troops are activated and storm clouds gather.

Too little skepticism toward what turned out to be misinformation mired us in Vietnam and, much later, Afghanistan and also got us into Iraq. Again and again we trust too quickly or too much, and the country pays a terrible price.

Doesn’t patriotism demand that we learn from those mistakes?

6) Thanks to NC State’s new gender guide, I actually learned several new terms.  Sure, I’m familiar with genderqueer and non-binary, but who knew agender was a thing.  Now that’s one hell of a rejection of the gender binary.

Agender – a term used to describe the experience of one being without gender, outside the gender binary, rejecting the social construct of gender
Gender Fluid – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender as moving along the continuum between and among genders
Genderqueer – a term used to describe the experience of being outside the gender binary, which may include having two or more genders (bigender, pangender, etc.), being third-gendered or other-gendered, or being without gender
Man – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being male, masculine
Non-binary – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being outside the binary or otherwise not identifying with binary male or female gender categories
Self-Entered – please enter the term most appropriate to describe your gender
Two-spirit – a culturally-specific term used to describe some individuals in some Native American cultures whose gender orientation includes both a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit
Woman – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being female, feminine

7) Can classroom air filters improve student performance?  Looks like it.  Then again, Drum is pretty skeptical.

8) Really enjoyed this NYT Magazine piece on gene drive (first time I read how it came to be– which was really cool) and genetically-modified mosquitos.  I actually found this part about Monsanto, though, particularly interesting:

“With genetically engineered foods, in the earliest years, Monsanto really set the context,” Charo says. “And it was a mess. Their financial interest in the intellectual property and their regulatory interest in making sure these products were able to come to market got conflated with the science, so nobody was willing to trust the kind of research they were doing. The end result was that all G.M.O. research got tainted.”

Todd Kuiken, a researcher at the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, says that “it was basically a lesson in how not to do things.” But, he pointed out, the “Monsanto Mistake” also alerted researchers to the need for a more transparent and collaborative approach. With gene drives, groups like Target Malaria, a nonprofit research consortium administered by Imperial College, London, and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have stressed that the deployment of modified mosquitoes in Africa should be “an African decision.” Local and national governments would work with regulatory organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, which have proposed frameworks for testing and releasing genetically modified mosquitoes. In the United States, recent developments in genetics, including gene drives, have created a boom market for ethicists, as well as for so-called engagement specialists, who have the unenviable problem of figuring out how to get people to be genuinely thoughtful about a confusing and highly technical area of research.

9) I didn’t even know “muscle confusion” workouts are a thing.  During my workouts, my muscles are pretty much never confused.  But that’s okay, because a new study suggests its about your brain, not your muscles:

What these findings suggest is that muscles are not deterred or bored by unvarying routines, says Brad Schoenfeld, an associate professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York and a co-author of the study. “They adapt to load,” he says, whether that load arrives through the same exercise or a different one each time.

But minds are not muscles and could be influenced by novelty, he says. “The differences in motivation scores at the end were substantial,” he says, suggesting that “from a purely motivational standpoint, variety matters.”

10) Derek Thompson on how this decade will probably be “peak meat.”  That would be great.  As I might have mentioned, I’ve been very impressed with the newest plant-based meats I’ve had.  And I’m super-excited about Impossible Pork.  Anyway, Thompson:

If these trends continue, per-capita meat consumption in the United States is all but certain to peak this decade. “Peak meat” won’t happen because tens of millions of carnivores suddenly got religion on animal rights, but rather because they were motivated by the opposite of a collective sacrifice: the magic of a longer menu.

Factory farming may be the epitome of capitalist excess, an inferno of needless suffering and environmental degradation for the pursuit of profit. But the plant-based revolution, too, is driven by a set of highly capitalist forces: technology, choice, and transnational corporate power. In the past decade, total venture-capital investment in plant-based meat has exceeded $2 billion, led by Impossible Foods, with $700 million in venture funds, and Beyond Meat, which went public in 2019.

These companies have partnered with some of the largest fast-food chains in the world to serve plant-based alternatives for each of the three most popular meats in the West—chicken, beef, and pork. This week, KFC announced that it would test a new vegan chicken sandwich at nearly 1,000 locations, starting in the U.K. In the past year, plant-based options have grown more than 250 percent at all burger-serving restaurants in the U.S., according to the food-research company Datassential. Burger King’s meatless “Impossible Whopper” powered the company to its strongest sales growth in four years. McDonald’s has responded by partnering with Beyond Meat to test its own version of plant-based burgers in the U.S. Beyond Meat also provides plant-based sausages for breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin’ and Tim Horton’s, while Burger King is testing imitation ground pork on its breakfast menu with something called the “Impossible Croissan’wich.”

What’s immediately obvious from this long list of meatish items is that investors, corporate executives, and consumers—including, crucially, those who say they would never become vegetarian—are excited about meat produced from plants. But these developments have a more radical implication: Plants are becoming the fourth meat.

That sentence will register as absurd to many people—and for carnivorous gourmands, it will smack of outright heresy. But it’s not an extravagant prediction, once you shake off the obvious paradox. Within the next decade or two, if the typical American eats 10 pounds of plant-based meat each year (essentially, the weight of one Impossible Whopper every week) plant-based meat will replace seafood as the fourth-most-popular “meat.”

11) Good stuff from John Sides, “Incumbent presidents usually get more popular when they run for reelection. Will Trump?”

The third pattern is the one Trump needs: increasing approval numbers throughout the election year. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are the clearest examples. Nixon’s average monthly approval increased from 49 percent to 61 percent between January and October 1972. Clinton’s increased from 47 percent to 56 percent over the same period in 1996.

Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama experienced more modest increases, but increases nonetheless. Reagan’s approval had already increased significantly in 1983 as the country recovered from the punishing 1982 recession. But it increased about three more points in 1984 before he was easily reelected…

As the graph shows, Trump’s approval rating is lower than any incumbent president’s at this point in their first term. And even though Trump won in 2016 despite being viewed unfavorably, it’s a different proposition when you’re the incumbent president. The political scientist Jonathan Bernstein put it nicely:

It’s one thing to vote for someone you dislike, it’s another to vote for someone you think is a bad president. In other words, asking people whether they approve or disapprove of how the president is handling his job is going to be a better predictor of their vote than asking them whether they have a favorable opinion of a candidate.

Of course, Trump’s reelection can’t be ruled out — hence the even odds he has in the betting markets. Nevertheless, his position is unusually weak for an incumbent presiding over a good economy. The simplest strategy for improving his chances is reaching that thin slice of persuadable voters with a message about the good economy.

The question is whether Trump has fully committed to this message.

12) I loved this mini stories episode of 99% Invisible.  But I had a truly wonderful moment listening to this segment on the history of Los Alamos when they started interviewing the Los Alamos historian, Alan Carr, who was a graduate student/friend of mine at Texas Tech way back when.

13) I was a little disappointed with the de-aging in the Irishman.  Looked too much like an older person with bad plastic surgery.  But, this is kind of amazing… somebody with video skills made a way better version (seriously, do watch this) with free software in seven days:

It’s impossible to argue with the star-power of a mob movie that contains the following names: Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci. On paper, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. The problem is, though, that Robert De Niro is a 76-year-old man, Al Pacino is a 79-year-old man, and Joe Pesci is a 76-year-old-man. And in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, these three mid-to-late-’70s actors are playing real-life mobsters throughout the span of half a century. That means, at times, we’re seeing De Niro’s Frank Sheeran as a twenty-and-thirtysomething-year-old man.

To pull this off, Martin Scorsese spent millions of Netflix’s money to digitally de-age De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci so they could portray these men throughout different parts of their lives. It’s safe to say it doesn’t entirely work. The result is some hellish uncanny valley, where their faces on screen perpetually look like they could be anywhere from 40 to 60 years old. We see De Niro’s Sheeran, supposedly in his 30s, beating the shit out of mobsters, moving like a 70-year-old man with the face of a 50-year-old man. It’s confusing, and often distracting. But many critics and awards show voters were able to look past the clunky CGI to enjoy yet another Scorsese mob movie featuring his old pals.

I was not one of them. And neither was this deepfake YouTuber who says he used free software to make The Irishman de-aging look better. And, according to the YouTuber, it only took him seven days.

14) I just upgraded my old router with the Wirecutter’s “budget” recommendation and damn was that about the best $50 I’ve spent.

2020 Quick hits

Happy New Year.

1) Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic cover story on toxic masculinity was really good.  Enjoyed very much discussing this with my boys.  And, once again, made me super-grateful for my dad who was always a great role model of how to be a man without being a jerk.

2) As I like to say, capitalism is great… where it works.  Alas, increasingly an area where it does not work is in creating next-generation antibiotic drugs.  Time for governments to step in.

3) Adam Serwer with, naturally, a thoughtful take on the 1619 project controversy.  Though, in response to this:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

Does not the answer just have to be an emphatic, “both!”?

4) John McWhorter on why Latinx is not catching on:

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns…

The difference between African American and Latinx represents a pattern demonstrated endlessly in the past. Blackboard-grammar rules—fewer books rather than less books, when to use that instead of which, etc.—are imposed from on high.

5) I found this on hearing loss disturbing and fascinating:

While under normal circumstances, cognitive losses occur gradually as people age, the wisest course may well be to minimize and delay them as long as possible and in doing so, reduce the risk of dementia. Hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation, according to an international analysis published in The Lancet in 2017.

The analysis indicated that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it has to work to understand what it hears, depleting its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Information that is not heard clearly impairs the brain’s ability to remember it. An inadequately stimulated brain tends to atrophy.

6) I had no idea rare-earth magnets are a thing.  Now, I do– and they’re cool!  But, as very powerful magnets they are potentially dangerous.  Like if kids swallow them.  The latest, “Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself.”  But, sorry, lots of products are potentially dangerous (drain cleaner, anyone?) but we don’t think the government should entirely eliminate them from the marketplace (as, apparently, was once done with these magnets).

7) Even back when I was into cars (yes, yours truly had a subscription to “Road & Track” many, many years ago), I had an irrational bias against the Corvette.  But, damn, this new Corvette is really cool and hello of a deal.

8) Why is it so hard to get things right?  Apparently, cruise ships idling in port spew a ton of pollution needlessly, but even where they’ve added an electric power hook-up in Brooklyn, it hardly gets used.

9) The Navy Seal that Trump pardoned was a truly evil man by the accounts of the members of his own unit

They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

10) It’s crazy to me that Anna Maria College has revitalized itself behind an awful football team. Meanwhile, Northeastern has thrived after dropping its team.  Really interesting contrast.  NYT, “Adding Football Saved One College. Dumping It Boosted Another.Officials at tiny Anna Maria College say starting a football program was one of their best decisions. At Northeastern, it has been good riddance.”

11) Loved this Wired video on the science of color perception.  Of course there’s not even any red pixels in this image, but your brain just assumes that it’s red strawberries in blue light.

strawberries

PHOTOGRAPH: AKIYOSHI KITAOKA

Much more coolness at the link.

12) It’s great that some good guys with guns stopped a shooter in a church in Texas.  Sometimes, the good guy with a gun really does make a difference.  But it is absurdly clear that, on balance, a society awash in guns, as ours is, is simply much, much, much more dangerous.  Also, I read elsewhere that the good guy was a highly-trained, former FBI agent.  Not your usual concealed carry permit holder.

13) Yeah, so this is wrong:

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

“Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you’re like on an island,” says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin’s oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

“You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he adds.

But if Alexander and his more than 1,200 fellow prisoners are still incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution next Census Day — April 1 — the Census Bureau will officially consider them residents of Waupun, Wis., for the 2020 national head count.

That’s because, since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned. This technical detail of a little-known policy can have an outsized impact on prison towns across the U.S. for the next decade.

While serving time at Waupun Correctional Institution, Robert Alexander is working on a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned.

In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people.

In turn, states, which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote in almost all states. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.

Officials in some prison towns have come up with creative ways to avoid forming voting districts made up primarily of prisoners. But in many others, political lines are drawn around prisons in a way that critics deride as “prison gerrymandering.”

14) I did not know there was a worldwide “rule of law index” but discovered it when learning about Singapore on Wikipedia (my little sister just finished visiting there). Followed some links, and I love this report from the World Justice Project.  US ranks #20.  And, damn, Northern Europe kicks butt once again.  I like the comparisons controlling for income, like this one:

15) Great post from Jay Rosen on what Chuck Todd’s utter failure at MTP says about the broader failures of the media in the age of Trump:

A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.

So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on air to do just that? If so, then you break faith with the audience and create a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.

There is simply nothing in the playbook at Meet the Press that tells the producers what to do in this situation. As I have tried to show, they didn’t arrive here through acts of naiveté, but by willful blindness, malpractice among the experts in charge, an insider’s mentality, a listening breakdown, a failure of imagination, and sheer disbelief that the world could have changed so much upon people paid so well to understand it.

16) I just came across this from a few years ago. Anyway, kind of amazing to me that there were people with an academic background actually arguing that the Southern realignment was predominantly about matters other than race.  Uhhh, no. Anyway, this paper uses copious data to make clear– it’s race:

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats’ 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

17) Interesting article on just how hard it is to balance being a mom with being a surgeon.  Left almost entirely unaddressed in the article is that either A) there’s a lot of suffering dads as well, or B) a lot of surgeon dads just don’t really care that much about being a good dad.  Also, clearly, some changes need to happen so that this specialty is more compatible with a reasonable family life.

18) Unsurprisingly, the Ganges is brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Surprisingly, this is even the case near the headwaters:

High in the Himalayas, it’s easy to see why the Ganges River is considered sacred.

According to Hindu legend, the Milky Way became this earthly body of water to wash away humanity’s sins. As it drains out of a glacier here, rock silt dyes the ice-cold torrent an opaque gray, but biologically, the river is pristine — free of bacteria.

Then, long before it flows past any big cities, hospitals, factories or farms, its purity degrades. It becomes filled with a virulent type of bacteria, resistant to common antibiotics.

The Ganges is living proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are almost everywhere. The river offers powerful insight into the prevalence and spread of drug-resistant infections, one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Its waters provide clues to how these pathogens find their way into our ecosystem.

Winding over 1,500 miles to the Bay of Bengal, Ma Ganga — “Mother Ganges”— eventually becomes one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, a mélange of urban sewage, animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial metals and rivulets of ashes from cremated bodies.

But annual tests by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology show that antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear while the river is still flowing through the narrow gorges of the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of miles before it encounters any of the usual suspects that would pollute its waters with resistant germs.

The bacterial levels are “astronomically high,” said Shaikh Ziauddin Ahammad, a professor of biochemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. The only possible source is humans, specifically the throngs of ritual bathers who come to wash away their sins and immerse themselves in the waters…

But where exactly do these armies of drug-resistant germs come from? Are they already everywhere — in the soil beneath our feet, for example? Do they emerge in hospitals, where antibiotics are heavily used?

Are they bred in the intestines of livestock on factory farms? Do they arise in the fish, plants or plankton living in lakes downstream from pharmaceutical factories?

Or are the germs just sitting inside the patients themselves, waiting for their hosts to weaken enough for them to take over?

Research now being done in India and elsewhere suggests an answer to these questions: Yes, all of the above.

19) Good stuff in NYT about the lack of women’s coaches in college athletics:

Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing l.field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t…

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

20) I had actually forgotten that at the beginning of this decade, 3D television was supposed to be a big thing.

The technology had existed before; Samsung got there first, in 2007. But January 2010 presented a clear inflection point. In addition to the Cell TV there were 3D Blu-ray players, sets that could automatically give depth to flat images, and the promise of DirecTV networks that broadcast exclusively in three dimensions. The industry had lined up behind a vision of the future, marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. How could it not be? It was more.

Five years later, 3D TV was dead. You probably haven’t thought about it since then, if you even did before. But there’s maybe no better totem for the last decade of consumer technology. (The iPhone was more transformative, but is also singular, and besides that was born in the late aughts.) It’s what happens when smart people run out of ideas, the last gasp before aspiration gives way to commoditization. It was the dawn of all-internet everything, and all the privacy violations inherent in that. And it steadfastly ignored how human beings actually use technology, because doing so meant companies could charge more for it.

What I remember most from those press conferences in 2010 was the assuredness that millions of people somehow actively wanted to have to put glasses on their faces in order to watch television. Even then, it made no sense.

Quick hits

1) Okay, nothing particularly new here, but George Conway on Trump is always so good:

As rare as impeachments may be, today’s impeachment of Donald Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors was pretty much inevitable.

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood. As Senator Ted Cruz put it in May 2016, Trump is a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Just this year, Senator Lindsey Graham tried to excuse Trump’s racist, vitriolic attacks on congresswomen of color as “more narcissism than anything else.” “That’s just the way he is,” Graham said.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

2) Hans Noel on impeachment and Trump’s populism:

It is populist in the specific sense in which Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser defined it in their Populism: A Very Short Introduction. For them, populist appeals invoke a conflict between “the people” and “the elites.”…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign.

3) Rick Hasen on ten years of Citizens United

In 2010, the largest reported individual contributors to federal campaigns in American politics were Robert and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes, who donated about $7.5 million to support Republican and conservative candidates. In 2018, the largest reported contributors were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who contributed about $122 million in outside money to support such candidates, representing a 16-fold increase over the Perrys’ 2010 contributions, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. What explains this dramatic shift in American elections, where the wealthiest Americans get to have even greater influence over who is elected and what policies elected officials pursue? The Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, Citizens United held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Looking at the amount of direct corporate spending in elections over the past decade, one might think that Citizens United was a bust. Few for-profit corporations spend money in their own names boosting or dissing candidates. But this casehelped to usher in a sea change in American elections, and its influence on the decade that followed is hard to overstate. We’ve seen an explosion of outside, often-undisclosed money in elections, candidates skirting campaign finance rules by having shadow “super PACs,” and dangerous foreign interference in our elections. And that pivotal opinion contains all the tools the Supreme Court needs to get rid of remaining campaign contribution limits.

4) Christianity Today shows some actual Christianity and comes out against Trump:

The evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham published a surprising editorial Thursday calling for President Trump’s removal and describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” said the piece, written by editor in chief Mark Galli. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Galli, who will retire from the magazine Jan. 3, wrote that the facts leading to Wednesday’s impeachment of Trump are unambiguous.

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

But the editorial didn’t just call out Trump. It called out his devout Christian supporters.

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Trump lashed out at the magazine in a pair of early-morning tweets Friday, calling Christianity Today a “far left magazine … which has been doing poorly.”

5) Not that you really need it, but Conor Friedersdorf eviscerates the Republican defenses of Trump on impeachment.

6) But, hey, really, who’s to know who’s right here?  CJR on the “both sides”! problem:

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, listed 12 more snippets from the article as evidence of the Times’s inability to handle what he calls “asymmetrical polarization.” They included “the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in,” “both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction,” and “the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.”

Rosen is right that this sort of language is inadequate: Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself. The Times is far from the only culprit. The structure of some TV news shows, in particular, has bothsidesism hardwired into it: a Democrat and a Republican are given equal time to make their unequal impeachment cases, and both face hard questions, to contrive a sense of balance. The questions lobbed at Democrats are often fair, but often pale into triviality when a Republican follows them on and starts sowing conspiracy theories

The media’s job, done properly, is multidirectional: it holds power to account, and communicates matters of public interest to news consumers. On impeachment, too much coverage seems to have got stuck in a feedback loop: we’re telling the public that politicians aren’t budging from their partisan siloes, and vice versa, with the facts of what Trump actually did getting lost somewhere in the cycle. The cult of “both sides” is integral to this dynamic, and it’s serving the impeachment story poorly. Now, more than ever, our top duty should be to fight for the truth.

7) Former FBI and CIA director William Webster in the NYT, “I Headed the F.B.I. and C.I.A. There’s a Dire Threat to the Country I Love. The rule of law is the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants.”

8) Kevin Drum with a massive piece on what we should do about climate change.  And here’s his nickel summary:

In my climate piece today I make a detailed case for massive investment in R&D. I want to outline my argument here in the simplest possible terms:

  1. I am all in favor of building out green energy infrastructure on a huge scale. This means primarily solar, wind, nuclear, grid upgrades, and massive electrification of the economy.
  2. However, this is a big political lift and isn’t likely to happen. More to the point, it only barely matters anyway. Electrification can probably solve only about half our global greenhouse gas problem by 2050, and even if the United States (and Europe) cut their carbon emissions to zero today it would barely be a bump in the road to ever increasing global warming.
  3. This is the key: global warming is globalAny serious plan has to include a plausible way to reduce carbon emissions in China, India, southeast Asia, and other non-Western countries, which is where virtually all of the increase in carbon emissions is coming from. However, they have shown no inclination to sacrifice their economic growth by radically reducing their carbon emissions. I know this is a conservative talking point designed to allow them to shrug away any action, but it happens to be true anyway.
  4. There’s really only one way to get all these developing countries to cut carbon emissions: massive R&D that develops new, cheaper ways of providing energy. This has to include not just electric generation, but also things like cement, airplane travel, land use, chemical production, and other things that electrification won’t solve. Importantly, it also has to include some way of removing carbon from the atmosphere, since no matter how much we reduce emissions we’re still going to end up with too much carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
  5. Then we give away all our new technology for free to everyone.

That’s basically it. Naturally you want some evidence that I’m right about all this stuff, and for that you have to read my full piece in the current issue of the magazine. Click here for all the grim and gritty details.

9) Interesting piece arguing that John Roberts will have far more say in the conduct of the impeachment trial than we realize.  And, certainly, better him than McConnell.

10) Now this is cool science, “What a 5,700-Year-Old Wad of Chewed Gum Reveals About Ancient People and Their Bacteria”

When hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern Denmark broke down pieces of birch bark into sticky, black tar about 5,700 years ago, they almost certainly didn’t realize that they were leaving future scientists their entire DNA.

Ancient people used the gooey birch pitch to fix arrowheads onto arrows and to repair a variety of stone tools. When it started to solidify, they rolled the pitch in their mouths and chewed on it, like some sort of primitive bubble gum. Chewing on birch pitch would have made it pliable again for using on tools.

It might have also relieved toothaches because of the antiseptic oils in the gum. It’s possible that children also used it recreationally, much like modern humans do today. When they spat the gum out, the same antiseptic properties helped preserve the DNA in their saliva.

The ancient DNA, described in a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, is especially valuable because few human bones from the Mesolithic and Neolithic Stone Ages have been found in Scandinavia. DNA from the chewed-up gum provides clues about the people who settled in the area, the kind of food they ate and even the type of bacteria they carried on their teeth.

11) In light of UNC’s absurd Board of Governor’s settlement with Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daily Tarheel takes a really interesting look at internal conflict within the organization (which, in many ways is basically a biker gang!)

The members who spoke with the DTH alleged financial improprieties among SCV leadership, referenced intermingling with gangs and hate groups, and described threats and slurs that have been issued toward members who raise questions.

One member said he joined the SCV within the last decade after learning about his family tree and gaining a newfound appreciation for his Confederate ancestors. But he described an increasingly “scary” presence within the group in the time since.

“I do not like Nazis,” he said. “My uncle and my great grandpa went over there to kill Nazis. I don’t like none of that crap, and some of these guys, for some reason, that draws them to something.”

Stone revealed to SCV members in a Nov. 27 email that months of secret dealings with members of the UNC System Board of Governors had preceded a settlement he “never dreamed we could accomplish… and all at the expense of the University itself.”

Disgruntled members are expressing desires to squash the deal and give the money back. A common fear they shared is that the current deal will empower what they see as the SCV’s most problematic wing: the mechanized cavalry, a nationwide special interest group of motorcycle-riding members which Stone has helmed for around 10 years.

The Silent Sam settlement could lead to UNC System money funding a new headquarters and museum that one member predicts will have “racist overtones” and further enable a nefarious transition.

“Kevin Stone is no more interested in Silent Sam and what it stands for than the man on the moon,” the member said. “He sees this money as a pot of gold to build himself and his biker gang a massive headquarters.”

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

12) NYT on the “fake meat” versus “real meat” wars.  We recently started purchasing the “fresh” version of Beyond Beef.  OMG, it is so good.  Now, this stuff really is revolutionary.  Compared to their frozen crumbles, which are adequate, but leave me craving the real stuff, this is the real deal.  Put this stuff everywhere and I’d happily be a vegetarian.  And, no, of course it’s not health food.  But the animals saved and the carbon not emitted doesn’t really care about that.

The meat industry has a warning for consumers: Beware of plant-based meat.

That is the message behind a marketing campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations firm whose financial supporters have included meat producers and others in the food industry. In recent weeks the group has placed full-page ads in The New York Times and other newspapers raising health concerns about plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, which are designed to look, taste and even appear to bleed like real meat.

The ads call them “ultra-processed imitations” with numerous ingredients. “What’s hiding in your plant-based meat?” asks one ad featuring a sad face made of two patties and sausage. Another directs readers to a site that compares plant-based burgers to dog food. In November, the group’s managing director, Will Coggin, wrote an opinion piece in USA Today that labeled fake meats as ultra-processed foods that can spur weight gain, although the research on processed foods has not included plant-based meats. A few days later, the center’s executive director, Rick Berman, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing plant-based meats as highly processed and no healthier than meat. Its headline: “‘Plant-Based Meat’ Is All Hat and No Cattle.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) The University of North Carolina is going to pay $2.5 million on very shaky legal grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans to “care for” a confederate memorial statue that pretty much nobody at UNC actually wants on the campus anymore.  The whole thing is nuts.

2) Honeycrisp apples are good, but they strike me as vastly over-rated.  I’ll take a far more affordable Braeburn anyday.  And, damn, are they hard to grow.

3) Sometimes you really wonder what the NYT Op-Ed editors are thinking.  I read a horrible Op-Ed but decided I wasn’t going to waste my time blogging about it.  But, Drum has more time to blog, so…

Hmmm. So the theory here is that black kids are exposed to so much stress already that a little more barely has an impact. Let’s keep going:

Differences in access to socioeconomic resources such as mother’s education accounted for up to nearly 50 percent of the gap in high school completion….The importance of socioeconomic resources makes sense when we consider the racial gaps in income and wealth between black and white two-parent families. Although in general, youths raised in two-parent families are less likely to live in poverty, black youths raised by both biological parents are still three times more likely to live in poverty than are their white peers. Additionally, black two-parent families have half the wealth of white two-parent families. So, many of the expected economic benefits of marriage and the two-parent family are not equally available to black children.

This really makes no sense. For starters, the usual progressive assumption is that those who are suffering the most deserve the most help. But in this case, Cross is suggesting the opposite: black kids are already suffering enough that we shouldn’t worry too much about tossing another log on the fire in the form of a one-parent home.

Second, Cross suggests that socioeconomic resources account for much of the gap in high school completion. That’s plausible. But if we made some kind of massive effort to close that gap, it wouldn’t do us any good. It would just put black kids on a level footing with white kids, and their single-parent homes would then affect them as much as white kids.

Why write an op-ed like this? Unfortunately, this is the kind of special pleading that’s common when the subject is family structure. On the one hand, there’s a pretty fair literature—which Cross’s own study supports—suggesting that a two-parent family is beneficial for kids (and less stressful for the parents). This is largely because two-parent families are richer; have more time to spend with their kids; are more stable; live in better neighborhoods; and, sometimes, provide better role models for their children. On the other hand, we liberals don’t like telling other people how to live their lives, and we especially don’t like to say anything that even remotely sounds like a criticism of black family lives. So we end up with op-ed pieces like this one that desperately try to make a case that really can’t be made.

4) OMG in a sane world it would be a huge story that the President’s own personal charity was a giant fraud.  I mean, seriously.  We are so damn inured that this is okay?!

It’s easy to get caught up in impeachment, or the hastening ecological decline of our world, or the fact that the president posted more than 80 tweets before 9:30 this morning, including a suggestion to a teenage climate activist that she should “chill” and consider “Anger Management” classes.

But did you see the charity thing? You should see the charity thing. It was almost water under the bridge. Our politics have gone so far down the rabbit hole that a story about how the President of the United States agreed to pay $2 million at a court’s order—while admitting he used his charity for his own gain—barely made a splash. Folks saw the headline and thought to themselves, Well, yeah, of course Donald Trump ran a crooked charity. But really. Look at this.

As part of the settlement, the president paid eight charities a total of $2 million while admitting “he misused funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to promote his presidential bid and pay off business debts, the New York State attorney general said on Tuesday.”

By the 2000s, the charity was largely holding other people’s money, which was donated to benefit philanthropic causes. Trump used some of this money to buy a $20,000 portrait of himself.

He also used the money to buy a $12,000 signed Tim Tebow helmet, which he kept for himself.

He spent more than a quarter of a million dollars of the charity’s money to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses. This is not legal.

5) Enjoyed this Vulture compilation of year’s best TV shows.  Definitely agree with the multiple mentions of Russian Doll and Fleabag.  I also really enjoy Barry and have found myself liking Watchmen far more than I expected.  I tried one episode of Kingdom last night.  Not sure if I’ll try another.

6) I liked Fred Kaplan’s take on the Afghanistan Papers:

The war in Afghanistan—18 years old and still raging, at a cost of nearly $1 trillion, 2,300 U.S. troops killed, and more than 20,000 injured—has been a muddle from the beginning, steered by vague and wavering strategies, fueled by falsely rosy reports of progress from the battlefield, and almost certainly doomed to failure all along.

This is the inescapable conclusion of a secret U.S. government history of the war—consisting of 2,000 pages, based on interviews with more than 400 participants—obtained and published by the Washington Post on Monday after years of legal battles to declassify the documents…

Central to the current war effort—and to its failure—was corruption. It was central because the Afghan government couldn’t defeat the Taliban insurgents, or win the support of its people, as long as it was corrupt from top to bottom. The United States failed because the billions of dollars we poured into the country only made Afghanistan’s corruption worse…

A major obstacle here, she said, was the “culture” in the State Department and the Pentagon, which focused on building relationships with their counterparts abroad. Since Afghan officials at all levels were corrupt, officials feared that going after corruption would endanger those relationships.

Chayes also said it was a big mistake to be “obsessed with chasing” the Taliban, to the point of neglecting the country’s political dynamics. We didn’t realize that many Afghans were “thrilled with the Taliban” for kicking corrupt warlords out of power. Instead, we aligned ourselves with the warlords, on the adage that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”—and, as a result, further alienated the Afghan people and further enriched the corrupt powers, which in turn further inflamed the anti-government terrorists.

“It was through sheer naivete, and maybe carelessness, that we helped to create the system,” Kolenda said. He added, “Foreign aid is part of how” the Afghan kleptocrats “get rents to pay for the positions they purchased.”

What makes this syndrome all the more tragic is that it was recognized long ago, and even publicly discussed. In September 2009, as the Obama administration was debating a new policy toward the Afghanistan war, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a Senate hearing that the main problem “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government” in Kabul.

7) Brendan Nyhan, “You could teach a political science class on all of Tom Steyer’s bad ideas”

Steyer is a gift to political scientists. His campaign offers us an unusual opportunity to explain why the “reforms” he champions as magical solutions to our political problems are likely to be anything but. Unlike other candidates in the race, who focus on substantive policies — like health care — Steyer is passionate about changing the procedures of democratic decisionmaking. Unfortunately, the ideas he champions are generally bad ones. My field has spent decades amassing evidence that his proposals, and overall approach to governing, would probably make our political system worse, not better.

A hedge-fund manager who recently qualified for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate, Steyer has flooded early primary states with so many ads touting these proposals that even his supporters think he should dial it back. (Months ago, my 13-year-old son could already quote Steyer’s YouTube ads word for word.) Few politicians have worked so hard or spent so much to, in effect, troll an entire scientific field.

8) It’s a crazy and medically-advanced world we live in.  And, my, that’s one hell of a brother.  “Surgeons Transplant a Testicle From One Brother to His Twin”

9) I so relate to this, “How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life”

My tween will never know the sound of me calling her name from another room after the phone rings. She’ll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend. I’ll get itHe’s not here right now, and It’s for you are all phrases that are on their way out of the modern domestic vernacular. According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don’t even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.

“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.” …

Cheryl Muller, a 59-year-old artist living in Brooklyn, raised her two sons, now 30 and 27, during the transition from landline to cellphone. “I do remember the shift from calling out ‘It’s for you,’ and being aware of their friends calling, and then asking them what the call was about, to pretty much … silence,” she says. Caroline Coleman, 54, a writer in New York City whose children grew up during the same transition, recalls how at age 10 her son got a call from a man with a deep voice. “I was horrified. I asked who it was—and it was his first classmate whose voice had changed,” she said. “When you get cells, you lose that connection.”

These days, this dynamic is also often reversed. A shared family phone meant that kids overheard some of their parents’ conversations, providing a window into their relationships, but today, children frequently see a parent silently staring at a screen, fingers tapping, occasionally furrowing a brow or chuckling. “Sometimes there are people that I’ve never even heard of that you’re texting,” my 11-year old once told me. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, has described this as “the new silences of family life.”

OMG… how much fun it was to answer the phone when a boy called my big sister.  Or how nervous I would be to call a girl and wonder if her dad was going to answer the phone.  Or talking to my in-laws when they called my wife (early in our marriage) and I answered the phone instead of her.  Or my wife talking to my parents.  Yes, everybody having their own phone is kind of awesome.  But something really is lost.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I remain a techno-optimist when it comes to the future of nuclear power.  Newer designs are so much safer and more efficient that the 40-50 year old designs we are using, if we would just give them a real chance.  Like small modular reactors:

For the last 20 years, the future of nuclear power has stood in a high bay laboratory tucked away on the Oregon State University campus in the western part of the state. Operated by NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, this prototype reactor represents a new chapter in the conflict-ridden, politically bedeviled saga of nuclear power plants.

NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors.

This is good news for a planet in the grips of a climate crisis. Nuclear energy gets a bad rap in some environmentalist circles, but many energy experts and policymakers agree that splitting atoms is going to be an indispensable part of decarbonizing the world’s electricity. In the US, nuclear power accounts for about two-thirds of all clean electricity, but the existing reactors are rapidly approaching the end of their regulatory lifetimes. Only two new reactors are under construction in the US, but they’re billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Enter the small modular reactor, designed to allow several reactors to be combined into one unit. Need a modest amount of energy? Install just a few modules. Want to fuel a sprawling city? Tack on several more. Coming up with a suitable power plant for a wide range of situations becomes that much easier. Because they are small, these reactors can be mass-produced and shipped to any location in a handful of pieces. Perhaps most importantly, small modular reactors can take advantage of several cooling and safety mechanisms unavailable to their big brothers, which all but guarantees they won’t become the next Chernobyl.

2) I’m no so big into watching baseball, but I still find it intellectually interesting.  Like this, about the baseballs:

SAN DIEGO—Baseballs with a lower seam height coupled with a “change in player behavior” were among the primary causes of the power surge that resulted in players hitting a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, a panel of scientists commissioned by Major League Baseball to study the issue said Wednesday.

The committee’s report attributed 60% of the spike to less wind resistance on the balls themselves and 40% to what it described as “launch conditions”—essentially differences in how batters swing.

Throughout the 2019 season, pitchers across the sport questioned whether the league instructed Rawlings, the MLB-owned company that manufactures the baseballs in a factory in Costa Rica, to intentionally “juice” them to generate offense. The report dismissed that theory, saying that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”…

The latest study comes closer to identifying an explanation: inconsistency in the height of the seams, which the professors said can have a dramatic effect on how the ball behaves.

Newly developed laboratory techniques enabled the committee to show a correlation between seam height and drag. The average seam height in 2019 was lower than 2018 by less than one-thousandth of an inch. Still, that was enough to account for 35% of the change in drag.

“This is something that escaped our observation in the preceding study simply because the equipment that we were using was not precise enough to determine that,” said Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois and the chair of the study.

The problem is that the committee still can’t figure out the other factors that contributed to the decreased drag. It did rule out certain hypotheses such as roundness, surface roughness and lace thickness. Further breakthroughs will require more study. Asked how long that might take, Lloyd Smith, the director of the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, said, “We have no idea.”

3) This is good from Chait, “Hunter Biden Is the New Hillary Clinton Email Server”

The email scandal was not just a Fox News narrative. It dominated mainstream news coverage of Clinton’s campaign, because it was a real issue, albeit a small one. Mainstream reporters made a historic blunder by devoting far more attention to the email issue than it deserved, but this is an inevitable result of the incentive system in the mainstream press, which prioritizes critical coverage over passive transmission of a candidate’s chosen message. The email issue was the “toughest” subject reporters could cover, so they focused a lot of attention on it. The bizarre result of this coverage choice was that voters came away concluding Clinton’s mishandling of email protocol was a crime on roughly the same scale as Trump’s endless array of massively unethical and illegal acts. Clinton, by the way, apologized for using the private server, but the apology did not stop reporters from highlighting the issue…

Most of Trump’s lax security protocol is both far more serious than Clinton’s snafu, and still not on anybody’s list of the 100 worst things Trump has done in office. For that reason, reporters obviously aren’t going to give it anywhere near Clinton-email levels of attention. Nobody who voted against Clinton because they thought her emails were a major scandal is going to realize Trump’s information-security record has been worse.

Here is another parallel to Biden’s Burisma problem. While he allowed the appearance of impropriety, Trump has allowed actual impropriety. Not only are Trump’s children making money off their relationship — Ivanka received a lucrative patent deal in China; Don Jr. got bulk party purchases of his book — President Trump himself is collecting payments from foreign and domestic sources who have government business. The ethical impropriety involved in Trump running a large business concern while serving as president is so enormous it defies all the applicable laws and terms. The structure built to insulate the president from conflicts of interest never anticipated conflicts on this scale. The idea that Trump’s opponent has a liability on this issue is an absurdity. It would be like electing Ted Bundy president because his opponent once kicked a dog.

And yet, such an absurdity is not just a possible outcome: the incentives of the news media turn it into a likely one. Reporters aren’t going to stop asking Biden tough questions about a legitimate ethical shortcoming just because his opponent’s sins dwarf Biden’s a thousandfold. Clinton’s example suggests that an apology wouldn’t do Biden much good.

4) Really cool Upshot feature, “The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America”

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality — and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers’ circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.

A college degree is increasingly essential to earning a middle-class wage, and older parents have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths. Yet an education and a high-paying career also seem out of reach for many people.

5) John Cassidy argues that impeachment is a win for Democrats

If Trump is to be defeated next year, his opponents will have to maintain that energy and build upon it. To do so, Ezra Levin, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, which now has more than five thousand affiliated local groups, insists, it was utterly necessary for the Democrats to react to the shocking Ukraine revelations by issuing the ultimate congressional rebuke to Trump. Speaking hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House Democrats would go ahead and file articles of impeachment, Levin said, “I see only positive sides to this. I see a system that is working. For all the millions of people who got involved with politics after 2016, it shows that all the hard work they did mattered. That is going to get them involved again in 2020.”

From this perspective, the key thing isn’t whether the Senate actually removes Trump from office. Levin, who is also the co-author of a new book, “We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump,” said that he wasn’t making any predictions about the outcome. But he added, “It was vital to demonstrate that elections do have consequences and that the Democrats will use their power to stand up to Trump.” If Pelosi and her colleagues had refused to launch an impeachment process, Levin went on, “it would have been enormously demoralizing for all these people who were newly engaged after 2016.”

This argument seems incontrovertible. I suspect it is why Pelosi ultimately came around to supporting impeachment, despite the reservations of some House Democrats who represent purple districts…

Of course, none of this means that the impeachment process couldn’t end up alienating some independent voters who believe Trump’s misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, or who think Congress should let voters determine his fate next November. That may happen. And an impeachment trial will certainly fire up pro-Trump activists as well.

But these threats have to be balanced against the imperative of maintaining an energized front against Trump going into an election year. As a disruptive insurgent who eagerly fans social and racial resentments, he has always had an enthusiastic base—that isn’t going to change. One of the big challenges for Democrats—or anybody else opposed to Trump—is to nurture and sustain a nationwide countermovement that is at least equally passionate and engaged. From that perspective, as Levin pointed out, impeachment is already a win.

6) Really cool work from Lynn VavreckJohn Sides and 

What the Nationscape data reveal is clear: Impeachment is a top priority for almost everyone, regardless of whether they are in favor of it or against it.

Democrats are nearly 40 percentage points more likely to choose a collection of policies when it contains the position they agree with on impeaching Mr. Trump. Most of them want it to happen (among Democrats with an opinion on the topic, 86 percent support impeachment; the remainder don’t). But taken as a whole, the topic is something Democrats care a lot about right now.

The only policy more important to Democrats is family separation at the southern border (92 percent of Democrats with an opinion are opposed). Slightly less important to Democrats is whether to enact a total ban on abortion (87 percent against) or build a wall on the border (86 percent against). These are the topics Democrats are less willing to sacrifice relative to the other issues we ask about; they are issues with high impact.

To get these things, Democrats are willing to give up some issues like union rights (whether to oppose right-to-work laws) and whether to oppose an immigration system based only on merit. Even climate policies are seen as less important than impeaching the president…

Republicans are similarly focused on impeachment. They are roughly 45 percentage points more likely to choose a basket of policies when it includes their preferred position on the topic (88 percent of Republicans with a position on impeachment do not favor it). It outweighs every other issue for Republicans — including parts of Mr. Trump’s and the party’s agenda, such as building a border wall. The Green New Deal is the sixth-most important issue for Republicans — a much higher ranking than among Democrats (nearly a quarter of Republicans support it, but many more are opposed to it or just not sure).

Just like Democrats, Republicans are willing to sacrifice getting what they want on other issues, like estate tax repeal and a merit-based immigration system. Rounding out the lower-impact issues for Republicans are school vouchers, trade restrictions and a public option for health insurance.

6) 538, “Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back”

Millennials have earned a reputation for reshaping industries and institutions — shaking up the workplace, transforming dating culture, and rethinking parenthood. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on American religious life. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian. 1
For a long time, though, it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.

Social science research has long suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious find themselves drifting away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find spouses and begin to raise their own families. Some argued that young adults just hadn’t yet been pulled back into the fold of organized religion, especially since they were hitting major milestones like marriage and parenthood later on.

But now many millennials have spouses, children and mortgages — and there’s little evidence of a corresponding surge in religious interest. A new national survey from the American Enterprise Institute of more than 2,500 Americans found a few reasons why millennials may not return to the religious fold. (One of the authors of this article helped conduct the survey.)

For one thing, many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop habits or associations that make it easier to return to a religious community.
Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which may help reinforce their secular worldview.
Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.

7) Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, “If the Witnesses Could Exonerate Trump, Why Aren’t They Testifying? Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.”

To the extent that the lack of testimony from these witnesses creates holes in the record, those are likely to be damning for Trump. Take Bolton, for example: According to Morrison, after meeting with Trump about the Ukraine aid, Bolton told Morrison that the president “wasn’t ready” to release the aid and that Morrison should “continue to look for opportunities” to convene a meeting with officials who could persuade Trump to do so. This doesn’t sound like Bolton was convinced that the president was legitimately concerned with addressing corruption in Ukraine…

But let’s imagine for a moment that the day comes when these men are compelled to testify—and that they tell the truth. Does anyone believe that the truth will set Trump free—that the real story here is that the president had long-standing concerns about corruption in Ukraine and earnest anxieties about Ukrainian intervention in the 2016 election, and that he asked for investigations out of a disinterested anti-corruption passion he has never exhibited before in his life? …

If these men end up testifying, Republicans will face yet another moment of reckoning as the strongest defense of the president, and the last factual defense, falls away. In an ideal world, that would finally force them to acknowledge the outrageousness of the president’s conduct, and Trump’s support in Congress would plummet. More likely, they will revert to the last defense: that the phone call with Zelensky was, as the president has insisted, “perfect,” and that Trump’s abuse of power is actually a model of how presidents should behave—or if not that, then at least not impeachable behavior.

8) Greg Sargent, “The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data”

A new analysis prepared at my request by Gabriel Zucman — the French economist and “wealth detective” who has become famous for tracing the hidden wealth of the super-rich — illustrates that dual story in a freshly compelling way.

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

I’m emphasizing the phrase “after taxes and transfers” because this is at the core of Zucman’s new analysis. The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.

The declining progressivity of the tax code is the subject of “The Triumph of Injustice,” a great new book by Zucman and fellow Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It charts the slow strangulation of that progressivity at the top.

As they demonstrate, the effective tax rate (federal, state, local and other taxes) paid by top earners has steadily declined since the 1950s and 1960s, when the tax code really was quite progressive, to a point where the highest income groups pay barely more, percentage wise, than the bottom.

9) Alex Seitz-Wald on Republicans and Trump:

WASHINGTON — Late in the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1974, Republican leaders in Congress traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to deliver a stark message to Richard Nixon: His presidency was over.

The public had turned on Nixon as evidence emerged about his role in the Watergate scandal and the bottom fell out once his own party abandoned him.

“None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign,” conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater later wrote of the meeting in his memoir. Two days later, Nixon stepped down.

Today, as Democrats in the House of Representatives move toward bringing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with the next Judiciary Committee hearing of evidence set for Monday, few Democrats are still clinging to the hope that Republicans will reach a breaking point with Trump like they did with Nixon.

“I really don’t think there is any fact that would change their minds,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News.

Why? Two key changes since Nixon: a massive divide in American political life — we hate the other team more than ever before — and a media climate that fuels and reinforces that chasm, powered by Fox News on the Republican side. [emphasis mine]

10) New research says LBJ’s war on poverty worked better than is often credited:

We evaluate progress in President’s Johnson’s War on Poverty. We do so relative to the scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant 20 percent baseline poverty rate he established for 1963. No existing poverty measure fully captures poverty reductions based on the standard that President Johnson set. To fill this gap, we develop a Full-income Poverty Measure with thresholds set to match the 1963 Official Poverty Rate. We include cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and update poverty thresholds for inflation annually. While the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017, our Full-income Poverty Rate based on President Johnson’s standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period. Today, almost all Americans have income above the inflation-adjusted thresholds established in the 1960s. Although expectations for minimum living standards evolve, this suggests substantial progress combatting absolute poverty since the War on Poverty began.

11) Dan Drezner on the toddler-in-chief:

Longtime readers of Spoiler Alerts are aware of my efforts to keep track of when President Trump’s staffers, subordinates and political allies talk about him like he’s a toddler. Over a bit less than three years, there are 1,113 documented examples of this phenomenon, which averages out to more than one a day…

During a week in which Trump finally secured bipartisan agreement on a trade deal, it also raises a question: Are examples like these evidence that, dare I say it, Donald Trump is finally growing into the presidency?

Let’s not leave this reader in suspense: The answer is no. As Aaron Rupar explains in Vox, Trump continues to behave in an unhinged, unconstrained manner. The president’s behavior has not changed one iota, which is why, until this month, the quarterly #ToddlerinChief count had shown a steady increase.

What has changed, however, is something akin to what I warned about back in January: “Shifts in the political balance of power in Washington are altering the incentives for who deploys the analogy.” In particular, two ongoing dynamics have slowed down the toddler mentions: the purging of the executive branch and the impeachment of Trump in Congress.

Within the executive branch, Trump has continued to force out subordinates who have resisted his more toddler-like impulses. The most obvious recent example was the departure of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who was fired because of his disagreement with Trump’s decision to intervene in the military justice system. Spencer later wrote an op-ed for The Post in which he stated, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” An even more recent example came this week when FBI Director Christopher A. Wray defended the FBI from baseless conspiracy theories. In response, Trump swatted at him on Twitter.

The population ecology here is simple: The more Trump makes life miserable for mature people serving under him, the more likely those people will leave the government and stop being a source of good toddler analogies. Over time, Trump’s staff is becoming as immature as he is.

12) Jonathan Last makes a good case for Biden winning the nomination.  Ugh.

13) I make a point of never using the phrase “begs the question” because I don’t trust myself to use it correctly.  At some point, though, if virtually everyone uses it to mean “raises the question” shouldn’t that be what it means.  It already kind of is.  But there’s good reason not to give in:

In fact, that wrong usage is so common some people will argue it’s not an error anymore (7). But I’m firmly in the camp that believes it’s worthwhile to stick to the formal definition. There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean “makes me wonder” or “raises the question.” There’s no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there’s no reason to use begs the question improperly.

The quick and dirty tip is to remember that when something begs the question, it begs the question: what is your support for that premise?

14) The NYT art critic defends the $120,000 banana.  Mistake.  When you are wrong in the NYT, the commenters are so much smarter.  Really enjoyed the comments on this one, e.g.,

I know the art world. I ran a successful contemporary art gallery and was editor of an international art magazine. Cattelan’s banana is rubbish, and it’s sad to see the Times critic engaged in rhetorical backflips to try convince a rightly suspicious public that their instincts are wrong. You don’t need an art education to realize that telling the public they should recognize a banana and duct tape as worthy art is little more than gaslighting by art world elites.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Eating on an empty stomach may help you burn more fat.

2) It really is kind of amazing how we let narrow, organized interests ruin public policy in all sorts of ways that doesn’t seem to happen in Europe.  For example, the “great American eye exam scam.”  In Europe, you can simply purchase new glasses/contacts whether you’ve had an official prescription in the past year or not.  And if you need a simple vision exam you can get that free of charge where you buy your glasses.  Soo, not the case in America.

3) Really solid, thorough, historically-based rebuttal of most all the claims people make in favor of the electoral college.  Send this to anybody you know who makes a historical argument for the electoral college.  Really, it should be so, so gone.

4) Part of the real progress our society has made in pulling back on mass incarceration is electing a new generation of prosecutors who understand their role in a more fair and just system.  Alas, all the “tough on crime” (more commonly “needlessly harsh, inhumane, and inefficient on crime” types) are engaging in a major backlash.

5) Love this from John McWhorter on recent Buttigieg and race controversy.  As with so many things, this starts with someone looking for an excuse to take offense, rather than read  comments more charitably:

A beautiful illustration of the difference between Twitter and the real world is the viral status of Michael Harriot’s attack on Mayor Pete Buttigieg in The Root as a “lying MF.” [emphases mine]

Buttigieg’s sin was to state, in 2011, that inner-city black kids are hobbled from getting the education they need because they lack role models who attest to the benefits of education. “And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

Many will already wonder what was wrong here: After all, is it not a mantra of enlightened thought about race to bemoan the absence of role models for various beneficial behaviors? However, to Harriot, Buttigieg’s reference to this truism was “lying.” The nut of the issue is that there are other reasons inner-city kids fail to graduate or go to college, such as funding disparities, unequal curriculum resources, and violence.

All of those things are real. Unreal, however, is Harriot’s leap of logic: that in not mentioning those things, Buttigieg was inherently denying their existence, and that in noting the lack of role models, he was blaming black people for their own problems. Buttigieg’s transgression seems to have been that he did not mention all of the reasons black kids have trouble accessing education in underserved neighborhoods. A more elaborate answer would have been more sophisticated. But why would anyone read him as an “MF” for not ticking off the whole list?

Civil-rights leaders of the recent past would be baffled by the pique here, as, I’m sure, would Americans who don’t spend most of their waking hours on social media. It’s been widely noted of late that “woke” white people are “woker” than most black people. It is also true that “woke” black people in academia and media are “woker” than a great many black people who don’t have the privilege of a byline. Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors.

Harriot and those who agree with him are reading Buttigieg as having simply preached that black people don’t care about school. But sheer psychological plausibility rules out that this is what he meant. Let’s suppose that for some reason, this is what thoughtful, Millennial Buttigieg, who at the time was running for mayor of a mostly black town, actually thought. Let’s just suppose that. But: Would a sober, ambitious figure like Buttigieg sit in public casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids?

Buttigieg was speaking out of informed sympathy, as anyone familiar with American sociopolitical discussion should have noticed. Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained. We must heed our inner blip of confusion instead of suspending logic when we grapple with race issues.

6) The latest research to show that sugar-sweetened soda and diet soda will both kill you.   This strikes me as more of the same correlational evidence without sufficient controls which leaves me entirely unconvinced that I need to change my Diet Dr Pepper habit.

7) Love this story of how Martin O’Malley lit into horrible human being, certified xenophobe, and Trump administration lackey, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of their shared Jesuit education:

O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who was Maryland governor from 2007 to 2015, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He said that when he spotted Cuccinelli, he unloaded his frustration at the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents and detention of immigrants in chain-link enclosures at the southern U.S. border.

“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages — certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga,” O’Malley said in a text.

8) On our Thanksgiving road trip, I was amused to learn just how paranoid and ill-informed most of my family is about just how addictive most illegal drugs are.  The simple truth is that just one use of even the most addictive substances will not lead to addiction.  I told them I was quite confident I could take any drug once and not get addicted.  They were afraid I was going to head out on a binge of marijuana gummies and heroin.  Anyway, here’s the key chart and quote from an old post of mine.

drugs

Among other things in the chart, I found the concept of “capture” to be key in how we typically think about just how addictive a drug is.  That is, if you keep using a drug for a while, what is the likelihood you will develop a dependency.  As you see, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and meth are the highest for capture, with nicotine in a class by itself.   The relapse rate shows that nicotine and heroin are the hardest to kick.  As the authors point out, though, even drugs with a high capture rate grab only about 1/4 of continuing users.  Surely much lower than we’ve generally been led to believe.

9) From the annals of absurd over-reaction.  A local suburb has canceled their Christmas parade because people are objecting to the Confederate float:

The Town of Garner has canceled this year’s Christmas parade after online chatter about inclusion of a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans led town officials to conclude “the event could be targeted for disruption.”

The posts on Facebook and Twitter did not include any threats to disrupt the parade, nor did anyone directly contact the town other than through social media, said spokesman Rick Mercier. But given the protests around Confederate monuments and symbols in the Triangle in recent years, town officials decided to cancel the event, Mercier said.

“We just absolutely had to err on the side of public safety and what we thought was best and what we could realistically prepare for and not put the public and staff in any kind of a bad situation,” he said in an interview.

So, cancel a Christmas parade because some people will maybe non-violently protest.

10) This is one of those things that is kind of esoteric, but actually super-important.  The Supreme Court conservatives now seem poised to make it very difficult for federal bureaucracies to make policy (under Congressional statutory authority) and this is how a helluva lot of policy is made.  And Vox with the even scarier take on this.

11) I liked Drum’s “middle class agenda” for Democrats:

As progressives, we have a natural tendency to focus our policies on the poorest and weakest among us. This is, needless to say, admirable, but it’s also politically dangerous if it’s taken too far and leads the middle classes to believe they’ve been abandoned.

This is where we find ourselves today. We spend about a trillion dollars a year on social welfare programs for the poor, an expansion of 300 percent since 1980. In inflation-adjusted terms, this represents an increase from $3,000 per poor person to $12,000 per poor person. This chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows what this means:

Thanks to the demise of unions and the nature of our economy, the affluent have done very well. Thanks to the big increase in social welfare programs, the poor have done well too in relative terms. It’s the working and middle classes that have done the worst—and it’s not close. What’s more, the rate at which they’ve lost ground to the top and bottom has accelerated since 2000.

Is it any wonder they feel left behind even if they make more in absolute terms than the poor? The best example of this is the bitter observation from many of them that they wish they were poorer so they’d qualify for Medicaid instead of having to pay for an Obamacare policy with big deductibles and out-of-pocket maxes in the thousands of dollars.

So what if we decided to focus our attention tightly on the working and middle classes? What would a Democratic agenda look like? Something like this:

  • Instead of Medicare for All, double the subsidies for Obamacare and reduce the maximum allowable deductible and OOP expenses at the silver level. The new subsidy levels should be set so that families with incomes all the way up to the high double-figures would have to pay no more than about 5 percent of their income for premiums. This would cover virtually the entire middle class and would be affordable by nothing more complicated than repealing the Republican tax cut for the rich.
  • Propose a serious and aggressive pro-union plan. This would cost nothing, and it would primarily benefit the working class and the lower middle class. Figure out how to sell this in terms that make sense to ordinary workers, and if you don’t know how then ask Sherrod Brown.
  • Put forward a massive and detailed plan to build green infrastructure—solar, wind, grid upgrades, etc. This would address climate change and provide hundreds of thousands of middle-class construction jobs for every state in the country. Finance it with taxes on the rich.
  • Stay honest about hot-button social issues, but do your best not to talk about them a lot. In most cases it’s a lose-lose proposition.

You get the idea. These are things with limited costs that can be sold to the middle class as real, concrete benefits.

12) EJ Dionne, “What unites Trump’s apologists? Minority rule.”

Two questions are asked again and again: How can white evangelical Christians continue to support a man as manifestly immoral as President Trump? And how can congressional Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s thuggish effort to use taxpayer money to intimidate a foreign leader into helping his reelection campaign?

The answer to both relates to power — not just the power Trump now enjoys but also to the president’s faithfulness to a deal aimed at controlling American political life for a generation or more. Both evangelicals and Republican politicians want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them. As a party, the GOP now depends on empowering a minority over the nation’s majority.

This is reflected in its eagerness to enact laws restricting access to the ballot in states it controls. Rationalized as ways to fight mythical “voter fraud,” voter-ID statutes and the purging of voter rolls are designed to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. The new electorate is a lot less Republican than the old one. The GOP much prefers the old one…

Still, voter suppression and the electoral college (along with partisan gerrymandering) are not foolproof. There is, however, one part of government entirely immune from the results of any particular election: the lifetime appointees to federal judgeships, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. And here is where Trump has delivered big time for those willing to let him do just about anything else.

13) This was really interesting, “Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love: One researcher argues that a dog’s ability to bond has more to do with forming emotional attachments than being smart about what humans want.”

Dr. Wynne’s book runs counter to Dr. Hare’s when it comes to the importance of dog’s thinking ability, which Dr. Hare sees as central to their bond with humans. By using the L word, Dr. Wynne may well appeal to the many besotted dog owners. But he may also disappoint. The reason dogs are such “an amazing success story” is because of their ability to bond with other species, he said. Not just humans.

Raise a dog with sheep and it will love sheep. Raise a dog with goats and it will love goats. Raise a dog with people … you know the rest…

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

Interestingly, the experiment found no genetic absolutism about the connection between dogs and humans. Without contact with humans when they are young, dogs can become as wary of humans as wild animals. Wolves are not so easily socialized. They require 24-hour-a-day involvement with humans for many weeks when they are puppies to become more tolerant of human beings. They never turn into Xephos.

Admittedly, Xephos is at the tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling end of dog friendliness. Anyone who knows dogs can call to mind some that are not friendly at all, or are friendly to only one person. But in general there is no comparison in friendliness between dogs and wolves…

By looking at the lemon-sized dog brain, he has shown, for instance, that, based on how the reward center lights up, a dog likes praise as much as it likes hot dogs. In testing outside of the M.R.I., Dr. Berns has also found that, given a choice, some dogs prefer their owners to food.

He agreed that the hypersociality of dogs is what makes them special rather than particular cognitive abilities. “It’s hard to demonstrate any cognitive task that dogs are superior in,” he said. But he pointed out that “ultimately the difficulty is in saying what is a cognitive function and an emotional function.”

14) David Ignatius on the firing of the Navy Secretary:

President Trump’s attempt to manipulate military justice had a sorry outcome Sunday with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. For the past nine months, Spencer had tried to dissuade Trump from dictating special treatment for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — but in the end Spencer was sacked for his efforts to protect his service.

​With Spencer’s firing, Trump has recklessly crossed a line he had generally observed before, which had exempted the military from his belligerent, government-by-tweet interference. But the Gallagher case illustrates how an irascible, vengeful commander in chief is ready to override traditional limits to aid political allies in foreign policy, law enforcement and now military matters…

Spencer’s letter Sunday to Trump, acknowledging his “termination,” echoed that of former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December because of similar concerns about Trump’s unwise intervention in military and national-security decisions.

“As Secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline, throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business,” Spencer wrote. “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.” In a paraphrase of what Mattis wrote 11 months ago, Spencer wrote that Trump should have a Navy secretary “who is aligned with his vision.”

For Navy commanders who have worried about eroding discipline in a SEAL force that’s lionized in movies and television, and protected by presidential diktat, Spencer’s most ominous line was: “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.”

15) And how about some encouraging news…  An Israeli startup is having great success at turning ordinary trash into recyclable material:

KIBBUTZ TZE’ELIM, Israel — Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz — rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what’s next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

“The magic that we’re doing is we’re taking everything — the chicken bones, the banana peels,” says Jack “Tato” Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. “We take this waste, and we convert it.”

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

16) This is really good from David Farenthold, “Trump’s legal strategy: If you can’t beat the case, beat the system”

Donald Trump’s friend, lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn had an adage: “F— the law,” he liked to say, according to a new book by attorney James D. Zirin. “Who’s the judge?” He meant that, although idealists might imagine that the courts were august and impartial, the judiciary was in fact made up of people who could be bullied or bamboozled or bought off. To Cohn, politics was a brutal and unfair game, and the law was just an extension of politics, with extra paperwork. If you understood that, he believed, you could get a huge head start on the idealists.

For a young Trump, this was a foundational lesson, according to Zirin. In his book “Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits,” Zirin argues that Trump learned to see the law as Cohn did: “not as a system of rules to be obeyed . . . but as a potent weapon to be used against his adversaries.” Trump sued often but rarely won big. Winning in court wasn’t always the point: The lawsuit itself was the thing, a tool of intimidation cloaked in legalese, an outgoing missile that left your enemies buried in costs and hassle. That approach had costs for Trump, too. But he could bear them. He lost friends, wives, lawyers and business partners — but always found new ones, who thought their fate would be different.

Zirin has good timing: His book arrives as Trump faces the legal fight of his career, using all the tools he honed in a lifetime of lawsuits. So far this year, Trump has sued those investigating him, including House committees and the Manhattan district attorney, to stop them from obtaining his financial documents. He has also attacked those pursuers out of court, trying to tar his enemies as partisans seeking “a coup” to overturn the 2016 election. Instead of submitting to precedent, he has ignored it — and posited a theory that, in the eyes of the law, a president is like a temporary emperor. In a recent appeals court hearing, a judge asked Trump’s attorney what would happen if the president shot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?” Judge Denny Chin asked, adding, “Nothing could be done? That is your position?”

“That is correct,” said Trump’s private attorney.

17) My son recently asked me about how accurate the origin story of Thanksgiving is.  Without knowing much I told him I presumed that there was some kernel of truth, but it was likely far more of an origin myth created much later.  I was very much right.  Good NYT story about the reality and the mythology.

18) If you’ve had a kid in high school math, you know about “big calculator.”  Good piece on how TI’s dominance came to be.  Still don’t quite get why Walmart or somebody doesn’t sell a generic version for half-price and make a killing.

 

Quick Hits (part II)

1) Andrew Sullivan on the taboo of discussing the fact that some transgender people actually de-transition.  Alas, among many, even discussing this fact gets labeled “transphobic.”  Once again, why can’t we just believe that we need to be sympathetic to and support trans persons and yet admit, maybe some teens actually rush into the process.

A Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, published a paper earlier this year citing parents’ reports on their transgender kids. She discovered a pattern: Most (83 percent) were girls in their teens with no previous history of gender dysphoria, who spent a lot of time online, and “more than one-third [of whom] had friendship groups in which 50 percent or more of the youths began to identify as transgender in a similar time frame.” Littman was not the first person to use this term, but she described this phenomenon as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” and worried that it could be caused by social contagion, or connected to other issues such as the rejection of parents, depression, autism, and bipolar disease. Littman was concerned that these kids were not getting the full range of mental health help they needed. (Earlier this year, a governor of the Tavistock Centre resigned after submitting a report that argued that teens were being fast-tracked to transition in the center, without sufficient exploration of other comorbid factors. He felt the place had so lost its way in a thicket of ideology that he had to quit.)

The Littman paper was assailed by trans activists and their allies, denounced as transphobic, and had to have its framing language changed before it was republished. But the research and the findings, while very limited in their scope, held up under peer review, and were the same in the republished version as in the original. This is a real enough phenomenon to merit much more research to confirm it. But the pressure to stop this research remains enormous: Littman herself lost her consulting job over the paper, after a campaign to get her fired for transphobia.

2) Republican Senators’ latest plan to excuse Trump?  Throw out a bunch of legal language that maybe they don’t even understand and presume that it’s enough to convince their Fox News base:

“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”

Maybe the Fox viewership will be thrown by “culplable state of mind,” but, ummm… yes!

3) Of course Trump made up the “whimpering” death of Al-Baghdadi.  But, it’s Trump, so who cares?

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

4) I enjoyed George Packer’s essay on trying to do right by his kids in NYC public schools.  But, even though he’s a really thoughtful liberal, in the end, it did seem a little too hard for him to realize what an utterly insane liberal-elitist-NYC bubble he lives in.  Safe to say, Packer’s kids will be fine at any non-horrible schools.

5) Yes, the photos here are great, but really love the title, “30 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life.”

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

6) Totally with Brett Stephens on this one.  We really should judge art on it’s own merit, not the political/ideological views of it’s creators.  Stephens talks about finding out Roald Dahl was quite an anti-semite.  Definitely disappointing to learn this.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still an all-time amazing book that I will enjoy again.  And, yes, I also still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, while I’m at it.

7) This was really good from Matt Stoller, “Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law
Opinion: Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out.”

8) Was looking to buy some tickets the other day and the fees, my God, the fees.  So totally absurd that we cannot find a way to require transparency in ticket pricing for sports/entertainment events.

9) This is great news, “Long-awaited cystic fibrosis drug could turn deadly disease into a manageable condition.”

The therapy is a combination of three drugs that wouldn’t have been possible if scientists working in academic laboratories hadn’t unraveled the basic biology of the disease. Finding the gene was a needle-in-a-haystack-type problem, Collins said, and it led scientists to a malfunctioning protein that normally keeps the right balance of salt and water in the lungs. There are more than 1,700 gene mutations that can cause the protein to malfunction, but in the most common mutation, the protein is misfolded and can’t reach the right spot in the cell — and even if it does reach that spot, it doesn’t work properly. The new combination therapy includes one drug that corrects the misfolded protein and two that activate the correctly folded protein when it reaches the right spot in the cell.

In the largest trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 403 patients who had at least one copy of the most common gene mutation underlying cystic fibrosis received either Trikafta or a placebo. There were improvements in objective tests of lung function, decreases in lung problems and hospitalizations and an increase in people’s quality of life.

Many physicians see the most transformative potential impact of the drug in the hope that it will be eventually approved for younger children, as Vertex’s other drugs have been over time. The drug can help older patients, but it can’t erase years of lung damage; if it works and is safe in younger children, it could prevent damage in the first place.

10) It’s sad that the hierarchy of the Catholic church will, apparently, at least consider pretty much anything to address the shortage of priests.  But women.

The modern Catholic Church is beset with serious problems. Among them is that not enough men want to be priests. Over the past three weeks, 184 bishops gathered at a Vatican summit to seek solutions for the Amazon region in particular, singled out because of myriad crises it is facing, including environmental devastation, violence and a shortage of priests to serve the needs of the faithful there.

The bishops’ solution: Do anything other than ordaining women as priests.

On Oct. 26, in a “revolutionary” decision, the bishops gathered at the Vatican voted 128 to 41 to allow an exception to what has essentially been a 1,000-year ban on the ordination of married men as priests. They recommended this change for only certain parts of the Amazon and for only married men already made deacons, meaning men already allowed to perform marriages and baptisms, but not to officiate at mass, which only priests can do. It is now for Pope Francis to decide whether the decision goes forward.

It is surprising in many ways that the bishops made this decision. Allowing a married man to be a priest violates several longstanding rules. They voted as they did despite the tremendous importance of chastity for the Catholic Church and the old idea that sexual activity is a pollutant that cannot be allowed near the holy ritual of the mass. They voted in favor of married priests despite a longstanding fear that for a priest to have a wife and a family would lead to serious conflicts of interest. There is a legend that the word “nepotism” was invented in honor of the grasping nephews of popes who sought and obtained more than they deserved thanks to their powerful uncles (and “nephews” we can sometimes see as a euphemism for “sons”).

These potential conflicts of interest and other dangers that family influence and obligations bring, therefore, are something Catholic authorities have long recognized and have eagerly sought to prevent. They voted as they did despite the symbolic importance, too, of the idea that a priest be united to only one spouse, the Church, just as Jesus Christ was united in an exclusive bond with the Church…

Pope Francis himself has acknowledged that there could be what the theology professor Gary Macy has called a “hidden history” in which women had a larger role in ministry than the Catholic Church currently accepts, for which scholars such as Dr. Macy have found ample and intriguing evidence. While rejecting much of this evidence, conservative Catholic authorities do, however, recognize that for several centuries, their predecessors, like the leaders of the Eastern Churches then and now, allowed married men to serve as priests or as bishops, though sometimes they required celibacy and that their wives enter religious life.

11) Stuff like this makes me a techno-optimist in general.  CRISPR may actually solve our problem with antibiotic resistance:

Crispr-based antibiotic pills aren’t yet anywhere near pharmacy shelves. But developing such treatments could allow scientists to harness the power of the human body’s own resident microbes in preventing disease.

“Scientists are starting to figure out that microbiota can also be extremely beneficial for our health,” said Luciano Marraffini, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

“A major benefit of Crispr is that we can program it to kill only specific pathogenic bacteria and leave alone the rest of our healthy microbes,” Dr. Marraffini said.

A few companies have started to pursue Crispr-based antibiotics that can be delivered through viruses that have been engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, as well as other methods. Dr. Marraffini is a co-founder of one such start-up, Eligo Bioscience.

The specificity of Crispr is equally enticing to researchers looking to target pathogenic viruses. Instead of having Crispr kill viruses that infect bacteria, as it does in nature, scientists are programming it to chop up viruses that infect humans.

12) Eat your fiber!  “Fiber and Yogurt Tied to Lower Lung Cancer Risk: By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, a high-fiber diet and foods like yogurt may lower lung cancer risk, even among smokers.”  And “Fiber in Fruits and Grains Protects Against Diverticulitis”

13) Dahlia Lithwick on “the judges Republicans are doing it all for.”

It’s not news that Trump has made packing the federal courts with the youngest, most radical, least qualified jurists ever seen a priority. Nor is it news that this project has been singularly successful because it was contracted out to effective outside groups, and because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell now cares about no other. Last week, the Senate advanced the nomination for a lifetime tenured position of a 37-year-old associate professor, who had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Justin Walker, the prospective judge in question, has never tried a case. He’s never been co-counsel in a case. His principal qualification for a federal district court judgeship seems to be his important legal work spent “conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford.” He’s a TV judge whom Mitch McConnell somehow touted as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.” Despite his lack of any judicial qualifications and the once-rare not-qualified ABA rating, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance his nomination while Democrats broke against him. As Jennifer Bendery noted here, “in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a ‘not qualified’ ABA rating.” Walker was Trump’s fourth. And on Thursday, the Senate is poised to vote on the fifth, Sarah Pitlyk, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

14) Americans trust local news.  Brendan Nyhan on how that belief is being exploited by bad actors:

The nature of the news misinformation problem may be changing. As consumers become more skeptical about the national news they encounter online, impostor local sites that promote ideological agendas are becoming more common. These sites exploit the relatively high trust Americans express in local news outlets — a potential vulnerability in Americans’ defenses against untrustworthy information.

Some misinformation in local news comes from foreign governments seeking to meddle in American domestic politics. Most notably, numerous Twitter accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency were found to have impersonated local news aggregators during the 2016 election campaign.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that 54 such accounts published more than 500,000 tweets. According to researchers at N.Y.U., the fake local news accounts frequently directed readers to genuine local news articles about polarizing political and cultural topics.

Domestically grown dubious outlets are also proliferating. Last week, The Lansing State Journal reported the existence of a network of more than 35 faux-local websites across Michigan with names like Battle Creek Times, Detroit City Wire, Lansing Sun and Grand Rapids Reporter…

Over all, we found that people preferred to consume local news most. Holding other factors constant, Americans were 11 percentage points more likely to choose articles from local news sources than ones from online-only national outlets — precisely why dubious websites might impersonate local news sources. This differential was largest among Republican identifiers and people with a negative view of the news media.

The prevalence of these impostors is likely to increase as the 2020 election approaches, threatening to mislead more voters and to promote greater skepticism toward all news media, including the local outlets that so many Americans rely on and trust.

15) “Tales from the teenage cancel culture.”  Personally, I’m ready to cancel cancel culture.  Perhaps the response from my younger readers… “Okay Gen-Xer”

16) Sad, hilarious, and amazing how dumb Trump and friends are about what a “witch hunt” means.

17) OMG I hate Britt Hume so much.  What a hack!  Now, I’m far from an expert on American foreign policy (as you’ve noticed, very much a domestic policy guy).  But for Hume to claim that American foreign policy is nothing more than what the president wants foreign policy to be is insane:

What’s also insane is all the commenters in this threat totally on this absurd “l’etat c’est moi” bandwagon where whatever Donald Trump wants is policy (even if it is to subvert America’s national security to his own personal interests).

Just for the record, Congress plays a role in foreign policy, too.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Stupid and petty sum up so much of the Trump administration.  In this case, what they’ve done to the USDA, “The White House didn’t like my agency’s research. So it sent us to Missouri.: The administration claimed the move would cut costs. Now, two-thirds of our desks sit empty.”

I joined the Economic Research Service (ERS) in 2016. I wanted to use my academic training to do something in the public interest — I didn’t really expect to get involved in agriculture. Then I got absorbed in the subject: Humanity’s dependence on the environment is made explicit through our food systems; without the right combination of weather, soil and labor, nobody eats.

Most people don’t need to think frequently, or ever, about the economics of honeybee pollination routes or the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program. But if they eat almonds (which are pollinated by bees) or pay taxes (which subsidize farm insurance), they need experts to make sure that food systems work efficiently and public funds are spent effectively. At ERS, we studied all aspects of food production, occupying an obscure but important niche: Many of our research topics wouldn’t make for an exciting academic tenure file, but had huge implications for policy.

Out of the blue, in August 2018, agriculture secretary George “Sonny” Perdue announced that my agency and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would relocate from Washington, D.C., to some yet-to-be-determined location. He claimed that this would lower costs and bring us closer to “stakeholders.” That stated justification was a fig leaf for the administration’s true intentions. We didn’t need to sit next to a corn field to analyze agricultural policy, and Perdue knew that. He wanted researchers to quit their jobs…

All the people who study genetically modified organisms left. The team that studies patent law and innovation is gone. Experts on trade and international development, farm finance and taxes all left. Many people transferred to other agencies in USDA, where they’ll help implement programs, but will no longer have a mandate to produce the essential research that’s needed for sound policymaking. Because the publishing staff all left, dozens of reports on subjects from veterans’ diets to organic foods are delayed. Projects that have been years in the making, studying issues from honeybees to potentially harmful herbicides, will never see the light of day…

The agency never has a perfectly smooth relationship with any White House: Its studies have contradicted rationales for policy ideas ranging from like biofuels to farm subsidies. But the Trump administration seems singularly, openly opposed to our basic existence. They can’t tolerate it when scientists present hard truths they don’t like. And now, if lawmakers want to know about, say, the effects of tariffs on the broiler chicken industry, or the impact of farm conservation payments on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — something obscure, but which can mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs — they’ll be operating in the dark.

This is so stupid.  And harmful.  And Trumpian.

2) Meanwhile, when it comes to Russia and our elections, ”

Nearly six months later, and to almost no fanfare last week while Congress was in recess, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second of two installments of its own bipartisan investigation into roughly the same topic. The slim, 85-page report reads like a Russian spy novel crossed with a sequel to Orwell’s most dystopian version of the future — right down to an interview with a paid Russian troll who said his experience in 2016, pitting American voters against each other with social media platforms of their own making, was like being “a character in the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white.”

Unlike Mueller, who seemed to take great pains not to point fingers and softened his recommendations, the Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, put its warnings in the starkest possible terms. First, the Russians deliberately attacked American voters with an active measures campaign in 2016 to benefit Donald Trump and destroy Hillary Clinton. On the morning after Election Day, a former troll told the committee, exhausted hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, uncorked tiny of champagne. They looked into each other’s eyes. “We uttered almost in unison: ‘We made America great.’”

Because of Russia’s success, the committee also warned that China, North Korea, Iran and other malicious actors are activiely studying what Americans fell for (nearly everything) in order to use even more sophisticated techniques in 2020 — including at this very moment. And finally, the committee made clear that Americans themselves need to both wake up and smarten up. Only by being more sophisticated and intelligent social media users will voters truly protect themselves and our elections in the years to come.

3) From a Canadian, this is good, “Democracy is threatened by the dictatorship of geography.”

There are two paths to political power in a democracy. You can go for demography – that is, appeal to the interests and beliefs of the largest group of people, and win their votes. Or you can win through geography – that is, by ignoring most of the population by focusing on securing the many constituencies that have hardly anyone living in them. If your ideas are offensive to the majority, you can still stake your victory on the swaths of land between the places where most people live.

At the moment, across large parts of the democratic world, the politics of geography are triumphing over the politics of demography.

This is happening most infamously in the United States, where both the presidency and the Senate can be won by securing a majority of the tracts of land rather than a majority of the people – a fact that the faction of the Republican Party now associated with U.S. President Donald Trump has manipulated like nobody before. A strong majority of the American people hold liberal, racially tolerant and international-minded views; this majority’s interests and voices have been silenced by the dictatorship of geography…

This is not just an American problem. In Europe, fringe parties of intolerance have gained a strong foothold – and in some cases a parliamentary majority – by turning into parties of geography. The strong showing in October’s national election by the extreme-right Alternative for Germany was largely a result of its appeal to the sparse and depopulated regions of former communist East Germany. Poland’s Law and Justice Party governs with a parliamentary majority after it turned nationalist and xenophobic in order to appeal more to rural areas. France’s National Front made it to the first round of presidential elections by working the politics of geography.

4) The Softbank/Wework stuff is really just crazy.  Softbank literally blew billions on this house of cards.  Just goes to show that even super-rich people with billions of dollars at their disposal can be really stupid.

5) “The long fight over using student IDs to vote in North Carolina.”

6) Marty Lederman and Ben Wittes on Trump and impeachment:

The boundaries of acceptable presidential behavior are defined by which actions the political system tolerates or condemns. Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate would be the most powerful congressional rejection of Trump’s conduct. Even if the House impeaches, however, the number of senators who are prepared to convict Trump is almost certainly fewer than 67—the number required to remove him from office. Rightly or wrongly, a good number of senators (and some House members, too) will likely argue that, with the campaign season already upon us, Trump’s fate should be left to the electorate.

That’s all the more reason to recognize that impeachment and removal aren’t the only momentous choices Congress now confronts. If a substantial group of members of Congress signals not merely that the president’s conduct does not warrant impeachment and removal but also that it does not even warrant branding as intolerable, such conduct will become normalized—at a great cost to previously unquestioned first principles of constitutional governance—even if the House impeaches Trump.

At a very minimum, the president of the United States urged the president of Ukraine to investigate whether Joe Biden—the person he believed most likely to be his opponent in next year’s election—engaged in misconduct when Biden engaged in diplomatic efforts on behalf of the United States during the Obama administration.

That single, uncontroverted fact—that the president exploited his power as the nation’s chief diplomat to enlist a foreign ally to help advance his own electoral prospects by developing potentially compromising information about a U.S. national—is straightforward, unequivocal, and stunning. In that alone, Trump deviated wildly from his constitutional role and abused his office…

his litany demonstrates beyond any doubt that, as David Kris has written, Trump “used the carrots and sticks of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, and at least attempted to use certain counterintelligence and law enforcement tools, to damage a political opponent. This represents a profoundly corrupt misuse of the machinery of government for personal gain.”

It’s important to stress, however, that even without these surrounding circumstances (or even if some of them depend on contested facts), what’s within the four corners of the White House account of the July 25 call, standing alone, reflects a gross abuse of office.

It also easily satisfies the constitutional standards for impeachment. Recent debates about whether Trump violated federal election law are misplaced and trivialize what’s really at stake here. The president’s derelictions are far more profound and more fundamental to the constitutional order than a mere violation of the criminal code.

7) Good stuff from Adam Jentleson, “Why Political Pundits Are Obsessed with Hidden Moderates”

It’s risky to conclude too much from a few polls, but a similar pattern occurred after the last debate. Joe Biden “delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for,” Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote. “Moderates strike back on health care,” another analysis concluded. But after that debate, too, the FiveThirtyEight panel showed Warren the clear winner, and then events bore it out: Biden slid in the Economist’s average of polls while Warren surged and Bernie held steady. Biden’s fundraising collapsed, while Warren and Bernie posted massive hauls. Beyond Biden, no other moderates showed any meaningful upward trajectory in polls or fundraising.

So what are the pundits missing? And why do they keep trying to make moderates happen?

The answer has two parts. First, many pundits have incorrectly convinced themselves that Democratic voters harbor a secret passion for a moderate nominee—let’s call it the Hidden Moderates Theory. Second, many are missing that the real distinction in the race is between candidates who are comfortable with wealth and its influence on politics, and those who are not. Those who oppose the influence of wealth on politics are much closer to both public opinion and the American historical mainstream.

8) Greg Sargent:

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the temporary closed-door nature of the hearings actually works in favor of Republicans, not against them. It’s the only thing they have left to cast doubt, however absurdly, on the damning information that’s already right there on the record.

And it allows them to convey to the Audience of One — and his followers — that they are fighting the good fight on his behalf, without their self-ascribed effectiveness actually being subject to outside scrutiny.

There’s another layer of absurdity here. Once the transcripts are released or once we get public hearings, it is highly likely that they will not actually show that Republicans have lacerated Taylor’s case.

But for Trump’s most ardent loyalists, this simply won’t matter. If and when publicly revealed testimony does not exonerate Trump, they’ll simply lie to the contrary, and treat the fact of public release as the hook to claim that the Democratic coverup has been exposed, counting on their massive propaganda apparatus to amplify that story line. This is exactly what happened with the Nunes memo — it was a total fiasco, yet Republicans widely pretended it was deeply revelatory.

The story we’ve seen in this whole scandal is that one after another, Trump’s levees are collapsing in the face of successive waves of factual revelations.

9) So, this was quite interesting (thanks EMG): “Most U.S. Dairy Cows Are Descended From Just 2 Bulls. That’s Not Good”

10) David Hopkins on the current impeachment politics:

Unsurprisingly, Republicans would rather discuss the behavior of the Democratic opposition. On Wednesday, a bloc of House conservatives led by Matt Gaetz of Florida disrupted the closed-door witness interviews organized by Democratic commitee chairs by crashing one of the meetings and occupying the hearing room for about five hours. This protest proceeded with the apparent approval of the president and the House Republican leadership; minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was one of the participants. The following day, McConnell and Graham introduced a resolution co-sponsored by most Republican senators accusing House Democrats of violating Trump’s due process rights and granting House Republicans insufficient procedural privileges.

Shifting the subject of debate from Donald Trump to Adam Schiff solves some problems for Republicans. Rather than struggling to justify Trump’s Ukraine policy or to explain away the well-documented concerns of credible witnesses like Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor, Republican members can return to the safer ground of partisan grievance. It also promotes party unity: Republicans may differ considerably among themselves over what they think of Trump, but none of them is predisposed to sympathize with Schiff. And it’s simply more fun to be on offense than on defense, to be firing charges at others rather than trying to swat them away.

Yet there are costs as well. Some of the most common current complaints about the Democrats’ handling of impeachment might become moot as events move along. The two major lines of attack at the moment are that access to witness depositions is restricted to the membership of the relevant House committees and that the House has not voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry. But today’s private sessions will be succeeded by tomorrow’s public hearings, and the House may well vote eventually to formalize the inquiry. By the time that House members actually consider articles of impeachment weeks or months from now, these objections will have lost much of their potency.

And when Republicans focus their energies on making the procedural case against Schiff, they risk failing to invest in disputing the substantive case against Trump—which potentially surrenders a lot of valuable ground to the pro-impeachment side. As one Republican source told CNN, “We can’t defend the substance [so] all we do is talk about process.” But Americans usually don’t care much about process disputes, whatever the merits of these disputes might be. Trump is right to worry that if many of his fellow Republicans are unwilling to confidently assure the public of his innocence, the public may draw the natural conclusion that he must have done something seriously wrong.

11) Really interesting stuff from Yashca Mounk on Boris Johson and Brexit:

Now, Johnson is very much a product of the British establishment that has fallen out of favor. But like Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland and Donald Trump in the United States, he has made a name for himself in politics by assailing the pieties of left-liberal orthodoxy. And while the deal he presented to Parliament was little more than May’s hard-won package with copious lipstick smeared on top, the rhetoric he has employed since taking office has been radically different. By unabashedly leaning into populist language and loudly denouncing traditional institutions from Parliament to the Supreme Court, he has shown that he sees Brexit as the beginning, rather than the end, of Britain’s cultural revolution.

Johnson has remade himself—as well as the Conservatives, the oldest political party in the world—in the image of populism.

He depicts the country’s politics as being defined by a clash between two basic forces: On the one hand is an out-of-touch elite that is so beholden to its left-liberal values that it would gladly override the will of British voters. On the other hand are the pure people, who have voted for Brexit in a heroic attempt to put a stop to the elite’s domination of the country. Johnson’s core promise is to help the pure people triumph over the corrupt elite.

12) I cannot remember who, but somebody I respect on twitter just raved about this piece, “This Experiment Has Some Great News for Our Democracy: The idea that our divisions are entrenched and unbridgeable is overstated.”  Consider me skeptical.  Yes, we could do so much better if citizens came together in an open-minded spirit of civil political discussion.  But that’s just not the real world.

The project America in One Room was a national experiment to find out. Over a long weekend in September, we had a scientific sample of 523 registered voters from around the country gather in Dallas. (The event was organized by Helena, a nonpartisan problem-solving institution, By the People Productions and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, and participants were recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago.)

The experiment produced some shocking results. After several days of diverse small group discussions facilitated by moderators and sessions featuring experts and presidential candidates from both parties who answered questions from participants, the percentage saying the system of American democracy w

13) Jonathan Cohn: What Medicare for All would actually mean for the middle class is complicated.

14) So, twice in the past few weeks I learned that Killer Whales are one of the few species other than humans to have menopause.  I cannot remember what podcast I heard this on, but this Smithsonian article from 2015 just popped up in my feed the other day, “After Menopause, Killer Whale Moms Become Pod Leaders: When their reproductive years are done, females take on new roles as wise survival guides.”

15) So this was interesting from Ross Douthat, “‘Watership Down’ and the Crisis of Liberalism.”  I watched the first episode of the Netflix series with my kids, but never felt strong enough about watching the subsequent ones.  Loved the animated film as a kid.  The book… not bad, not as great as many think.

16) Lee Drutman and friends, “Progressive Economic Agenda? Democrats Have Less to Fear on This Front Than They Think.”

Our analysis of data from the 2019 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) suggests that when it comes to voter preferences on economic policy, an intra-party debate might miss the point. Why? A progressive economic agenda is broadly popular across parties. This is the key takeaway from our Democracy Fund Voter Study Group Report, On the Money: How Americans’ economic views define — and defy — party lines.

The progressive policies with widespread support across parties include requiring employers to provide paid leave for parents and caretakers (64 percent support, 15 percent oppose); raising the minimum wage (61 percent support, 25 percent oppose); and raising taxes on families with incomes over $200,000 (59 percent support, 30 percent oppose).

Democratic voters’ support for these policies is consistently around 80 percent, regardless of income. In fact, Democrats making over $80,000 want to increase taxes on top-income earners even more so than those making under $40,000.

Perhaps more remarkable, we see that about one in five Republicans hold attitudes toward economic policy that more closely align with those of the average Democrat than Republican.

17) John McWhorter with the linguistic case against emoluments:

Impeachment is no nursery rhyme, and with a matter so pressing, it qualifies as a needless burden that a central term like emolument is so opaque to all but a sliver of us. A caller on Rush Limbaugh’s show asked, “Could you explain this emoluments thing? It sounds like a toothpaste.” No one would ask that if legal experts referred to a constitutional ban on the president accepting any kind of compensation or side benefit from a foreign power; it would seem less a “thing” than a simple concept.

Emolument is a kind of word that should be considered about as relevant to modern life as a flashcube. What matters is what it refers to, and for that discussion we have plenty of readily understandable words—that is, real language.

18) Yeah, I know I’m a white dude and I know there’s still a ton of racism out there, but it also quite possible that a community over-reacted to what was probably one stupid teenager painting a racial epithet on a rock.

19) Relatedly, I strongly agree with this law professor that it is pretty crazy to charge people for a crime for using racial epithets (short of obviously intentionally provocative actions).  “Those College Students Who Used the N-Word Shouldn’t Have Been Arrested: They were guilty of vulgarity and ignorance, but “ridicule” is not a crime.”

20) Somehow, I’m really late to the Schitt’s Creek game, but with Season 5 just coming out, I realized I’d heard enough the last few years that I really need to check it out.  Nine episodes in and so glad I have.  So funny.  Just love that each episode is a 21 minute comedic gem.

Quick hits

1) It’s kind of amazing that there’s so much awful news about Trump that we’ve kind of largely ignored the new evidence that he’s almost surely guilty of bank fraud and tax fraud.  Seriously.  What a crazy world we’re in.  Paul Waldman:

Donald Trump labored for years to create an image as the embodiment of success (which also just happens to be the name of his cologne; you can get a bottle on Amazon for $19.49). For a time, that image was undercut by his eagerness to slap his name on any second-rate product he could find, whether it was ties or steaks or water.

But when he ran for president and journalists began looking deeper into his financial life, it became clear that Trump was in all probability the most corrupt major business figure in America.

Did he leave a string of jilted associates behind? Of course. Did he stiff small businesses? Indeed. Did he create scams such as Trump University that stole people’s life savings? You betcha. Did he run a fake “foundation”? Sure. Did he employ undocumented workers? Naturally.

In many of those cases, however, Trump may have done corrupt and morally repugnant things without literally breaking the law. But ask yourself this: When it comes to his financial life, what do you think the chances are that Trump hasn’t committed crimes?

I ask because of this extraordinary investigation from ProPublica, which obtained documentation on just a couple of Trump projects that show how he does business:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.
For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street. […]
A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

Not only is it not okay, if Trump was lying on both ends, to the bank and to tax authorities — and does anyone doubt he would? — it also could mean that he committed both bank fraud and tax fraud.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that this is a pattern with Trump. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” We have lots of evidence of Trump buying a property, then contesting his tax assessment by having his lawyers argue that, in fact, it is worth next to nothing.

2) Some good news on exercise and cancer:

And they concluded that there was more than enough evidence to start suggesting that exercise should be a part of standard treatment for most people with cancer. They also found that exercise should be considered a means to substantially drop the risk of developing cancer in the first place.

Specifically, the scientists, in separate reviews being published today in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, report that physically active people have as much as 69 percent less risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers than sedentary people. Exercise seems to be especially potent at lessening the likelihood of developing seven common malignancies, the new recommendations add: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal and stomach cancers.

The recommendations also point out that, in multiple recent studies, exercise changed the trajectory of cancer once it began. In animal experiments cited in the new reviews, exercise altered the molecular environment around some tumors, stalling or even halting their growth. And in people, exercising during and after cancer treatment was associated with longer subsequent life spans, the reviews found.

3) Interesting new book on cancer treatment.  Henry Marsh (a neurosurgeon who’s book I quite liked), with the review:

There’s an old joke in medical circles: “Why should you never give an oncologist a screwdriver?” The answer: “Because they will open the coffin and carry on treating the patient.”

Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia University, vividly illustrates this tug-of-war in her book “The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.” It is, in many ways, a cry of protest against the disease that killed her husband (also an oncologist) and, over time, most of her patients. When it comes to cancer, Raza knows firsthand how hard it is to reconcile compassion with science and hope with realism.

She asks hard questions: “Why are we so afraid to tell the stories of the majority who die? Why keep promoting the positive anecdote? Why all this mollycoddling?” She says the time has come to think about the “ghastly toxicities of therapies” that often achieve so little. And she intersperses an impassioned argument about the ineffectiveness of current cancer medicine — at least for most patients with metastatic disease — with descriptions of the suffering of her husband and some of her patients (who are identified by first name, with photographs). By describing this suffering, Raza says, she hopes to jolt people into looking for a new paradigm in the so-called war on cancer.

Raza documents the failure of chemotherapy to help the great majority of patients with metastatic disease, and the immense cost and suffering involved. She castigates pharmaceutical companies (as have many others) for concentrating on drugs that often fail and at best achieve, on average, a few extra months of life. She quotes research that in the United States, over 14 years, “42.4 percent of the 9.5 million cancer cases had lost all of their life savings within two-plus years.”

4) Common drug tests cannot distinguish illegal THC from perfectly legal CBD.  Not okay!  But, hey, war on drugs and all that.

5) Jon Bernstein with good stuff on Trump, Watergate, and presidents and bureaucracies:

As more details emerge about President Donald Trump’s plot to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent, it’s becoming clear that this scandal has something very much in common with both Watergate and Iran-Contra. All three episodes involved a president attempting to bypass the regular executive-branch bureaucracy to get something done. And all three episodes resulted in a fiasco of ineptitude.

Presidents are tempted to bypass the bureaucracy because departments and agencies, in the U.S. system, are empowered in many cases to refuse presidential requests — and in other cases, they can create so many delays that they might as well be refusing. That’s not because of some nefarious “deep state.” It’s because these agencies have masters both in the White House and on Capitol Hill (and in many cases in the courts as well), and because their ultimate allegiance is to the law, not to elected officials. This can be immensely frustrating even to well-intentioned presidents trying to do perfectly legal things. It’s no less frustrating when what the president wants is of dubious legality or if an agency simply isn’t authorized to do it.

Good presidents recognize the signal the system is sending them and either pull back from their plan or increase the resources devoted to overriding bureaucratic resistance. But as the Executive Office of the President has expanded, with more and more staffers reporting directly to the commander in chief, there’s been a strong temptation to simply find someone at the White House, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, or even outside of government altogether to just do whatever it is the president wants.

The result is predictable, so much so that I was writing about the phenomenon back when Trump was still a reality TV star. It turns out that the bureaucracy isn’t just a check on the president’s ability to get what he wants; it’s a critical source of expertise on the difficult tasks of governing a country of more than 300 million people that also happens to be the most powerful in the world. When a president decides to spy on his domestic opponents even after the agencies that normally do such things turn him down, you get the “plumbers” and the Watergate criminals and the clownish cover-up. When a president decides (or passively allows) the National Security Council staff to carry out an arms-for-hostages swap with the profits diverted elsewhere, despite congressional prohibitions and executive-branch reluctance, you get Oliver North sending a cake and a bible to Iran.

6) It should really not be all that hard to believe that both 1) Glyphosate (Roundup) really isn’t that harmful; and 2) Monsanto really is a problematic company.  Alas, it seems that so many people are convinced of #2 that they cannot approach #1 rationally.

7) This led me to a fun email conversation with DJC, that made me think of this really nice summary of key critical thinking components from clearerthinking.org.  I think this part here is especially relevant:

Truth-Seeking Traits are personal characteristics that make it easier to get an accurate picture of the world as it is. For another perspective on this concept, check out these 12 rationality virtues.

  • (i) Skepticism – to be skeptical is to be distrustful of information and vet it carefully, with the awareness that people are often misinformed, misled, or motivated to bend the truth. Skepticism requires being willing to reflect frequently on what you’ve heard and actively check information. It also requires some autonomy from the thoughts of others. Skepticism is essential for critical thinking because, without it, we adopt new beliefs without engaging our critical thinking skills.. If you want to practice this useful skill, check our our Belief Challenger program, where we teach some basic yet powerful techniques for skepticism.

The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to carefully vet information to help make sure it’s true, recognizing that false information is really common, instead of assuming that all of what your standard sources say is true?

  • (ii) Seekingness – to be seeking is to see the value of new perspectives that challenge your own, and to search out a variety of worldviews and ways of thinking. If you won’t deeply consider outside ideas that contradict yours, you will have trouble overturning your existing beliefs. Finding and then listening to other perspectives that disagree with your own is a great way to critically evaluate your assumptions. This seekingness trait of being curious and open to different ideas is especially powerful when combined with skepticism, because it means you will assess the accuracy and relevance of the new perspectives you seek out, rather than being unduly credulous of questionable ideas. We’ve developed a short test that measures these “skepticism” and “seekingness” traits, which will be available on ClearerThinking.org soon!

    • (iii) Impartiality – to evaluate information without self-interested bias requires resisting the temptations of your own social needs, incentives, and preferences when you form beliefs. If your attempts to reach a truthful, logical conclusion are tainted by the desire to get something that you want, it will hinder your ability to see the world clearly. Evaluating evidence and counter-evidence objectively becomes difficult when you aren’t being fair to all sides of the argument. Remember to examine your intentions, and whether your biased towards a particular outcome. You may have an incentive to find out that X is true, but that doesn’t make X any truer (though it certainly makes you more likely to succumb to bias when considering X).

      The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to seek out the beliefs of those very different from you, and really consider whether they might be true, instead of mainly considering the beliefs you already have?

8) Supposedly, William Barr was a decent man as a young fellow.  He’s sure not now.

9) It’s really pretty horrible just how awful some of Trump’s judicial appointments are.

Marty Lederman takes a look at the dissent from a Trump-appointed judge in today’s DC circuit decision finding that Congress has a right to subpoena Donald Trump’s financial records, and discovers that it has no basis in what could broadly be described as “law:”

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

I’ve just begun perusing the D.C. Circuit opinion in Mazars, but at first glance it sure appears as if Judge Rao’s dissent would conclude that the Ervin Committee Watergate investigation–and, e.g., the Iran/Contra and Whitewater investigations–were unconstitutional.

505 people are talking about this

There’s nothing in the text or legislative history of the relevant statute, or in SCOTUS precedent, or in constitutional law, that supports the Trump administration’s position in this case. Yet somehow, a Trump-appointed judge ruled in Trump’s favor. What could explain this apparently inexplicable development?

Lederman emphasizes that one possible explanation should be considered out of bounds:

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

Would *anyone* write a constitution that imposed such a requirement?

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

P.S. For those of you who’ve been responding that Rao’s opinion is unsurprising because Trump appointed her, please stop: There’s plenty to criticize on the merits; no need to emulate Trump by insinuating that judges won’t call things straight w/r/t the POTUS who appointed them.

215 people are talking about this

I would hate to insinuate anything like that, so instead I’ll say it straight out: Rao is dissenting despite the absence of any quarter-way plausible legal basis for her dissent, because she is Federalist Society hack, who was put on the federal judiciary to rule in favor of Republicans and against Democrats in any case of political significance.

Lederman’s fervent institutionalist faith is a symptom of what is essentially just another form of American exceptionalism. Suppose a Putin-appointed judge ruled in Putin’s favor in a case that was crucial to Putin’s political interests, despite the absence of any non-frivolous legal argument for doing so. Would Lederman think that was because the judge was making a good-faith mistake, as opposed to ruling the way Putin wanted because that’s what a Putin-appointed judge has been appointed to do?

10) Jordan Weissman takes on Yang and automation:

Yang’s schtick about techno doom may be well-intentioned, but it is largely premised on BS, and is adding to the widespread confusion about the impact of automation on the economy.

Yang is not pulling his ideas out of thin air. Economists have been debating whether automation or trade is more responsible for the long-term decline of U.S. factory work for a while, and it’s possible to find experts on both sides of the issue. After remaining steady for years, the total number of U.S. manufacturing jobs suddenly plummeted in the early 2000s—from more than 17 million in 2000 to under 14 million in 2007. (The Great Recession saw about 2.2 million more vanish, though they’ve bounced back a bit since.) This all coincided with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and rapid transformation into an industrial powerhouse, which led many to assume that offshoring had caused America’s rapid industrial decline. But some economists disagreed. They pointed out that while the number of manufacturing workers had crashed, factory output was still rising, which suggested that technological advances like industrial robots were just making things much more productive and efficient. In 2015, economists from Ball State University suggested that around 87 percent of manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to improved productivity from automation, and just 13 percent were due to trade, claims that later appeared in the New York TimesSo when Yang says that the “reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” he’s just echoing stuff that’s been printed in the paper of record.

The problem is that the Ball State team’s findings have basically been eviscerated by other researchers. In a 2018 paper, Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research showed that the rise in manufacturing productivity after the late 1990s was largely an illusion driven by how the government measures output in the computer and semiconductor industry. Within other manufacturing sectors, productivity grew slowly, which meant industrial robots probably couldn’t explain job losses…

And therein lies the real problem with Yang’s outlook. It’s not just unrealistic. It’s lazy. When you buy the sci-fi notion that technology is simply a disembodied force making humanity obsolete and that there’s little that can be done about it, you stop thinking about ideas that will actually prevent workers from being screwed over by the forces of globalization or new tech. By prophesying imaginary problems, you ignore the real ones.

11) Put Krugman in the Yang-skeptic category, too:

Which makes you wonder what Andrew Yang is talking about. Yang has based his whole campaign on the premise that automation is destroying jobs en masse and that the answer is to give everyone a stipend — one that would fall far short of what decent jobs pay. As far as I can tell, he’s offering an inadequate solution to an imaginary problem, which is in a way kind of impressive…

So what’s with the fixation on automation? It may be inevitable that many tech guys like Yang believe that what they and their friends are doing is epochal, unprecedented and changes everything, even if history begs to differ. But more broadly, as I’ve argued in the past, for a significant part of the political and media establishment, robot-talk — i.e., technological determinism — is in effect a diversionary tactic.

That is, blaming robots for our problems is both an easy way to sound trendy and forward-looking (hence Biden talking about the fourth industrial revolution) and an excuse for not supporting policies that would address the real causes of weak growth and soaring inequality.

So harping on the dangers of automation, while it may sound tough-minded, is in practice a sort of escapist fantasy for centrists who don’t want to confront truly hard questions. And progressives like Warren and Sanders who reject technological determinism and face up to the political roots of our problems are, on this issue at least, the actual hardheaded realists in the room. emphasis mine]

Other Democrats should follow their lead. They should focus on the real issues, and not get sidetracked by the pseudo-issue of automation.

12) Drum makes the case that Democrats should move slowly on impeachment:

Should Democrats move fast or slow on impeachment? I say slow. For one thing, new evidence is pouring out like a fire hose right now, and we should keep the investigation going until we have as good a picture as we can get of what really happened. Politically, it’s also the best thing to do. Republicans want a fast impeachment so they can brush it off as a partisan stunt and get on with business. Democrats should want just the opposite. They need to treat it seriously, and they need time to build up public support as new revelations are unearthed. Until we get to the point where a third or so of Republicans support impeachment, there’s not much point in voting on articles in the House.

Will this interfere with campaigning? I doubt it. Will it prevent the House from working on other things? Nope. They’ve produced plenty of legislation and all of it goes straight into Mitch McConnell’s round file. So no worries there.

Keep up the committee work until there’s a rock-solid case with good public support. That’s when to stop, and not a moment before.

13) I’m a big fan of “real” cameras and not just phone cameras because the physics of light and the small sensors in phone cameras mean you just can’t do the same things in sub-optimal conditions.  But, it seems like, the software in phone cameras is so good now that you basically can.  Pretty amazing what the Google Pixel 4 can do.

13) Charles Pierce, “The Washington Post’s Story on George Kent and Hunter Biden Shows Desperation to Play Both Sides.”

14) Sadly, I think Paul Waldman is right bout this, “There Will Be No Justice for Trump’s Enablers.”

Sure, one sees the occasional story about something like young Trump staffers complaining that no one wants to date them. But there will be no truth and reconciliation commission, no universal condemnation, no shunning of even the worst offenders.

The reason is that the entire Republican Party will make sure it doesn’t happen, because nearly all of them are implicated.

Consider someone like Stephen Miller, probably the most villainous figure in the administration. The latest revelation about Miller is that he tried for some time to find a way to get states to bar undocumented immigrant children from going to school; he was thwarted not because other officials said, “My god, what kind of monster are you?” (they didn’t) but because the scheme was obviously illegal.

Now try to imagine the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute saying to Miller in 2021, “We’re sorry, but we cannot offer you a senior fellow position, because your actions during the last four years were so morally abhorrent that we do not wish to associate ourselves with you.” The very idea is ridiculous. We know what will happen: Heritage, AEI, and any number of other prominent conservative organizations will fall all over themselves to offer Miller a comfortable sinecure from which he can continue to advocate a whiter future for America.

In fact, they’ll undertake a massive project of historical revisionism to convince the country that what we just lived through was all a figment of our imagination. “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said last year, and this project will attempt to convince us that what we saw, read, and experienced never actually happened. Donald Trump was a fine and responsible president, they’ll say, and even if he might have gotten a little silly on Twitter from time to time, anyone who supported him should take pride in their service to the GOP and to America.

And since the entire Republican Party will repeat this line again and again and again, it will become, if not conventional wisdom, at the very least a respectable position to hold. At worst, if Trump leaves office in disgrace Republicans will say what they did when George W. Bush slinked off in 2009 with the two wars he started still dragging on and the country experiencing the worst economic crisis in 80 years: I never liked him anyway. He wasn’t a real conservative. And of course I didn’t figure that out until it was all over, so don’t blame me.

By and large, they won’t be blamed. Their party may pay a price at the polls, but the men and women who signed up to aid Donald Trump will not get what they deserve. There may be a political reversal, but if you’re waiting for justice, you might not want to get your hopes up.

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