Quick hits

1) Lee Drutman reviews Rick Hasen’s new book on campaign finance.  Good stuff (both the review and the book).  Really, it’s a great essay on how we should think about campaign finance in terms of equality instead of corruption.

2) Latest research to show that Voter ID laws disproportionately affect minorities.

3) On how South Dakota’s mandatory abstinence program (from alcohol, not sex) had a positive impact.  The secret?  Actually following the most basic criminology.  Rather than focusing on severity, punishments are swift and certain, but not harsh.

4) Jedediah Purdy pushes back on people the likes of Krugman and me (because, of course Krugman and I go together) dissing on poor Bernie.

5) Good piece on the long struggle against lead poisoning.

6) With all the campaign drama it is easy to overlook that the Republican campaign has taken a disgusting pro-torture pose (thanks to Trump, of course).

7) How fundraising turns Congress into a part-time legislature:

This presidential race has featured a lot of conversation about the effects of money on politics, with both a billionaire and a socialist claiming that donations induce politicians to change their views. The vast social science literature on this topic is inconclusive (so far), but two conclusions are warranted:

  • If legislators spend most of lives in a bubble of fellow politicians, staff, and donors, they will probably become less familiar with the problems and preferences of most of their constituents. This can help explain why legislators are much more responsive towealthy constituents and organized interests.
  • Fundraising crowds out time for legislators to do the hard work of legislating: drafting proposals and reaching compromise with other legislators. Sure, many legislators seem averse to “compromise” anyway, but they may be more willing to try if they saw legislating as a full-time job with measurable results, the way they now view their FEC filings.

8) Vox’s Timothy Lee says everyone is under-estimating Ted Cruz.  He didn’t ask me; I’m not.

9) The Senate may be getting rid of the most essential part of criminal justice reform in it’s bill:

If true, the Politico report would essentially mean that the Senate is axing the best, most promising part of its bill.

You simply can’t fix mass incarceration in America if you’re unwilling to shorten the prison sentences of anyone who could be considered a “violent” criminal. That’s especially true in state prisons, where the vast majority of US prisoners are held and where half of them are serving sentences for violent crimes.

When politicians talk about criminal justice reform, they tend to leave out this inconvenient fact. They prefer to talk about “nonviolent drug offenders” — even when they’re talking about state prisoners. [emphasis mine]

The original Senate bill went beyond this. It didn’t do anything too risky — the laws it proposed to change around firearms and “career criminals” are so bad that federal judges routinely complain about them.

But on an issue where states have usually led and the federal government has followed, the original Senate bill could have made a statement that states needed to dig deeper and reform sentencing for “violent offenders.” Instead, it’s sending the message that helping violent offenders is politically radioactive.

10) Hooray, the FBI finally arrested Cliven Bundy.  David Graham on the FBI’s patience.

11) On the scientists who defend toxic chemicals for a paycheck.

12) Hillary Clinton would probably be doing better among younger voters if more of them had reproduced and had daughters.  Seriously.  Data.

13) How your neanderthal DNA may be affecting your tendency towards certain illnesses.

14) Mark Schmitt asks if big programs liberalism is over.

15) Krugman on the Groundhog Day-ness of the Republican Party:

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 millionprivate-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

16) Among the more important social science of parenting things I learned is that your kids lie to you all the time.  This is a look from a teacher’s perspective.  I was disappointed last year when I found out one of my kids had been lying to me about not doing homework, but now the research on how incredibly prevalent this type of behavior is really helped me keep it in perspective.

17) I got in an absurdly long FB argument with a friend and reader of this blog who implicitly argued that this video means Hillary is no better than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.  Drum puts the video in proper perspective.

18) Of course animals have empathy, damn it.  Strikes me as hubris to think otherwise.  Vox on the debate over animal emotions:

De Waal thinks it’s wrongheaded for some scientists to dismiss observations of empathy in animals. After all, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If human empathy is so robust and adaptive, it must have evolved from more primitive forms.

“It is hard to imagine that empathy — a characteristic so basic to the human species — came into existence only when our lineage split off from that of the apes,” says de Waal. “It must be far older than that.”

19) Terrific goal.  Absolutely amazing first touch.  And shared far less than deserved, I expect, because it’s a woman.

20) Whenever friends see my computer with Chrome open, they are astounded by all my open browser tabs (they won’t get it if I just say, “they’re all for quick hits… some day!”).  How David Roberts handles the browser tab issue.

21) How to change someone’s mind according to science.  Short version: Numbers, longer arguments, high-quality examples, other stuff.

22) Enjoyed this David Roberts‘ piece on how to think about Clinton versus Sanders and the meaning of ideology.

23) Finally decided to close this open tab and add to quick hits– Tom Edsall’s take on the political science research on how Democrats and Republicans are increasingly negative towards each other.

What happens when we put businessmen in charge of universities

In case you had not heard the details from Mount Saint Mary’s:

The president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland on Monday fired two faculty members without any faculty review of his action or advance notice. One was a tenured professor who had recently criticized some of the president’s policies. The other was the adviser to the student newspaper that revealed the president recently told faculty members concerned about his retention plans that they needed to change the way they view struggling students. “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads,” the president said… [emphases mine]

Monday’s firings follow the dismissal on Friday of Provost David Rehm, who also raised questions about President Simon Newman’s retention plans. (Rehm held on to his faculty position.)

Newman’s letter firing the tenured professor — Thane M. Naberhaus of the philosophy department — accused him of disloyalty…

Mount St. Mary’s is a small Roman Catholic university, with a strong emphasis on a rigorous and traditional liberal arts education.

Much of the debate follows the appointment of Newman as president last year. His prior career was not in higher education but in private equity and business. His biographysays he founded or co-founded four businesses and worked at various times for Bain & Co., JP Capital Partners and Cornerstone Management Group.

Why “drown the bunnies.”  Rankings.  That’s it.  Bill Ayers:

Talking about students as bunnies to be drowned is no way to win faculty favor either. Behind the unfortunate choice of words was an apparently concrete goal the president had established, which was to have 20-25 freshmen leave the college before Sept. 25. After that point, they would have to be reported as “dropouts” and would count in the retention data. Before that, they would disappear off the books.

Now, this is a terrible thing – admitting students and then, within the first few weeks of the semester, trying to get some of them to leave. The president and the Board, which is apparently backing him, have been roundly criticized for such a plan. What I haven’t seen, however, is anyone asking why? Why would any college want to do such a thing?

There’s the key, right in the middle of the paragraph. All of this – the unfortunate metaphor of “drowning bunnies”, the angst and drama about a student survey and various strategies for freshmen retention, the subsequent firing of a provost and two faculty members – all of it is in the service of propping up Mount St. Mary’s position on a US News list.

Okay, just maybe a faculty member who had become president would have acted like this (or like the tone-deaf president at University of Missouri), but I highly doubt it.  Firing a tenured professor for “disloyalty?”  WTF!  Certainly, there’s many skills and experiences from the business world that are useful in leading a university, but there’s many that are not.  A college is not a hedge fund.  Time to stop putting the type of people who see struggling students as drowning bunnies to be shot in charge of higher education.

Quick hits (part II)

1) In Madison, Wisconsin they actually invested in replacing in lead pipes before they caused any trouble.  Alas, most cities are not willing to make the investment until it’s too late.

2) Terrific interview with a food safety expert.  I especially resent the way in which public health is held hostage to interest group politics in this area:

If salmonella is so problematic, why hasn’t the government protected consumers from it? 

There’s a case that goes back to the 1970s, American Health Association (AHA) vs. Earl Butz, who was the secretary of agriculture under President Nixon. The AHA didn’t even know about E. coli 0157, the kind that gets people really sick, back then. They were focused on salmonella, and they wanted to put a label on it that said ‘hey consumer, you need to cook this,’ and the meat industry went nuts, they said no way we’re not going to do this. So the AHA sued the government because they thought it was necessary, and the government sided with the industry, and in essence said it was a naturally occurring bacterium on meat, which is untrue, and housewives—this is actually in the case, I swear—know how to cook it, what to do to make this food safe. That mentality is just below the surface in the meat industry, whether it’s the beef, chicken, or any other facet. That sort of mentality that there’s really nothing we can do about it, and it’s really the consumer that is at fault if anybody gets sick, it’s their problem. This is exactly the argument that the industry waged in 1994, with E. coli, but there the government changed its tone because there were 700 people who got sick and 4 children who died, and it was kind of hard to ignore that.

3) On the “ag gag” law in North Carolina.  Damn it, business should be free to do any sort of horrible thing they want without fear that somebody might surreptitiously record them doing so and thereby possibly face accountability.  Thanks to NC Republicans for standing up for important values.

4) You don’t need me to tell you how amazingly unserious Republican presidential candidates are on foreign policy.  But Fred Kaplan will.

5) Just some social science showing that men are (not surprisingly) absurdly over-confident, as compared to women.

6) Howard Dean and Iowa will remain one of my favorite anecdotes to explain the role of expectations and media coverage for years to come.  So many people just don’t get what happened.  Nate Silver and friends do.  Good stuff.

7) Republicans seem to think high-deductible health plans are cure-alls for health care costs.  Evidence strongly suggests otherwise (when has that ever affected Republican legislators?).  That said, we can be much smarter about how we use deductibles.  Nice piece in the Upshot:

Some health economists say the solution to the problem may be smarter but more complicated forms of health insurance that provide patients with important care free, but charge them for treatments with fewer proven benefits. Mr. Chernew, for one, argues that ordinary deductibles are too “blunt” an instrument, but smarter insurance plans could harness economic incentives to reduce wasteful health spending without discouraging needed care. If such plans held down costs as well as deductibles, they could keep insurance affordable without as many risks. The theory behind such plans is compelling, but given how bad people are at shopping for health care, more empirical evidence is needed to know how well it works in practice.

8) What were the people at Simon Fraser University in Canada thinking when they thought this video was remotely appropriate?

9) Digging into the Iowa polls suggests trouble ahead for Ted Cruz.

10) Nice Op-Ed about the current government in NC and among other things, their disdain for public education.  And and N&O Editorial on our “teacher shortage by design.”

 

11) Interesting essay on how we shouldn’t judge people with “tramp stamps” and how we definitely shouldn’t call them that.  Am I a bad person if I’m not convinced?  Anyway, this statistics was really suprising:

For the first time in decades, women are more likely to have tattoos than men. In 2013,47 percent of women under 35 reported having a tattoo, compared with only 25 percent of men. And this rising demographic isn’t solely due to the trendiness of tattoo culture.

12) Lee Drutman reviews Rick Hasen’s new book on campaign finance and suggests we really need to move away from “corruption” and re-think about how we conceptualize the problem.

13) On how Hillary Clinton actually properly used social science in her get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa (unlike Ted Cruz).

14) This summary of evidence on learning says highlighting and re-reading is a waste of time.  I’m very familiar with the evidence that says testing yourself is the best way to study (and I emphasize this to my students), but I cannot imagine pulling off the grades I did without marking (in the margins, actual highlights take way too long) and re-reading key passages in texts.

15) Vox interviewed some political scientists on the electability of Cruz and Trump.  Masket says Cruz is more electable than Trump, and I’m with him:

Masket said he recognized that Trump is more moderate on some issues than Cruz. But while Cruz may have more extreme policy positions, he is the better candidate, because Trump could really drive away Republican elites and voters.

Masket pointed to several issues in particular on which this group regards Trump as fundamentally unreliable: the social safety net, the military, abortion, and taxes.

“A large number of more ‘establishment’ Republican elites may bolt the party and support a third party candidate should Trump win a majority of delegates. Even if that doesn’t happen, a sizable number of Republicans might simply not vote,” Masket said in an email.

He didn’t argue that Cruz is a great general election candidate. But since Cruz has proven consistently conservative, he would at least be able to unite the Republican Party and ensure that its voters go to the ballot box.

“[Cruz] is basically in line with the party on most of its key issues,” Masket said. “Nominating him could put them at a slight disadvantage due to his extremism, but there’s little chance of him actually splitting the party.”

I sure would love for it to be either of them, though, because no doubt they would fare worse than Rubio (or anybody else from the “establishment” lane).

16) This Vox article on potential mosquito eradication frames it as bad news that the best estimates suggesting we could have the biotechnology for widespread mosquito eradication in 3-5 years.  WTF?  That kind of technology within even 10 years would be unbelievable awesome and save so many lives.

17) Beautiful example of motivated reasoning in action.  Somehow, most all Democrats are better off than 8 years ago today and most Republicans are worse off.  I actually am better off.  Or maybe I’m only imagining it because I’m a Democrat.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The State Superintendent of Public Instruction in NC suggested that NC teachers get a 10% pay raise, which would still not even bring us up to the national average.  NC Republicans, of course, think this idea entirely untenable.

2) Can we start expecting kids to get kicked out of school based on their DNA?  Maybe.  Here’s one case.

 

3) Great look at the http://www.vox.com/2016/2/5/10918164/donald-trump-morality of the presidential candidates.  Some of what you would expect; some you wouldn’t.

4) An Iowa voter confronts Cruz with the reality of taking Obamacare away.

5) Why are American colleges obsessed with leadership?  Good question.  We can’t all be leaders.

6) Great Chronicle of Higher Ed interview with the Virginia Tech professor behind the Flint/lead story:

Q. Do you have any sense that perverse incentive structures prevented scientists from exposing the problem in Flint sooner?

A. Yes, I do. In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.

If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.

7) This history of Japan video is almost too awesome to be believed.  Seriously, trust me on this.

8) Is Dodd-Frank perfect?  No.  Is it actually working?  Yes, says Drum (and the data).  A more elaborate post on the same topic from Wonkblog (nicely titled “What Republicans and Bernie Sanders get wrong about Wall Street.”)

9) NFL stadiums are such a rip-off to their communities.  Let the damn owners pay for them.  St Louis will still be saddled with debt for a stadium that now becomes a white elephant.

10) Very nice piece on all that’s wrong with the college admissions process.  I don’t plan on encouraging my own kids to apply for anything more elite than our fine NC universities in part because the process has become so nuts.

11) Loved this Dylan Matthews case against NH and Iowa always being first.  Especially this Part

Iowa and New Hampshire have plenty of defenders. Their arguments are all bad. The most serious attempt to defend Iowa’s place in the system is the 2010 book Why Iowa?by political scientists David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan. They argue that the caucus system creates more informed (albeit fewer) voters, and that the sequential primary system lets candidates be heard and informs voters in later primaries.

They put together a good argument, but it’s not an argument for Iowa. It’s an argument for sequential voting. Indeed, the authors conclude with a proposal for a “caucus window,”in which any number of states could hold caucuses, followed by a national primary.

“We suggest that the national parties could opt for a process in which any number of states could hold caucuses on the first voting day of the sequence,” they write. “Another alternative would have the parties retaining a sequence in which Iowa, or some other relatively small state, is granted first-in-the-nation priority.”

At most, the virtues of caucuses and sequential primaries argue for having one small state go first. But they don’t argue for that state being Iowa or New Hampshire.

12) Lessons from Flint about how we make weather and climate (and much environmental) policy.

13) What happens to your brain when you get stoned every day for five years?  It’s not great, but not as bad as you might think.

14) Loved this Onion headline, “Middle-Aged Man In Gym Locker Room Puts Shirt On Before Underwear.”  Used to see a guy like this at the OSU gym all the time and it bugged the hell out of me.

15) The real reason I’m supporting Hillary– her campaign spends the most on pizza.

16) Ezra Klein with a good take on Thursday’s debate:

And where Clinton’s experience gives her deep knowledge of virtually every facet of American policymaking, Sanders’s career has let him focus on the issues he cares about, and left him poorly informed on international affairs.

Which is all to say that Clinton has the benefits and drawbacks of an insider, and Sanders has the benefits and drawbacks of an outsider. Her view of the political system is realistic, her knowledge of the issues is deep, and her social ties are strong. All these qualities would likely make her an effective president. But they also mean she’s captured by the political system, and that she is implicated in virtually everything Americans hate about it.

Sanders’s view of the political system is idealistic, his ideas are unbounded by pragmatic concerns and interest group objections, and his calls for political revolution are thrilling. All these qualities make him an inspiring candidate. But they also mean he’ll be perceived as an enemy by the very system he intends to lead, and that his promises of sweeping change might collapse into total disappointment.

17) We’ve reached the point where conservatives have deluded themselves into believing there’s actually more racism against white people than Black people.  And I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

18) The government changed the font on highways signs to make them more readable.  Apparently, in real world conditions they actually were not so the font is changing back.

19) Drug shortages are leading to some real rationing and some real hard decisions.

Chart of the day

Interesting recent Wonkblog post on how the gap in school performance between boys and girls (girls outperforming boys K-12 has been a widely documented phenomenon) shrinks dramatically as the quality of the school improves:

It’s obvious from this chart that test scores are higher at the better-ranked schools. That’s why the dots slope upward to the right. The better the school, the higher the test scores.

What’s striking is the difference between the test scores of boys and girls, and how it widens at lower-quality schools. At the best schools in Florida, boys and girls are on equal footing. At the worst schools in Florida, the boys fall behind the girls…

To prove that the school environment itself has been causing boys to fall behind, the economists compared brothers and sisters who went to the same school. Siblings are more similar than strangers, since they usually grow up in the same household, were exposed to the same things, and had access to the same resources.

Furthermore, since their previous research has shown that boys are more sensitive than girls to family disadvantages, the economists also controlled for that fact in their statistical tests. They accounted for how poverty, low mother’s education, bad neighborhood quality, and a slew of other factors widen the gender gap. They also examined families that moved school districts to see how the same children fared at different schools.

After stripping away all the alternative explanations, the economists found that the schools themselves do deserve some of the blame for causing boys to suffer academically compared to girls. There’s something about the way that class is conducted at Florida’s worst schools that disadvantages boys. It may have to do with how students are disciplined, or the way that lessons are taught… [emphasis mine]

It’s unlucky enough to be born to a poor family, to grow up in a poor neighborhood and attend bad schools. As recent research shows, it’s doubly unlucky to be a boy facing those circumstances.

Fascinating.  What to do about this?  Unclear.  But recognizing that this is part of the problem is a good start.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Amanda Taub has come to the same conclusion as me… Trump is using “political correctness” as an excuse for just being a jerk.

2) When you consider how common wisdom teeth extraction is, it almost has to be an overused medical procedure (I had mine out when I was 23 and it took me out of commission for the better part of a week).  What I really want to know is what are the outcomes in poor countries where people are not routinely having these teeth removed (though, surely there’s a lot of confounds with that).  Still, I cannot believe this many Americans have been this poorly served by evolution.

3) Loved this column on how the lead in Flint problem is a direct result of “small government” ideology.

4) Really interesting summary of a new book that focuses on American slavery as a slave breeding industry.

5) Michael Tesler on what a new poll shows about the populist appeal of Trump.

6) NPR story on the new research finding systematic bias against women in teaching evaluations.  I don’t doubt this is a genuine problem we should think about, but I’m still waiting for professors who get good evaluations to say they are worthless and professors with poor evaluations to admit maybe there is some value to them:

“That the situation is Really Complicated,” Philip Stark writes in an email to NPR Ed, and, he adds, it won’t be easy to correct for it. In fact, the authors titled their paper “Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness.”

These results seem pretty damning, but not everyone is convinced.

Michael Grant is the vice provost and associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He says there’s a lot of research supporting the effectiveness and usefulness of student evaluations.

“There are multiple, well-designed, thoughtfully conducted studies that clearly contradict this very weakly designed study,” he says, citing this study from 2000 andthis study conducted at his own university. His personal review of student ratings from one department at CU Boulder over nine years did find a bias in favor of men, he says, but it was very small — averaging 0.13 on a 6-point scale.

7) Teller of Penn & Teller was a high school Latin teacher before becoming a famous magician.  His take on how teaching is like performing magic.

8) Some common-sense recommendations for being more humane with how we wean cows.  Good for the cows; good for the farmers; good for the conscience of conflicted meat-eaters.  We really should do far more to ensure that our meat food supply is generated in a humane manner.

9) Really interesting piece on the evolution of single-sex bathrooms:

Today’s most-prominent arguments against inclusive restrooms are remarkably consistent with the Victorian notions that led to sex-segregated bathrooms in the first place. When the ideology of separate spheres for male and female, public and private, the market and the home reigned, the growth of women’s presence in public life led to the desire to protect women from the crude dangers of the male world. Among the legal effects was the 1873 Supreme Court holding in Bradwell v. Illinois that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny women admission to the bar on the basis of their sex, with a famous concurring opinion that stated, “Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” The same separate-spheres paternalism led to the designation of certain physical spaces for women apart from those for men, including bathrooms in public venues. These were safe spaces, if you will, tucked in a world in which women were vulnerable. As our society is currently experiencing a resurgence of paternalist concern about women’s sexual vulnerability—especially in the context of that great equalizer, education—it is no surprise that there would also be a new emphasis on the Victorian phenomenon of separate restrooms.

10) Great story on the Virginia Tech professor who was crucial to uncovering the Flint water problems.

11) I’m planning on reading Neurotribes and I expect to learn a lot from it.  That said, based on articles about the book and interviews with the author, the book seems to very much elide how substantially and severely very many people and families are affected by autism.

12) Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on foreign policy of Republican presidential aspirants:

Robert Gates , a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday . “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.” [emphasis mine]

13) Can’t say I’m all that surprised to learn that exercise far surpasses all other treatments in effectively reducing back pain.

14) Loved this John McWhorter piece on how it is not at all simple to separate a language from a dialect.  I had no idea.  It’s been sitting in an open tab deserving it’s own post for too long:

I have a Swedish pal I see at conferences in Denmark. When we’re out and about there, he is at no linguistic disadvantage. He casually orders food and asks directions in Swedish despite the fact that we are in a different country from his own, where supposedly a different “language”—Danish—is spoken. In fact, I’ve watched speakers of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian conversing with each other, each in their own native tongues, as a cozy little trio over drinks. A Dane who moves to Sweden does not take Swedish lessons; she adjusts to a variation upon, and not an alternate to, her native speech. The speakers of these varieties of Scandinavian consider them distinct languages because they are spoken in distinct nations, and so be it. However, there is nothing about Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian in themselves that classifies them as “languages;” especially on the page, they resemble each other closely enough to look more like dialects of one “language.”

15) Nice Pew summary with cool charts of demographic trends affecting politics.

16) Good piece on how Trump represents a disappearing America from Heather Digby Parton.

17) I want my genetically-modified mosquitoes!  A great way to fight mosquito-borne disease, but facing great resistance from un-trusting populations.  Yes, there’s uncertainties and things could go wrong.  If I lived in an area where people were regularly facing death and debilitation from tropical disease, I’d take the chance.

18) Just finished re-reading Animal Farm for the first time in about 30 years.  What an absolutely delightful and brilliant book.  My only complaint is that it was too short– I didn’t want it to end.

19) Nice Wonkblog summary on what scientific research can tell us about marijuana.  Short version: not a lot to worry about.  There is a reasonable debate to be had about legalizing drugs such as heroin and cocaine (and I’m increasingly of the legalize everything perspective), but with marijuana, it’s hardly even a reasonable debate anymore.  In a country where alcohol is legal, it is preposterous that marijuana is not. Also, the Wonkblog post on the research suggesting that marijuana does not, after all, affect IQ from teenage use (not that I’ll be giving it to my own teenagers any time soon).

20)And your Sunday long-read– terrific piece from John Judis on Trump, Sanders, and the meaning of populism in America.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff.  Let’s go!

1) A friend with a nice piece on the true story behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

2) Bill Ayers on America’s fear problem:

I make this point because the gap between the macro-level facts and our fears is enormous and seems to be growing larger. Contrast this to past periods in history when people were legitimately frightened of important things. In the early 1800s, for example, there was a worldwide epidemic of crop failures and famines (caused, as it turns out, by amassive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific that was barely noticed at the time). Thousands died of starvation, millions became refugees, and the political and cultural landscape of much of the world was rewritten. In Europe, authoritarianism made a comeback against the early revolutionary gains of the Enlightenment as people decided that freedom could be sacrificed for food and safety.

Compare that world to our time – and then to the rhetoric we hear every day. Donald Trump and Daesh do share something in common – they have found ways to elevate people’s fears, to paint a picture of a world gone not just wrong but horribly wrong, so wrong that radical and formerly unthinkable action must be taken. These dystopian views are so far removed from reality that those of us who don’t share them are left shaking our heads at the insanity of it all.

3) Vox on how America’s lead problem is far more than Flint.

4) Why are humans the only animals with chins?  (Who knew?!)  Good question.

5) On Rubio’s blinders when it comes to Cuba policy.

6) Texas 8th grader suspended for helping classmate during a serious asthma attack.  The people who did the suspending and the teacher who wanted to wait for the school nurse to answer an email should be out of jobs.

7) I’ve probably linked this before, but I was reminded of it in a conversation with a student the other day.  I first came across it in an article proclaiming it the best TV ad ever.  It sure is damn good.

8) Nice Molly Ball piece on why so many in the Republican Party loathe Ted Cruz:

But a Republican policy expert close to a number of top GOP operatives and donors insisted it’s not about Cruz’s style or his positions. It’s his disingenuousness—and inability to produce results. “He knows his tactics are bound to fail, but pursues them to debase his Republican colleagues under false pretenses and endear himself to the base as the only authentic conservative,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he runs an organization that does not endorse candidates. But the effort doesn’t result in smaller government or the end of Obamacare—all it achieves is drawing attention to Cruz. “He is incapable of delivering anything but theater,” the expert added.

9) A Pennsylvania judge was sentencing teenagers to jail in a money-making scheme.  Seriously.  Now that he’s been caught, that judge should never leave prison again.  I’d let out several drug dealers to make room for him.

10) How Jimmy Carter made the Iowa Caucuses what they are today.

11) If only we could regulate guns for safety like we regulate cars for safety.  The absolute worst part is that when people try to make safe guns, they are little ostracized by the gun nuts.

 

Sixteen years ago, after Bill Clinton’s administration announced a partnershipwith gunmaker Smith & Wesson to improve firearm safety, the National Rifle Association led a boycott of the company. Smith & Wesson had agreed to a number of safety requirements, including making trigger-locks standard and adding a hidden set of serial numbers to new handguns to make it harder for anyone to scratch off identifying marks. Other gun manufacturers blasted the company as a sellout. (Part of why Smith & Wesson agreed to the deal in the first place was because the federal government agreed to drop a number of lawsuits against the company in exchange for its cooperation. This was, of course, before Congress agreed to give all gunmakers protection from various litigation.)

The backlash nearly ruined Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of handguns. And before long, it had retreated from key parts of the deal. One aspect of the agreement that never came to pass: a requirement that gunmakers move forward with developing authorized-user technology—the same kind of technology that President Barack Obama pushed for earlier this month, and that McNamara and others are trying to build.

12) Love this project that is provides data on how common particular books are across millions of college syllabi.

13) How the Koch brothers are using their money to try and influence students.

14) Loved this piece on the evolution of movie special effects in movies and how “practical” effects are all now the rage:

The rebooters would tell you those old feelings can’t be summoned with new tools. Trevorrow explained to Wired UK that his animatronic dinosaur “drew a beautiful performance out of the actors—we couldn’t have done it with a computer.” (The apatosaurus had been mortally wounded by a rampaging C.G.I. dino—a perfect metaphor for the state of the movies.) As the producer Patrick Crowley put it, “Colin said we needed to have a working animatronic in this movie because that’s how this series of movies was built.”

That’s the rub. We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, toldfxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total.

15) So, this is a few years old, but new to me.  Jesse Eisenberg and Marv Albert performing “Marv Albert is my therapist.”  A slam dunk.

 

16) The FEC does not properly regulate campaign finance because Republicans don’t want it to.

17) Yes, the system is set up to make it too easy for college students to go way too far into debt, but it still doesn’t seem right to blame the system to think it is a remotely reasonable idea to go $240,000 in debt for degrees in music performance and bioethics.

18) Young people are getting drivers licenses at much lower rates these days.  My 16 year old doesn’t even want to get one.  I made him go get a Learner’s Permit yesterday, in fact.

19) I actually totally agree with Radley Balko that we should not have mandatory seat belt laws as a primary offense (I still think it is a fine idea as a secondary offense):

But there’s another argument against seat-belt laws that’s much more pertinent to the policing issues now in the news: Seat-belt laws create an entirely new class of police-citizen interactions. They’re another excuse for pretext stops. Moreover, unless there’s clear dash-camera footage, whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time the police officer spotted you is basically your word against the officer’s. It’s another opportunity for police to look for probable cause for a search, or for behavior that could justify a forfeiture of your cash, your car or anything inside of it. And as we’ve seen inSouth Carolina, Indiana, California and elsewhere, they create more interactions that could potentially lead to escalation, violence and even death. (Note that the article in the last link is from Florida.) The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled that police can arrest you, handcuff you and jail you even if your only crime was to fail to buckle your seat belt. In 2012, the court ruled that you can be strip-searched, too

Our highways have gotten remarkably safer over the past 30 or so years. Fatalities have dropped dramatically. Even the most ardent libertarian can’t help but admit that federal efforts had something to do with it, though I tend to think public education and PR safety campaigns have been more effective than more punitive policies. But we should also be cognizant of unintended consequences, especially with laws that are more about protecting people from themselves than from other people. If a seat-belt violation causes a low-income man to be pulled over, searched, fined and fined again for nonpayment, then results in a suspended license, and then arrest and incarceration for driving on a suspended license, the state is no longer protecting him — it’s ruining him.

20) Important read from Nate Silver arguing that the Republican Party is failing.

21) I’m reading a fabulous book about the war on drugs.  More on that later.  For now, familiarize yourself with Rat Park, if you have not before.  And even if you know Rat Park, this comic version is pretty awesome.  Seriously.

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