Quick hits (part II)

1) I love the size of my Iphone 4s.  I wouldn’t even want the bigger size of the 5, but I’ll need it if I ever want 4g.  Apparently, I’m in quite the minority– at least on a global level– of preferring a smaller smartphone.  I had known about this fact, but did not realize that it is because for so many Asian users, the smartphone is their only internet-connected screen.

2) College education should not be trade school, for lots of good reasons.

3) A children’s book to teach your child to be overly-worried about stranger abductions.  Just what the modern parent needs.

4) And love this Slate report on how much less freedom today’s children have than their parents.

5) This essay on evolution is so awesome.  Totally deserves it’s own post.  But:

So if someone asks, “Do you believe in evolution,” they are framing it wrong. That’s like asking, “Do you believe in blue?”

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that’s how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs, because they’ve been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other.

But there’s no reason for people of faith to reject the mountains of data and the evidence of their own senses. Reconciling is easy: Believe, if you want to, that God set up the rules of evolution among His wonders, along with the laws of physics, and probability, and everything else we can see and measure for ourselves. But don’t deny evolution itself, or gravity, or the roundness of Earth. That’s just covering your eyes and ears. And only monkeys would do that.

6) Totally love slurpees.  The complete abscence of 7-11’s from the Triangle area just kills me (the imitators are just not as good).  Now, I understand why I love slurpees:

On a sweltering August day, what better to cool you down than a “semi-frozen drink comprising tiny frozen particles each of which contains the proper proportions of water, flavoring and carbon dioxide.” Mmmmm.

7) Yet more evidence that actual voter fraud is only slightly more common than Bigfoot.  But Republicans are only genuinely concerned with fair elections in their support for Voter ID laws.

8) I love the utter genius/craziness of the internet that there is a tumblr dedicated to depictions of anatomically incorrect lobsters.

9) I’ve never really liked the term “African-American” but I’m a little uncomfortable being the judge of that as a white person.  I liked this essay on the problems with it from a Black person upon visiting Africa.

10) Nobody ever believes high-powered politicians, CEO’s, etc., who say they are leaving to spend more time with the family.  Here is one who explains how he genuinely is:

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job [doctor and professor] and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.

11) Where’s my metric system?!

12) The return of Ted Lasso.  If you are Premier League fan, this is pure genius.

13) The case for starting teaching statistics in Kindergarten.  I’m not sure about kindergarten, but there’s definitely something to this.

14) The Persian Gulf war photo nobody would publish.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget it– viewer discretion advised.

15) Sean Hannity is a child.  He resents Stephen Colbert pointing this out.

16) Quora on “what is the single most revealing thing about any person?”  A number of variations on the following quote, which I think is pretty true and pretty awesome:

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

17) I don’t know much about Alcoholics Anonymous, but I do know that it’s not actually based on any science.  Meanwhile, we’ve learned a ton about the science of addiction in recent years.  Yet, our society still overly relies on this totally a-scientific approach.

18) Are you a narcissist?  That’s the only question you need to find out.



Quick hits (part I)

1) Al Qaeda has taken to funding its activities by kidnapping Westerners and holding them for ransom rather than just killing them.  It’s quite lucrative.  The US and British governments do not pay ransom.  That does actually seem to lead to less kidnappings, but if you are kidnapped– not pretty.  Excellent NYT story and excellent Fresh Air interview.

2) The idea that the NFL comes down so heavily on marijuana use is just absurd and stupid.  Some good questions from the recent case of Josh Gordon:

But once you look at the details of the case, the questions get bigger than whether a wide receiver smoked weed. For instance: Why does this sport need to test people using a standard along the same lines as the U.S. military’s? Why is Josh Gordon treated like a paroled criminal for his entire career after testing positive twice? Do they really test him 10 times a month? Does it make sense to treat marijuana users the same way we treat PED users? Is there anyone at the NFL who saw the positive test and thought it might be too inconclusive to publicly ban a star player for an entire year? Does it make sense for the NFL to be testing players for marijuana at all? What does the league gain from prosecuting people like this?

3) Speaking of the devil weed, USA today tries to make it look much scarier than heroin.  As you know, it’s not.  Great example of how to lie with statistics.  Good catch in Vox.

4) Fish are way smarter than we give them credit for and they certainly feel pain.  Surely some of the beliefs to the contrary help us deal with the barbaric ways in which we treat ocean creatures.

5) The economics of surfing are good for Africa.  Time for a surfin’ safari, DJC and JCD.

6) My friend Leah Friedman used to write for the N&O.  Budget cuts cost her her job, but now she’s kicking butt as an organizer.  And offering helpful tips.

7) Nice editorial from the Charlotte Observer on all the craziness the Republicans in Raleigh brought us this term.

8) South Korea gets good results from its students on international comparison tests, but absolutely crushes their souls to get there.  It’s horrible.  Nice piece in the NYT magazine (my best player on the Blasters is here because his MD/PhD parents left Korea to give their sons the decent childhood that they were denied).

9) Making choices is tough.

10) The NYT is finally calling all the post 9/11 torture conducted by the US government, “torture.”  Bout time, to say the least.

11) Love this Vox video on the movement of the US population as visualized through the changing population center of the US.

12) This Foot Locker ad is pretty awesome.  (and clearly shows evidence of benign violation).

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fist bumps and high fives spread way less germs than a handshake.  Will we all be fist-bumping each other some day?

2) The present and future of marriage in America.

3) Gender differences in cognition:

Though everyone saw improvements over time, the women did so more dramatically. The gains in smarts coincided with better living conditions, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), fertility rate, health indicators such as mortality rate, and educational opportunities, the researchers found.

Because women’s better performance coincided with higher levels of societal development across different regions and cohorts, the results suggest that improved living conditions have benefited women more than men. But the scientists aren’t sure whether that trend will continue into the future, as women simply may be “catching up” after starting from further behind, Herlitz said.

4) Were dinosaurs wiped out by bad luck?  Love this bit:

I asked Dr Brusatte: “Could dinosaur you and dinosaur me be having this conversation, instead?” …

“As far as dinosaurs becoming intelligent is concerned the experiment has been done and we call them crows,” he told BBC News.

5) So do not like tattoos.  But I found this video that explains how their permancence to be a function of a complicated interplay with the human immune system to be quite fascinating.

6) Olberman on the NFL, gender, and Ray Rice.  Good stuff.

7) Talk about reverse causality… in many African villages people are thinking that doctors are bringing the Ebola virus with them ans spreading it rather than responding to outbreaks.  Not good.  Also not good– the fact that so many doctors and nurses seem to be getting sick this go round.  Presumably, we are dealing with a newer, more virulent strain of Ebola, but I haven’t read anything good on that yet.

8) Five sort of myths about the gender pay gap.

9) Yet more evidence on the amazing benefits of even a small amount of high-intensity exercise.  You know what also has a great benefit?  Moderate-intensity running for even a few minutes a day.   This part is something:

Remarkably, these benefits were about the same no matter how much or little people ran. Those who hit the paths for 150 minutes or more a week, or who were particularly speedy, clipping off six-minute miles or better, lived longer than those who didn’t run. But they didn’t live significantly longer those who ran the least, including people running as little as five or 10 minutes a day at a leisurely pace of 10 minutes a mile or slower.

Wow!  I run somewhere between 9-10 minute miles (doesn’t feel “leisurely” to me).  Sometimes I feel guilty about not pushing myself harder, but no more!

10) Seth Masket on why political science is science:

Political science is a science. Political scientists come in a variety of flavors, but basically we’re in the business of proposing theories about the way the political world works, testing those theories with some kind of data, subjecting our findings to a peer-review process, and hopefully publishing those findings so that others can confirm or refute what we’ve done. And our understanding of the political world has improved substantially over the past century using this approach. (See Hans Noel’s article for some great examples, and see Julia Azari on Twitter for some more schooling.) That is science.

11) The human evolutionary biology of being politically conservative.

12) Apparently, at Fort Bragg they show way too much deference to officers in matters of safety.  Interesting story of how this led to a Colonel plummeting to his death in a failed parachute jump.

13) I love stuff like this– the ages at which hockey players at different positions have their best performance (interestingly, age seems to make the least difference for goalies).

How much sleep is best?

So, we’ve been hearing for years about how 8 hours of sleep (or maybe 7-9) is best.  Now, a lot of researchers are actually arguing that about 7 is truly optimal and that it goes downhill from there.  WSJ:

Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.

Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night’s sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.

“The lowest mortality and morbidity is with seven hours,” said Shawn Youngstedt, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University Phoenix. “Eight hours or more has consistently been shown to be hazardous,” says Dr. Youngstedt, who researches the effects of oversleeping…

Getting the right amount of sleep is important in being alert the next day, and several recent studies have found an association between getting seven hours of sleep and optimal cognitive performance.

study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience last year used data from users of the cognitive-training website Lumosity. Researchers looked at the self-reported sleeping habits of about 160,000 users who took spatial-memory and matching tests and about 127,000 users who took an arithmetic test. They found that cognitive performance increased as people got more sleep, reaching a peak at seven hours before starting to decline.

After seven hours, “increasing sleep was not any more beneficial,” said Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham…

Now, here’s the part I simply don’t buy…

Experts say people should be able to figure out their optimal amount of sleep in a trial of three days to a week, ideally while on vacation. Don’t use an alarm clock. Go to sleep when you get tired. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol. And stay off electronic devices a couple of hours before going to bed. During the trial, track your sleep with a diary or a device that records your actual sleep time. If you feel refreshed and awake during the day, you’ve probably discovered your optimal sleep time.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices, I never wake up after only 7 hours feeling nicely refreshed.  It is always 8+ if not 9.  And anecdotally, I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in that.  That said, I used to always aim for 8, but after Sarah was born I found I was seemingly getting by just fine with 7, so that’s been my minimum goal ever since.  Maybe my cognitive performance suffers on those days I get to sleep in, but it sure feels good (and heck, I’ve got some cognitive performance to spare :-) ).

Meanwhile, Wired writes about “sleep drunkenness”

Oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. But, unlike the brute force neurological damage caused by alcohol, your misguided attempt to stock up on rest makes you feel sluggish by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle…

When you sleep too much, you’re throwing off that biological clock, and it starts telling the cells a different story than what they’re actually experiencing, inducing a sense of fatigue. You might be crawling out of bed at 11am, but your cells started using their energy cycle at seven. This is similar to how jet lag works

If everything’s just fine with your sleep zone but you still can’t get under the eight hour mark, you might need to go see a doctor. It could be a symptom of narcolepsy, which makes it hard for your body to regulate fatigue and makes you sleep in more.

Oh, give me a break.  Now they want people who sleep 8.5 hours a night to actually go their doctor over the issue?!  Just not buying it.

And, while I’m at it, I’m going to combine what was going to be a separate post about kids and sleep.  Basically, we need to have our children appreciate the value of sleep:

We tell children why it’s important to eat their vegetables. We tell them why they need to get outside and run around. But how often do we parents tell children why it’s important to sleep? “Time for bed!” is usually the end of it, or maybe “You’ll be tired tomorrow.” No wonder children regard sleep as vaguely punitive, an enforced period of dull isolation in a darkened room. But of course sleep is so much more, and maybe we ought to try telling children that…

There is evidence that educating children about the importance of sleep leads them to sleep more. Two studies conducted with seventh graders, for example, found that after participating in a “sleep smart” program, they went to bed earlier and slept longer on weeknights.

I was particularly intrigued by this because of what I’ve seen in my oldest son.  Years ago I told him about the research finding that chronically sleeping too little can impact the cognitive performance of children by as much as two grade levels.  I told him that not enough sleep might cause his 5th grade brain to function like that of a 3rd grader.  Damn, we he sold on it.  I never have to tell him to go to bed earlier.   In fact, on occasion I have to convince him that it is okay to stay up late on occasion for special events.  I love the degree that he has internalized the importance of good sleep.  I guess now I just have to worry about him wanting more than 7 hours when he is an adult :-).

Photo of the day

Love this photo of the Caribbean from the International Space Station.  More here:

From the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, flying some 225 nautical miles above the Caribbean Sea in the early morning hours of July 15, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman photographed this north-looking panorama that includes parts of Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida, and even runs into several other areas in the southeastern U.S. The long stretch of lights to the left of center frame gives the shape of Miami.

Image Credit: NASA

Unhappy marriages, daughters, and causality

So, there’s been an interesting finding out there– families with daughters are more likely to suffer a divorce.  The obvious conclusion was that something about having a daughter was a marital stressor leading to divorce.  Not so fast, though.  It’s much more complicated and much more interesting than that.  From TNR;

Scientists have known since the 1970s that couples with firstborn daughters are slightly more likely to get divorced than couples with firstborn sons, and they’ve traditionally assumed that the blame lay with the baby girls themselves. But new research calls this decades-old finding into question, suggesting that a couple in an unhappy marriage is actually more likely to produce a daughter than a son…

It’s well-established that girls and women have lower mortality rates than men at every stage of life, from birth to death, and epidemiological evidence suggests they’re hardier before birth, too. Hamoudi and Nobles argue that female embryos may actually be more likely to survive the sub-optimal conditions in the womb of a woman stressed out by an unhappy marriage. “

So, rather than daughters being the cause of an unhappy marriage, rather, it is a symptom of an unhappy marriage.   Finally, though, as interesting as this may be, we’re talking about a pretty small effect:

In any given eight-month period, the risk of divorce for a couple whose first-born child is male is about 1.5 to 2 percent; if the first-born is female, the risk climbs to 1.6 to 2.1 percentthe sex of the baby would be playing a role in about one in a thousand divorces.


Quick hits (part II)

1) My favorite use for “big data”?  Baby name analysis.  Here’s a cool analysis of trendy baby names, i.e., names that burned bright, but for a short period.  Here’s to you Ashley, Linda, Jason, and Mark.

2) I did not know that almond milk has become a thing among hipsters.  I am a regular soy milk drinker because I simply like it’s taste better than low-fat milk and it has a similar health profile.  I’ve never used almond milk because, despite almonds being full of protein, almond milk is strangely devoid of it.

A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds—nutrition info here—contains six grams of protein (about an egg’s worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana) and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.

What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.

3) Very thorough look at what the research on bed-sharing with you baby does and does not tell us.  I think a very telling point is that the research groups together those who do it haphazardly with those who do it on purpose and these are very different groups.  All of our children slept in our bed some as infants because when you are breast feeding in the middle of the night, that’s just way easier.

4) Nice to see Weird Al getting so much love with his new videos.  This post makes a case for “Smells like Nirvana” as his finest work.  Nice post  I’m pretty partial to Amish Paradise, myself:

5) I hate tipping.  I’m a reasonable tipper, but I totally object to the concept of it for most all cases.  And I am right to, writes Brandon Ambrosino in Vox.  There was also a nice Freakonomics podcast last year on just how foolish the practice really is.

6) I love Yahoo Tech (formerly NYT) Technology writer David Pogue.  It’s pretty amusing the silly question people write to him with, as he explains in this video.  The best part is I found out about Let Me Google that for You.  So need to use this site with my students.

7) Loved this video on how dark matter forms the invisible structure of the universe.

8) I kind of like how Vox has taken to debunking popular myths/misconceptions about social science and such.  Here, they render the Myers-Briggs (i.e,. I’m an ESTJ) harmless.  Not new, though– Gladwell wrote about these same problems a decade ago.  In a similar vein, they nicely summarize the long-existing evidence that sugar does not make kids hyper.

9) How becoming a father changes your brain.

10) I think the idea of “bandwith poverty” is really important.  Excellent NPR story on the matter.  It is really cognitively demanding to be poor.

11) Want to learn better?  Test, test, test (or quiz, quiz, quiz).

12) No, it will never become law, but I love the idea of this legislation that simply says that abortion clinics should simply be regulated in the same way as all other clinics that provide outpatient medical services.

13) 50 state-themed lego dioramas.  Awesome.

14) The secret of effective motivation.

15) Yet more evidence that if you really want less teen pregnancy and less abortion, you should want more free/low-priced IUD’s.



Super-Mega Quick hits

Sure, I’m at the beach, but quick hits will not be denied!  (In fact, it’s extra long as a direct result)  There’s a ton, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up this week.  Sorry.  Enjoy…

1) Krugman on conservative delusions about inflation.  It really is pretty amazing how these continue.

2) Challenges universities face from a professor’s point of view.

3) Loved this essay in the Atlantic on how all the mothers in animated movies are dead.  Or at least essentially out of the picture.  A notable exception– The Incredibles, one of the best animated films in the past decade (and a favorite of all the Greene kids and parents).

4) Nice Brenday Nyhan in the Upshot.  When beliefs and facts collide, beliefs win.  Though, not for me and my enlightened and scientifically-minded readers :-).

5) Apparently, this is the year of 42 year old women.  It just so happens I’m married to one.

6) Kristof on just one more sad story of wronful imprisonment.  I’m going to be reading this guy’s book.

7) Three psychological findings I wish I’d known in high school.  Indeed.

8) I so loved classic rock when I was a teenager.  I thought I was much too cool for the rock of the times.  Of course, now that’s “classic rock” too.  538 with a look by the numbers.

9) Nice Economist piece on the myth of the omnipotent presidency and the damage that the myth does.

10) Yahoo Tech presents 15 entertaining novelty twitter accounts.  Some of these really are awesome.

11) Fascinating story on the last days of Diane Rehm’s husband and how we starved/dehydrated himself to death (he had advanced Parkinson’s).

12) Back before youtube there was jibjab.  This land is your land was a revelation.

13) Okay, turns out that whole how to/not to praise children thing really is getting complicated.  Still, I think it is clear that it is a good idea not to over-praise nor praise excessively for innate abilities.

14) Nice Salon piece on how NC”s new Republican-led voter disenfranchisement laws really are the most evil in the country.

15) I was fascinated by this Atlantic piece on how the “crossover” has taken over the new car market.  I had no idea.  Of course, my cars are from 1998 and 2000.  Really interesting on the history of cars versus minivans versus SUV’s, etc.

16) When I first read about the Kentucky State Senator and the temperature on Mars, I figured he couldn’t really be that dumb.  Turns out he’s not.  But still pretty damn stupid.  I’m sorry, Democratic state legislators just don’t come this dumb.

17) Pope Francis, radical environmentalist.

18) There was going to be a Seinfeld episodes about guns, but the cast nixed it when they were already rehearsing.

19) It is just too easy to be declared a suspicious person by the US Government.  With all sorts of bad consequences.

20) How coffee fueled the Civil War.  My sense is that stimulant drugs have fueled soldiers whenever and wherever they have been available.

21) You all know about my love for apples.  Turns out, I’ve really got to get my wife to start eating more.

Practice (and good genes) make perfect

I read a terrific book this past spring that I meant to blog about at least a half dozen times.  A quick check of the archives, though, finds that I failed to do so.  So, even though it’s beach vacation week, The Sports Gene by David Epstein gets its due.  I was inspired by a Vox post (shared by DJC on FB) that emphasizes just how little of success is explained by practice:

Over the past 20 years or so, some psychologists have been arguing for an appealing idea about expertise and success: they’re hugely dependent on putting in lots of practice time. This idea is a nice one, because it suggests that successful people earned their expertise, and that many people have a shot at becoming successful if they work hard enough. It gained especially wide attention through a rule it inspired in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: that to become really, really good at something, you have to intensely practice at it for around 10,000 hours, the “10,000-hour rule.” But this is an area of active dispute among psychologists — and over the years, dozens of studies have collected hard data on the link between practice and top performance in all sorts of fields. A new statistical analysis of 88 of these studies comes to the exact opposite conclusion: success mostly reflects other factors (probably things like innate talent and opportunity) rather than hours and hours of practice.

Of course practice matters, all else being equal.  But all else isn’t equal as simply looking at an NBA or NFL roster will tell you.  In fact, my favorite factoid from Epstein’s book is that literally only two players in the entire NBA have an armspan to height ratio of less than 1.o.  (One of them being Duke great JJ Reddick).   The average adult male is about 1.01; the average NBA player is 1.06 (Josh Levin has a nice piece building off Epstein’s book).  That’s just genes.  No amount of practice in the world is going to make you 6’5″ or give you freakishly long arms. As mentioned in the Vox post, a lot of people just get the 10,000 hour thing wrong (and I think go far beyond what Gladwell intended when he popularized the notion– here’s Gladwell in response to Epstein’s book).

All this soccer has had me thinking about a book I read last year, The Numbers Game which purports to be a Moneyball of soccer.  It’s pretty good, but I couldn’t believe it when the authors basically said, well, yeah, all these Premier League and La Liga players put in their 10,000 hours and that’s that.  Seriously?  Genes, anybody.

The Sports Gene has all sorts of good stuff about body type, training, gender, race (!), etc., but what really stuck with me was the idea of baseline versus trainability.  Some people have genes for an amazing good baseline, i.e., could run a 5 minute mile with little training.  Other people of good genes for high trainability, i.e., maybe start at a 7 minute mile, but respond very well to training and end up at 4 minute miles in far less than 10,000 hours.  Obviously, the truly elite in most sports have the genes for both.  But it is important to recognize that they are separate things (nicely discussed by the author on Fresh Air).

In fact, when Evan wanted to give up soccer after 3 seasons this past spring, I had to admit that he was simply lacking in trainability at the sport.  Other kids had clearly progressed significantly more with roughly the same amount of practice.  If he still loved it, of course, we’d stick with it.  But I wasn’t going to make him play soccer just because I love to coach it.

Evan’s failed efforts as a soccer player, though, had me thinking about trainability.  And one area where my children should have high trainability is music.  My mom was a piano teacher and terrific musician; my dad an all-state clarinetist.  I was pretty good piano player and percussionist myself and Kim was an all-district clarinetists.  The kids ought to be able to play some damn music.  Well, Evan’s been playing piano for 4 weeks now and I don’t really have a lot to compare him to, but I’d say his musical trainability is pretty high– sure puts his soccer trainability to shame.

Wow, that’s a heck of a long blog post for being at the beach.  The least you could to is put The Sports Gene in your reading queue.

More quick hits

As promised…

1) I really wanted to give this its own post, as I so agree with Josh Levin here, but in truth, I’m just not going to get around to it.  Short version: it is asinine to blame a soccer player for one particular mistake that, by happenstance leads to a goal, when literally dozens of similar mistakes happen thoughout a game that don’t lead to a goal.

If you get on me for that one play, Bradley is saying, then you have to blame me for every other little slip-up that could’ve led to a Portuguese goal. Sports punditry, though, is fueled by ex post facto logic: Identify the game’s most important play, and then work backward to deduce who screwed up in the seconds before it happened…

For journalists and commenters, harsh criticism of Bradley represents a willingness to offer the unvarnished truth, matter-of-fact observations that we all need to hear. In reality, the sports blame game does the exact opposite. It’s a quest for a conversation-stopping answer when there are no easy answers to be found.

2) So, no thing can travel faster than the speed of light.  But the expansion of space itself can.  Freaky!  And nice visual explanation here:

3) That led me to this awesome webpage that explains the end of everything (i.e., the sun, the earth, the galaxy, the universe, etc.).

4) TNR’s Eric Garcia on how paid leave for new mothers and fathers is working great in California.  Just like it does in the rest of the developed world– minus the other 49 US states.

5) You know I love me some This American Life.  Interesting NYT story about how they are leaving their distributor to try and go it alone the public radio world.  Of course, if anybody can, TAL can.

6) For some reason, made me think of last Sunday’s wonderful Doonesbury.

7) Great summary piece on how the NC GOP legislature has so quickly taken this state so far backward.

8) Loved this Onion headline that perfectly captured my mother’s experience most summers:

Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean

9) After reading yet another piece about how sitting is slowly killing me, I decided to do something about it.  I’m pretty sure the best evidence suggests that all you really need to do is make sure you get your muscles moving a few times an hour.  I decided to install this little app on my desktop to have me get up every 20 minutes.  So far I love it.

10) Great piece by a couple of law professors in Slate that really breaks down what is so wrong and so aggressive about the Hobby Lobby decision.


Physical attractiveness of athletes

Kim and I have both noted that there’s a lot of very attractive men participating in the World Cup.  This is most likely quite true and no accident.  Here’s some evidence from cycling:

IT IS unfair, but true, that beautiful people are more successful than ugly ones. Data indicate that this rule applies in both business and politics—and biological theory suggests the underlying reason is that beauty is an indicator of good genes and good health. How that reason translates into success, though, is more questionable. It could be that the pretty and handsome get a helping hand from their colleagues, bosses (and, in the case of politicians, voters) which is denied to the plain and the unseemly. Or it could be that beautiful people’s underlying qualities mean they really are better, on average, at doing things.

One way to disentangle these explanations is to look at a field of endeavour which is about as close as it is possible to get to a true meritocracy: professional sport. Though favouritism here might put you in the team, it will never land you on the winner’s podium. Erik Postma, of the University of Zurich, has therefore done just that, using long-distance cycling as his example. His results, just published in Biology Letters, suggest that good looks really do reflect underlying fitness, in both the athletic and the biological senses.

Dr Postma recruited 816 volunteers (72% women; 28% men) as judges in a beauty competition. He also assembled a collection of 80 mugshots of participants in the 2012 Tour de France…

Both sexes agreed on who was good-looking and who was not, though women tended to give those at the top of the list higher marks than men did—especially if the women in question were undergoing natural menstrual cycles. (Women on the pill gave assessments closer to those of men.) Overall, on the five-point scale Dr Postma used, the top 10% of cyclists in the race were reckoned 25% more attractive than the bottom 10%.

So there’s probably some real science behind this list.

Or that the Croatian soccer coach looks a lot like Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Hobby Lobby omnibus

Wow, if ever we need any proof that key Supreme Court decisions are entirely political, this is up there with Bush v. Gore.  I won’t pretend that there is not politics in the dissent, but I sure find the legal reasoning in the dissent far more persuasive.  Lots of good stuff on the matter, here’s some of my favorites.

1) Amy Davidson:

To start with, who else is off the hook, or will be? What other companies can ignore which other laws on what real or dreamed-up religious grounds? That is something the majority decision in Hobby Lobby leaves shockingly undefined. Ginsburg called it “a decision of startling breadth,” one that could allow for-profit corporations to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Alito, in his opinion, denies this; so does Anthony Kennedy, in a concurrence. But neither does so persuasively: their reassurance about the protections against what Ginsburg calls “the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce” come down to, in Alito’s case, shrugs about how nothing alarming has shown up on the Court’s docket yet and, in Kennedy’s, the belief that everyone will be sensible about this.

Just because the majority opinion says their opinion is narrow, does not actually make it so.  The logic/reasoning behind it is not narrow at all and undoubtedly opens up a pandora’s box of religious-based discrimination.  Also this:

Nor is science much of a constraint. Hobby Lobby is really asserting two religious beliefs: that abortion is immoral and that the kinds of contraception it doesn’t want to pay for are, in fact, a form of abortion, even though the scientific evidence says they are not. The majority defers to both of these beliefs.

2) Jeffrey Toobin excellently lays out how the Roberts court has a history of making “narrow” decisions that later become a key precedent for much broader decisions:

The Hobby Lobby decision follows the same pattern. Again, Justice Alito’s opinion (for the same five-to-four majority) expressed its ruling in narrow terms. Alito asserted that the case concerned only a single “closely held” private company whose owners had religious objections to providing certain forms of birth control. According to the court, federal law required that those wishes be honored.

But, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, there is almost no limitation on the logic of the majority’s view. Almost any closely held companies—which make up a substantial chunk of the American economy—can now claim a religious orientation, and they can now seek to excuse themselves from all sorts of obligations, including honoring certain anti-discrimination laws. And after today’s “narrow” rulings, those cases will come.

There’s simply no reason to think Hobby Lobby will be the end of this.

3) Rick Hasen on when the Court shows deference to Congress:

Near the end of Justice Alito’s majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case today, he writes that it is not the Court’s job to question the “wisdom” of Congress in using the compelling interest test in RFRA, but the Court applies that RFRA test strongly, and in a way which shows the Court apparently giving great deference to Congress’s judgment about how to balance the government’s interest in generally applicable laws with the accommodations of religious freedoms. It reminded me of Justice Scalia’s pleas in Windsor last term for deference to Congress on the need for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Court has shown no such deference when it comes to the need for campaign finance regulation or to protect the voting rights of racial minorities and others. The Roberts Court has overturned or limited every campaign finance law it has examined (aside from disclosure laws). It has struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. How much deference did Congress get in those cases? None.

Well when is Congress wise and entitled to deference? When the Court agrees with Congress’s approach. Let’s call that “faux deference,” to go with the “faux-nanimity” of the rest of the term.

Exactly.  Absurd on its face.  The SC Justices question the wisdom of Congress all the time.  But only overrules that “wisdom” when it personally degrees.

4) Kevin Drum is no legal scholar but makes a good case that it really is all about abortion:

Alito takes pains to make it clear that his opinion shouldn’t be considered precedent for anything except the narrowly specific issue at hand: whether contraceptives that some people consider abortifacients can be excluded from health plans.

I think it’s important to recognize what Alito is saying here. Basically, he’s making the case that abortion is unique as a religious issue. If you object to anything else on a religious basis, you’re probably out of luck. But if you object to abortion on religious grounds, you will be given every possible consideration. Even if your objection is only related to abortion in the most tenuous imaginable way—as it is here, where IUDs are considered to be abortifacients for highly idiosyncratic doctrinal reasons—it will be treated with the utmost deference.

This is not a ruling that upholds religious liberty. It is a ruling that specifically enshrines opposition to abortion as the most important religious liberty in America.

5) Emily Bazelon makes a good case that this really is about sex:

As the Institutes of Medicine spelled out in a report for the Department of Health and Human Services, preventing unwanted pregnancies is of undeniable benefit to women.

The majority’s refusal to recognize that fact, full stop, proves a point Linda Greenhouse made in the New York Times last fall: This case is about sex. Or more specifically, it’s a rear-guard action by the religious right to block the government from “putting its thumb on the scale in favor of birth control, of sex without consequences.” Read the article Linda points to by Helen Alvaré, a law professor and longtime adviser to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Or read theseamazing quotes from some of the religious groups that swooped in on Hobby Lobby’s side. These people and ideas won today.

6) Of course, the fact that whether your IUD is covered or not (and it damn well should be– safe and effective contraception) is up to your employer just speaks to the absurdity of our employer-based health care system.  Paul Waldman on the matter.  And if you’ve got a few minutes to listen, Mike Pesca’s “spiel” on this (from his great new podcast, The Gist) is spot-on terrific satire.

7) And lastly, the 8 best lines from Ginsberg’s dissent.

8) I think most of these are quite good arguments.  That said, Slate also has Eric Posner make the case that this case was rightly decided.  I think he too easily looks over the gaping holes in Alito’s legal arguments, but he makes some good points and it’s worth considering the view from a far more reasoned conservative mind.


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