Photo of the day

Surfing and the Northern Lights in a single photo?  Doesn’t get much better.  Via Atlantic’s gallery of surfing in the Arctic:

A surfer looks at the northern lights on March 9, 2018 in Utakleiv, northern Norway, Lofoten Islands. 

Olivier Morin / AFP / Getty
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Quick hits (part I)

1) Yglesias on the reality of “political correctness” and attitudes towards free speech on campus, “Everything we think about the political correctness debate is wrong: Support for free speech is rising, and is higher among liberals and college graduates.”

2) Not a big fan of being verbally abusive to employees– male or female– but that doesn’t make it a #metoo issue.  I liked this comment from an accomplished female friend who shared this article, “The Stranger Things creators were accused of verbally abusing female employees” about the Duffer Brothers.  The fact that this story seemed to have a shelf-life of about a day, suggests many believe similarly.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been yelled at, I could retire. I don’t get a free pass from pissing off my bosses because I’m female. Granted, I think there are more effective management techniques than shouting at and insulting subordinates, but that’s a management issue, not a harassment issue.

3) This New Yorker article on how we determine death and “brain death” in particularly was really interesting.  I had never heard about this fascinating case of a family who simply refused to accept “brain dead” as actually dead for their daughter that they still care for.

4) Sticking with the New Yorker, also loved (and was scared/disturbed) this article on the stinkbug invasion.  Hasn’t made Cary, NC yet, at least.

5) How a couple in Michigan learned to game the lottery.  Interesting stuff, but I’m going to be a little judgmental here, though, and say it’s a real shame that people would actually spend pretty much all their time doing this rather than something with at least a minimally pro-social benefit (like the case of the Biomedical researcher who gave up his job to work full time on gaming the lottery).

6) Enjoyed Sean Illing’s interview (these are almost uniformly great) with Bruce Gibney about how the Baby Boomers have ruined everything:

Sean Illing

What’s the most egregious thing the boomers have done in your opinion?

Bruce Gibney

I’ll give you something abstract and something concrete. On an abstract level, I think the worst thing they’ve done is destroy a sense of social solidarity, a sense of commitment to fellow citizens. That ethos is gone and it’s been replaced by a cult of individualism. It’s hard to overstate how damaging this is.

On a concrete level, their policies of under-investment and debt accumulation have made it very hard to deal with our most serious challenges going forward. Because we failed to confront things like infrastructure decay and climate change early on, they’ve only grown into bigger and more expensive problems. When something breaks, it’s a lot more expensive to fix than it would have been to just maintain it all along.

7a) What’s so ultimately stupid about tipping is that even when restaurants try and get rid of it for all the right reasons, it’s so damn embedded in our culture that the restaurants actually suffer for doing  the right thing.  Ugh.  Nice New Yorker on the matter:

New research by Lynn shows that when restaurants move to a no-tipping policy, their online customer ratings fall. One factor that explains that dissatisfaction is how we, as consumers, respond to “partitioned” prices versus “bundled” prices. A partitioned price divides the total cost of an item into smaller components—say, a television listed for a hundred and ninety dollars that has a ten-dollar shipping fee. A bundled price would list the television, shipping included, for two hundred dollars. Consumers tend to perceive partitioned prices as cheaper than bundled ones. Lynn says that a customer who routinely tips fifteen per cent will see a gratuity-included restaurant as more expensive than a traditional restaurant with menu prices fifteen per cent lower. “In fact, a customer who routinely tips twenty per cent”—making her total bill higher than the gratuity-included alternative—“will still view the no-tipping restaurant as more expensive,” Lynn told me.

Lynn found that online customer ratings fell even more dramatically when restaurants instituted a mandatory service charge. People don’t like price hikes, he said, but they accept the logic of a restaurant taking on responsibility for its employees’ full wages and pricing its goods accordingly. They hate service charges. The underlying issue is that, while it is strongly encouraged by social norms, tipping is still notionally optional; being automatically billed for it feels like a “gotcha” moment. Lynn’s research also shows that customers expect inferior service from no-tipping establishments—which biases their views of the service they receive.

In Lynn’s study of online customer ratings, mid-scale restaurants suffered more after instituting no-tipping policies than upscale ones, where, he hypothesizes, customers are less price-sensitive. This suggests that, for the time being, success with tip-free programs may be restricted to the very high end. But that won’t necessarily stop other restaurants from trying. Despite the ethical virtues associated with going tipless, restaurant owners’ primary motivation to do so is likely financial. Minimum wage is rising across the country. If the tipping system remains, restaurants will have no choice but to raise menu prices in order to pay their staff. Servers will then double-dip, so to speak: they will benefit from a higher base wage while their tips also increase as menu prices climb. In other words, the best way for restaurants to keep prices low is to eliminate tipping. The biggest thing holding them back is customers’ suspicion that doing so is a ripoff.

7b) Among other heretofore largely ignored problems with tipping, it makes sexual harassment more likely.

8) Do antidepressants work?  Yes, but pretty modestly, and mostly for major depression.

9) Greg Sargent on the Republican cover-up for Trump:

House Republicans may have the power to prevent important facts about President Trump and Russia from coming to public light. But here’s what they don’t have the power to do: prevent important facts about their own conduct on Trump’s behalf from coming to public light.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have announced that they are shutting down their investigation into Russian efforts to sabotage our democracy and into Trump campaign collusion with those efforts. Shockingly, they have reached conclusions that are entirely vindicating for Trump: There was no “collusion,” and while Russia did try to interfere, it didn’t do so in order to help Trump.

In an interview with me this morning, Rep. Adam B. Schiff — the ranking Democrat on the Intel Committee — confirmed that Democrats will issue a minority report that will seek to rebut the GOP conclusions.

But here’s the real point to understand about this minority report: It will detail all the investigative avenues that House Republicans declined to take — the interviews that they didn’t conduct, and the leads that they didn’t try to chase down and verify. And Schiff confirmed that the report will include new facts — ones that have not been made public yet — that Republicans didn’t permit to influence their conclusions.

10a) Not a fan of having a torturer in charge of the CIA.

10b) And my good friend and colleague, Michael Struett, on the matter in the N&O.

11) And the political scientist who thought he’d throw in his lot with Kris Kobach’s dishonest case against the almost non-existent voter fraud has basically had his reputation publicly trashed.

12) This is a great thread from Niskanen (libertarian think tank) President Jerry Taylor summarizing a fascinating new working paper from political scientist extraordinaire, Larry Bartels.

In contrast to much journalistic speculation, I find that Republicans are not particularly divided by cultural conservatism (as measured by survey items focusing on respect for the American flag, the English language, and negative feelings toward Muslims, immigrants, atheists, and gays and lesbians, among others); indeed, they tend to be united and energized by these values. Democrats, by comparison, are relatively divided on cultural issues, with more than one-fourth finding themselves closer to the average Republican position than to the average position of their own party.

13) Totally nerdy, but totally loved Drum’s take on how to use the y-axis in charts.  Short version, so long as you are not being misleading, minimize white-space.  I agree.

14) Of course Alabama sheriffs are allowed to get rich by letting prisoners go hungry.  Yes, seriously.  Welcome to America.  Or at least the deep South part.

15) Another nice Sean Illing interview, this one on rural resentments:

Sean Illing

In the book, you argue that the anger we’re seeing in rural America is less about economic concerns and more about the perception that Washington is threatening the way of life in small towns. How, specifically, is Washington doing this?

Robert Wuthnow

I’m not sure that Washington is doing anything to harm these communities. To be honest, a lot of it is just scapegoating. And that’s why you see more xenophobia and racism in these communities. There’s a sense that things are going badly, and the impulse is to blame “others.”

They believe that Washington really does have power over their lives. They recognize that the federal government controls vast resources, and they feel threatened if they perceive Washington’s interest being directed more toward urban areas than rural areas, or toward immigrants more than non-immigrants, or toward minority populations instead of the traditional white Anglo population.

Sean Illing

But that’s just racism and cultural resentment, and calling it a manifestation of some deeper anxiety doesn’t alter that fact. [emphasis mine]

Robert Wuthnow

I don’t disagree with that. I’m just explaining what I heard from people on the ground in these communities. This is what they believe, what they say, not what I believe.

Sean Illing

Fair enough. The title of your book, The Left Behind, rubbed me the wrong way. It seems to me that many of these people haven’t been left behind; they’ve chosen not to keep up. But the sense of victimization appears to overwhelm everything else.

15) This article is not quite 100% explicit on the point, but I like how it gets at the fact that Virginia was particularly ripe for an upset because it’s games are less reliable indicators of relative team quality due to the lower number of possessions:

Playing slowly leaves better teams more vulnerable to upsets, said John Harris, a mathematics professor at Furman University who, with two other faculty members, Kevin Hutson and Liz Bouzarth, has studied N.C.A.A. tournament upsets.

He groups teams into “Giants” and “Killers.” The Giants are always the better team. The variable is what improves the underdogs’ chances. The answer, it turns out, is when the Giants’ giant-like qualities are minimized, because a slow pace means there is literally less basketball being played.

“Picture it in terms of an extreme case,” Harris said. “If each team had one possession, a Killer is more likely to upset a Giant. The more possessions you give a Giant, the more likely it is they’re able to separate.

“It’s the reason,” he added, “why you don’t play the World Series in one game.”

16) Yeah, some kids may get hurt at Britain’s riskier new playgrounds, but the payoffs in building children’s non-cognitive capacities is worth it.

17) I do love the idea of tying fines to your income.  Smarter countries have already figured this out:

If Mark Zuckerberg and a janitor who works at Facebook’s headquarters each received a speeding ticket while driving home from work, they’d each owe the government the same amount of money. Mr. Zuckerberg wouldn’t bat an eye.

The janitor is another story.

For people living on the economic margins, even minor offenses can impose crushing financial obligations, trapping them in a cycle of debt and incarceration for nonpayment. In Ferguson, Mo., for example, a single $151 parking violation sent a black woman struggling with homelessness into a seven-year odyssey of court appearances, arrest warrants and jail time connected to her inability to pay.

Across America, one-size-fits-all fines are the norm, which I demonstrate in an article for the University of Chicago Law Review. Where judges do have wiggle room to choose the size of a fine, mandatory minimums and maximums often tie their hands. Some states even prohibit consideration of a person’s income. And when courts are allowed to take finances into account, they frequently fail to do so.

Other places have saner methods. Finland and Argentina, for example, have tailored fines to income for almost 100 years. The most common model, the “day fine,” scales sanctions to a person’s daily wage. A small offense like littering might cost a fraction of a day’s pay. A serious crime might swallow a month’s paycheck. Everyone pays the same proportion of their income.

For a justice system committed to treating like offenders alike, scaling fines to income is a matter of basic fairness. Making everyone pay the same sticker price is evenhanded on the surface, but only if you ignore the consequences of a fine on the life of the person paying. The flat fine threatens poor people with financial ruin while letting rich people break the law without meaningful repercussions. Equity requires punishment that is equally felt.

Non quick hits

Sorry, instead of working on these I watched the first ever #16 seed victory.  Totally busted my bracket that had Virginia winning it all, but totally worth it.

Also, busy night attending the Cary High School performance of “The Secret Garden” musical.  Mini-rant– my least favorite musical I’ve ever seen.  Firstly, just so not a fan of English Countryside-set ghost stories, but really not a fan of characters who’s actions just keep making no sense and seem to come from no coherent motivation.  (And, yes, I do have much lower standards for musicals).  Also, the music wasn’t bad, but I’d at least like to be humming one song on my way out of a musical.  A shame, because the CHS kids are really, really talented and I didn’t think the source material was worthy of them.

Quick hits to come later worked around soccer coaching and basketball watching.

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