Drink up (your diet soda, that is)

One particular study is far from conclusive that diet soda is healthy, but I’m certainly tired of people saying it causes cancer, etc., based on no actual evidence.  Thus, I certainly enjoyed reading the results of this latest study looking at the impact of sweetened beverages on cancer rates:

A new study suggests there may be a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices and the development of cancer.

The study is observational and does not claim that drinking sugary drinks causes cancer. But after controlling for known variables, French researchers did find an association.

The study, in BMJ, involved 101,257 people, average age 42, who had filled out repeated 24-hour food-intake questionnaires. The form listed 97 sugary drinks and 12 artificially sweetened beverages.

Over nine years, there were 2,193 first cases of cancer, including 693 cases of breast cancer, 291 of prostate cancer and 166 of colorectal cancer.

Compared with the lowest one-quarter for sugary drink consumption, the highest one-quarter had a 30 percent higher risk for any cancer, and a 37 percent higher risk for breast cancer. There was no increased risk for prostate or colorectal cancer considered separately, but the number of cases was too small to find statistical significance.

The researchers found no association of cancer with the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks. [emphasis mine, of course]

I’m not going to foolishly argue that this means diet soda is “healthy,” but this is another knock on the whole “it’s going to kill you” argument I’m always hearing.


Photo of the day

Haven’t had one of these in a while.  Damn did I absolutely love this Atlantic gallery of photos of the surf off Sydney, Australia.  So many amazing shots.  I love a good silhouette.

A surfer leaps from a wave at Bronte Beach on May 31, 2019.  Mark Evans / Getty

Abortion attitudes should not be so damn stable, but they are

Thomas Edsall had a column back in May about how interesting it is that while other social issues have undergone dramatic change, abortion has remained such a stable area of conflict.

Over the years, the abortion debate has become a linchpin in the political battle between Democrats and Republicans, mobilizing Christian evangelicals on the right and supporters of the women’s movement on the left.

Why has the abortion issue had such staying power, compared, for example, with the steady liberalization of views on homosexuality and interracial marriage?

Of course, there has been a lot of underlying partisan change:

From 1975 to 1988, the views of Democrats and Republicans on abortion were virtually identical, again according to Gallup, when 18 percent to 21 percent of voters in both parties agreed that abortions should be allowed “under any circumstances.” Since 1988, the parties have diverged: by 2018, 46 percent of Democrats, but only 11 percent of Republicans, said abortion should be “available under any circumstances.”

Contemporary polling shows that there are a number of contradictions in the public view of abortion. In some respects, majority opinion is supportive of abortion rights, in others it is opposed.

There’s all sorts of interesting numbers to dig into.  Mostly illustrating the fact that Americans are far more ambivalent on the issue than you’d ever guess from 1) media coverage, or 2) the views of political elites.

But, overall, what I find most striking, is the overall consistency of opinion while other social issues have changed so much.  Drum:

Needless to say, this violates Kevin’s Law, which states that opinions on abortion never change, and anyone who says otherwise is engaged in special pleading. So without further ado, here is Gallup’s own conclusion:

Little has changed over the past year, or even over the past 10 years, in Americans’ basic outlook on abortion.

And here’s the main chart:

Since 1975, the number of people who think abortion should be illegal under all circumstances has surged from 22 percent to . . . 21 percent.

Give it up, folks. Nothing is changing, and there’s no special reason to think it ever will. Whatever happens, the chart above describes the basic state of public opinion that we all have to deal with. So deal with it.

But here’s the thing, this doesn’t actually make sense.  People with more education are more liberal on abortion.  People who are less religious are more liberal on abortion.

Here’s college grads over time:

Image result for percent college graduates over time

And here’s the rise of the religiously unaffiliated:

No religious affiliation in America has grown to 19.6%

So, two key demographics that favor legal abortion have been growing.

And here’s the modest decline in white Evangelicals:

Image result for percent evangelical christian over time

So, with all this going on, why isn’t support for legal abortion noticeably climbing?!  I honestly don’t know.  But, I’m pretty sure there’s political science research with my name on it that’s going to try and figure that out.

A different (better?) way to think about what Democrats really have a chance

Really enjoyed this piece in Pacific Standard from Seth Masket.  In political science classes, we often talk about “strategic politicians” and help explain political actors and actions by examining the rational context of decision-making, e.g., highly-qualified politicians don’t want to run in a district where they have no chance or run in an electoral environment that’s strongly against their party.  But it’s not just politicians that are strategic– activists, political staff (and sometimes even ordinary voters) are too.  If you are a qualified political pro, do you really want to go work for a presidential campaign that’s almost sure to lose?  Hell no.  Thus, it can be quite instructive to look at what the current highly-qualified political pros– i.e., those that worked for Obama or HRC, are now doing.  Smotus:

But what about campaign staff? To examine this, I drew on political scientist Eric Appleman’s Democracy in Action data collection. Appleman has put together lists of top staff for all the presidential candidates and provided brief résumés for each. Using this information, I could see how many staffers each candidate has employed who worked in the Barack Obama White House (but not necessarily on his campaigns), as well as how many worked for the Democratic Party’s most recent presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. I don’t presume that this data set is exhaustive or up-to-date as of this very minute, but it should provide enough information to give us an idea of where this aspect of the party is leaning. (Thanks to David Bernstein and Josh Putnam for pointing me to this valuable resource.)

The chart below shows each Democratic presidential candidate ranked by the number of staffers they have who worked in the Obama White House (blue lines). I also indicate the number of staffers each candidate has who worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign (orange lines). Judging by Obama staff, Biden is in the lead, although not by very much; he essentially has the same number of Obama staffers in his employment as do Booker, Harris, Representative Beto O’Rourke, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. These candidates also have the highest numbers of former Clinton staffers, with the exception of Biden, who has only one (Deputy Communications Director for Strategic Planning Meghan Hays).

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 10.00.48 PM

(Chart: Seth Masket/Eric Appleman)

For the most part, this is, again, the same set of candidates who shows up at the top of other measures of support, although the presence of O’Rourke on this elite list is somewhat surprising. A second tier of candidates—South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro; Representative Seth Moulton; former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; and Sanders—each have five or six Obama administration staffers. (Sanders unsurprisingly has none from the Clinton campaign.)

Also, even though, as you know, I’m know Joe Biden supporter, two of my former NC State PS students are part of his campaign organization.

And, a nice conclusion from Masket:

There’s a twofold lesson that can be derived from these staffing patterns at this point. First, there is no clear party signal about a single nominee. Experienced campaign personnel as a whole seem pretty comfortable with Biden, Warren, Harris, Booker, O’Rourke, and a few others as the potential nominee. Second, it is clear from this data and from endorsements, activist support, and other indicators who the party is not interested in: the 15 to 20 other people running.

The nomination is not as chaotic as observers might think. The party, broadly defined, really isn’t seriously picking between two dozen candidates. It’s examining five to 10 conventionally qualified members of Congress, governors, and vice presidents, much as it always has. And within that group, it’s anyone’s game.

I strongly suspect Beto is not going to be able to maintain a position in the top tier of candidates, quality staff aside, but this is a pretty good way for thinking about who’s really got a chance for the nomination.

Quick hits (part ?)

Okay, so I’m back from a super-enjoyable and super-relaxing week at Topsail Beach, NC.  Enjoyed lots of time on the beach.  Read a bunch.  And got pretty decent at (the easy version of) Hotel California on guitar.


1) Clarence Thomas really is just the worst.  This man is a stain on the judiciary.  Washington Post Editorial, “John Roberts said there are no Trump judges or Obama judges. Clarence Thomas didn’t get the memo.”

Some of Mr. Roberts’s colleagues on the Supreme Court did not get the memo. Or so it would seem from the innuendo Justice Clarence Thomas aimed at U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in an opinion dissenting from the court’s Wednesday ruling that upheld Mr. Furman’s decision to block a Trump administration plan to ask the citizenship of census respondents. Joined by Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Thomas blasted Mr. Furman’s finding — affirmed not only by Mr. Roberts but also four other justices — that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had unlawfully misstated his true reasons for adding the question. Mr. Thomas went well beyond disputing Mr. Furman’s legal reasoning to questioning the district judge’s good faith, accusing him of “transparently” applying “an administration-specific standard.” He portrayed Mr. Furman’s presentation of evidence that Mr. Ross acted on a pretext as akin to “a conspiracy web,” that could be woven by “a judge predisposed to distrust the Secretary or the administration.”

Though couched in the indirect language of a legal opinion and its accompanying specialized notations, this was unmistakably a Trump-like insinuation that Mr. Furman, elevated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, had ruled on his personal preferences rather than the law. Coming from a justice of the nation’s highest court, Mr. Thomas’s sour words regarding a lower-court colleague were not only destructive and unfounded. They were also self-contradictory, given that, elsewhere in the very same opinion, he faulted the court majority for “echoing the din of suspicion and distrust that seems to typify modern discourse.”

2) Charles Lane’s Op-Ed “Democrats point to Nordic nations as models of socialism. Here’s how they actually work” is misguided in that nobody serious actually thinks Nordic nations rely on socialism as opposed to just a much more robust social-safety net and public sector, but is nonetheless interesting to see the ways in which they really do embrace capitalism.  Like Elizabeth Warren.

3) Somewhat relatedly, a really interesting look at what free college in Europe really looks like:

Germany is often singled out for focus by U.S. policymakers. Its economy drives Europe. Its unemployment rates are low. And it manages to power a tuition-free university system without breaking the bank.

Some of the cost savings comes from skimping on the pricey lures U.S. colleges often use to try to attract students. Decker’s university, RWTH Aachen, has no grand athletic center. Ask its students about sports and they might mention intramural Ultimate Frisbee. Professors’ salaries cannot compete with those at top American universities, although they may carry double the teaching load, making it difficult to hire U.S. stars. Its dormitories are modest brick affairs, and many students live off-campus, something they say can diminish the sense of community. Some lecture halls are dingy and don’t seem to have been updated much since the 1950s, when they were built from Germany’s post-World War II rubble. Lectures sometimes top 1,000 students.

“Usually professors don’t even have time for their doctoral students,” Decker said.

The same straitened approach is evident across German campuses. Critics blame it for Germany’s perennially lackluster showing in international university rankings: Just three German universities placed in the top 100 world institutions in rankings compiled by Quacquarelli Symonds, a British education consultancy. (RWTH Aachen ranked at 144.)

That means German schools are decent but not fantastic.

“We are not playing in the top league. We are not at the peak,” said Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference, his country’s main higher-
education association. “The top German universities are not the Ivies. But the system works broadly as a cost-covering system.”

4) This is putting technology for our growing and over-heating world to good-use, luddites be damned, “Grow Faster, Grow Stronger: Speed-Breeding Crops to Feed the Future: Plant breeders are fast-tracking genetic improvements in food crops to keep pace with global warming and a growing human population.”

Farmers and plant breeders are in a race against time. The world population is growing rapidly, requiring ever more food, but the amount of cultivable land is limited. Warmer temperatures have extended growth seasons in some areas — and brought drought and pests to others.

“We face a grand challenge in terms of feeding the world,” said Lee Hickey, a plant geneticist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “If you look at the stats, we’re going to have about 10 billion on the planet by 2050 and we’re going to need 60 to 80 percent more food to feed everybody. It’s an even greater challenge in the face of climate change and diseases that affect our crops that are also rapidly evolving.”

But plant breeding is a slow process. Developing new kinds of crops — higher yield, more nutritious, drought- and disease-resistant — can take a decade or more using traditional breeding techniques. So plant breeders are working on quickening the pace.

Dr. Hickey’s team has been working on “speed breeding,” tightly controlling light and temperature to send plant growth into overdrive. This enables researchers to harvest seeds and start growing the next generation of crops sooner…

On Monday in Nature Biotechnology, Dr. Hickey and his team highlight the potential of speed breeding, as well as other techniques that may help improve food security. Combining speed breeding with other state-of-the-art technologies, such as gene editing, is the best way to create a pipeline of new crops, according to the researchers.

“What we’re really talking about here is creating plant factories on a massive scale,” Dr. Hickey said.

5) Enjoyed Osita Nwanevu on Bernie vs. Elizabeth Warren and their approach to policy and politics.

6) Drum on the practical end of the minimum wage:

For all practical purposes, Republicans have finally reached a long-cherished goal: to eliminate the federal minimum wage. Today, thanks to their unwillingness to support an increase, well under one percent of workers earn the federal minimum wage, which makes it effectively meaningless.

Thanks, GOP! I’m sure your wealthy donors appreciate your flat refusal to entertain even a modest bit of help for the working poor and the working class, instead spending all your energies on tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

7) If hotel maids are underpaid the solution is not to tip them (as this Atlantic article argues), but just to pay them more.  Tipping is an absurd way to try and create a more just economy.  Also, almost nobody needs fresh sheets and fresh towels every damn day.  It really does benefit the environment and save resources even if it means less housekeeping jobs.  In a recent three-day hotel stay, I skipped maid service the whole time, because I simply didn’t need it.

8) Really good NYT story on the Border detention facility in Clint, TX.  It really is just appalling and horribly depressing.  And eminently clear that these deplorable conditions are allowed to persist largely because the people in charge are deplorable human beings.

9) Why it’s hard to get good blue fireworks.

10) Masha Gessen on Trump’s war on reality:

A common maxim of the Trump era has it that two Americas exist, each with its own media and consequently limited view of the world. In fact, though, in one America there is only Trump, his tanks and planes and ships. In the America that a majority of us inhabit, however, there are concentration camps—and Trump with his flyovers. In this America, it is increasingly clear that concentration camps and the public spectacle of mobilization are not in contradiction: one is, in fact, a consequence of the other. It is also clear that the omissions of Trump’s speech are not accidental. In addition to not mentioning immigrants, Trump didn’t mention the complexity of the American project. Until two and a half years ago, Republican and Democratic Presidents regularly reminded the American public that this country’s democracy is a work in progress, that its guiding principles are a set of abstract ideals that continue to be reinterpreted…

In less than three years, as our senses were dulled by the crudeness of the tweets, the speed of the news cycle, the blatant quality of the lies, and the brutality of official rhetoric, Trump has reframed America, stripping it of its ideals, dumbing it down, and reducing it to a nation at war against people who want to join it. These days, that is what passes for “inoffensive,” “tame,” and “standard.”

11) Law professor Jeanne Suk Gersen with a really interesting analysis (at least for those legally-inclined) on how the Supreme Court is looking to fundamentally change the relationship between Congress and the bureaucracy.  This is a big deal:

We are now explicitly on notice that the Court will likely abandon its longstanding tolerance of Congress delegating broadly to agencies. What’s at stake is the potential upending of the constitutional foundations of the so-called “administrative state.” Today’s reality is that agencies, not Congress, make most federal laws. As Justice Kagan put it, if the delegation in Gundy were unconstitutional, “then most of Government is unconstitutional.”

What will happen then, when the conservative bloc prevails? The alarmist view is that the E.P.A. couldn’t have the power to decide how stringent pollution standards should be. The F.D.A. couldn’t have the authority to approve or deny applications to sell new medical drugs. The Department of Education couldn’t make rules for colleges and universities. The Department of the Interior couldn’t govern snow mobiles in national parks. The S.E.C. couldn’t regulate financial firms or securities. The F.C.C. couldn’t issue rules on net neutrality or Internet service providers. In sum, we would dwell in a world without the federal law that governs our lives…

The main idea of the non-delegation doctrine is that any law that is enforced against citizens must be approved by Congress. It’s not enough for Congress to say, “We should have a law on this subject and someone else will write and enforce it.” But this formulation is a rhetorical parlor trick. When building a house, one may have a strong idea of the kind of house one wants, but most of us have neither the knowledge nor the desire to make the thousands of key decisions about how to safely construct it. Those decisions are sensibly delegated to a contractor and an architect. A rule forbidding any delegation of that sort makes for very different, more rudimentary, building, and probably many fewer buildings built.

12) Great stuff from Thomas Edsall (and some smart political scientists) on Trump’s base:

Trump’s political survival now depends on catering to — indeed, inflaming — those hostilities.

Mason, Wronski and Kane found that under Trump’s leadership, Republican voters increasingly fall into two camps.

The first camp could be called the Trump Republican Party or the party of animosity and resentment. These voters, the core of the president’s support, are driven by a dislike — often crossing into hatred — of constituencies associated with the Democratic Party: African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslim-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

The second camp, the more traditional Republican Party — the older Main Street and Wall Street wings — is made up of voters for whom positive feelings toward key conservative constituencies are more important than their antagonism toward Democratic identity blocs.

As a case study, let’s look at perceptions of lesbians and gay men. The three authors tracked attitudes of voters toward these constituencies from 2011 to 2016 and found that the more animus voters feel toward lesbian and gay people, the stronger their support for Trump.

Among “respondents whose feelings toward lesbian and gay people grew much colder between 2011 and 2016,” they write, “approval of Trump in 2017 is about 55 percent. For those whose feelings toward gay men and lesbians grew much warmer, approval of Trump is around 30 percent.”…

A similar pattern emerged in the case of changing views among Republican voters toward African-Americans. Racist attitudes correlate with support for Trump specifically, but do not change views about the Republican Party…

Clearly, Trump benefits immensely from hostility to African-Americans, to Hispanics and to gay men and lesbians. If he is an expert at anything, it is at exploiting and generating hostility. Trump’s relentless derogation of racial and ethnic minorities, his support for the anti-abortion movement and his right-wing appointments to the judiciary, reflect his political dependence on a key bloc of his loyalists, white born again and evangelical Christians.

These voters, in turn, have demonstrated exceptional determination to use the ballot box to protect their beliefs, values and prejudices from liberal challenge. [emphasis mine]…

Trump has aligned himself with two overlapping, declining constituencies that are clearly motivated by a combination of anger, resentment and anxiety — white evangelical Christians and whites without college degrees.

If Trump is to win re-election next year, he must raise the stakes for these two sets of voters so that they turn out in unprecedented numbers. Demonizing immigrants and other minorities is crucial to this strategy…

13) Should Oregon now allow public building in areas that will almost certainly be destroyed if a tsunami ever hits (and it probably will some day).

14) The ultimate carbon capture technology?  Forests.  Let’s do it.

15) This is really, really good, “Smartphones aren’t making millennials grow horns. Here’s how to spot a bad study.”

16) Sounds good to me, “There Should Be a Public Option for Everything: Despite the recent trend toward privatization, the idea has been popular throughout American history.”

17) Just maybe air conditioners could help save the planet.  Short version: using AC for carbon capture.  Trees are probably better.

18) The idea that you could be adopted by American parents after being born in another country, raised your whole life as an American, and then be deported to the country of your birth after you committed a crime is just preposterous.  But, alas, true.  Ugh.

19) For some reason, Americans over-estimate the number of LGBT Americans to an absurd degree.  It would be interesting to figure out what’s going on here.  Gallup:

U.S. adults estimate that nearly one in four Americans (23.6%) are gay or lesbian. Gallup has previously found that Americans have greatly overestimated the U.S. gay population, recording similar average estimates of 24.6% in 2011 and 23.2% in 2015. In each of the three polls in which Gallup has asked this question, a majority of Americans estimated this population to be 20% or greater…

Americans’ estimate of the proportion of gay people in the U.S. is more than five times Gallup’s more encompassing 2017 estimate that 4.5% of Americans are LGBT, based on respondents’ self-identification as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

How and why to end penalty kicks as we know it

Good lord soccer drives me crazy.  Such a great game with abysmal organizations in charge and some really, really dumb rules.  Lots of appropriate controversy with the Women’s World Cup about the insane new handball rule.  The new rule say it’s a handball if the defender’s arms are out of the silhouette of the torso, unless preventing a fall.  This is insane!  Short version: defenders are apparently supposed to run at all times with hands behind their back.  Try running in a meaningfully athletic way and see where your arms are.  That’s right– out from your body.  I hate that soccer’s rulemakers see that as something to penalize.

But, even worse, is the gigantically outsized role of the penalty kick in a game with so little scoring.  I’ve long been making family and friends listen to my rant on this.  How nice to discover that a Yahoo sportswriter, Henry Bushnell, has basically the same take and proposed solution.  I love this:

The real problem here isn’t specific to handballs. It’s that when they occur in the area, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

That cross that Kirby hit on Sunday? Had it not been blocked, its expected value was still a tiny fraction of a goal. Because it happened to strike a Scottish arm, its worth multiplied exponentially, to roughly 0.75 goals – or whatever Nikita Parris’ penalty conversion rate is.

That, when you think about it, is completely absurd. It’s mind-bogglingly stupid. Illogical. Backwards.

The incentives are so perverse that players in Kirby’s position, or Sadio Mane’s eight days earlier, will soon come to realize: Aiming for an opponent’s arm is a more effective strategy than trying to pick out a teammate at the back post. Mane probably didn’t do that last Saturday, but he might as well have.

Is this how we want the beautiful game to be played?

A similar incentive already compels forwards to hurl themselves to the ground under minimal contact rather than have an off-balance shot at goal. It’s an awful trend – but, from a player’s perspective, a rational one.

The onus, therefore, isn’t on them to reform their ways. It’s on soccer’s lawmakers to rethink a rule that is only in place because, well, it has been since the 1890s. And because this sport is so senselessly resistant to change.

How the penalty rule should be overhauled

The penalty box is an extremely arbitrary thing. Why, for example, should a foul occurring here be a free kick from this exact position …

View photos

… but a foul occurring here be an unobstructed one, 12 yards out from the center of the goal?

View photos

The 18-yard box itself can remain for goalkeeper handling purposes. But any foul, handball or otherwise, that does not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity should simply be a direct free kick from the spot of the foul.

The only other tweak required would be an expansion of the definition of “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity,” enough to discourage pervasive tactical fouling. This would make punishments proportional to crimes.

Yes!!!  I couldn’t agree more.  In a game where one team scoring 3 goals is a lot, the idea that you give a .75-.8 chance at a goal for any foul in the penalty box, regardless of it’s likelihood of impacting a goal-scoring opportunity is beyond preposterous.  Just because something has been around since 1890 is soooo not a good reason to keep it.

Quick hits

1) From a couple weeks ago, but I still really like it.  Doris Burke is a great basketball analyst but doesn’t get her due because she’s a woman.  I love when I hear her call games.

2)Jesse Singal suggests the “coward’s like” could save twitter.

One of the reasons Twitter is so terrible and shrieky has to do with the skewed nature of the feedback users receive — the platform is basically a giant preference falsification machine. Back in January I put into paragraph form a really good tweetstorm from the philosopher and psychology researcher Brian Earp laying out the general issue (if you click on that link, scroll down a bit to get to this part):

I have a hypothesis about what might contribute to *moral outrage* being such a big thing on social media. Imagine I’m sitting in a room of 30 people and I make a dramatic statement about how outraged I am about X. And, say, five people cheer in response (analogous to liking or retweeting). But suppose the other 25 people kind of stare at the table, or give me a weird look or roll their eyes, or in some other way (relatively) passively express that they think I’m kind of overdoing it or maybe not being as nuanced or charitable or whatever as I should be.

In real life we get this kind of “passive negative” feedback when we act morally outraged about certain things, at least sometimes. Now, a few people in the room might clear their throat and actively say, “Hey, maybe it’s more complicated than that,” and on Twitter there is a mechanism for that: replies. But it’s pretty costly to leave a reply pushing back against someone’s seemingly excessive or inadequately grounded moral outrage, and so most people probably just read the tweet and silently move on with their day. And there is no icon on Twitter that registers passive disapproval.

So it seems like we’re missing one of the major in-real-life pieces of social information that perhaps our outrage needs to be in some way tempered, or not everyone is on board, or maybe we should consider a different perspective. If Twitter collected data of people who read or clicked on a tweet, but did NOT like it or retweet it (nor go so far as write a contrary reply), and converted this into an emoji of a neutral (or some kind of mildly disapproving?) face, this might majorly tamp down on viral moral outrage that is fueled by likes and retweets from a small subset of the “people in the room”… Thoughts?

3) Did you know that there’s really a non-crazy-conspiracy chance that Russia messed with North Carolina’s voting in the 2016 election?

4) Single-family zoning is really bad.  Great upshot feature including maps of cities all over the country.

Single-family zoning is practically gospel in America, embraced by homeowners and local governments to protect neighborhoods of tidy houses from denser development nearby.

But a number of officials across the country are starting to make seemingly heretical moves. The Oregon legislature this month will consider a law that would end zoning exclusively for single-family homes in most of the state. California lawmakers have drafted a bill that would effectively do the same. In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted to end single-family zoning citywide. The Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Julián Castro have taken up the cause, too.

A reckoning with single-family zoning is necessary, they say, amid mounting crises over housing affordability, racial inequality and climate change. But take these laws away, many homeowners fear, and their property values and quality of life will suffer. The changes, opponents in Minneapolis have warned, amount to nothing less than an effort to “bulldoze” their neighborhoods.

Today the effect of single-family zoning is far-reaching: It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home.

And let’s be clear, residents, including many “liberals” who rail against changing the zoning are mostly motivated by the desire not to live around more people of a lower socio-economic strata.  Which are, of course, quite often racial minorities.  And, yes, for the record, there’s a bunch of duplexes and triplexes right around the corner from my house.

5) Recently learned about this approach to bring people together and help overcome the partisan divide.  The workshop featured in this Atlantic article was in my hometown of Cary, NC!  I’m a skeptic because of the selection bias:

The bigger problem is that the kind of people who are willing to spend a morning or a day on such an exercise are the kind of people who are already convinced that dialogue is important, and are more willing to hear the other side out. As participants went around, many had strong political views, but many had also participated in other efforts at cross-partisan dialogue. Reducing affective polarization will require getting more of the affectively polarized to show up at events like this. Still, even this group found the exercises useful, if largely as self-abnegation.

6) One of my favorite podcast episodes ever was 99% Invisible presenting an episode of John Green’s “Anthropocene Reviewed” and an utterly delightful interview of John Green by Roman Mars.  Five stars.  I’m now a huge fan of Green’s podcast, with which I was heretofore unfamiliar.  And John Green’s paean to Diet Dr Pepper was perfect.

7) Still really annoyed that we’re hardly talking about Oregon.  At least Brian Beutler is:

Oregon Republicans have successfully nullified a Democratic climate change bill by literally leaving town (making it impossible under the Oregon Senate’s quorum rules for the chamber to vote) and then threatening violent retaliation against state police officers dispatched to retrieve them. This is bullshit, and if Democrats don’t figure out how to get this bill through, it’s a template Republicans will replicate across the country wherever they can, whenever they’re out of power.

8) This report on America’s changing demographics and the predicted effect on partisan patterns is pretty interesting stuff.  Lots of data.

Our investigation turns up a number of key findings that illuminate how significantly the compositions of the Democratic and Republican parties have changed over the years and are likely to change in the future. We show that the 2016 election was the most demographically divisive election in the past 36 years. The parties were more divided by age, race, and education than in any prior election in modern political history.

Reflecting these intensifying divisions, the parties were more compositionally different in 2016 than at any point in the prior 36 years. This election was the first presidential election white noncollege voters did not make up a plurality of both parties’ coalitions, with white college voters exceeding the share of white noncollege voters in the Democratic coalition.

Nonwhites will continue to grow as a share of both parties’ coalitions, especially Hispanics. We find that, by 2032, Hispanic voters will surpass black voters as the largest overall nonwhite voting group. And, by 2036, black voters will make up a larger share of the Democratic coalition than white noncollege voters.

9) Really looking forward to seeing the new movie, “Yesterday.”  Really enjoyed this Vox interview with screenwriter Richard Curtis.

10) Loved this from Drum, “Tough on Crime” Makes No Sense — Unless You Understand the History of Crime.”  Yes, our criminal justice policies are absurd now.  But there really was a huge crime wave in America and it’s historical amnesia to ignore that context:

I sometimes feel like the current discussion surrounding crime and incarceration is a lot like wondering why the United States invaded Europe in 1944. Unless you know that Hitler had conquered most of the continent, it doesn’t make any sense. Once you do know that, it makes no sense to suggest that FDR did anything wrong.

It’s the same with crime. All of the tough-on-crime sentiment of the ’70s through the ’90s makes no sense unless you know that violent crime had more than doubled since the mid-’60s:

That said, nothing about this era makes sense unless you understand that crime really was rising and it really was scary. The absolute number of violent crimes tripled from 1970 to 1990 and people—black and white alike—were afraid to walk the streets at night. They demanded action, and they got it. There were tons of mistakes along the way, but the fundamental motivation for the tough-on-crime movement was the fact that there was a lot of crime.

10) This was a really cool NYT feature interviewing a variety of Hollywood big shots on how movies may survive and evolve over the next decade.

11) It’s quite well-documented that student evaluations of professors’ teaching are biased and flawed instruments.  But that doesn’t mean that peer evaluations are a panacea.  It’s not like most college professors are trained, reliable, assessors of college teaching.  James Lang:

Much of the work that we put into our teaching cannot be evaluated, or even accessed, via the two most common strategies that institutions use to evaluate our teaching effectiveness of their faculty: student evaluations and peer observations…

But even at teaching-intensive colleges like mine, just piling on lots of documentation to the process doesn’t resolve all of the challenges raised by the attempt to evaluate teaching effectiveness. Evidence doesn’t speak for itself, after all — it needs informed experts who can analyze and understand what the data means. What story does the evidence tell about the teacher’s work? What does it show about how much students have learned?

Understanding how to gather and evaluate evidence of good teaching strikes me as a fundamental and ongoing challenge for all of higher education. Very few academic administrators or tenure-committee members will bring to those roles professional training or scholarly backgrounds in the evaluation of teaching — or in the practice of teaching, for that matter.

12) Great essay from Lara Bazelon, “I’ve Picked My Job Over My Kids: I love them beyond all reason. But sometimes my clients need me more.”

13) Great NYT Op-Ed, “The Travel Ban Shows What Happens When the Supreme Court Trusts Trump.”

A year ago, the Supreme Court upheld, by a 5-4 vote, President Trump’s imposition of a ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s decision was gravely disappointing the day it was handed down. A year later, it looks even worse — particularly because it rested on three premises pushed by Trump Administration lawyers that have proven thoroughly unfounded…

In the travel ban case, first, the more conservative justices emphasized its temporary nature. The decision acknowledged that the provision of federal immigration law relied on by President Trump refers to a president’s authority to “suspend the entry” of foreigners to the United States; it further acknowledged that the word “suspend” means something temporary rather than permanent. Moreover, the majority opinion emphasized that, according to the same federal law, the president could maintain the ban only “for such period as he shall deem necessary.” The ban was thus upheld as something merely temporary — as required by law.

Yet here we are, a year since the court upheld Mr. Trump’s third version of the ban, almost two years since that version took effect and nearly 29 months since Mr. Trump issued the ban in its original form. The ban upheld by the court remains in full effect, and there’s not a whisper from the White House that it will be repealed. What the court’s majority accepted as temporary looks increasingly permanent…

Third, the court’s decision noted that, even while the ban remained in place and even for countries still subject to it, “case-by-case waivers” were available for individuals to allow them to travel to the United States if they could show “undue hardship.” The chief justice’s majority opinion emphasized that the availability of waivers made Mr. Trump’s travel ban more similar to actions of earlier presidents. It also underscored the direction given to consular officers to assess waiver applications while addressing any public safety concerns and broader implications for the national interest.

The waiver program looked like a sham a year ago, as a consular officer made clear in a sworn affidavit in another matter and as Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized in his powerful dissent. It looks like even more of a sham now.

The Travel Ban showed that 5 of the Court’s conservatives were entirely willing to let the federal government brazenly lie to it.  The Census case this week showed that Roberts has a limit to the brazenness (especially when there’s a good paper trail).  The others, sadly, will accept anything.

14) Love this from one of my favorite political scientists, Larry Bartels, “A Lot of Candidates May Make It Seem Like Democracy Is Working, But It Isn’t: The two major parties have made choosing among contenders far too hard, with dire consequences.”

Cognitive psychologists tell us that human information-processing capacity is limited to seven objects, plus or minus two. But when the objects are as complex and unfamiliar as the current crop of presidential candidates, that rule of thumb is much too optimistic.

Research on primary voting demonstrates that voters make better-informed and more coherent choices when the race involves just two or three major contenders. That’s why political elites and political institutions have a crucial role to play in shaping the options presented to primary voters.

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has created a complex set of standards for candidates to qualify for inclusion in televised debates. Senator Michael Bennet, a latecomer to the race who could be barred from the next round of debates by Mr. Perez’s rules, has said, “It’s all just completely arbitrary, and I wish it weren’t.”

Unfortunately, there is no non-arbitrary way to do what needs to be done. Relying on polls gives an unfair advantage to candidates who are already well known. (The current poll standings mostly reflect name recognition.) Using fund-raising as a standard risks making affluent donors even more influential than they already are.

What is largely missing from this process is the professional judgment of people who actually know the candidates — officeholders and party officials. But the Democratic Party’s attempt to insert the judgment of “superdelegates” at the end of the nominating process, after primary voters have already had their say, has generated bitter complaints about “undemocratic” elites overriding the will of the party rank and file.

The time for political professionals to play a constructive role is before the primaries, not after. Their job should be to commend the party’s most promising potential candidates to the attention of the public, not to make the final choice themselves.

Short version: total failure of Democratic “leadership.”  And having so many people with zero chance of being elected President in 2020 on the debate stage this week very much makes this point.

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