Quick hits (part I)

1) More on how Kansas is sticking it to poor people.  Surely this is what Jesus would have wanted.

2) The best way to end the gender pay gap in salary negotiations?  Ban salary negotiations.

3) A really, really cool way to address iron deficiency in developing countries.

4) Is too much math ruining economics?

5) Doesn’t quite cover all the grey areas, but this is a great little video on sexual consent using tea as a metaphor.

6) Great long read on how an intrepid graduate student uncovered the fraudulent nature of the gay marriage study.  And a nice take on the matter from Dan Drezner.

7) Robert Draper says the Democratic party is in big trouble.  He’s got some good points, but I will say that whenever the Democratic party is compared to semi-recent history, we’ve got to remember that the Southern Democratic party was always a conservative party.

8) You always here about the incredible bonding that takes place between men during war.  It’s a lot harder for that bonding to take place when you are a woman.

9) Nice piece in the Atlantic on Nebraska’s repeal of the death penalty:

“At the end of the day, this is just another big government program that’s really dangerous and expensive but doesn’t achieve any of its goals,” Hyden told me, summarizing his pitch to Republicans. “They don’t need to ask themselves, ‘Do some people deserve to die?’ The question they need to ask themselves is, do they trust an error-prone government to fairly, efficiently and properly administer a program that metes out death to its citizens? I think the answer to that is a resounding no.”

10) Alabama’s turn to find out what happens when you cut government revenues to the bone.

11) Vox on how just how horrible some animals can be (I did know about dolphins and sea otters).

12) A friend was recently in town to officiate at a wedding.  I got curious and did a little googling.  Turns out that when you get married by a friend with on-line certification, this can lead to big trouble in certain states with more restrictive laws on the matter.

13) I’ve been teaching Evan how to ride a bike.  It’s slow going because he’s full of anxiety and has temporarily given up since it doesn’t come easy.  Could be worse– could be teaching him how to ride this bike.

14) So glad somebody, i.e., the US Department of Justice, is finally standing up to FIFA.   How democracy is at the root of Fifa’s problems (seriously, the smallest countries in the world have equal influence to soccer powers such as Brazil and Germany– and those small countries are easily bought off).  Mark Joseph Stern on the legal strategy behind the bust.

Time to think

The Supreme Court ruled way back in 1992, in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, that a 24 hour waiting period to get an abortion did not present an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right for a pre-viability abortion.  They’ve never ruled on whether longer waiting periods present such a burden  A handful of states have added 72 hour waiting times in recent years, and NC looks to be the latest.  Of course, on it’s face, it is absolutely clear that this long waiting period is meant to make it harder to receive an abortion.  But legislators rarely actually admit that, as the Casey ruling defines an undue burden as existing when “purpose or effect [of the regulation] is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”   A 72 hour wait is clearly an obstacle.  Substantial?  That’s up to judges and as for now, the Supreme Court has not ruled (and there’s no sign its planning on it anytime soon).  Jeffrey Toobin had a nice piece a while back on how this undue burden standard has gradually been undermined.

Given that the current standard is 24 hours, it truly is absurd to suggest that women somehow need (i.e, must have) an additional 48.  But that’s exactly the argument Republican legislators have been making.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, in an incredibly cynical and underhanded maneuver (not that Democrats have never done similar things, but still wrong) they have tied lies to help protect women from actual threats to this abortion legislation:

Senate leaders have concocted a politically volatile bill that combines measures further restricting access to abortion – measures that sharply divide Republicans and Democrats at the General Assembly – with bills that make statutory rape laws stricter and protect victims of domestic violence…

However, Jackson said, blending abortion measures with hard-to-oppose legislative language is aimed at putting Democrats in a tough political spot. If they vote against imposing more abortion restrictions, they will also be voting against laws to protect victims of domestic violence and restrict the movement of sex offenders…

The following are among the non-abortion provisions in the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee added to the bill Wednesday:

  • Requiring sex offenders who committed crimes in other states or under federal law to stay away from premises in North Carolina that are frequented by children.
  • Raising the penalties for committing an assault in the presence of a minor.
  • Clarifying the laws surrounding statutory rape.
  • Creating a program to make it easier for women to file domestic violence protection orders.

As for putting all these items in the abortion bill?  Oh, that was just an accident.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, monitored the meeting even though he is not on the committee. He denied Jackson’s assertion that the bill was designed to put Democrats in a hard spot.

“That’s just how the thing ended up being thrown together,” Apodaca said.

Riiiiiight.  Do they just have to lie to our faces like that?  Anyway, wrong all around.

Institutional racism in policing

Terrific post in Vox from a former Black police officer about the nature of institutional racism in policing.  Was about to put it in quick hits, but this should not be ignored.  Some really good bits (though, it’s not really all that long, read it all):

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with…

That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department. In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem. If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things…

Nevertheless, many Americans believe that police officers are generally good, noble heroes. A Gallup poll from last year asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in various fields: police officers ranked in the top five, just above members of the clergy. The profession — the endeavor — is noble. But this myth about the general goodness of cops obscures the truth of what needs to be done to fix the system. It makes it look like all we need to do is hire good people, rather than fix the entire system. Institutional racism runs throughout our criminal justice system. Its presence in police culture, though often flatly denied by the many police apologists that appear in the media now, has been central to the breakdown in police-community relationships for decades in spite of good people doing police work…  [emphases mine]

When you take a job as a police officer, you do so voluntarily. You understand the risks associated with the work. But because you signed on to do a dangerous job does not mean you are then allowed to violate the human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties of the people you serve. It’s the opposite. You should protect those rights, and when you don’t you should be held accountable. That simple statement will be received by police apologists as “anti-cop.”  It is not.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week.  Whoa.

A hippo and a crocodile fight over a wildebeest

A hippo and a crocodile fight over a wildebeestPicture: CATERS

Chart of the day

Looks like I’ve done pretty well for just playing a fair amount of pick-up basketball back in high school.  Via the Atlantic:

Are high-school sports conferring leadership skills and self-confidence onto a bunch of otherwise unambitious kids? Or are they simply signals, activities that professionally gifted youth gravitate toward? It’s not exactly clear. On one hand, team sports, with their constant passing of balls, pucks, and batons, might teach children and teens cooperation. And young people might learn something just from being in situations when they’re subordinates. But on the other hand, the likelihood that someone plays a sport could have to do with several variables not recorded in the data: coming from a family that can afford the proper equipment, that has the time to shuttle kids to practice, or that puts a premium on physical activity. Also, “popular” kids might be more likely to play sports, and popularity is really just a proxy for networking prowess—something that the business world prizes.

We don’t have an answer on this yet, but my supposition is that far more than anything else we are looking at selection bias.  I suspect the self-discipline and related non-cognitive skills that it takes to balance official high school athletics with academics, as well as the drive and ambition, reflect individuals who are going to succeed more in life, regardless of whatever teamwork and coaching may teach you.  Regardless, interesting.

NC legislature and God

The NC House yesterday passed a bill allowing civil magistrates (note: civil) to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.  What annoys me so about this is the type of Christianity used to justify the bill.  It’s stuff like this that makes me hate “Christians” even though I am one (though, without the quotation marks):

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said the measure protects government officials from being forced to be “traitors against the kingdom of God” by taking part in same-sex marriage, which he described as “perverted and morally unconscionable.”

Yowza!  Seriously?!  So depressing to think somebody like this represents the people of my state.  Alas, he’s not alone:

“Marriage is not necessarily a right,” said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, citing state law that bans relatives who love each other from marrying. “We don’t allow that. Yet. That’ll be the next thing.”

“It is the goal of the secular left to destroy the family and destroy the institution of marriage,” Jones added. “Liberty is not just doing whatever you want.”

“I believe in my heart that as we’re moving further and further away from God and his word, that we can expect to see his blessings disappear,” Jones warned.

Oh please!  The stupid, it burns.  That’s it– liberals would love nothing more than to destroy families and marriage.  We should all live in hippie communes of unrelated people.  They’re onto us!  Of course, the movement away from God must be why all the Scandinavian countries are sinking into the Ocean and face constant volcanoes, fire, and brimstone.  Oh, wait.

But don’t worry, there’s non-religious stupidity on display here, too:

Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, argued that magistrates aren’t the only option because individuals can go online and pay for a minister’s license to marry couples.

“It’s not going to be an issue that these people can’t get married,” Stevens said.

Right.  Because the government doesn’t have to treat people the same so long as there’s a private alternative.  Just kind of like the government doesn’t have to let Black people go to public schools, because they can go to private schools.

This really depresses me on two levels 1) that so many people share this vision of Christianity and somehow think that it should be guiding public policy in a way that is clearly at odds with basic American principles of separation of Church and State; and, 2) these ignorant people are the one’s determining public policy in my state.

Hell in a handbasket

Well, that’s clearly where America is headed given the rather substantial changes in public attitudes towards a number of “moral” question.  Via Gallup:


Furthermore, I’m also pleased to see the small, but there, negative change on the death penalty.  Here’s the Gallup summary:

Key trends in Americans’ views of the moral acceptability of certain issues and behaviors include the following:

  • The substantial increase in Americans’ views that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable coincide with a record-high level of support for same-sex marriage and views that being gay or lesbian is something a person is born with, rather than due to one’s upbringing or environment.
  • The public is now more accepting of sexual relations outside of marriage in general than at any point in the history of tracking these measures, including a 16-percentage-point increase in those saying that having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, and a 15-point increase in the acceptability of sex between an unmarried man and woman. Clear majorities of Americans now say both are acceptable.
  • Acceptance of divorce and human embryo medical research are also up 12 points each since 2001 and 2002, respectively.
  • Polygamy and cloning humans have also seen significant upshifts in moral acceptability — but even with these increases, the public largely perceives them as morally wrong, with only 16% and 15% of Americans, respectively, considering them morally acceptable.

This liberalization of attitudes toward moral issues is part of a complex set of factors affecting the social and cultural fabric of the U.S. Regardless of the factors causing the shifts, the trend toward a more liberal view on moral behaviors will certainly have implications for such fundamental social institutions as marriage, the environment in which children are raised and the economy. The shifts could also have a significant effect on politics, with candidates whose positioning is based on holding firm views on certain issues having to grapple with a voting population that, as a whole, is significantly less likely to agree with conservative positions than it might have been in the past.

What this does not measure in intensity of opinion and that matters– a lot– in politics.  That said, in general, these shifting morals increasingly may make the Christian right an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party– at least among young people.  Who, for the record, are not going to get more conservative on these values as they age.

Capitalism and higher ed

So, after first seeing this link about canceled programs within the UNC system, I was prepared to outraged.  Then I read the story and I wasn’t (though, I open to the possibility that I should be).

Thursday morning, the Board of Governors educational planning committee voted to discontinue 46 degree programs across the UNC-System, including one at UNC-Chapel Hill: human biology. The entire Board voted Friday to adopt the recommendations voted on by the committee Thursday.

Other schools lost more programs than UNC-CH. East Carolina University and UNC-Greensboro saw eight programs eliminated each.

Junius Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC-System, led the review of program productivity, which refers to the number of degrees granted in programs annually.

Gonzales said the process was inexact and that it was essential to listen to the thoughts of campus-level officials. He said the frequency of education programs being classified as low productivity due to few majors was an example of a situation where the processes of the UNC system and the interests of the state did not always align.

The share of the link I first saw referenced an end to majors that don’t lead to jobs.  But, no, what seems to be happening is an end to majors with very low enrollments at particular campuses.  That, I can live with.  Especially when I realized that two of these majors were in my own college at NCSU where we had actually discussed this:

Warwick Arden, the provost of N.C. State University, which will see four programs eliminated, said some programs that don’t give out a large quantity of degrees are still valuable, including the women and gender studies and Africana studies programs at the school, both of which will be eliminated and consolidated into less specific programs.

“While they’re not popular majors at N.C. State, they produce huge quantities of credit hours to non-majors,” Arden said.

I don’t know about this “huge number of credit hours” but I do know that these departments have incredibly few majors.  Regardless of the intellectual value, it seems pretty reasonable to me (and, from what I can tell, my liberal colleagues throughout our college) to eliminate the overhead/administration that goes with a department for an area that has only a handful of majors each year.  Especially when you consider we are part of a UNC system and students who really want that specific, unpopular major can seek it somewhere else.

So, UNC Board of Governors not so bad, but then the final line really threw me:

Board member Steven Long, who is the vice chairman of the academic planning committee, expressed concern about the labels applied to the actions, saying that words like “discontinuation” could confuse the public.

“They think you’re eliminating a lot of the cost, but we’re really only eliminating a little bit of the cost,” Long said. “We’re really not discontinuing the whole program; we’re just scaling it back.”

Long said he didn’t think the programs addressed by the report necessarily needed more scrutiny.

“We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

Ugh.  Seriously?  Hey, I love capitalism.  It’s so good for so many things.  Running a system of higher education is not one of them.  We’re not exactly churning out widgets here.  Yes, of course there should be free market principles in higher education, but when free market principles are what’s driving higher ed– as implied in that quote– we’ve got a huge problem.

Getting police body cameras right

You don’t have to think for very long to recognize that police body cameras are not a panacea for our criminal justice system (though I strongly suspect benefits outweigh costs), but this is a really useful, thoughtful article examining the difficulties and unconsidered costs involved in implementing such a system:

The temptation of technology as an accountability tool is not new, but accountability is not done by technology. Accountability is achieved by people and systems using tools like technology as part of their bureaucratic processes.There is effectively a global consensus that body cameras are a good thing to have because everyone has a different idea of what they’re agreeing to, a different model of appropriate bureaucracy. The bureaucratic and political battles over policies of use, access, and retention are not yet resolved, and they are significant. Who gets to see the footage, and in what circumstances, will matter. The features and capabilities of the technology matter. What happens when the camera reveals more about what was in the officer’s scope than what they could physically see at the time, especially at night? Or when cameras get additional features, like heat sensors? Even on basic practical questions, such as whether and when officers or the public should see the footage, there is no consensus.

Everyone is imagining what should be done when a citizen is shot dead by a member of the police, but few are focused on how footage might impact accountability or shift power dynamics in more routine encounters. [emphasis mine] For example, prosecutors might rely on the existence of footage, and a suspect’s ignorance of exactly what is captured, to obtain plea bargains more efficiently. Already,countless people agree to a plea bargain for crimes they didn’t commit because they don’t feel confident that they can prove their innocence, regardless of how much our system is supposedly about proving guilt. What happens when they are threatened with video footage or facing video footage that may be cropped, presented out of context, or otherwise manipulated to make them look more culpable than they really are? Who is empowered or disempowered by body cameras and their footage depends very much on the bureaucratic goals of the people making decisions about their use.

And plenty more.  Though I would not say I’m convinced we shouldn’t use them, I do think a go-slow approach definitely makes sense so we can work out how to best implement such systems.

Photo of the day

I’ve never actually seen hot air balloons in person before, so I was super-excited that a hot air balloon festival came to Raleigh yesterday.  Here’s one of my favorites:


Steven Greene




Quick hits (part II)

1) This was a terrific Fresh Air interview on how the government was instrumental in creating Black ghettos.  Our racial residential patterns are no historical accident or Black people choosing to live in their own places, but the result of intentional government policies designed to keep Blacks out of white neighborhoods.

2) Loved this interactive feature to find the equivalent in popularity for you name from various decades (e.g., in 1900’s I would have been “Joe.”)

3) Jason Furman on the importance and success of government programs that invest in families.

4) We need to let our young kids learn through play!

TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn…

Over the past 20 years, scientists have come to understand much more about how children learn. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent his career studying how the human brain develops from birth through adolescence; he says most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than didactic explanation. “The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration,” he says.

5) Fascinating Slate piece on the origins of race-based slavery (had never really thought about the fact that slavery existed long before, but was not necessarily based on race).

6) How some men (but not women) fake an 80 hour work-week.

7) Speaking of which, one of the reasons I so loved Mad Men was because it was such a great exploration of the role of gender in the workplace.

8) Let’s keep the gender theme rolling… a couple good links from a commenter about rape, nudity, etc., on Game of Thrones.

9) USA Today editorial on the wrongness of Chipotle’s anti-GMO policy.

10) Surprise, surprise, the Patriot Act is not actually helping the FBI catch terrorists.

11) When it comes to social issues, liberals have caught up with conservatives.

12) Not only do we need better train infrastructure, we need the War on Drugs to not blatantly and horribly violate people’s rights while they are riding trains.  Seriously, the War on Drugs just has so much more harm than good that I think only those truly ignorant of what is going on can support it.  Or fascists.

13) Yes, there was huge fraud in political science, but because of how the scientific method works, it was actually caught out pretty quickly.  And a handy chart on how to spot bad science.

14) Okay, so this Slate piece freaked me out about ticks pretty good.  Actually think I am going to spray my kids’ shoes and socks as a result.

Chart of the day

The demographics of smartphone ownership.  Via Pew.  I just find this interesting, especially the race and age components:

Smartphone Ownership Highest Among Young Adults, Those With High Income/Education Levels

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