Quick hits (part I)

1) Loved this wide-ranging interview with what is probably my favorite scientist, E.O. Wilson.  Especially liked this part:

What’s causing our blind spots: Funding? Overspecialization? Politics?

A. You’re asking me an impossibly large question. Let me make one suggestion, and maybe that’ll lead to another.

I am unhappy about STEM. That is, I’m unhappy about how it’s presented as the principal portal for careers in science and technology. Young people — in some cases, young enough to be as far back as grammar school — are presented with this intellectual triathlon in order to go into science and technology.

There’s no question that we need all the ablest people that can be recruited to go into science and technology to keep this country strong. But STEM is an unnecessarily forbidding set of stairs.

Consider a young person who’s thrilled by seeing a natural system, a remarkable geological formation that stirs the imagination, or a group of animals or plants. This youngster says, Boy, when I get to college, I would like to move on to a career in science, and biology especially. Now, the STEM-oriented teacher — if we are following the STEM ideology as we hear it — says: “I think that’s a good ambition. But remember that biology is based substantially upon chemistry. So, I advise you to start getting a good background in chemistry. Oh, and while you’re at it, you should keep in mind that chemistry is based upon, to a major degree, principles of physics. So consider starting to get a background in physics, too. And, oh, I almost forgot: To get into physics, and a lot of the best parts of chemistry, you’re going to need ‘M,’ mathematics. So I want you to get started on math courses right now.”

Now, I’m going to say something startling. And I’m going to get myself in trouble. But heck, that’s why you’re here.

Q. Yes.

A. And I’m going to say: Nonsense!

The right way to create a young scientist who’s going to be on fire by the time they’re in college is to let them pick something, some subject, that has really excited them. If they dream of space exploration, if they dream of curing a cancer, if they dream of going to distant jungles and discovering new species — whatever their dream is, let them dream.

2) Really enjoyed this interview with Howard Stern:

It’s more that I’m wondering — and maybe this sounds corny — if you think he’s actually capable of a certain level of soulful introspection.No, I don’t. Donald is a well-guarded personality. I think he’s actually so emotional that somewhere along the line he had to close it off. That’s a valuable technique for people who have been traumatized. Donald has been traumatized, make no mistake. I believe his father was a very difficult guy. My theory about Donald, having spent some time with him — don’t forget Donald was at my wedding, and I was at one of his — is that deep down he did not want to be President. It was a publicity stunt. These are my beliefs based on facts that I know.

Facts like what? I know people who orchestrated some of these things. I was at Mar-a-Lago around when it was announced that Donald was going to run for president, and like everyone else, I thought, Ha-ha-ha. So, knowing Donald, I can tell you with some assurance that I don’t believe that he thought anyone would buy in. Lo and behold, people did. But I’m pretty sure that there was no intention of actually being president.

3) Really great explanation on different views of stare decisis and what this may mean for Roe v. Wade.

In Hyatt, however, the five conservative justices based their decision to overrule the earlier decision almost exclusively on their belief that it was an “erroneous precedent” that “is contrary to our constitutional design.” The justices’ lack of respect for precedent was evident in the amount of space the majority opinion devoted to stare decisis — a mere three paragraphs — and in what the court said about it.

Everything the court said about stare decisis in Hyatt could be part of a decision that overrules Roe v. Wade. For example, the court’s first paragraph on stare decisis declared that stare decisis is weakest — and it is easier to overrule a decision — when the decision interpreted the constitution rather than a federal statute. The second paragraph focused on how the earlier decision was wrong and “stands as an outlier.” You can imagine the conservative justices saying the same about Roe as they overrule it.

4) This is really good, “In Baltimore, Police Officers Are the Bad Guys With Guns: Plainclothes police officers are waging war on citizens.”

We spent the last two years reporting a book on the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, a once-celebrated police squad whose members were ultimately indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2017. We learned that a war on guns in Baltimore looks a lot like the war on drugs: It is a city waging war on its own citizens.

And it doesn’t work.

The war on guns, like the war on drugs, is primarily waged on poor people by small operations units that drive around in unmarked cars looking for trouble. They’re called jump-out boys or knockers, and they do not respond to citizen calls. Instead, they take away resources and credibility from the patrol officers who do. They do not solve homicides, and they often damage community trust, hampering the efforts of those who do solve homicides.

In 2016, when the task force was most active, the Police Department solved only 38 percent of the 318 homicides. In 2018, in what was deemed a big improvement, detectives came closer to solving 50 percent of the cases. When people know that there’s only a 50/50 chance of finding a killer, retaliation becomes a coin toss. Murder is answered by murder, because the law has no real authority.

Like any counterinsurgency, units like the task force don’t recognize civilians. Everyone is a potential combatant. They are the reason residents have said they feel both “overpoliced and underserved” by the police. When residents call for help, no one comes. When residents try to walk to the store or the bus stop, they are as afraid of the police as they are of criminals.

5) Twitter is not real life.  Twitter using Democrats (including me) are no fans of Joe Biden.  Polls seem to indicate, though, that most Democrats are not like those of us on twitter.

6) Josh Barro, “Trump’s Tariffs Only Work If Americans Pay Them”

President Trump is fond of saying China “pays” the tariffs he imposed, and a lot of journalists (including me) are fond of pointing out the tariffs are actually paid by Americans. Specifically, they are paid by American importers of foreign goods, who will presumably seek to pass the cost of the tariff on to end consumers.

The New York Times points to recent economic research on Trump’s tariffs, including two papers estimating that 100 percent of the cost of tariffs is being borne by American consumers. One of the research teams determined this by looking at changes in the price indices for highly specific goods. They found the price of products not subject to new tariffs remained more or less flat, while products subject to new tariffs went up in price about in proportion to the tariffs imposed. That’s pretty straightforward: Americans pay.

7) Oh, man, the cowardice of Harvard on this Ronald Sullivan representing Harvey Weinstein as his attorney really bugs me.  And, Randall Kennedy:

The upshot is that Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

Now, of course, Harvard authorities are dredging up various supposed delinquencies on Mr. Sullivan’s part. An exposé in The Harvard Crimson refers to allegations that he and his wife were highhanded in their dealings with the staff at Winthrop House. No one is perfect; perhaps there is something to these claims.

8) Game of Thrones (spoiler content in this excerpt):

It rings false because this isn’t just Dany abandoning her moral principles; it’s Dany abandoning her goals and the entire point of her journey. Her family built the Red Keep, and ruled King’s Landing and its people only a generation ago. Even if her goal is naked political power, why would she destroy the precise things she came to reclaim? When her ancestors burned Harrenhal, they did it to make a point, to get the rest of King’s Landing to bend the knee. Here, the knee is already bent; destroying King’s Landing at this point is basically destroying her own economy, infrastructure, and political capital.

Sure, she can rule over the ashes as Queen of Bones, but as much as the show wants us to think that she’s gone Lawful Evil, this is some Chaotic Evil shit for sure. She’s not a good guy gone bad, doing terrible things because the ends justify the means; she’s the Joker, robbing a bank and then setting all the money on fire just to watch it burn.

9) New book on America’s westward expansion, “Historians have largely discarded the lie that the “frontier” was an empty Eden waiting for American expansion—but not David McCullough.”

10) My friend Sarah Bowen’s book on the sociology of home cooking now gets the Atlantic treatment.

11) Aaron Carroll on the overlooked importance of safe gun storage for saving lives:

Legislators and gun safety advocates often focus on how guns are purchased. But many lives could be saved, especially among children, if they looked more at how they are stored.

In the last decade, guns killed more than 14,000 American children. A startling number of those deaths — more than a third — were classified as suicides, and around 6 percent as accidents. Many more children were injured.

Nearly everyone agrees that children should not be able to buy guns, and no state lets them do so on their own. When children die by suicide in this way, it’s a result of being able to get hold of a gun that someone else already obtained — often legally.

How guns are stored matters. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that even a modest increase in owners who lock up their guns would pay off in an outsize drop in gun deaths.

Dr. Michael Monuteaux, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, said, “We need to communicate to parents that storing guns in a way that makes them inaccessible to children can reduce the number of children who die year after year, especially from suicide.”

In 2010, researchers examined who owned the firearms used in youth suicides. In cases where this could be determined, three-quarters of the time the owner was a parent, and for a further 7 percent it was some other relative.

In a 2005 study published in JAMA, researchers found that keeping guns locked and unloaded, and keeping ammunition locked and separate from guns, were significantly associated with lower levels of suicides and accidents among adolescents in gun-owning households. This held true for both handguns and long guns.

But such safety practices aren’t common. If a recent New York bill is signed into law, it will make the state one of just a handful with comprehensive gun storage laws to protect children.

If it were up to me, adults would be criminally responsible for children being harmed through guns that were not safely stored and regularly held to account on this.

12) This from the College Board is interesting:

The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing.

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.

The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.

13) Unsurprisingly, fathers totally not pulling their weight at home.  Myself excluded, of course :-):

The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.

Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?

The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.

Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. Men resist because it is in their “interest to do so,” write Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, in their book, “Gender and Families.” By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

14) Germany looking to step up its game on measles.  Sounds good to me:

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has proposed a fine of up to 2,500 euros, or about $2,800, for parents who refuse to immunize their school-age children against measles, part of efforts to combat a disease that has surged after decades of decline.

The fine is part of a draft bill that the minister, Jens Spahn, submitted to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for debate this week, but the proposal has prompted a wider discussion about whether mandating vaccinations is an infringement on personal freedom. Germany has seen 300 cases of the disease already this year, after more than 500 cases in 2018.

Outbreaks of measles have increased around the world, in part because of the anti-vaccination movement.

Under the proposed draft, toddlers and young children in Germany who have not been immunized would not be allowed to enter preschool. But German law mandates school attendance starting at age 6, so parents whose children have not had their scheduled shots would face a fine.

Mr. Spahn has defended his proposal by drawing a parallel to traffic laws that force drivers who are caught speeding to pay a fine because their actions are a danger to others. “The goal is not to fine people, the goal is to ensure that people are immunized,” he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

15) I follow abortion politics pretty closely, but I learned a good bit from Ruth Graham on how the pro-life movement has increasingly moved away from the rape/incest exception.

16) This New Yorker piece on the role of Sandra Day O’Connor in abortion jurisprudence was really interesting.

17a) No, CBD is not a wonder-drug, cure-all.  Yet, it does seem to be a really interesting molecule that may well have a lot to offer therapeutically for a variety of conditions.

17b) Meanwhile, law enforcement is dumb enough to arrest (and not immediately drop charges) for a local woman using this legal product, “NC mom smoked legal hemp for anxiety. Police charged her with marijuana possession.”  Also, ridiculous that the local police chief and DA did not feel any responsibility to explain their actions.

18) This NYT story on the value of low-stakes friendships was really interesting.  Also one clear lesson (which I’m pretty good at): just talk to people:

Want to relish in a full Rolodex of low-stakes friends? Here’s how you can get the most out of these relationships.

Give yourself permission to talk to familiar faces. Dr. Sandstrom tells participants in her studies to speak to one new person a week. “I think people need to feel like it’s O.K.,” she said. “When you give people permission to talk and they take it, they enjoy it.”

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Instead of considering these minor brushes of socialization throwaway interactions, cultivating low-stakes relationships can pay dividends. Here’s why you should exchange pleasantries the next time you see a friendly face when you’re out and about…

Shift your attitudes. Since research suggests talking with strangers is a pleasant experience and leaves us feeling fulfilled, there’s no reason to groan when your Uber driver strikes up a conversation. By altering your expectations around the level of enjoyment these conversations provide — both for you and the other person — you’re more likely to engage in the first place.

Mirror an expert’s behavior. When she was growing up, Dr. Sandstrom watched her father interact with virtually everyone he encountered. As an adult, she adopted some of his conversational habits when speaking with acquaintances. Do you have friends who seem to strike up a conversation with everyone in the bar? Observe them: How do they initiate the exchange? What questions do they ask? What topics do they avoid? (For more on this, here are some tips on how to have better conversations.)

Make the conversations meaningful. If your goal is for these low-stakes friendships to evolve into something more significant, it’s important for these exchanges to be high quality, Dr. Hall said. “When we have that sense of connection with somebody, it accelerates the process by which we try to take action to create a deeper friendship.”

19) Apparently not only PPP has fun with polls, “Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news.”  The article doesn’t reference “Veep,” but I have to think that was the inspiration.

20) I wrote some stuff about abortion a long time ago.  I’m seriously going to get back into public opinion on abortion research:

Although the 2000 Republican and Democratic national party platforms show the parties at opposite poles on abortion policy, Governor George W. Bush publicly supported a vaguely defined “culture of life,” rather than the constitutional amendment barring abortion that was advocated by his party. In light of Bush’s campaign strategy, this article uses national survey data to examine the accuracy of citizens’ knowledge of the candidates’ abortion policy positions. Interestingly, pro‐choice Republican voters were much less likely to defect from their party in 2000 than in 1996, suggesting that the Bush campaign’s efforts to avoid public opposition to his abortion position were successful.

21) Almost seems crazy not to buy this camera at this price.  And yet, pretty sure my wife will say no.

22) The best explainer on advanced hockey stats I’ve come across.

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