Kevin Drum

Oregon Sensibly Votes to Make Oral Contraceptives Available Without a Prescription

| Sat Jul. 18, 2015 11:12 AM EDT

Good news from Oregon:

Oregonians will be able to buy birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor's prescription beginning next year, potentially making the state the first in the nation to allow the practice. The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the state House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Kate Brown last week. It will go into effect at the start of next year.

....A second Oregon law, which passed the 90-member Legislature in a near-unanimous vote Thursday, allows women to obtain a yearlong supply of birth control instead of refilling their prescription every 30 or 90 days.

I know there's some disagreement about this among progressives these days, since prescription birth control is covered by Obamacare and OTC birth control isn't. But I assume Oregonians who want a prescription can still get one, and allowing contraceptives to be sold OTC as well is the right thing to do. That decision should be made solely on safety grounds, not on grounds of political convenience. This is the same argument we make against things like forced ultrasounds for abortion patients, and it's the right one.

The one-year supply is a nice bonus too, based on evidence that women are more likely to use contraceptives regularly if they don't have to make a special trip for a refill every 30 days. All in all, good for Oregon, working hard to retain its spot as one of the sanest states in the Union.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 17 July 2015

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

A few days ago the Hallmark Channel decided to present us with a showing of kitten baseball. We recorded it, since you never know when a few minutes of zoning out in front of adorable kittens might be just what you need. But it turned out that Hopper was fascinated. She stared at the kittens on the screen, then moved closer, then jumped up on the cabinet to get an even closer look. Unfortunately, the light was bad and I couldn't get any good pictures.

The next day I tried again in the morning light. But this time Hopper was busy with other feline priorities, while Hilbert, who had sat around like a furry, bored medicine ball the night before, suddenly took over. He couldn't take his eyes off the screen. And that's how you see him today, staring avidly at an orange-and-white kitten on the television. Now that's cat TV.

Do You Live in a Fuck State or a Shit State?

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 2:26 PM EDT

The Guardian reports today on the latest work of Jack Grieve, a professor of forensic linguistics at Aston University in the UK, aided by research from Diansheng Guo and Alice Kasakoff of the University of South Carolina and Andrea Nini, of Aston University. Their research topic is this: how do people swear in different US states? Only a British newspaper could publish this, since American newspapers would never allow such family-unfriendly swill in their august pages. Hell, I may be stretching things by doing it at Mother Jones.

You can click the link for the full rundown, but you'll be interested to know that "fuckboy" is one of the fastest rising words of 2014. It's apparently popular in the mid-Atlantic region and in California starting just north of where I live—which explains why I've never heard of it.

In any case, here's a sample of Grieve's linguistic maps. On the left are states where "fuck" is especially popular, and on the right are states where "shit" is especially popular. California is clearly a fuck state, which fits with my observations of a lifetime. Of course, you also have some states—mostly in the polite Midwest—that don't use either, and some—mostly the coastal areas from South Carolina up to New Jersey—where they really like them both. Fascinating, no? Certainly more interesting than the old soda-pop-coke chestnut.

More Pluto! Troughs, Hills, and Pitted Surfaces!

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 1:44 PM EDT

Here's the latest from Pluto, a hi-res image of the Sputnik Plain, which should be enough to get Republicans seething. From NASA:

In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

....Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto’s interior.

So, um, mud drying or lava lamps. Take your pick. Cool picture, though.

Quote of the Day: Mike Huckabee Wants American Wars to Last Ten Days Max

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

From noted national security expert Mike Huckabee:

Here is what we have to do: America has to have the most formidable, fierce, military in the history of mankind. So when we have a threat, whether it is ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is, we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10 day exercise, because the fierceness of our forces would mean that we can absolutely guarantee the outcome of this film. That’s how America needs to operate in the world of foreign affairs, and foreign policy.

Damn! If only we'd known this before. If we had taken this stuff a little more seriously, we could have wiped out all these guys in a short series of ten-day bloodbaths. No more Al-Qaeda. No more ISIS. No more Hamas or Hezbollah. Even the entire country of Iran would apparently have fallen to our fierceness in ten days or so. Booyah!

Generally, speaking, I try not to obsess over each and every Idiocy of the Day™, since they fly fast and furious during campaign season. But I have to assume that Huckabee is being more than astonishingly ignorant here. He's also channeling the beliefs of a lot of base conservatives, who figure if we stopped pussyfooting around and spending all our time worrying about PC crap like gay soldiers and whatnot, we could unleash the full might of America and destroy our enemies in a matter of days or weeks. And that would be that.

I wonder how many people are out there who believe this? More than we think, probably. Maybe someone should take a poll.

Our Kids Are Fat, But They Don't Know It

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 11:31 AM EDT

More kids are overweight today than in the past, but fewer of them realize it:

A team of researchers at Georgia Southern University found an alarming rise in the lack of self awareness among children and teenagers in the United States. Specifically, way more overweight adolescents are oblivious today to the fact that they ought to lose weight than were in decades past—and it's a big problem.

....Adolescents, for instance, are 29 percent less likely to correctly perceive themselves as being overweight than they were almost twenty years ago, according to the study's findings. And the drop-off is the most pronounced among younger children—overweight 12-year-olds are almost 40 percent less likely to understand that they are overweight today.

....Solving the problem isn't as simple as telling people that they're overweight. There's too fine a line between promoting health and facilitating body image issues for that to be the case...."We must be very careful when we, as parents, teachers, or health care professionals, make an effort to correct the misperception among teens," said Zhang. "It has to be a pro-health, not anti-obesity, campaign."

This is the place where I always start to get a little uncertain about the whole fat shaming thing. I take it for granted that overweight people should be treated with normal amounts of respect and shouldn't be harassed about their weight. At the same time, obesity really is bad for you: it's associated with diabetes, joint deterioration, and depression. As a society, we should try to promote healthy weight, but as individuals we should cool it with the fat jokes. This is a difficult combination to pull off.

And it's even more important with kids, since childhood obesity is strongly associated with adult obesity. Unfortunately, it's also harder with kids, since they have less knowledge, less self-control, and less concern with problems in the far future. How do you get them to take healthy weight seriously, but in a way that no one can complain is akin to fat shaming?

Obviously parents have to take a big role in this: if they don't take healthy eating seriously, neither will their kids. Beyond that, I'm not sure. Ideas?

UPDATE: Aaron Carroll coincidentally reminds us today that not all obesity is created equal. Being mildly overweight has very few health implications. It's only being seriously overweight that's truly a problem:

Costs are NOT equally spread over obese individuals. People with class 1 obesity, or those whose BMI is greater than 30 but less than 35, pretty much have no elevated health care costs....The paper further reports that a person who has a starting BMI of 40, and can lose 5% of their weight, might expect to see reductions in health care costs of $2137. But only about 6% of adults have a BMI that high. Losing 5% of weight if you have a starting BMI of 35 would save you $528. Losing that weight if you’re starting with a BMI of 30 would save you $69.

Obviously, being moderately overweight can eventually lead to serious obesity, so it's not something we should just ignore. Still, it's true that the vast majority of those we call obese are only modestly overweight and don't really have any serious health issues because of it. The real goal here is preventing mild overweight from turning into serious obesity.

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USA! USA! USA! American Math Prodigies Beat Out China, South Korea

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

We are once again the math champs of the world:

The U.S. edged out China by four points, 185-181. South Korea took third place.

The rankings were based on the number of points scored by individual team members on six problems. Students tackle the problems three at a time in 4.5 hour sessions over two days, according to the Mathematical Association of America, the organization behind the American team.

Five U.S. team members won gold medals: Ryan Alweiss, Allen Liu, Yang Liu, Shyam Narayanan and David Stoner. A sixth member, Michael Kural, missed gold by one point, settling for silver.

That's a pretty testosterone-fueled team there. I expect it to launch a thousand tweets about how women just don't have the innate cognitive skills to be good at higher level maths. Three...two....one....go!

There's a college test that's kind of the equivalent of this called the Putnam exam. It's not a team event, you just take it individually. I took it in my freshman year and scored one point. All things considered, I figured that was pretty good since the median score on the Putnam is zero. My one point put me in the top half of all test takers!

It also convinced me that math was not my field. So eventually I ended up a political blogger. That's what happens to people who score one point on the Putnam exam.

Scott Walker Is Starting to Look Like a Loser

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 5:51 PM EDT

It seems that Scott Walker may be having problems. First, there's this from our own Russ Choma about Walker's fundraising woes in Texas, home to America's biggest treasure trove of conservative zillionaires:

The union-busting Wisconsin governor may be a conservative darling, but he's way behind the curve when it comes to courting Texas' biggest money men. Bill Miller, a top Texas lobbyist who regularly advises megadonors on their contributions, says he's heard almost no buzz from the donor class about Walker...."No one is asking about him," Miller says. "None of our clients. We have a huge client base. It's oddly quiet for a guy that's supposedly top three among the potential nominees."

....Walker campaign aides say he has been to Austin, Houston, and San Antonio as well, and the response has been "enthusiastic." Future trips to Texas are planned, they say. But if there's an on-the-ground fundraising operation for Walker, Miller isn't the only one who has missed it.

...."Scott Walker has no visible organization in my part of the state. He really doesn't come up," says Gaylord Hughey, a lawyer who's known as the "don of East Texas" by Republican operatives. Hughey has worked as a bundler for the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, and he's currently signed up to raise money for Jeb Bush. "Among the sort of really hard R Republicans, Scott Walker is probably big," he notes, "but to the business donor group, he has not really resonated."

Hmmm. Maybe Walker isn't mean enough for Texas? That's probably not it. In fact, Paul Waldman thinks the guy is so mean it's turning into a problem of its own for Walker. Exhibit A: Walker is hell-bent on demanding drug tests for all welfare recipients:

This is why Scott Walker is never going to be president of the United States.

First, some context. The drug testing programs for welfare recipients are usually justified by saying they’ll save money by rooting out all the junkies on the dole, but in practice they’ve been almost comically ineffective. In state after state, testing programs have found that welfare recipients use drugs at lower rates than the general population, finding only a tiny number of welfare recipients who test positive.

But this hasn’t discouraged politicians like Walker....The test is the point, not the result. Walker isn’t trying to solve a practical problem here. He wants to test food stamp recipients as a way of expressing moral condemnation. You can get this benefit, he’s saying, but we want to give you a little humiliation so you know that because you sought the government’s help, we think you’re a rotten person.

....What does this have to do with Walker’s chances of winning a general election? What George W. Bush understood is that the Republican Party is generally considered to be somewhat, well, mean....So when Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”...he was sending a message to moderate voters, one that said: See, I’m different. I’m a nice guy.

....And Scott Walker’s attitude is nothing like George W. Bush’s. He practically oozes malice, for anyone and everyone who might oppose him, or just be the wrong kind of person.

So money in Texas-sized chunks is looking like a problem for Walker in the primaries, and his Cruella de Vil-sized malice is likely to be a problem in the general election.

The conventional wisdom about Walker—which I've agreed with in the past—is that he's the candidate best suited to appeal to both the Republican base, thanks to his hardcore meanspiritedness, and to business-class Republicans, thanks to his executive experience and relatively mild demeanor. The problem is that it's a tricky act to make both of these personas work at the same time, and so far Walker doesn't even seem to be trying. He's just sticking with the Mr. Mean persona, and it's not clear if that's even enough to win the primaries, let alone get him into the White House. He's going to need to change his tune if he ever wants to hear the Marine band playing "Hail to the Chief" for him.

I Want to Hear a Good Argument Against Obama's Deal With Iran

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 2:40 PM EDT

Max Fisher talked to another arms control expert today, and Aaron Stein says it's a very good agreement. The Iran nuclear deal "exceeds in all areas. It makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote."

Fine. The technical experts are all impressed. But what about the opponents of the deal? What do they think?

Luckily, Matt Yglesias did the legwork to confirm what I had already concluded anecdotally: they don't really have any serious arguments against the deal. Oh, they toss out a few tidbits here and there about inspection times and so forth, but it's just fluff. The inspection regime is actually very tough. No, the problem is that conservatives simply don't want a deal. Period. They want sanctions to remain in force forever. Or they just want to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Or they don't say much of anything except that Iran is a bad country, and we shouldn't do deals with bad countries.

All of this is fatuous, and the critics know it. Sanctions never last forever. If we tried to keep them in place without ever offering Iran a reasonable bargain to lift them, our allies would desert us. Bombing would be just as bad. Instead of keeping Iran in check for ten or more years, it would merely set them back two or three. And it would confirm their belief that the only defense against the United States is a nuclear deterrent. They'd be even more determined to build a bomb after that. As for Iran's leadership not being choir boys, no kidding. You don't make deals like this with friendly countries. You make them with antagonists. That's the whole point.

I don't want Iran to build a nuclear bomb. It would quite likely set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which is the last place on the planet that we want to have one. And as near as I can tell, this deal is our best chance to keep Iran nuclear free for a good long time. If any conservative can offer a better plan, I'm all ears. Either:

Describe a tougher deal that you can reasonably argue Iran would have accepted.

     or

Explain why some other course of action would be better at keeping Iran nuclear free than a negotiated deal.

No name calling, no comparisons to Neville Chamberlain, no complaints that Iran hates Israel, and no blather about appeasement. Make an argument. A real argument about a course of action that would be better than the deal currently on the table. Let's hear it.

Making Republicans Mad Is All Part of the Plan to Pass the Iran Deal

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 12:51 PM EDT

Why is President Obama talking so much about the Iran nuclear deal? It's not as if he's likely to convince many Republicans to support it, after all. Jonathan Bernstein says the answer lies in the unusual way Congress is being forced to vote on the deal: the agreement takes effect unless Congress votes to disapprove it. Obama can veto any resolution of disapproval, and it only takes one-third of Congress to sustain that veto. In other words, all Obama needs are Democratic votes. And the best way to get those votes is to take advantage of the power of polarization:

By speaking out in favor of something, and doing it repeatedly, presidents tend to polarize public opinion along party lines. If he needed bipartisan support, the best strategy would be to keep his mouth shut.

But Obama doesn't need any Republican help. He just needs Democrats to stick together, and not base their votes on interest-group attachments or, for that matter, on their personal views.

While Obama thinks the Iran agreement should win on its actual merits — otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to it! — not everyone sees it the same way. He can try to give swing voters in the House and Senate substantive reasons to support it. But this wouldn't be as efficient as simply getting the Democrats to act as partisans.

As Bernstein says in his teaser sentence, "A strategy that makes Republicans mad will unite Democrats." So Obama is talking and talking and talking, and conservative media is getting madder and madder and madder. That tends to unite liberals, even those who are strong supporters of Israel and might otherwise be reluctant to support a deal that Israel opposes.

Republicans are cooperating beautifully, aren't they? Obama must be very pleased.