Quick hits (part I)

So, this is from a couple weeks ago, mostly, and I somehow forgot to publish.  And then I added a couple.

1) I swear at this part, it hard to distinguish Mitch McConnell from a Russian pawn.  NYT on election security:

A raft of legislation intended to better secure United States election systems after what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, called a “sweeping and systematic” Russian attack in 2016 is running into a one-man roadblock in the form of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.” A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

But even bipartisan coalitions have begun to crumble in the face of the majority leader’s blockade. Mr. McConnell, long the Senate’s leading ideological opponent to federal regulation of elections, has told colleagues in recent months that he has no plans to consider stand-alone legislation on the matter this term, despite clamoring from members of his own conference and the growing pressure from Democrats who also sense a political advantage in trying to make the Republican response to Russia’s election attack look anemic.

2) New Yorker’s realistic birth announcements are so good:

Jack and Nikki welcomed little Nathaniel into their family late Friday evening. Nathaniel has his grandfather’s eyes but hopefully none of his racism.

After a difficult forty-eight hours of labor, I am now the proud mama to little Jeremiah. If anyone has seen my husband, Dave, please tell him that I’m so sorry but I can never take those noises back.

Our little bundle of joy arrived last week, and my first experience pumping has successfully done what twelve Netflix documentaries couldn’t: turned me off of the dairy industry.

I am so proud to announce that, early this morning, Jada gave birth to a healthy little boy. And we know that every new parent thinks this, but we honestly believed he would be cuter.

3) A professor gives his students an assignment to read an actual physical book with interesting results.  Scary part is how amazingly addicted so many of his students are to their phones.

4) Who cares about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy?  I do.  I hope the court’s conservatives do too, but other than Roberts… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Linda Greenhouse:

In a rational world, the Supreme Court would hit the pause button on the pending census case to take account of new evidence that the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question was a fiction that masked its flagrantly partisan motive. True, the case is to be decided within weeks, to meet what the Commerce Department says is the deadline for preparing the 2020 census, but the country will live for years with the impact of the census on political redistricting and the allocation of federal money.

Unfortunately, given the presidency of Donald Trump and the partisan polarization that has all but overtaken the Supreme Court, it’s hard these days to argue from rationality. And as I suggested last month in describing how, during oral argument, the conservative justices pretended not to understand the fraud that the administration was trying to perpetrate, it’s also hard to argue from shame. Those justices who seemed unable to accept the experts’ conclusions that a citizenship question would distort the census by undercounting immigrant communities seemed beyond embarrassment. It’s highly likely that with the opinion already assigned and presumably circulating in draft, the justices will plow ahead and do what some of them set out to accomplish…

In a rational world, the Supreme Court would hit the pause button on the pending census case to take account of new evidence that the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question was a fiction that masked its flagrantly partisan motive. True, the case is to be decided within weeks, to meet what the Commerce Department says is the deadline for preparing the 2020 census, but the country will live for years with the impact of the census on political redistricting and the allocation of federal money.

Unfortunately, given the presidency of Donald Trump and the partisan polarization that has all but overtaken the Supreme Court, it’s hard these days to argue from rationality. And as I suggested last month in describing how, during oral argument, the conservative justices pretended not to understand the fraud that the administration was trying to perpetrate, it’s also hard to argue from shame. Those justices who seemed unable to accept the experts’ conclusions that a citizenship question would distort the census by undercounting immigrant communities seemed beyond embarrassment. It’s highly likely that with the opinion already assigned and presumably circulating in draft, the justices will plow ahead and do what some of them set out to accomplish.

5) For some reason, I was recently reminded of (and telling the story of) the time Princess Diana and Prince Charles came to my hometown shopping mall.  And thanks to the internet, I could find the story.

6) This was really interesting (and sad to think of all the unnecessary cesareans), “One Hospital’s Plan to Reduce C-sections: Communicate: There might be fewer unneeded cesarean sections if doctors learned to keep mothers informed at every stage of labor.”

Cesarean technology is lifesaving for rare conditions, and for some high-risk women. For most births, the decision whether to perform a cesarean is up to doctors and hospitals. So they are rightly to blame for the crisis of over-operating. But that also explains why doctors and hospitals are now spearheading promising solutions. Dr. Neel Shah, an obstetrician and leader of one C-section reduction effort, said: “Women have goals in labor other than coming out unscathed. Survival, and not being cut open, should be the floor.”

Also, what’s really disturbing/amazing is how many cesareans have been needlessly performed due to very-flawed 1950’s research.

7) Oh my.  Texas teacher, “A teacher asked Trump to round up ‘illegal students’ — in tweets she says she thought were private.”

8) Farhad Manjoo, “I Want to Live in Elizabeth Warren’s America: The Massachusetts senator is proposing something radical: a country in which adults discuss serious ideas seriously”

There’s a good chance you’ll disagree with some or all of these ideas. Three months ago, when Warren outlined her plan for cleaving the economic dominance of large technology companies, I spent a few days quizzing her staff on what I considered to be flaws in her approach. I planned to write about them, but I was beaten by a wave of other tech pundits with similar reservations.

But then, in the discussion that followed, I realized what a service Warren had done, even if I disagreed with her precise approach. For months, commentators had been debating the generalities of policing tech. Now a politician had put forward a detailed plan for how to do so, sparking an intense policy discussion that was breaking new analytical ground. For a moment, it almost felt like I was living in a country where adults discuss important issues seriously. Wouldn’t that be a nice country to live in?

9) I have sympathy for over-worked adjunct faculty.  Really, I do.  I know some good ones.  But I’m really tired of hearing the “how could I have known…” variety of complaints.  Everybody knows.  It’s willful denial of reality to follow a dream.  It’s a great dream, but the numbers are against you.  This in the New Yorker got me going:

People usually try to become professors because they are passionately curious about a particular subject, and the academic system encourages them to believe that this is all that matters. Prospective graduate students are rarely told by department heads or other administrators that they are entering a system that relies on contingent labor to survive. “I went into higher ed because I was selfish, because I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, because those things mattered to me,” Childress writes. The subsequent realization that academia preys on these dreams devastates him. A string of adjunct positions gets him no closer to joining the tenure track; it is “morally indefensible,” he writes, to lure adjuncts to work by dangling a “vague hope” that they may one day be welcome as a permanent faculty member. For people stuck in this permanent holding pattern, that hope of being selected is the contemporary academic version of the larger American dream, and it feels, at this point, no less dubious.

Also, never have I seen dangling vague hope of the tenure track to adjuncts.  The reality is we wouldn’t pay $4000 to teach an NC State class if there weren’t more than enough qualified people out there willing to teach a class for $4000.  And people want to do that, obviously, because teaching a college class is also it’s own non-monetary reward.  But, my entire adult life in academia has never given me the idea that you can adjunct your way onto the tenure track.

10) How the slaughter of America’s wolves paved the way for coyotes to take over the whole country.  Ecosystems are complex.

Like every state east of the Mississippi, Illinois is worried about its growing population of city-slicker coyotes. The animals surged from their original habitat in the West after what many now consider a colossal mistake — government-sanctioned predator removal programs that virtually wiped out red and gray wolves.

Coyotes have been taking over the territory of wolves, their mortal enemies, ever since. It is a textbook example of what the recent United Nations biodiversity report said: Humans are creating chaos for wildlife, placing a million species in danger of extinction.

The report warned that mismanaging nature would come back to haunt humans in a variety of ways, including food and water shortages, and disruptions by invasive species.

As the Trump administration seeks to strip away legal protections for the last remaining wolves, state officials are contending with the consequences of a massacre carried out without regard to science.

11) This is kind of amazing— researcher totally confuses meaning of pretty straightforward variable and gets major conclusions of whole book wrong as a result.  The fact that this came from a purported social scientist is kind of mind-boggling.  This strikes me as the kind of mistake an undergraduate would make.

12) Personally, I’m loving the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.  Jill Lepore on some new books on the subject.  Very much enjoying the “13 Minutes to the Moon” podcast.  And a nice Wired feature, “The Beauty and Madness of Sending a Man to the Moon.

13) I had no idea there was a particular variant of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy designed specifically for insomnia.  And it works!  I’ve got a couple of kids I need to investigate this further with.  Personally, I have always been grateful for the ease with which I fall asleep 95% of the time.

14) This was really, really interesting, ” A Breakthrough in the Mystery of Why Women Get So Many Autoimmune Diseases: Evolution might have played a trick on women’s immune systems.”  Still an unproven theory, but very intriguing.

Though bearing so many babies might sound grueling, women’s bodies evolved to cope. When the placenta grows during pregnancy, the organ sends signals to the mother’s immune system to change its activity so that the mother’s body doesn’t eject the placenta and the fetus. This might even mean turning down the immune system in some ways, or for some periods of time. Turning down the immune system too much, though, risks leaving women sensitive to pathogens, which would also be bad for the fetus. So instead the mother’s immune system ramps up in other ways throughout adulthood, Wilson and her colleagues think, so as to remain vigilant against germs even when some of its parts become dormant during pregnancies.

Things get complicated, however, when those pregnancies don’t actually occur. Women today tend to have far fewer children—fewer than two on average in the United States, according to the CDC. Wilson reasons that without a more or less constant pushback from placentas during pregnancies—the pushback that women’s immune systems have evolved to anticipate—the immune system can get too aggressive, too ramped up. It starts looking for things to attack that aren’t dangerous, which is how autoimmune diseases set in.

For millions of years, minus the past 100, “the immune system was expecting to have exposure to a placenta,” Wilson says. Imagine if you’re pulling on something heavy, and then the rope snaps. “If you suddenly don’t have that heavy thing anymore,” she says, “you’re gonna go off the moon.”

15) This will be fun to discuss when I teach Gender & Politics in the fall, “Gender Stereotypes Banned in British Advertising: No more commercials showing men struggling to do a load of laundry, or asking women if they are “beach body ready.””

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

2 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. jeffbc94 says:

    Re #12, Washington post has a new podcast coming out called moonrise, about the “why” behind going to the moon. Sounds like it will be a good one! I’m adding the one you mentioned to my library right now!

  2. Nicole K. says:

    3) For me, I go out of my way to avoid having to read bound, paper books. I’ve been known to scan them and OCR them to make my own ebooks rather than read the paper version. That’s for a couple of reasons that include not having to carry around a book, I read faster on a screen because I can reduce the amount of movement my eyes have to make between words, I don’t have to worry about losing the book, I could go on.

    Also, if it’s a textbook, I’m going to use RSVP (Spritz) to speed read it 95% of the time just because it’s so much faster.

    On the other hand, if it’s a novel or something I want to read for pleasure, then I will listen to it rather than read it 98% of the time. I have over 400 books in my Audible library. And I have hundreds more in my kindle library or in my Calibre library that I’ve listened to via text-to-speech. Especially with tts voices that access Google or Amazon’s AI engines via the internet, the quality is extremely good with a 100% synthesized voice. I’ve found I prefer it with a British accent because I don’t notice the that it’s a synthesized voice the way that I do with the American English voices since it’s not an accent I hear in my daily life all that often. But I’m so used to the tts voice I use now, it just sounds normal to me. I’ve actually started to prefer using that compared to a human narrator because I’m consistently getting it read the same way every time and some human narrators are awful.

    But I’m also weird in the sense that I don’t visualize images in my head. So descriptions of how things look don’t do much for me. Landscape or character appearance descriptions go in one ear and out the other. I’m pretty much only interested in plot points and what people do and say in a novel. It’s probably why I don’t get anything out of 90% of the poems I’ve been forced to read.

    But distractions when I’m reading, from electronics or elsewhere, haven’t ever really been an issue for me. I also didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 18 and a freshman at NCSU. It wasn’t an option when I was a kid.

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