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

Photo of the day

Super-typhoon Vongfang as seen from space:

View image on Twitter

Quick hits (part II)

1) John Dickerson on how fundraising emails encapsulate everything wrong with politics:

Perhaps it’s effective, but there’s a larger point to be made about political fundraising emails: They are a bouillon cube of all that is awful about American politics—the grasping for money, the neediness, the phony plays on your emotion, the baiting, and reduction of anything complex into its most incendiary form. What makes these emails bad is not the breadth of their insult—you can opt out of receiving them, which makes them easier to avoid than a television commercial—but what it says about the people who send them. Here’s the short version: They think you’re stupid.

2) Personally, I love Common Core math.  I love that my boys are asked not just to apply algorithms, but actually understand what they are doing and really think about math.  Here’s a nice Vox post explaining the virtues of this approach.  Also, so embarrassed to admit I missed this math problem (but I am so inside the box I don’t even know I’m in the box).

3) This piece by Sahsa Issenberg about changing minds on gay marriage and what they may tell us about changing minds on abortion was really fascinating.  Long, but worth it.

4) Amy Davidson on Texas’ abortion law nicely takes about the “not a large fraction” argument.  And TNR’s Jen Gunter looks at the patient safety argument.

5) Yeah, so our kids totally need grit and persistence.  We just haven’t quite figured out how we are supposed to teach them.

6) In case you haven’t seen this alternate ending to Titanic that’s gone viral.  It truly is awful.

7) So love this Onion headline:

Yard Sign With Candidate’s Name On It Electrifies Congressional Race

8) Paul Waldman on our failure to actually learn in our dealings in the Middle East.

9) Sharing your chocolate makes it taste better.

10) Sensationalist coverage of foreign policy makes Americans more hawkish.

11) Adam Gopnik on the power of images in terrorism.

12) This Onion headline so captures some awkward experiences I’ve had:

Coworkers Each Putting In Herculean Effort To Sustain Conversation For Entire Commute

13) Of course teachers should have serious apprenticeships rather than just 6 weeks of student teaching.  Let’s do this.

14) Awesome interactive Smithsonian feature on the Anthropocene era we are living in.

15) The latest in the Post’s terrific series on the abhorrent police practice of stealing innocent people’s cash because, you know, drug dealers use cash, too.

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.


Mega quick hits (part II)

1)  Before this Vox post I knew pretty much nothing about New Zealand’s government.  Sounds great.

2) How the Affordable Care Act is saving money.

3) To their credit, NC came up with a set of reasonable criteria to rank road projects on how worthy of funding they are.  Smart.  Alas, now a bunch low-ranked projects have been proposed to receive funding.  Not smart.

4) Is credit cart fraud almost a thing of the past?

5) Pope Francis‘ latest appointment of an American bishop is yet another great credit to his papcy.

6) I heard part of this great story on TAL today (will catch the whole thing on podcast soon), but I love how Michael Lewis calls it the Ray Rice video of Wall Street.

7) More from Oceania– fascinating tale of how environmentalism in Australia has been completely politically crushed.

8) When can you not trust a poll result?  When a Republican firm releases a poll looking bad for Republicans and a few hours later an “updated” poll is released showing it much less bad.

9) The magnetic field of the earth could flip soon.  Whoa.

10) Celiac disease is real.  But “gluten sensitivity”?  Not so much.  If you are not familiar with the nocebo effect, this is a great example.

11) The less our governor says, the better.  He’s got a serious penchant for going off on subjects where he really has no idea what he’s talking about.

12) The fact that all the water on earth is from outer space is so cool.  The fact that much of it is actually older than our solar system is even cooler.

13) Not surprisingly, the gender wage gap starts with how we teach our sons and daughters about money.

It’s not my fault I can’t remember– it’s my gender

My wife is often bemused and amazed at events from our life that I have forgotten.  Her theory is that my brain is so full of (largely useless) trivia, arcane knowledge, etc., that there’s no room left for family memories and life events that I completely forget.  My theory is that she’s just good at remembering that stuff; not that I’m bad.  Anyway, it turns out that, well, science.  Women are better than men at recalling autobiographical memories.  From New York magazine:

Researchers are finding somepreliminaryevidence that women are indeed better at recalling memories, especially autobiographical ones. Girls and women tend to recall these memoriesfaster and with more specific details, and some studies have demonstrated that these memories tend to be more accurate, too, when compared to those of boys and men. And there’s an explanation for this: It could come down to the way parents talk to their daughters, as compared to their sons, when the children are developing memory skills.

To understand this apparent gender divide in recalling memories, it helps to start with early childhood — specifically, ages 2 to 6. Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories, and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents…

But the way parents tend to talk to their sons is different from the way they talk to their daughters. Mothers tend to introduce more snippets of new information in conversations with their young daughters than they do with their young sons, research has shown. And moms tend to ask more questions about girls’ emotions; with boys, on the other hand, they spend more time talking about what they should do with those feelings.

This is at least partially a product of parents acting on gender expectations they may not even realize they have, and the results are potentially long-lasting, explained Azriel Grysman, a psychologist at Hamilton College who studies gender differences and memory.

Anyway, interesting.  (It’s not my fault, Kim!)


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