Archive

December 25th

Books that make sense of the presidential race

    For insight into the presidential election of 2016, I can't say I found anything exceptional among political books this year, with the exception of Jon Meacham's biography of George H.W. Bush. This was certainly true of the plethora of self-serving campaign memoirs.

    Maybe if you're into narcissism, you'll like Donald Trump's "Crippled America," and how to make it great again. Why should we be surprised at an insensitive title from a man who recently imitated a reporter with a disability?

    There is also "A Time for Truth," where Ted Cruz chronicles the left-wing conspiracies against him at Princeton and Harvard Law School. And we got the paperback edition of Hillary Clinton's State Department memoirs, "Hard Choices," in which she still made it seem as if Libya was a success.

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An immigrant isn't going to steal your pay raise

    Immigration is one of the most contentious topics in American politics. It's also a case study in how empirical economics is coming to dominate public policy debates. Instead of theories about how immigration should affect labor markets, people are turning to the evidence. And the most powerful evidence we have comes in the form of quasi- experimental studies.

    The most important and widely cited such study is a 1990 paper by economist David Card of the University of California- Berkeley. Card studied the impact of the Mariel boatlift, in which Fidel Castro suddenly sent thousands of immigrants to the United States in 1980. Most of those immigrants stayed in the Miami area.

    Standard Econ 101 theory says that a big increase in labor supply should reduce wages for local workers, especially for those who are in direct competition with immigrants. Since most of the Cubans who came in 1980 had little education, we would expect low-skilled Miamians to suffer the biggest wage drops from the labor shock. We might also expect the Mariel boatlift to raise unemployment levels, especially for less-educated Miamians.

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Five myths about gluten

    When I founded our celiac center nearly 20 years ago, writers couldn't spell "celiac," and very few people had ever heard the word "gluten." One of our primary goals has been to advance awareness of celiac disease to improve the quality of life for people with gluten-related disorders, and I've been amazed to see what has happened in 20 years. Most people have now heard of gluten, but many have a pretty poor understanding of what it is and how it fits into a healthy diet. An ancient and complex protein, gluten is a major component of wheat. It helps bread to rise and gives it a characteristic chewy texture. Similar proteins called secalin and hordein are found in barley and rye. We lump the three together as the only proteins we can't digest and call this gluten. For people with celiac disease, a lifelong disorder, these proteins wreak havoc on the small intestine. For the rest of us, it's a different story.

 

    1. Our bodies are not meant to process gluten, so no one should eat it.

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A newborn king does not want the gift of drum music. Trust me.

    Sure, "Baby It's Cold Outside" is uncomfortable on the subject of consent, "Merry Christmas/War Is Over" is saccharine and cloying, and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is laying the groundwork for a surveillance state.

    But for my money, the worst Christmas song of all is "Little Drummer Boy."

    The Little Drummer Boy is a bigger villain than the Grinch. The Grinch at least has some sort of heart-size condition and soul-gunk problem that he can blame for his lack of basic compassion. What excuse does the Little Drummer Boy have for his behavior? None.

    The Little Drummer Boy is just a plain old jerk. Specifically, the kind of jerk who insists on telling us about a time he showed up at a party without a gift and made everyone there miserable by playing what he thinks was a sick drum solo.

    But he cannot just tell us. Instead, he constantly interrupts his own narrative with twee drum noises so that it takes longer.

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The price of neglecting North Korea

    With so many foreign policy challenges to address - including the threat of terrorist attacks, the tenuous security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China - the Obama administration has paid only limited attention to North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. This could prove a costly and dangerous mistake.

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Reducing Ivy League inequality

    As winter approaches in Hanover, New Hampshire, the admissions season at Dartmouth College is in full swing. By the start of the new year, the college's admissions office will receive roughly 20,000 applications from talented scholars vying to join the Class of 2020. By spring, Dartmouth's incoming class will be a diverse community of students with different intellectual passions, native languages, religions and political leanings. However, like its counterparts at other Ivy League institutions, this class will fail to be diverse in at least one important respect: socioeconomic status. Surprisingly, this lack of economic diversity arises from a well- intentioned policy - need-blind admissions - acting in combination with noninclusive recruiting networks.

    According to recent data, almost 60 percent of the Dartmouth student body comes from households in the top 6 percent of the national income distribution (those earning at least $200,000 a year), while about 11 percent is drawn from the bottom 40 percent (earning less than $50,000). That is, for every six Dartmouth students from the wealthiest U.S. households, there is one from a low-income household.

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We the 'politically correct' people

    In the wake of Tuesday's Republican debate, here is the question keeping me up nights: When we take barbarism into the very heart of our culture, how can we cure ourselves?

    A few weeks ago, in an interview on Fox News, Donald Trump said this about the Islamic State: "We're fighting a very politically correct war. . . . You have to take out their families." There are two ideas here: that political realism requires the intentional and gleeful violation of centuries-old laws of war, and that only political correctness prevents us from saying so. During Tuesday night's debate, the moderators and all of the candidates except for Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush appeared to accept Trump's dual propositions, and only Paul objected on grounds of principle.

    Strangely enough, we are watching an America much like the young republic. I am thinking of the republic that charted a violent and, in essence, genocidal course against Native Americans.

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The case of the disintegrating GOP

    It is no longer possible to think of "the Republican Party" as a coherent political force. It is nothing of the sort -- and the Donald Trump insurgency should be seen as a symptom of the party's disintegration, not the cause.

    I realize this may seem an odd assessment of a party that controls both houses of Congress, 32 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers. The desire to win and hold power is one thing the party's hopelessly disparate factions agree on; staunch and sometimes blind opposition to President Obama and the Democrats is another. After those, it's hard to think of much else.

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‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies

    In May 2009, Congress created a special commission to examine the causes of the financial crisis. The idea was to emulate the celebrated Pecora Commission of the 1930s, which used careful historical analysis to help craft regulations that gave the United States two generations of financial stability.

    But some members of the new commission had a different goal. George Santayana famously remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What he didn’t point out was that some people want to repeat the past — and that such people have an interest in making sure that we don’t remember what happened, or that we remember it wrong.

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December 24th

What’s the Matter With Iowa?

    One of the great things about the American political system is the amount of time it gives us to think about corn.

    Oh, sure, there’s national security and taxes, but you’d be talking about them even if we were living in a monarchy. Corn only comes up in the weeks immediately before the Iowa caucuses. The issue is our federal ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be laced with biofuel, usually corn-based.

    Quick quiz: How do you personally feel about ethanol?

    A) If it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the country.

    B) Look, I’ve already got the trade pact and Glass-Steagall on my plate. There’s a limit.

    C) How come the corn growers get all the fun? Why can’t we have the first voting in my state so I get some attention for a change?

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