Things I'm reading ed. 100531

Happy(?) Memorial Day, everybody. Lots of long articles worth reading this time, but you’ve got the rest of the night off, right? Big news is the BP Oil Spill and the failure of Top Kill. Will the leak ever end?


Top 5

  1. The inside story on how health care reform got enacted (Cohn)
  2. Obama vs Wall Street (NYMag)
  3. The Race to the Top: Education Reform and Teachers Unions (NYT)
  4. Video from 25 feet below the oil slick. (abc)
  5. Saving the Rust Belt (Reason)



US Politics

  • Why everyone hates the government (Bernstein)

    “Why do Americans, seemingly regardless of party affiliation or geographic location, despise the political establishment?”

    That’s easy! The key to public opinion, especially when it’s about abstractions divorced from practical day-to-day life, is that it follows opinion leaders. And all opinion leaders in America are against the establishment. In fact, no opinion leaders in America will admit to being part of the establishment!

  • The inside story on how health care reform got enacted (Cohn)

    Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

  • Obama vs Wall Street (NYMag)

    But one of the city’s most successful hedge-fund hotshots offers a different surmise: “The majority of Wall Street thinks, ‘Hey, you lent us money. We did a trade. We paid you back. When you had me down, you could have crushed me, you could have done whatever you wanted. You didn’t do it! So stop your bitching and stop telling me I owe you, because I already paid you everything! The fact that I’m making money now is because I’m smarter than you!’ I think that’s where you’ve got this massive disconnect. In simple human terms, the government is saying, ‘I saved your life, and all you did was thank me once. You should be calling me every day: Thank you. Thank you.’ The guy who saved the life expects more. And the guy whose life is saved says, ‘I already thanked you!’?”

  • Kagan and executive powers

    “She clearly thinks that greater presidential control over the bureaucracy is a good thing because it can bring vigor to government,” said David F. Engstrom, a Stanford law professor of administrative law. “She thinks that is important in light of political gridlock in Washington.”

  • The Race to the Top: Education Reform and Teachers Unions (NYT)

    Same building. Same community. Sometimes even the same parents. And the classrooms have almost exactly the same number of students. In fact, the charter school averages a student or two more per class. This calculus challenges the teachers unions’ and Perkins’s “resources” argument — that hiring more teachers so that classrooms will be smaller makes the most difference. (That’s also the bedrock of the union refrain that what’s good for teachers — hiring more of them — is always what’s good for the children.) Indeed, the core of the reformers’ argument, and the essence of the Obama approach to the Race to the Top, is that a slew of research over the last decade has discovered that what makes the most difference is the quality of the teachers and the principals who supervise them. Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington, reported, “The effect of increases in teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.”

  • Libertarianism 2.0

    Yet that’s precisely why Paul’s 1.0 argument breaks down on its own terms: at the scene of a four-century crime against humanity—the kidnap, torture, enslavement, and legal oppression of African-Americans—ideal theory fails. We libertarians, never burdened with an excess of governing power, have always had a utopian streak, a penchant for imagining what rich organic order would bubble up from the choices of free and equal citizens governed by a lean state enforcing a few simple rules. We tend to envision societies that, if not perfect, are at least consistently libertarian.

    Libertarians need to think harder about how our principles should degrade elegantly, how they can guide us through a fallen world where the live political options seldom afford a full escape from injustice.

  • 3 common policyl arguments (Bernstein)

    1. “The government” vs. the people
    2. Congress vs. the presidency
    3. The bureaucracy vs. elected officials.

  • Libertarians and Racism (TNC)

    It’s not so much that they hate you, it’s they are shocked–shocked–to discoveIt’s not so much that they hate you, it’s they are shocked–shocked–to discover that some of their fellow travelers hate you. When discussing them, all bloggers are required to begin their missives by quickly dispensing with with the “Are they racist?” strawman. Answering in the affirmative has been outlawed in polite company, where there are no actual racists. And so we are left, as I’ve said, with imbecility as an explanation, and a much more troubling query–“Are they stupid?” (“Are you so stupid that you would allow racist newsletters to be published in your name?” “Are you so stupid that you would have a campaign manager with “Happy Nigger day” on his Myspace page?”)

  • What’s up with Rasmussen’s polling? (538, Chait add’l commentary 1, 2)

    If, on the other hand, this is a feature rather than a bug, it requires a more robust explanation from Rasmussen. It is not sufficient, after all, to believe that Rasmussen is getting it right: you also have to believe that almost everyone else is getting it wrong.

    Their use of a likely voter model alone is not sufficient to explain the differences. Citing Rasmussen’s success in calling past election outcomes, which is formidable, is also somewhat non-responsive, since their house effect was not so substantial in past election cycles. Moreover, most objective attempts to rate pollsters, including ours, rely on an evaluation of the accuracy of polls in the week or two immediately preceding an election (when pollsters have strong incentives to “behave” themselves). They may reveal little or nothing about the accuracy of polls months ahead of one.

  • Strains of conservatism: Fight for the GOP’s soul (Slate)

    One way to understand the divisions in the Republican Party is as a clash of regional philosophies. Northeastern conservatism is moderate, accepts the modern welfare state, and dislikes mixing religion with politics. Western conservatism is hawkish, hates government, and embraces individual freedom. Southern conservatism is populist, draws on evangelical Christianity, and plays upon racial resentments.

BP Oil Spill

  • Diving through the BP oil slick

    But what worries Dr Shaw most is the long-term potential for toxic chemicals to build up in the food chain. “There are hundreds of organic compounds in oil, including toxic solvents and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), that can cause cancer in animals and people. In this respect light, sweet crude is more toxic than the heavy stuff. It’s not only the acute effects, the loss of whole niches in the food web, it’s also the problems we will see with future generations, especially in top predators.”

  • Oil from the BP disaster reaches shore (photos, BigPicture)
  • Video from 25 feet below the oil slick. (abc)
  • The time evolution of the extent of the BP Oil Spill (animation)
  • Bill Nye answers questions about the BP Oil Spill (nothing new, but still interesting)


  • COIN Symposium Recap Part 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5
  • Reality TV and the Arab World (Part 1, 2)

Science and Technology

  • The power of the interwebs: potential human trafficking = foiled!

    Late Wednesday night, Kathrine Gutierrez Hinds, 24, came across a frightening story—unfolding in real time on an online message board—about two young Russian women who, by the looks of it, were about to unwittingly become hostesses at a seedy nightclub. Now, less than 48 hours later, they are sleeping in her Chelsea apartment in Manhattan, and she is trying to keep them safe while helping them figure out their next move. In an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK, she tells her story, which, unfortunately, isn’t over yet.

  • Feed your inner amateur astronomer: help ID moon photos from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (HT: npr)
  • Mars Lander Phoenix killed by Ice
  • Freaky: Fish with Hands (NG)
  • The science behind accupuncture

    The research focuses on adenosine, a natural compound known for its role in regulating sleep, for its effects on the heart, and for its anti-inflammatory properties. But adenosine also acts as a natural painkiller, becoming active in the skin after an injury to inhibit nerve signals and ease pain in a way similar to lidocaine.

    In the current study, scientists found that the chemical is also very active in deeper tissues affected by acupuncture. The Rochester researchers looked at the effects of acupuncture on the peripheral nervous system – the nerves in our body that aren’t part of the brain and spinal cord. The research complements a rich, established body of work showing that in the central nervous system, acupuncture creates signals that cause the brain to churn out natural pain-killing endorphins.


  • The story of Homeboy Industries: Redeeming LA’s gangs (npr)

    Homeboy Industries is the largest gang-intervention program in the country, serving the needs of thousands of East Los Angeles gang members who are looking for a way to leave the streets behind. Its motto is: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” For the past 20 years, the Rev. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy, has mentored and counseled the more than 12,000 gang members who pass through Homeboy each year to learn job skills, get their gang tattoos removed and attend therapy sessions on everything from alcohol abuse to anger management.

    Boyle recently published a memoir, Tattoos on the Heart, which recounts his decision to leave his position at the Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles in 1992 to focus on helping ex-gang members find jobs. He says that he looks at his position as a calling.

  • Pixar: The Making of Toy Story 3 (Wired)
  • Saving the Rust Belt (Reason)

    You want a quick indicator of urban decline in any city you visit? Ask a local what’s great about the place. If the top three answers include “a world-class symphony orchestra,” you’re smack dab in the middle of a current or future ghost town.

  • How bad is it for the unemployed? Very (TNR)

    Of the 908-person sample, 67 percent remained unemployed but were still looking for work, and an additional 12 percent had given up and dropped out of the labor force. Only 21 percent had found jobs (only 13 percent full-time) and were currently employed. A stunning 28 percent of the newly reemployed had been looking for work for more than one year, and 6 percent for more than two years. Fifty-five percent accepted a pay cut in their new jobs; 13 percent took a cut larger than one-third of their previous salary.

  • Women in Movies: A Test
  • 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey: Best places to live (excerpts)
  • Biking to work: Not as healthy as you think.

    Cycling to work may seem the healthy option, but a study has shown that people riding in cities inhale tens of millions of toxic nanoparticles with every breath, at least five times more than drivers or pedestrians.


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