Quick hits (part II)

1) Frum on why the Supreme Court is not a good enough reason for Republicans to vote Trump:

Yet Trump’s supposed commitment to appointing conservative judges is still not reason to support him—and here’s why:

1) It’s a Trump commitment, and Trump commitments are notoriously worthless. The only thing you can be sure you get with Trump is … Trump himself. Every other offer is subject to cancellation without notice.

2) Trump’s lack of understanding and interest in constitutional issues is notorious. This is the man who imagines there are 12 articles in the Constitution, and who believes that generals must obey any order from the commander-in-chief whether it is lawful or not. He wouldn’t be able to identify the next Antonin Scalia if a reincarnation of the great conservative justice were to sing opera in front of him.

3) President Trump’s judicial selections will therefore be driven not by him personally, but by his White House staff. Yet we’ve all seen the kind of people Trump surrounds himself with: incompetent at best, thuggish at worst. Trump chose the reality-TV star Omarosa to direct his outreach to African Americans. Who’s he going to put in charge of judicial selection?

2) At least in one experiment, those with high interest in science are less susceptible to motivating reasoning.  I certainly know that at this point in my life I am more interested in reading things that challenge, rather than confirm, what I think I know.  That’s how you learn new things.  Major caveat, we are talking about the fact-based world (i.e., not going to start reading conservative blogs anytime soon).

3) Fascinating discussion between Malcolm Gladwell and Nicholas Thompson on Caster Semenya, gender, unfair advantages, and the logic of Olympic competition.  Semenya is a tough case, but I’m with Gladwell:

The physiologist Ross Tucker had a wonderful piece on this issue recently, and it’s worth—I think—quoting from it at length:

We have a separate category for women because without it, no women would even make the Olympic Games (with the exception of equestrian). Most of the women’s world records, even doped, lie outside the top 5000 times run by men. Radcliffe’s marathon WR, for instance, is beaten by between 250 and 300 men per year. Without a women’s category, elite sport would be exclusively male.

That premise hopefully agreed, we then see that the presence of the Y chromosome is thesingle greatest genetic “advantage” a person can have. That doesn’t mean that all men outperform all women, but it means that for élite-sport discussion, that Y chromosome, and specifically the SRY gene on it, which directs the formation of testes and the production of testosterone, is a key criterion on which to separate people into categories. . . .

So going back to the premise that women’s sport is the protected category, and that this protection must exist because of the insurmountable and powerful effects of testosterone, my opinion on this is that it is fair and correct to set an upper limit for that testosterone, which is what the sport had before C.A.S. [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] did away with it.

When Semenya’s testosterone was lowered to “normal” levels, she ran in the two-minute range for the eight hundred metres, which put her comfortably among the best in the world. Now that that restriction has been lifted, she is running six seconds faster. She has gone from being very good to being, potentially, the greatest half-miler in the history of women’s running. No one will beat her in Rio. She could run the last fifty yards backward and still win. How do you think the other women in that race feel about that? …

I used to be something of a doping/natural-advantage skeptic. But the deeper I get immersed in the world of athletics—and the more seriously I take track and field—the more of a purist I’ve become.Sports is the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles. If athletes can’t accept that fact, they should try another sport—like, say, football, where getting busted for doping apparently makes not a whit of difference to coaches or fans.

4) And David Epstein on the difficult of drawing lines of fairness in sports (and if you are a sports fan and haven’t read The Sports Gene, what are you waiting for?!)

5) Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Hillary’s emails:

Washington right now is in a period of enforced transparency, with Edward Snowden; WikiLeaks; Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee; and the alleged Russian operative, or operatives, Guccifer 2.0. What they have revealed is not some new hidden system of levers beneath the capital but, rather, the same old system that we’ve more or less tolerated all along. Access to governmental power depends too much on personal relationships; rich friends of politicians have too easy a time gaining an audience. “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal,” the journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, during the George H. W. Bush Administration, and for a long time that was regarded as a truth about Washington. As a matter of ethics, it still holds; as a matter of politics, it seems outdated.

6) Kristof thinks Trump is making America meaner.  I think he’s right.

7) We’ve learned less from HM’s brain than you might think.  Brains are complicated.

8) Not surprisingly, planning your meals well ahead leads to much better food choices.  I try and do this as much as I can, but it’s hard to stick with the plan when you are in the moment and confronted with pecan pie, cake, pizza, etc.

9) Interesting article about Facebook fighting back against ad-blockers.  Personally, I never use ad blockers.  Facebook (and all on-line media) is not actually free!  The cost is access to my personal data and my eyeballs on their advertisers ads.  That’s how the world works.  If there were not on-line advertising there would not be all the awesomeness on-line.

10) Reeves Weideman says women’s gymnastics needs better tv coverage.  Hell yes.

Biles is perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time, and these Olympics may be the only time most Americans will get to see her perform. Might they want to know what makes her so good? There is, for instance, the fact that she requires fewer steps and less speed to get into the meat of tumbling runs, enabling her to fit more skills, and score more points, in her routines. Or that her lift off the floor is so huge that Jonathan Horton, a 2008 Olympic medallist, told me that he was embarrassed to work out with her. Or that Martha Karolyi, the American national team’s coördinator, believes Biles could be world-class on the uneven bars, the only event in which she is not the gold-medal favorite, but that for a long time Biles was too scared of the bars to commit to the apparatus. Biles’s toe-crossing on her vault may seem minor, but it’s a tic no less notable than Michael Jordan sticking his tongue out on his jump shot, except that it actually affects competitions—she loses a tenth of a point each time.

11) Rapid advances in battery technology making renewable energy far more cost-effective in the near future?  Maybe.

12) There’s been a lot of pieces of late about “what we learned” about Trump supporters based on a Gallup analysis of 87,000 interviews.  Actually, those paying attention didn’t learn all that much.  Race!

“The results show mixed evidence that economic distress has motivated Trump support,” he writes. “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support.” Rothwell adds that his results do not present a clear picture of the connection between social and economic hardship and support for Trump. The standard economic measures of income and employment status show that, if anything, more affluent Americans tend to favor Trump, even among white non-Hispanics. Surprisingly, there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign…

But Rothwell also found a second factor that correlates highly with Trump support:

This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors constant, support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.

In other words, race is important.

13) The Republican war on public universities.

14) Seriously, we need to teach new drivers the zipper merge and have signs on roads telling drivers to do it.  Oh, and Traffic is an awesome book.

15) New research strongly suggests that humans first came to America not by land bridge, but by boat.

16) Okay, Michael Phelps is awesome and amazing.  But swimming has way too many events.  I went on a swimming rant the other day for my friends and thought I’d see if I could find one on-line.  This from 2012 makes almost exactly the same points I did:

It’s long bothered me that swimming hands out so many medals. At the 200-meter distance, Phelps’ specialty, they hand out five individual gold medals. In 2008, three of his medals came at this same distance, as he swam the 200-meter freestyle, the 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter medley.

For the same distance that Usain Bolt got one medal, Phelps got three…

Phelps has rarely been the fastest person in the pool at any distance. At only one distance in one Olympics was Phelps the fastest person. In 2008, he had the fastest 200m time of any swimmer at any stroke. Why? Because the freestyle is the fastest way to get from point A to point B. Every other Olympic games, he wasn’t the fastest person at any distance.

Do you think if Phelps was trying to evade a great white shark he’d break into the butterfly? Like Dressage in Equestrian, he mastered the form of an artistic swim stroke, and he’s taken advantage of it.

Swimmers will say I don’t understand the sport, that I don’t understand the nuances of each stroke and how difficult it is to master two of them. I understand it just fine. I realize there are different skills, different muscles, used for each event. I understand the butterfly is very different from the backstroke.

But imagine if track and field took swimming’s lead and created distinct ways to get to the finish line, confusing the measurement of simply being the fastest.

We’d have the 100-meter “skip,” where athletes have to skip down the track as fast as possible. The 400-meter “backwards run” would be a crowd favorite, as athletes put their quads – and spatial awareness – to the test, running backwards around the track. My personal choice would be the 200-meter “cartwheel,” where athletes would have to do cartwheels all the way around until they crossed the finish line.

If track and field went the direction of swimming, Carl Lewis would have 30 Olympic medals.

17) Haven’t actually read this NYT Magazine feature on the fracturing of the Arab world yet, but it’s obviously a must read.

 

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

7 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. rgbact says:

    I’d like to think :”smart” liberals wouldn’t vote for Al Sharpton, if he was nominated, just for his great SC justice picks. Hopefully, ideology isn’t all that matters.

  2. Jon K says:

    1) Frum is the type of conservative I respect. The Republicans would be better off if they paid more attention to writers like him who actually try to support ideas that actually make sense.

  3. Mika says:

    #2 Kahan et al. explicitly link dual-process theories and motivated reasoning. I think it’s pretty cool but not all that common.

  4. itchy says:

    14. Problem with the zipper merge is that, if everyone isn’t buying into it, you come off like a jerk cutting the line.

    It’s more efficient in stores to have a single line that feeds into multiple registers, but if everyone has already agreed to get into separate lines, you can’t just cut in front of them.

    I’d love to see explicit … “stay in your lane until it’s time to merge … do not change lanes in advance” signs. Then we can zipper without being jerks.

    16. Agree that there are too many swimming medals, but this is a huge blind spot …

    “imagine if track and field took swimming’s lead and created distinct ways to get to the finish line, confusing the measurement of simply being the fastest.”

    Yes. Imagine if there were impediments to simply being the fastest. A hurdle to getting to the finish line … if only there was a word to describe what this race would look like.

    And if Bolt won the 200m sprint and the 200m hurdles, he absolutely deserves two separate medals.

    • Steve Greene says:

      I know. But on the road, I zipper now confident that even if I come off as a jerk, I’m doing the right thing to benefit all of us :-). Interesting to me that the same people never compete in sprinting and hurdles.

      • Jon K says:

        The zipper merge caught me off guard when I first got to Northern VA this summer. In places like Raleigh and Asheville the traffic doesn’t usually back up bad enough for it to make much difference. Once I noticed that most people around here do the zipper move I started doing it myself. I didn’t know it had a name, and I totally thought I was doing something wrong the first time I did it. But I figured with my NC plate people would assume I didn’t know what I was doing and cut me a break if they thought I was being a jerk.

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