Quick hits

1) I loved seeing “Sue” the T. Rex in Chicago a few years ago.  Here’s the story of how Smithsonian was blindsided on how expensive she would be and was massively outbid.

2) Here’s a school system that thinks making a fellow student “uncomfortable” (in this case by twirling a pencil) should lead to a suspension and psychiatric evaluation.

3) I was prepared to think Jezebel was over-reacting, but these ads are truly horrible.

4) The reason that acceptance rates at top colleges are down is because too many kids are applying to way too many schools.  And you get this:

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

5) The marijuana legalization opponents predicted a major crime way if marijuana became legal.  Not at all surprisingly, they are wrong.

6) Not just unemployment, but labor force participation rate is a real problem these days.

7) All those constant Lumosity pitches are not based on a lot of actual science, but here’s some evidence that brain-training really works.  Time to start playing the N-back game?  (I’ve actually been thinking this might really benefit my son with ADHD).

8) The best evidence Obamacare is working.  Drum on how you’ll never actually hear even a modest admission of that from conservative sources.

9) I love looking at American health care in a comparative perspective.  A really good article on how the German system works and what we can learn from them.

10) Tell white people they will be a minority and they become more conservative.  Yikes.  Jamelle Bouie on how this means the whole country could end up like Mississippi (double-yikes!)

11) American’s are hopelessly resigned to the fact that we can’t make meaningful changes in campaign finance.  And I’m one of them.  Larry Lessig says we need to get past this.  He’s right, of course.  But I’m just too skeptical of real change.

12) Vox explains the oil curse.  Simple but compelling.

13) I started reading this column about the recent Ebola outbreak and thinking about the book I read last summer by David Quammen about zoonotic diseases.  Then I noticed the column was by Quammen.

14) Listened to a fascinating Fresh Air interview about a new book detailing how Michael Rockefeller (of those Rockefellers) was likely killed and eaten by cannibals.  And here’s a Slate piece on the book.  Pretty amazing and compelling stuff.

15) Been reading for a while about how caffeine can improve your athletic performance.  Here’s a nice how-to guide from Vox.  (Before our 5-mile doughnut run, I actually gave my 14-year old son some caffeine– something he otherwise never has).

16) Totally deserves it’s own post, but since I haven’t gotten around to it yet… Here’s how a recent study find tens of thousands “suspicious votes” in NC.  But history very strongly suggests that when they are examined more closely, only a very small handful will be the result of malfeasance.  Not surprisingly, Republicans are simply pretending otherwise.

17) I’ve long known Jim Demint is a moron.  He argued this week that “big government” had nothing to do with ending slavery.  Jamelle Bouie’s takedown.  Adam Gopnik’s is even better:

This is, in plain English, so ignorant that, as I say, there has been no shortage of corrections. A debate about whether big government freed the slaves is pretty much the only debate that a liberal is guaranteed to win. The Civil War was the original big-government overreach: it came from Washington, D.C.; it involved raising new taxes (in fact, it is the origin of a number of taxes); it confiscated rifles from rebels; it did special favors for minorities (in this case, the special favor of recognizing them as human beings and setting them free from lifelong bondage); and, in the end, it imposed a bureaucracy on an unwilling population (that is, it imposed the Union Army on the South). Many things can be said about the Civil War, but not that it was done with the benign neglect of the federales. The moral point was argued for decades, as it is with most issues in a democracy. But that big government freed the slaves is as sure a fact as any in history.


Time is a flat circle

I love this little parody soooo much (as a college basketball fan, I see these AT&T ads all the time) and y’all know how I feel about True Detective:

Colbert and the power of satire

If you haven’t followed the recent controversy over Stephen Colbert, this article pretty much summarizes the whole thing.  In a segment about the name of the Washington Redskins, Colbert said he was creating “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”  To belabor the obvious, the point of this joke is to suggest that the name “Redskins” is just as offensive as this so obviously offensive name.  Context got lost on twitter and a bunch of people hugely over-reacted.

Colbert struck back with another great segment, but the original “hashtag activist” (naturally) just doubled-down and insisted she was right:

Park said that intent did not matter. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” she told the New Yorker. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

Nope.  Simply not true.  I’ll be blunt here– Park is a moron.  This isn’t funny because it gives me (a liberal) permission to laugh at Asians.  This is funny because it makes fun of people defending a presumably racist nickname (though Redskins really isn’t is bad as Ching Chong Ding Dong when you examine the history).  This is not “well-intentioned racial humor.”  This is satire.  And if Park doubts the ability of satire to have any meaningful impact, she might want to google Jonathan Swift among others.

Quick hits (part 2)

1) I didn’t realize quite what a success story Poland is.  A model for Ukraine to emulate?

2) The art of the TV series finale.

3) Does Barbie affect girls career ambitions?  Yes, says one interesting experiment.

4) A medical case for Dr. House.  Particularly interesting when the mother is a physician.  She had to pretend she’s just another doctor and not a concerned mom to get taken seriously.

5) Dune is one of my favorite books ever.  The movie is kind of crazy, but I’ve always liked it (especially the Toto soundtrack.  seriously).  Here’s a nice essay on it.

6) Connor Friedersdorf says we don’t have a drug problem, but a black market problem.

7) Really enjoyed this Douthat column on individualism.

8) Nice Economist story that summarizes Radley Balko’s work on the over-militarization of our police forces.

9) J Lo subverts music video stereotypes.  This Atlantic piece unpacks it.

10) Water bears are the craziest form of life.  No, seriously.

 Also known as the water bear (because it looks like an adorable little many-legged bear), this exceedingly tiny critter has an incredible resistance to just about everything. Go ahead and boil it, freeze it, irradiate it, and toss it into the vacuum of space — it won’t die. If it were big enough to eat a glass sandwich, it probably could survive that too.

The water bear’s trick is something called cryptobiosis, in which it brings its metabolic processes nearly to a halt.

11) I never knew anything about My Little Pony till I had a daughter.  She loves them.  We certainly shouldn’t be bullying boys for liking them:

Do you know about My Little Pony? It’s great. The show has its own mythology and the central tenet is the six Elements of Harmony. These are six characteristics that, when combined, can change the world for the better. Kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and magic—these are the tools that the heroines of My Little Pony use to get out of every mess.

We can all agree on that list, right? It’s a good one. What you don’t find is ambition, or aggression, or force of will.

12) I’m a sucker for dystopias so I’ve read more than my fair share of YA dystopias (most are not actually that good).  Nice review of the Divergent movie explains their appeal:

The word dystopia comes from a Greek root that roughly translates as “bad place,” and what place could be worse than high school? Adolescence is not for the faint of heart. The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school, beginning to make decisions about your own future, and—oh yes—figuring out how to relate to the world, and yourself, as a suddenly and mystifyingly sexual being.




Quick hits (part 1)

Never posted a quick hits last week.  Friday night (when I usually work on them) at the ACC Tournament and busy weekend of soccer, etc., plus a busy week.  Anyway, I’ve got two weeks worth of hits now.  My goal is part 1 for Saturday morning with part 2 to follow on Sunday.  Enjoy.

1) Totally intrigued by this speed reading app.  It really does work.  Though, I have a hard time imaging myself using this for more than a few minutes at a time.  The Atlantic throws some cold water on things.

2) Really enjoyed this story about the SAT overhaul.  Seems like this will generally be a more meaningful test.  Glad this will take effect in time for my oldest son in a few years.

3) The physics of the new World Cup soccer ball.  Probably better than the last ball.

4) There really is just too much good television these days.  David Carr.

5) Federal judge rules that college faculty don’t have the right to proselytize while teaching.  Damn, there goes next week’s lecture on lobbying.

6) Really amazing first-person account from one of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre (shared on FB by a VT professor friend who had some friends/colleagues among the victims).

7) Maybe buy local isn’t so great when it comes to meat.

8) It ain’t easy going from being a political reporter to working as a wage slave in a Sporting Goods store.  Nice essay.

9) If the moon were only 1 pixel.

10) Can a rubber hand make you less racist?  Yes.

11) I didn’t actually know about the “thigh gap” till I read this.  Interesting.  And awesome in the “photoshop fail” sense.

12) Robert Reich on America’s “great U turn.”  Good stuff.

13) More evidence that we are just stupid to expect our teenagers to start high school so early in the day.

14) Love this gallery of awkward photos of cats and dogs with furniture.


Quick hits

1) Saletan on the pro-choice case for infanticide.  Or at least for making us wrestle more fully with the morality and philosophy of the issue.

2) Yes, Whole Foods is America’s temple to pseudoscience and making liberals, therefore, look bad.

3) Alec Baldwin (who, by the way, I love) on why he is saying goodbye to public life.

4) The Republican talent gap on political campaigns.

5) A collection of sad faces from silver medalists.  Pretty irresistible.

6) Love this “how to take a shower with a gay athlete.”

7) Chipotle will soon be offering a vegan burrito based on shredded soy.  If you’ve been following my occasional musing about meat, you know I’m excited about this.  I optimistic that it will be tasty enough that I will, sometimes, replace it for my usual carnitas.

8) How to get fit in a few minutes a week.  High-intensity interval training is awesome.  But even more awesome if you don’t do it every day.

9) Ads in the science magazine Omni from the 1980′s.  Loved these.

10) The real IRS scandal.

11) John Dickerson on the dangers of trying to “be real” for politicians.  Great line:

The most wonderful version of this is the Nixon administration effort to humanize their boss. He met small groups of reporters for cocktails and tried to peddle amusing stories to make them think he was not such a cold fish. He didn’t succeed, because he was a cold fish.

12) Great Businessweek piece on the academic/athletic scandal at UNC.  The part that always kills me about this is that just because there were some non-athletes in fake classes (who’s enrollment was disproportionately athletes) the UNC administration has the gall to insist this is not an athletics scandal.  Sure, as a Duke grad and NC State employee, I’m supposed to hate UNC.  I don’t.  It’s a great university that usually reflects very well on our state.  I hate to see them ruining that.

13) Ivy League schools very narrow view of increasing economic diversity.

14) I was vaguely aware that big stuff was happening in Venezuela.  Nice piece in the Atlantic explains what’s really going on (was especially fascinated by the role of Cuba).

15) Teenager blows families $80,000 settlement because she blew the confidentiality agreement by posting about the settlement on facebook.

16) Love this– former Pizza Huts re-purposed (I can think of several in Cary and Raleigh).

And more quick hits

Like, I said, lots of quick hits to catch up on.  Here’s more.

1) We really need good local reporters to inform the public on things like the horrible chemical spill in West Virginia and the under-reported (nationally, fine job locally) coal ash spill in NC.  Here’s a great Fresh Air interview with a Charleston, WV reporter.

2) Yes, we do have modern debtors prisons.

3) Really enjoyed this George Clooney story.  After Batman, he realized that the key is the script.

4) Would you lie for me?  Probably.  

5) I didn’t realize it is so controversial to not just go down the category in Jeopardy.  It is.

6) Police officers shoot way too many dogs when they don’t need to.  Would it hurt to have a little training?  We do it for postal carriers.

7) You’re not doing your kid any favors by doing all their homework for them and making sure they never fail.  Personally, I feel like David’s F in English last quarter of 7th grade has helped him perform much better in 8th grade due to his own motivation.

8) Fox News really has a thing for blonde females.  Nice visual.

9) Educated people marrying each other (like my marriage, and probably yours) is responsible for increasing inequality by 25%.

10) Kevin Drum on publication bias.  The fact that all the null results are never published really is a problem.  I’ll confess that I’ve got some published articles that I’m not all that confident of the robustness of the findings.  But p<.05 damnit.

11)  Testosterone decreases naturally with age.  And there’s no scientifically-established “normal” level at each age.  Sounds like a great opportunity to convince tens of thousands of men they’ve got “low T” and sell billions in pharmaceuticals.  Welcome to modern medicine.

Quick hits

1) Okay, I know not everybody here is going to be interested in figure skating, but I love watching it and have really been wondering if we’ve been reaching the limits of human physical ability on the ice.  Loved this Deadspin piece that examines exactly that question while taking a fascinating look at the history of the sport.

2) CT scans cause cancer.  This is not news.  We’ve known this.  Great Op-Ed in the NYT looking at the trade-offs and how we think about medical imaging.

3) How racism explains the traffic nightmare in Atlanta’s recent snowmageddon.

4) On how to improve pedestrian safety.  Jaywalking tickets are not the answer.  I jaywalk practically every day at work when I cross the street for lunch.

5) Loved David Edelstein’s take on Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  Also loved Seth Mnookin’s essay on every addict’s fear of relapsing.

6) In case you were confused on the matter, Amanda Knox is innocent.

7) Cryptography breakthrough could lead to software that cannot be hacked.

8) On being naked around other men.  Always thought the idea that women should have modesty/privacy around other women, but men should not around other men, was absurd.  I avoided the issue until I started using the gym at graduate school at Ohio State.  Now I’m pretty damn used to it.  Still, I appreciated those private shower stalls at Texas Tech.

9) What’s inside a chicken McNugget.

10) Really enjoyed this take on the Bill Nye versus creationist science denier debate.   And this collection of questions from creationists for Bill Nye.  Creationists are not very smart.

11) Not to wade into the Woody Allen child molestation thing, but I found this really interesting.

There’s more, since I never got to them last week, but I’ll save the rest for tomorrow.


Quick hits

1) Loved this profile of the chef who brought down former VA Bob McDonnell and how the whole sordid mess went down.

2) Krugman on the plutocrats

3) Scientists at NC State are working on antibiotic “smart bombs” that can target specific strains of bacteria.  Works great in the lab.  Let’s hope it doesn’t stop there.

4) There’s an illegal immigrant who is a great success story and running for student body president at UNC.  How did I not notice about it until it appeared in Frank Bruni’s NYT column?!

5) Just because rich people are really good at making money in one particular industry does not mean they necessarily have the answers to the worlds problems.  Or as Yglesias puts it, it’s time to stop listening to rich people.

6) Well, apparently classical music is not dying after all.  Or rather, people have been proclaiming its death for as long as it has been around.

7) What separates us from other animals?  Not as much as you’d think.

8) Oh, man, I thought ascii art was so cool when I was in middle school and using the proto-internet via bbs.  And, yes, on the back of the bus we would discuss upon which bbs one could find ascii art of naked women.  Safe to say that internet porn has come along way.

9) So, you recall how I plead ignorance regarding Ukraine recently?  Well, thanks to this great Wonkblog post, I’d like to think I’m now only moderately ignorant.  Short verion?  It’s complicated.  Longer version: language, culture, and history.

10) It’s amazing to think that 20% of spotify songs have never been listened to by anyone.  You can change that.

11) I’m sorry, but I just don’t have a lot of sympathy for Humanities PhD’s with 5 and 6 figure debt.  You are nuts if you try and get a humanities PhD without being fully-funded and if you are taking on this level of debt while being funded you are either horrible with money, or sorry, are not in a financial position (i.e., sole breadwinner in a family) where this is a remotely good idea.   It it too snarky of me to say I bet you don’t get a lot of Economics PhD’s who end up with huge amounts of debt?

Monet at 4:53pm

So, this is pretty cool, a team of researchers at Texas State figured out the precise day and time of a Monet painting at the NC Museum of Art:

A researcher holds up a post card depiction of another Monet painting of a famous natural arch called Porte d’Amont on the Normandy coast, while standing at the exact spot it was created. The scientists used the cards to find the precise locations where Monet worked, and in the case of one painting were then able to use the position of the sun depicted to determine the exact minute it showed. COURTESY OF TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY

Some of the details:

The researchers, led by astronomer and physics professor Donald Olson and including a graduate student from UNC-Chapel Hill, traveled to Normandy in 2012. They brought along high-tech and low-tech instruments, including a sextant and a laser rangefinder. They also brought several postcard depictions of a dozen or so paintings that Monet made along the rugged coastline there.

They used the cards to determine the precise location where Monet worked on a whole series of paintings along the Normandy coast. Their main focus was on one painting because, unlike the others, it had a crucial detail: a distinct disc for the sun.

“You see a glow in many, where the sun has set, but you just don’t know where it is,” Olson said.

That allowed the researchers, once they had the location, to determine how high above the horizon the sun was in the painting, and where it was in relation to an arch in the cliff and a rock spire shown in the painting. The arch and spire were several hundred yards apart, so the scientists were able to line them up precisely to help determine Monet’s vantage point.


Quick hits

DJC told me in person yesterday how much he enjoys quick hits.  Now I’m feeling extra pressure!  Hope these are up to spec…

1) Actually told my son, David, about this one today.  Students should be tested more.  It’s not what you think, though, it’s really about the research that testing yourself on material is the best way to learn it.  Schools should more of this and less of the static, summative, standardized tests.

2) Given all we’ve learned about brain science and human adolescence it is crazy that in NY and NC, persons aged 16 are automatically charged as adults.  An NYT editorial lays out why this is bad policy and should change.

3) I really need to read more Radley Balko.  Loved this on the latest national freak-out over kids snorting smarties.  We had that back in my day!


4) Enjoyed this TNC take on Richard Sherman.  Yet also this Seth Stevenson take at Slate.

5) It is such a damn joke that the US is basically a third world country when it comes to credit card security.  Somehow, I think Visa, Mastercard, etc., have enough money that they can improve things.  Thanks to the Target fiasco, they presumably finally will.  Also, a very nice NPR story on this.

6) Nice narrative and detail about just what happened when the man was recently shot for texting in a movie theater.  Yup, more guns sure keep us safer!

7) Classical music is dying.  I love it, but I sure ain’t doing my part by going to the symphony.  Throw in the babysitter and it’s just too expensive.  Loved going to the symphony (at amazing student rates) in Columbus, Ohio.

8) Speaking of declines.  Charles Blow and Jordan Weissman on the decline of reading books.  Makes me sad.  Weissman suggests, though, the decline may have bottomed out.

9) Hey, let’s go with a decline trifecta.  Slate’s Will Oremus completely rips apart, based purely on logical reasoning, the stupid “research” that predicted FB’s virus-like demise within a few years.  What killed me about this was the totally credulous media reports of unpublished, un peer-reviewed research largely, I presume, because it had an Ivy-league pedigree.

10) John Sides and Lynn Vavreck (who you may know from the Monkey Cage) argue that Obama’s 2012 campaign did not actually revolutionize the use of data after all.

11) Money is not such a great way to measure a college major.

11) Fascinating look at google searches parents have for sons versus daughters.  E.g.,


Orcas, Sea World, and medical billing codes

So, I somehow never posted about the movie Blackfish, which I watched while stricken with the flu over Christmas break.  Anyway, its a documentary about the mistreatment of orcas (i.e., killer whales) by Sea World and how deadly they can be to their “trainers.”  A pretty amazing film (and available via Netflix streaming).  Here’s the trailer:

And, although Sea World insists that attacks from orcas are really rare, I was amazed to read– the very day after I watched the film- -that they new ICD codes (ICD-10) used for medical billing actually have a specific code for an orca attack!  The ICD article is interesting in it’s own right, but uses the orca attack as a hook to show just how specific the ICD can get.  The fact that somebody thought a code was needed for orca attacks, is certainly telling though.  As the film notes, there’s never been a documented case of a wild orca attacking a human– only in captivity.

[For the record, I'm very familiar with ICD-9 codes as Alex's code, 759.5 Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, has saved us probably tens of thousands of dollars if we did not have the known genetic origin of his disease and were stuck with 315.9 Unspecified delay in development, which rarely qualifies for reimbursement]


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