Quick hits

1) Never thought about it this way, but makes so much sense.  All the vitamins we add to our processed food allow us to hide what low quality so much of the food is.

2) How your gut bacteria affects your immune system.  I’d like to thing mine is why I stay so healthy (and I attribute a healthy gut microbiome to lots of fruits and vegetables).

3) How the FDA is failing to keep us safe by hiding/ignoring evidence from bad drug trials.

4) Roy Moore is a self-aggrandizing, Constitution-ignoring jerk of a judge.  That said, Emily Bazelon explains how is gay marriage decision is not as crazy as it’s been made out to be.

5) The near-death of Monticello (I really need to take my kids there) and why we shouldn’t be leaving national treasures to the private marketplace.

6) This Atlantic cover story on ISIS is really thought-provoking.  Highly recommended reading.  On the shorter side, just maybe ISIS might collapse of it’s own failure to expand.

7) How often do people in various countries shower.  Too much, probably:

Cleanliness, it turns out, has been one dirty trick. One reason early-20th-century Americans ramped up their weekly baths to daily showers is that marketing companies capitalized on the insecurities of a new class of office drones working in close quarters. As Gizmodo wrote last week, to sell products like “toilet soap” and Listerine to Americans, “the advertising industry had to create pseudoscientific maladies like ‘bad breath’ and ‘body odor.'”

True.  That said, body odor is most definitely real and I prefer not to be around it.

8) Crows are even smarter than we thought (and reminds me of one of my all time favorite quotes on the matter).

9) I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl half-time show, but I think this Diary of the Left Shark is simply brilliant.  I laughed out loud several times while reading it.

10) When given the chance to weigh in, juries are much less punitive than many sentencing recommendations.  Maybe legislators need to re-think things.

11) What a wonderful tribute from one great journalist, TNC, to another, the passed away all too soon this week, David Carr.

12) At least Oliver Sacks has made it into his 80’s before contracting terminal cancer.  I think I was a teenager when I first read a Sacks book and I’ve read a ton.  I so love his infectious enthusiasm for understanding and sharing his understanding of the human brain.

13) On a happier note, this collection of best Robot Chicken clips is brilliant.  If you’ve never seen the one with Darth Vader calling the Emperor about the destruction of the Death Star, stop what you are doing and watch now.

14) Good for Walmart for raising it’s wages, but don’t pretend it’s anything other than good business in the current market:

The second reason for the raise is less specific to Walmart. The American economy’s recovery in the past few years has led to an increase in the number of jobs and a decrease in the unemployment rate—both of which mean that companies will have to start paying their employees more in order to get them to stick around.

From this perspective, Walmart’s decision is a selfish one: The company realized that it could hire workers at $7 an hour, but couldn’t hold on to them unless wages were bumped up. Aetna, Ikea, and The Gap have all come to similar conclusions. “I would expect to see many other small and large firms do the same,” Bloom says.

15) Eric Posner on just how wrong the decision to overturn Obama’s immigration action is.  It would be really, really surprising if this is not overturned at the appellate level.  Ruth Marcus takes it to the judge who ruled on the case.

16) My latest time-suck?  The oh-so-perfectly named, Trivia Crack.

17) One of my great embarrasssments of my acadmemic life is the paper I wrote on Andrew Johnson for my AP US History course.  I relied entirely too much on a source by an apologist for Johnson.  I think I got an A.  One of the reasons I really don’t like giving college credit for High School classes.  A short Slate video on why Johnson was a horrible president.

18) After the latest climbing tragedy Everest’s most dangerous route is now off limits.  Of all the things that I have read about, the Kumbu Ice Falls has totally stuck with me.  And my wife, too.  Thanks to Into Thin Air.  

19) Herbal supplements are barely regulated at all because Congress made that a policy choice.  Is it any wonder that they are full of false claims and false ingredients.

20) I’m so getting this for my next Iphone.

21) Nate Cohn on why Hillary really is a prohibitive favorite of historical proportions.

22) For a huge Seinfeld fan like me, this “What if Elaine Benes had Instagram” collection was super-entertaining.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The justification for stripping this professor from tenure over a blog posting (scary!!) is pretty pathetic.

2) It would be nice if Supreme Court Justices actually had some real world experience.  Somehow, John Roberts has never even been pulled over while driving!

3) Jon Chait with a handy reminder that Mitt Romney predicted we would face economic doom if Obama were re-elected.

4) The NYT headline, “Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says.”  Only problem is the need to qualify with “report says.”  Sadly, this is just reality.  And the modern debtors prison part is especially distressing.

5) New Yorker’s Sarah Larson with one of the better takes on Jon Stewart stepping down.

6) Are you “gluten sensitive”?  Chances are pretty good it’s in your head.  Emily Oster in 538:

If you don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy and are experiencing distressing gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten — lack of satisfaction with your stool consistency, for example — there is something like a 1 in 30 chance that the gluten is potentially responsible. If you cut out gluten and it makes you feel better, great. Although it may all be in your head.

If you are cutting out gluten for any other reason, all that will happen is you’ll feel the same, but without the pleasure of bread that tastes like bread.

7) Frank Bruni on the value of a liberal arts education.  Personally, I’m still not sold on Shakespeare.

8) I’ve always been blaming my genes for the extreme picky eating of my kids.  In truth, it’s also clearly some pretty sub-optimal parenting in this regard.

9) Really  enjoyed Will Saletan’s takedown of those who argue Christianity never does any wrong.

10) Wow– the twitter police are just nuts!  Scariest part– the tweet that basically ruined Justine Sacco’s life was so obviously meant ironically, but the twitter police are apparently willfully obtuse.

11) Parents stop reading to their kids too soon.  David is 15 and we’re still going strong.  Often my favorite time with my kids each day– why end this before it’s absolutely necessary.

12) Fall and rise of US inequality in two charts.

13) Michael Tomasky on the need for raising the gas tax, and the greater need for actually leveling with the American people:

The second, broader point is this. Someday, some Democrat who wishes to take the reins of this great nation is going to have to level with the people and say look, you say in poll after poll that you want certain things—the preservation of Social Security without benefit cuts, more assistance for higher education, better day care, paid family leave. Fine. I want to give you those things. But they aren’t free. And the rich, even though they’re rich, only have so much to contribute. The top marginal tax rate just isn’t going to get much higher, and the corporate tax rate if anything should be lowered (although as loopholes are simultaneously closed). So you’re going to have to pay a little.

14) Meaningful tax reform just isn’t going anywhere in today’s Congress.

15) Investing in energy efficiency really pays off.  We should do more of it.

16) John Judis on the Republicans’ emerging advantage with white, middle class voters.  Well worth reading, here’s the conclusion:

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

Mega quick hits (part II)

1) Largest ethnic group in America (by country of national origin)?  Germans.  Hey, that’s me.

2) TSA jails innocent man for misunderstanding over Power Bars.

3) Love this video with the human behind Humans of New York.

4) Oh, how I loved this Slate piece on the Beanie Baby bubble of the 1990’s.  I’ll never forget my stepmother going crazy buying Princess Diana beanies, convinced of their future worth (you can pick one up for $5 on ebay).

5) The authors’ five bad habits he kicked in Finland (I’m not sure they are all bad).  Need Mika to weigh in on these.

6) Enjoyed Chait’s response to all the haters on his PC article.  Amazing (and pathetic) how many simply accused him of being an upset white man (and clearly didn’t read the article).

7) Nice EJ Dionne on the wrongness of Paul Ryan’s “envy economics.”

We should just admit it: Government inevitably redistributes all the time. Won’t bigger defense budgets help large defense companies? At a time of rising inequality, we need to pay closer attention to whether this ongoing government redistribution aggravates the problem or instead tries to make life better for those at the wrong end of economic change.

8) Linda Greenhouse on how overturning Obamacare via King v. Burwell would fundamentally change the nature of the Supreme Court (given the amazingly weak case of the plantiff, I fully agree).

9) Lawmakers in Kansas want to ban professors at state universities from using their titles in newspaper columns.

10) My favorite takedown of the right-wing idiocy that Obama had the temerity to mention that Christians have been known to do horrible things in the name of religion.   And TNC with a great takedown, too (of course).

11) Paid sick leave does not actually hurt business.  So say businesses.

12) Meanwhile, Yglesias with a nice argument on why paid parental leave is too important to be left up to employers (and, of course, the same thing could be said of health care).

13) How had I never heard before of this experimental protocol that is supposed to make you fall in love.  Maybe I should try it with my wife (are you reading, Kimberly?)

14) This article strikes me as far too simplistic, but there sure does seem to be something going on with the gut-brain connection in people with autism.

15) Why are so many Americans in prison?  It’s not drugs, not tougher sentencing laws, but the behavior of prosecutors says provocative new scholarship.

16) Two articles on phages in one weekend! (This one is better– I just discovered it).  This part is mind-blowing:

The book is full of astonishing phage statistics. There are, for example, an estimated 1031—ten million trillion trillion—phages on Earth, more than every other organism, including bacteria, put together. [emphasis mine] The average teaspoon of seawater contains five times as many phages as there are people in Rio de Janeiro. According to researchers in Vancouver, these tiny viruses cause a collective trillion trillion successful infections per second, in the process destroying up to forty per cent of all bacterial cells in the ocean every single day. Following their deaths at the hands of phages, those carbon-containing microorganisms sink down into the marine sediment, effectively removing greenhouse gases from circulation.

17) Really liked Jon Cohn’s (now at HuffPo) piece on Obama’s child care agenda.

18) The way to get parents to use vaccines?  Don’t give them a choice.  Nice interview with Brendan Nyhan:

BN: Studies have found that providers who use presumptive language, saying, ‘It’s time for some shots,’ are much more likely to have successful vaccine compliance than providers who use participatory language like, ‘What do you think about shots?’ It’s of course important to respect patient autonomy but I think, at the same time, the language providers use gives patients a cue about the strength of the medical evidence.

If you roll into the emergency room on a stretcher with a gun shot wound, no one says, ‘How do you feel about getting bullets out of you?’ They say, ‘We need to get this out of you now.’ There is a move in medicine toward participatory approaches in contexts in which the benefits are less clear. But this is an area where the science is very clear and the language we use should reflect that.

19) The fact that North Carolina cannot find a way to outlaw puppy mills (and that the American Kennel Club is fighting against outlawing them) is truly deplorable.

20) Great NYT editorial on Scott Walker’s deplorable attack on the University of Wisconsin system.




Mega quick hits (part II)

1) I would say I simply trust in David Simon on his new show, but Treme was just so boring.  But a really interesting profile of Simon and what he’s been up to.

2) Vox provides a useful perspective on the ridiculous Michelle Obama headscarf flap

  1. American officials in Saudi Arabia typically do not wear headscarves, including at formal government functions. Michelle was following normal protocol.
  2. Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton did not wear headscarves on similar official visits to Saudi Arabia. Neither did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

3) This advice from a “supervillian” is actually pretty awesome.

4) I so loved “Boyhood.”  Seeing all the actors age– especially child actors– was awesome.

5) Unvaccinated kids should be barred from school without a very compelling reason– should not take a child with leukemia to sue to make it happen.

6) With the latest death penalty protocol going before the Supreme Court, enjoyed this Op-Ed:

Last summer, Alex Kozinski, a federal appellate judge in California and a supporter of the death penalty, called out this charade for what it is.

Lethal injections, he wrote, are “a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful.” But executions “are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

7) Want to be in the Yelp top 100 restaurants?  Be in a place with great weather and provide good value.

8) 2014 set a record for exonerations.   The good– yeah, innocent people actually getting their freedom.  The bad– clearly, we’ve got a lot of innocent people locked up.

9) The improvement in NFL placekickers over time really is pretty amazing.

10) Police departments sure like to shoot mentally ill people with knives.  How about one guy with a knife surrounded by dozens of officers and yards of space between– but still gets shot.  Ugh.

11) Europe certainly does a lot of stuff better than us, but you can make a pretty good case that it really goes too far in hampering business.

12) Apparently men are ugly and women are not.  At least among OKCupid users.

13) Interested in a high-resolution audio player for $400 that the average listener’s ears cannot distinguish from an Iphone?

14) Somebody needs to tell Scott Walker that professors work a lot (and Full Professors work the most!)

15) Physicians are now raking in the dollars for stent procedures to unclog blood vessels in limbs.  Of course, there’s little evidence this is actually any more effective than far more inexpensive treatment options.

16) The economic benefits of paid parental leave.

17) Really enjoyed Adam Gopnik’s take on the very different conceptualizations of free speech in America and Europe.

Mega quick hits (part I)

1) Fascinating NYT Magazine piece on kids with Prader-Willi syndrome.  It basically turns off your brains ability to feel stated from food.  The sufferers perceive as if they are always starving.

2) Lawrence Krauss says, no, astrobiology has not made the case for God (I did not realize people were arguing that it has– but they are wrong).

3) Stop playing too long, boring games with your kids and play these instead, says 538.  I’m going to order Pocket Hive and glad to see our family favorite, Carcassonne, made the list of top games.

4) Really nice Op-Ed from Zephyr Teachout on big money corruption in US politics:

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

5) Maybe putting it a little strongly, but I really liked this piece entitled, “If you don’t understand poverty, you’re a sociopath.”

6) The Vatican has stopped releasing doves because they have been getting killed by other birds upon release.

7) The A-10 is an awesomely effective plane and super-affordable to use compared to others.  But it’s old technology and the Air Force wants to replace it with the astronomically more expensive F-35.

8) The social pressure people place on their peers to drink is so absurd.  Here John Ore shares all the strategies he uses to deal with this when he takes January off from drinking.  People just shouldn’t care so much whether their friends are drinking or not.  But they do.  As a mostly non-drinker– simply don’t like the taste of most alcohol and I really don’t need a drug for a social lubricant– this drives me crazy.

9) Five useful pieces of advice for raising nicer kids.  Definitely need to use this more on at least one of my progeny.

10) “Giant snow penis demolished at Texas Tech.”  The headline says it all– though there’s a nice video at the link.

11) I keep reading articles on why I should turn down my heat.  Sorry, hate being cold.  Actually much prefer being hot.  I suffered through graduate school freezing through the winters to save money, but have since rewarded my professor self with not freezing through the winter (much easier in NC than OH, too).

12) A universal flu vaccine may be coming down the pipe in a few years.  That would be awesome.

13) This profile of a Boston marathon bombing survivor trying to decide whether to amputate her one remaining (and very painful) leg or not was a tremendous read.  Long, but totally worth it.

14) Did cutting unemployment benefits lead to more people getting jobs.  Some economists think so.

15) I did not realize that there was such a controversy raging over “American Sniper” until quite recently.  I gotta say, this piece hoisting Chris Kyle by the petard of his own words, makes a good case.

16) Haven’t been hearing much about Russia lately, but it’s economy is in big, big trouble.

17) Some research shows that registering young people to vote before they turn 18 is actually a really effective way to increase turnout among 18-year olds.  Naturally, NC Republicans did away with our law that used to do just this.

18) Enjoyed this “medical mystery” account.  Kind of amazing the ultimate source of this retired nurse’s very serious medical problems.  (Sorry, not going to give it away– quite an interesting surprise).

19) The moment when the purpose of college went to simply getting a job– we have Ronald Reagan to thank.

20) For the moment, this oh-so-disturbing New Yorker article on how the Albuquerque PD just love to shoot people and get away with it is ungated.  Read it while you can.

Breaking Bad shows we’re getting smarter

Loved this bit from a recent Ezra Klein interview with Bill Gates:

Ezra Klein: Before we go on to disease, I want to ask you about something implicit in the vision you just laid out. You talked about how a lot of these products are of incredible, incredible utility to the motivated. Kevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, has a line I’ve always thought was interesting, which is that the internet makes dumb people dumber, and smart people smarter. Do you worry about the possibility that the vast resources the internet gives the motivated, including online education, will give rise to a big increase in, for lack of a better term, cognitive or knowledge inequality that leads to further rises in global inequality?

Bill Gates: Well, you always have the challenge that when you create a tool to make activity X easier, like the internet makes it easier to find out facts or to learn new things, that there are some outliers who use that thing extremely well. It’s way easier to be polymathic today than it was in the past because your access to materials and your ability if you ever get stuck to find people that you can engage with is so strong.

But to say that there’s actually some negative side, that there actually will be people that are dumber, I disagree with that. I mean, I’m as upset as anyone at the wrong stuff about vaccination that’s out there on the internet that actually confuses some small number of people. There’s a communications challenge to get past.

But look at IQ test capability over time. Or even take a TV show today and how complex it is — that’s responding to the marketplace. You take Breaking Bad versus, I don’t know, Leave it to Beaver, or Combat!, or The Wild, Wild West. You know, yeah, take Combat! because that was sort of pushing the edge of should kids be allowed to watch it.  [emphasis mine]

Now there’s an interesting research hypothesis– the complexity of popular television as a metric of a society’s intellect.  I do love his reference to the Flynn effect.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Holy unintended consequences, Batman.  How Africans are using free malaria-preventing mosquito nets to fish and destroying fish populations and ecosystems.

2) Olga Khazan’s take on the idea of sorority parties instead of fraternity parties.  Liked this part:

Under the current regime, he said, women have to perform a certain slutty femininity in order to please frat brothers and gain entry into their houses.

“So if you dress like they want you to, drink like they want you to, dance like they want you to, then you’ll get in [to the frat house]; you’re a babe,” Kimmel said. “If you don’t do that, you’re a bitch, you won’t get in.”

What he proposed, instead, is for sororities to be the gatekeepers to the keggers.

3) Of course many secular people are just as, if not more, moral than religious people.

When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

4) The only recent elections that mattered were 2010 and 2014.  If you are a Republican.

5) Volkswagen cannot sell a $70,000 luxury car in America because Americans simply won’t buy a car that expensive– no matter how good a car– with “Volkswagen” on it.  Europeans are not so silly.

6) A new Pennsylvania law bars convicted felons from discussing their crimes if it might cause “mental anguish” to the victim.  This is so nuts.  This better be struck down by a judge with extreme prejudice.

7) Jon Stewarts‘ takedown of Mike Huckabee’s culture war hypocrisy is awesome.

8) I love The Great Gatsby.  Baz Luhrman’s take (which I just finished watching) left me somewhat annoyed.  So loved this quote in Richard Corliss’ review.

 The camera of cinematographer Simon Duggan seems to think it can’t simply capture an image; it must wrestle it unconscious to the ground. It views a character from a ceiling perch or rushes breathlessly up to his face.

9) I’m so done with people who don’t vaccinate their kids.  It’s not about you!  It would be one thing if it only meant there own kids getting sick, but do the importance of herd immunity, it has much wider repercussions.  I’m just glad I’m not living in one of these crazy anti-vaccine clusters like they have in California.

10) It’s rarely successful in the short-term to replace an NFL head coach.  Of course, every team is convinced that their new hire will be the next Bill Belichick.

11) Nice NYT piece on all the wrongness in the Tamir Rice shooting.

12) Thanks to the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission, Joseph Sledge is a free man 36 years after his murder conviction.  Looking forward to having his lawyer, Christine Mumma, as a guest speaker in my Criminal Justice Policy class later this semester.

13) Ezra Klein sure had fun writing what Obama would have really said in the SOTU had he been honest.

14) We ask jurors if they think they can be free of bias and go by their answers.  Of course, anybody who knows anything about social psychology knows that’s nuts.

15) You know how that being bilingual is supposed to be so great for your brain thing?  Way oversold (except for the very strong evidence on postponing onset of dementia).  Why?  The results that favor bilingualism get published, those that call this into question do not.

16) Almost every Republican Senator voted on a resolution that humans do not cause climate change.  Brad Plumer’s got the right take– the Senate is a hoax.

17) The poorer you get, the less good a place America is to live– in chart form:



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