Kevin Drum

Friday Cat Blogging - 28 August 2015

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

This is how we roll around here in August: stretched out to maximum length for maximum cooling power. Plus it might lure someone over to give Hilbert a tummy rub. Pretty often it does, in fact.

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"Political Correctness" Is Mostly Just Code For Not Insulting People

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 2:41 PM EDT

S.E. Cupp says that Donald Trump's rise can be laid at the feet of liberal political correctness. Ed Kilgore isn't buying:

Is that the source of all this hysteria? Conservative media accounts of random college speech code incidents and the occasional dumb move by a school principal? Something that affects maybe a tenth of one percent of the population?

Well....maybe. When it's on a 24/7 loop on Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, it probably seems like an epidemic. I can see it raising a lot of hackles. But let's continue:

I'm sorry, I don't buy it. The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women "chicks" without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That's what "political correctness" is code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

If Cupp is right and I'm not, then let's all cooperate in convincing Republican politicians and conservative pundits to stop using the term "political correctness" and come right and and tell us what the beef is about. Is it really "trigger warning" requirements at scattered liberal arts colleges? Or is it this whole new world we're in where people have to question old habits? When Ben Carson calls inhibitions about torturing terrorism suspects "political correctness," it's pretty clear he's yet another apostle for the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, when America was never wrong and dissenters kept their mouths shut.

I could do with a little less speech policing from all sides, frankly. It gets a little tiresome sometimes. Still, the truth is that Ed is right: for the vast, vast majority of us, it leaves our lives entirely unaffected as long as you can avoid flat-out slurs against women, blacks, gays, Jews, and so forth. Really, that's about 99 percent of it. Is that really so hard?

Man Is the Irrational Animal

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 1:55 PM EDT

Mark Kleiman points out that most of us need to hold more or less rational beliefs about our professional lives. "Even people whose stock-in-trade is deception—con artists, stockbrokers, lobbyists—have to observe the rules of arithmetic when it comes to totting up the take." But that's only half the story:

Most of the time, though, people aren’t at work, and much of what they think and talk about has little if any relevance to practical decisions in their own non-working lives. Freed of the need to think rationally, most people seem to prefer the alternative.

Yep. This is why, say, it costs nothing to claim that evolution is nonsense and shouldn't be taught in schools. For the 99.9 percent of us who don't work in fields that require it, evolution doesn't affect our daily lives in any way at all. Believing or not believing is affinity politics and nothing more. This explains how Donald Trump gets away with being a buffoon:

The deepest mistake is to regard someone who acts as if he doesn’t give a damn whether anything he says is true, or consistent with what he said yesterday, as stupid....As far as I can tell, Donald Trump simply isn’t bothered by holding and expressing utterly inconsistent beliefs about immigration, or for that matter denying obvious facts in the face of the crowd that witnessed them. And it doesn’t much bother most of his voters, either....And if we deal with it by imagining that Trump, or Trump voters, are “stupid,” we’re going to make some very bad predictions.

We forgive a lot in people we like. Liberals forgive Hillary Clinton for her lawyerly and incompetent defense of her email practices. Trump fans forgive the fact that he makes no sense. But forgiveness is a virtue, right? I guess that makes Trump's supporters the most virtuous folks on the planet.

Sarah Palin: No Bible Verses for You!

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 1:38 PM EDT

Great news! Sarah Palin will be interviewing Donald Trump at 10 p.m. Eastern on her brand new show, On Point, which started Monday and airs on the One America News network. It will be the greatest, classiest, rogue-iest interview ever!

Wait. What's that? You don't get OAN on your cable system? Me neither. Bummer. Maybe it'll be on Palin's Facebook page eventually.

What makes this whole thing a little weirder than even the normal Palin weirdness is that she announced her upcoming interview with a standard-issue blast on the lamestream media for asking Trump a gotcha question about his favorite Bible verse. "By the way," she writes, "even with my reading scripture everyday I wouldn't want to answer the guy's question either... it's none of his business; it IS personal." What makes this weird is that Palin has been happy to talk about this before. For example, in this interview:

In dealing with her daily challenges, Palin leans on the Bible verse that says, “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and might and a sound mind.”

That's 2 Timothy 1:7 (close enough, anyway), and Palin has mentioned it on other occasions too. It really does seem to be one of her favorites. So why is this suddenly so personal that she doesn't think anyone should have to talk about it? Are we now all keeping our favorite Bible verses a deeply held secret?

It Turns Out That Those "Full and Unedited" Planned Parenthood Videos.... Aren't

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 12:52 PM EDT

I gave up on the Planned Parenthood sting videos a long time ago. It's pretty obvious there was no criminal behavior unmasked, or even any unethical behavior.1 The claims of the producers never matched the reality of the videos, so I stopped watching when new ones came out.

But Sarah Kliff soldiered on! She not only watched them all, she watched the full, unedited versions. And she discovered something after reading a forensic analysis of the videos from Planned Parenthood: they aren't actually full and unedited. The folks who ran the sting claim that they did nothing more than edit out bathroom breaks, but Kliff isn't buying it:

Take the first example I wrote about here, the meeting with the Texas Planned Parenthood clinic where the tape appears to jump forward a half-hour. In that case, nobody suggests a bathroom break. There's no change in meeting; when the video jumps forward, they're still sitting in the exact same seats.

Meanwhile, the longer videos show lots of small-talk footage that isn't especially relevant to the argument over fetal body parts. I know because I watched all of it. There are moments in a car, where directions are being given and all the camera footage is totally blurry, where people stand around in hallways, where they talk about the relationship between caffeine and headaches. Those moments weren't cut from the tape — and it's hard to know what would make those different from the bathroom breaks and other moments deemed irrelevant to the audience.

I guess we need a chant for this. Release the video! We demand to see the bathroom breaks! Explain the timestamps! Or something. As far as I'm concerned, Planned Parenthood has long since been exonerated in this episode, so I don't really need to see anything. But I am curious about just what they decided to leave out.

1Standard caveat: If you think abortion is murder, then everything on the video is unethical and immoral.

Blaming Culture Is a Liberal Thing? Seriously?

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 12:11 PM EDT

Over at National Review, Charles Cooke writes about the gruesome murder of WDBJ reporters Alison Parker and Adam Ward on Wednesday:

As I have written over and over again during the last few years, I do not believe that we can learn a great deal from the justifications that are forwarded by public killers....Mine, however, is not the only view out there. Indeed, there is a sizeable contingent within the United States that takes the question of what murderers purport to believe extremely seriously indeed. It is because of these people that we had to examine “toxic masculinity” in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting....[etc.]

....Half-joking on Twitter, the Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch reacted to this news by observing that, “instead of going on a killing spree, this guy should’ve gotten a columnist gig at the Guardian.” As with all humor, there is some truth at the root of this barb....For what reason is this guy exempt? Why do we not need to have a “national conversation” about hypersensitivity?

The answer, I imagine, is politics, for this instinct seems only to run one way.

Generally speaking, I agree with Cooke. Crazy people are always going to find something to justify their worldview, and they're going to find it somewhere out in the real world. The fact that any particular crazy person decides to have it in for the IRS or Greenpeace or women who laughed at him in high school doesn't mean a lot. It only becomes meaningful if some particular excuse starts showing up a lot. Beyond that, I even agree that the culture of hypersensitivity has gotten out of hand in some precincts of the left.

That said....is Cooke kidding? This instinct only runs one way? After the Columbine massacre in 1999, Newt Gingrich denounced the "liberal political elite" for "being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done." Conservatives have been raising Cain about the pernicious effects of Hollywood liberalism, video games, and the decline of religion for decades. Hysteria about the counterculture and liberal moral decay goes back at least to the 60s. I could go on endlessly in this vein, but I don't want to bore you.

Complaining about the effects of liberal culture—whether on shooters specifically, crime more generally, or on all of society—has been a right-wing mainstay for as long as I've been alive. The left may be catching up, but it still has a ways to go.

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The Real Lesson From Emailgate: Maybe the State Department Needs More Secure Email

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 11:11 AM EDT

David Ignatius talked with "a half-dozen knowledgeable lawyers" and concluded that the Hillary Clinton email affair has been overblown. No big surprise there. Click the link if you want more.

But here's the curious part. Part of Clinton's trouble stems from the fact that sensitive information was sent to her via email, which isn't meant for confidential communications. However, as Ignatius points out, this is a nothingburger. Everyone does this, and has for a long time. But why?

“It’s common knowledge that the classified communications system is impossible and isn’t used,” said one former high-level Justice Department official. Several former prosecutors said flatly that such sloppy, unauthorized practices, although technically violations of law, wouldn’t normally lead to criminal cases.

Why is the classified system so cumbersome? Highly secure encryption is easy to implement on off-the-shelf PCs, and surely some kind of software that plugs into email and restricts the flow of messages wouldn't be too hard to implement. So why not build more security into email and ditch the old system? What's the hold-up?

Clarence Thomas Can't Catch a Break

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 10:47 AM EDT

Yesterday the New York Times ran a story saying that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hoisted language from briefs submitted to the court "at unusually high rates." I was curious to see the actual numbers, so I opened up the study itself. Here's the relevant excerpt from Figure 2:

I dunno. Does that look "unusually high" to you? It looks to me like it's about the same as Sotomayor, and only a bit higher than Ginsburg, Alito and Roberts. It's a little hard to see the news here, especially given this:

Since his views on major legal questions can be idiosyncratic and unlikely to command a majority, he is particularly apt to be assigned the inconsequential and technical majority opinions that the justices call dogs. They often involve routine cases involving taxes, bankruptcy, pensions and patents, in which shared wording, including quotations from statutes and earlier decisions, is particularly common.

So at most, Thomas uses language from briefs only slightly more than several other justices, and that's probably because he gets assigned the kinds of cases where it's common to do that. Is there even a story here at all?

Either 35, 36, or 39 Percent of Psychology Results Can't Be Replicated

| Fri Aug. 28, 2015 1:04 AM EDT

The Washington Post informs me today that in a new study, only 39 out of 100 published psychology studies could be replicated:

I wonder if I can replicate that headline? Let's try the New York Times:

Huh. They say 35 out of 100. What's going on? Maybe Science News can tell me:

Now it's 35 out of 97. So what is the answer?

Based on the study itself, it appears that Science News has it right. It's 35 out of 97. Using a different measure of replication, however, the answer is that 39 percent of the studies could be replicated, which might explain the Post's 39 out of 100. And it turns out that the study actually looked at 100 results, but only 97 of them had positive findings in the first place and were therefore worth trying to replicate. But if, for some reason, you decided that all 100 original studies should be counted, you'd get the Times' 35 out of 100.

So there you go. Depending on who you read, it's either 35, 36, or 39 percent. Welcome to the business of science reporting.

Joe Biden Isn't Sure He Has the "Emotional Fuel" to Run for President

Biden finally publicly comments on his potential 2016 run.

| Thu Aug. 27, 2015 11:10 PM EDT

This is the first hard evidence we have that Joe Biden is seriously thinking about a presidential run:

On Wednesday he made his first public comments on his potential 2016 run — though not intentionally. CNN posted audio recorded during what was supposed to be a private conference call for Democratic National Committee members in which the vice-president confirmed that he's actively considering entering the campaign...."We're dealing at home with ... whether or not there is the emotional fuel at this time to run," Biden responded.

I've got nothing but sympathy for what Biden is going through right now, but the fact remains: If you're not sure you have the fuel for a grueling presidential campaign, then you don't.