Video of the day

Off for a day of family fun.  Entertain yourself with these awesome videos.  Pretty cool to have a dad that is a Pixar animator.  Here’s one:

More here.

Quick hits

On time this week.  Enjoy.

1) Are you really so busy?  Probably not (okay, DJC is pretty busy– though not too busy to read this blog).

2) How phthalates may be affecting male fertility.

3) Right-wing columnist says Republicans should just stop worrying about non-white people.

4) I love this study that clearly demonstrates causality (an actual experiment) on how money buys access in DC.

5) This one takes a while, but totally worth it.  How malaria keeps developing resistance to whatever we throw at it and the desperate (and very important) fight to prevent the latest resistant strain from spreading.

6) Republicans in NC continue to make it harder for college students to vote.  Just a coincidence.  They probably didn’t even know that young people are more Democratic these days.

7) Quality and profit in higher education are inversely related.

8) Body language really isn’t so great for detecting lying.  Also, a fun little test you can take yourself with it.

9) Fortunately my kids have never had lice.  But if they do, it’s good to learn that schools are becoming more rational about it.  Lice are basically harmless, it’s just that we’re grossed out by them:

Lice are not particularly contagious, they hurt basically no one, and they’re not a public health risk. Lice don’t actually matter. It’s high time that squeamish parents and school administrators stop acting like they do.

10) Probably not a good idea to get a degree in art or education from a lower-tier public university (at least economically speaking).

11) Hooray.  Now thanks to the success of the gun nuts, we’ve got a “knife rights” movement.

12) Nice Kristof column on the “takers” that conservatives never complain about.

13) I grew up right near Mclean, VA and I totally get that way too many parents are way too obsessed with their kids going to the most elite colleges and doing everything in their power to make that happen.  Personally, I went to Duke, Kim went to Duke, but we’ll be quite happy to have the kids go to NC State (or any other fine NC public institution).

14) How about a pill that increases the plasticity of your brain so you can learn things like you could when you were a kid.  It’s coming.  Brave new world.


How free refills, my small bladder, and my kids keep me healthy

Very nice piece on Quirks and Quarks this week that takes a comprehensive look at the research on sitting and your health.  There’s a significant body of research now that shows that doing a lot of sitting is bad for you– even if you also get plenty of exercise.  Hello, me!  What seems to be particularly harmful, is sitting for long periods of time, though.  I almost never do that.  My long stretches of work are typically in the afternoons after a lunch of (usually pizza and) bottomless Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi, if forced) refills.  Throw in my small bladder and during the afternoon I am actually stretching my legs and getting a walk down the hall every 20-30 minutes.  It gets old, but, hey, now I know it is good for me.  The upshot of the research seems to be to make sure you are changing positions at least every 30 minutes and that it is change that is good.  You don’t want too much standing or too much sitting.

And suffice it to say, that when I’m home with four whiny and demanding kids you can be pretty much guaranteed that there’s no way I’m ever sitting still for more than 15 minutes (or sometimes, 2 minutes).  I’ll remind myself how healthy I’m being next time when Sarah sends me back into the kitchen to get her more water 30 seconds after I was just up to find her missing pony.

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.




Parenthood and happiness and Europe

I’m currently working on my latest research– the politics of parenthood goes international!  Anyway, looking to see if we can find the same patterns of parenthood in the European Social Survey as we have found in America.  So far, the answer is a resounding yes (moms more liberal on social welfare issues; minimal effect for dads).  Hooray.  That said, I couldn’t help but also look at happiness as a dependent variable in all my analyses.  So, what did I find.  Parenthood (with a bunch of controls you would expect) is associated with less happiness.  Also, parenthood is associated with less subjective health.  Damn vectors?!

Anyway, the ESS also asks a question as to whether you’ve ever had kids in your home.  Thought I’d check and see if persons who do not currently have kids in the home, but have in the past might be happier.  Nope.  Even those who used to have kids are less happy.   And less healthy.

Not a ringing endorsement for parenthood, but I’ll still take it.

Video of the day

Not long after my 8-year old son, Evan, asked me if fire were a solid, liquid or a gas, I came across this Dahlia Lithwick story on Alan Alda’s flame challenge:

About six months ago, my 8-year-old asked whether fire was a solid, a liquid, or a gas. I am sad to confess that my answer at the time was: “A gas. … No, a solid. … No. A gas. … It depends. … Let’s check Google. Look! A squirrel!” And those were the coherent parts. When actor Alan Alda was 11, he too asked a teacher what a flame was. And her one-word explanation—“oxidation”—wasn’t much more satisfying than mine. So in 2011, Alda—who is a longtime science enthusiast, PBS science sherpa, and founding member of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York—developed the Flame Challenge, a competition in which scientists around the country are tasked with explaining a complicated scientific idea to the satisfaction of thousands of exacting 11-year-old judges.

Well, great minds, great 8-year olds, or something like that.  Anyway, here’s the winning video and it’s pretty awesome.  The Greene progeny of all ages enjoyed (alright, Sarah did get bored after a bit):

Is breast best?

Yes, it is.  Breast milk is perfectly evolved to provide the nutrition that human babies need.  Modern science just can’t quite match that– at least not yet.  But the benefits of breast milk have surely been oversold based on studies where middle/upper-middle class women have been much more likely to breast feed than lower SES women.  I was very intrigued by the latest study that controls for this, reported in Slate:

A new study confirms what people like our own Hanna Rosin and Texas A&Mprofessor Joan B. Wolf have been saying for years now: The benefits of breast-feeding have been overstated. The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, is unique in the literature about breast-feeding because it looks at siblings who were fed differently during infancy. That means the study controls for a lot of things that have marred previous breast-feeding studies. As the study’s lead author, Ohio State University assistant professor Cynthia Colen, said in a press release, “Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother’s employment—things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes.”

First of all, I understand “do not” statistically control for factors such as race, age, income, etc., but what’s with “cannot statistically control.”  It’s called a regression model.  What am I missing here.  And as for “do not” control.  Why we somebody even publish such a profoundly flawed study.

Anyway, on to the cool new methodology:

Colen’s study is also unique because she looked at children ages 4-14. Often breast-feeding studies only look at the effects on children in their first years of life. She looked at more than 8,000 children total, about 25 percent of whom were in “discordant sibling pairs,” which means one was bottle-fed and the other was breast-fed. The study then measured those siblings for 11 outcomes, including BMI, obesity, asthma, different measures of intelligence, hyperactivity, and parental attachment…

When children fed differently within the same family were compared—those discordant sibling pairs—there was no statistically significant difference in any of the measures, except for asthma. Children who were breast-fed were at a higher risk for asthma than children who drank formula.

Why am I so intrigued by this study?  This is our family.  Our first two, David and Alex, each received less than 2 months of breast feeding (severe allergies to some undetermined factor in Kim’s diet that was resolved when on super-pricey hypoallergenic formula) whereas Evan and Sarah both had at least a year.  Now, Alex has a rare disease, so it’s not a fair comparison in his case, but it is quite clear that by the age of three both Evan and Sarah have well out-performed their older siblings on some of these measures.  Our family is ultimately an N of 1 and I think that 95%+ of the difference is just the genetic lottery, but it has always been interesting to me.

Here’s the article’s conclusion:

As more and more research comes out showing that the benefits of breast-feedingare modestat best, I’m starting to come around to the French feminist theorist Elisabeth Badinter’s views, which I once thought were overly radical and sort of bananas. I’m all for women breast-feeding if that is what is right for their families, but as Badinter does, I am finding the cultural push for all women to breast-feed, no matter how difficult it is, to be more and more oppressive. Hopefully this study will give women who can’t or don’t want to breast-feed for whatever reason more ammunition to tell the breast-is-best purists to piss off.

Now, I don’t know about “for whatever reason.”  I think most of us parents have come across the way-overagressive breast-feeding pushers who clearly go to far, but even if the benefits are only modest, I still think there’s nothing wrong with seeing breast feeding as an ideal.  I would suggest we should just be far more understanding of people who don’t meet that ideal.  I guess the problem is that it is all too often damn hard to get people to be understanding.

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.

Why do some ethnic groups succeed?

I don’t think I’ve written about the Asian Tiger Mother controversy before, but I can say I’ve always found it plenty rich that a Yale professor married to another Yale professor attributes her awesome, crazy-rigorous, parenting for her child’s success.  Anyway, turns out that Amy Chua and her husband have a book out claiming to explain cultural success (some cultures have the right values, e.g., impulse control, and others don’t).  Great takedown of their premise from law professor Daria Roithmayr in Slate:

Here is the book’s thesis: Some groups (Cubans, Nigerians, Mormons, Jews, some Asian groups, south Asian Indians, and Iranians) have experienced upward mobility in the U.S. at higher rates because they possess three cultural qualities: impulse control, feelings of superiority, and feelings of inferiority. By impulse control, they mean the ability to resist temptation (to quit, for example); superiority and inferiority appear to be a simultaneous belief in your group’s specialness (e.g., God’s chosen people) and deep-seated anxiety about inadequacy, the kind that a Chinese mother might instill in her daughter by calling her garbage.

These cultural traits are the ticket to success. Being Latino is no impediment, Chua and Rubenfeld argue, since Cubans can make it. Nor is being black, if Nigerians can do well (though the authors disclaim these comparisons on talk shows). The Triple Package is available to everyone.

The problem with the thesis is that in setting out their claim, the authors ignore the more obvious explanation for differences in group success: history. To be specific, in their quest to make it all about culture, the authors either ignore or strongly discount the particular circumstances of a group’s first arrival, and the advantages enjoyed by that first wave…

The Triple Package’s minimizing of history is a bit curious, given that many of the authors’ own sources favor this explanation. Here are some of the early-wave stories that the authors could have told but didn’t:

  • It isn’t just that Chinese-Americans have developed a “‘how dare they look down on me’ mentality and an iron will to succeed.” It’s more that the second wave of Chinese immigrants—those who have formed the foundation of current Chinese communities—were professionals (nurses, doctors, and engineers) who brought wealth and education with them. (Most of the first-wave Chinese, who were poor railroad workers and miners, died or were sent back.)
  • Why do south Asian Indians earn higher wages? As Triple Packageacknowledges, immigration law has done a great deal of prescreening for a very select cross section of south Asian Indians. A majority of them come on employment-based visas, with higher educations and English skills, to work in high-tech jobs in California, New York, and Chicago. The Indian median incomes come from this group and not the poorer subsequent waves that theTriple Package profiles.

Uhh, yeah.  History.  Just a minor detail.  Does culture matter?  Sure.  But it makes a hell of a lot more sense to look at it this way:

Serious sociologists like Harvard’s William Julius Wilson and Yale’s Elijah Andersonbelieve that culture plays a role in economic success, but that history, economic forces, and first-wave wealth explain far more than culture. Put differently, history and structure drive the bus, and culture might be a passenger along for the ride. But the cultural arguments in the book aren’t serious, more entertaining anecdote and “status anxiety as social theory” than well-supported science.

It just amazes me that they could present this as serious scholarship and so ignore history and path dependence.  Not to mention, even if we are to claim particular cultures have superior values, rather than building off superior starting advantages, it seems quite likely that these superior starting advantages may very well have led to the superior values that help these cultures succeed.  It’s all Guns, Germs, and Steel.  

The v word

Interesting article in the Atlantic about how we do our kids a disservice by not teaching them the proper names for body parts, i.e., genitalia:

…educators increasingly believe–and parents seem increasingly to accept–that teaching and using plain and accurate language to describe the human body can help children live healthier lives. “We need all adults to be partners in teaching healthy childhood sexual development,” says NSVRC’s Palumbo, and “square one is body parts.” Educators and parents should communicate accurately, without stigma or shame, she says. This helps children who “have important health questions or an experience they’re concerned about talk with adults about their concerns,” whether the child is seven or seventeen.

I’m totally on board with this.  And with the boys I’ve always referred to their penis pretty much as easily as I might refer to an elbow or knee.  Yet, I was pulled up short the other day when Sarah was asking about this.  She asked a question about her brother’s penis and then asked about herself.  “What’s this called?” she asked.  And, for whatever reason, I couldn’t just bring myself to say “vagina” and let it go.  Perhaps in part because I feared all sorts of snickering from her brothers who are plenty used to “penis” but not “vagina.”  Instead, I yelled, “Kim?!”  And we distracted Sarah.  Now, I feel bad about this.  Next time, “vagina” it is.  I suppose I just need to get used to it.  On a quasi-related note, I still feel a little funny any time I mention Pussy Riot in class.

Quick hits

1) Really disturbing story in Pacific Standard about how amazingly abusive people are to women writers on-line.

2) The science of what your cat is thinking.  I found this part especially interesting:

To this day the population of domestic cats is maintained in a semiferal state by the practice of neutering. About the only males available for domestic female cats to breed with are the wildest and least people-friendly tomcats who have escaped into the feral cat population. Some 85 percent of all cat matings, Dr. Bradshaw writes, are arranged by cats themselves, meaning with feral cats.

The result is that when cats interact with people, they have to rely almost entirely on their natural social behaviors, which are not highly developed.

3) Some pretty good advice from a parenting class for bad parents.

4) White women are not living as long as they should in America.

5) Marriage, the conservative solution to ending poverty.  (Actually, there’s a good point here, but it over-simplifies a really complex issue)

6) Nice review/summary of Radley Balko’s important new book on the militarization our police.

7) Milbank on the GOP’s war on the war on poverty.  Good stuff.

8) A double Balko week.  Very nice Post column on prosecutorial misconduct.  Damn I wish we took this issue seriously.  Prosecutors can be responsible for the most heinous miscarriages of justice and walk away with nothing but a sore wrist.

9) Steroids or not, it does seem truly crazy to me that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would not be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

It is shooting extremely comatose fish in a barrel to trash the Baseball Writers Association of America after this week’s Hall of Fame votes were tallied. The BBWAA once again, because of the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs, kept out baseball’s all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and the greatest right-handed pitcher since integration, Roger Clemens. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza were also all Hall of Fame–caliber players of their generation shut out because of admitted, openly suspected or quietly rumored steroid use.

Meanwhile Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are in, because the voters, who one can only assume have the all-seeing powers of the blinded Cordelia on American Horror Story: Coven, were able to divine that these three were in fact “clean.”

10) Sticking with baseball, truly fascinating article on what made Maddux such a great pitcher.  I hardly watch baseball at all anymore, but really loved watching Maddux back in his heyday.

11) An argument that teaching is harder than rocket science.  In some ways, the answer is certainly yes.

12) How your name matters (for the record, I’m pretty happy with mine).

For the kids!

I just have to say that I’m so tired of kids safety being used to justify anything, no matter how non-sensical.  It’s cold all across the country.  For Raleigh, NC tomorrow, that means temperatures pretty similar to a typical January day in Madison, Wisconsin.  Morning low somewhere around 10, highs in low to mid 20′s.  Very cold for these parts, surely not worth the over-reaction of all the local school systems starting two hours late so that kids can be out in weather that is 16 degrees instead of 13 degrees, so some similar difference.

All over FB, I’ve seen this justified about kids’ safety.  Same from my school board member who replied to my well-reasoned complaint with “safety first!”  Parents in Wisconsin and Minnesota don’t love their kids because they make them go to school in the winter?  But we’re not used to it here– kids don’t even have winter coats– I hear.  What?  This is not Miami.  There’s a bunch of days in January and February that start out in the 20′s.  10 degrees?  No, but your kids still damn sure needs a winter coat and a hat for those days.

Of course, there is a cost to this.  A serious inconvenience and huge loss of economic productivity for literally tens of thousands of working parents (yes, including yours truly).  Now, if we are talking an actual threat to kids safety, i.e., snow or ice which are infrastructure is unequipped to handle, that’s one thing.  But how many kids would really get exposure because they’re out there at 7am in 11 degrees but will be spared the suffering at 9am in 14 degrees?  How many buses that wouldn’t start at 10 degrees will start at 13?  It’s all just so stupid!  But everybody’s okay with it because “it’s for kids’ safety!”  Ugh.


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