Who deserves $2/hour?

This whole clip is good, but here’s the 40 seconds of a billionaire suggesting we pay mentally retarded people $2/hour.  Good stuff.


You slept great last night!

I didn’t.  I woke up feeling really tired.  Perhaps if Sarah had not insisted we snuggle in the middle of the night.  Anyway, some really interesting research about the power of believing you slept well.  From the Atlantic’s Julie Beck:

Maybe if you were sweetly, blithely ignorant of your somnial failings, you’d feel more chipper and work more efficiently. In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers from Colorado College tested the effects of being told you’re getting enough sleep—“placebo sleep,” as they call it…

Then one of the experimenters pretended to calculate that each participant got either 16.2 percent REM sleep or 28.7 percent REM sleep the previous evening. After getting their reading, participants took a test that measures “auditory attention and speed of processing, skills most affected by sleep deprivation,” according to the study.

A second experiment repeated these conditions, while controlling for experiment bias.

Results: Participants who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on the test, and those who were told their REM sleep was below average performed worse, even when researchers controlled for the subjects’ self-reported sleep quality.

Implications: A great victory was won here for lies, over truth. This study shows that if you’re in the mindset that you’re well-rested, your brain will perform better, regardless of the actual quality of your sleep. Conversely, constantly talking about how tired you are, as so often happens in our culture, might be detrimental to your performance.

Alright then, you did sleep great last night.  Now back to doing some productive work!

Photo of the day

Apparently the UK has been having a lot of crazy weather this month.  Great gallery from the Telegraph:

Storm and flood warnings have been issued for the South West of England

Waves break over Saltcoats Esplanade in Scotland. A spokesman for the Met Office said the UK as a whole had seen a large amount of rain in January.Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The GOP paradox

Enjoyed this Yglesias post on the difficulty of using the government to solve problems when you are committed to the never spending any more money.  A classic (and accurate) bit of snark:

Zachary Goldfarb has an interesting piece about the mini-perestroika of Republican thinking about ways to enact policies that will bolster people’s incomes and make their lives better. But then on paragraph nine you get to the key problem (emphasis added):

As they cast about for ideas, Republicans are struggling to find policies that match the simplicity and gut appeal of such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wagewithout violating core conservative principles by increasing spending or interfering with market forces. Many lawmakers are turning to conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute.

Many of us in America are struggling to find weight loss strategies that don’t require us to spend more time at the gym or eat less food. It turns out to be challenging.

Years ago when I lived in Virginia I remember the Republicans saying how we needed to invest more in building roads (always a problem in NoVa), but that obviously we had to find a way to do this without actually spending any money.  There was a great Roanoke Times editorial that suggested the Republicans try alchemy.

Kristof on pre-K

Really enjoyed this Kristof column summarizing the evidence of what good policy pre-K is.  I especially like that he puts the seemingly disappointing results from Head Start in proper perspective:

Republican critics focus on (and misunderstand) a major, well-designed project called the Head Start Impact Study. It found that Head Start produces educational gains that fade away. By third grade, when the research ended, there was little detectable difference between those assigned to Head Start and those in control groups.

That’s disappointing. And that’s why critics denounce Head Start as a waste of money.

Yet early education has always had an impact not through cognitive gains but through long-term improvements in life outcomes. With Perry, Abecedarian and other programs, educational gains fade, yet, mysteriously, there are often long-term improvements on things that matter even more, such as arrest rates and high school graduation rates. The Head Start Impact Study couldn’t examine those outcomes.

Other researchers have, and their findings are almost unanimous. One rigorous study led by Eliana Garces, then of U.C.L.A., found that Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers. David Deming of Harvard found that children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely as young adults to be “idle” — out of a job and out of school.  [emphasis mine]

Jens Ludwig of University of Chicago found that Head Start reduced child mortality in elementary years, apparently because of screening and treatment referrals.

Beyond Head Start, a series of randomized trials of other early education initiatives repeatedly found the same result: Long-term outcomes improve.

I wish this post didn’t have the “political” tag.  I wish that a policy so obviously beneficial and so obviously cost-effective would just have universal support.  This is just so something we have to make happen.  On the one hand, I am encouraged that several states have figured this out.  On the other, it is disheartening that we cannot get anything out of Congress to help make this happen on a national level.  But heck, you’d think if Oklahoma could somehow figure this out, so could another 49 states.  

Photo of the day

Let’s go with a late photo of the day today.  A very cool gallery of synchronized swimming photos in Behold:


Paul Schlemmer

Laughter as a quote

So I talked to a reporter friend the other day about the ads Americans for Prosperity is running against Kay Hagan.  I know they would put themselves in legal jeopardy by actually admitting that they are trying to influence the Senate election, but it is still just absurd to hear them say they are only about educating the public.  Binker read me the quote from AFP and I just laughed and then said, “feel free to quote me as laughing out loud.”  And:

The ads are issue advocacy, Bryson said, designed to inform the public about policy, not affect election outcomes.

“Even-numbered years are a very good time to bring pressure on public officials,” he said. “We are trying to hold her (Hagan) accountable on what we think is a bad decision on her part.”

Steve Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, laughed out loud at the assertion the AFP ad wasn’t meant to influence a campaign.

“They would probably laugh out loud themselves if they didn’t have to say that legally,” Greene said. “It’s preposterous.”

Preposterous, indeed.  And, okay, I’m not quite as expert on election as I should be, but I believe we have the Supreme Court to thank for this travesty.  I don’t have that big a problem with AFP trying to influence elections (though, I do think we need a much more sensible regulation regime), I have a very big problem with the Supreme Court basically requiring everybody to go through an absurdly silly game of pretending they’re not.

Useless polling?

Okay, Hillary has a huge lead going into 2016 and the polls confirm this.  Slate:

The Washington Post and ABC News this morning bring us an early look at the leader board for the 2016 presidential nominations. The fact that Hillary Clinton is the front-runner for the Democrats will surprise absolutely no one—but the sheer size of her lead is something to behold: 61 points.

The former secretary of state holds a staggering 6 to 1 lead over her nearest rival, Joe Biden, in the survey. To put that in perspective, as the Fix helpfully does, that makes Clinton the “single biggest frontrunner for a Democratic presidential nomination in the history of the poll.” Her 73-12 lead over Biden will only add another data point to the Beltway consensus that the nomination is Clinton’s to lose—even if few people know how fleeting an early primary lead can be like Hillary. (The same WaPo/ABC polling outfit found Clinton with a 22-point lead in early primary polling back in 2006, and we all know how that turned out.)

Hillary does have a huge advantage, but the fact that she’s up in the polls is the least of it.  Hans Noel, co-author of The Party Decides, put it great in his FB status:

Hillary Clinton now has a historically massive lead in something that has historically not mattered that much.

Map of the day

This is so awesome– a map of how much snow it takes to close schools for every county in the US.

Big version here.  More info here.

Here in NC we just had snow day #3 for 2″ on Tuesday night.  We also lost Tuesday even thought the snow didn’t come until evening because the forecasters thought it was going to come in the afternoon.  If the kids aren’t back in school tomorrow, my wife will go nuts :-).

Pew on inequality

Great Pew report on public opinion and inequality.  I love that it asks a number of questions that get to the heart of the debate.  E.g.,

Why are Some People Poor and Others Rich?

Unfortunately, they don’t have a table breaking that down by PID, but I think we can all guess how it would look.  Also quite interesting is this trendline that shows Americans have less belief/faith in the value of hard work (and I would argue rightly so):

Does Hard Work Lead to Success?

Actually, though, I think genuine hard work and determination will still work for most anybody in America.  The difference is that medium work and medium determination will take you really far if you are born upper-middle class and take you nowhere if you are born in an impoverished inner city.  The slackers that I grew up with are all doing quite well (judging by Facebook).  Had these same individuals grown up in a poor rural or inner city area I’m convinced the results would be quite different.  The truth is not enough people really have an innate great work ethic and determination.  And even if you have inborn inclinations in that direction, it’s easy to see how that can be beaten out of you in an environment with indifferent parenting, an indifferent education system, and endemic poverty in your community.

Finally, I think it is encouraging that on a basic level most Americans– including most Republicans– think there is a non-trivial role for government in reducing poverty:

More Republicans, Independents Favor Gov’t Action on Poverty than Inequality

Eat more pesticides!

Given my social circle of lots of over-educated college professors and such, I know lots of people who pretty much by all their food at Whole Foods and will only eat organic food.  But all that conventional fruit is damn good for you, too.  So, let me borrow the Melinda Wenner’s introductory beliefs on the matter, which I share,

I want to start off by saying that this column is not about whether organic agriculture is worth supporting for its environmental benefits (I think it is) or whether we as a society should care about the chemicals found in our foods and household products (I think we should). This column is about whether it’s worth buying organic produce for your kids specifically because you think the pesticides on conventional produce could harm them.

Right.  Organic foods can use pesticides so long as they are organic pesticides.  Ummm, there’s plenty of organic stuff that can kill you:

The assumption, of course, is that these natural pesticides are safer than the synthetic ones. Many of them are, but there are some notable exceptions. Rotenone, a pesticideallowed in organic farming, is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides…

The synthetic pesticide Captan is 32.5 times less toxic than Rotenone, and another one, Pyrimethanil, is 42.5 times less toxic than Rotenone. Rotenone is also not the only natural pesticide that out-ranks synthetic pesticides in terms of toxicity. The pyrethrins, a class of pesticides derived from chrysanthemums that are approved for use in organic farming, are more toxic by weight than Round-Up, Captan, and Pyrimethanil, too.

So, there’s that.  But we also need to think realistically about the amounts of pesticides we’re actually being exposed to and their potential for harm:

 Well, let’s start with apples, which the EWG considers the most pesticide-laden fruit or vegetable out there, and look at the pesticide that is most commonly found on them, called Thiabendazole. Winter and his colleagues found that, each day from conventionally-grown apples and apple-based products, Americans typically consume a dose of Thiabendazole that is 787 times less than the EPA’s recommended exposure limit. Put another way, you’d have to eat as many apples and apple products as 787 Americans eat in a single day combined in order to be exposed to a level of this pesticide that approaches the EPA’s exposure limit.

For other fruits and vegetables, Winter and his colleagues found even less reason to worry. For Captan, the synthetic pesticide most commonly found on conventionally grown strawberries, Americans are exposed to 8,180 times less of the chemical per day than the EPA’s limit. Overall, Winter and his colleagues reported that the EPA’s exposure limits were more than 1000 times higher than the daily exposure estimates for 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable comparisons they made.

Granted, we’re exposed to pesticides through other means, too, and some pesticides may have cumulative effects—but Winter says that even so, Americans won’t be ingesting anything close to the EPA’s limits for any of the pesticides used in U.S. agriculture. (And if you ever did ingest a pesticide at or above the EPA’s limit, you wouldn’t suddenly keel over and die. The agency sets pesticide limits at least 100 times lower than the lowest dose that caused any sign of harm, however minimal, to animals when they were fed that amount every day for most of their lives.) “We have a tremendous amount of data showing that what we’re exposed to in the diet for pesticides is very, very low, and certainly much lower than what would be required to have any even minimal health concern,” Winter says. And by the way, in none of these studies were the fruits and vegetables rinsed with tap water before they were tested, yet researchsuggests that doing so can reduce pesticide exposures significantly. Rubbing the food during rinsing helps, too.

Well, there you go.  And I presume I’m not the only one who regularly rinses (and rubs while doing so) my fruits and vegetables.  And, finally, I love the results of this study:

 Onereview concluded that the quartile of Americans who eat the most fruits and vegetables, organic or not, are about half as likely to develop cancer compared to the quartile who eat the least. Fruits and veggies may also prevent heart disease anddiabetes. A fascinating 2012 study used research-based models to predict what would happen if half of all Americans increased their (conventional) fruit and vegetable intake by a single serving each day; it predicted that doing so would prevent 20,000 cases of cancer a year. When the authors modeled whether this increased intake might pose risks due to the greater pesticide exposure, they concluded that yes, there might be 10 additional cases of cancer every year in the U.S. Put another way, the benefits far, far outweigh the risks.

In short, eat more pesticides, because that means you are eating more fruits and vegetables.  And that is way healthier for you than the negatie of low levels of pesticides.

And, I’d be remiss for not weighing in on apples here.  Personally, the local-grown, non-organic, NC apples I buy at the NC Farmer’s Market are awesome and blow away any others in taste.  I’m missing apples season.  After that, the organics I buy at Whole Foods are generally a cut above taste-wise than the conventional Braeburns and Jazz I buy at Food Lion.  I buy apples from all three sources, but I buy based on taste and convenience and will certainly continue doing so.

Ezra’s hubris?

So, Ezra is leaving Wonkblog.  My biggest concern about this?  One more website to keep up with every day.  I presume that Wonkblog will keep bringing me very solid analysis of policy in the news and that Ezra’s new venture will feature his nearly-always insightful analysis of news and politics.  I’m just entirely not sold by the idea that Ezra is going to bring me something new and wonderful.  David Carr:

“It is not as simple as journalists going to a digital site and doubling their salary,” said Jim Bankoff, chief executive of Vox. “Many of these people, including Ezra, have a vision of creating something remarkable. There is a better way of doing things and we like to think that we are using technology in service of creativity, journalism and storytelling.”

Yeah, whatever.  I don’t think most Wonkblog readers are after something “remarkable.”  Rather, we really like Ezra’s insightful analysis of politics and policy.  That would still be good on old-fashioned newsprint.  Ezra’s comparative advantage is not that he’s some great technology/journalism visionary.  His comparative advantage is that he writes about politics and policy as intelligently as anybody out there.  So, he wants his own site that will be more comprehensive.  Fine, but enough with the earth-shattering implications.  Ezra:

New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic. The overriding focus on the new made sense when the dominant technology was newsprint: limited space forces hard choices. You can’t print a newspaper telling readers everything they need to know about the world, day after day. But you can print a newspaper telling them what they need to know about what happened on Monday. The constraint of newness was crucial.

The web has no such limits. There’s space to tell people both what happened today and what happened that led to today. But the software newsrooms have adopted in the digital age has too often reinforced a workflow built around the old medium. We’ve made the news faster, more beautiful, and more accessible. But in doing we’ve carried the constraints of an old technology over to a new one.

Today, we are better than ever at telling people what’s happening, but not nearly good enough at giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what’s happened. We treat the emphasis on the newness of information as an important virtue rather than a painful compromise.

Good points.  But if you are a Wonkblog reader, you know it already does this!  It does dig deep and provide critical context on key issues.  It doesn’t just follow the rhythms of the day’s news and attacks important policy issues even when they are being ignored by the news.

Look, this new site may very well be great, but I refuse to believe that it will somehow be anything revolutionary with regards to news/journalism and technology.

%d bloggers like this: