Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice NYT feature on how Amazon is integrating its human and robot workers.

2) Really nice, thoughtful, Garrett Epps piece on religious freedom vs LGBT rights.

3) Some other countries starting to fine parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.  Hell, yeah.

4) You know I love the Post, but this piece on “alternate nostril breathing” is literally one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in there (and that includes Marc Thiessen columns):

Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to slow down a rapid heart rate and to lower blood pressure. It can clear toxins and respiratory systems — shodhana translates to purification and nadi to channels, so the intent of the practice is to cleanse different systems of the mind and body.

5) Love this from Mark Joseph Stern— Supreme Court justices predict the future all the time, but they are really bad at it.

6) Maybe don’t let your kid start tackle football before age 12.

7) Hell, yes, police need better training to deal with people with autism.  Thing is, though, they need much better training to deal with people with basic human weaknesses and flaws.  Far too much training on weapons and not nearly enough on conflict de-escalation, etc.

8) Why today’s teens are less about sex, drug, and rock ‘n roll (okay, at least the first two):

 

When 17-year-old Quattro Musser hangs out with friends, they don’t drink beer or cruise around in cars with their dates. Rather, they stick to G-rated activities such as rock-climbing or talking about books.

They are in good company, according to a new study showing that teenagers are increasingly delaying activities that had long been seen as rites of passage into adulthood. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade…

“In a culture that says, ‘Okay, you’re going to go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and then get an internship, and you’re not going to really be responsible till your late 20s,’ well then the brain will respond accordingly,” he said.

Whether the changes are positive or negative depends on the reasons for delaying adult activities, Siegel said.

If the delay is to make room for creative exploration and forming better social and emotional connections, it is a good thing, he said. But “if it’s fear-based, obviously that’s a concern.”

Among teenagers now, “there is a feeling you’re getting of, ‘Wow, the world is pretty serious, so why would I rush to immerse myself. . .Why don’t I stay with my friends and away from anything that has heavy consequences, like pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases?'”

Teenagers are also more conscious now about the possible repercussions of their actions, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families.

“They’re starting to realize, wow, they really do have to worry about their resumes,” she said. “They come in without the kind of reckless disregard of consequence that a more confident generation of kids had, who said, ‘I’ll drop out of school and join the peace movement, what the hell.'”

With fewer career paths available to those without a college degree, she said, young people can no longer afford that kind of nonchalance.

“They’re absorbing the same kind of anxiety about the future that their parents have for them.”

9) Title IX is awesome when used appropriately.  Laura Kipnis shows how you take a good thing way too far.

10) This feature on Rod Blagojevich in prison was so fascinating.

11) Loved Drum on Trump’s tweets yesterday, “Trump Triples Down on White Racial Grievance Mongering.”

12) Re-thinking Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, especially as it applies to humans.

13) I don’t doubt that, in some cases, attempts at gender equity in Silicon Valley may have gone too far, but few things strike me as more pathetic as the new breed of men out there who are convinced women are out to get them and there’s some sort of witch hunt going on.

14) Dionne, Ornstein, and Mann on how Trump is forcing others to step up and save our democracy:

But precisely because the Trump threat is so profound, he has jolted much of the country to face problems that have been slowly eroding our democracy. And he has aroused a popular mobilization that may far outlast him…

A broad and powerful movement has arisen to defeat Trump and Trumpism. Its success will be a triumph worthy of celebration.

But this is not just an end in itself. It is also an essential first step toward a new politics. It will be a politics that takes seriously the need to solve the problems Trump has exposed. It will nurture our dedication to the raucous but ultimately unifying project of democratic self-government. For it is our shared commitment to republican institutions and democratic values that makes us one nation.

15) So loved this article on the science of hurricanes and why this season has been so bad:

Hurricanes exist to cool the tropics. The vast majority of sunlight beats down in the 23 degrees north and south of the equator. Without something to disperse the energy toward the poles, Earth’s climate would become unbalanced, quickly.

These planetary heat engines sprout from relatively weak clusters of thunderstorms — waves of low pressure from the coast of Africa — and fester in the warm waters of the Atlantic. They feed on tropical moisture and the sun’s intense energy and, eventually, if they get large enough, will start to spin thanks to Earth’s top-like motion.

16) Can teaching Civics save democracy?  I doubt it.  Also, where are the school systems that don’t?

17) Should you buy Tom Brady’s new exercise book?  Only if you don’t believe in science:

The problem with this notion is that exercise science has never heard of muscle pliability.

“It’s balderdash,” says Stuart Phillips, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and an expert in muscle physiology.

In scientific terms, he says, muscles that are soft tend to be muscles that are sick. “When folks do little or nothing, as, for instance, during bed rest, then their muscles get very soft,” he says.

Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have not conducted or published clinical trials of muscle pliability. Neither has anyone else. On the huge PubMed online database of published science, I found only one experiment that contains the words pliability and muscles, and it concerned the efficacy of different embalming techniques.

The book’s sections on diet and nutrition similarly lack supporting evidence, although not common sense.

18) Thomas Mills on Confederate monuments in NC:

Yesterday, the Republicans leaders of the legislature told the State Historical Commission to deny Governor Roy Cooper’s request to move Confederate monuments from the grounds of the state Capitol to the Bentonville Battlefield. Their request makes two things clear: The law they passed was meant to protect the monuments, not establish an orderly process for removal like the GOP claimed, and, second, they want to make this fight about race to drive out their base. [emphases mine]

Senator Phil Berger called Cooper’s request political theater, but it’s Berger who using the stage to advance his cause. He could have let the Historical Commission debate the matter and issue an opinion. Instead, he let the press and his base know that he’s standing up for the statues because he wants the argument to play out in the 2018 elections.

Midterm elections usually hurt the party in the White House and Republicans need something to drive their base to the polls. The fight over hundred-year-old monuments is just what they’re looking for. Native rural white Southerners who make up a large portion of the GOP base want the statues to stay. Younger people, especially African-Americans, want them gone. It’s a wedge issue and dog whistle that would make Jesse Helms proud…

Berger claims he wants to prevent the state from trying to “rewrite history” but that’s exactly what the current monuments were intended to do–and did so successfully for almost a century. If Berger’s sincere, he should also urge the current monuments be put into historical context and recognize that they were originally erected at a time when any opposition to them was being suppressed through violence and intimidation.

But Berger’s not going to do that. He’s letting his base know that he’s with them and hoping for a fight that inflames passions. And like gerrymandering and his voter suppression law, he’s letting African-Americans know that their opinions and history really don’t matter much.

Berger and the Republican leadership’s sense of history is really quite good. They understand that race is still a potent and driving force in Southern politics. Today, they’re cynically exploiting it for political gain and betting dividing North Carolina is better than uniting it.

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Photo of the day

OMG– had no idea that praying mantises eat hummingbirds (and other small birds) and go for the brain!  This NYT feature is fascinating.  I’m going to be using anecdotes and factoids from here all the time now.  Like science?  Read it!  If not, enjoy this really disturbing photo:

An unlucky hummingbird caught by a mantis at a feeder in Colorado. Credit Tom Vaughan/FeVa Fotos

Quick hits

1) So far Ken Burns new Vietnam War documentary is fabulous.  Just watch it.

2) The science of the Impossible Burger.  Can’t wait to eat one of these.  Especially looking forward to a time where most of our “meat” actually comes from plants.  Also, an interesting look at how to regulate new food ingredients.

3) Definitely going to have to read Tim Harford’s new book on 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy.  Nice interview with Derek Thompson.

4) Everybody still raving about this Cincinnati Enquirer feature on a week in the heroin epidemic.

5) The US Air Force has a real problem with encouraging the worst kind of Christians.

A U.S. Air Force chaplain who ministers to thousands of men and women at an Ohio base is asserting that Christians in the U.S. Armed Forces “serve Satan” and are “grossly in error” if they support service members’ right to practice other faiths.

6) Speaking of the Prince of Darkness, “Trump Nominee Said Transgender Children Evidence of ‘Satan’s Plan.'”  And just what plan is this?!

7) Very nice piece from Yglesias on what happened in the 2016 election.

Democrats did better with white women, worse everywhere else

Comparing exit polls from 2016 (left) to 2012 (right) we see that while Clinton did worse with voters overall than Barack Obama, she did gain 1 percentage point more of the white women’s vote — rising from 42 percent to 43 percent. Most white women, however, preferred Trump. And though Trump did no better with white men than Romney had, Clinton did considerably worse than Obama.

Perhaps more surprisingly, though Clinton carried all nonwhite groups she seems to have done decidedly worse here than Obama had.

8) So the story of the scientist who discovered the BCRA1 gene and the worst week of her life definitely deserved to go viral.  Trust me and read it.

9) How regulators end up serving those they regulate– deer urine edition.

10) Nice NYT feature, “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

The story [of growing worldwide obesity] is as much about economics as it is nutrition. As multinational companies push deeper into the developing world, they are transforming local agriculture, spurring farmers to abandon subsistence crops in favor of cash commodities like sugar cane, corn and soybeans — the building blocks for many industrial food products. It is this economic ecosystem that pulls in mom-and-pop stores, big box retailers, food manufacturers and distributors, and small vendors like Mrs. da Silva.

In places as distant as China, South Africa and Colombia, the rising clout of big food companies also translates into political influence, stymieing public health officials seeking soda taxes or legislation aimed at curbing the health impacts of processed food.

For a growing number of nutritionists, the obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to the sales of packaged foods, which grew 25 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 10 percent in the United States, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. An even starker shift took place with carbonated soft drinks; sales in Latin America have doubled since 2000, overtaking sales in North America in 2013, the World Health Organization reported.

11) Really enjoyed this Wired feature on “Blade Runner 2049.”   I so hope this movie doesn’t disappoint me.

12) If I could only have one person to listen to about China, it would be Evan Osnos:

In recent years, overly hopeful U.S. politicians and commentators have repeatedly misunderstood China’s views of North Korea and assumed that Beijing was, at last, turning against its irksome ally. In private meetings with President Obama, and later with President Trump, Xi has repeated a bottom-line principle about North Korea: “No war. No chaos. No nukes.” A former U.S. official, who was at several of those meetings, told me, “Every American senior official that I know hears, ‘Blah, blah, blah—no nuclear weapons.’ And thinks, ‘Oh, we agree! Excellent!’ So the Chinese ought to be willing to limbo under this bar for us. But, no, that’s third in the list of three strategic priorities. The first two are avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula, and avoiding chaos and collapse.” In that spirit, China has sought to limit the scope of U.S.-backed sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. In the latest round, earlier this month, China succeeded in forcing the U.S. to drop its pursuit of a full oil blockade, which China fears would drive North Korea to collapse.

Nothing worries Chinese officials more than the following scenario: the U.S. uses harsh sanctions and covert action—and possibly military strikes—to drive North Korea close to the point of regime collapse. In turn, Pyongyang lashes out with violence against America or its allies, sparking a full-blown war on China’s border, just as China is trying to maintain delicate economic growth and social stability. Xi, in separate sessions, has offered Obama and Trump the same Chinese adage in reference to North Korea: “When a man is barefoot, he doesn’t fear a man with shoes.” In other words, even if attacking America would be suicide for North Korea, if it sees nothing left to lose, it just might do the unthinkable. For that reason, China, above all, wants the U.S. to avoid backing Kim into a corner from which he has no exit.

13) These “hacks to fix your marriage” generally sound like pretty good advice.  I’m especially inclined to thinking about attribution and gratitude.

14) Can being more honest make you happier?  So says some research.  As for me, I am pretty happy and pretty happy with my (imperfect) level of honesty.

15) Seriously, Tom Price is just the worst.

16) Though, EPA head Scott Pruitt does not take a back seat to many in absurd waste of taxpayer dollars.

17) How Harvard helps it’s richest and most arrogant get ahead.

18) Speaking of Harvard, so happy to finally hear an interview with the brilliant creator of Bojack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

19) Must read for the day– Nate Silver on how the media (and people) mis-understand probability.

 

Follow the money (health care version)

A million things to say about health care this week, but it’s been really busy, so I’ve stuck to writing a dozen blog posts in my head, rather than on the computer.  Among the angles I’ve loved is how much smarter Jimmy Kimmel is on health care policy than your typical Republican Senator.  Now, one thing that political neophytes too readily do is blame everything on the money, e.g., Kimmel here:

“Listen: Health care is complicated,” he said. “It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing — and that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information [that] you just trust them to take care of it. Well, they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money.”

But, here’s the thing.  Kimmel is absolutely right.  This bill is 1) clearly, a policy disaster.  Few Republicans even try and defend it on the merits; and, 2) absurdly unpopular.  So, why push and push?  Follow the money:

WASHINGTON — As more than 40 subdued Republican senators lunched on Chick-fil-A at a closed-door session last week, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado painted a dire picture for his colleagues. Campaign fund-raising was drying up, he said, because of the widespread disappointment among donors over the inability of the Republican Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act or do much of anything else.

Mr. Gardner is in charge of his party’s midterm re-election push, and he warned that donors of all stripes were refusing to contribute another penny until the struggling majority produced some concrete results.

“Donors are furious,” one person knowledgeable about the private meeting quoted Mr. Gardner as saying. “We haven’t kept our promise.”

The backlash from big donors as well as the grass roots has panicked Senate Republicans and is part of the motivation behind the sudden zeal to take one last crack at repealing the health care law before the end of the month.

Well, there you go.  When the rich guys say “jump,” politicians (especially Republican ones), say “how high?”

Also, on the policy disaster front, this Upshot piece from Margot Sanger-Katz has stuck with me.  The title gets it, “The G.O.P. Bill Forces States to Build Health Systems From Scratch. That’s Hard.”  And “hard” is an understatement.  And, if you want more details on why it’s so bad, Ezra, of course, takes care of that.

Of course, I’ll not believe this is dead dead until October 1, but, as I’ve said before, the fact that the GOP is anywhere close to passing such shockingly horrible legislation really tells you all you need to know (okay, just a lot, doesn’t really hit white ethnocentrism) about the modern Republican party.  Oh, also, don’t want to forget– the lies, my God, the lies.

We have got to change high school start times

I was meaning to write a post based on a recent Rand analysis that finds there’s a huge economic benefit to moving school (mostly high school) start times later.  I was slow in writing that up, but did have a great email discussion with an NC State Chemistry professor, Jim Martin, who is on our local school board.  Then, Aaron Carroll had a great piece in the Upshot summarizing all the evidence.  Instead of blogging that, I decided I’d write an Op-Ed for the N&O based on the data and my discussion with Jim Martin on all the political opposition this would bring.  Just maybe, this can help get the local political conversation going a bit.  I particularly wanted to address the fact (elided by Carroll and the Rand summary), that the benefits accrue to the general fund, but the costs are borne almost exclusively by education budgets.  Yep, that damn tyranny of separate budgets.  So, because it’s mine, here’s the whole Op-Ed:

The evidence is clear – it is time for North Carolina high schools to move back their start times for the vast majority of high school students and many middle school students. Here in Wake County, most high schools and some middle schools begin their day at 7:25 a.m. (and, in the extreme case of Apex High, 7:10 a.m.). Such early start times necessitate students getting up at 6 a.m. or even earlier. The research on school start times is compelling – early start times and wake-up times have negative impacts on our students and our communities.

Many blame modern life and smartphones, and question, “Well, can’t they just go to bed earlier?” The answer is no. Adolescent biology is different, and the truth is that teens’ natural biological clocks favor a later bedtime. Add a high-school wake-up time of 6 a.m. to that and all of a sudden the broadly-recommended nine to 10 hours of sleep for an adolescent becomes a literal impossibility. Studies have shown that when school start times become later, students respond not by staying up later but by getting more sleep.

As pretty much everybody knows, a well-rested human is a better-performing human, and the same goes for high school students. Perhaps the quickest, easiest way to achieve improved student performance across the board is not by addressing controversial issues like teacher pay or Common Core (though these are important issues), but actually letting our kids get enough sleep. The data are clear that districts that have shifted to later start times have better student performance.

Surely changing when high school starts would be expensive, with additional transportation and other logistical costs. Ahh, but there’s the rub. The latest systematic research from the highly-respected Rand Corporation says that later start times will actually result in considerable savings – where the economic benefits substantially outweigh the costs. While additional buses and drivers cost more, these costs are more than offset by the increased future economic productivity of well-rested students, as well as avoiding the costs (including loss of life) of early morning, fatigue-induced automobile accidents. The benefits Rand calculated did not even include the positive benefit of lower juvenile crime, which criminologists agree would decrease with fewer unsupervised hours in the afternoon.

With so many compelling arguments for later start times, it should be an easy change – right? How can people oppose healthier, more productive high school students while saving the state money? If only politics were that simple. The reality is, unfortunately, far more complicated.

 The first complicating factor – always a key source of friction in politics – is who pays the costs and who receives the benefits. In this case, the costs would come out of county school budgets. Alas, those same county school budgets will not reap the financial reward that comes from more productive (and alive, having avoided fatal car accidents) future citizens. While this clearly makes economic sense on the state level, it is hard to see school boards taking steps to increase their short-term costs when the benefits are long-term and do not even directly accrue to the county.

The second major complicating factor is status quo bias. People and organizations do not like major change and push back hard against it unless given a compelling reason. And this is a big change. All the evidence-based arguments of student health and economic benefit will come crashing up against the reality that this represents a major adjustment for teachers, administrators and families.

So, how to overcome these problems and bring about the change that will so clearly benefit our adolescents and our communities? This is a case where real political leadership is needed. If evidence for the benefits to young people and society outweighing the costs were enough, our high school students would already be starting at 8:30 a.m. We need politicians and intellectual leaders to clearly and prominently make the case that the difficulties of change are more than worth bearing and that counties will not be financially penalized for doing right by their students.

OK, then, politicians: time to step up and show us you are willing to listen to the evidence and take some concrete steps to benefit our students, schools and communities.

 

Stand up already

I’ve mentioned before that I generally rely on my high lunchtime liquid consumption plus my small bladder to keep from sitting for long periods of time.  And, at home, I rely on my ever-demanding children.  Also, at work, I rely on an app on my desktop that reminds me to stand up every 20 minutes.  This works very well for me and I hope it keeps me healthy because I really prefer sitting to standing and have no desire for a standing desk.

And, hooray, the latest research suggests this really may be the ticket.  NYT Well column (of course):

The scientists then found strong statistical correlations between sitting and mortality. The men and women who sat for the most hours every day, according to their accelerometer data, had the highest risk for early death, especially if this sitting often continued for longer than 30 minutes at a stretch. The risk was unaffected by age, race, gender or body mass.

It also was barely lowered if people exercised regularly.

But interestingly, the risk of early death did drop if sitting time was frequently interrupted. People whose time spent sitting usually lasted for less than 30 minutes at a stretch were less likely to have died than those whose sitting was more prolonged, even if the total hours of sitting time were the same. [emphasis mine]

In essence, the data showed that “both the total hours spent sitting each day and whether those hours are accrued in short or long bouts” of physical stillness influenced longevity, says Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, who led the new study.

The results also indicate that if you must be chair-bound for much of the day, moving every 30 minutes or so might lessen any long-term deleterious effects, he says, a finding that adds scientific heft to the otherwise vague suggestion that we all should sit less and move more.

This is just correlational and there’s plenty more work to be done, but some encouraging validation for my approach.

And, just because.

 

The chart to keep in mind for 2018

Love this from Pew that compares people who vote consistently in presidential and midterm elections with those who just vote in the presidential years.  It makes it pretty damn clear we have had a recent pattern of Democrats performing well in presidential years (and, let not forget the 2016 popular vote) and getting various levels of creamed in the midterm years.

In large part, because Democrats rely so heavily on young voters and minority voters, they disproportionately suffer from the drop-off in midterm years.  For example, the youngest cohort is only 6% of consistent voters, but 20% of drop-off voters.  Even more dramatically, non-white voters are only 20% of consistent voters, but 38% of drop-off voters.  Now, the Democrats are almost surely more likely to drop off more, again, in 2018, but the key is to have dramatically less drop-off.  And, I actually think there’s a decent chance of that.  Regardless, this is the baseline to keep in mind.

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