Quick hits (part II)

1) Pew with a thorough look at public opinion on the border and the shutdown.  Partisanship is a thing.

GOP support for expanding border wall rises; Democratic support falls

2) David Brooks on “putting relationship quality at the center of education.”  I’ve been saying for years and years, that just like Coach K coaches for the relationships, not the championships, I teach for the relationships.

3) I loved the Gillette ad.  Even allowed myself to be goaded into a semi-rare facebook argument (I won, of course– no really, I did), but I also really like Drum’s take on the damn liberals who have to push everything too far.  I also like that he takes on the worst of Vox, which he’s right about and weakens otherwise great journalism.

Well, plenty of men aren’t happy with it. No surprise there. But apparently some women aren’t happy about it either, even though it conveys an explicitly feminist message. Why? Well, at the risk of pissing off some friends, I have to make a confession here: The ism writers at Vox (sexism, racism, ageism, etc.) are always on hand to describe and explain these things. And they always defend the most extreme woke view. Nevertheless, I read most of their wokeness articles anyway, sometimes because they’re good but other times because I’m curious to find out what excuse they’ll use this time to defend the most extravagantly excessive view out there. For the Gillette ad, here it is:

Men who are angry about a commercial and calling for a boycott of a razor company in the comments of a YouTube post are also writing things like, “Gillette is desperately deleting critical comments for fear that people will know about what men are saying about this radical feminist advert.”

These arguments make no sense whatsoever. Still, this ad is a misfire, in that it is a blatant attempt to make money off a painful and ongoing collective action that has not even an indirect relationship to face razors. Is it likely that there were people at Gillette with good intentions and people at Grey who wanted to help realize them? Absolutely! However, it is inherently nonsensical to use feminism to sell men’s grooming products, or any products, as feminism is a political movement bent on dismantling current structures of power, which likely includes multibillion-dollar corporations like Procter & Gamble.

Really?

The reason this commercial is bad is because feminism is dedicated to destroying all large corporations, and it’s therefore inherently nonsensical for large corporations to promote feminist views in their advertising? This wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman women’s studies course. How does it make it past an editor? It persuades no one except those who are already part of the drum circle. Everyone else either skips it entirely or just guffaws when they read it.

I’m not just nitpicking a single piece, either. It doesn’t matter if the subject is liberalism, conservatism, guns, abortion, feminism, racism, climate change, or anything else. We all have to be willing to call out the nonsense on our own side when we hear it. We can’t just automatically go along with the most extreme voices out of fear that we’ll no longer be considered part of the movement if we suggest that maybe someone has gone a wee bit too far.

Anyway: this is just a commercial. Sure, it uses consciousness raising in service of making money. So what? If corporate chieftans are willing to bet that promoting feminism is good for the bottom line, all the better for feminism. How else are you going to reach a hundred million men in prime time, after all?

4) Farhad Manjoo makes the moral case for open borders.  And, for the record, even the liberal NYT commenters let him have it.

5) Apparently treating children equally is a pretty new innovation.  My take is: love your children so that they are each convinced they are your favorite.  It’s actually such a taboo to have favorites that I enjoy joking to my classes that I rank order my children every day with refrigerator magnets.  Anyway, good stuff from Jennifer Traig:

Modern parents haven’t stopped playing favorites; they’ve just stopped doing it openly. Though few parents today will admit they have a favorite child, studies indicate that about two-thirds of parents do. In one small but astounding survey, 80 percent of mothers acknowledged favoring one child over the others. This was no secret to their children, 80 percent of whom agreed. Interestingly, however, when they were asked which child their mother loved most, they almost always got it wrong. Similar results are borne out in larger studies: Two-thirds of children accurately perceive that their parents have a favorite, but less than half get the favorite right.

The idea that you’re supposed to treat your children equally is recent, and it’s still not the norm in much of the world, where different siblings might have different roles and even different titles. In English, we refer to both younger and older siblings as sister or brother, but Chinese has separate terms for each. A gege (older brother) has different rights and responsibilities than a younger one (didi), as do a jiejie (big sister) and meimei (little sister). In Japan, an old slang term for the second son was “Master Cold Rice,” because historically he ate only after the firstborn got his food.

Treating all your children the same is certainly not the norm historically, either. Playing favorites is called “parental differential treatment,” and it was standard practice until fairly recently. Treating all your children the same would be as ridiculous as, say, treating your husband and the doorman the same because they’re both men, greeting them both with kisses and giving both tips for bringing up the mail. The two just play different roles, and there are different expectations for each.

6) Border reality via NPR: “For 7th Consecutive Year, Visa Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossings.”

7) Meanwhile, Drum brings a whole host of border/immigration reality with lots of great charts.

8) This is cool… by making you brain work harder, the Sans Forgetica font can help you learn better.

9) Really enjoyed this from the Economist on why our weeks seven days.  Because… ancient Mesopotamians.

10) Really like this new research from friend PID expert Alex Theodoridis (with Stephen Goggin and John Henderson):

To what extent do voters grasp “what goes with what” among key political objects as they attempt to understand the choices they face at the ballot box? Is recognition of these associations limited to only the most informed citizens? We design a novel conjoint classification experiment that minimizes partisan boosting and allows for the relative comparison of attribute effect when mapping voter associative networks, the cluster of attributes linked to parties and ideological labels. We ask respondents to ‘guess’ the party or ideology of hypothetical candidates with fully randomized issue priorities and biographical details. There is remarkable agreement among both high- and low-knowledge voters in linking issues to each party and ideology, suggesting this minimalist form of associative competence is more widely held in the mass public than perhaps previously thought. We find less agreement about biographical traits, which appear to pose greater informational challenges for voters. Notably, nearly identical issue priorities and traits are associated with party and ideology, indicating these two dimensions are largely fused in the minds of today’s American voters.

11) Frank Bruni asks, “Will the Media Be Trump’s Accomplice Again in 2020?”  Ummmmm… yeah.

Democracies don’t just get the leaders they deserve. They get the leaders who make it through whatever obstacle course — and thrive in whatever atmosphere — their media has created.

“The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” the former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who has covered more than half a century of presidential elections, told me. And what we did last time was emphasize the sound and the fury, because Trump provided both in lavish measure.

“When you cover this as spectacle,” Rather said, “what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.” Spectacle is his métier. He’s indisputably spectacular. And even if it’s a ghastly spectacle and presented that way, it still lets him control the narrative. As the writer Steve Almond observed in a recently published essay, “He appears powerful to his followers, which is central to his strongman mystique.”…

Trump was and is a perverse gift to the mainstream, establishment media, a magnet for eyeballs at a juncture when we were struggling economically and desperately needed one. Just present him as the high-wire act and car crash that he is; the audience gorges on it. But readers’ news appetite isn’t infinite, so they’re starved of information about the fraudulence of his supposed populism and the toll of his incompetence. And he wins. He doesn’t hate the media, not at all. He uses us.

Did that dynamic help elect him? There’s no definitive answer. But we gave him an extraordinary bounty of coverage, depriving his rivals of commensurate oxygen and agency. And while our coverage of him had turned overwhelmingly negative by the final months of the 2016 campaign, it by no means started out that way.

12) Greg Sargent makes the case for Sherrod Brown:

Sen. Sherrod Brown will travel to the early presidential primary states in coming weeks, he confirmed to me in an interview. This will stoke speculation about the presidential ambitions of the Ohio Democrat who is widely seen as an ideal messenger for true economic populism as the antidote to President Trump’s sham version of the same.

At the core of Brown’s message is a simple idea: The way to confer dignity on work is to ensure that it pays well. Due to structural economic factors beyond ordinary Americans’ control, wages have stagnated for millions, with many trapped in the ranks of the working poor; but government can remedy this through the tax code by sending struggling Americans money.

Many progressive economists and Democratic lawmakers are coalescing around a way to do this, through one version or another of expanded tax credits for working people and families, to supplement their income and lift them out of poverty and/or closer to the ranks of the middle-class.

13) I cannot believe I was so late to the game of the terrific podcast literally produced in San Quentin by prisoners, “Ear Hustle.”  So good.  Host Earlonne Woods is amazing and so obviously completely rehabilitated.  How many other prisoners who have already served many years and could really benefit society are also languishing behind bars without a podcast to let us know?

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting piece on Apple becoming more of a luxury brand:

And so Apple is gravitating to its strength—selling a commoditized product at a very high price as a part of a semi-open (or partly closed) ecosystem of services. Indeed, another change in how the company plans to present its financial picture is a more detailed breakdown of its “services” segment, which includes iTunes, the App Store, and ApplePay, all of which presumably will be a greater share of its revenue and profit.

Look, then, at where Apple is growing and where it isn’t: It is gaining share in the wealthy countries of the European Union and in the United States, and flat (or losing) in places such as China, Nigeria, India, and the rest of the world formerly known as developing. But its profit is growing massively, and from what we can tell growing everywhere. In a world where everyone will soon have a smartphone as surely as electricity, and the middle class will likely have a tablet or some form of computer, Apple has elected to be more like Tiffany or Mercedes rather than Walmart or Hyundai. That means speaking to as an aspirational clientele for whom brand, form, and function are all of a part, and where the higher price point is at times a sotto voce aspect of the appeal.

It is hard to argue with that strategy, although it does make Apple a different sort of company than it was a decade ago, away from owning the market with a range of prices and products and toward a premier provider in a mass world. It is also hard to see that strategy not producing incredible profits and cash for the coming years, absent some tectonic disruption in communications akin to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, which is not evident but not impossible. In some sense, it is back to the future for Apple, which began in the 1980s selling a high-priced, elegantly designed Mac that eschewed the mass market.

Unlike then, however, it is hard to picture Apple as a leading innovator of the next thing or things, whatever those may be. Rife with cash and focused on honing and defending a premier brand, it is more like a dynamic retailer than a tech disrupter.

2) We were having fun with this sentence last night explaining to the kids how which word gets emphasized changes the meaning of a sentence, “I never said that she stole my money.”

3) I’m no expert on unions, but public and private sector unions really are fundamentally different and it really is too easy for public sector unions to abuse their position.  And California is a great example.  Drum.

4) Americans are literally dying because synthetic insulin, a product that has been around decades, keeps going up in price by absurd amounts.  Only in America, of course.  In theory there is competition, but, really, this is market failure which means the government needs to do something– like every other damn modern country.

5) Excellent (as always) Tom Edsall piece on “how the fight over men is shaping our future.”

Last week, however, the American Psychological Association entered the fray with the release of its long-planned “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.”

The A.P.A. guidelines argue that the socialization of males to adhere to components of “traditional masculinity such as emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness” leads to the disproportion of males involved in “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict” as well as “substance abuse, incarceration, and early mortality.”

The premise underlying the guidelines is summarized in a descriptive essay on the A.P.A.’s website: “Traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.” According to the A.P.A., the persistent commitment of many boys and men to the norms of traditional masculinity helps explain why

Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school — especially boys of color.

There is widespread support for many of the recommendations in the guidelines — encouraging increased paternal involvement with children, for example, and developing better approaches to reduce bullying — and these are not in dispute…

The report notes that “in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society.” This, according to the guidelines, is detrimental to men because

Men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege. Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.

Republicans and Democrats have sharply polarized views on such findings.

According to an October 2017 Pew Research report, a quarter of Republicans said the country has not done enough to insure equal rights for women, while 54 percent said the country has done enough and 18 percent said the country has gone too far. Among Democrats, 69 percent said the country has not done enough, 26 percent said the country has done enough and 4 percent said the country has gone too far…

Many Republicans believe gender roles to be distinct and that categorical denial of hormonal or biological underpinnings to sex differences is erroneous — while simultaneously voicing doubts about the legitimacy of the science of evolution. Many Democrats defend the basic theory of evolution but remain wary of, if not hostile to, biological explanations of human behavior, in part because of their belief in the efficacy of government or other societal intervention to change behavior.

What is patently clear to those on one side of the debate is patently false to those on the other. The pressures to conform to conservative orthodoxy on the right and to liberal orthodoxy on the left sometimes seem to preclude reasonable compromise — that nature and nurture interact endlessly. Fundamental disagreements about sex and gender have become so polarized that oversimplification is inevitable, and the obvious truth that both social and biological forces are at play is cast aside. [emphasis mine]

6) Meanwhile, a record low 46% of women are satisfied how women are treated by society.  I like that, as it shows that more women than ever are aware of the fundamental problems in how our society treats women.  You cannot address a problem if you don’t admit it’s there.

7) Not much could be better than Charles Pierce taking it to Mitch McConnell:

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

McConnell declared himself in opposition to Barack Obama right from the first day in office. There’s even video. Most noxiously, in reference to our present moment, when Obama came to him and asked him to present a united front against the Russian ratfcking that was enabling El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, McConnell turned him down, flat. Moreover, he told Obama that, if Obama went public, McConnell would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Obama should have done it anyway, god knows.) McConnell issued a watery denial of these charges, but there’s no good goddamn reason to believe him.

He doesn’t have the essential patriotism god gave a snail. He pledges allegiance to his donors, and they get what they want. He’s selling out his country, and he’s doing it in real-time and out in the open. This is worse than McCarthy or McCarran ever were. Mitch McConnell is the the thief of the nation’s soul.

8) A robotic device created for female pleasure had its technology award revoked for being ““immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.

9) NYT writes, “Doug Jones Risks His Alabama Senate Seat Over the Shutdown and the Wall.”  Ummm, Doug Jones risks his Senate seat by running against any Republican not named Roy Moore next time.

10) This story about Michael Cohen paying some Liberty University flunkie to “rig” some on-line polls is just so sad, pathetic, and so Trump and so Liberty.

11) Baby Shark is all the rage.  I actually learned of this from my pre-schooler newphew, but then learned from my kids its everywhere and I just didn’t know about it.  I especially enjoy annoying them by singing it not quite right.

12) Loved this story on why the UCLA gymnastics floor routine went viral and on NCAA versus elite gymnastics.  For the record, I love NCAA gymnastics and have really enjoyed NC State meets in recent years.

13) Even a ten minute walk has benefits for your brain.  Just move, people.

14) I don’t get why it is not standard practice to numb with lidocaine before giving children shots.  We did it this year (we’ve been using it since Alex has had to get monthly blood draws) and it really helped.

“If you ask every single child in the United States, what are you most afraid of going to the pediatrician, the answer is needle pokes,” said Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf, the medical director of pain medicine and palliative care at Children’s Minnesota.

The pain and fear around childhood vaccinations, he said, contributes to the development of needle phobias, which can make people reluctant to get flu shots and other potentially lifesaving vaccines. Thus, pediatric pain specialists hope that reducing or eliminating the pain associated with needles can potentially reduce what we now call vaccine hesitancy, encouraging parents to get those annual flu shots for themselves and their children, and generally taking away some of the fear that can get in the way of ideal health care.

“We now have noticed that since we started doing this, it’s a life changing event, kids are less and less likely to be needle phobic,” Dr. Friedrichsdorf said. “We are trying to prove it’s lifesaving.” Through an initiative called the Comfort Promise at Children’s Minnesota, the entire hospital has committed to reducing or eliminating needle pain, along with other types of pain.

Screens (and potatoes) are ruining our mental health

There’s been a lot of interesting research on the relationship between screen time and mental health, but it is all correlational and pretty hard to tease out truly solid conclusions.  Of course, this is exactly the sort of issue where a modest, but statistically significant correlation can get overblown into explaining everything.  Now, I definitely think there’s all sorts of reasons we think hard about how and why kids and adolescents especially use screens, but there’s also no cause for a moral panic at this point.

Really good piece in Wired discussing the latest research:

PSYCHOLOGISTS CAN’T SEEM to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.

As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.”…

Whether they realize it or not, a researcher who chooses to focus only on certain questions is making a decision to pursue one analytical path at the exclusion of many, many others. How many? In the case of the MCS, combining the survey’s questions on well-being with those on things like TV watching, videogame habits, and social media use produces a total of 603,979,752 analytical paths a researcher could take. Combine them with questions directed to the caregivers of study participants, and that figure balloons to 2.5 trillion.

Granted, the vast majority of those 2.5 trillion results are not all that interesting. But the sprawling nature of these data sets allows for associations to emerge that are technically statistically significant but are very, very small. In science, large sample sizes are generally considered to be a good thing. Yet when you combine the large number of analytical paths afforded by subjective survey questions with an enormous number of survey participants, it opens the door to statistical skullduggery like p-hacking—the practice of fishing for favorable results in a large set of data…

The result was a series of visualizations that map the wide gamut of potential effects researchers could detect in the three repositories, and they reveal several important things: One, that small changes in analytical approach can lead to dramatically different findings along that spectrum. Two, that the correlation between technology use and well-being is negative. And three, that this correlation is very, very small, explaining—at most—0.4 percent of the variation in adolescent well-being.

To put it in perspective, the researchers compared the link between technology use and adolescent well-being to that of other factors examined by the large-scale data sets. “Using technology is about as associated with well-being as eating potatoes,” Przybylski says. In other words: hardly at all. By the same logic, bullying had an effect size four times greater than screen use. Smoking cigarettes? 18 times. Conversely, getting enough sleep and eating breakfast were positively associated with adolescent well-being at a magnitude 44 and 30 times that of technology use, respectively.

Put another way: Technology’s impact on well-being might be statistically significant, but its practical significance—according to existing data sets—appears negligible. [emphasis mine]

I love this take.  Way back when I first learned the magical arts of social science statistics we talked a lot about statistical significance versus substantive significance.  The reality is that it is far too easy to get hung up on statistical significance even when the practical effect of a result would be pretty modest.

I suspect that we’ll come to find that too much screen time– of particular sorts– really is notably worse for you than eating potatoes.  But for now, we just don’t really know.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I knew pretty much nothing about Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard (now running for president).  Thanks to this New Yorker article, now I do.  Okay, I did know from a few FB posts that she had a rather checkered history on LGBT issues.  Looks like she’s been taking the orthodox Democratic position for a while now, though.  At what point are people not allowed to change?

2a) Nice piece on marginal tax rates thanks to AOC.

2b) It also links to this in Politico:

The Congressional Research Service published a paper in 2012 that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth. Congressional Republicans protested the findings, and the service briefly withdrew the paper.

Republicans argued that the CRS paper had methodological errors, namely that it didn’t account for the long-term benefits of tax rate cuts. The paper looked only at effects on growth within the first year of the cuts.

POLITICO looked at each time the country changed the top income tax rate and the following five years of GDP per capita growth rate. The results are similar to the CRS findings: changing the top income tax rate does not have a predictable effect on economic growth.  [emphases in original]

3) Really interesting 538 piece on the problems of single-stream recycling.  It gets so many more people recycling.  But, the recycling is so much more contaminated.  Pretty nasty catch 22.

4) Love this Atlantic article on what $5 billion on border security other than a wall could actually buy.  Great example of the wall as horribly inefficient policy and also of opportunity costs.

5) “Ag gag” laws are just the worst.  Fortunately, some courts are now agreeing.  Vox explains:

Ultimately, though, ag-gag laws aren’t the real problem — they’re a symptom of it. The problem is that what goes on on our farms is so horrifying, and so unconscionable to the typical American consumer, that agribusinesses have turned to trying to hide it.

“The situation agribusiness faced was this,” Balk told me. “They tried for many years” to defend the treatment of animals in industrial farming — blaming systemic abuses on individual bad workers, claiming that their practices were good for animals. “They lost every time. They lost ballot measures, they lost their customers — fast-food chains and major grocery stores.”

That’s why there was a sudden surge of interest in banning undercover investigations of factory farms. Ag-gag laws, in other words, came about because agribusiness concluded the horrors of our food system couldn’t stand up to the light of day.

People want affordable meat. They don’t want animals treated cruelly. Right now, the industry is trying to provide the meat and hide the cruelty. But we can do better. It’s fair to expect a food system that doesn’t have to hide its conduct from its customers — and fair to be very concerned that our current food system considered ag-gag laws a better solution. [emphasis mine]

6) With technology making it so much easier to work from home, we are seeing the death of the sick day.

7) Interesting Op-Ed from a leading pro-life Democrat on the rhetoric of abortion.  I’ll definitely give her this point:

The New York Times editorial board, for instance, recently used the phrase “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings,” in a discussion of rights being extended to a fetus in the womb, or what I call a prenatal child.

Language like this ignores the fact that each of us once existed as “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings.” It seeks to hide the fact that by the time most surgical abortions take place, a prenatal child has electrical activity in the brain and a beating heart.

Other words and phrases used in the discussion about abortion seek to obscure this reality as well: “tissue,” “part of the mother,” “parasite,” “potential life.” Even the term “fetus” is dehumanizing.

Outside of an abortion context, an obstetrician-gynecologist doesn’t generally speak to a mother about her fetus. She talks to her about her baby. Family and friends organize baby showers, not fetus showers. A mother-to-be has a baby bump, not a fetus bump. She is “with child,” not “with fetus.” It is not unusual for major news outlets, such as the BBC, to use the phrase “unborn babies” when they report on new prenatal surgical techniques.

I’ll always remember the words from my ardently pro-choice Ethics professor friend… if you think abortion is an easy call, you’re not thinking hard enough.  Trying to reduce a human embryo, rhetorically to “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings” is a way to try to win an argument without facing up to the moral complexity.

8) Drum is right… never believe corporations:

My take on all this is to repeat something I’ve said before: Never believe corporations. Period.¹ Don’t believe them when they say the “jury is still out” about the danger of the chemicals they produce. Don’t believe them when they say environmental regulations will put them out of business. Don’t believe them when they claim that they’ll hire more people and boost their fixed investment if Congress will pass tax cuts. And don’t believe them when they say they just can’t find people to take their jobs. Most of them just need to stop goosing their hiring requirements and increase their pay rate a bit. Problem solved.

¹I should add that you shouldn’t automatically believe the opposite of what corporations say, either. Simply treat their pronouncements as null data, sort of like the pleas of a coke addict who you know will say anything to get a few bucks from you. Just ignore the chatter and make up your mind based on all the other evidence available.

8) I never heard about this police shooting from over a year ago until today.  It is so horribly appalling and there has been absolutely nothing to hold anybody to account.  Talk about a “police state.”  Ugh.

9) Loved so many of Andrew Yang’s ideas for thinking about the economy.

Quick hits (part I and only)

Sorry, just one this weekend.

And we’ll start with more Elizabeth Warren:

1) Matt Taibbi:

Media critics like Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) have pointed out that early campaign coverage is often an absurd tautology. We get stories about how so-and-so is the “presumptive frontrunner,” but early poll results are heavily influenced by name recognition. This, in turn, is a function of how much coverage a candidate gets.

Essentially, we write the most about the candidate we write the most about.

We do this with polls, but also narratives. Is Howard Dean “too liberal” to win? He is if you write 10,000 articles about it.

You’ll often see this “we think this because we think this” trick couched in delicate verbiage.

Common phrases used to camouflage invented narratives include “whispers abound,” “questions linger” and today’s golden oldie from the Times, “concerns” (as in, the prospect of Warren and Sanders running has “stirred concerns”).

Warren recently also has been hit with bad-coverage synonyms like a “lingering cloud” (the Times), a “darkening cloud” (the Globe) and “controversy” that “reverberates” (the Washington Post).

The papers are all citing each other’s negative stories as evidence for Warren’s problems. It’s comic, once you lay it all out.

2) And Peter Beinart:

Read enough news reports about Elizabeth Warren’s declaration that she is running for president, and you notice certain common features. In its story on her announcement, The New York Times noted that Warren has “become a favorite target of conservatives” and that, in a recent national poll, “only about 30 percent [of respondents] viewed her favorably, with 37 percent holding an unfavorable view.” The Washington Post observed that Warren’s claim “that she was Native American” has “come under relentless attack from Republican opponents.” It also quoted a Boston Globe editorial that called Warren “a divisive figure.” On CNN, the election analyst Harry Enten suggested that Warren’s “very liberal record, combined with the fact that Donald Trump has already gone after her” has made her a—you guessed it—“divisive figure” whose “favorable ratings are not that high.”

These observations are factually correct. But they also help create a false narrative. Mentioning the right’s attacks on Warren plus her low approval ratings while citing her “very liberal record” and the controversy surrounding her alleged Native American heritage implies a causal relationship between these facts. Warren is a lefty who has made controversial ancestral claims. Ergo, Republicans attack her, and many Americans don’t like her very much.

But that equation is misleading. The better explanation for why Warren attracts disproportionate conservative criticism, and has disproportionately high disapproval ratings, has nothing to do with her progressive economic views or her dalliance with DNA testing. It’s that she’s a woman.

As I’ve notedbefore, women’s ambition provokes a far more negative reaction than men’s. For a 2010 article in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, two Yale professors, Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto, showed identical fictional biographies of two state senators—one male and one female—to participants in a study. When they added quotations to the biographies that characterized each as “ambitious” and possessing “a strong will to power,” the male state senator grew more popular. But the female state senator not only lost support among both women and men, but also provoked “moral outrage.”

The past decade of American politics has illustrated Brescoll and Okimoto’s findings again and again.  [emphasis mine]

For the record, I think there’s plenty of non-gender-based opposition to Warren, but it is disingenuous to completely ignore the gender angle.

3) Liked Michele Goldberg’s take (where she also praises Washington governor, Jay Inslee).

Inslee dreams of uniting the country — including at least some of corporate America — against an existential external threat. “This is a moment where we can all be heroes, and all of us have a role to play in this heroic effort,” he said.

Warren is ready to lead a fight — a word she uses often — against the bloated, monopolistic ruling class inside our society. “America’s middle class is under attack,” she said in the video announcing the launch of her presidential exploratory committee. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie.”

4) AOC suggests a 70% top marginal rate.  Yglesias explains that, given U.S. history, this is actually entirely reasonable.

5) A serious and thoughtful essay from Brook Lindsey on what the future of a sane, center-right, Republican Party should look like.  I wouldn’t vote for this party, but our country would be immeasurably better if this were what Democrats were fighting against/working with.

6) As for the rather sharp language on a potential impeachment, Jon Favreau is exactly right.

Of course, the NYT, apparently, does not have the power to ignore it, and it had front homepage coverage all day yesterday.

7) Really interesting Dana Goldstein piece on the various policies (and controversies) super-expensive school districts are looking at so that teachers can afford to live where they teach.  Just gotta love the wealthy homeowners who object to the “low-income housing” (specifically for educators!) bringing down their nearby home values.

8) Somehow I missed this September Amanda Ripley piece on why American colleges are so expensive.  It’s really good.

Ultimately, college is expensive in the U.S. for the same reason MRIs are expensive: There is no central mechanism to control price increases. “Universities extract money from students because they can,” says Schleicher at the OECD. “It’s the inevitable outcome of an unregulated fee structure.” In places like the United Kingdom, the government limits how much universities can extract by capping tuition. The same is true when it comes to health care in most developed countries, where a centralized government authority contains the prices.

9) Scott Alexander’s posts tend to be amazing in their thoroughness, which is why I don’t read them all that often.  And rarely read the whole thing when I do.  But even just skimming through this post on the astounding cost increases in health care and education was fascinating.

10) I actually came across a lot of interesting slightly older stuff this week while looking for readings for my syllabi.  Really liked this on education, “What If High School Were More Like Kindergarten? Students in the U.S. are being taught to focus only on becoming educated.”

After visiting a Finnish kindergarten, I felt anxiety thinking of my hyper-stressed high-schoolers. The kindergarten classroom had little seating; in fact, we were told that there were never more than eight chairs in it at a time. Instead, there were pillows and small stools placed haphazardly around the room. A large, beautiful, wooden tree created a canopy over a cozy carpet in one corner. A nook in another corner provided a quiet space for students who wanted time to reflect by themselves. Musical instruments, books, and art supplies were readily available at eye level for little hands ready to grab them.

As I observed this student-centered classroom created for independent learning and play, I wished it for my students; and even stronger still, I wished it for my own 1- and 3-year-old children. Because even though I am a public-school teacher who has an undying commitment to public education, I still worry about my own children entering school. I worry that years of driving toward academic achievement will morph them into tear-filled teenagers who have forgotten how to play. In fact, according to a separate Gallup survey, 79 percent of elementary-aged children feel engaged in school, while only 43 percent of high-schoolers do. This breaks my heart. Like Lauri Jarvilehto, I think learning matters more than education, and somewhere along the way, students in the U.S. are being taught to forget to learn and focus only on becoming educated. Even in Finland, many high-school students still find school boring, but Finland takes the issue of student boredom seriously. Recently, the country has begun a reform to rid high-schools of mandatory subjects altogether, leaning instead on “phenomenon-based” curriculum.

11) Matt Grossman with a terrific summary of what we know about ideological media bias.  Straight into the syllabus.

12) What happened to Tucker Carlson anyway?

People in media ask themselves this question with the same pearl-clutching, righteous tone they use when discussing their aunt in Connecticut who voted for Trump.

In a tweet, Jon Lovett of Crooked Media and Pod Save Americanoted, “Tucker Carlson’s transition from conservative serious-ish writer to blustery CNN guy to Daily Caller troll to race-baiting Fox News host is like ice core data on what led to this moment in our politics.”

In June, Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic, “Carlson squandered his considerable God-given talent for scrupulously true commentary, opting instead for clickbait at The Daily Caller or dumbed-down demagoguery at Fox.”

13) A former student (who should know better) recently posted about term limits.  I responded with Bernstein:

The U.S. is a large, complicated nation. It requires expertise to write laws for such a nation. Anyone can have good ideas, but it takes some real knowledge to turn them into laws. If members of Congress are only to serve for a short time, then they’re going to turn elsewhere for that expertise. Where? Lobbyists are happy to write laws if Congress will let them. So are bureaucrats in executive-branch departments and agencies. So is the president — well, not the president specifically, but the White House staff and others within an administration. Term-limited legislators would inevitably turn to one of those choices. And neither lobbyists nor federal bureaucrats are term-limited, nor are they likely to be interested in the particular circumstances of any member’s constituency.

14) I’m doing pretty damn well.  But I decided to give the NYT’s 30-day Wellness challenge a go anyway.  Starting tomorrow.

15) David Roberts on Republicans and “innovation” as the solution to climate change:

As The Hill recently noted, a growing number of Republicans have “settled on innovation as their primary position to counter progressive Democrats” on climate change. Innovation “has a critical role,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) told Fox News Sunday in November, “What the US needs to do is participate in a long-term conversation about how you get to innovation, and it’s going to need to be a conversation again that doesn’t start with alarmism.”

And most notably, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), current chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote a New York Times op-ed called “Cut Carbon Through Innovation, Not Regulation.”

The US has reduced emissions recently not through “punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes,” he writes, “but because of innovation and advanced technology, especially in the energy sector.” He touts “investment, invention, and innovation.”

There’s no arguing: These are nice words. You’d be hard pressed to find an analyst in any field of economic policy who is against invention and innovation. Indeed, I have trouble recalling a single articulation of the anti-innovation position (though I’m open to correction).

But in the remainder of the op-ed, Barrasso — who has a lifetime score of 8 percent from the League of Conservation Voters — reveals what he means, and as climate policy, it is … unimpressive.

Rather than taxes, regulation, or legislation, Barrasso is eager to offer subsidies to the nuclear industry. He also wants to subsidize various uses for carbon dioxide captured from fossil fuel combustion — like enhanced oil recovery, which uses CO2 to force more oil out of the ground. (Needless to say, Barrasso is not among the co-sponsors on any carbon tax bill.)

That’s it. There’s not so much as a mention of whether these particular subsidies to large energy incumbents might produce the emission reductions needed, or any emission reductions at all. And Barrasso frames them as an alternative to policies that cost taxpayers money — as though subsidies are free.

It isn’t a climate policy. Like Paul Ryan’s infamous child-poverty initiative, it is an attempt to repackage familiar conservative policies — in this case, sporadic subsidies to favored industries, along with a promise of deregulation — under a fresh label.  [emphasis mine]

16) Why you should not freak out about the robot revolution.

17) Drum on how Americans seem to think crime is worse elsewhere despite the local news basically being crime, weather, and sports.

18) Richard Hasen with a very pessimistic (and, sadly, realistic) case for the Supreme Court doing all it can to enshrine partisan gerrymandering.

19) Three big insights into human evolution:

I will emphasize three big insights.

First, modern humans did not originate in a bottleneck after 200,000 years ago. Our origin was much deeper in time than this.

Second, our species originated in Africa from deeply structured ancestral populations. These were much more different from each other than any human populations are today. We do not know how they interacted or which gave rise to living peoples.

Third, some of these deeply divergent populations survived in Africa until recent times. During the time of human origins, “modern” humans were not alone.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Emily Bazelon and Miriam Krinsky on the steps that new reform-minded prosecutors should be taking:

Our recommendations begin with the premise that the level of punishment in the United States is neither necessary for public safety nor a pragmatic use of resources. Prosecutors can address this first by routing some low-level offenses out of the criminal justice system at the start. For the cases that remain, they can help make incarceration the exception and diverting people from prison the rule, a principle advanced by the district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., Eric Gonzalez. Finally, prosecutors should recognize that lengthy mandatory sentences can be wasteful, since most people age out of the period when they’re likely to reoffend, and also don’t allow for the human capacity to change.

As prosecutors know, locking people up makes them more prone to committing offenses in the future. They can lose their earning capacity and housing, leaving them worse off, often to the point of desperation. And so the community is often better served by interventions like drug or mental-health treatment, or by restorative justice approaches, in which a person who has caused harm makes amends to the victim. In some cases, the best response is to do nothing.

2) Slate essay, “How I Went From Graduate School Student to Amazon Warehouse Janitor: Why is it so hard for black women like me to find full-time work in our chosen fields?”  It just might have something to do with the fact that her degrees are a BA in English and MFA in creative writing with a plan to, “start my own company doing what I love: writing and creating opportunities for other artists. I wanted to create a space where emerging visual and performing artists could receive professional development and education, network with local companies and potential clients, and expand their portfolios with themed exhibitions and performance opportunities.”  To be fair, there’s some real data on the under-employment of Black women, but this should not be the exemplar.  I quite enjoyed the comments on this one.

3) Vox reviews a bunch of Democratic health plans for (near) universal coverage.  You will be unsurprised to learn my favorites were the two center-left thinktank plans.  And, yes, Medicare for all would be great if we were starting from scratch.  But we’re not and that therefore imposes huge non-monetary costs (in addition to the financial ones, that I am fine with).

4) Of course the Trump administration wants to roll back clean water regulations.

5) Didn’t do much more than skim Andrew Sullivan’s essay on how we all have religion and we have replaced real religion with political tribalism.  But, damn, Pesca’s takedown was good.  Ezra Klein is on the case, too.

6) Yeah, it’s not just the name-brand big Pharma ripping us off. The generic makers have quite the cartel:

What started as an antitrust lawsuit brought by states over just two drugs in 2016 has exploded into an investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs, Joseph Nielsen, an assistant attorney general and antitrust investigator in Connecticut who has been a leading force in the probe, said in an interview. His comments in an interview with The Washington Post represent the first public disclosure of the dramatically expanded scale of the investigation.

The unfolding case is rattling an industry that is portrayed in Washington as the white knight of American health care.

7) This is really cool from Wired, “How the CIA trains spies to hide in plain sight.”

8) Great Yglesias essay on the growing anti-democracy problem of the GOP:

The steady erection of a system of minority rule that Republicans are implementing is not as dramatic as a populist putsch. But it’s actually happening before our eyes. And it’s led not by the rabble-rousing president or the unwashed masses who thrill to his rallies, but by the elite network of donors, operatives, and politicians who run the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

9) George Packer (what’s with him at The Atlantic instead of the New Yorker) hits on similar issues, “The Corruption of the Republican Party: The GOP is best understood as an insurgency that carried the seeds of its own corruption from the start.”

10) Former federal prosecutor, on the National Enquirer publisher: “AMI’s Immunity Deal Is a Disaster for Donald Trump.”

11) So, Americans way over-freakout about stranger abductions of children.  But every now and then it does happen and it’s horrible.  Like this 13-year old NC girl who was raped and murdered.  What’s even more awful is that if local law enforcement had followed through on a DNA hit on a rape case in 2016, the murderer would already surely have been in prison.  So sad all around.  And some heads should roll.

12) Enjoyed the science of growing a perfect Christmas tree.  Do love the NC fraser firs we get every year.

13) I love Melissa and Doug’s classic wooden toys.  Our kids have gotten lots of enjoyment out of them over the years.  Enjoyed this Vox feature on the company.

14) Well, ain’t this interesting, “Movies Starring Women Earn More Than Male-Led Films, Study Finds.”  My son applies the Bechdel test to pretty much everything we watch.

The research also found that films that passed the Bechdel test — which measures whether two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man — outperformed those that flunked it.

“The perception that it’s not good business to have female leads is not true,” said Christy Haubegger, a C.A.A. agent who was part of the research team. “They’re a marketing asset.”

15) Prediction, Mark Harris will never represent North Carolina in the U.S. Congress.  The Post, “N.C. congressional candidate sought out aide, despite warnings over tactics.”

16) New breakthrough means maybe Moore’s law is safe for a while yet.

17) My home county, Wake, is geographically quite large.  It’s not uncommon for parts of the county to have snow and ice while others are safe to drive.  This invariably leads to calls to break up the county into smaller districts.  Our recent absurd (for December) amounts of snow led to a terrific tweetstorm about the history of the unified county schools and the role of this system in desegregation.   WCPSS is still overly cautious on weather (especially when somebody says, “hurricane!”), but this was a great education for local residents.

Quick hits (part II)

1) How all those deliveries for on-line shopping can make traffic worse.

2) Marc Hetherington (and colleagues) is back at it in a nice Vox piece (this one connecting to the rise of right-wing populism):

Those who prioritize order are more likely to value obedience in children

This relationship might seem at first like a random correlation, but it’s far from it. We believe that these child-rearing ideas capture people’s unreported worldviews — their deep-seated understanding of how the world works and what a good society ought to be. Throughout all human history, people have had worldviews. But they haven’t always been connected to politics like they are now in the US, and, increasingly, the rest of the world.

When the central focus of political conflict was economic — how much government ought to spend and how tightly it ought to regulate business, as it was in the US for most of the 20th century — this worldview did little to structure that conflict. There is no reason to think that how wary a person is about the dangers lurking in the world ought to have anything to do with how much they think the government ought to spend on highways or the merits they see in the free enterprise system.

As American party conflict shifted in the late 20th and early 21st century toward racial and gender equality, sexual orientation, immigration, various religious matters, and how best to remain safe from terrorism, the dividing lines changed. People’s deeply ingrained worldviews about the relative safety of these dramatic social changes and the world around us, in general, evolved into the key pivot between Republicans and Democrats.

Their response is to try to impose order on their political system, much like parents might want to impose order on a chaotic household by emphasizing the qualities of respect, obedience, and good manners in children. Although a preference for traditional qualities in children is fine when managing a household — families, after all, are not democracies and children are not political citizens — imposing them on the political sphere is not entirely benign.

Those who prefer obedient, respectful children tend to be less concerned about bedrock democratic principles like free speech and a free press, which can, of course, produce disagreement. They are more open to a strongman leader who might not heed the legislature or judiciary, but who promises a more orderly society.

No matter where they pop up, right-wing populists use a core set of strategies that appeal to a worldview that desires order and predictability. They disparage challengers of traditional hierarchy, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ people. They advocate granting police wide latitude to weaken social movements that could upset the status quo. And they highlight the potential perils of immigrants — outsiders — in the country…

We are, frankly, alarmed. Most citizens don’t want to live under authoritarian governments that rig or cancel elections. Few citizens clamor for military dictatorships. To use the most extreme example, Germans didn’t vote for Adolph Hitler because he promised to end democracy.

But when people feel like chaos is descending on their society and threats from the outside are ubiquitous, they are willing to turn a blind eye to growing authoritarianism in the interest of the instituting a more “orderly” society.

Democracy is inherently fragile. When right wing-populists find their way into office, the door is open to backsliding on the freedoms and protections of modern democracy as long as it’s done in the name of providing order or harkening back to a time that the country was great.

3) NC Republicans have been surprisingly reasonable, so far, with the new Voter ID law.  Of particular interest to me, unlike their 2013 effort, this one is dramatically more fair to college students.

4) I was no fan of George H.W. Bush at the time, but I did quite enjoy Frank Bruni’s take on the “kinder,” “gentler” George Bush.

5) Nice to see NYT with this “Analysis” piece (rather than an Op-Ed) on Trump’s penchant for lying and liars:

Even more Trump associates are under investigation for the same offense. They are part of a group of people surrounding Mr. Trump — including some White House and cabinet officials — who contribute to a culture of bending, if not outright breaking, the truth, and whose leading exemplar is Mr. Trump himself.

Mr. Trump looks for people who share his disregard for the truth and are willing to parrot him, “even if it’s a lie, even if they know it’s a lie, and even if he said the opposite the day before,” said Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer. They must be “loyal to what he is saying right now,” she said, or he sees them as “a traitor.”

Campaign aides often echoed Mr. Trump’s pronouncements knowing they were false. People joined the top levels of his administration with the realization that they would be expected to embrace what Mr. Trump said, no matter how far from the truth or how much their reputations suffered.

6) Just one season of football seems to lead to structural changes in the brains of young football players.  That’s not good.

7) Republicans changing the rules whenever they lose a governorship is so inimical to democracy. Ugh.

8) David Brooks on how to think about the economy in age of social collapse.

There’s an interesting debate going on in conservative circles over whether we have overvalued total G.D.P. growth in our economic policy and undervalued programs that specifically foster dignity-enhancing work. The way I see it is this: It’s nonsense to have an economic policy — or any policy — that doesn’t account for and address the social catastrophe happening all around us. Every single other issue exists under the shadow of this one.

Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself. Moderate Democrats were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments. The progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s. The Danes and the Swedes take for granted a cohesive social fabric that simply does not exist here.

To make the crucial differences, economic policymakers are going to have to get out of the silos of their economic training and figure out how economic levers can have moral, communal and sociological effect. Oren Cass’s book “The Once and Future Worker” begins this exploration, as do Isabelle Sawhill’s “The Forgotten Americans” and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.”

It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs anymore. It’s relationships, relationships, relationships.

9) The content cycle:

But the real question is, why did Tucker Carlson choose to devote so much of his valuable airtime to a HuffPost video about tweets, instead of, say, to educating and empowering his viewers to take action in their communities? One answer might be “because he is a fundamentally unserious person who fumbled his way into a lucrative career of stoking fear and resentment in the elderly.” But let’s not be snide about Tucker Carlson! Let’s be scientific. The reason that Tucker Carlson devoted a segment to Rudolph is because Tucker Carlson, like a mountain river, serves a key role in a beautiful and essential natural process: the Content Cycle. And “Problematic Rudolph” is an object lesson in that process.

The Content Cycle, a phrase I did not just come up with right now, describes how content arises from the internet, is absorbed into cable television, and then gets redistributed back into the internet for the cycle to begin anew. Like the water cycle, the Content Cycle provides sustenance and habitation to a multitude of organisms, and in many ways it exists independently of human thought. Let’s walk through Problematic Rudolph as our emblematic example of the Content Cycle.

10) Michele Goldberg, “Trump Is Compromised by Russia: Michael Cohen’s latest plea is proof.”

But even before those inquiries begin, we can see that Putin has been in possession of crucial information about Trump’s business interests that the president deliberately hid from the American people. In a normal political world, Republicans would have enough patriotism to find this alarming and humiliating. Every day of the Trump presidency is a national security emergency. The question now is whether Senate Republicans, who could actually do something about it, will ever be moved to care.

11) This Buzzfeed feature on “rape by fraud” was absolutely fascinating (and disturbing).

12) Bookmarking this, “The 9 essential cookies every home baker should know how to make.”

13) Very encouraging to see that it looks like the Supreme Court has about had it with the abomination that is Civil Asset Forfeiture.

Tyson Timbs just wants his car back. In 2015, Timbs was charged with selling heroin to undercover officers in Indiana to fund his opioid addiction. After he pleaded guilty, a private law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state to confiscate his Land Rover SUV, valued at $42,000. That’s more than four times the maximum $10,000 fine for Timbs’ crimes. But because he briefly carried drugs in the vehicle, the firm claimed that it could seize and sell it, turning over some of the profit to Indiana and pocketing the rest.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of civil asset forfeiture, also known as legalized theft. Every year, the federal and state governments obtain billions of dollars thanks to the work of prosecutors who expropriate property with some tenuous connection to a crime. Most states use the money to fund law enforcement, called policing for profit. Indiana also lets private attorneys file forfeiture claims against defendants, earning contingency fees and a share of the profit. That’s what happened to Timbs—so he sued, insisting that extreme forfeiture violates the Constitution. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court signaled that it agreed, with an unusual coalition of justices assailing the practice. A decision for Timbs could curb law enforcement abuses across the country, limiting one of the most scandalous components of our criminal justice system.

14) Enjoyed seeing my Ohio State Professors Herb Asher, and my dissertation adviser Paul Beck, quoted in this Thomas Edsall article on the Democrats 2020 electoral college strategy?  Try to recapture the industrial midwest or focus more on Arizona, Georgia, etc.  I say… both!

15) Policy lessons from Dayton, Ohio on reducing opioid overdoses.  Lives are at stake– we can and need to implement these policies everywhere we can.

16) Cognitive dissonance alert.  I want Ben Sasse to be the thoughtful person who gave this great interview about reading books not the person with his voting record in the Senate.

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