Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of the top of Niagara Falls

Feel the Rush

Photograph by Eastlyn Bright Tolle, National Geographic Your Shot

Eastlyn Bright Tolle, a National Geographic Your Shot member, submitted this image of Niagara Falls. From her vantage point, “right on the other side of a wall that separated [her] from this perilous drop,” she was able to create a unique and thrilling perspective: one that doesn’t allow the viewer to consider the safety of the overlook from which the photo was taken.

Haven’t been here since I was 10 years old.  Really want to take my family this summer or next.  I need to convince my wife none of my kids will fall over the waterfall.

Quick hits (part I)

Well, after taking last weekend off due to family travels, we are extra loaded for quick hits this week.  Who knows, may end up with a part 3.  Here goes…

1) Nice summary of the research on portion size and weight gain/loss.  My family switched to using smaller dinner plates years ago.  And another reason I try and never have my kids snack out of anything but small bowls.

2) Absolutely brilliant satire in the New Yorker on the Founding Fathers and the 2nd amendment.  Please read it.

3) Why are there so many stupid college bowl games?  Because people watched.  More people (including me!) watched a meaningless football game between Duke and Indiana than watched the most recent Duke-UNC basketball game.

4) More positive female role models is not the way to get more women into science.  Telling them about the problem is.

In a study of 7,505 high school students, Geoff Potvin, a researcher at Florida International University, measured the effect of a handful of common interventions on students’ interest in physics: single-sex classes; having role models including women physics teachers, women guest speakers, and women who made contributions to the field; and discussing the problem of underrepresentation itself. Of these efforts, only the last one succeeded in making high-school women more interested in pursuing a career in the physical sciences.

5) What sort of a man is Donald Trump?  Oh come on, you know the answer to that.  But find out more anyway.

6) Such a sad story of a new mom, and a baby’s death at daycare plus broader reflections on how horrible our country is on maternity leave.

7) I love the linguistic basis on this theory for why Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter.

8) Seasonal allergic rhinitis?  Blame your neanderthal ancestors.

9) Interesting essay on when are you really an adult.  For me, no longer being financially dependent on my parents (plus, becoming married at the same time) felt like it pretty much did it.

10) How come Indonesia has so many Muslims, but so few violent radical Muslims?

In November, The New York Times pointed to one factor behind the muted response to ISIS in Indonesia: Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization that claims to have 50 million members. NU preaches an Islam of compassion, inclusivity, and tolerance of other faiths, as opposed to ISIS’s fundamentalist, Wahhabi-inspired theology. “We are directly challenging the idea of ISIS, which wants Islam to be uniform, meaning that if there is any other idea of Islam that is not following their ideas, those people are infidels who must be killed,” Yahya Cholil Staquf, the general secretary to the NU supreme council, told the Times

However, “the people that are getting recruited into ranks such as ISIS and other jihadi groups before that are not coming from Nahdlatul Ulama,” so the organization’s impact may be more limited than its size suggests.

Instead, Jones mentioned several other causes: “Indonesia is a country that doesn’t have a repressive government, is not under occupation, it’s politically stable, so there’s no social unrest or conflict, and the Muslims aren’t a persecuted minority. So when you put all of those factors together, it’s not all that surprising that it’s actually only a tiny minority of even the activist population that’s leaving for Syria.”

Indeed, the countries that send the largest numbers of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, either in absolute terms or on a per-capita basis, tend to be either politically repressive (Saudi Arabia, 2,500 fighters), politically unstable (Tunisia, 6,000 fighters), discriminatory toward a Muslim minority (Russia, 2,400 fighters), or a combination of the above.

11) No more micro-beads!

12) Readers’ favorite New Yorker cartoons of the year.  Lots of damn good ones.

13) Does a football player really brutally punch his girlfriend if the public never sees it?

14) Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Rubio’s natural political talent and what it is, and is not, suited for:

Rubio’s great theme is the global longing to be part of the American middle class, and the heroic human efforts made to join it. This is a specific theme, in that it narrates the immigrant experience of his parents. (His father was an itinerant bartender, his mother a hotel maid and a store clerk.) But it is also a magnificently flexible one, in that it can give emotional depth to a riff about how higher education channels all students to be philosophers rather than welders (because to be an American welder is something much of the globe would love) or to his defense of foreign aid (because the American Dream is not uniquely American)…

The fragility and beauty of the middle class, the necessity of the fight to protect it—it was all there. Rubio’s conservatism is not in any major substantive way an update of George W. Bush’s, and if you hated the original you probably won’t love the sequel, which harbors the same instinctive militarism, rigid social conservatism, and gauzy talk of freedom. But Rubio has President Obama’s sharp, outsider eye for human longing and suffering: his talent is in giving stray, chaotic conservative interests an emotional coherence. Walking away, I had the same feeling I’ve had each time I’ve seen him: the man is a natural…

For the moment this talent is devoted, a bit awkwardly, to internecine political combat. Rubio is best when he is engaged in aspirational summoning; he has little instinct for the shiv.

15) On how programs persist even when they are shown empirically to not work just because the people invested think they’ve just got to work.

16) Love this Atlantic article on the return of Electroconvulsive Therapy.  The evidence for it’s efficacy is great (and look at Carrie Mathison!) but it is so stigmatized that it is way under-utilized now.  I would happily submit myself or a loved one to this therapy if they had a condition that it was shown to be effective for.

17) Really enjoyed this Froma Harrop column on how the Republican Congress is far more interested in protecting investors than American taxpayers.

18) MSG is harmless.  So why are so many people still convinced it gives them headaches, etc.?

19) Nice Seth Masket piece on politicians complaining about political correctness.

This is a much more invidious complaint about political correctness. The concept here seems to be that the president and his advisors know whom to track and investigate, but they are refusing to do so because they are concerned about angering or alienating Muslim Americans. This is absurd on its face—Muslims are neither a particularly large nor influential political presence in the United States, and the political risks of allowing terror attacks are surely greater than those of alienating Muslim voters. It also doesn’t point the way to a particularly effective policy of deterring terrorism. Investigating all Muslims all the time, in addition to being morally repugnant and logistically impossible, creates a great deal of noise for law enforcement to sift through. Perusing the activities of millions of innocents doesn’t really help you find a handful of wrongdoers, and actually works against it. What’s more, it tells those millions that they are not full citizens by virtue of their faith, doing ISIS’s propaganda work for it.

20) Of course I love that they are analyzing the gut bacteria (and finding really interesting stuff) of the amazingly preserved pre-historic mummy known as Otzi.

21) Maria Konnikova on how we learn fairness and how it differs across societies.

22) And Konnikova on how children learn to read and the role of brain development:

Hoeft’s discovery builds on previous research that she conducted on dyslexia. In2011, she found that, while no behavioral measure could predict which dyslexic children would improve their reading skills, greater neural activation in the right prefrontal cortex along with the distribution of white matter in the brain could, with seventy-two-per-cent accuracy, offer such a prediction. If she looked at over-all brain activation while the children performed an initial phonological task, the predictive power rose to more than ninety per cent. Over-all intelligence and I.Q. didn’t matter; what was key was a very specific organizational pattern within your brain.

The group’s new findings go a step further. They don’t just show that white matter is important. They point to a crucial stage where the development of white matter is central to reading ability. And the white-matter development, Hoeft believes, is surely a function of both nature and nurture. “Our findings could be interpreted as meaning that there’s still genetic influence,” Hoeft says, noting that preëxisting structural differences in the brain may indeed influence future white-matter development. But, she adds, “it’s also likely that the dorsal white-matter development is representing the environment the kids are exposed to between kindergarten and third grade. The home environment, the school environment, the kind of reading instruction they’re getting.”

23) There’s no evidence for the efficacy of workplace drug testing, but of course we keep doing it anyway.  Could our country be any more dumb about drugs?

That’s plenty for a day.  Enjoy.

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