Map of the day

From a series at Vox showcasing the water problems in the American west.  It just kills me that everybody has way higher water usage out there because they are trying to grow nice green laws in the desert.  Ummm, grass is not meant to grow in the desert.  When I lived in Lubbock, Texas, (not a true desert, but semi-arid) otherwise sane people seemed not to be when it came to their need to match all their neighbor’s nice green laws.  As in Cary, NC, the Greene home was characterized by dead grass (the problem here is way too much shade) as I was not willing to waste a bunch of water on it.  Anyway, here’s the map:

(The Hamilton Project)

Chart of the day

I love that David Goldenberg at 538 analyzed the most popular animals for each letter in children’s books (e.g., d is for dog).  And the winner, Z is for Zebra over 90% of the time.


This was particularly noteworthy for me as Dr. Seuss’ ABC has always been one of my favorites “Rosie’s Red Rhinoceros” “Ten Tired Turtles” “Camels on the Ceiling” etc., but I hate how it ends… “What begins with Z… I do.  I am a Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz as you can plainly see.”  The whole rest of the book is pretty much real, but silly things (e.g,. the quacking quackeroo is a duck) and then we get this fantastical creature when we should have had a zebra!  Maybe Dr. Seuss just wanted to be different given the dominance of Zebras.


Quick hits

1) The zeppelins of WWI

Although the zeppelin was embraced by both the Germans and the Allies during World War I, the Germans made far more extensive use of the rigid, hydrogen-filled airships. The concept of “strategic bombing”—targeted airstrikes on a particular location—didn’t exist before the conflict. The advent of aerial warfare changed that, and also robbed the British of the protection afforded by the English Channel. The zeppelin allowed Germany to bring the war to the English homeland. Kind of.

2) Parenting as a Gen-Xer:

It struck me recently, after one of my quiet carpool rides, that my generation of parents – we of the soon-to-be or recently 40 year old Gen X variety, the former latchkey children of the Cold War and an MTV that actually played videos, former Atari-owners who were raised by the the Cosby Show and John Hughes, graduated high school with the kids from 90210, then lumbered through our 20s with Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey and flip phones – is perhaps the last to straddle a life experience both with and without the Internet and all its social media marvels.

3) EJ Dionne on NC politics.  And a WSJ piece on how NC politics increasingly resemble those of Virginia.

4) Eating octopus?  No thanks.

5) Jon Chait with an interesting essay on the value of playing football.

6) Are Alabama Judge Tom Parker’s ideas the key to dismantling Roe v. Wade?  I suspect not, but it is disturbing to think about somebody with his ideas (forget the Constitution– the real version– it’s all about God– Parker’s version) serving as a judge.

7) Maria Konnikova on social media and the Dunbar number

Dunbar did the math, using a ratio of neocortical volume to total brain volume and mean group size, and came up with a number. Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty. Anything beyond that would be too complicated to handle at optimal processing levels. For the last twenty-two years, Dunbar has been “unpacking and exploring” what that number actually means—and whether our ever-expanding social networks have done anything to change it.

8) Nice post from Mike Cobb on how to have a healthy skepticism towards non-attitudes reported as attitudes on surveys.

9) Really nice piece from John Dickerson about Matt Bai’s new book, the media, and political scandal.

10) Jon Chait decries California’s new “yes means yes” approach to sexual assault.  Ezra Klein writes easily the most interesting commentary (supportive of the law) I’ve read on the matter.

11) A look at the great impact exercise can have on a child’s brain.  The results are great, but, there’s this:

Each two-hour session also included downtime, since children naturally career about and then collapse, before repeating the process. In total, the boys and girls generally moved at a moderate or vigorous intensity for about 70 minutes and covered more than two miles per session, according to their pedometers.

That doesn’t strike me as remotely scalable.  I’d love to see some efforts along these lines of an exercise program for kids with less time commitment.

12) Vox on why the LED light was worth the Nobel Prize.  (For what it’s worth, I remember reading many years ago how a white LED light was a holy grail).

13) NYT Magazine on how school lunches have become a political battleground.  Personally, I think everybody needs to give pizza more respect.  My middle and high schools all offered pizza as a lunch entree every day.  That’s how it should be.

14) You probably don’t know that much about giraffes.  You should.

15) A sixteen year old spent three years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack before the charges were dropped.  Just another day (or three years) of criminal justice in America (at least if you are poor).

Coolest maps ever

I don’t know how I missed seeing before this collection of maps that uses US census data to show racial segregation in American cities, but it is simply awesome.  My favorite is Detroit (thanks to Eminem I know about 8 Mile Road which divides this map):

In Detroit, among the most segregated cities in America, 8 Mile Road serves as a sharp dividing line. Image: Dustin Cable White: blue dots; African American: green dots; Asian: red; Latino: orange; all others: brown

And you know what’s really cool, you can go here and zoom in on your own neighborhood!


Everybody likes to think Cary, NC is just a bunch of rich white people (and okay, lots of blue dots here), but that purple circle of diversity– that’s my neighborhood.  (And if you are curious, all that red is a huge Indian population in western Cary and neighboring Morrisville).

Musical interlude

Just because.  I had this song stuck in my head yesterday and Evan and Sarah got a huge kick out of me singing it.  Love the Kinks.

The 10,000 hour myth

I wrote about a myth of the 10,000 hour rule this summer, but there’s a great piece in Slate summarizing a whole bunch of data on the matter.  Yes, of course practice matters, but it is amazing that people take this to undervalue the huge influence of genes:

There is now compelling evidence that genes matter for success, too. In a study led by the King’s College London psychologist Robert Plomin, more than 15,000 twins in the United Kingdom were identified through birth records and recruited to perform a battery of tests and questionnaires, including a test of drawing ability in which the children were asked to sketch a person. In a recently published analysis of the data, researchers found that there was a stronger correspondence in drawing ability for the identical twins than for the fraternal twins. In other words, if one identical twin was good at drawing, it was quite likely that his or her identical sibling was, too. Because identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, whereas fraternal twins share only 50 percent on average, this finding indicates that differences across people in basic artistic ability are in part due to genes. In a separate study based on this U.K. sample, well over half of the variation between expert and less skilled readers was found to be due to genes.

And several more compelling examples.  I really like how the authors get into the bigger implications of all this:

What all of this evidence indicates is that we are not created equal where our abilities are concerned. This conclusion might make you uncomfortable, and understandably so. Throughout history, so much wrong has been done in the name of false beliefs about genetic inequality between different groups of people—males vs. females, blacks vs. whites, and so on. War, slavery, and genocide are the most horrifying examples of the dangers of such beliefs, and there are countless others. In the United States, women were denied the right to vote until 1920 because too many people believed that women were constitutionally incapable of good judgment; in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, they still are believed to be. Ever since John Locke laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment by proposing that we are born as tabula rasa—blank slates—the idea that we are created equal has been the central tenet of the “modern” worldview. Enshrined as it is in the Declaration of Independence as a “self-evident truth,” this idea has special significance for Americans. Indeed, it is the cornerstone of the American dream—the belief that anyone can become anything they want with enough determination…

It is therefore crucial to differentiate between the influence of genes on differences in abilities across individuals and the influence of genes on differences across groups. The former has been established beyond any reasonable doubt by decades of research in a number of fields, including psychology, biology, and behavioral genetics. There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that genes contribute to individual differences in abilities. The latter has never been established, and any claim to the contrary is simply false.

But what’s the harm in pretending we are all equally endowed with abilities?

Wouldn’t it be better to just act as if we are equal, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding? That way, no people will be discouraged from chasing their dreams—competing in the Olympics or performing at Carnegie Hall or winning a Nobel Prize. The answer is no, for two reasons. The first is that failure is costly, both to society and to individuals. Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist. It makes more sense to pay attention to people’s abilities and their likelihood of achieving certain goals, so people can make good decisions about the goals they want to spend their time, money, and energy pursuing.

So, go right ahead and practice something 10,000 hours, but you will be much better off if that 10,000 hours is put towards something you already show a natural inclination for (that’s why I stick with analyzing politics and not creating art).

The most depressing study I have read about aging

Okay, I know that my body will slow fall apart and my mind will work slowly.  But to think that the older me would not find The Office of Curb Your Enthusiasm to be funny?!  Now that is truly depressing.  From the Atlantic:

There’s an episode in the first season of The Office in which Michael Scott, the tactless boss, is asking his female employees to serve as cheerleaders for an upcoming company basketball game. When the heavyset Phyllis says she’ll do it, Michael reflexively says, “Oh yuck, that’s worse than you playing.” He then tries to rescue the crack with, “because we need you as an alternate.”…

According to a new study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, this type of humor is exactly the kind you should never deploy around the elderly.

Jennifer Stanley, a psychology professor at the University of Akron, had 30 young adults, 22 middle-aged people, and 29 senior citizens watch a variety of different sitcom clips, including the above segment from The Office. The subjects rated how socially appropriate and how funny they found each clip. Stanley also used facial electromyography to determine how much the clips caused their smile muscles to move…

What the authors found was that older adults were much less likely to be fans of the aggressive style of humor—laughing at the expense of others—that’s so often used by Michael Scott. The 64-to-84-year-olds found The Office clip about 23 percent less funny than the middle-aged people did, and about 19 percent less funny than the 17-to-21-year-olds did.

Young adults were also more likely to smirk at the clips that showed self-deprecating humor, as exemplified in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasmin which Larry pumps his waiter for information about how much his friend left as a tip.

The older participants, meanwhile, liked affiliative humor—the kind of jokes that bring people together through a funny or awkward situation. Stanley says aGolden Girls clip in which the women try to buy condoms and suffer an embarrassing price check is a good example.

I honestly don’t even want to think that the 70 year-old me would not find the following clip hilarious.


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