Quick hits (part II)

Sorry these are a little late today.  Spent more time than anticipated watching the terrific Notre Dame vs. Florida State game last night.

1) Really interesting Vanity Fair article that give an account on this Ebola outbreak– unlike all the others- became an epidemic.

2) On a somewhat related note, a FB friend shared this story from last year of how an extremely dangerous bacteria was nearly impossible for the NIH to eradicate from it’s research hospital.  With plenty of scary stuff about the future of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

3) Heck, let’s stick with a theme.  Here’s a Yahoo! story about a robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms (the CDC used a robot that filled rooms with hydrogen peroxide gas).

4) Alright, let’s just keep going here.  James Surowiecki putting everything in perspective and reminding us we should be way more scared of the annual flu.

5) A Tennessee woman involved in manufacturing meth got 6 years added to her sentence for being pregnant at the time.  Hmmm, that just doesn’t seem right in a variety of ways.

6) We could use better data on charter schools.

7) True tales from the making of Princess Bride.  Much to my dismay, my 8-year old son refused to like it because of the title.  My almost 4 daughter liked it even though it was over her head.

8) Teenagers should so not be interrogated without a parent or a lawyer.  It is a legal travesty that this happens all the time.  I’ve told David never to talk to the police without a parent.  Never.

9) Garrett Epps on the “undue burden” standard from Casey and how courts are increasingly ignoring it.

10) Republican Congressmen are intent on cutting NSF funding based solely on the title of research.

11) How modern pork production is bad for pigs and not so good for workers, either.

12) NYT Magazine feature on how billionaires are becoming their own political parties.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova on Walter Mischel (the marshmallow self control guy)

2) Really interesting NYT profile of super-far-right Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach

3) That would be so awesome if the ability to effectively grow Alzheimer’s brain cells in the lab actually leads us much more quickly to a cure or effective prevention.

4) So there was a Wire reunion and you can watch it.

5) Vox says this attack ad makes the Willie Horton ad look tame.  I think they are right.  To add insult to injury, the Republicans actually put this policy in place.

6) On what grade level of reading ability are presidents’ speeches over time.

7) Did the pro-life movement actually lead to more single moms?  Maybe.

8) Interesting Ozy piece on how cancer may ultimately be an ineradicable part of life.  Actually reminded me of one of my favorite science fiction works ever, Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God, in which the nature of cancer plays a fundamental role.

9) The keyboards from early IBM PC’s (my dad had one) were simply the awesomest.

10) James Surowiecki on the capitalism and streaming entertainment services.

11) Loved this description of Curb Your Enthusiasm from a recent Larry David appearance:

“ ‘Curb’ is about what’s beneath the surface of social intercourse, the things we think about and can’t say,” David told Remnick. “I’m normal. If I said the things he does”—he, of course, being the Larry David who goes around eating his in-laws’ manger scene, inviting a sex offender to a Seder, and teaching kids how to draw swastikas—“I’d be beaten up. He’s a sociopath!” A pause. “But I’m thinking them!”

So is everyone else, and that’s the brilliance of “Curb.” The show exists to prove how thin the veneer of social custom and courtesy really is, and to reveal the inner sociopath that we are supposed, at all costs, to suppress.

12) 538 looks at which diet will help you lose the most weight.  Easy, the one that is easiest for you to stay on.

13) How to get the right kind of sleep depending upon what your test the next day will be on.  Seriously.

14) Really liked this TNR piece on how judges should respond to burdensome laws on the right to vote and the right to abortion when legislators are so clearly lying about their actual intent:

But if courts cannot, and should not, prove deliberate discrimination, they can still apply objective balancing tests, to weigh the benefits of a law against its costs. When they do, the relevant question changes: judges no longer ask whether a legislature’s motivation was to limit abortion or to protect patient safety, but whether such a law can be justified by a reasonable person who takes both values seriously. In an important sense, this inquiry is far less fraught and far more coherentno mind-reading necessary.

15) Andrew Sullivan on the latest out of the Vatican

The economics of parenting style

Thanks to Jeff D. for sending me this economic analysis of parenting style by country, certainly knowing it would be catnip for me.  And, indeed it is.  Basically, the authors compare beliefs about child-rearing with the amount of inequality as measured in a country.

First, the parenting styles:

In developmental psychology, the broad strategies that parents employ in raising their children are known as ‘parenting styles’. Starting with a seminal contribution by Baumrind (1967), a distinction between three main parenting styles has taken hold: Authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. As the name suggests, the authoritarian style is one where parents demand obedience from their children and exercise strict control; this style is often associated with corporal punishment. Permissive parents, in contrast, follow a laissez-faire approach and let children make their own choices. The authoritative style is one where parents attempt to influence their children’s choices, but they do so by reasoning with them and by shaping their values, rather than through command and discipline.

I’ve actually written before about research that shows that authoritative parenting led to the best results with teens’ drinking behavior.  Most of this analysis, though, groups authoritarian and authoritative together as “coercive” parenting styles. There are some pretty interesting, though not all that surprising results.  The relationship with the value of children valuing “hard work” is easily the most clear:


And here’s the key summary:

In our research, we show that cross-country data on parenting styles are consistent with the prediction of a link between parenting and income inequality. Parenting style can be measured using the World Value Survey, where people are asked which attitudes or values they find most important in child rearing. Here, emphasising the values of ‘imagination’ and ‘independence’ in rearing children would correspond to a more permissive parenting style, whereas authoritarian and authoritative parents would be more likely to insist on the importance of ‘working hard’. Figures 1 to 3 show the association of these values (i.e., the fraction of parents in a given country that consider the value important) with a measure of income inequality, namely the Gini index (higher values correspond to more inequality). As predicted by the theory, across OECD economies parents in more unequal countries place more emphasis on hard work, and consider imagination and independence to be less important. Conversely, Scandinavian parents emphasise the value of imagination and independence, consistent with the casual observation that in these countries children enjoy more leeway than their peers in Southern Europe and the US. The pattern also holds up for developing countries. As an example, Figure 4 adds China to the picture – a country with pronounced economic inequality. As predicted by the theory, in China emphasising the importance of hard work is almost universal among parents.

There’s a fairly thorough economics discussion of all this, too, but I’m going to cut to this particular chase:

A final question is why among the intensive parenting strategies, modern parents increasingly rely on the subtle indoctrination methods of the authoritative style, rather than the command-and-control approach of an authoritarian parent. The methods of the ‘Tiger Mom’ notwithstanding (which have both authoritarian and authoritative elements), traditional authoritarian parenting with its ample use of corporal punishment is becoming less common in many countries. From the economic perspective, the advantage of the authoritative approach is that the children, once successfully indoctrinated, no longer need to be monitored to do the right thing – they will implement the parent’s preferred choices on their own accord. Hence, authoritative parenting is more attractive than the authoritarian style when monitoring is difficult or impossible. We believe that the authoritarian style is declining because the economic returns to the independence of children have risen. [emphasis mine] The crucial phase of education is now often the college or post-graduate level rather than elementary or secondary school. Once off to university, children are no longer under the direct control of their parents, and they will succeed only if the appropriate values (such as valuing hard work and academic success) have already been instilled in them.

That’s a reasonable economic argument and it may explain some of the change, but I think the authoritarian style is in decline because our values have “evolved,” if you will.  I don’t think this is so much about the economics of independent children as a change in societal values.  Just as social values towards other races, gays, women, domestic violence, etc., have gotten better, our attitudes towards children and how they should be raised have also changed for the better.  Economics is good stuff and these relationships are interesting, but when it comes to authoritarian vs. authoritative, I would go with a sociological, rather than economic, explanation.

And as for me, I definitely aim for authoritative but probably too often fall into permissive.  That said, most authoritarian and authoritative parents are simply trying too hard.  Not me.

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).

Understanding the teen brain

Science writing about the teen rain is all-too-common, but this interview from my local public radio station was definitely one of the more enlightening pieces I have read on the matter (and more pertinent to me than ever given the 14-year old in my home). Some of the parts I found most interesting:

It’s one of the many distinctive characteristics of the adolescent brain that psychologistLaurence Steinberg lays out in his new book, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence.

Steinberg teaches at Temple University. As an expert on adolescent development, his testimony has contributed to Supreme Court decisions abolishing the death penalty for juveniles and life without parole for juvenile offenders.

In Age of Opportunity, he argues that in the last decade, neuroscience has established that the brain remains “plastic,” that is, changeable, well into the early 20s. His experiments have shown that adolescents respond differently to rewards, are more likely to take risks and are more sensitive to peers than adults. But he argues that our education, legal system, and our parenting have yet to incorporate these insights.

You explain that adolescent brains are more sensitive to the “dopamine squirts” that come from rewards, be they sex, drugs, candy or money. This, combined with less-developed inhibition, is what makes them more likely to seek out challenges, novelty — in a word, risk.

We’re hard-wired to be risk-takers as adolescents. The dark side of this is why societies from ours to ISIL recruit people this age to do the dirty work. [Young adults are] more interested in the immediate rewards than the long term consequences.

You say that so-called character education, abstinence education or drug education programs like DARE, haven’t been shown to be effective. Because it’s not that adolescents don’t intellectually understand the impact of this behavior, it’s that they are too compelled by the rewards.

Exactly. But the other side of this is, let’s let kids satisfy those urges in pro-social ways. We want them to sign up for that course where they’re not guaranteed to get As, to try out for the school play, or even ask that person out…

Let’s talk about peer pressure. Is it a myth?

We know that brain systems comprising the social brain are undergoing extensive development during adolescence. They’re particularly attentive to the behaviors of other people, and peers especially.

The studies we’ve done at Temple have been to understand why adolescents engage in more risk taking with peers than alone.

It’s not so much that peers influence kids to take risks. It’s that by activating their reward centers, peers make adolescents more sensitive to rewards in their immediate environment. .[emphasis mine]

But I think an important piece of our research has been misunderstood. Since peers activate the reward centers, there’s plenty of reason to think that engaging in pro-social activity with their friends will make it more rewarding and desirable as well.

Like volunteer work? Or being on a sports team?

Yes. I think that for adolescents the presence of peers has a positive spillover regardless of what the activity is. So, in theory they should enjoy learning and other positive activities more if they’re doing them with their friends.

Really interesting stuff, I may have to check out his new book.  Regardless, I really love the idea that peers activate reward centers and this can lead to good as well as bad.


American eugenics?

As the father of a child with a genetic disorder who loves his kid dearly, but often laments how damn hard it can be, I really loved this post from Drum (here’s the whole thing):

Andrew Sullivan points me to a piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty bemoaning the “troubling persistence” of eugenic thought in America. But Dougherty’s evidence for this is tissue-paper thin, especially in his credulous treatment of the high abortion rate among women with Down syndrome babies:

In an article that explores this sympathetically, Alison Piepmeier writes:

Repeatedly women told me that they ended the pregnancy not because they wanted a “perfect child” (as one woman said, “I don’t know what ‘perfect child’ even means”) but because they recognized that the world is a difficult place for people with intellectual disabilities.  [emphasis in Drum]

If the numbers on abortion and Down syndrome are even remotely accurate, the birth of a Down baby is something already against the norm. As medical costs are more and more socialized, it is hard to see how the stigma attached to “choosing” to carry a Down syndrome child to term will not increase. Why choose to burden the health system this way? Instead of neighbors straightforwardly admiring parents for the burden they bear with a disabled child, society is made up of taxpayers who will roll their eyes at the irresponsible breeder, who is costing them a mint in “unnecessary” medical treatment and learning specialists at school. Why condemn a child to a “life like that,” they will wonder.

Oh please. These women were lying. The reason they had abortions is because raising a Down syndrome child is a tremendous amount of work and, for many people, not very rewarding. But that sounds shallow and selfish, so they resorted instead to an excuse that sounds a little more caring. [emphasis mine] Far from being afraid of eye-rolling neighbors who disapprove of carrying the baby to term because it might lead to higher tax rates, they’re explicitly trying to avoid the ostracism of neighbors who would think poorly of them for aborting a child just because it’s a lot of work to raise.

This has nothing to do with eugenic thought one way or the other. The more prosaic truth is simpler: Most of us aren’t saints, and given a choice, we’d rather have a child without Down syndrome. You can approve or disapprove of this as you will, but that’s all that’s going on here.

Actually, I think Drum is wrong about the not very rewarding part, but it sure is a tremendous amount of work.  Especially on the days when your child pulls down on the curtains and flushes the toothbrushes down the toilet just for fun.  In many ways, the world is more difficult for my oldest, somewhat socially awkward, son.  The metaphor I use is that he is a elliptical peg in a world of round holes so everybody expect him to fit.  Alex is a triangle peg so nobody actually expects him to fit at all, which means the world is often not that difficult a place.  At least not while he’s still a child.

Quick hits (part I)

1) A reminder from Jonathan Ladd that, joking aside, this Secret Service fiasco is serious stuff.

2) A nice list of ten things that would improve our food system far more than labeling GMO’s (I bet I could come up with more than 10).

3) Vox on how college are doing diversity all wrong:

The key here is this: colleges need to get more specific about who they want to help, and why. Universities’ commitment to “diversity”  is important, but it’s a poor substitute for a policy of equal access for the disadvantaged because “diverse” students and disadvantaged students are not necessarily one and the same. Several studies have shown that beneficiaries of diversity-based admissions policies typically hail from the most well-educated and economically successful segments of “diverse” communities. That’s why a diversity strategy will not help universities reclaim their mission of fostering socio-economic mobility.

4) Jeffrey Toobin on the Hobby Lobby legacy (Ginsburg was right).

5) A woman leaves her 7-year old home alone under very safe circumstances and writes about it.  Everybody freaks out.  I’m with her.

6) A Federal Appeals court decided that Texas’ new abortion law does present an “undue burden” to women’s Constitutional right to abortion because 1/6 is not a “large fraction” of women.  Nuts!

7) Clay Shirky, famed professor of “New Media” is banning laptops in his classes.  And based on the scientific evidence, he is definitely right to do so.  I started with this policy this semester.  The post nicely lays out the rationale.

8) Thanks to Mike for sharing this awesome link about “good old days” syndrome.

9) Vox interviews Matt Bai on politicians, their affairs, and media coverage and how Gary Rice changed it all.  Really fascinating stuff.

10) The head of the Oklahoma highway patrol suggests that women who want to avoid being sexually assaulted by the Oklahoma highway patrol need to make sure they obey the law.  Seriously.

11) Brazil’s lessons for us (and Hillary Clinton) on what doesn’t work for dealing with inequality.

12) Very nice Dave Roberts piece on polarization (and it’s asymmetry).

13) Yes, a Florida police officer did taser a woman in the back as she walked away from him.  And it’s on video.  And he’s currently on paid leave.

14) The gender politics of pockets (the new Iphone is too damn big).

15) Seriously, we need to get about everybody who is not planning on having a baby anytime soon on a LARC.


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