Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this from National Geographic on creativity and the default mode network.  I have come up with all my best ideas while in the shower or when running and I turn off podcasts:

If you’ve ever emerged from the shower or returned from walking your dog with a clever idea or a solution to a problem you’d been struggling with, it may not be a fluke.

Rather than constantly grinding away at a problem or desperately seeking a flash of inspiration, research from the last 15 years suggests that people may be more likely to have creative breakthroughs or epiphanies when they’re doing a habitual task that doesn’t require much thought—an activity in which you’re basically on autopilot. This lets your mind wander or engage in spontaneous cognition or “stream of consciousness” thinking, which experts believe helps retrieve unusual memories and generate new ideas.

“People always get surprised when they realize they get interesting, novel ideas at unexpected times because our cultural narrative tells us we should do it through hard work,” says Kalina Christoff, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “It’s a pretty universal human experience.”

Now we’re beginning to understand why these clever thoughts occur during more passive activities and what’s happening in the brain, says Christoff. The key, according to the latest research, is a pattern of brain activity—within what’s called the default mode network—that occurs while an individual is resting or performing habitual tasks that don’t require much attention.

Researchers have shown that the default mode network (DMN)—which connects more than a dozen regions of the brain—becomes more active during mind-wandering or passive tasks than when you’re doing something that demands focus. Simply put, the DMN is “the state the brain returns to when you’re not actively engaged,” explains Roger Beaty, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. By contrast, when you’re mired in a demanding task, the brain’s executive control systems keep your thinking focused, analytical, and logical…

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and his colleagues serendipitously discovered the default mode network in 2001 when they were using positron emission tomography (PET) to see how the brains of volunteers were functioning as they performed novel, attention-demanding tasks. The team then compared those images to ones made while the brain was in a resting state and noticed that specific brain regions were more active during passive tasks than engaging ones.

However, because the function of each brain region isn’t well characterized and because a specific brain area can do different things under different circumstances, neuroscientists prefer to talk about “networks of brain areas,” such as the default mode network, which function together during certain activities, according to John Kounios, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Creativity Research Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Raichle named this network the “default” mode network because of its heightened activity during idle periods, says Randy L. Buckner, a neuroscientist at Harvard University. But it’s something of a misnomer because the default mode network is also active in other mental tasks, such as remembering past events or engaging in self-reflective thought.

The network is also “involved in the early stages of idea generation, drawing from past experiences and knowledge about the world,” explains Beaty. “When you’re not actively working on a problem, the brain keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled, and something clicks.” The DMN, he adds, “helps you combine information in different ways and simulate possibilities.”

2) Good stuff on “Stop the Steal”

“‘Stop the Steal’ is a metaphor,” Skocpol said, “for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.” More than a decade later, evidence remains secondary when what you’re really doing is questioning whose vote counts—and who counts as an American.

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me what connection you see between the Tea Party movement that you studied and the Trump-inspired Stop the Steal effort.

Theda Skocpol: There’s a definite line. Opinion polls tell us that people who participated in or sympathized with the Tea Party—some groups are still meeting—were disproportionately angry about immigration and the loss of America as they know it. They became core supporters of Trump. I’m quite certain that some organizations that were Tea Party–labeled helped organize Stop the Steal stuff.

Trump has expanded the appeal of an angry, resentful ethno-nationalist politics to younger whites. But it’s the same outlook.

Godfrey: So how do you interpret the broader Stop the Steal movement?

Skocpol: I don’t think Stop the Steal is about ballots at all. I don’t believe a lot of people really think that the votes weren’t counted correctly in 2020. They believe that urban people, metropolitan people—disproportionately young and minorities, to be sure, but frankly liberal whites—are an illegitimate brew that’s changing America in unrecognizable ways and taking it away from them. Stop the Steal is a way of saying that. Stop the Steal is a metaphor. And remember, they declared voting fraud before the election.

3) Really enjoyed this interview of Mike Judge.  Never really got into Beavis and Butthead, but I’m a huge fan of Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.

4) I could be wrong :-), but I feel like I’ve actually become pretty good at admitting when I’m wrong.  It’s definitely an important part of maturity.  Jane Coaston:

We live in a world in which being right — or, at least, being seen as being right by as many people as possible — is important cultural currency. And while that makes sense for “Jeopardy!” contestants and neurosurgeons, it’s detrimental for politicians, pundits and the rest of us, who interact with our neighbors, friends and loved ones and the occasional grocery store attendant who might remind us that “12 items or fewer” actually means something.

 

Refusing to admit you’re wrong may be intended as self-protection but is really self-deception, which hurts you and your community. Like any untruth, it destroys trust and harms relationships on every level. I believe that in some ways, this stubborn dishonesty is at the root of our country’s polarization — millions of Americans seemingly incapable of admitting fault, focused instead on the faults of others. It’s driving us all into a moral and social ditch.

And yet we remain committed to this path. Rather than admit to being wrong, some people double down. (I’m sure that for dedicated conspiracy theorists like QAnon followers, Hillary Clinton’s arrest should be taking place any day now.) Others, particularly public figures and politicians, prefer to act as if the missteps never even happened. They merely glide past their mistakes, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods.

Some seem to find strength in dishonesty, able to construct entire worldviews out of lies because the truth would be far too humiliating. But admitting to being wrong — whether it’s about the rules of a card game or about the results of an election — isn’t a weakness. It’s a powerful statement of vulnerability. I know from my efforts to be honest about myself how much strength that takes.

5) This is encouraging, “Why Abortion Has Become a Centerpiece of Democratic TV Ads in 2022”

6) Book review that is a fascinating tale of the legal development of “rape” in the early US.

But the real assist came from the 17th-century lawyer Sir Matthew Hale, whose jurisprudence dominated the trial. Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries” on English criminal law supplied the Colonies and later new country with a basic understanding of many crimes, and Blackstone incorporated Hale’s ideas of what renders a rape prosecution plausible. According to Sweet, Hale, who was deeply anxious about malicious women bringing false accusations against innocent men, believed “the question was not simply whether a woman had been forced to have sex against her will but also whether her reputation was good enough, whether she had resisted vigorously enough, whether she had cried out loudly enough, whether she had sustained sufficiently conspicuous physical injuries and whether she had reported the crime soon enough.” Nearly every defense attorney funneled his questions through the Hale framework. And when it was the judge’s turn to instruct the jury in advance of their deliberations, he declared Hale’s ideas “just” and thus, as Sweet writes, completed “the transformation of Hale’s commentaries from suggestions written by a retired jurist into rigid rules that defined the nature of settled law and that were binding on the jurors.”

7) I had no idea that HBO had spent $30 million on a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel and declared it unworthy before moving onto House of the Dragon.  Was also really interesting to see the role of George R.R. Martin in all this.

8) Big if true:

A new report from the Constructive Dialogue Institute, which was founded in 2017 by scholars Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, finds that students who completed an online learning course on navigating difficult conversations showed significant improvements in affective polarization (or a tendency to distrust those with different political views), intellectual humility and conflict resolution skills. This is relative to a control group, as established via 755-student study that involved three colleges and universities.

The free online course, called Perspectives, was developed by the institute (formally known as OpenMind) and includes eight online lessons based on psychological concepts and interactive scenarios. A peer-to-peer conversation guide is optional. According to the institute, Perspectives students “develop a robust toolkit of evidence-based practices to challenge cognitive biases, engage in nuanced thinking and communicate more effectively with others about sensitive and divisive topics.”

The report says that the results “demonstrate that our deep divisions are not inevitable. There are scalable, evidence-based tools that can be used to break our toxic polarization and prepare students for democratic citizenship.”

9) As somebody who has had more than a few beach umbrellas blow away, this is scary, “A beachgoer was killed after being struck by an umbrella” That said, this year we switched over the highly wind-resistant cool cabana an it helped so much. 

10) Rather concerning rom David Wallace-Wells, “Europe’s Energy Crisis May Get a Lot Worse”

I don’t think many Americans appreciate just how tense and tenuous, how very touch and go the energy situation in Europe is right now.

For months, as news of the Ukraine war receded a bit, it was possible to follow the energy story unfolding across the Atlantic and still assume an uncomfortable but familiar-enough winter in Europe, characterized primarily by high prices.

In recent weeks, the prospects have begun to look darker. In early August the European Union approved a request that member states reduce gas consumption by 15 percent — quite a large request and one that several initially balked at. In Spain, facing record-breaking heat wave after record-breaking heat wave at the height of the country’s tourist season, the government announced restrictions on commercial air-conditioning, which may not be set below 27 degrees Celsius, or about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In France, an Associated Press article said, “urban guerrillas” are taking to the streets, shutting off storefront lights to reduce energy consumption. In the Netherlands a campaign called Flip the Switch is asking residents to limit showers to five minutes and to drop air-conditioning and clothes dryers entirely. Belgium has reversed plans to retire nuclear power plants, and Germany, having ruled out the possibility of such a turnabout in June, is now considering it as well…

Walk me through that worst case. How would we get to that kind of crisis?

I think you would see Russia continue to restrict gas exports and maybe cut them off completely to Europe — and a very cold winter. I think a combination of those two things would mean sky-high energy prices. But there’s a lot of other sources of uncertainty and risk. It’s not just high prices. There comes a certain point where there’s just not enough molecules to do all the work that gas needs to do. And governments will have to ration energy supplies and decide what’s important.

10) Pretty fascinating read on the schism within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. 

11) OMG HOA’s are the worst!  I will never live somewhere with an HOA.  NC residents had to fight to the state supreme court to get solar panels installed over HOA objections. 

12) Greenhouse on Alito:

Barely a month after handing down the majority opinion that erased the right to abortion, Justice Samuel Alito traveled to Rome to give a keynote address at a “religious liberty summit” convened by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s law school. As the video that Notre Dame posted of the bearded justice delivering his remarks made clear, this was a victory lap.

The press coverage of that speech last month mainly focused on his snarky comments about world leaders who had the effrontery to criticize what the Supreme Court had done in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Justice Alito deadpanned as laughter filled the majestic Galleria Colonna.

One can debate the degree of bad taste displayed by such a remark, but that’s not my concern. What interests me about his talk was its substance: a call to arms on behalf of religion…

“The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places,” Justice Alito said, “is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection.”

 

On one level, there is nothing surprising about such a declaration from Justice Alito. We know where he stands on religion. He is the author of a long string of opinions that have elevated the free exercise of religion above civil society’s other values, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to enjoy benefits intended for all. He wrote a concurring opinion in June’s astonishing decision that permitted a high school football coach to commandeer the 50-yard line after games for his personal prayers over the public school district’s objection…

So yes, we know all that. But Justice Alito’s Notre Dame speech still merits close examination for what it reveals about the assumptions built into his worldview. What does it mean, for example, to assert that it is “people who are not religious” who need to be persuaded that religion is worthy of special treatment? Do all religiously observant people naturally believe that religion merits more protections than other values? There’s scant evidence for that; in any event, that has not been our law, at least not until recently. Still on the books is a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which provides that the Constitution’s free exercise clause offers no special religious exemption from a “neutral” law that is “generally applicable.” That decision’s author was Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more overtly religious people to sit on the Supreme Court in modern times…

In Rome, more clearly than in the past, Justice Alito provided his own definition of religious liberty, an expansive definition that mirrored the court’s holding in this summer’s praying coach case. In that case, the school district in Bremerton, Wash., had offered the coach an alternate place where he could pray after the games. But the coach insisted that he felt religiously compelled to pray in public in full view of the spectator stands. The court, which in the past was notably stingy when it came to the free speech rights of public employees, endorsed this expression of militant Christianity.

In his Rome speech, Justice Alito did not refer explicitly to that case, but his definition of religious liberty underscored and explained the court’s remarkable departure. Religious liberty must mean more than simply “freedom of worship,” he said. “Freedom of worship means freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.” And he added, “That’s the problem that we face.”

13) The real problem in the Breonna Taylor shooting was not mostly the cops who performed the raid, but the whole system that led to this misguided raid.  Glad to see the prosecutions reflecting this:

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett intends to plead guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, in what would be the first conviction in a case that sparked months of racial justice protests in that city and across the country.

Goodlett and her attorney, Brandon Marshall, along with Mike Songer, an attorney representing the Justice Department, confirmed her plea agreement during an online court hearing Friday before Magistrate Judge Regina S. Edwards in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Kentucky. Edwards set an in-person hearing Aug. 22 to entertain that plea and released Goodlett on a $10,000 bond, ordering her to relinquish her passport and remove all firearms from her home…

The federal government is trying a different approach, charging current and former Louisville police in connection withwhat court filings allege as an overzealous and imperious narcotics investigations unit that used reckless tactics and knowingly put local residents in danger with no legal justification.

Hankison is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors when he allegedly fired several shots through a bedroom window and through a sliding-glass door — both of which were covered with blinds and a curtain.

14) Gallup, “Average American Remains OK With Higher Taxes on Rich”

This question was first asked by Fortune back in 1939 — at the tail end of the depression. At that point, there were record rates of unemployment and poverty. One might suppose that Americans would have been very happy to agree that the rich should be heavily taxed. But they actually weren’t. In that 1939 poll, despite the challenging economic conditions, just 35% of Americans approved of the idea, while 54% disapproved.

When Gallup asked the question again in 1998, a slim majority of 51% disapproved. In the nine times the question has been asked since then, positive reactions to this idea of “heavy taxes on the rich” have been generally higher, although variable. In 2008 and 2011, the public disapproved by slight margins. But in surveys conducted in 2013, 2015, 2016 and in July of this year, slim majorities approved of the idea of heavy taxes on the rich in order to redistribute wealth. The latest results are 52% approve, 47% disapprove.

In short, the question confirms the well-documented finding noted above. Americans tend to agree with the idea that those with more money should pay even more in taxes than they do now…

As is often the case, American public opinion on taxing the rich varies depending on how the policy is explained. And it is not constant across all population segments.

For one thing, not surprisingly, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to favor heavy taxes on the rich. This partisan gap has been significant and consistent over the years.

About seven in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have supported heavier taxes on the rich each time the classic Gallup question has been asked since October 2008. That compares to a consistent third or less of Republicans. In July’s update, 79% of Democrats support the idea of heavy taxes on the rich; 24% of Republicans agree. The partisan gap seen since October 2008 is slightly larger than it was in 2007 and April 2008…

Bottom Line

How valued resources are distributed across all members of a society is among the most important challenges a society faces. No social system distributes resources equally. This leaves the inevitable reality of “inequality” where some end up with more than others. Dealing with this inequality has been one of society’s most significant challenges throughout history. And it remains so today.

The people of the United States have addressed inequality in many ways throughout the nation’s history. In particular, the government has for over a century carried out a progressive tax system that extracts higher percentages of taxes from those with the most income.

The American public, taken as a whole, approves of this progressive system. The majority of the public would like to see taxes become even more progressive. But today’s political realities don’t appear conducive to an agreement on new taxes on the rich. Rank-and-file Republicans, and their leaders in Congress, remain strongly opposed to new taxes. And, as evidenced by the new Inflation Reduction Act about to become law, Democratic leadership has, in the end, decided to proceed without arguing or attempting to change the fundamentals of the individual tax system. What might happen in the future, of course, remains to be seen.

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

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