Video of the day

Very cool video, “War Paint for Trees” of dead joshua trees transformed into art.  Oddly enough, it’s sponsored by Lincoln motors:

Ezra Klein: fiction writer

OMG, Ezra imagines (informed speculation) what Obama would say if he “went Bulworth.”  What results is an absolutely brilliant critique of the media, among other things.  Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.  Here’s my favorite part:

Q: Sir, you’ve been criticized in recent weeks for being overly passive. And as you say here, it’s your view the government isn’t doing enough on the problems facing the American people. Isn’t it up to you to lead?

OBAMA: Let me be clear. This kind of question right here is the problem. You have no idea what it actually is that you’re asking. If you did, you wouldn’t use the word “lead.” You’d be specific. You’d say, shouldn’t I be putting forward a budget that includes serious compromises on entitlement spending to show I’ll meet the Republicans halfway. But I did that. You’d say shouldn’t you be reaching out more to the Hill, trying to build some personal relationships with more congressional Republicans, maybe invite Paul Ryan to lunch? But I did that. You’d say, shouldn’t you just sign an executive order repealing sequestration. But I can’t do that, and you know that. You could say, why aren’t you ordering the army to march on Capitol Hill and simply take the place over? But I’m not going to stage a coup, and you don’t want me to.

So you use this word “lead.” And it gives you cover. It lets you say the fault here is on both sides. The Republicans, they won’t compromise, and they won’t work with me, and they keep threatening to shut down the government or breach the debt ceiling. But, on the other hand, I’m not leading. And so it’s all kind of even. And then no one can criticize you for being partisan. No one can say you’re taking a side. No one can criticize you at all because no one can argue with the word “lead” until you define it, which you never do.

But let me be clear, you are taking a side. You’re taking the side of this town not working again. You’re taking the side of the media backing off of its role as a neutral arbiter and becoming an enabler of whatever irresponsible political strategy one party or the other happens to pick that week. You’re taking the side of what’s easy for you over what your readers and listeners need you to do.

Look, I’m happy to lead. I’ve sent young men and women to die in battle. I ordered a raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that, if it went wrong, could’ve destroyed my presidency. I made decisions to rescue banks and automakers that honestly turned my stomach. I’ve told my base things they really didn’t want to hear on entitlements and the public option and the Bush tax cuts. I pushed health-care reform over the finish line even after the polls had dropped and everyone was saying it would be my Waterloo. I’ve proven that I’ll lead. I need some Republicans to lead, too. That’s the only way this works. Yes, in the front.

Damn, that’s good.  Your turn President Obama.

No Sharia for us!

Hooray!  As a citizen of NC, it looks like I’ll be protected from the scourge of Sharia law, as the NC House has successfully passed a bill on this.  Apparently, our constitution is in real trouble, and only NC Republicans stalwart efforts to pass anti-Sharia laws, etc., can save us:

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, disagreed.

“Take it as fact that this is a very, very present threat that must be dealt with,” Whitmire said. “We are making sure that the most fundamental basis on which we exist is protected.”

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, disagreed with arguments that the state and federal constitution already protect citizens against foreign law. “I’ve always wanted to depend on our own constitution. But we have seen that document put in, frankly, grave danger,” he said.

“In the United States, there is the Sharia law,” said Blust. “It is fundamentally at odds with U.S. jurisprudence. The two systems cannot be reconciled. Individual rights are not recognized.”

Blust said the “goal” of proponents of Sharia law is to infiltrate other cultures. He said Democrats should be aware of the threat.

“Some of the groups of people that are championed on the progressive side are absolutely trod upon under Sharia,” Blust warned. “For example, homosexuals are stoned. I don’t want to see that creeping here.”

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, agreed, likening the threat of Sharia law to Pearl Harbor. That comparison is also frequently used by anti-Islamic activist Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy.

Good Lord!!  These people are elected damn representatives and living in some completely alternate reality!  How depressing.  And how embarrassing for the sane Republicans out there (who I’m still waiting to hear speak up).  I love how they are trying to get liberals on board because if we don’t, they’ll be out there stoning gay people on Hillsborough Street before you know it.  I totally accept that there’s plenty of crazies when it comes to politics.  I have a very hard time accepting the fact that they are now writing the laws for my state.  

Teen pregnancy

With the recent discussion of abortion, contraception, etc., I’m reminded of a recent and really good Atlantic piece about the nature of teen pregnancy.  The sub-head gets right to it:

Handing out contraception will only make dents around the edges of the problem. Giving girls a reason not to get pregnant in the first place could go a long way towards solving it.

Basically, getting contraceptives to teenagers (i.e., the Plan B debate) is not the problem.  The problem is convincing at-risk teenagers (i.e., impoverished socio-economic background) that they want to use contraceptives– crazy as that may sound to us successfull, delay parenthood, blog-reading types:

If we really want to combat teen childbearing, we need to present girls at risk of becoming pregnant with an attractive alternative. It is not enough to offer them contraception and to explain to how to use it. We need to convince them that they want to use it; that they and their children will be better off if they wait to become mothers.  [emphasis mine]

Even more challenging: We need that message to be true. This is a much more difficult proposition, but all of the evidence suggests that this is what is required — interventions that change the life trajectory of girls on the path to teen motherhood.

Ummm, I’m pretty damn sure the message is true, though.  Plenty of good evidence on that fact.   That part is actually easy.  So, what do we need to do?

Why don’t these policies [ready access to contraception] have more of an impact? We believe it is because they do not address the fundamental forces that drive most teens to have children. They focus on the immediate precursors to pregnancy, and miss a lifetime of behaviors and decisions that build towards it…

An alternative view [alternative to blaming the teenage brain] — the one we favor — is that teen childbearing is a symptom of living a life full of obstacles. Facing limited education and job prospects, as well as a slim chance of finding a suitable man to marry, some low-income girls simply ask, “Why not have a baby now?” Ethnographic work on young, single mothers supports this theory. So does economic research showing that the financial and social problems teen mothers and their children experience are mostly driven by the mother’s socio-economic background, not her decision to have a baby early in life…

We want to attack the cause — the lack of opportunity so many girls face… In general, improving educational attainment for young women seems to work.

To really drive down rates of teen childbearing, we need young women at risk of becoming teen mothers to see a reason to delay motherhood. They need to believe that they have reason to invest in their futures, and they need a viable way to do so. That is where we need to focus our efforts.

Okay, now that is hard.  But certainly well worth doing.  And we need to very much pay attention to this line of research in how we think about addressing teen pregnancy.  Until then, I still say, more IUD‘s.

Photo of the day

Love this National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of chickens in a farm pasture in Pennsylvania

Chicken Farm, Pennsylvania

Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic

Chickens provide the fertilizer on this Pennsylvania farm. The mobile coops are relocated daily to distribute manure evenly so that it won’t drain into the Chesapeake Bay.

What to do about Rhino horns

Really interesting NPR story on the dilemma of the best policy approaches to limit the illegal poaching of rhinos for their horns which will soon drives the species to extinction unless action is taken.

Among the suggestions, is to legalize the market, as that will give consumers an interest in actually protecting the rhino.  Downside?

This possibility worries conservationists like Ian Craig, founder of the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. He says ending the ban will lift the stigma — and cause demand to soar. He predicts that horn-selling kiosks will crop up across Vietnam not unlike cannabis coffee shops in Amsterdam.

“All the economists I’ve met say that as soon as you place a value on the animal then people are going to look after it and its going to multiply,” Craig says. “They’re not recognizing that supply could never meet the demand, and the demand is what’s killing.”

Another option, burn them, to create a strong symbolic act and shame the buyers (honestly, people who are dumb enough to think rhino horn is going to cure their hangover aren’t going to be easily shamed).  I like this summary of the ultimate policy difficulty by an explicit comparison with drug policy:

Underlying this drug-policy debate about animals is a philosophical gulf about the best way to influence human behavior. Neither side really knows what would happen if you could legally buy a packet of rhino horn in the pharmacy like Tylenol. Would the poachers go out of business, or would they become more audacious, laundering their stolen horn as legitimate? Would we ever be able to see a rhino in the wild again? “If the world at large is happy about rhino sitting in pens and farmed for their horns, then the economists are right,” says Craig, the conservationist. “If the world wants wild, free-ranging rhino, then the economists are wrong.”

And, finally, a radical solution, not at all unlike what we used to do with alcohol during prohibition– poison it:

An organization called the will, for a fee, come to your land or conservancy and use a “patented process of high-density infusion” to put poison in your rhinos’ horns. It won’t harm the animal but will make any person who ingests it “seriously ill.” As a caveat emptor, they paint the horn with indelible ink, a warning label for any would-be poacher or airport security officer alerted to the meaning of its bright pink color.

It’s not surprising that African governments will not support the contamination of horns that people eat, however misguidedly, as medicine. But some private landowners in South Africa and Namibia have poisoned their rhinos’ horns. They’re willing to let the hazards of poaching trickle down to the consumer.

Sounds great to me.  I’m all for it until convinced otherwise.  Once it becomes clear that rhino horn = poison, people will stop taking rhino horn.  Ultimately, though, what clearly needs to change is the magical thinking in certain east Asian cultures.  Not easy, but certainly not impossible.  It’s not that long ago that western medicine thought that bleeding the evil humor out of people was the key to proper medical treatment.


I would love to see a long term study about the relationships between college students and their parents and how that has been affected by changing technology.  I doubt it exists, though.  Based on my own observations, I’ve got a strong hypotheses that modern technology literally makes it too easy for young adults to be in constant contact with their parents and thereby hinders their personal maturity and independence.  It’s good to be close to your parents, but it really does seem crazy to me that 20-year olds are talking to their parents multiple times per day or texting with them all day long (then again, maybe I’ll feel differently when David is 20).

When I was at Duke 20+ years ago, times were such that most all of us still worried about the costs of long distance.  My mom and I were really close and had a great relationship, but I still only talked to her once a week unless something really big came up.  And my sense was that was pretty typical. And sure, N of 1 and anecdotal, but it certainly seemed to me that it did me some real and lasting good to not be so dependent upon my mom.  I can’t help but wonder if modern technologically-enabled relationships aren’t stunting the maturity of many a current college student.

Thus, I really enjoyed this NYT opinion piece on helicopter parenting:

AMERICAN parents are more involved in our children’s lives than ever: we schedule play dates, assist with homework and even choose college courses.

We know that all of this assistance has costs — depleted bank balances, constricted social lives — but we endure them happily, believing we are doing what is best for our children.

What if, however, the costs included harming our children?

That unsettling possibility is suggested by a paper published in February in the American Sociological Review. The study, led by the sociologist Laura T. Hamilton of the University of California, Merced, finds that the more money parents spend on their child’s college education, the worse grades the child earns.

separate study, published the same month in the Journal of Child and Family Studies and led by the psychologist Holly H. Shiffrin at the University of Mary Washington, finds that the more parents are involved in schoolwork and selection of college majors — that is, the more helicopter parenting they do — the less satisfied college students feel with their lives.

Why would parents help produce these negative outcomes? It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success. The college student might think: If Mom and Dad are always around to solve my problems, why spend three straight nights in the library during finals rather than hanging out with my friends? …

So yes, by all means, parents, help your children. But don’t let your action replace their action. Support, don’t substitute. Your children will be more likely to achieve their goals — and, who knows, you might even find some time to get your own social life back on track.

I’ll be really curious to see just how much I can let David stand on his own when he goes to college.  And to be honest, both of us are already really scared he’s going to fall flat on his face.  So, I’m planning on much support, but I do plan on doing my damnedest to see that he (and then his siblings) really establishes his own sense of self and personal accountability when heading off to college (if not before!).

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