Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the big delay.  Busy weekend.  Had an amazing time seeing Green Day Friday night (when I’m usually finishing off quick hits) and now visiting with family.  Here goes:

1) Interesting essay on modern television and Netflix’s lack of any kind of brand identity for it’s original programming.

2) Where did the Zika virus go and is it coming back?

3) In a saner world, I’d have more time to get mad about Trump’s horrible idea of getting more military weapons back in the hands of police.

4) What hybrid animals can teach us about evolution.

5) Our current system for organ transplants is way too arbitrary depending upon what state you live in.  Fortunately, people are working to change that.

6) The real scourge on college campuses– loneliness.

7) Jennifer Victor on teaching in the age of Trump.  Definitely thinking a lot about these issues in my first Intro course since his election:

However, the challenge of getting students to take a detached, nonjudgmental viewpoint on current events is maximized in the Trump administration. How can one be dispassionate in the face of a leader who aligns himself with white supremacists? While commitment to scientific principles remains priority, it would be unethical and morally irresponsible not to express judgment against repugnant behavior that is baldly bigoted. As a social scientist, I can talk about the president breaking with democratic norms and precedent, but as a human being, I also want to expose the dehumanizing effects of vitriolic language and the violence it encourages…

My strategy in class this semester is to be both scientific and human. We can retain a commitment to social science by analyzing behaviors in the context of strategic behavior, institutional incentives, social influences, individual psychology, or any other typical and academic way of examining politics. We can respond as humans by openly noting when behavior is inhumane, immoral, unethical, or racist. American political scholars may be less accustomed to doing the latter when discussing current events and the US president, and instructors may feel like they are breaking scientific practice to do so, but we need only look to our colleagues in other subfields for guidance.

Comparativists do not wince at describing despotic regimes. They do just fine objectively identifying authoritarian, tyrannical, or violent leadership. No one accuses scholars in international relations as being ideologically motivated for observing warmongering or international exchanges that threaten American security. Americanists simply need to do what comparativists have been saying for years: treat the US as a single case, not a special one.

8) The decline of midwestern public research universities.

9) What’s up with those fire ant balls in Texas.

10) Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings was more more complicated than either side would like to admit and cannot be easily summarized in terms of “property” or “mistress.”

11) Loved this story on how Driscoll’s re-invented the strawberry.  Apparently, they are changing cultivars on us all the time without our even knowing.  I love fresh local strawberries from the NC farmer’s market every April, but I don’t find the mass-produced strawberries in the grocery store even worth eating.

12) I don’t think a new book lamenting the lack of emphasis on teaching in universities will surprise many (though, like many, I wish it were otherwise).  I totally agree with this part of the review:

What does seem to have shifted in recent years is the wholesale acceptance of business norms by many academic institutions, which have adopted a strategy focused on the bottom line despite their nonprofit status. This has resulted, among other things, in the willingness to charge students ever-higher tuitions while driving labor costs down, and in the adoption of a star system that resembles the tournament structure of our whole society.

13) Pro Publica’s March 2016 feature on how Houston and Texas are not ready for a major hurricane.

14) David Brooks recent column has been widely and appropriately derided for arguing that white identity politics have only infected the GOP since 2005.

15) We really do need to invest more in high-quality vocational training.

16) I didn’t realize just how toxic Silicon Valley’s work-all-the-time culture had become.  Really interesting essay on the matter.  I guess I’m a loser for valuing time with my family.  Oh, also, not surprisingly, it’s not great for productivity:

The truth is that much of the extra effort these entrepreneurs and their employees are putting in is pointless anyway. Working beyond 56 hours in a week adds little productivity, according to a 2014 report by the Stanford economist John Pencavel. But the point may be less about productivity than about demonstrating commitment and team spirit.

“Everyone wants to be a model employee,” said Anim Aweh, a clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed-out tech workers. “One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’ ” [emphasis mine]

Seriously?  Working smart is a bad thing.  Ugh.  Also, if this is the culture, it ends up invariably having a disproportionately negative impact on women.

17) German Lopez on how to fix America’s broken policing.  Excellent stuff.  Right onto the next PS 313 syllabus.  Also, this chart:

18) Rebuilding quantum theory from the ground up.

19) Charles Pierce on Houston and Texas’ regulatory environment:

So, conservative ideas have triumphed in Texas. A business-friendly environment has been created, based on free-market principles, deregulation, and a return to 10th amendment freedoms just as the Founders designed them, because the best government is the one that is closest to the people.

Basic chemistry doesn’t care, via NBC News:

A flooded chemical plant near Houston exploded twice early Thursday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and triggering a fire that the firm plans to let “burn itself out.” Arkema Group, which is one of the world’s largest chemical companies, had warned Wednesday that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point — adding there was nothing that could be done about it.

 Awfully blithe for a company whose massive chemical plant just exploded because the company was unprepared for a completely predictable meteorological catastrophe, I’d say. Of course, over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn. Anyone who saw the essential Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle on the electric teevee machine with Kindly Doc Maddow on Wednesday night knows exactly what I’m talking about. (And, if you’re not following him on the electric Twitter machine—@mizzousundevil—you should be.) They played a tape of a conference call on which Dempsey pressed the CEO of Arkema, Rich Rowe, about what substances were in the company’s plant that would be released if the plant blew, as it apparently did Thursday morning. Rowe refused to answer, which was his perfect right within Texas’ business-friendly environment. They could be hoarding nerve gas in that place, and be perfectly within the law not to tell anybody about it.

In fact, and this is the delectable part of the entire farce, there apparently is a law in Texas that specifically forbids many cities and towns from designing their own fire codes. Hell, the state even passed a law forbidding cities and towns from requiring fire sprinklers in new construction. Freedom!

20) A defense of the de rigueur standing ovation on broadway.  I still like the idea of saving it, but I think this captures why:

The reason, I’d conjecture, is the soaring price of theatre tickets. The average Broadway ticket now costs a hundred and nine dollars, and the highest-priced seats for megahits like “Hamilton” and “Hello, Dolly!” can reach the eight-hundred-dollar range—not to mention that resellers sometimes charge more than a thousand. Long-running shows rely ever more on out-of-towners willing to spend big on a Broadway show. After investing that kind of cash, perhaps theatregoers are quicker to leap to their feet as a form of self-justification: for these prices, I’d better have had a “superlative experience.”




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