Mega Quick hits (part I)

1) I know the Food Babe is low-hanging fruit, but her scientific illiteracy is so bad it’s truly laughable (in this case her advice for air travel).

2) Apparently there’s nothing to lose in applying to literally dozens of colleges.  Well, nothing but thousands of dollars in applications fees.  Oh, the rich.

3) John Judis argues that it is unlikely that Hillary Clinton will win the presidential election in 2016.  He makes a pretty good argument, but I still think you have to consider her the odds-on favorite.

4) Another great column from Kristoff on how whites don’t get it.

WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?

Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

5) Of course we are all now well familiar how our justice system is corrupted by elected judges.  It only makes sense that it is also corrupted by elected state attorneys general.  Depressing NYT editorial.

6) Some smart analysis from Thomas Mills on the elections in NC.

7) XKCD guide to dimensions.  Pretty cool.

8) So, this was interesting.  An article about how hot air hand dryers spread germs (I hate them).  The end of the article reveals the research was funded by the paper towel industry and performed under conditions not at all like the real world.

9) A couple good TNR pieces on the Jon Gruber health care mess.

10) How Republican outside spending groups are using twitter to get around the no coordination issue.  Devious.

11) Nice profile of John Oliver and his HBO show.

12) In response to a clueless NYT column, Seth Masket explains why the South is no longer Democratic (hint: it involves race).

13) Is there anything lamer than climate change deniers bringing it up every time we get a cold snap.  It’s so depressing that people this stupid serve in the US Congress.

14) Are TV and video games bad for children’s development.  Maybe, but if so it’s a really small effect.

15) Sure, LARCs are pretty awesome, but if you stop and think about it there’s really been very little development in the basic aspects of birth control.

16) I assume that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith believe lots of crazy stuff but are smart enough to keep it too themselves.  Their kids, however, don’t know that you just don’t talk like this.  This interview is pretty hilarious.

17) I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid.  Creator of the series, RA Montgomery just died.  Nice obituary in the Times.

18) Kids aren’t what’s holding back career women– it’s lame husbands.

19) So, maybe you are not really guilty of that capital murder?  Get your appeal in a day late due to a bad lawyer.  Tough luck.  Excellent and depressing series from the Post and the Marshall Project.

20) Australian TV anchor wears exact same outfit for a year and nobody notices because he’s a man.

21) Heard a really intersting story on NPR during the week about attempts to revitalize Atlantic City.  In truth, it’s pretty hopeless.  It’s success was built entirely on having an East Coast monoploy on casino gambling.  No there’s basically a gambling arms race and nobody is winning.  States are doing themselves no favors in thinking that casinos are going to solve all their problems.  Read this one.

22) This light of my life is 4 today.


The shirt

Presumably you’ve heard the story of the European Space Agency scientist who wore an incredibly stupid shirt (sci-fi-esque scantily clad women) to the big press conference when the probe successfully landed on the comet.  I think it’s debatable about just how sexist the shirt is (though Phil Plait’s take is my favorite) but can we at least call him an utter moron for thinking this is appropriate (even if the figures were space aliens instead of women) attire for a public event of this nature.  Seriously?


Photo from the ESA news stream, via @RoseVeleth’s Twitter feed

Personally, I think given the nature of women and science, it is a more than justifiable claim that the shirt is inherently sexist and inappropriate on that basis alone.  Debatable, but I do think a fair charge.  What kills me is the number of comments (from otherwise smart people) along the lines of “he landed a spacecraft on a comet, he can wear whatever he wants.”  Seriously??!!  Being an excellent scientist some how should give you a pass from basic norms of society.  Including norms that others may have reason to find highly offensive?  Would people make these comments if his shirt said F*** the police or I hate black people, or MLK with a line through it, or whatever?  Of course not.  Did some feminist critiques go to far?  Probably, I haven’t really delved that extensively into the matter.  But damn do I chafe at the idea that if you are really smart or responsible for some scientific accomplishment that basic rules of human propriety no longer apply .

Quick hits (part II)

01) Did outside spending change the result of midterm elections?  John Sides says probably not.

2) Dan Hopkins on how incumbency isn’t what it used to be:

But more polarized parties mean that voters frequently face stark ideological choicesat the ballot box, and given that elections are more nationalized, backing an incumbent from the other party with a reputation for bringing home the bacon becomes harder to countenance.

3) Fantastically wrong things people used to believe about elephants (no knees?!)

4) Tomasky on how you just can’t tell the truth about race in America

5) Nice Reihan Salam piece about what Republicans can learn from Democrats about how to govern.

6) Julia Azari on the (very dim) outlook for judicial appointments.

7) Is the Libertarian Party starting to hurt Democrats more than Republicans?

8) You’ll be shocked to learn that post-election GOP proposals would increase the deficit.

9) It’s kind of become a truism that the media treat female candidates worse/different.  Thing is, the best evidence suggests otherwise.

10) Yglesias pushes back against the argument that the Democrats have a message problem.

11) Politico(!) with a very nice piece on how all Ebola is local (i.e., how we invest in local public health infrastructure is key).

12) Love this Dan Drezner piece on how Obama is like the Tampa Bay Rays of presidents (it was going to have it’s own post, but my 8-year old closed the tab before I saved).

13) Paleontology finds really really cool stuff and there’s surely lots more cool stuff to be found.

14) A new theory on how complex cells evolved (that whole prokaryotic to eurkaryotic is a bit of a mystery).

15) The fact that we seem locked into a cyclical nature of American politics has been one of my talking points for a while.  But I’ve never taken the time to make the case as straightforwardly as Yglesias does here.

16) If you haven’t seen this viral clip of Kevin Spacey doing impressions on demand, now’s your chance.  Great stuff.

Women are more than their uterus

Cannot say I followed the Colorado Senate race all that closely, but it is clear that Mark Udall has been panned for overly focusing on women’s reproductive issues in his campaign.  I thought about that upon seeing this TNR piece headlined:

The Most Female Congress Ever Will Be Terrible for Women

You know what?  It very well may be.  I’m of the opinion that most Republican majority Congresses are not good for women (and not so great for men, either).  But to make the case, the article focuses entirely on abortion.  Look, I get the importance of reproductive rights to the overall status of women in society, but there is still a lot more to being a woman than that.  And liberals of any stripe– be they soon-to-be-former Senators or journalists don’t do the liberal cause any good by suggesting that abortion is basically the be all and end all of women’s political interests.

Where are the women state legislators?

After seeing steady increases for many years, the percentage of women in state legislatures has pretty much stagnated.  It’s been in the mid-20′s since the 1990′s.  Via Vox, here it is in animated map form.  You will not be surprised to see what regions is trailing in the representation of women.

women in state legislatures

When breast isn’t best

Two of my children were predominantly breast feed the first year and two were not so I’m very open to arguments in all sides here, but one thing is very clear is that far too many breast feeding advocates are wayway overzealous.  Due to a letter in Dear Prudence today, I came across this great column from a journalist who cannot breastfeed due to a cancer-related double mastectomy.  First Dear Prudence:

Dear Prudie,
My husband and I had a baby girl five months ago. Before she was born, we had a long conversation about breast-feeding versus formula and decided that breast-feeding was best and that I would try to do it for a year. The problem is that I’m completely miserable. I work full-time and it’s really stressful to fit pumping into my schedule. My breasts are constantly sore and I am always exhausted. Our daughter is beautiful and healthy and I want to do the right thing, but I don’t know how much longer I can bear this. My husband doesn’t want me to stop. Every time I mention formula, he gives me all the reasons why breast-feeding is best. He suggests I talk to our doctor or La Leche League. I don’t want to pump her full of chemicals or have her immune system suffer either, but I’m desperate. What can I do? I feel so guilty about all of it.

—Running Dry

Dear Running,
Mom, return the pump, toss the lactation bra, and get an economy-size container of formula. At great personal cost, you have breast-fed your daughter, she has gotten plenty of benefit, and now she would benefit even more from a happy, rested mother. Read Hanna Rosin’s article, “The Case Against Breast-Feeding,” which shows that the popular literature on breast-feeding overstates the scientific certainty of its superiority. In any case, you are doing no harm to your child by weaning her. To show how unhinged breast-feeding pressure has become, also read this story byWashington Post reporter Emily Wax-Thibodeaux about what happened after she recently gave birth. Several years ago, Wax-Thibodeaux was treated for breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Of course, she couldn’t breast-feed, but even explaining her lack of mammary glands to the lactivists at the hospital couldn’t stop them from harassing her about trying! Breast-feeding is making you miserable, and that’s all your husband needs to know. He has no skin in this game, so don’t let him bully you. You both want what’s best for your daughter, and that means switching to formula.

Amen.  And here’s some excerpts from the aforementioned column (well worth a read in its entirety):

The mothers in my “Baby & Me Yoga Fit,” class looked down from their tree poses, surprised as I poured some instant formula into a bottle.

Feeding our babies whenever they were in need was one of the most nurturing parts of the class. But with my evil formula, I was disrupting the fellow yogis in a way I never could have predicted.

“You know,” one mother said as I fed my little Lincoln, then 3 months old, “breast-feeding is optimal.”

I encountered this “breast is best” reaction at cafes, parks, even in some friends’ houses. One male friend even noticed that my husband was giving Lincoln a bottle in a Facebook posting and commented, “So you’re not breast-feeding? It’s better you know?”

The truth is, I’m a breast cancer survivor, and after a double mastectomy with reconstruction, which probably saved my life, I simply wasn’t able to breast-feed…

“You never gave up,” my husband said, laughing as he watched Lincoln gulp down his first two-ounce serving of formula, which my husband fed to him.

As the two of them cuddled afterward, I was in a mood that I can describe only as postpartum elation.

That is, until those I jokingly call the “breast-feeding nazis” came marching in to my room.

“You really should breast-feed,” the hospital’s lactation consultants, a.k.a. “lactivists,” said.

When I simply said, “I’m going to do formula,” they didn’t want to leave it at that.

So holding my day-old newborn on what was one of the most blissful days of my life, I had to tell the aggressive band of well-intentioned strangers my whole cancer saga…

“I can’t. I had breast cancer,” I said, looking down at Lincoln and stating proudly: “But I’m just so happy to be alive and be a mother after cancer.”


“Just try,” they advised. “Let’s hope you get some milk.”

“It may come out anyway, or through your armpits,” another advised later when I was doing the usual post-labor, slow-recovery walk through the hospital halls…

Around that time, a long-term study came out that compared pairs of siblings — one breast-fed, the other formula-fed. It debunked the “breast is better” mantra that I kept hearing: “Breast-feeding might be no more beneficial than bottle-feeding for 10 of 11 long-term health and well-being outcomes in children age 4 to 14,” the study found; those outcomes included body mass index, obesity, hyperactivity, reading comprehension, math ability and memory-based intelligence.

If you can breast feed, great, more power to you.  But to have our culture essentially trying to bully women into it is ridiculous.  Especially when much of the prior research on breast feeding was based on the fact that breast feeding mothers were higher SES.  The sibling study is pretty compelling.  Women need to do what’s best for them and what’s best for their baby.  And in many cases that is formula feeding.  And that’s okay.

Less women are in office because women don’t want to run for office

Here’s a nice little video summarizing some of the most recent research on political campaigns especially a pretty cool little experiment showing that women are significantly less interested than men in engaging in a competitive campaign environment while be no less likely to volunteer overall.

And here’s a nice summary in the Upshot:

Research from two political scientists at the University of Pittsburgh suggests that women may be more “election averse” than men. Among men and women with similar qualifications, ambitions and political environments, the study said, “the fact that representatives are chosen by electoral means is enough to dissuade women from putting themselves forward as candidates.”

The study, by Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon, both associate professors of political science, does not assert that this aversion is the sole cause for the gender gap among elected officials, nor that it represents an innate characteristic of women. But they place the election aversion theory among the variety of factors that have been cataloged by other research.

Drawing on earlier research on competition and women, Ms. Kanthak wondered whether aversion to competition extended to the political arena. “What if there is something about women that makes them not want to run for office that doesn’t have anything to do with external factors?” Ms. Kanthak said in an interview. “What if we could completely level the playing field — would women be as likely to run as men?”

The answer, according to the experiment they designed, is no. In the experiment, members of a group volunteered to do math problems (with the possibility of a reward) on behalf of their group. In some cases, the person doing the problems was selected at random from among the volunteers; in other cases, the group elected one of its volunteers to do the problems.

Men and women volunteered at the same rate when problem-doers were chosen at random, but not when they were chosen by election. (The replication data for the experiment is here.) Ms. Kanthak compared the aversion to becoming a candidate to that of asking for a raise: “If women aren’t willing to ask for raises, we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not willing to ask for votes.”

Previous research on female candidates has identified several factors that cause women not to enter the political arena. A report released by researchers at American University in March 2013 concluded that the gender gap among elected officials was unlikely to be closed in the near future because young women have fewer political ambitions than young men.

External social factors, including traditional gender roles, exposure to political news and participation in organized sports, were among the experiences influencing young women not to pursue political careers, based on a survey of more than 2,100 college students. That survey found another factor: that “young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office.”

I’ve got a good friend running for state Senate and damn it is hard.  I cannot imagine anybody wanting to do this.  But given what we expect of women in our society it is no wonder than fewer of them than men want to undertake this.  It is certainly, interesting though, that to some degree it may well be a disinclination toward any  competitive electoral environment, even divorced from politics.


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