Quick hits (part II)

1) It’s amazing how low Donald Trump has successfully set the bar for his behavior.  Seriously, just imagine if Hillary Clinton had pledged $1 million of her own money to veterans and never delivered.

2) When, when, when will our foreign policy start treating Saudi Arabia as our enemy, as they actually are, than as an ally?

3) Oh man did I love this Upshot piece on how the problem with TSA (and many government bureaucracies) is that they don’t consider the wasted time of their customers a “cost” of what they do:

The agency accounts for direct monetary costs in great detail. In 2015, it spent $7.55 billion. That comes to about $10 per passenger-trip, of which $2.50 is defrayed by a tax added to airline tickets.

But T.S.A. ledgers don’t capture the cost of wasted time. Suppose, for example, that a passenger budgets an extra hour to make sure she catches her flight. The value of this hour surely exceeds the $2.50 she pays to the T.S.A. in tax. And for nearly anyone, it also exceeds $10. But you won’t find such calculations in the agency’s accounting.

That’s not entirely the T.S.A.’s fault. When Congress cut the agency’s budget last year, it didn’t account for the value of passengers’ time. This omission is a common government failing. A Department of Motor Vehicles budget does not include time spent waiting for a driver’s license, nor does the I.R.S. budget account for the hours we spend filling out tax returns.

This glaring omission creates perverse incentives for government agencies. Cutting staff improves an agency’s bottom line, while wasting citizens’ time has little material consequence for it aside from expressions of annoyance and outrage in tweets and articles (like this one).

4) That whole states with Republican governors thing is really limiting HRC’s possibilities for a running mate.

5) James Hamblin on the problem with emphasizing calories on the new Nutrition Facts labels.

6) A good take on why so many studies fail to replicate.

7) I never felt guilty for sleep training my babies.  And my wife and I definitely do not lack for attachment with our children.

In a study published this week in the journal Pediatrics, 43 infants in Australia, 6 to 16 months old, all healthy, but identified by their parents as having sleep problems, were randomized to three different groups. In one group, the parents tried graduated extinction, the technique in which babies are allowed to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights. The second group tried a technique called bedtime fading, in which parents delay bedtime in 15-minute increments so the child becomes more and more tired. And the third group, as a control, was just given sleep information.

The researchers measured the babies’ stress by sampling their levels of cortisol, a hormone indicating stress, and also looked at the mothers’ stress; 12 months after the intervention, they evaluated parent-child attachment and looked at whether the children had emotional and behavioral problems.

“What we were interested in is this hypothesis that there are these long-term consequences from doing something like graduated extinction,” said Michael Gradisar, an associate professor of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide who was the first author on the new study.

Both sleep techniques – graduated extinction and bedtime fading — decreased the time it took children to fall asleep and graduated extinction reduced night wakings, compared to the control group. All the salivary cortisol levels were within the normal range in all three groups, but the afternoon levels in the two sleep training groups declined over time more than the controls. And there was no difference among the groups, 12 months later, in the measures of the children’s emotional and behavioral well-being.

Although critics of graduated extinction believe that strategy disrupts parent-child attachment, Dr. Gradisar said: “We couldn’t find any differences. The more studies we get, the more confident we can feel that this is actually safe to perform.”

8) On the whole, I still strongly believe that Common Core is a good thing.  That, however, does not mean that theren’t aren’t some horribly inappropriate questions I might struggle with, much less a 4th grader.

9) The irony of conservatives being upset about FB censoring conservative news.

10) Dana Milbank on Hillary Clinton’s email issue:

But what’s damning in the new report is her obsessive and counterproductive secrecy…

The stonewalling creates a firm impression, well captured by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this week when he interviewed Clinton’s spokesman, Brian Fallon: “If she didn’t do anything wrong and she had nothing to hide, why didn’t she cooperate with the inspector general?”

There is no good answer to this. And that’s why the IG report was just another of Clinton’s self-inflicted wounds, stretching back a quarter century, caused by her tendency toward secrecy and debilitating caution.

And yet, I’m pretty confident she’d make a better president than both Trump and Bernie Sanders.

11) Can we blame increasing violent crime on Republican budget cuts to government?  Maybe.

12) I love cool traffic technology.  Like this diverging diamonds intersection.

13) Thank God my almost 14-year old mentally-disabled son is able enough to use the public restroom by himself.  But barely.  And I know plenty of parents with disabled children who still need help in the restroom.  And now thanks to NC, we’ve got the bathroom police upon us.

14) Speaking of disability, really interesting take on Hodor and the ethics of disability in Game of Thrones.

Look at Tolkien, for example. If you count up the battles, skirmishes, everything like that [in the Lord of the Rings series], the fact that out of the nine [Fellowship of the Ring members], eight of them survived and only one of them is missing a finger is statistically ludicrous. Martin is playing with the idea that because somebody is a hero or a beloved character they are going to live somehow. I used to call that the kids-at-the-end-of-Jurassic-Park syndrome: They should have been raptor chow, but we can’t have the kids getting killed.

By talking about disability as a very certain set of extreme conditions, we have a tendency of setting up these walls between them and us. But what Martin does is show how very, very fragile the boundaries between wholeness and bodily vulnerability are. Only in a moment you can go from being an “able” person to somebody who is “disabled.”

15) Really, really good piece on the recent history of the NC Supreme Court and how important it is to what’s been going on in NC.  I feel bad I didn’t know all this stuff but am very glad I do now.

16) Heartbreaking story of a hiker who got lost on the Appalachian Trail, eventually starving to death.  Her body and the letters she wrote was just found years later.

17) Interesting new political science research on the values underlying our ideologies:

First, the more importance people attach to transcending self-interest on behalf of others, the stronger their preferences for the liberal label, a generous welfare state, ameliorative racial policies, cultural progressivism, political tolerance, and dovish foreign policy. Second, the more individuals prioritize respect for tradition, deference to convention, and social order, the stronger their preferences for the conservative label, smaller government, racial self-help, culturally conservative policies, political intolerance, military power, and foreign policy unilateralism. Third, the egocentric values of self-enhancement and openness to change play a small role in generating support for or opposition to ideological labels or policy positions…

To conclude, social scientists have long seen basic values as prime candidates for shaping public opinion on key issues. Our paper confirms that basic human values drive opinion formation, but with the critical qualification that not all values are consequential. Self-transcendence and conservation values stand apart from self-enhancement and openness-to-change values as drivers of public opinion. Public opinion in the United States depends on beliefs about the good and just society to a much greater extent than beliefs about the virtue of private gain.

18) Open tab too long– last month’s Atlantic cover story on being broke and middle class.

19) I liked this response to it even better.

To be sure, Gabler is perhaps not as brutally honest with himself as he might be. “I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses,” he says, while recounting his decisions to live in Brooklyn, and then in the Hamptons, while sending his daughters to private school and expensive colleges. This is keeping up with the Joneses, of course. Gabler happens to belong to a social class in which the markers of success are living in the orbit of an expensive coastal city and educating your children at an elite school, not necessarily driving a fancy car or having a second home on some Florida golf course. Yet the former often costs more than the latter would. The majority of the people in the world do not live in the New York metropolitan area, and do not send their kids to Stanford University, and yet they somehow manage to get through their days — even, I dare say, to occasionally live worthy lives and die happy.

I say this not to rake Gabler over the coals particularly; note that I too live in D.C., an expensive city, even though our money would undoubtedly go much further in exurban Virginia, or western Kentucky for that matter. Rather, I say this to suggest that the primary reason people have so much trouble saving is that they can always find a reason to justify not doing so. The details of what they’re spending on may change, but the justifications have a curiously similar sound to them.

20) Your long read.  Really good New Yorker take on the extreme liberalism at Oberlin.  The author of the piece doesn’t do much, mostly just lets Oberlin students’ own words speak to their own absurdity.

21) And Mike Munger says that universities are failing their liberal students.  Not guilty in my department, but I’m sure he has a point.

Just Mercy and Mass incarceration

Just did “book club” with my class yesterday using Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.  It went great.  You should strongly consider reading it.  Not only is Stevenson an indefatigable advocate for justice, he is a great writer and compelling storyteller.  At least read this great take on his work in the NY Review of Books.  Or watch his excellent TED talk and be inspired.  I love this conclusion from David Cole’s review of the book (as well as another on Mass Incarceration):

If mass incarceration is to end, it won’t be because courts declare it unconstitutional. It will instead require the public to come to understand, as the National Academies report found, that our policies are inefficient, wasteful, and counterproductive. And it will require us to admit, as Bryan Stevenson’s stories eloquently attest, that our approach to criminal law is cruel and inhumane. Mass incarceration is one of the most harmful practices we as a society have ever adopted, but as Stevenson would say, we are all better than the worst thing we have ever done.

Absolutely.  Let’s make it happen, America.

Are criminal risk assessments racist?

Good idea– using data and well-validated models to predict potential for future criminal behavior and responding accordingly with criminal justice procedures.  Bad idea– using data and poorly-validated, racially-biased models to do the same.  I bet which one of these we’ve been using.

Amazingly, those who looked at these models found that the error rates were pretty similar for Black and white defendants.  Alas, they did not look at the direction of the error.  This chart pretty much says it all:

Prediction Fails Differently for Black Defendants

Labeled Higher Risk, But Didn’t Re-Offend 23.5% 44.9%
Labeled Lower Risk, Yet Did Re-Offend 47.7% 28.0%

Overall, Northpointe’s assessment tool correctly predicts recidivism 61 percent of the time. But blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be labeled a higher risk but not actually re-offend. It makes the opposite mistake among whites: They are much more likely than blacks to be labeled lower risk but go on to commit other crimes. (Source: ProPublica analysis of data from Broward County, Fla.)

So, yeah, roughly equivalent number of mistakes, but the mistakes systematically benefit whites and harm Blacks.  Lovely.  So, now that we know there’s a problem, let’s see what we manage to do about it.

Great article from Pro Publica.  Short version via NPR.

The Criminal Justice war on poor people

Our criminal justice system’s war on poor people is just so completely out of control.  It has to stop.  And yet, I imagine the vast majority of Americans have not the slightest clue how bad this is.  That too, needs to change.  The problem is there’s no great video moment of a poor person literally financially harassed into prison time.  Peter Coy in Bloomberg:

When you’re convicted of a crime in America, it’s not just prison time you may face—there are fines, fees, and other cash penalties, too. And when you get out, they’ll be waiting. Plus interest.

The plight of “Kathie” symbolizes everything that’s wrong with this system, one that heaps a debt burden onto ex-convicts who don’t have the means to pay. Kathie (a pseudonym) was a 49-year-old ex-convict at the time University of Washington sociologist Alexes Harris interviewed her in 2009. She was sharing a three-bedroom home with three of her four children, her estranged husband, and his father.

Kathie left prison owing $11,000, but the sum had grown to $20,000 because of collection surcharges, private collection fees, and a 12 percent interest rate. She had a low-paying job that didn’t leave her a prayer of paying off the whole sum. “It seems like one of those challenges that are insurmountable,” she told Harris. “It’s like a paraplegic trying to climb Mount Everest.”

Harris writes about Kathie and other hard-luck cases in Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor, a book set to be published next month by the Russell Sage Foundation. Legal debt, Harris writes, “represents the difference between being housed or unstably housed, taking daily AIDS medication or going untreated, accessing or failing to access a public shower if homeless, and being free to move forward someday into a healthier relationship or remaining in an abusive one.”

“The story of my research—the story that must be told—is that our 21st century criminal justice system stains people’s lives forever,” she writes. “The permanent stain results not just from a criminal conviction and the related societal stigma but also from the financial debt, constant surveillance, and related punishment incurred by monetary sanctions.”
So wrong.  So much change is needed.  Maybe after we get the police brutality problem licked?

Quick hits (part II)

Criminal justice heavy version, but that happens when I’m teaching a course on something.

1) Pretty awesome smackdown of right-wing Christian hypocrisy from Samantha Bee.

2) John Cole with an angry take on angry Bernie supporters:

I’ll just repeat what I said this morning- Bernie voters are like college students who want their current grade changed because they didn’t read the syllabus, or because their GPA is important, or because they thought they did better, or they don’t think the rubric on an assignment is fair, or because they worked really hard and are convinced they deserve a better grade.

I’d also point out that all of this is in contrast to the 2016 Clinton campaign, which is the photo-negative of the 2008 shitshow fail parade that we all endured. The Clinton team has been on point the entire time. There haven’t been stupid misstatements, her surrogates haven’t been running around saying stupid things about Guam or that black votes don’t count, there hasn’t been anything that reminds me of 2008 from them. They’ve run an serious, sober, meticulous 50 state campaign, and this as much as anything is why they are winning. They haven’t been flawless, but compared to the Bernie Sanders butthurt amateur hour, it’s been the best campaign this century. She is a much better candidate this time around.

I am so sick and tired of the Bernie or bust crowd and their bullshit. You don’t get points for introducing new voters when you spend the entire campaign telling them their vote doesn’t count and they got screwed and the system is corrupt just because you aren’t getting your way.

3) Megyn Kelly completely caves to Trump.

4) Man, is Venezuela totally screwed.  I feel so bad for the people there.

5) Yes, Opioid addiction is a real problem.  But it’s not quite what everybody thinks.  A nice post exploding some myths

The risk of addiction also has been exaggerated. According to NSDUH, those 259 million painkiller prescriptions in 2012 resulted in about 2 million cases of “dependence or abuse,” or one for every 130 prescriptions. A recent study by Castlight Health estimated that 4.5 percent of people who have received opioid prescriptions qualify as “abusers,” and its definition, based on the amount prescribed and the number of prescribers, probably captures some legitimate patients as well.

According to NSDUH, only a quarter of people who take opioids for nonmedical reasons get them by obtaining a doctor’s prescription. Hence the sequence that many people imagine—a patient takes narcotics for pain, gets hooked, and eventually dies of an overdose—is far from typical of opioid-related deaths.

6) I’ve really loved this series on how to improve college teaching.  Definitely going to have to buy this guy’s book.  This one, which applies well beyond the college classroom, is about repeated learning over time to obtain long-term mastery.

7) Due to Constitutionally inhumane overcrowding in its prisons, California reduced it’s prison population 17%.  All the law and order types predicted a horrible crime wave.  Nope, crime is basically no worse.  Over-incarceration anybody?

8) And while we’re at it, the naysayers predicted all sorts of doom for Colorado legalizing marijuana.  Again, not so much bad stuff.

9) Speaking of marijuana, those working most strongly against it’s legalization in California?  Police and prison guard interest groups.  Are they that concerned about the scourge of legal marijuana users?  Of course not.  They are concerned about a huge cash cow drying up.

10) Fascinating research on how men versus women are judged and rewarded for their appearance.  Maybe I’ll top showering:-).

They found that a substantial amount of attractiveness was the result of grooming, and here’s where they found gender differences, Wong says. “For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming.”

In other words, the study suggests that grooming is important for both men and women in the workplace, but particularly for women. Changes in grooming have a substantial effect on whether women are perceived as attractive, and their salaries. In fact, as the charts below show, less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren’t considered well-groomed.

11) Oh, man, way back in the day, Print Shop was about the coolest software there was.

12) Josh Marshall on the ease of getting under Trump’s skin:

Today is quite a good day for the Democrats. Why? Because it shows how easy it was for Priorities USA, the pro-Hillary SuperPac (originally a pro-Obama SuperPac), to hurt Trump with a very focused strike on his immense vulnerability with women. But more than that, they clearly got under his skin. Trump’s been on Twitter raging non-stop all morning about how he was “misquoted” in the Priorities attack ad. I discussed whether he was ‘misquoted’ here. Basically he wasn’t. But, Good Lord buddy, good luck with whining about a SuperPac being mean.

Trump and Trump’s campaign know that he’s toxic to women for numerous reasons. Getting hit on this gets him mad – mad and undisciplined. No one likes a whiner.

I suspect that SuperPacs in Hillary’s orbit, seeing this, will run more ads which are a bit unfair, which push the margins, just to get inside Donald’s head like this.


13) Great piece from Vox’s Dara Lind on the relationship between Ferguson and related protests and the possibly-related increase in crime.

14) Open tab for too long– why are highly educated Americans getting more liberal?

Police militarization

Great post from Dexter Filkins about a new documentary on police militarization, “Do Not Resist.”

“Do Not Resist” features several eye-popping moments. There’s Dave Grossman, a leading consultant to police and the F.B.I., lecturing a room full of officers on the pleasures of using violence on the job. (“Finally get home at the end of the incident and they all say, ‘The best sex I’ve had in months,’ “ Grossman told them.) There’s the scene, in South Carolina, of the Richland County Sheriff Department’s Special Response Team conducting a practice gun battle, firing automatic weapons and looking very much like the Navy seals in Baghdad. And there’s Alan Estevez, a deputy under-secretary of defense, testifying to Congress that, along with the many tons of military equipment, police departments were in recent years given twelve thousand bayonets…

The 1033 and Homeland Security programs have resulted in local governments around the country acquiring an astonishing range of military equipment, including armored personnel carriers, M-16 assault rifles, grenade launchers, and infrared gun sights, all of which were designed for combat. Among the vehicles routinely given to police departments is the mrap—mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle—which can weigh up to about twenty tons and is designed to survive roadside bombs. According to the Marshall Project, some six hundredmraps have been doled out to local governments around the country; they cost about a million dollars each…

In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department deploys its Special Response Team to raid a home in a run-down neighborhood where the inhabitants were suspected of keeping marijuana. The team members, who are dressed for full combat—black fatigues, helmets, and assault rifles—smash the doors and windows, enter the house, and arrest the owner’s son. They seize eight hundred and seventy-three dollars in cash from him, which he tells police he needs to run his landscaping business. They end up finding a gram and a half of marijuana—enough to fill about a teaspoon. The suspect’s mother, who is in the house at the time, is not arrested. “They tore down the house,” she tells the filmmakers. “My son went to jail for a gram and a half that they shook out of a bottom of a book bag.” …

The picture that emerges from “Do Not Resist” is that the acquisition of military equipment and the use of swat teams for routine arrests are feeding on each other—that heavy weapons are encouraging police to act in ways they otherwise would not…

For more than a century, federal law has prohibited the military from being deployed inside the United States against American citizens. The prudence behind that distinction is obvious, not least because while the military is trained to use maximum force, the police, ideally, should only use as much as is necessary to protect themselves or local citizens. “Do Not Resist” shows that the distinction between the two has been severely eroded. [emphasis mine]

Yes!  You give the police fancy new toys they are going to find ways to use them whether it is actually called for or not.  Just like you give a hospital a bunch of new MRI machines, they are going to find ways to use them.  In many cases, supply drives demand.  And sadly, the supply of militarized police had turned too many police into militarized forces which are at odds with actual, good, community-based policing.

Maybe the war on drugs really is succeeding!

So, I watched “The House I Live In” for the second time, yesterday, with my Summer Criminal Justice Policy class.  Super-powerful documentary about the utter moral abomination that is our country’s war on drugs.  Already hate the war on drugs?  Watch this and hate it more.  Think the war on drugs isn’t so bad?  Watch this and open your eyes.  If you’ve already got Netflix, it’s on streaming.  Or consider springing just a few bucks to watch on Amazon, etc.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Canadian addiction expert, Gabor Maté, speaks about the war on drugs.  He suggests, looking through a different lens, maybe the war on drugs really is succeeding.  (I’ll paraphrase and add a little, but basically…) If we consider all the jobs in prisons and in the criminal justice system, if we consider all the money made in the prison-industrial complex, if we consider all the politicians re-elected by being “tough on crime” maybe the war on drugs really is succeeding.

Of course, more than anything, it is absolutely needlessly ruining so many lives and so many communities with so little benefit.  I truly believe that in the next century, Americans will look back on this episode in our history with absolute shame.


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