Baby sleep

Well, it’s late and all my kids have been asleep for a while, but it is quite notable just how different their sleep patterns are.  Through four kids, David was definitely the toughest when awake but a great sleeper.  Started sleeping through the night at 2 months.  Our youngest Sarah, was definitely the easiest when awake, but definitely the worst sleeper.  She didn’t sleep through the night till after 2 and still wakes up and whines for juice more often than not (stashing a full cup in her crib usually means I get through the night without getting harrassed).  Has our parenting changed over time?  Sure.  But mostly, our kids are just really different.  Nice to see that science now backs this up.  Great summary at this blog:

Canadian researchers analyzed sleep data from 1,000 twins, aged 6 months to 48 months, both fraternal and identical, to determine the role of genetics in sleep habits. What they found was that a baby’s ability to sleep through the night appears to be largely genetic. Interestingly, a baby’s ability to stick to a regular daytime nap routine is more environmentally influenced.

“At three of the four time points, genetics accounted for between 47 and 58 percent of nighttime sleep duration. But genes never explained more than about one-third of daytime nap length, the researchers reported Monday in Pediatrics.”

The fact that napping habits are more influenced by environment than nighttime sleeping doesn’t surprise me. With baby number one, for me, nap time was sacred– death to anyone or anything that interfered.

Baby number two: Wake up! Time to pick your big sister up from pre-school. Don’t fall asleep now! her ballet class is starting any minute. The poor kid lived in a drive-thru.

Yep.  And definitely agreed on the greater environmental influence on naps.  I love identical vs fraternal twin studies that help us uncover cool findings like this.  also worth mentioning that there’s still a pretty solid amount of this that is not genes, but environment.  To that end, I’ll put in a plug for what I like to call one of the two books that literally changed my life, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.  It’s mis-named though, it really should be “Happy parent.”

Chart of the day

So, I was going through some semi-recent Pew data on political knowledge for my summer Intro to American Government course, when I came across this cool chart I had not seen before:

On a test of four factual items, Maddow viewers win (and perform far better than the viewers of conservative opinion shows).  As a reader of the New Yorker, etc., I of course enjoyed that it came in second.  I also dug a little to discover that “etc.” is actually Atlantic (which I also subsrcibe to) and Harper’s (which I’ve twice subscribed to, but ultimately leaves me a little flat).  As to the political knowledge of New Yorker readers, he’s your explanation in another chart:

Would actually like to see the effect of the news sources controlling for education, i.e., the performance of Maddow viewers becomes much more impressive in this context.  If I remember, I’ll check back in roughly September of this year when Pew should be making the entire dataset available.

Why do Republicans want poor kids to be hungry?

Honestly, my disgust with the values of the Republican party today causes me to almost ignore just how incredibly mean-spirited their proposed policies actually are.  It’s nice to get a reminder, like today’s Krugman column.  If Republicans get their way in the budget, literally millions of poor children will be hungry.  Seriously.  That’s sure not the country I want to live in. Krugman:

Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

“Weary cynicism.”  I wish I had thought of that.  Captures my own attitude perfectly.  Anyway…

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line…

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidiesover the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, andthat budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

Krugman concludes with a question:

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children.

Firstly, I think they really and truly believe this story.  They’ve been hearing it long and often enough.  And when you think about policy abstractions it is actually pretty easy to ignore the fact that you will literally be causing children to go hungry.  To paraphrase Josef Stalin– one hungry child is a tragedy; a million hungry children are a statistic.

Photo of the day

This from the National Geographic Traveler photo contest is just awesome.  I love the whole gallery at the link:

Fénec The soul of the desert

Photo and caption by Francisco Mingorance

The fennec, or desert fox is a canine mammal species of the genus Vulpes, which inhabits the Sahara Desert and Arabia. With its features ears, this is the smallest species of the family Canidae. It is endangered and its main threat is illegal in other countries.

Location: Morocco

More reason to hate the Tea Party

Well, now that they’ve largely failed in 1) preventing more Americans from having affordable health care; and 2) preventing Obama from being re-elected.  The Tea Party needs something to freak out about.  Turns out that its national educational standards.  God forbid we try and bring up the piss-poor education in Mississippi or Louisiana to national standards or even worse, share data across states to try and improve education.  We’ll simply ignore the fact that pretty much every country that outperforms us relies on national standards.

Local control of educational standards not only has a long history, its importance to learning is quite clear.  Factoring an equation, subject-verb agreement, and the years of the Revolutionary War quite obviously are different in North Carolina than North Dakota.  And standards should reflect that.  Or something.

From the Post:

Tea party groups over the past few weeks have suddenly and successfully pressured Republican governors to reassess their support for a rare bipartisan initiative backed by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s public schools.

Activists have donned matching T-shirts and packed buses bound for state legislative hearing rooms in Harrisburg, Pa., grilled Georgia education officials at a local Republican Party breakfast and deluged Michigan lawmakers with phone calls urging opposition to theCommon Core State Standards.

So, just what is this evil Common Core you ask?

The White House has promoted Common Core, written by governors and state education officials in both parties and largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to create consistent math and reading standards from kindergarten through 12th grade. Academic standards vary widely among states, and that patchwork nature has been partly blamed for mediocre rankings of U.S. students in international comparisons.

The standards do not dictate curriculum. Rather, states decide what to teach and how to prepare children for standardized tests based on Common Core.  [emphases mine]

F*&n Communists!  I mean really, the hubris of thinking their should be national standards on math and reading.  Reality?  I suspect that despite the fact that this has been truly bipartisan and embraced (until now) by plenty of Republicans (note that last emboldened paragraph above), the Tea Party whackjobs have realized that Obama is for it, so it can’t be good.  Not to mention, the Gates Foundation spends most of its money trying to cure the world’s poorest people of disease, so you know their values are suspect.

Now, I’m no expert on the Common Core (though, seems to be being implemented just fine with my 7th grader this year), but to argue against national standards for math and reading is ludicrous on its face.  If the Tea Party gears up, unfortunately, not many Republican politicians will have the guts to face them down.

On the bright side, big business is actually interested in having well-educated workforce, so there’s this:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable also are planning a public relations blitz to defend the standards.

Those are the real heavy-hitters of the Republican Party.  As a political scientist, it will be fascinating to see the Chamber of Commerce vs. the Tea Party.  And boy am I pulling for the Chamber for once.

Video of the day

Over at Wonkblog, they put together a post of great spelling bee moments.  This one is awesome:

Test tube burger

So, a while back I wrote about the (hopeful) future of “meat” that is actually engineered from vegetable protein but tastes and feels like the real thing.  That would be an incredibly huge boon for a sustainable environment.  Meat production is incredibly inefficient as compared to plant production (a lot of resources go into simply keeping a cow, pig, etc., alive).  Not to mention, the very questionable morality of how we treat factory farm raised animals.  A couple weeks ago the Times ran a story on the efforts to create synthetic meat in a test tube, i.e., culturing real animal cells and “growing” meat in a lab.  Turns out, it’s really, really hard:

The hamburger, assembled from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue grown in a laboratory and to be cooked and eaten at an event in London, perhaps in a few weeks, is meant to show the world — including potential sources of research funds — that so-called in vitro meat, or cultured meat, is a reality.

“Let’s make a proof of concept, and change the discussion from ‘this is never going to work’ to, ‘well, we actually showed that it works, but now we need to get funding and work on it,’ “ Dr. Post said in an interview last fall in his office at Maastricht University…

The idea of creating meat in a laboratory — actual animal tissue, not a substitute made from soybeans or other protein sources — has been around for decades. The arguments in favor of it are many, covering both animal welfare and environmental issues…

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November.

His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side by side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.

Intriguing.  And though it is clearly absurdly expensive right now, it’s not hard to imagine a future where this has actually become affordable.  That said, based on what I’ve read about fake meat made from vegetable material versus “cultured meat” made from real animal cells, I’m putting my money on the former.  Either way, I would love it if my grandkids grow up eating great tasting burgers made from vegetable protein or animal protein grown in a lab.  Either way, that’s a huge advance for the environment and animal welfare.

Photo of the day

My wife shared this on FB.  Love it (story behind it here):

Greatest Wedding Photo In the History of the World

Photograph by Quinn Miller Photo + Design.

NRA = gun manufacturers lobby

I’ve written before that the easiest way to assess whether the NRA will be for or against something is quite simply will it lead to more or fewer guns being sold.  That’s it.  I’m not aware of a single policy the NRA supports that might actually result in the reduction of guns sold.  Though they don’t technically represent gun manufacturers, it is pretty clear to see that is where their primary interests lies.  Especially when you consider that even a majority of NRA members support expanding background checks on gun sales.   Thus, it was sad, but not at all surprising to read this NYT piece on just how venal most of the gun manufacturers are:

The Glock executive testified that he would keep doing business with a gun dealer who had been indicted on a charge of violating firearms laws because “This is still America” and “You’re still innocent until proven guilty.”

The president of Sturm, Ruger was not interested in knowing how often the police traced guns back to the company’s distributors, saying it “wouldn’t show us anything.”

And a top executive for Taurus International said his company made no attempt to learn if dealers who sell its products were involved in gun trafficking on the black market. “I don’t even know what a gun trafficker is,” he said…

The [gun] executives claimed not to know if their guns had ever been used in a crime. They eschewed voluntary measures to lessen the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. And they denied that common danger signs — like a single person buying many guns at once or numerous “crime guns” that are traced to the same dealer — necessarily meant anything at all.

Charles Brown’s company, MKS Supply, is the sole distributor of an inexpensive brand of gun that frequently turned up in criminal investigations. He said he never examined the trace requests that MKS received from federal agents to learn which of his dealers sold the most crime guns. This lack of interest was echoed by Charles Guevremont, the president of the gun manufacturer Browning, who testified that his company would have no reason to review the practices of a dealer who was the subject of numerous trace requests.

The article continues to discuss a series of lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

The lawsuits were bolstered, however, by testimony from several former industry insiders. The most prominent was Robert Ricker, a former lawyer for the National Rifle Association and executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, the main gun industry trade association before it was disbanded.

Leaders in the industry have consistently resisted taking constructive voluntary action to prevent firearms from ending up in the illegal gun market and have sought to silence others within the industry who have advocated reform,” Mr. Ricker wrote in a 2003 affidavit on behalf of the City of San Diego.

Mr. Ricker detailed the backlash from the N.R.A. and trade groups against anyone who pressed for changes to industry practices. Because of his calls for reform, Mr. Ricker, who died of cancer in 2009, said he was forced to resign as the head of the trade group.

Another insider, Robert Hass, a former Smith & Wesson executive, testified that “the nature of the product demands that its distribution be handled in such a way as to minimize illegal and unintended use.” And yet, he said in an affidavit, “the industry’s position has consistently been to take no independent action to ensure responsible distribution practices.” When Smith & Wesson voluntarily adopted a set of safeguards, including requirements that its dealers limit multiple sales of firearms, it was ostracized and boycotted, forcing it to abandon the changes.

Now, obviously, there’s only so much blame you can place on the actual gun manufacturers as compared to those who shoot the gun.  That said, they clearly make an extremely dangerous product and seem to have no interest whatsoever in seeing to it that the product is less dangerous.  This is a completely amoral industry as is their semi-official shills, the NRA.  Very, very sad and telling what happened when Smith & Wesson was actually ostracisted for trying to operate as a responsible company manufacturing a dangerous product.

Chart of the day

Nice Harold Pollack piece in Wonkblog of the failure of our supply-side driven (i.e., hopeless attempts to limit supply) war on drugs.  Simple truth is that humans are simply too ingenious when there’s this much money to be made.  Not to mention, the evidence across time and culture that many, many humans really value altering their psychological state via chemicals.  Anyway, the failure is quite dramatically summed up in the price of drugs:

embarrassing drug graph

Pollack writes

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Neither the data systems nor the research infrastructure needed to assess the effectiveness of drug control enforcement policies now exists.”  That remains true today, 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.

but I must be missing his point.  Given the law of supply and demand and how it relates to price, I would suggest that this graph is all we need (not quite, but goes along way) to assess the effectiveness of current drug control enforcement policies.  In short, stunningly ineffective.  Not to suggest full legalization, but it is quite clear that locking up ever more people for drug use and trying to limit supply are both failed policies.

Subjects → citizens → customers

One of the great revolutions of the American experiment was the idea that Americans were not subjects of a monarch, but rather citizens of a shared social contract– government by consent of the governed.  Alas, for many Republicans, it would seem the next step is for us to evolve from citizens to consumers.  In taking a look at the education voucher proposal here in North Carolina, NC PolicyWatch’s Rob Schofield has a great take on the insidious negative effects of viewing citizens not as such, but primarily as consumers:

Sadly, Jones’ position roughly summarizes a core belief of the state’s modern, Tea Partying right-wing: that citizens have a divine right to relate to their government as they relate to a big box store.

This is not an exaggeration or a parody. Governor McCrory has made this idea one of the centerpieces of his new administration with his repeated references to treating North Carolinians as “customers.”

In the modern conservative worldview, all human relationships are driven by the interactions of the marketplace. Many of these ideologues have genuinely come to believe that humans have been commanded by the Almighty to pursue their own self-interest in virtually all matters of economic and social interaction and that when they do, the “invisible hand” will somehow lead us all to the best possible (or, at least, the most just) societal result.

Hence the notion that North Carolina’s education ills can be cured by giving parents the kinds of “choices” afforded to “customers” and forcing schools to compete for their “business.” It’s really a quite remarkable and coldly Darwinian argument – especially coming as it does from a group that so frequently espouses a full-throated conservative Christianity…

And when citizens are treated like “customers” rather than owner/stakeholders, a subtle but important attitude shift is abetted. Rather than caring for their entire community as a whole, inhabitants are encouraged to worry about themselves, treat their neighbors as competitors and threats and confine their communal instincts to private charity.

Does this explain all of Milwaukee’s [they have a famous school voucher program of questionable efficacy] racial divides or economic blight? No, of course not; but it does shine an important window on the struggles of this once-thriving city. And, sadly, unless a change in course is effected soon, this attitude shift could soon come to afflict North Carolina on a mass scale as well.

This is why so many caring and thoughtful people are so desperately worried about the introduction of school vouchers in North Carolina. It’s not the immediate demise of public education they worry about; they know that public schools will cobble together a way to survive in the near term (just as they have muddled along through the budget cuts of recent years).

What worries these advocates and observers most is that vouchers will expedite the ongoing demise of citizenship and the social contract that once bound North Carolinians together in a united society. And sadly, judging by the attitudes and rhetoric of voucher supporters, this is a well-founded concern.

That’s ultimately a sharper point than I’d put on it (I don’t think civic virtue can be quite so easily eliminated), but I think Schofield is indeed right that viewing citizens primarily as consumers ultimately erodes a sense of community and social contract that is ultimately essential to a healthy democracy.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus series on the US-Mexico border.  Whoops:

In this photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a silver Jeep Cherokee that suspected smugglers were attempting to drive over the U.S.-Mexico border fence is stuck at the top of a makeshift ramp, on October 31, 2012 near Yuma, Arizona. U.S. Border Patrol agents from the Yuma Station seized both the ramps and the vehicle, which stalled at the top of the ramp after it became high centered. The fence is approximately 14 feet high where the would-be smugglers attempted to drive across the border. The two suspects fled into Mexico when the agents arrived at the scene. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
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