Quick hits (part I)

1) Fascinating NYT profile of a car salesman who obsessively decided to take on ISIS on-line.  And was arrested by the FBI for his efforts.

2) Smoking gun presentation in the VW emissions cheating.  What I hadn’t known before is they could have just made the cars a few hundred dollars more expensive instead of cheating.  When you look at their liability now, one of the most epically bad, short-sighted financial decisions ever.

3) Frank Bruni’s take on the bathroom wars.

4) Surely I’ve mentioned this before, but this is one notion that always needs disabusing– no, marijuana is not a gateway drug:

And that brings up an important flaw of the gateway theory in general. Science writers and readers are fond of saying that correlation does not imply causation, and this is a perfect example. Let’s say 11 percent of pot smokers start using cocaine, as this graphic shows. That doesn’t mean one drug led to the other. As Miriam Boeri, an association professor of sociology at Bentley University points out, poverty, mental illness, and friend groups are all much stronger predictors of drug use. Marijuana isn’t a “gateway” to harder drugs in the same way that ordering an appetizer isn’t a “gateway” to an entree: One comes before the other, but you’re eating both because you’re already at the restaurant.

5) The case (in video form) for starting school later.  It’s simple, of course– science.

6) How a Cold war command center was built under a mountain in Colorado.

7) Most spree killers are not able to be diagnosed with a defined mental illness.  Rather, they are undefinably crazy.

8) NSF found a great way to shrink the number of grant proposals– stop having deadlines.  Heck, about the only thing I an manage to do without a deadline is a blog post.

9) The neuroscience take on the philosophical question of what is reality, anyway?  Reminds me of all the stuff I used to read for fun back in my college says when I went through my phase of interest in metaphysics.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

10) Teen birth rates are way down.  Hooray!

11) Speaking of birth, more research on the relationship between sharing a uterus with older brothers and being gay.

12) Yes indeed, so many “supersized” television episodes are simply too long and need judicious cutting.  There’s often a lack of discipline in making a streaming episode as long as you want instead of fitting it into a 23 or 46 minute block (I’m quite sure this was part of the problem with the Netflix season of Arrested Development).

13) Nice report from 60 Minutes on one of the under-appreciated problems of our current campaign finance laws– it turns politicians into telemarketers.

14) Really interesting interview on the relationship between intelligence and happiness.

Pinsker: One of the premises of your book is that people may have a sense of what will make them happy, but they approach those things in ways that don’t maximize happiness. Could you provide an example of that disconnect?

Raghunathan: If you take the need for mastery—the need for competence—there are two broad approaches that one can take to becoming very good at something. One approach is to engage in what people call social comparisons. That is, wanting to be the best at doing something: “I want to be the best professor there is,” or something like that.

There are many problems with that, but one big problem with that is that it’s very difficult to assess. What are the yardsticks for judging somebody on a particular dimension? What are the yardsticks for being the best professor? Is it about research, teaching? Even if you take only teaching, is it the ratings you get from students, or is it the content that you deliver in class, or the number of students who pass an exam or take a test and do really well in it? So it gets very difficult to judge, because these yardsticks become increasingly ambiguous as a field becomes narrower or more technical…

Raghunathan: What I recommend is an alternative approach, which is to become a little more aware of what it is that you’re really good at, and what you enjoy doing. When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

15) Damn do I love articles on how the potato changed civilization.

16) With Jim Vandehei in charge, it’s no wonder Politico used to be horrible more often than not.  Just two of many pieces I saw eviscerating him for a recent clueless Op-Ed.

17) The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is pretty much perfectly suited for spreading disease among humans.

18) Conor Friedersdorf on the small tent of the social justice movement activists.

19) Loved this response to those boycotting Target over their bathrooms.

In fact, if you oppose transgender rights, you shouldn’t even be spreading AFA’s petition using their recommended #BoycottTarget hashtag because Facebook, Twitter, and Google all aced the CEI. Every minute spent on those social media giants helps them promote LGBT equality, including the T.

If you don’t want your money to go to a company that openly supports transgender people, you can’t buy an iPhone, eat an Egg McMuffin, drink a Sprite, stock up Budweiser, or fill your prescriptions at either of the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains because Apple, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Walgreens, and CVS all scored a 100 on the HRC index.

20) Universities are much more interested in genetic diversity than diversity of viewpoints.

21) What it really means to be a political moderate (as opposed to what DC journalists think it means).

22) It really does seem like the NC Chamber of Commerce may have struck a corrupt bargain to support HB2.  They sure don’t seem to be all that interested in what actual businesses are saying.

23) Dahlia Lithwick on Bob McDonnell and the “everybody does it” defense of corruption before the Supreme Court.

 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Jon K says:

    21)So someone like me, who basically wants reasonable policies that aren’t beholden to ideological litmus tests, isn’t a moderate? And someone who wants to deport every immigrant yet favors pure socialized medicine is? Seems like pollsters need to figure out how to code extremists differently.

    23) I am actually sympathetic to Bob McDonnell. First of all there was no quid pro quo in his case. There is 0.0 evidence he provided any benefits to the guy pushing the scam pills. Second he did not violate Virginia election law. I believe that this was overzealous federal prosecutors abusing their discretion. I also believe that the judge wasn’t very fair to McDondell in this case. I think his wife is clearly guilty, but him not so much.

  2. R. Jenre says:

    McDonnell was the public official, not his wife. How could she be guilty of taking bribes? If she is guilty, so is every lobbyist who ever gave an elected official or any public official anything worth a penny or more.
    As for McDonnell, he arranged meetings with officials. Is it possible that any citizen who never made a donation could ask the governor to set up such a meeting and have it done? If he managed to get an appointment, the governor might listen but would he act?
    The man who gave gifts and money (daughter’s wedding dinner?) certainly expected that the state employees would at least be courteous and give their citizens’ funded time to someone the governor asked them to meet with no matter how foolish his issue.
    Sure seems like corruption to me.

    • Jon K. says:

      It wasn’t against Virginia law. His wife had 85% of the contact with the guy even after her staff told her not to. The governor never set up any meetings or pressured anyone to do anything. Governors are allowed to have friends, and sometimes friends loan friends money. If Virginia law didn’t have a problem with the conduct it seems like the feds shouldn’t be involved in state level government. Many legal experts on both sides of the aisle think that this will get tossed by Supreme Court. I hope so. I think that the man hasn’t been treated fairly.

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