Quick hits (part II)

1) Yes, we do need to see more bloody images from mass shootings.

Yet there is something undeniably startling about the photo that Andrews took. For all the images that have been broadcast from mass shootings—scenes of children scurrying from their schools in single file, with their hands in the air, of heavily armored police with assault weapons stalking buildings, of long trains of ambulances queuing up to take victims away—it is unusual to actually see blood. We are more accustomed to seeing these kinds of images from war zones, where news photographers are often able to witness the carnage of combat up close. By contrast, the setting of Andrews’s photograph is visibly suburban. A sidewalk stretches behind the injured man. On the car next to the officer is a barely legible sticker of a ball, with the word “Fastpitch.” A no-parking sign is prominent on the right. It makes for a jarring composition…

There is a case to be made, however, that the country needs to be exposed to these kinds of images, if we have any hope of being jolted from our collective inurement to the ravages of gun violence. I am guessing the details of Virginia Beach will soon blur in my memory, alongside the litany of other mass shootings that have dominated cable news and quickly receded. But my memory of the man in the green shirt will endure.

2) Are surgeons really worse today because kids develop less fine motor skill?  Some medical school faculty think so:

Could you tie a series of square knots around the neck of a teaspoon without, even slightly, moving the teaspoon? How about using tweezers to extract a grape from inside a roll of toilet paper, without piercing the grape’s skin or touching the sides of the roll? Aspiring surgeons should have the dexterity to accomplish such tasks. But increasingly, they don’t.

Faculty members at medical schools in the United States and Britain have noticed a marked decline in the manual dexterity of students and residents. Some say it’s because of fewer hands-on courses in primary and secondary schools — shop class, home economics, drawing, painting and music. Others blame too much time spent tapping and swiping screens rather than doing things that develop fine motor control like woodworking, model building and needlework. While clumsiness is a growing concern in medical schools, the extent and permanence of the problem are unclear.

“There is a language of touch that is easy to overlook or ignore,” said Dr. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London. “You know if someone has learned French or Chinese because it’s very obvious, but the language of touch is harder to recognize.” And just like verbal language, he thinks it’s easier to acquire when you’re young: “It’s much more difficult to get it when you’re 24, 25 or 26 than when you’re 4, 5 or 6.”

Dr. Robert Spetzler, former president and chief executive of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, agreed. “Think about the difference between someone who has learned to ski when they were a little kid and someone who spent a long time, perhaps even the same amount of time, skiing as an adult,” he said. “That elegance that you learn when very young, doing that sport, can never be equaled by an adult learning how to ski.”

3) NYT with brief vignettes from college students around the world on students in various countries pay for college (the big takeaway– mostly a lot less of their own money than in the U.S.).

4) The more we learn about the Boeing 737 Max the more we learn Boeing really screwed up:

The fatal flaws with Boeing’s 737 Max can be traced to a breakdown late in the plane’s development, when test pilots, engineers and regulators were left in the dark about a fundamental overhaul to an automated system that would ultimately play a role in two crashes.

A year before the plane was finished, Boeing made the system more aggressive and riskier. While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the ultimate used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max.

But many people involved in building, testing and approving the system, known as MCAS, said they hadn’t fully understood the changes. Current and former employees at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration who spoke with The New York Times said they had assumed the system relied on more sensors and would rarely, if ever, activate. Based on those misguided assumptions, many made critical decisions, affecting design, certification and training.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said a former test pilot who worked on the Max. “I wish I had the full story.”

While prosecutors and lawmakers try to piece together what went wrong, the current and former employees point to the single, fateful decision to change the system, which led to a series of design mistakes and regulatory oversights. As Boeing rushed to get the plane done, many of the employees say, they didn’t recognize the importance of the decision. They described a compartmentalized approach, each of them focusing on a small part of the plane. The process left them without a complete view of a critical and ultimately dangerous system.

The company also played down the scope of the system to regulators. Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.

5) Seth Masket on what’s behind Democrats’ 2020 debate rules:

Based on research and interviews I’ve been conducting, these debate rules appear to signal a party adapting to what are generally seen as three main lessons from the 2016 election. Those lessons are:

  1. Anyone is electable: Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 general election, despite his association with many damning scandals and his determination to alienate huge segments of the electorate, suggested to candidates and donors that pretty much anyone with a major party’s label next to his or her name can win. This has been a huge motivator for Democratic candidates, encouraging quite a few to run who might have otherwise sat the race out or focused on more winnable races like Senate seats. This is a major contributor to the fact that roughly two dozen people have now declared for president.
  2. Large fields of candidates are unpredictable and dangerous: Donald Trump received the 2016 GOP nomination even while many Republican leaders were clearly uncomfortable with or even hostile to him. He did so in part because the field of candidates was so large; this made it harder for party elites to coordinate their support on an alternative to Trump. Democratic leaders are probably less concerned that a failure to coordinate will result in someone like Trump as their nominee (there’s not really anyone quite like that in the running this year), but they do wish to maintain some control.
  3. Party preference for some candidates over others is perceived as illegitimate: The DNC was widely derided for appearing to be biased in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and suspicion of insiders influencing the party demobilized supporters of Bernie Sanders in the general election. While the DNC actually did little of any real substance to enable Clinton’s nomination, it has gone out of its way to appear neutral in the 2020 nomination contest. This was what motivated the reforms last summer that reduced the power of “superdelegates” in the Democratic National Convention by stripping them of their first ballot vote.

So the party is attempting to satisfy several (contradictory!) goals at once. It seeks to cull an oversized field but in a way that does not appear systematically biased against any particular set of candidates. Well, it’s apparently okay to be biased against one set of candidates — the unpopular. Those who have been less successful in introducing themselves to primary voters have also been less successful in raising money.

6) A former mayor of Tehran has apparently murdered his wife with impunity, “Everything that’s wrong with Iran in one grotesque televised scandal.”

7) There are so many worse ways kids can be spending their time and exercising their brains than endlessly memorizing how to spell words.  And, yet, I’m still with the critics.  There’s so many better ways.  If you are going to devote all that time and energy to something, I feel like memorizing words is a pretty poor choice.  Mastering an athletic activity brings exercise, coordination, (usually) teamwork and camaraderie, etc.  And mastering a different mental challenge likely brings far more real-world rewards.

8) Well, this is interesting, “Tech giant brings software to a gun fight: Business-software giant Salesforce instituted a new policy barring retail customers from using its technology to sell semiautomatic weapons and some other firearms.”

9) The built-in biases of dating algorithms are hugely problematic, as exposed through a game.

10) I love the original “Aladdin” movie.  I do get how it’s portrayal of a fantasatical Middle-East if problematic, but I also still believe that blithely throwing around “racist” about everything the movie does wrong is exactly the sort of over-wokeness that hurts liberals.

11) Shockingly, a CRS analysis shows that Trump’s tax cuts had very little benefit to the economy:

You may remember all the glowing predictions made for the December 2017 tax cuts by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration: Wages would soar for the rank-and-file, corporate investments would surge, and the cuts would pay for themselves.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has just published a deep dive into the economic impact of the cuts in their first year, and emerges from the water with a different picture. The CRS finds that the cuts have had virtually no effect on wages, haven’t contributed to a surge in investment, and haven’t come close to paying for themselves. Nor have they delivered a cut to the average taxpayer. [emphasis mine]

12) Sad, but true, “The Most Unrealistic Proposal in the Democratic Presidential Primary: Michael Bennet and Elizabeth Warren want members of Congress to ban themselves from ever lobbying after they leave office. Here’s why it’ll never happen.”

The unlikeliest 2020 promise isn’t a big-spending plan like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or Andrew Yang’s universal basic income—it’s an anti-corruption proposal that would apply to just 535 Americans and cost taxpayers nothing.

This pipe dream is coming from the decidedly unflashy Senator Michael Bennet, a self-proclaimed pragmatist who has chided his rivals for their unrealistic visions of a progressive future. Bennet has pooh-poohed the idea of “free college” and actively opposes Medicare for All as too costly and too disruptive to the U.S. health-care system. “You can’t fix a broken Washington if you don’t level with the American people,” the Colorado Democrat told potential voters in a video announcing his candidacy earlier this month.

Yet one of Bennet’s signature proposals for repairing American democracy might, in its own way, be the most radical of all: a lifetime ban on members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after they leave office.

Good luck with that…

But she and Bennet may find that convincing Congress to appropriate trillions of dollars for new social programs is an easier lift than persuading lawmakers to permanently cut off a lucrative source of their own retirement income. That idea goes too far even for the purest good-government advocates, who say it’s not only wildly unrealistic but possibly unconstitutional.

13) We absolutely have too much choice at major retailers and it, indeed, very frustrating.  When I can decide on a product about which I have no priors on Amazon in less than 5-10 minutes, I’m pretty happy about it.

In theory, Amazon is a site meant to serve the needs of humans. The mega-retailer’s boundless inventory gives people easy access to household supplies and other everyday products that are rarely fun to shop for. Most people probably aren’t eager to buy clothes hangers, for instance. They just want to have hangers when they need them.

But when you type hangers into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options. On the first page of results, half are nearly identical velvet hangers, and most of the rest are nearly identical plastic. They don’t vary much by price, and almost all of the listings in the first few pages of results have hundreds or thousands of reviews that average out to ratings between four and five stars. Even if you have very specific hanger needs and preferences, there’s no obvious choice. There are just choices.

The phenomenon repeats for almost all of the everyday objects Amazon carries: phone chargers, water bottles, flat-panel televisions. And it’s not just Amazon. The global-manufacturing apparatus now has the capacity to churn out near-endless stuff. The industry’s output has ballooned 75 percent since 2007 to $35 trillion, according to one analysis, and millions of livelihoods depend on its continued growth…

But in the arms race to sell as many sandwich bags or beach towels as possible, a problem has become clear: Variety isn’t infinitely valuable.

Contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety. Research has consistently held that people who are presented with a few options make better, easier decisions than those presented with many. It has also shown that having many options is particularly confounding when the information available on them is limited or confusing—as with an endless list of virtually identical hangers. To be fair, it’s not entirely clear what information would even be helpful for efficiently evaluating dozens of similar hangers. The 32 velvet options on the first page of results probably aren’t distinct from one another in any significant way, except for color and how many hangers come in a package…

Those infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state. After shopping online, I often don’t remember days later whether I actually made a decision, and I regularly pause at the mountain of Amazon boxes next to my apartment building’s elevators to glance at the names on the labels, just to see if I forgot to expect something. Often, one of my neighbors is there doing it with me. Usually, both of us get on the elevator without boxes.

14) Randomly came across this video on youtube, “The TRUTH Why Modern Music Is Awful” and it makes me feel like a middle-aged curmudgeon.  But I also have the sneaking suspicion that it’s right.

15) I meant it about Fleabag.  You need to watch this show.

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