Infographic of the day

Via a really interesting Vox post on the death penalty.  All the ways Americans have performed legal executions through history:

Advertisements

The science of hangry

Loved this New Yorker post about the evolutionary benefits and costs of how hunger affects your brain:

Hunger makes Belgians less charitable, Israeli judges more draconian, and Ohioans likelier to stick pins into voodoo dolls that represent their spouses…

Hunger seems like a simple phenomenon: the stomach rumbles until it’s fed, then it’s quiet until it rumbles again. Why, then, does it shape so much behavior that, at least on the surface, has so little to do with food? …

These side effects of hunger—intensified awareness, greater persistence, bolder risk assessments—also exist in humans. Like walleye pollock, people seem to behave with a profitable recklessness when hungry. In a 2014 paper titled “Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach,” researchers at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, found that hungry subjects fared significantly better on a psychological challenge called the Iowa Gambling Task than did subjects who had eaten Greek yogurt beforehand…

Of course, all the exquisite sensitivity and restless energy that hunger induces have a downside: crankiness. In 1946, a study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment documented the powerful connection between hunger and anger—an early description of the mental state now popularly known as “hangry.” …

Most of the time, we can be glad that allaying our hunger no longer means prowling for wildebeests or foraging for berries. But the system that served our ancestors so well—that gave them the drive to hunt and the good sense to gather—turns out to be something of a liability in the modern world. An adaptation that’s useful on the savannah doesn’t necessarily help in the office cubicle or the dorm room. In places where food abounds, the hungry now prowl the department store and forage for binder clips, ready to snap until they get their cake.

Interesting stuff.  From what I can tell, I really don’t get too hangry (I wonder if that also means I have less of an alertness benefit), but I learned early in my marriage, do not let my wife get too hungry.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This nice post from the Economist on how females are out-classing males in education throughout the developed world has been sitting open in my browser deserving it’s own post for too long.  So, here it is.

2) Jamelle Bouie makes a good case that Patty Murray should be the next Democratic leader in the Senate.

3) Republicans of late have been suggesting they actually care about inequality. John Cassidy just says follow the money in their latest proposed budget:

As long as a Democrat occupies the White House, there’s practically no chance that G.O.P. spending cuts will be enacted, marking the Price budget as more of a political wish list than an actual funding bill. But wish lists matter, too, especially for a Party that is supposedly trying to change its public image. And in 2015, it seems, the most that the Republicans can hope for is to shower more gifts on the wealthiest households in America, while depriving poor families of health care, food stamps, and college tuition.

4) So apparently “the left” has a problem with Mark Kleiman’s great idea for prison reform.  I’m very much with Kleiman.  It’s good to have people suggesting we need to radically re-think our incarceration nation, but I’m not a big fan of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And Kleiman’s proposals would be a very good improvement.

5) Back to John Cassidy as I enjoyed his take on Ted Cruz.   Also, I have to say that Cruz’s “imagine a world without the IRS” is just preposterous pandering to the most ignorant.  So, is that a world without any federal income tax (how does that work?) or a world where people get to cheat on their taxes with impunity (ask Greece how well that works out)?

6) I was just commenting in class the other day how the NFL is a model of socialism.

7) Philip Gourevetich sure knows how to write about tragedy (he wrote the definitive book on the Rwandan genocide), so he certainly has a thoughtful commentary on the recent horrible air crash tragedy.

8) As if our completely over-reliance on prison isn’t enough, we make life way too hard for former prisoners to get jobs.  Most importantly, we’re pretty stupid about what the statistics actually show:

Consider that over-reliance on background checks inevitably screens out qualified, trustworthy job applicants. More than one in four adults in America has a criminal record, and the vast majority of them currently pose no threat to public safety and will not go on to commit crimes in the future: Most recidivism occurs within three years of an arrest, and beyond that point, recidivism rates begin to decrease so dramatically that a criminal record no longer indicates that a person is more likely to be arrested than someone without a record. At the same time, some individuals who commit violent crimes—such as the San Francisco Uber driver charged with attacking a passenger with a hammer—have no prior criminal record that would show up on a background check.

9) America’s police kill way too many people. It doesn’t have to be this way.  And a great Vox interview with an enlightened police chief on how we need to change police training and culture so less people needlessly die.

10) With all the focus on the corrupting potential of money in campaigns, it’s easy to overlook the hugely distorting effects of all the money in lobbying.

Photo of the day

In honor of Sarah and I attending a Foxes class at our local nature center today (from Telegraph’s animal photos of the week):

A fox was spotted strolling down in Downing Street in London

A fox was spotted strolling down in Downing Street in LondonPicture: Joe Pepler/REX

Whom to give to?

A few years ago I heard Peter Singer’s argument about charitable giving and it definitely made an impact on me.  That, along with several other writers advocating against giving to already wealthy institutions (e.g., my undergraduate alma mater), as well as some really interesting reporting on organizations like Givewell has really influenced my own charitable contributions.  In fact, thanks to Givewell, I spent my New Year’s eve giving to Give Directly, the Fistula Foundation, and Living Goods.  Anyway, in light of that, I was intrigued by Eric Posner’s Slate article suggesting that perhaps I should have given to Duke or some local disadvantaged kids.

First, his summary of the compelling Singer augment:

But the idea that one should contribute one’s excess wealth to the poor is only one prong of effective altruism. Singer elaborates on the other prong in a new book calledThe Most Good You Can Do.

After you resolve to donate your excess wealth to the poor, Singer says, you have an additional ethical obligation to ensure that the money is used in the most effective way possible. This might seem like an obvious idea, but it isn’t. Suppose you donate $5,000 to the local Little League so that it can buy baseball equipment for poor children. You might feel good about yourself, but an effective altruist will realize that this amount of money could be used to buy malaria nets or medicine that would save as many as five lives in a poor country. Then you should ask yourself: Which is better, some kids playing baseball or some kids getting a chance at life? Or put differently, should you really let children in Niger die so that some First World kids get to play baseball?

Posner, though, finds some reasons to doubt Singer’s admonitions:

GiveWell does not say that the other charities are worthless but typically declines to recommend them because they do not supply enough information for GiveWell to evaluate their programs. GiveWell declined to recommend Oxfam, for example, because Oxfam does not publish “high-quality monitoring and evaluation reports on its website” and implements many programs that GiveWell does not think are particularly effective. So how do we know that Oxfam does any good? Yet this is a charity that Singer has extolled many times.

Academic research on foreign aid has painted a similarly bleak picture. There is little evidence that the trillions of dollars donated to developing countries has helpedthem develop…

Aid is often lost to corruption, or misused because donors do not understand foreign cultures. Aid can even stoke conflict and damage institutions, as groups compete for access to foreign funds. Well-intentioned aid efforts frequently illustrate the law of unintended consequences. A good illustration is the poster child for aid, the malaria net, which is a cheap and effective way of saving lives. As the New York Timesreported, many net recipients use them as fishing nets, which kill fish, destroy fisheries, and poison water sources, because malaria nets are treated with insecticide. Of course, not everyone misuses malaria nets, but the story illustrates an old finding in the foreign aid literature, which is aid interventions that seem obviously good frequently go awry…

So what’s an effective altruist to do? The utilitarian imperative to search out and help the people with the lowest marginal utility of money around the world is in conflict with our limited knowledge about foreign cultures, which makes it difficult for us to figure out what the worst-off people really need. For this reason, donations to Little League and other local institutions you are familiar with may not be a bad idea. The most good you can do may turn out to be—not much.

That’s a little too easy.  Sure, much of foreign donations may go awry.  But even if 90% of your donation for a charity for starving Haitian orphans goes awry, I would argue that there’s still more benefit to that then getting a poor kid in America a baseball bat.  Not to be holier than thou, as I still give plenty to charities that surely don’t make Givewell or Singer’s cut, but I’m under no illusions as to the relative merit.  For that matter, imagine how much good I could do with poor, staring 3rd world orphans just by giving up HBO and sending them the money (which I actually try not to think about).

Quick hits (part I)

[This was supposed to auto-publish this morning, as usual, but somehow didn’t]

1) Since it’s been Ted Cruz week, here’s a nice piece putting him into context of the Paranoid Style in American politics.

2) I’d read that redheads are typically more susceptible to pain, but I had not read before that it is tied to a particular genetic mutation in about 70% or redheads.  Not that I’m tough or anything, but I think I am in the other 30%.

3) Nice piece from Bill Ayers on how to make sense of scientific controversies.  Suffice it to say, that an understanding of the scientific method (yeah, social science in addition to “real” science) helps.

4) Nice to see at least one prosecutor who erroneously convicted an innocent man of murder feels bad about it.  Now, prosecutors need to read this and think about being more careful before it’s too late.

5) Totally deserving of it’s own post, but as you’ve noticed, I’ve had a hard time getting to things this week.  Any way, the way police handle the mentally ill in this country is just appalling.  Police were dispatched and told they were dealing with a mentally ill person.  Then, he basically seems to get shot (there’s a video) for carrying a screwdriver.  Worst part, the way police endlessly defend this action.  Whether legally justified or not, for this situation to end up with a man dead, is just horrible policing.

6) Adam Davidson on the myth of job-stealing immigrants.  My favorite part about this is that most of what Davidson does is summarize the research of mainstream economists from across the political spectrum, but oh boy does that enrage the commenters.

7) Some interesting research on receptiveness to scientific expertise.  So apparently, it’s not the Republicans are resistant to listening to science, just that Democrats are particularly receptive.  (Hmmm, something seems weird about that formulation).  Also, the religious not liking science so much.

8) Dogs can actually know the difference between words, not just tone of voice.  Cool.

9) A trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail cut in the form of a modern thriller.  Fun.

10) Enjoyed this NYT editorial on the coal industry versus the Clean Air Act.  For some reason I don’t really trust the coal industry’s preferred interpretation of the coal industry.

11) One of my great recent regrets?  That I got an episode behind on the Jinx and had the stunning, stunning ending ruined for me by the news coverage.  That was some ending even knowing it was coming.  Enjoyed this story about Durst’s younger brother.

12) Loved this essay from a Biology professor on what it’s like teaching evolution at the University of Kentucky.

If only we threatened public schools more!

It was education policy this week in Public Policy.  A nice reminder that so much of American education “reform” is based on vague notions of “running education like a business” and ignoring the fact that the dozens of nations that out-perform us do nothing of the sort.  Educating K-12 is very little like running a business.  Anyway, as further evidence, the latest proposal from (one of the most odious legislators) from here in NC gets an appropriately scathing review from Rob Schofield:

For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools… [emphasis mine]

After that, who knows where such an innovative idea might lead? Maybe North Carolina could enact a law that forces prisons to pay for the cost of recidivism or perhaps one that cuts the environmental protection budget each time there’s a coal ash spill. How about a law that docks legislators’ pay for poor state job growth? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The in-all-seriousness bottom line: North Carolina is never going to make any progress in improving its public education system through a threat-based “big stick” model. The only real, long-term solution is to abandon such “divide and conquer” policies based on blame, recognize the complexity of situations like the issue of college remediation and move forward with the understanding that we are all responsible for educating our children and all in the public education business together.

Now, I don’t actually think this absurd idea will become law (but who knows with this legislature), but the fact that this passes as education reform for one of the state’s more powerful legislators is scary enough and shows that the guys running this state either 1) don’t have a clue as to how to actually improve education, or 2) don’t actually care.  Sadly, I fear it’s both.

%d bloggers like this: