Photo of the day

Great photos of the week gallery from In Focus:

The full moon rises over the illuminated Kazan Kremlin and Qol Sharif mosque in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, located in Russia’s Volga River area about 450 miles (700 kilometers) east of Moscow, on July 29, 2015.  Denis Tyrin / AP

Republicans against public education

Sure, it’s one thing for me to complain about how many Republicans in our NC legislature are actively against public education, but it’s nice to have confirmation from Republicans in this state who actually do care about public education.  And how incredibly sad to even have to right that sentence.  If there ever should be a bipartisan issue, it should be support for public education.  Sure, I can handle disagreements about how best to do it, but the fact that so many of our “leaders” don’t actually care about NC having good public education is beyond depressing.  Anyway, great article in the N&O on the war within the NC GOP:

About two years ago, the Republican-dominated southern suburbs of Mecklenburg County elected Paul Bailey to represent them on the school board. He was endorsed by a roster of GOP officials that included three state legislators.

That made Bailey’s comments on the Republican-dominated General Assembly this week all the more striking.

“I’m extremely concerned that we have a state that is dismantling our public school system,” he said. “This state is going in the wrong direction when it comes to public education.”…

“I’m a Republican,” Bailey told me after Tuesday’s board meeting. “But I’m just tired of this crap.” …

But the sharpest criticism of state leaders came from the board’s GOP members.

“This makes me laugh, it’s so ridiculous,” Rhonda Lennon said.

“We are getting ready to open our classroom doors. … And we don’t have a clue yet if we’re going to have to (lay off) 500 teacher assistants or try to hire almost 140 new teachers,” Tim Morgan said.

Larry Shaheen, a Republican political consultant from Charlotte, says the state’s Republicans are split between those who support public education and those who believe that private business can do better than government schools. [emphases mine] In a state that’s currently dominated by the GOP, he says, that struggle will shape the state’s future.

“Regardless of your political persuasion, North Carolina has a rich heritage of public education. You can’t just dismantle it because it happens to be built by Democrats,” said Shaheen, who worked on Morgan’s and Bailey’s campaigns and counts himself in the pro-public education camp.

Shaheen’s comments conclude:

Shaheen says national tensions, including teacher unions that demonize Republicans [ed: hmmm, I wonder why], fuel attitudes in Raleigh. But he says polls support his contention that in Mecklenburg and across North Carolina, belief in public schools crosses party lines.

“Republicans have got to get better on public education,” he said, “and if they don’t, the majority in Raleigh will be unsustainable.”

Alas, this is nothing new with the guys in Raleigh, but they still have solid majorities.  I think PT Barnum had something relevant to say that very much applies to this.

The dirty little secret of decreasing mass incarceration

We’re going to have to let a whole more violent felons out on the streets.  There  was an article in the Times that there finally seems to be some real bipartisan momentum for reforming our horribly inefficient and way over-punitive sentencing laws.  That said, the accompanying article and graphs make it quite clear that this is not at all about just releasing non-violent drug offenders.  This chart is really something:


A massive share in rising prison populations is violent offenders.  The simple truth is we cannot address the overall problem without addressing what we do with violent offenders.  There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit here.  The likelihood of re-offense falls dramatically for older offenders.  And there’s plenty of ways to use technology (GPS and location monitoring with enhanced drug testing, etc.) to keep track of offenders in much more cost-effective ways outside of prisons.  But, we’re not going to solve this problem by just letting a lot of marijuana smokers out of prison.

Rubio vs. Walker vs. Bush

Hans Noel (who is about as smart a guy as there is when it comes to primaries) analyzes the recent survey of party activists to come to some interesting conclusions:

As Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy reported last week, Walker and Rubio are runaway winners when you add their first- and second-choice votes. They also dominate when you ask if there are any candidates that you could not in any way support. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham all fall below 75 percent acceptable, as you can see in this figure. If you think (as I do) that Bush supporters are underrepresented in this ideological activist sample, you might conclude that this is mainly a contest between Bush, Walker and Rubio, with several others having some significant support.


I interpret these figures as suggesting:

1. Bush is the candidate of moderates and those who like established politicians. He draws from Kasich and Christie, as well as Rubio (more on him in a second). People who like Bush like a lot of different candidates second, but Rubio dominates.

2. Walker is the candidate of the ideological purists. He and Rubio have a lot of overlap, but he also draws from Cruz and Trump.

3. Rubio seems to bridge these two camps. He has more overlap with Bush, Kasich and Christie than Walker does, but he overlaps with Walker and Trump a lot too…

Established politicians will have more clout, and rank-and-file voters will make the actual decisions. But activists are where a lot of the action in the party is, and these activists tell a story of a factional fight between Bush and Walker, with Rubio possibly appealing to both sides.

There’s a lot still to happen, of course, but based on what we know at this point, this strikes me as a fairly probably scenario.  As of now, anybody who is not one of these three probably just does not have much of a chance.  Sure, some others will have some good runs with media coverage and the polls, but they are probably destined to just be the Cain or Santorum of 2016.

Growing out of Ayn Rand

Been too busy this week, so this post goes to my reader/student.  First, me.

I’ve always loved this Ayn Rand quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Which leads me to the student’s experience, which he shared via email:

I read the article you posted and I have been thinking about why ayn rand was so appealing to me. I think it is because she advocates a society that sounds very appealing.  It is almost like a libertarian utopia. When I was 17-20 it just seemed like the way that the world should be.  Or the way I wished the world was.  I went to prep school and was smarter than a lot of kids whose wealth and status opened doors for them I could only dream of.  In ayn rand world none of that would happen.

Then real life happened. I saw firsthand that I needed other people. I realized that not every problem an individual faces is due to their behavior or can be overcome with hard work.

I realized that I would be dead if I lived in ayn rand’s world.  People like me would never get any help because there aren’t enough of us to be profitable to a drug company.   The consequences of a society like that are unacceptable. When I realized that I was able to step back from ayn rand.  I still find some of her ideas appealing, and I tend to want to try libertarian solutions first.   However I have come to accept that the map is not the territory.  I don’t want to live my life beholden to any ideology because they are all imperfect and imaginary. I can be predisposed to like libertarian solutions but also accept that I don’t want a libertarian Healthcare system.

I think some people never learn that things like political  ideologies are not the immutable laws of the universe. If your ideologically correct way of handling something makes it worse than it isn’t useful or correct in that situation.  I think some people like the security that blind adherence to a rigid ideology gives them. It sure makes thinking easier.

Key sentence… “then real life happened.”  I still believe libertarianism has much to recommend it, but when it is not tempered by an understanding of and experience with the real world, it is a highly problematic ideology.

Yes, drink more diet soda

Yes, I am going to keep riding this one.  Aaron Carroll (already my favorite physician-cum-blogger) takes a nice, thorough look at the risks of added sugar versus added artificial sweeteners in the Upshot.  Given that I’m sharing it, you will not be surprised at to its conclusions:

A 1998 randomized controlled trial could detect no neuropsychologic, neurophysiologic or behavioral effects caused by aspartame. Even a dose at 10 times the normal consumption had no effect on children with attention deficit disorder. A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe. [emphases mine]

It is true that people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, need to limit their consumption of aspartame, since phenylalanine is one of its components. But for most people, aspartame isn’t a concern, even outside of cancer. It’s also true that some of the sugar alcohol sweeteners, like sorbitol or mannitol, can have a laxative effect or cause bloating when eaten in large amounts by some people. In normal use by most people, though, all of the approved artificial sweeteners are safe.

When I argue these facts with my friends, they want to know if I put my money where my mouth is. I do. My wife and I limit our children’s consumption of soda to around four to five times a week. When we let them have soda, it’s almost always caffeine-free, because we want them to sleep. It’s also almost always sugar-free. There’s a potential, and probably real, harm from consuming added sugars; there are most likely none from artificial sweeteners.

In fairness, I’m not actually trying to convert anybody to diet soda.  Drink water!  But I get so tired of people who are convinced about how bad diet soda is for you despite the lack of any strong evidence.

So, I was originally going to end the post there, but a friend shared on FB, and a reply came back with, “but aspartame is bad for your gut bacteria!”  Well, you know me, that had  to be investigated.  Well, on closer inspection, it appears it is only saccharin that is bad for your gut bacteria.  If you are a mouse.  Of course, mouse models are important and I very much believe we should pay attention to how various foods and additives affect our microbiome, but even with this study, it’s hard to make the case against aspartame.

Am I going to change the minds of any diet soda skeptics?  As Drum points out in his take… no.  Just ask yourself if you are motivated reasoning your way out of this one:

Anyway, that’s what science says. Unfortunately, science also says that presenting facts to people almost never changes their minds. In fact, it can do just the opposite as people respond defensively to the notion that they’ve been wrong for a long time. So I suppose no one reading this is actually going to switch to diet sodas. Instead they’ll cherry-pick studies that support their previous point of view. Or claim that all the studies exonerating artificial sweeteners are funded by big business and not to be trusted. Or perhaps make an outré claim about how aspartame interacts with gluten and animal fat to produce….something or other.

Of course, as somebody who drinks liters of diet soda per day, maybe this is all motivated reasoning on my part.  Maybe, but I still think its mostly just science.

Why do Republicans hate the Republican Party?

Okay, not hate, but not necessarily like so much.  Very interesting chart from a recent Pew survey:

Republicans Less Favorable Toward the GOP

I would love to see this measurement over longer time horizons.  Based on this, it looks like that 86 support around the turn of the year was the real outlier.  Are Republicans just generally more dissatisfied with their own party than Democrats?  And if so, is there something about one of the many asymmetry’s that explains this?  For example, we know that Republicans are much more compromise averse, but the nature of government (in America, at least) is compromise.  Or the nature of government is governing, and Republicans maybe aren’t big fans of that.  Anyway, this is interesting and definitely worth unpacking further.

You will not be surprised to learn where Trump’s support is coming from

From Greg Sargent on the latest WP/ABC poll:

In the last few weeks, Americans (and the media) have watched in awe as a New York real estate magnate prone to bellicose behavior and hyperbole has become the GOP’s leading candidate for the White House.

But how did this come to be? A lot of it has to do with education.

Trump’s support is strongest with Republicans in the Midwest, conservatives across the country who do not have a college degree and (perhaps not surprisingly) those who report the most negative views of immigration and Mexican immigrants in particular [emphasis mine], according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week.

Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the candidate willing to express outrage and horror about the nation’s immigration challenges. He has also espoused a range of demonstrably false, unproven and outright conspiratorial ideas about immigration.

I’ll refrain from snarky comments– and Sargent raises some nice points about this being the group that probably faces the most direct threat from immigration– but suffice it to say that I’m not surprised to learn that Trump’s support comes disproportionately from the less educated.

Jehovah’s witnesses and American religious diversity

Got a link to this analysis of racial/ethnic diversity in American religions from Pew in my facebook feed (headlining Catholic diversity) and I was so excited to look up Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What these people believe is nuts (seriously, no celebrating of holidays or birthdays??!!  Not to mention they are just a modern-day version of the Arian heresy), but one thing I’ll say for them (they knock on my door about one Saturday a month and they have a church just down the road) is that they sure have this diversity thing down.  Of course, all I had was my own observations of mixed-race groups nearby, but thanks to this chart, I can see that they are, in fact, among the most diverse of religions in America.

How Racially Diverse are U.S. Religious Groups?

But come on– no holidays and birthdays?  It’s a wonder any kid growing up in this faith would ever choose to continue.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  I love creative use of exposure time with moving water and this is a great example:

Picture of Vestrahorn, Iceland, at sunset

Planet Iceland

Photograph by Sophie Carr

“This [was] taken at the volcanic beach at Stokksnes in southeastern Iceland in February 2015,” writes photographer Sophie Carr. “I used a two-second exposure to capture the water trails as the waves receded over rocks at the edge of the beach, just as the sun was setting behind me, illuminating the mighty Vestrahorn mountain and some peaks in the far distance.”

You might not actually be entitled to your “opinion”

This great piece has gone viral among my professor friends (and even some non-professor friends) for good reason.  It is amazing what people think they can get away with intellectually just by claiming something is their “opinion.”  Alas, it is so not that simple:

However, before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself two questions.

1. Is this actually an opinion?

2. If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?

I’ll help you with the first part. An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is black. I think mint tastes awful. Doctor Who is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside the fact that I believe them…

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many other share this opinion give it any more validity. [emphases mine]

To quote John Oliver, who referenced a Gallup poll showing one in four Americans believe climate change isn’t real on his show, Last Week Tonight

Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?” …

That’s where the second question comes in; is your opinion informed and why do you believe it? Though technically these opinions cannot be wrong they can be lacking in worth simply because they are lacking in structure.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I meet a fellow Doctor Who fan, and this fan’s favorite Doctor is David Tennant. Nothing wrong so far. However, upon further discussing the subject this fan tells me that he or she has never seen any of the pre-2005 episodes or heard any of the radio plays. Now, it’s possible that even if he or she had David Tennant would still be his or her favorite Doctor, but it’s also possible that it would be Tom Baker or Paul McGann or someone else.

In a perfect world someone confronted with this would simply say, “Well, David Tennant is my favorite that I’ve seen.” There’s plenty of reasons to not have seen any olderDoctor Who. It’s not all on Netflix, there’s a lot of it, radio plays can get rather expensive, etc. Having a narrow opinion from a narrow set of information is only natural.

What mucks it all up when a narrow set of information is assumed to be wider than it is.

In other words, you can form an opinion in a bubble, and for the first couple of decades of our lives we all do. However, eventually you are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours. 

This is so going to be the very first discussion topic for my Intro to American government discussions sections.  Based on observation (my grad students run these, I observe and give feedback and try really, really hard not to interject myself), this problem is absolutely rampant in these classes.  And, there’s actually no shortage of upper-level students who don’t quite seem to get this either.  And, of course, plenty of people, period, who just don’t get this.  This is probably a link worth bookmarking.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Hillary Clinton’s approach on capital gains is smart policy.  But, it disproportionately affects the richest Americans.  Of course Republicans hate it.  Drum’s take and Jordan Weissmann’s.

2) Speaking of Hillary and taxes, she’s also speaking out on the “hair and makeup tax” faced by women.  Enjoyed the emphatic “amen” on this from a female reporter friend.

3) Dahlia Lithwick on a the recent 8th Circuit abortion decision:

What the 8th Circuit panel did yesterday goes far beyond admitting evidence from a discredited “expert” or two, willing to testify to conclusions that have been long debunked by serious scientific and medical organizations. This court actually usedthat faux science—without testing or weighing it or even allowing it to be evaluated at trial—to advance their argument that Roe and Casey are bad law because they just don’t like them. They would just take the assertions of “one doctor” and “one woman” as proof that abortions are bad and states should regulate them however and whenever they see fit. For all their alleged faults, Roe and Casey represented judicial attempts to calibrate the complex and competing interests of medical science, state interests, pregnant women, and the unborn fetuses they carried. They were not a series of Post-it notes from one side of the abortion debate.

4) Some research a while back suggested that most campus rapes are committed by serial rapists.  The latest research?  Maybe not so much.

5) Fascinating piece in the Economist on how the ubiquitousness of English is seemingly affecting commonly-used grammar in other languages.

6) Drum on how the new EPA power plant rules that conservatives said would destroy America are (surprise!) not going to destroy America.

7) What 10 Republicans will get to participate in the first GOP debate?  Given the low polling averages at the bottom, there will probably be an element of chance in who is included.

8) Great Pew feature on the changing demographics of America.

9) Love this Jordan Weissman on Jeb’s economic proposals:

So Bush has managed to clear the ankle-high bar of looking relatively adult in the quadrennial freak show known as the Republican primary. This is not the same, however, as demonstrating that his ideas are particularly thoughtful or moderate. [emphasis mine] While he breaks with his party’s rabid base on immigration and education, when it comes to the all-important issues regarding the size and role of government, his positions seem to be GOP boilerplate mixed with a dash of hardcore conservative fantasy, all dressed up with some rhetorical gimmicks. Bush might be the grown-up in the room. But you have to consider the room.

10) A prostitute acting in self defense may have just killed a serial killer (and surely saved future lives in the process).

11) One thing NCLB has done well?  Helping Special Education students.  (Though I still strongly question the wisdom of standardized tests for children– such as my own– who are not even on a Kindergarten academic level).

12) And on a related subject, students with disabilities are being punished at disproportionate rates as the same rules do not always make sense for them (I’ll never forget the absurdity of Alex being sent “to the principal” for what amounted to the type of tantrum a three-year old would have).

13) Say what you will about Millennials, but I do appreciate the fact that they would much rather work in a vibrant downtown than a suburban office park.  This, of course, is bad news for office parks.

14) Daniel Kahneman thinks we all need to be less confident.  I’m quite confident that he is right about this:

What’s fascinating is that Kahneman’s work explicitly swims against the current of human thought. Not even he believes that the various flaws that bedevil decision-making can be successfully corrected. The most damaging of these is overconfidence: the kind of optimism that leads governments to believe that wars are quickly winnable and capital projects will come in on budget despite statistics predicting exactly the opposite. It is the bias he says he would most like to eliminate if he had a magic wand. But it “is built so deeply into the structure of the mind that you couldn’t change it without changing many other things”.

15) So, those cool kids at 13?  Not so great at 23.

16) I must admit I’m quite partial to this theory for why social psychologists are liberal.  But given all the social-psychology I know, I think it may be just motivated reasoning (though, there’s probably some there there).

17) Just so we’re clear, you have the right to be rude to police officers.  Of course, just because you have the right to mouth off, doesn’t mean its a good idea as there’s little to stop them from escalating a situation and arresting you even if they should not have done so.

18) Back in 5th grade I was the Rubik’s Cube champ of West Springfield Elementary.  It took me several minutes on average.  I am in awe of the fact that people today can do it in under 10 seconds.

That’s me wearing my “I solved the Rubik’s Cube” t-shirt while hitting the mini-links in Ocean City, Maryland, circa 1982.


%d bloggers like this: