Quick hits (part II)

1) Related to the post about bullying, but here coincidentally (I ended up on this 5-year old article based on a FB post on a friend’s page) some interesting research on the personality of internet trolls:

In the past few years, the science of Internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called Internet trolls (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to overplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

2) Women are a majority in Nevada’s legislature.  And it matters:

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t have had these conversations” a few years ago, said Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D). “None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

3) How they celebrate Hockey championships in Finland (looking forward to Stanley Cup playoffs resuming tonight).

4) Old Democrats love Joe Biden:

That prospect suggests one of the crucial questions in the Democratic primary will be whether Biden can sustain his big early advantage with older voters. Democrats skeptical of his candidacy generally believe that edge is ephemeral, based mostly on the fact that older voters are more familiar with his long career, especially his eight years as vice president for Barack Obama. Particularly among older African Americans, Biden’s support “is all very soft and it is all Obama,” says Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative who is supporting Senator Kamala Harris.

But Democrats sympathetic to Biden, and even many neutral observers, believe that Biden’s gray edge will endure. Only a little more than one-fifth of Democratic voters ages 45 and older described themselves as very liberal in 2016; about twice as many described themselves as moderate or conservative. Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator supporting Biden, told me that older voters are more measured about how far left the party can move and still defeat Donald Trump.

5) This is from 2018, but an evergreen message, “The Secret to a Happy Marriage Is Knowing How to Fight.”  I like that it addresses the shift from cornerstone to capstone marriage (big cornerstone advocate here 🙂 ):

The sociologist Andrew Cherlin has observed that marriage has become a capstone, rather than a cornerstone, of adult life. Accordingly, weddings have become less of a symbolic expression of a couple’s commitment to a shared future and more of a curated Instagram spectacle of “having arrived.”

The capstone wedding promotes the notion that its flurry of decisions represents a high point of stress and intensity, to be followed by the predictable routines of married life. Not so. I have been treating couples as a therapist for 20 years. I see couples whose unproductive fights over the dishes or in-laws are virtually unchanged, 17 years in. I also see couples whose frozen 17-year marriage begins to thaw once they start saying difficult things that need to be said.

Newly engaged couples do need to plan a wedding, if they want one. Chicken or fish for 150 doesn’t materialize out of thin air. But while they’re thinking about the Big Day, they should also think about how they will cope with disagreement. We’ve made love and marriage into such an ideal that people are afraid to consider, at the outset, just how stressful it can get…

People who study marriage, or work with couples in therapy, as I do, talk about the need for a “we story,” a collaboration between partners about values and goals. But if couples are going to collaborate, they have to figure out how to have a productive conversation. A conversation — as opposed to parallel monologues — involves two people who are making an effort to understand each other. In the grip of strong emotion, productive conversation can be surprisingly hard.

That is why many manuals offer advice for navigating communication traps. They counsel asking your partner whether it is a good time to talk (since couples routinely broach complicated topics on the fly), and striking a balance between empathy and problem-solving. If your partner is an avoider, don’t give up trying to connect. If your partner is an emoter, stay compassionate and firm: “I’ll be able to respond better if you take it down a couple of notches.” In bad moments, we all need these skills.

6) I suspect I will never watch a complete baseball game again.  Too boring!  And I’m fascinated to see so many kids still playing baseball when pretty much any other sport is more fun (I love playing catch and I love hitting, but most of the actual sport of baseball is standing or sitting around).  That said, I still find baseball intellectually fascinating– especially how the game has changed.  Here’s a great article on how the increase in pitch velocity is at the heart of ruining the game:

A flame-throwing relief pitcher enters a game — mid-inning, runners on base, tie score — sending the telecast to another commercial break, dialing back the tension in the stadium and pushing the game into its fourth hour. As he faces his first batter, two more relievers are warming up in the bullpen.

He takes huge breaths and lengthy pauses between pitches, as he gears up for each neck-straining, 100-mph heater or sharp-breaking slider. The hitter, fully aware he has little chance of making contact, likewise gears up to swing for the fences, just in case he does. The defense, anticipating the full-throttle hack, shifts acutely to the hitter’s pull side.

Within this scenario are the ingredients many believe are strangling the game of baseball: long games with little action, the growing reliance on relief pitchers at the expense of starters, the all-or-nothing distillation of the essential pitcher/hitter matchup. Those are some of the problems Major League Baseball is contemplating, with newly installed and proposed rule changes. But they are merely the symptoms.

What is strangling the sport — the actual disease — is velocity, pitchers’ unprecedented capacity to throw fast. The question facing the stewards of the game is what, if anything, to do about it.

Baseball’s timeless appeal is predicated upon an equilibrium between pitching and hitting, and in the past, when that equilibrium has been thrown off, the game has always managed, either organically or through small tweaks, to return to an acceptable balance.

But there is growing evidence that essential equilibrium has been distorted by the increasing number of pitchers able to throw the ball harder and faster. Rising pitch velocity has altered the sport, many believe, and not necessarily in a good way.

7) There still are some pro-life Democrats out there, like the governor of Louisiana.  A lot of Democrats want to make abortion rights a litmus test, I don’t.

8) In a surprise to nobody, dads still do not pull their share around the house.  I like to semi-joke that even if my wife are roughly equivalent parents, I’m a way better dad than she is a mom, because the bar is so much lower:

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.”

9) Last thing we need is mandatory vaccination to become a partisan issue.  Alas, it’s trending that way:

The arguments of the skeptics — that vaccine-preventable diseases like measles are God’s will, a natural process, or even a way of strengthening a child’s immune system, that the government and a rapacious pharmaceutical industry are joined in an insidious cover-up of the dangers of vaccines — are varied, and cut across political and geographic spectra, from ultra-liberal bastions of California to the religious conservatism of the South.

The GOP tilt is more pronounced among state lawmakers than among federal ones; many prominent Republicans in Congress including most of the 16 GOP doctors have endorsed vaccines. The most visible and voluble exception is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist who says his own kids were vaccinated but the decision should be left to the parents, not the government.

But in states where legislators have advanced serious efforts to tighten restrictions, such as Maine, Washington, Colorado and Oregon, nearly all of the opponents are Republicans who’ve taken a medical freedom stance.

10) Finally read George Packer’s Atlantic cover story on Richard Holbrooke and the decline of America.  It definitely got too into the weeds on Bosnia for my tastes, but once it pulled back out to the bigger picture it was terrific.  Definitely worth a read (and don’t feel bad for skimming the first two-thirds).

If you ask me when America’s long decline began, I might point to 1998. We were flabby, smug, and self-absorbed. Imagine a president careless enough to stumble into his enemies’ trap and expend his power on a blue dress. Imagine a superpower so confident of perpetual peace and prosperity that it felt able to waste a whole year on Oval Office cocksucking. Not even al-Qaeda, which blew up two American embassies in East Africa that August, could get our serious attention—Clinton’s response, a barrage of cruise missiles, was derided left and right for following the script of Wag the Dog. The Republicans decided that destroying the president was more urgent than the national interest, and they attacked his every move at home and abroad. Our leaders believed they had the luxury to start tearing one another apart, and they’ve never stopped. Did any country ever combine so much power with so little responsibility? Slowly, imperceptibly at first, we lost that essential faith in ourselves.

The american century ended in Baghdad and Helmand, in Aleppo and Odessa, and in Beijing. It also ended in Wisconsin and in Silicon Valley and, maybe above all, in Washington, D.C. It ended from overreach and exhaustion, rising competition, the rapid changes and broken promises of globalization, and the failure of our own middle-class democracy, which, when it was thriving, gave us an influence that exceeded even our power.

Another place where the American century ended was Bosnia.

11) David Epstein’s The Sports Gene is one of my favorite non-fiction books of the past decade.  Totally looking forward to his forthcoming, Range.  Here’s a preview where he talks about “Roger dads.”

Consider Roger Federer. Just a year before Woods won this most recent Masters, Federer, at 36, became the oldest tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. But as a child, Federer was not solely focused on tennis. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming, skateboarding and squash. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and soccer (and badminton over his neighbor’s fence). Federer later credited the variety of sports with developing his athleticism and coordination.

While Tiger’s story is much better known, when sports scientists study top athletes, they find that the Roger pattern is the standard. Athletes who go on to become elite usually have a “sampling period.” They try a variety of sports, gain a breadth of general skills, learn about their own abilities and proclivities, and delayspecializing until later than their peers who plateau at lower levels. The way to develop the best 20-year-old athlete, it turns out, is not the same as the way to make the best 10-year-old athlete.

The same general pattern tends to hold true for music, another domain where the annals of young prodigies are filled with tales of eight hours of violin, and only violin, a day. In online forums, well-meaning parents agonize over what instrument to pick for a child, because she is too young to pick for herself and will fall irredeemably behind if she waits. But studies on the development of musicians have found that, like athletes, the most promising often have a period of sampling and lightly structured play before finding the instrument and genre that suits them…

I found the Roger pattern — not the Tiger (or Tiger Mother) pattern — in most domains I examined. Professional breadth paid off, from the creation of comic books (a creator’s years of experience did not predict performance, but the number of different genres the creator had worked in did) to technological innovation (the most successful inventors were those who had worked in a large number of the federal Patent and Trademark Office’s different technological classifications).

study of scientists found that those who were nationally recognized were more likely to have avocations — playing music, woodworking, writing — than typical scientists, and that Nobel laureates were more likely still.

12) One of my great academic regrets is the paper I wrote for my A.P. US History course in 1989 arguing what a horrible miscarriage of justice Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was.  Alas, this was common belief at the time, but now we no better.  As penance, I should probably read this new book on the matter, but I’ll settle for Chris Hayes‘ review of it:

Impeachment is a doleful affair. The nation has impeached a president only twice, and in each case the Senate failed to remove him from office, leaving a split decision with no clear winner and no clear justice.

The first presidential impeachment, of Andrew Johnson in 1868, has been by and large written into history as a Big Mistake. That’s largely due to the efforts of historians of the Dunning School, who spent decades creating a narrative of Reconstruction as a tyrannical, corrupt and failed social experiment. The restoration of white supremacy in the South was seen as a right and proper undertaking to reconcile a torn nation. According to the Dunning School, the Radical Republicanswho impeached Johnson are the villains of the piece, and the story of Johnson’s impeachment is a cautionary tale about the overreach of ideologues. Given that context, not to mention the headlines of today, it’s hard to think of a better time for a reassessment of Johnson’s impeachment.

Brenda Wineapple’s ambitious and assured volume “The Impeachers” rightfully recenters the story along the main axis of moral struggle in American history: whether the nation is indeed a democracy for all its citizens or not. “To reduce the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to a mistaken incident in American history, a bad taste in the collective mouth, disagreeable and embarrassing,” she writes, “is to forget the extent to which slavery and thus the very fate of the nation lay behind Johnson’s impeachment.” …

Ultimately, as Wineapple explains, there was a miserable mismatch between the cramped proceduralism embedded in Congress’s articles of impeachment and the depth of Johnson’s actual transgressions. The man had betrayed the cause of the war. He had desecrated the memories of the dead Union soldiers, black and white. He was, every day that he stayed in office, endangering the lives of freedmen and white unionists throughout the South. But he wasn’t impeached for any of that. He was impeached largely over the fact that he fired a secretary of defense who openly hated him.

The true “high crime” that Johnson committed was using the power of his office to promote and pursue a White Man’s Republic. That was a usurpation greater than any violation of a specific statute. And for that, Andrew Johnson deserved impeachment and removal. True then; true now.

13) Seth Masket and Hans Noel on the pitfalls of “electability” in primary campaigns:

SM: That’s fair. I suppose my main concern is the way “electability” concerns are used during the nomination process. I’ve seen and heard a number of arguments that only a white male Democratic presidential nominee can beat Trump. The evidence doesn’t really show that. But it’s apparently a pretty compelling argument for many, and it can be hard for candidates to overcome that perception.

HN: I’m in agreement with you here. There’s a case to be made that a woman or candidate of color has an advantage in the general election, because they would mobilize voters that a white dude can’t mobilize. If black voters had voted in 2016 like they did in 2008, they would have tipped Michigan and Wisconsin. But it’s not surprising that they were less excited about Clinton than they were about Obama. So race and gender should be part of the conversation.

SM: This is tricky, though. I’ve been leaning toward, “Let’s try to avoid the ‘electability’ argument since it hurts women and POCs,” and you seem to be suggesting, “No, let’s talk about it, but women and POCs may be more electable than white guys.” Is this right?

14) The latest research on the weight-gain impact of “highly-processed food” is really interesting.  Also, a little concerned that so much of what I eat is not just “processed” but “highly processed.

Now a small but rigorous new study provides strong evidence that not only do these foods tend to make people eat more, but they also may result in dramatic and relatively rapid weight gain and have other detrimental health effects.

The research,published Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that people ate significantly more calories and gained more weight when they were fed a diet that was high in ultra-processed foods like breakfast cereals, muffins, white bread, sugary yogurts, low-fat potato chips, canned foods, processed meats, fruit juices and diet beverages. These foods caused a rise in hunger hormones compared to a diet that contained mostly minimally processed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, grilled chicken, fish and beef, and whole grains, nuts and seeds.

The subjects were recruited by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and assigned to live in a research facility for four weeks. There they were fed both diets — a whole foods diet or an ultra-processed one, along with snacks in each category — for two weeks each and carefully monitored. They were instructed to consume as much or as little as desired.

The most striking finding was that the ultra-processed diet led the subjects to consume 500 extra calories a day — the amount in two and a half Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts — which resulted in an average of two pounds of weight gain in two weeks. Almost all of the extra calories they ate were from carbs and fat.

15) Enjoyed this post GOT interview with Emilia Clarke.

16) How fetal “heartbeat” bills get the science of fetal heartbeats wrong.

17) This from Michele Goldberg was really interesting, “Post-Roe America Won’t Be Like Pre-Roe America. It Will Be Worse: The new abortion bans are harsher than the old ones.”

Feminists sometimes say, of threats to legal abortion, “We won’t go back.” But it’s important to understand that we’re not necessarily facing a return to the past. The new wave of anti-abortion laws suggests that a post-Roe America won’t look like the country did before 1973, when the court case was decided. It will probably be worse.

True, in a post-Roe America, some women would be able to get abortion-inducing medications that weren’t available the last time abortion was criminalized. (Misoprostol, which is also used to treat ulcers, can be ordered online.) But today’s legal context has been transformed by decades of anti-abortion activism equating abortion with murder, as well as by mass incarceration.

While doctors were prosecuted for abortions before Roe, patients rarely were. Today, in states that have legislated fetal personhood, women are already arrested on suspicion of harming or endangering their fetuses, including by using drugsattempting suicide or, in a case in Utah, delaying a cesarean section. There’s no reason to believe that, in states where abortion is considered homicide, prosecutors will be less punitive when investigating it.

Further, the abortion bans in the new wave are harsher than most of those that existed before Roe. At that time, most states prohibited abortion in most circumstances, but according to the historian Leslie Reagan, author of the book “When Abortion Was a Crime,” there was little legal conception of fetal personhood.

 

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

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