Quick hits (part II)

1) Rick Hasen on Hillary Clinton and campaign finance reform (short version: a Constitutional amendment is not a serious proposal but “red meat” for Democratic activists).

2) Experimental proof of the power of peer pressure— for good and ill– in schools.

3) I buy this argument that the bar exam is basically about keeping lawyering a cartel to protect the earnings of attorneys, rather than anything meaningful to protect legal consumers.

4) So, now I know that Art Pope’s people are the “intellectual” push behind the ludicrous idea that all public college professors in NC should teach 8 courses a year.

5) Focusing on early childhood programs is great and lead to life-long benefits.  But here’s some interesting evidence that counseling and teaching self-control to young adult males can actually still make a meaningful difference.

6) NYT magazine on just how crazy the new era of campaign finance is getting.

7) Enjoyed this Nicholas Lehman take on the challenges Hillary Clinton faces in uniting Democratic voters:

The announcement video indicates that the Clinton campaign believes that in this cycle, the core appeal to Democratic and potentially Democratic voters has to be based on economics. Voters want to hear that the generation-long stall-out of the American working and middle classes’ fortunes is somehow going to end. The problem is that, right now, the Democratic coalition seems to be in agreement on the formerly radioactive social issues—ethnicity, sexuality, values—but not on the economic issues that will define the election. In the video you can detect the hope that it will be possible to declare that the campaign is all about economics, and then to spend it talking mainly about other things. Does Hillary Clinton want to raise taxes on the rich? More heavily regulate financial institutions? Make unions more politically powerful? Throw some sand in the gears of globalization by restricting free trade? These are the kinds of questions that have historically gone along with an overriding concern with the welfare of “everyday Americans,” but they are not pleasant ones for the campaign, because in each case, a clear answer would alienate an element of the Democratic Party.

8) Was fascinated by this visual analysis of how the studio ruined the color palette of the most reason Superman movie.

9) It’s pretty clear that aspartame is essentially harmless.  But enough people are scared of it that Pepsi is eliminating it from Diet Pepsi.  All the more reason to stick with my preference for Diet Coke (and especially Coke Zero).  The Vox post also does a nice job running through the non-evidence for aspartame being harmful.

10) Nice Lee Drutman Op-Ed on how to (partially) counter-balance the huge influence of corporate lobbyists by investing in Congressional staff:

It doesn’t need to be this way. We can give the House and Senate (which account for a minuscule 0.06 percent of the federal budget) the resources to hire and keep enough of the best people, especially in key committee positions. We can bolster independent capacity for technical analysis by giving a boost to the research arms of Congress, like the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office.

While congressional salaries can’t possibly equal lobbying salaries, they don’t have to. The thrill of being on the inside is enough of a draw that congressional offices have little trouble filling openings. The problem is that staffers burn out quickly. More money, shorter hours and better working conditions wouldn’t keep everyone, but they’d keep enough good people.

11) Apparently they’ve finally changed the presidential physical fitness test as it never actually made any sense.  That said, I spent most of my 4th grade year practicing my broad jump and gained almost a foot to earn the presidential award.  One of the proudest moments of my childhood.

12) I find the concept of a bucket list somewhat silly, but if I were to start one, this place would go right to the top.  Also a nice article on it in Smithsonian.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal photos of the week:

Wherever the sharks swim in these shallow waters they are guaranteed a clear path as scared fish move out of their way.  The blacktip reef and lemon sharks aren't even attempting to eat any but the petrified fish don't want to risk becoming the dinner of the feared predator.  Software engineer Scott Carr was looking for a picturesque spot for bridal pictures the day before his wedding when he came across the school of fish trying to avoid the sharks.

Wherever sharks swim in these shallow waters off Heron Island in Queensland, Australia they are guaranteed a clear path as scared fish move out of their way. The sharks aren’t even attempting to eat any but the petrified fish don’t want to risk becoming the dinner of the feared predator. Software engineer Scott Carr was looking for a picturesque spot for bridal pictures the day before his wedding when he came across the school of fish trying to avoid the lemon sharks.Picture: Scott Carr/Solent News

What Finland does right

Sure, this Smithsonian piece in what makes Finnish education so successful is four years old, but I just came across it and its as good an explanation/distillation of what works in Finland as I’ve seen:

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”.

Okay, we know the US overdoes it with “competition” and standardized tests, what Finland does right is focusing on equality:

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

And how teachers (and students) spend their time– they get that right:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to mention the larger social picture and how that impacts education:

It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

Plenty more good stuff in the article, but more equality, more time for teacher collaboration, and emphasis on standardized teaching and competition is a good start.

Quick hits (part I)

Yeah, I know I just had these, but now back to the regular Saturday and Sunday morning schedule.

1) Reihan Salam makes a good case that raising the minimum wage to $15 is just too high and that we should raise it in a much more nuanced manner (e.g., taking the vastly different costs of living throughout the US into account).  I’m sold.

2) Here’s an idea– punish poor people by suspending their drivers licenses so that they cannot hold down a job requiring transportation thereby keeping them poor.  Genius!  Only in America.

3) Republicans are at it again trying to completely eliminate the estate tax.  A nice explainer on how it really works at Vox.  Safe to say, this is purely of benefit to multi-millionaires and above, i.e., the true constituency of Congressional Republicans.

4)  Great piece at the Monkey Cage about what we get wrong about lobbying and corruption:

The real story is not that lobbying or special interests are inherently bad. We have had them as long as we’ve had politics.

The problem is that one set of interests routinely overpowers the rest. In particular, corporate lobbying has metastasized over the last four decades, and this increasingly over-crowded and hyper-contested lobbying environment benefits the large corporations who have the most resources to participate in the day-to-day workings of Congress. [emphasis mine] This problem is compounded because Congress increasingly lacks its own capacity to keep up.

5) Speaking of which, this Salon article cites research by my friend Cherie Maestas in explaining how part-time legislatures (just like we have here in NC) are especially susceptible to the influence of money.

6) Nice piece in the Atlantic on how “patient satisfaction” is not a particularly good metric by which to assess health care quality.

7) The New Yorker’s Michael Specter is the ideal person to weigh in on the latest controversy of Dr. Oz and his peddling of psuedo-science.  I also like that he links to this study on the health effects of GMO food on animals (and you know they get a ton of it):

The aim of this systematic review was to collect data concerning the effects of diets containing GM maize, potato, soybean, rice, or triticale on animal health. We examined 12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations)…

Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed. However, some small differences were observed, though these fell within the normal variation range of the considered parameter and thus had no biological or toxicological significance.

8) Love this Wonkette post on Rubio’s climate change denialism.  The title capture it well, “Marco Rubio Is Not A Scientist, Is A Idiot.”

9) Can the type of car you drive make you an unethical driver?  Maybe.

10) NC legislators doing their best to protect abusive practices in meat-producing operations.

11) Please let this Google plan actually be the future of cell phone service.  We so need this.

12) If you haven’t seen this brilliant Amy Schumer sketch on how Hollywood treats older (i.e., above 35) actresses, please do.  Just don’t watch with your kids around.

13) Apparently picky eaters like me are what’s wrong with America.  At least according to the French.

14) Really nice piece from Megan McArdle about what “free range parenting” means about the nature of community in modern America.

What’s moral?

Had a great conversation with my 15-year old son yesterday about changing standards of morality.  Seems like when I was his age, lots of people were still quite negative on the idea of pre-marital sex.  Today, not so much.  And now that I follow Pew on Facebook, I came across this link to their 2014 global morality survey.  Here’s the results from America:

Screenshot - 4_24_2015 , 5_10_53 PM

As you can see, only 30% find premarital sex unacceptable.  And, of course, you can look at similar results across a host of countries– cool!  (E.g., in France that figure is only 6%)    Of course, I wanted to know how this has changed over time and I realized– hey!  on-line GSS analysis!  And…

GSS

Alas, only back to 1991, but you can see some clear movement, e.g., not at all wrong from 40% to 50%.  Cool stuff.  Definitely going to play around some more with this Pew data.

Oh, and after being woeful for years, the GSS on-line codebook is now awesome!  This will help me so, so much in the future.

Photo of the day

From a very cool Wired gallery of repeating patterns in animals.

Black Cobra Pakistan.  Christopher Marley

Just decriminalize all of it!

I’ve been thinking a lot about illegal drugs lately.  I just finished the semester of Criminal Justice Policy and there’s just so much wrongness from our misguided war on drugs.  Part of me wants to say just stop this crazy war, legalize all of it, let people who want to get high, get high, and help people who develop dependencies using a medical model of treatment and rehabilitation.

But then again, some of these drugs are really quite dangerous.  And its easy to invent new, dangerous drugs.   And I certainly generally believe in our system of regulating prescription drugs.  Not anybody should just be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy Oxycontin, Adderall, and Lipitor.

But I guess the question is what you do with people who use drugs they shouldn’t and what you do with people who sell drugs they shouldn’t.  I think I’m increasingly of the mind that if you are only “crime” is using a drug that you are not supposed to, we certainly don’t need to put you in jail for it, or even consider it a crime.  The problem comes with sellers.  A lot of small-time dealers are actually just addicts doing some selling to support their habit.  I don’t think it is really useful to have them in prison either.  As for the big time sellers, if we still don’t want people addicted to cocaine, meth, etc., at some level it has to be criminal to sell the stuff.  But at what level?  And how much do we punish for simply an economic transaction (as opposed to violence, coercion, etc.).  I don’t know.  But at this point, I feel like our society would actually be a lot better off if we stopped using our criminal justice resources to punish people for their desire to get high.

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