Photo of the day

Hiked down Linville Gorge yesterday to the base of Linville Falls.  Quite a fun hike and challenging at times with a four-year old on your back.  I don’t usually do much with the in-camera effects on my Canon S100, but I really liked how the “super-vivid” setting turned out on this scene of icicles near the base of the falls.  More here.


Steven Greene

Quick hits (part II)

0 1) So, there’s some “scam” where you get any piece of crap published as a so-called academic paper if you pay for it.   Supposedly, these are “predatory” journals that prey on clueless academics, but seriously, anybody dumb enough to fall for this is not smart enough to be a successful academic anywhere.

2) In some places, solar and wind are starting to compete successfully on price.

3) Paul Waldman argues that the Supreme Court should be the biggest issue of the 2016 campaign.  I don’t think it will be, but he’s right– it should.

4) Rolling Stone offers the 30 best Star Wars moments (complete with clips).  I haven’t paid any attention to Star Wars VII, but this teaser trailer totally sucked me in.

5) A NYT forum on whether Catholic priests should be able to get married.  I’ll make it simple– yes.

6) Riding a bike to work as a metaphor for white privilege.  Not bad.

7) Ezra Klein’s take on Darren Wilson’s story.  In truth, either Wilson or Brown must have acted incredibly stupidly.  My guess is that both did. But there’s so much conflicting testimony we’ll truly never know.

8) That said, there really can be little doubt that poor public policy choices have very much to do with how Ferguson got to be Ferguson.

9) The mind is so powerful when it comes to disease.  For example, whether you experience asthma symptoms from a theoretical trigger could depend entirely on whether or not you expect to.

10) Johnston County NC police and prosecutors basically ruined a man’s life by falsely charging him with being part of a child pornography ring despite the complete obviousness that he was not involved (at least he’s free now).  When I make a mistake, somebody gets a B instead of an A.  When police and prosecutors make mistakes, lives are ruined.  They ought be more damn careful.

11) An Atlantic piece suggesting that the rise in tattoos is a feature of a modern identity crisis.  Whatever it is, I still don’t like ’em.

12) A little late for Thanksgiving, but loved this visual guide to understanding all your extended relations (i.e, what exactly is a second cousin once removed).

13) More evidence that the best way to prepare for tests is taking tests.

14) How GE tests their jet engines (with animated gifs).  Very cool.

15) Lessons for education reform from the Slow Food movement:

It’s hyperbolic—and sort of creepy—to say that students are directly analogous to animals packed into crowded feedlots and pumped with hormones before their slaughter. But the analogy works on some levels: Just as factories aim to maximize profit, schools seek to boost test scores. In both cases, shortcuts are irresistible. Animals are injected with growth hormones, and students are taught quick tricks to answer test questions they don’t fully understand.

16) Chuck Schumer is an idiot and represents all that’s wrong with the Democratic Party.  If Democrats should not have used their majority ton enact health care reform, what’s the point of being a Democrat.  To enact vague programs for “the middle class” if you listen to Schumer.

17) Corporations and Republicans always complain that environmental regulations are going to be way more harmful than they ever actually end up being.  Every time.  But for some reason people listen to the chicken little act.  Krugman on the problem.

18) When you read this list of consensus diet tips at Vox, I can’t help but be impressed by how much of this advice is already incorporated into Weight Watchers (which is why I continue to advocate for it).  Also, a lot of this was in The End of Overeating.

19) Not impressed by Mockingjay Part I.  First, I hate the idea of splitting books into two movies, just to make more money.  The book does not deserve two movies.  Second, I blame the source material– the movie did the best it could with taking this mediocre book and breaking it into two parts (I loved The Hunger Games, but damn did the series go downhill).

20) I loved The Yellow Birds— a fantastic little novel about the Iraq War.  I have not enjoyed the language in a novel this much since McCarthy’s The Road.

Photo of the day

From a truly awesome Telegraph gallery of a photo competition celebrating the natural beauty of Scotland:

Velux Lovers of Light photography competition - St Andrews Day pictures

Eilean DonanPicture:

The ultimate diet!

Loved this Vox interview with Matt Ferguson, nutritionist and author of a new book on “diet cults.”  His take just seems to make all kinds of sense:

JB: When you looked at the evidence supporting all these popular diets, what did you find?

MF: Every diet claims to be the best, but the fact is that it’s not. It doesn’t mean you can’t get good results from certain diets. When people commit to these diets in a sensible way, they can be effective. But that’s also the first bit of evidence that there is no one true way to eat. We’ve seen that you can chose diet A or B, commit to it in the same way, you’ll get the same results…

JB: I recently talked to a bunch of other diet and weight-loss experts for a story and they all pointed out that, even though they know there’s no one “best diet,” their patients often demand one. They want rules.

MF: There is a comfort in certainty. When you’re looking for a solution to a problem that’s really troubling, a problem that affects your health, self-esteem, and relationships — and the solution isn’t obvious — it’s only natural to want to find something that you can be absolutely certain about. That not only works but you know it works. You can relax and turn your brain off, and not think about it. What people want is a pill. But if you can’t have that, you want a diet that’s a functional equivalent of a pill: simple, tidy, neat, certain.

Ferguson actually has his own “diet,”  But it’s not really a diet, so much as a science-based framework for thinking about how we eat:

JB: Your book is really an anti-diet book, but you too propose a sort of diet: “agnostic healthy eating.” Can you tell me about it?

MF: It’s a high quality version of a culturally normal diet. I take the entire universe of foods, and divide them into 10 basic types: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, dairy, grains, sweets, fried foods. I rank them in terms of quality. That ranking is base on scientific research. The lowest quality food is fried food, and highest quality is vegetables. We can agree that it’s a sensible ranking. All I suggest is that people weight their diet toward the high quality end and away from the low quality end.

There’s just a little more detail on this here:

There’s One Rule

Agnostic healthy eating has no particular rules, but there’s a simple guideline that makes it easier to practice consistently.

There are 10 basic types of foods: vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, high-quality meats and fish, whole grains, dairy, refined grains, low-quality meats, sweets and fried foods. The first two types are classified as “mandatory,” the next four as “recommended” and the last four as “acceptable.”

The one rule of agnostic healthy eating is this: Each week you must eat each of the two mandatory foods more often than any other food type; you must eat any of the recommended food types you choose to eat more often an any of the acceptable food types; and you must eat any of the acceptable food types you choose to eat less often than any of the mandatory or recommended food types.

The rest is details…

He actually gets a little too rule-bound for my taste in that snippet, but it’s hard to argue with that as a healthy approach (I think he gives in to the idea that people want rules).

But in the end, we all know that some foods are healthier than others and we should eat more healthy foods and few unhealthy foods.  Not complicated in theory.  In practice, being at my in-laws house for Thanksgiving means being surrounded by foods at the bottom end and my willpower muscle is at a low ebb.  But next week I’ll be good.

Quick hits (part I)

1) It really is pretty ridiculous what the state of NY lets ultra-orthodox jews get away with not teaching in their schools (and as I learned on TAL, it’s all political).  Here’s a really interesting story of one young man who rebelled against a system that left him devoid of all sorts of basic knowledge.  Of course, he’s been ostracized for this.

2) SNL version of I’m Just a Bill

3) After this Radiolab episode on Translation, I became really interested in where ribosomes come from.  As a result, I now know about the RNA World Hypothesis.  I’m going to have to use this in my daily conversations to sound more intelligent.

4) Just another all-too-typical American story of a man who spent decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Ricky Jackson was convicted based on the coerced and manipulated testimony of a 12-year old.   What’s not typical is Jackson’s 39(!) years behind bars.

5) I’m not at all surprised that college students who manage to be disciplined enough to take and attend morning classes tend to be more successful than their peers.  I suspect it’s not much at all about being a “morning person” but about being a “self-disciplined” person.

6) We’ve been learning all the cool ways in which bacteria are so important to our overall health.  What if certain viruses play a key role as well.

7) Speaking of which, the New Yorker’s excellent new story on fecal transplants is currently not behind the paywall– read it while you can.  For what it’s worth, I suspect I would make an excellent donor.

8) How the Marines are trying to figure out whether women should be able to have front-line combat roles.

9) Lenore Skenazy in Vox on the “cult of kiddie danger.”

10) Will Texas kill an insane man?  Do you have to ask?  Nice NYT editorial on the matter.

11) Adequately funding a court system is really important if you actually believe in justice.  In NC, apparently not so much.

12) Somehow, I failed to link the blockbuster Rolling Stone story on the culture of rape in UVA.  In many ways, worse than the horrific rape described is the fact that UVA students seem far more concerned about their social status than whether their “friends” are victims of sexual violence.

13) And Charlottesville resident Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent take.

14) I was intrigued by Reihan Salam’s argument that we should end birthright citizenship.

15) It’s nice to be rich and get a lower tax rate.

16) Hopefully you saw what may be the greatest football catch ever.  I really enjoyed this NYT piece asking a whole bunch of different photographers how they got their shots.


Photo of the day

Nothing says Thanksgiving like Spongebob in a Santa hat.  I’m thankful that lots of you out there actually find what I have to say and share interesting enough to keep on reading.  Thanks!

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27:  Nickelodeon's Spongebob

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 27: Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants balloon returns for the 88th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 27, 2014 in New York City.  Rob Kim, Getty Images

The police are allowed to shoot people

From my perspective, the shooting of Michael Brown is sufficiently ambiguous that Darren Wilson was never going to be convicted of anything.  I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, it just is.  We give the police an amazing amount of latitude in their legal ability to shoot people.  My sense if probably a little too much latitude, but legally there’s a ton of precedent for Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown and not facing any legal consequences.  The truth is factually ambiguous police shootings of unarmed suspects happen all the time with the officer not facing any consequences.  The difference in this case is that the protest in Ferguson means we all know about it.

Some useful perspective from Jamelle Bouie:

None of this was a surprise. It’s extremely rare for a police officer to face an indictment for a shooting, much less criminal punishment. “The FBI reported 410 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2012,” notedTalking Points Memo in an August story following the events in Ferguson, “The number of indictments appear to be minimal after a TPM review of available press reports.” And it’s not just shootings; earlier this year, Georgia police mistakenly raided a home and seriously injured a young child. Prosecutors convened a grand jury, and the grand jury voted against an indictment. “The drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures,” wrote the grand jury in its decision. Still, no one from the police force was held accountable.

The truth is that the law gives wide berth to the police’s use of deadly force…

Beyond this, there are the general standards for use of deadly force by police, which give wide latitude to officers who use their weapons. The Supreme Court allows police to use their weapons in two circumstances: To defend their lives and to stop an escaped felon. If Wilson believed that Brown was a felon—or committed a felonious offense—then he was justified under existing law. And if Wilson believed he was in danger of losing his life—a belief that only has to be “objectively reasonable,” not likely or even possible—then, again, he was justified under existing law.

And 538 that points out that grand juries not indicting is incredibly rare.  Except in police shootings:

As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaperaccounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigationfound that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

Vox covers many of the same points, but I like their perspective on how the prosecutor handled the grand jury:

Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor who spent six years trying violent crimes, including homicides, told Vox’s Amanda Taub in August that the strategy raised concerns about McCulloch’s commitment to seeking justice in the case:

So when a District Attorney says, in effect, “we’ll present the evidence and let the grand jury decide,” that’s malarkey. If he takes that approach, then he’s already decided to abdicate his role in the process as an advocate for justice. At that point, there’s no longer a prosecutor in the room guiding the grand jurors, and — more importantly — no state official acting on behalf of the victim, Michael Brown…

Then, when you add to the mix that minorities are notoriously underrepresented on grand juries, you have the potential for nullification — of a grand jury declining to bring charges even when there is sufficient probable cause. That’s the real danger to this approach…

In an interview Vox’s Amanda Taub conducted with David Rudovsky, an expert in police prosecutions, he explained that various stages of the criminal justice process — from being investigated by police peers, to being prosecuted by attorneys who work closely with police, to natural jury bias toward law enforcement — makes it rather rare for cops to go to jail for misconduct on the job. This plays out not just in Ferguson, but across the nation.

And Jon Cohn on the failure to indict:

At this point, and pending a thorough examination of everything McCulloch has posted online, it’s difficult to feel confident about exactly what happened in Ferguson on that day. Given the standards of Missouri law, which gives police officers deference when they claim self-defense, it’s also difficult to imagine a trial jury agreeing to convict Wilson of a crime. That alone might have been reason enough for a Grand Jury not to find “probable cause” of a crime, according to Frank Bowman, a professor of law at the University of Missouri:

A finding of probable cause means that the grand jury is able to conclude, based on the evidence, that it is more likely than not that each and every element of a charged crime exists.  The fact that some evidence exists to support one or all elements doesn’t amount to probable causeparticularly if there is also evidence pointing the opposite direction on some or all elements. … The grand jury does not need the level of certainty, beyond a reasonable doubt, required for conviction by a trial jury. But if it is to serve any useful function as a protection against unfounded prosecution, it must refuse to indict unless it is convinced that a crime was committed.

We are chosen to have a society where police can conspire to legally steal your cash and can shoot people with impunity in all but the most egregious circumstances (I don’t doubt that the substantial majority of these shootings are actually justified, but not to the degree that is currently allowed by our legal system).  Maybe this is how it should be, but I think the pendulum has gone too far in our hope for the police to “keep us safe.”  Especially when you consider the racial angles of how this plays out.  I’m not actually optimistic of meaningful changes, but this case does very much highlight the decisions we have made in this regard as a society and (hopefully) call for us to reexamine them.

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