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Mr. Cub

[ 19 ] January 24, 2015 |

Ernie Banks, R.I.P.

He was an icon, and in addition to being immensely likable he earned the status on the field and then some. Like a lot of middle infielders, Banks had a fairly short peak. But at his best…well, even in Wrigley Field a good shortstop slugging in the .600 range is an extraordinary player. His top 7 seasons have the 4th highest WAR of all time for the position, which seems right. Let’s play two.

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The Lexus and the World Salad

[ 126 ] January 23, 2015 |

If LGM fails, it will not be because of bandwidth, but because we have the lack of human understanding that can only be forged when someone you say “thank you for serving vodka in my martini and ketchup on my ham sandwich.”

If you can translate Thomas Friedman into English, there are some shiny nickels in it for you. Good luck!

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The New Gilded Age

[ 18 ] January 23, 2015 |

The historian Richard White, author of one of the delightfully angriest books of history in recent years, demonstrates some of the ways we have created a New Gilded Age, in particular around the issue of political corruption:

Gilded Age politics was always corrupt. Before the 1890s, however, it was retail corruption. Corporations solicited “friends” among those already in office — the preferred means were favors and the sharing of financial information. When necessary — and it often was — they offered bribes.

Influencing elections was far more difficult. Before the direct election of senators, the politics of friendship and bribery worked only in persuading legislatures to choose U.S. senators who would serve corporate interests. Senator John Mitchell of Oregon, for example, proclaimed of Ben Holladay, the railroad tycoon, “Ben Holladay’s politics are my politics and what Ben Holladay wants I want.”
Most corporate friends tried to be more circumspect. But when — through the pairing of vanity and bad judgment – plutocrats like Leland Stanford of the Southern Pacific Railroad and William A. Clark, a notorious “copper king” of Montana, bought their own election as senators, the confusion of interests was harder to disguise.

The move to “educational” campaigns and the growing strength of national parties, which were far more than coalitions of state and local organizations, created new demands for money.

The money was chump change by today’s standards, but it was enough to require large donors. It represented a new form of corruption — quid pro quo. But it substituted favors to a political party for favors to a specific politician.

Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents and author of the early 20th-century’s best-selling and most erudite memoir, was cynical and disengaged about politics – though well informed. He recognized the new relationship of the Gilded Age rich and politicians.

After the 1892 defeat of the Republican Benjamin Harrison by Grover Cleveland, Adams wondered why GOP money hadn’t been able to win out. He asked his friend John Hay, a well-connected Republican who had served as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and would later be Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state, what had happened to “McKinley money” — the money that Republican manufacturers reaped from the McKinley Tariff.

“Is it possible,” Adams wrote, “…that our Republican manufacturers, after pocketing the swag, refused to disgorge? If so, they’ll catch it.”

The spoils that Adams referred to were not to supply simple bribes. Instead, he was saying, the plutocrats should have used their wealth to fund Harrison’s presidential campaign. It would, in the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in Citizens United, be laundered into speech.

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Why do you see gender differences in sensitivity? Is it knowing how, or wanting to?

[ 35 ] January 23, 2015 |

I told Rob and Scott I was going to try to reform and be a more prolific blogger. I can be hobbled in blogging by perfectionism and the belief that no one really needs to hear my opinion (strangely, I am also quite argumentative). But this morning I found myself with an opinion that was even a little bit informed, so I am seizing the moment!

Over at Unfogged, LizardBreath takes issue with The Atlantic’s portrayal of women as “innately” more socially sensitive, and thus essential to group productivity. LizardBreath argues that differences between group A and group B don’t tell you much about individuals, and that social sensitivity is a learned skill. But I’ll go a step further. While I feel compelled to offer the neurotic caveat that I by no means have a comprehensive grasp of all the social sensitivity literature, there is evidence to suggest that observed differences between men and women on sensitivity tasks, in the lab and perhaps in the world, are sometimes not a result of ability differences, but of different degrees of motivation to perform sensitivity.

This is a meta-analysis of empathic accuracy studies. They use a somewhat different paradigm than the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task the Atlantic article discusses. Instead, empathic accuracy studies either conduct a mock therapy-ish session, which the study participant observes, or have two people who are close to each other interact. Then the study participants — either the observers in the first kind of study or both members of the dyad in the second — describe the internal thoughts of the person they were observing or interacting with and those descriptions are compared to the target’s own description of their thoughts. The meta-analysis found that gender differences in empathic accuracy were only found when study paradigms asked participants to rate their empathic accuracy — in other words, when they made it very salient that the study was *about* empathy. When no self-rating of empathy was solicited, there was no difference. Ickes and his coauthors interpreted this as a result of different levels of motivation in the lab. When you make it clear to your participants that you’re testing their empathy, women think something like, “I am woman. Women love children, flowers, and harmony,” and men think “I am man. Men like cars, numbers, and weapons.” So women amp up their own performance to be consistent with their activated stereotype of themselves, and possibly men even suppress their own performance. In an experiment to test this hypothesis, Klein and Hodges found that paying men and women to be accurate (in other words, amping up both groups’ motivation) wiped out any gender differences.

This accords well with my sense of the world. Of course there are some people who are just uniformly social dolts. But I think it’s more common that when people are being insensitive, particularly people who have risen to reasonably high-status occupations, it’s because they are choosing not to deploy their social intelligence in a given situation because they’ve calculated, probably unconsciously, that it’s not worth the effort, or they are deploying their intelligence by strategically being an a**hole. They’d be capable of being exquisitely sensitive in a meeting with their boss. The real answer to how you get more empathy, turn-taking, etc. in a group is not just to dump women into it, but to create organizations that value those qualities. I don’t see it as an inevitability that women’s social behavior (I choose “behavior” in place of “skill” advisedly) will get them more money, because doing the best work and advancing in rank within an organization are not always accomplished with identical sets of strategies. I can think of situations I’ve personally witnessed when someone (in the most salient case, a man) whose kindness, empathy, and patient communication were totally essential to the functioning of an organization, but the organization didn’t retain him, because the people running the show had no sense that kindness and empathy were very important things to value. If they’d bothered to ask the people who worked with him, including low-status people, they would have gotten vehement pleas to do whatever it took to keep him on — not just because he was pleasant, but because he was the glue that held all the other jerks together. If you create incentives to be gentle, empathic, and cooperative, and you foster a culture that genuinely values kindness, then that’s what you’ll get, from men and women.

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The Moops Did Not Invade Spain, Orrin Hatch Every Republican Member of Congress Edition

[ 34 ] January 23, 2015 |

Orrin Hatch argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2010 that the ACA’s requirement that states set up exchanges “is not a condition for receiving federal funds.” Ian Millhiser explains the significance of this:

Nevertheless, Hatch does make an important claim about the law in his WSJ op-ed. A state’s choice to set up and operate its own exchange “is not a condition for receiving federal funds.” That is the Obama Administration’s position in King v. Burwell. It is also the correct position.

As a legal matter, Hatch’s statement has less significance than similar statements by Republican Governors Scott Walker (R-WI), Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and Dave Heineman (R-NE), all of whom have also contradicted the central claim underlying the King litigation. The Supreme Court’s decision in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy gives special significance to statements by state officials who are in the process of deciding whether to take a particular action that allegedly triggers the payment of federal funds.

Nevertheless, Hatch’s statement is significant for two reasons. The first is that he made it in the context of an op-ed whose entire purpose was to lay out the case for why Obamacare should be destroyed by the courts. And yet, even when he was engaged in this very specific task, he didn’t just fail to notice what he now claims — that the law itself gives each state the power to destroy much of the law within their own borders — he directly contracted his own argument in his King brief.

The second reason is that, under the Supreme Court’s decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, courts owe extraordinary deference to federal agencies’ construction of a statute unless that construction defies the law’s unambiguous text. It is hard to believe that the law unambiguously denies tax credits to people in many states when four staunch enemies of the law — Hatch, Walker, McDonnell and Heineman — all shared Barack Obama’s interpretation of Obamacare.

Which makes the fact that a minimum of three justices are going to accept the troofer reading — one they themselves rejected, just like Hatch! — while pretending that Chevron is being applied all the more abominable. In fairness, Ian doesn’t deal with the fact that there are only three people properly authorized to explain what this law means: Jon Adler and Michael Cannon after the previous ad hoc theories deployed in their fanatical campaign to get the ACA vetoed by the judiciary failed, and President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Governor of all 50 states, and Food and Beverage Director of the Tangiers casino Jonathan Gruber. (Note: Gruber’s interpretations valid only in 2012, not 2010 or 2014.)

…and it’s not just Hatch, it’s essentially every Republican member of Congress:

In a perverse way, the absurdity of the challengers’ argument is it’s greatest strength. Because the scheme they insist Congress intentionally created was so far from Congress’ mind, it’s hard to find contemporaneous evidence that Congress absolutely didn’t mean to condition these subsidies. In much the same way, we can’t be sure that Congress didn’t mean to denominate those subsidies in Canadian dollars. A $ isn’t necessarily a $ after all.

But this familiar line of defense crumbles here. It is facially plausiblethough incorrectto posit that CBO believed subsidies would be available everywhere because it simply assumed every state would set up an exchange. But that assumption didn’t hold in April 2011. Something else must explain CBO’s 1099-repeal score, and the Republican votes that followed it. What we have in the form of this bill is clear evidence that everyone who voted for it (including every single Republican, save the two GOP congressmen and one GOP senator who weren’t present) understood the Affordable Care Act to provide subsidies everywhere.

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Not A Dime’s Worth Of Difference!

[ 100 ] January 23, 2015 |

Sure, Republicans are taking over the Senate, but can you really tell the difference these days?

Wednesday was a big day for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). In the morning, he officially took the gavel as chairman of the Senate’s Environment Committee. In the afternoon, he took the Senate floor for a long speech about how human-caused climate change is fake.

In sum, the speech has everything. References to the oft-debunked “ClimateGate” stolen e-mail “scandal”, a poster of a Time Magazine cover from 1974 claiming an ice age is coming, and multiple references to former Vice President Al Gore. It has a mention of a survey of weather-casters who think global warming is caused by natural variation, but does not mention that weather-casters are not climate scientists. It even includes the claim that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “started” the whole idea that climate change is happening, even though the idea was conceived about 200 years ago.

Don’t worry — I’m sure the right billionaire in the Senate could get Inhofe turned around right quick. And, anyway, I’m sure Inhofe is an outlier in the sensible Republican conference.

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Canonizing the Colonizers

[ 72 ] January 23, 2015 |

Pope Francis has decided to make Junipero Serra a saint. Serra was a Franciscan in California who founded many of the California missions in the 18th century, effectively making him an agent of colonization as well as a converter of Native Americans to Catholicism. Building these missions meant forced labor from Native Americans while the conversion process obviously demonstrated a lack of respect for indigenous cultures as well as the compulsion of these conversions. Physical abuse of Native Americans was common, with many recorded beatings and whippings. A lot of indigenous people in California are very upset about the choice to canonize Serra.

Serra is far from the only Catholic saint involved in the colonization process. In Colombia earlier this month, I visited the church dedicated to Pedro Claver, a priest who converted slaves. Being Latin America, his remains are proudly displayed on the church altar.


The patron saint of slaves supposedly baptized 300,000 African slaves. Of course in doing so, he was part of a system that was capturing Africans, bringing them to the Americans, and working them to death on sugar plantations.

Claver was canonized in 1888 so perhaps we can chalk this up to a Catholic church in a different era. But canonizing Serra today, doesn’t that provide tacit approval of a colonization project that led to the repression and genocide against native peoples throughout the Americas? Of course, the Pope is from Argentina, which has far from apologized for its own genocidal project.

Ultimately for the church, it still thinks of the forced conversions of the colonization project as a great thing, something for which one deserves sainthood.

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Civility: The New Arbitrary Academic Standard

[ 45 ] January 23, 2015 |

This should depress any academic:

A new survey of chief academic officers is out from Inside Higher Education. Among the findings: Provosts really care about civility and think it should be part of the framework for hiring and tenure.

I see this as potentially troubling. When the Steven Salaita controversy broke, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle called “Don’t Speak Out,” in which I read the Salaita affair through the lens of my interest in public engagement for academics. I said that the lesson for academics was that if you ever wanted a job, or might want to move from one job to another, don’t have strong opinions about things.

We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.

In theory, Provosts agree with this and support public scholarship. At the same time, from IHE:

Generally, provosts expressed concern (with little difference by sector) about civility. Asked if they were worried about “declining civility among higher education faculty,” 27 percent said that they were very concerned and 44 percent were somewhat concerned. Only 5 percent were not concerned at all.

But in more detailed questions, provosts had varying perspectives on where faculty civility is lacking.

Generally, they feel more confident of faculty civility with regard to students than to fellow professors or (in particular) administrators. And provosts typically believe that their institutions display more civility than higher education as a whole. (A pattern in Inside Higher Ed surveys of administrators is that they think their institutions are doing better in many respects than the rest of higher education.)

In short, provosts act like the CEOs they imagine themselves. Any faculty that speaks against the mission or says anything that could be considered “uncivil,” which in provost speak means “anything that could make me look bad,” does not deserve any protections and in fact should be subject to firing. Increasingly, for provosts all this matters more than scholarship, teaching, or service. “Does the faculty member reflect well on my leadership?” That’s the question. And that should put a chill in any academic who either questions the administration or has a public persona.

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Travails of a Starter Carrier

[ 15 ] January 23, 2015 |

The South China Morning Post has a very interesting series on the purchase of the Ukrainian Varyag, the half-constructed aircraft carrier hulk that eventually became Liaoning, China’s first operational carrier. Some thoughts up at the Diplomat:

China’s acquisition of Varyag was contingent on a series of often improbable events. How would China’s carrier program have worked out differently if Ukraine has rejected the purchase, or the Turks had refused transit of the ship, or if the hulk had sunk along the way (a real possibility at the time)?

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Plutocrats: More Effective Behind The Scenes

[ 77 ] January 23, 2015 |

Tom Steyer won’t be running for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat in California.

Steyer seems like a good guy, a committed environmentalist, but this is almost certainly excellent. news. for. Democrats.  First, as Rebecca Leber says, his money is almost certainly better spent on a variety of swing races rather than on a safer-than-safe blue seat.  And then there’s this:

Neither did Steyer, which doesn’t exactly solve that problem. When he started looking at the race, Steyer let it be known, through aides and memos, that he’d serve one term if he couldn’t get his agenda through the Senate. If carbon dioxide output wasn’t decreasing, if tax loopholes hadn’t been closed, he’d be out in 2022. His pre-campaign network was even called Team Cincinnatus, named for the dictator of the early Roman Republic who willingly gave back power as soon as his job was done.

Preemptively declaring a dramatic flounce should you, as a freshman senator, fail to achieve a very ambitious progressive agenda during a period in which the Republicans are nearly certain to control the House for 2/3rds of the time…yeah, I think this is someone the Senate caucus can really do without.

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The Problem is Structural

[ 58 ] January 22, 2015 |

An update on Major General Post:

A prominent lawmaker is calling for an investigation of a major general’s reported comments blasting officers as treasonous if they work with Congress against Air Force plans to retire the A-10.

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, reportedly told officers at a recent meeting of the Tactics Review Board at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that they were not to speak with Congress about the service’s attempt to retire the attack jet.

“Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” Post is quoted by former airman and blogger Tony Carr as saying.

Post reportedly prefaced his comments by saying “if anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it,” according to Carr’s “John Q. Public” blog.

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who wants to keep the A-10 in service, has called on Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to investigate the reported comments, McCain spokesman Dustin Walker told Air Force Times.

A-4 McCain is right on the particulars, but the problem isn’t with any one individual. Post voiced (in clumsy terms) what the vast bulk of the Air Force hierarchy is thinking about the A-10. The USAF has made its case on the Warthog openly, and strictly on the merits it’s not that awful of a case; the A-10 has a limited future because of its inability to survive in contested airspace. Hell, if any of the Strelas that ISIS fired at A-10s a few days ago had found their mark, the entire fleet would likely have been withdrawn from action.

The problem is that the A-10 represents the only palpable commitment that the USAF has to the close air support mission, and that no one trusts the USAF to pay much attention to the mission when the A-10 is gone. And that problem stems from the fact that we’ve badly misorganized our military forces around the idea that one service should control stuff that flies (as long as it has fixed wings and doesn’t fly off aircraft carriers), regardless of what those planes are supposed to do. And senior officers have every incentive to focus on the parochial needs of the service, rather than on the contribution the service makes to the joint mission.

And, I should hasten to add, there’s a solution…

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Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade!

[ 49 ] January 22, 2015 |

Links to various arguments about why Roe was correctly decided and why it matters can be found here.

Via Edroso, Mollie Hemmingway is concern-trollingly upset that a Republican abortion ban based on evidence-free “fetal pain” arguments has been briefly set aside by the House.  (Another anti-abortion bill passed today.)  The argument begins, as so many such arguments do, with a risible misunderstanding of the decision being attacked:

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court legalizing abortion on demand throughout pregnancy.

Well, I happen to have Roe v. Wade right here, and:

With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

And, of course, if we consider Roe v. Wade as it’s been subsequently modified by the Supreme Court, many American women regrettably do not have access to “abortion on demand” at any stage of pregnancy. But Hemmingway is wrong even about Roe circa 1973.

And then there’s this:

As my colleague David Harsanyi has noted, we have a Republican Congress that doesn’t believe it’s competent enough to make a case against infanticide.

Odd — Hemmingway (absurdly) thinks that second trimseter abortions are like “infanticide.” But I must have missed the harsh criticism of the Republicans who support this legislation, which is plainly incompatible with this view. Here are the criminal sanctions in the proposed, temporarily withdrawn legislation:

Subjects individuals who violate this Act to a fine, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. Bars prosecution of a woman upon whom an abortion is performed in violation of this Act for violating or conspiring to violate this Act.

Five years seems awfully lenient for an alleged child-murderer. And even more to the point, women who commit what Hemmingway is pretending to consider “infanticide” are subject to no criminal sanctions whatsoever. This is instructive first of all because it inescapably reflects a belief that women who obtain abortions lack moral agency. And the fact that Hemmingway does not even find the fact that women are wholly exempt from criminal sanction worth mentioning makes it clear that when she’s throwing the term “infanticide” around she’s bullshitting, which is highly offensive given the context. But let’s be frank — very few people really think that second trimseter abortions are anything like infanticide. Statutes based on this belief would be extremely unpopular and unenforceable. I know it, you know it, and House Republicans know it. Which is one reason why safe and legal abortions should be accessible to all American women.

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