The Lost History of One of the World’s Strangest Science Experiments – by Carl Zimmer – The New York Times

“. . . The scientists Joel Cohen and David Tilman wrote, “No one yet knows how to engineer systems that provide humans with the life-supporting services that natural ecosystems produce for free.”

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Biosphere 2 out of hand. For two years, eight people grew papayas, beets, bananas, rice and a host of other crops in there. Except for a sliced finger, their health remained good. The water they drank didn’t poison them. Some species went extinct, but the ecosystems endured. Biosphere 2 did not turn to slime.

As a piece of scientific research, Biosphere 2 had its problems. Countless things were happening all at once inside its walls, making it hard to pinpoint causes and effects. And without any other biospheres to compare it to, there was no way to distinguish random flukes from significant patterns. The University of Arizona scientist Bob Fry summed it up well in a newspaper interview: “It’s an experiment, but only in the sense that life is an experiment.” “

Opinion | A Nation of Weavers – by David Brooks – the New York Times

The top commenters shred this piece as off the wall, but they are poor listeners. David Brooks speaks deeply about underlying problems and solutions.

“On Dec. 7, 1941, countless Americans saw that their nation was in peril and walked into recruiting stations. We don’t have anything as dramatic as Pearl Harbor, but when 47,000 Americans kill themselves every year and 72,000 more die from drug addiction, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor? When the basic norms of decency, civility and truthfulness are under threat, isn’t that a silent Pearl Harbor? Aren’t we all called at moments like these to do something extra?

My something extra was starting something nine months ago at the Aspen Institute called Weave: The Social Fabric Project. The first core idea was that social isolation is the problem underlying a lot of our other problems. The second idea was that this problem is being solved by people around the country, at the local level, who are building community and weaving the social fabric. How can we learn from their example and nationalize their effect?”

Opinion | White Identity Politics Aren’t Going Anywhere – By Thomas B. Edsall – The New York Times

How should Democrats understand — and confront — them?

By Thomas B. Edsall
Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Dec. 20, 2018, .137

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Voters at Merry Acres Middle School in Albany, Ga. on Nov. 6, 2018CreditCreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

“For 50 years Republicans have battered the Democratic coalition, wielding the so-called southern strategy — built on racism and overlaid with opposition to immigration — to win control of the White House and one or both chambers of Congress.

At the same time, Democrats have struggled to piece together a coalition strong enough to deliver an Election Day majority. In the 1950s, the Democratic coalition was 87 percent white and 13 percent minority, according to the American National Election Studies; it is now 59 percent white and 41 percent minority, according to Pew Research.

As the Democratic Party has evolved from an overwhelmingly white party to a party with a huge minority base, the dominant strategic problem has become the tenuous balance between the priorities of its now equally indispensable white and minority wings.

President Trump has aggressively exploited Democratic vulnerabilities as no previous Republican candidate had dared to do. The frontal attack Trump has engineered — in part by stigmatizing “political correctness” — has had a dual effect, throwing Democrats back on their heels while simultaneously whetting their appetite for a fight.

“. . . In other words, pro-immigration, pro-diversity Democrats face clear obstacles breaking the Republican hold on white voters — and a challenge in repelling Trump’s race-and-immigration-focused offensive. Still, the accumulating insights on how and where Republicans have successfully worked these levers may help demonstrate — as President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton and the results of this year’s midterm elections prove — that these obstacles are not insuperable and that they can be overcome.”

Opinion | The Trump Legions – By Thomas B. Edsall- NYT

Thomas B. Edsall
By Thomas B. Edsall
Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C. on politics, demographics and inequality.

Nov. 1, 2018, 98
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Thumbs up on President Trump in Murphysboro, Ill., last week.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

“When reporters asked President Trump last week if he bore any responsibility for the pipe bombs sent to many of his critics and adversaries, he declared his innocence:

“Not at all, no. There is no blame. There is no anything.”

At the same time, an Oct. 29 PRRI survey revealed that 69 percent of voters believe that Trump has “damaged the dignity of the presidency.”

Trump reinforced this public assessment in his answer to another question: Did he plan to phone any of the officials who had been targeted with bombs, including his predecessors in the White House, the Clintons and the Obamas? His reply:

“I think we’ll probably pass, thank you very much.”

These exchanges raise the same two questions that have been posed repeatedly during the Trump presidency:

How could this man have been elected to the highest office in the land? And how can Trump not only remain in office but, for the moment at least, appear to stand a reasonable chance of being renominated and even re-elected?

To get some answers to these questions, I turned to a 2018 paper by Ronald Inglehart and two fellow political scientists at the University of Michigan, as well as to a new book by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, who are political scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In “The Silent Revolution in Reverse: Trump and the Xenophobic Authoritarian Populist Parties,” Inglehart, Jon Miller and Logan Woods provide fresh insight on a subject to which Inglehart, at times writing with Pippa Norris of Harvard, has devoted much of his career: the ongoing tension between materialist and post-materialist values and the political consequences of that tension.”

Opinion | Congress Has No Clue What Americans Want – By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger and Leah C. Stokes – NYT

By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger and Leah C. Stokes
Mr. Hertel-Fernandez is an assistant professor of public affairs at Columbia University. Mr. Mildenberger and Ms. Stokes are assistant professors of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Oct. 31, 2018

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People on Capitol Hill are often in the dark as to what policies Americans support.CreditCreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
Whether the Democrats or the Republicans seize control of Congress after the midterms, you can be sure of one thing: They will have very little idea what laws the public actually wants them to act on.

The current Republican-controlled Congress is a good example. Its signature accomplishment is a tax-cut bill that hardly anyone likes or asked for and that is estimated to add about $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Only about 30 percent of Americans supported it — unlike the well over 70 percent of Americans who consistently support raising the minimum wage, background checks for gun sales and taking action on the climate crisis. Bills were actually proposed on these issues, but you would hardly know it; they were barely considered, and it goes without saying that none passed.

Congress doesn’t know what policies Americans support. We know that because we asked the most senior staff members in Congress — the people who help their bosses decide what bills to pursue and support — what they believed public opinion was in their district or state on a range of issues.

The Siege Mentality Problem – by David Brooks – NYT

“Why are so many conservative evangelicals in Alabama still supporting Roy Moore? For that matter, why have so many evangelicals around the country spent the past two years embracing Donald Trump?

I just took part in a compelling conversation on this subject at the Faith Angle Forum, founded by the late Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and came away with one core explanation: the siege mentality. In fact, I’d say the siege mentality explains most of the dysfunctional group behavior these days, on left and right.

You see the siege mentality not just among evangelical Christians but also among the campus social justice warriors and the gun lobbyists, in North Korea and Iran, and in the populist movements across Europe.

The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole “culture” or the whole world is irredeemably hostile.”

This is an imortant piece by David Brooks, and it rings true. There are issues to work through, as presented by the top comment, which I also endorsed, even though I basically agree with Brooks’ main premise. What is frightening, is that as a hard working environmentalist, terrified by climate change and overpopulation, I fit the bill of being in a member of group that has a siege mentality.

Ed in Seattle

Seattle, WA 1 day ago

Mr. Brooks thinks that America’s leaders should have worked out an accommodation with evangelicals over gay marriage. That’s a typical Brooks position – find a way to spread the blame over both sides. But he ducks the question of what kind of accommodation might be possible. Because there is no possible accommodation.

The evangelicals already have freedom of religion in their houses of worship. The government isn’t asking their churches to perform gay marriages. Would the accommodation have been, allow restaurants to deny service to gay couples? Allow hotels get to deny rooms to gay couples?

The fact is, religious conservatives are being asked to live in a society that recognizes the rights of people whose beliefs are different than their beliefs. Compromising on that basic principle not only sanctions bigotry, it sacrifices our core values of liberty and freedom for people of all faiths.

The Economic Case for Letting Teenagers Sleep a Little Later – The New York Times

“A Brookings Institution policy brief investigated the trade-offs between costs and benefits of pushing back the start times of high school in 2011. It estimated that increased transportation costs would most likely be about $150 per student per year. But more sleep has been shown to lead to higher academic achievement. They found that the added academic benefit of later start times would be equivalent to about two additional months of schooling, which they calculated would add about $17,500 to a student’s earnings over the course of a lifetime. Thus, the benefits outweighed the costs.”

Scientists at Harvard and other places have already published research that teenagers are wired to get up later than other folks, and need more sleep than most everyone else.

Can People Change After Middle Age? – by David Brooks – NYT

“Shreveport saw a lot of ugliness during the civil rights era. But it is fortunate today to have Community Renewal, one of the nation’s most impressive community-building groups. Community Renewal builds settlement houses for kids in crime-ridden communities. It sponsors over 1,500 Haven Houses in neighborhoods rich and poor where volunteers sponsor activities and build relationships. It’s one of the most successfully integrated organizations I’ve seen.

Mike pulled out of his dental practice at age 49 and works at Community Renewal, often without pay. Bo heard about the organization from a member of his breakfast group and is now a volunteer and donor. When I sat with Bo and Mike after the staff and volunteer meeting on Monday, three things struck me, which often strike me about people who have transformed their lives for the final lap.”

David Lindsay Hamden, CT Pending Approval

Bravo David Brooks.
Looking at the negative comments, the left wing “progressive” fanatics can’t forgive you for coming from a respectable GOP past, but they are historical amnesiacs. They forget, or never knew, that just 50 years ago, it was the GOP that was the party of civil rights, and the Democrats were the party of racism and jim crow. One of the founders of the Republican Party was Abraham Lincoln.

The Trump Administration’s War on Science – The New York Times

” “Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people,” President Trump said in his speech to Congress last month, after summoning a list of technological triumphs from America’s past. “Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us,” and “American footprints on distant worlds.”

Against those lofty promises, his first budget blueprint is a cramped document that sacrifices American innovation to small-bore politics, shortchanging basic scientific research across the government — from NASA to the Department of Energy to the National Institutes of Health — in ways that can only stifle invention and undercut the nation’s competitiveness. Meanwhile, more than 40 top government science positions, including that of presidential science adviser, remain vacant.”

All good. Here is my favorite comment so far. Go figure:

Nick Charlottesville, VA 7 hours ago

Did you know that the mathematics needed for medical imaging was developed with stimulus funding? The stimulus funding of 1794. In France. That year, post revolution, France started their `Grandes Ecoles’, including the Ecole Polytechnique. The pure mathematicians hired and trained then became some of the most influential of all time: Cauchy, Lagrange, Poisson, and, finally Fourier, whose ideas about recreating unknown functions from definite integrals (measurable quantities) were turned into standard medical procedures 170 years later.

This is what government support for basic research gets you. There is no example in the history of mankind of this sort of work coming out of the private sector.

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