Quick hits (part II)

1) Evolution is happening faster than we thought.

2) Kristof asks, “is Trump a racist?”  Yeah, not a hard question.  And there’s way more to this than just his campaign statements:

My view is that “racist” can be a loaded word, a conversation stopper more than a clarifier, and that we should be careful not to use it simply as an epithet. Moreover, Muslims and Latinos can be of any race, so some of those statements technically reflect not so much racism as bigotry. It’s also true that with any single statement, it is possible that Trump misspoke or was misconstrued.

And yet.

Here we have a man who for more than four decades has been repeatedly associated with racial discrimination or bigoted comments about minorities, some of them made on television for all to see. While any one episode may be ambiguous, what emerges over more than four decades is a narrative arc, a consistent pattern — and I don’t see what else to call it but racism.

3) Jeffrey Goldberg on the Republican cowards who could have done something to stop Trump, but didn’t.

4) How humans have actually co-evolved with the bacteria in our gut.

5) Yes, high-quality pre-K is awesome.  Too much pre-K, though, is kids standing in line and transitioning all day long.  That needs to change.

6) Robert Frank on the value of finding a job you love (I heartily agree).  I’m reading Frank’s Success and Luck right now and it’s quite good.

There is, of course, no guarantee that you’ll become the best at what you choose to do, or that even if you do you’ll find practical ways to extend your reach enough to earn a big paycheck. But by choosing to concentrate on a task you love, you’ll enjoy the considerable proportion of your life that you spend at work, which is much more than billions of others can say.

Again, you’ll have bills to pay, so salary matters. But social science findings establish clearly that once you have met your basic obligations, it’s possible to live a very satisfying life even if you don’t earn a lot of money.

The bottom line: Resist the soul-crushing job’s promise of extra money and savor the more satisfying conditions you’ll find in one that pays a little less.

7) Katy Chatel writes about how she is raising her child “outside gender assumptions and stereotypes.”  Well, yes, there’s something to that, but somehow pretending that gender in our society doesn’t exist makes for a complicated childhood.  How nice for her to make a political statement with her child’s life.

8) Derek Thompson on how the political vocabularies of Democrats and Republicans have diverged.

9) A nice Op-Ed on Colorado’s successful battle against teen pregnancy.  LARC’s for teens, damn it!  Seriously, you want one single policy change that will dramatically reduce teen pregnancy, poverty, and abortion (hey, bipartisan!) this is it.  This so needs to expand everywhere.

10) Former Reagan adviser, Bruce Bartlett, on how the GOP has become the party of hate.

11) Jeffrey Goldberg on how Trump is doing all he can to help Putin.  Seriously:

The Republican nominee for president, Donald J. Trump, has chosen this week to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, [emphases mine] a KGB-trained dictator who seeks to rebuild the Soviet empire by undermining the free nations of Europe, marginalizing NATO, and ending America’s reign as the world’s sole superpower.

I am not suggesting that Donald Trump is employed by Putin—though his campaign manager, Paul Manafort,was for many years on the payroll of the Putin-backed former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. I am arguing that Trump’s understanding of America’s role in the world aligns with Russia’s geostrategic interests; that his critique of American democracy is in accord with the Kremlin’s critique of American democracy; and that he shares numerous ideological and dispositional proclivities with Putin—for one thing, an obsession with the sort of “strength” often associated with dictators. Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability—much worse than anything we are seeing today—because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order. Many of these countries, feeling abandoned, would likely pursue nuclear weapons programs on their own, leading to a nightmare of proliferation.

12) New research finds that those who read Harry Potter (not just watching the movies) are less supportive of Trump.  Presumably, readers are making some Trump-Voldemort connections or learning the values of tolerance that Trump disdains.  After a quick look at the study, I think it reasonably likely they are missing a confound that has nothing to do with HP books in particular, but the types of person who reads HP books.  I’d feel far more confident in these results if there were any other questions on reading habits (fiction reading, YA fiction reading, etc.).

13) New research suggests no benefit of redshirting kids for kindergarten.

14) Great, great post from Ezra Klein laying out all the reasons Donald Trump makes him genuinely (and, appropriately) afraid.  A good one to bookmark.  If my dad starts leaning Trump under the influence of my not-wicked, but very conservative, stepmother, this is what I’m pulling out.  (For now, my dad– a genuine independent– sees Trump for the bully and blowhard he is).

15) Really enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air.  Not exactly light beach-reading for last week, though.  So sad.

16) Mann and Ornstein with a must-read on how Donald Trump is absolutely the culmination of the GOP’s increasingly radical, anti-government philosophy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Democrats– stop panicking about the polls.  If they look like this in 6 weeks, then you can panic.

2) Big Pharma is fighting legal marijuana because where it is legal for medicinal purposes, there are substantially less opiate prescriptions.

3) I do love this new anti-Trump ad.

4) A new study suggests it’s not how much weight you lift to build muscle, it’s mostly how hard you work your muscles (high weight for less reps; or lower weight for more reps).  The key is working your muscles to exhaustion.

5) Jonathan Ladd on how journalistic norms could actually hurt Trump in general election coverage.

6) As much as I love soccer, a lot of the Euro games were pretty disappointing to watch.  Good take from Franklin Foer.

7) EJ Dionne on Pence:

One could multiply the list of lost opportunities, but one of the biggest stories here is just how many Republicans have decided that their futures will be better served by staying away from Trump.

That left Pence as, in Gingrich’s terms, the best “normal person” option. Plusses for Pence include strong ties to Capitol Hill (including a friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan), an agreeable personality (a Democrats I know in Indiana who has tangled with Pence on issues sees him nonetheless as a nice-guy sort of politician), and an appeal to social conservatives…

And it says something about the doubts so many conservative have about Trump and his need to appease them that he had to go to his right for a running mate. He could not turn instead to someone who might have broadened his appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. Trump received a fair share of the ballots of social-issue moderates in the northeast during the primaries. Those voters and moderate independents will not be reassured by Pence. In fact, social liberals will try to use Pence to tie Trump to the most conservative elements of the GOP.

8) Are conservatives actually serious about ISIS or do they just like to thunder on about how tough they are with no serious solutions to the intractable dilemma?  You know the answer.

9) Slate with a piece on the architectural wonder (Dorton Arena) 10 minutes from my house.

10) Invisibilia is an amazing podcast.  Really nice piece about it from Sarah Larson.  It is simple overwhelming how many incredibly good podcasts are being produced now.

11) White people really want their kids to go to school with other white kids.

12) The biggest challenges facing academic science.

13) I had no recollection of the Judo Olympian disqualified for (inadvertently) eating a marijuana brownie shortly before the 2012 games.  This is so stupid.  As if that would give an athlete any unfair advantage whatsoever.  Meanwhile, you can get roaring drunk every day and it’s all good.  And worst part is all the abuse the guy took.  Seriously, what’s wrong with people.

14) What college sports recruiters can teach your child.

15) I’m so going to start paying my horribly picky kids to eat healthy foods:

The researchers also found that the effects lingered after the experiment ended, though they did subside somewhat. Two months after the end of the experiment, kids who had been rewarded for their health behavior for a period of five weeks were still eating 44 percent more fruit and vegetables than they had before the experiment begun.

16) Title of this Wonkblog post is, “One way to curb police brutality that no one is talking about.”  I guessed the answer– more female cops.

17) George Packer on Nice:

The killer in Nice locked on in his own way. Maybe it happened in the space of a few hours, a few days. We’re a long way from the grand ideologies of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden. This is jihadism as impulse, as excuse. It hardly matters, because the result is always the same: a pile of bodies, a world of pain and grief.

Liberal democracies like ours seem, for the most part, to have learned how to avoid meticulously planned mass-casualty plots with the complexity and scale of 9/11. But they don’t know how to keep their citizens safe at night clubs and concerts, in supermarkets, on beachfront promenades, from truck drivers. Nor do the leaders of liberal democracies know how to reassure their publics. So citizens, who have a right to demand safety, will turn to leaders offering simpler and more radical solutions—to Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump—who will fail even more spectacularly, inflicting great damage on liberal societies.

No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.

18) Nate Silver on Pence as Trump’s “least worst choice.”

19) Why, yes, we are sending kids (back to) Central American countries to be raped and murdered.  Kristof.

20) Ezra Klein on Trump’s crazy speech announcing Pence and how it is ever more evidence of his extreme unfitness to serve as president.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really, really informative piece on Wahhabism, it’s history, and how it shapes life (dramatically for the worse) in Saudi Arabia.

2) John Judis on the lasting impact of Bernie:

What Sanders was advocating — beyond the specifics — was strengthening and broadening social security in the broadest sense of the word so that even as Americans are tossed to and fro in the information economy, they can feel a certain sense of security — one that is currently lacking for many, many people in this country.

Sanders’ support for these kind of political demands may set the Democrats eventually on a more visionary and inspiring course – one that isn’t bounded by the shadow of Republican congressional dominance and the business campaign funding that has narrowed the Democratic vision for thirty years or more. That’s really the message behind Sanders’ call for a “political revolution.”

I know some sophisticates find this call laughable, but I think many young voters understood what Sanders was saying: that the only way to overcome the oligarchic, plutocratic tilt of our political system is by the massive, determined participation in politics of those determined to change it. Sanders’ campaign may, of course, become a footnote in political histories, a curiosity in a trivia question like Fred Harris’s 1972 campaign, but I have a feeling it will survive his defeat. At least I hope it will.

3a) Pretty cool interactive feature to see how a social media feed looks for conservatives compared to liberals.

3b) Speaking of which, really nice essay in the Guardian on “how technology disrupted the truth.”

4) Not sure I’ve ever seen a craze blow up as quickly as Pokemon Go (and yes, I have it).  Nice Wired piece on the technology.

5) New study on the gender pay gap for physicians.  Hard not to conclude that a significant portion of good old fashioned sex discrimination.

6) Really good Tom Edsall on Trump and the anti-PC vote from last month.  Here’s the section where he interviews John Haidt:

Jonathan Haidt, a professor at N.Y.U., suggested to me that one way to better understand the intensity of Trump’s appeal is by looking at something called “psychological reactance.” Haidt describes reactance as

the feeling you get when people try to stop you from doing something you’ve been doing, and you perceive that they have no right or justification for stopping you. So you redouble your efforts and do it even more, just to show that you don’t accept their domination. Men in particular are concerned to show that they do not accept domination.

The theory, first developed in 1966 by Jack W. Brehm in “A Theory of Psychological Reactance,” is directly relevant to the 2016 election, according to Haidt. Here is Brehm’s original language:

Psychological reactance is an aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy. This reaction is especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior. Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom ignites an emotional state, called psychological reactance, that elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy.

Haidt applies this to the 2016 election:

Translated to the Trump phenomenon, I would say that decades of political correctness, with its focus on “straight white men” as the villains and oppressors — now extended to “straight white cis-gendered men” — has caused some degree of reactance in many and perhaps most white men.

In both the workplace and academia, Haidt argues,

the accusatory and vindictive approach of many social justice activists and diversity trainers may actually have increased the desire and willingness of some white men to say and do un-PC things.

In this atmosphere, according to Haidt,

Trump comes along and punches political correctness in the face. Anyone feeling some degree of anti-PC reactance is going to feel a thrill in their heart, and will want to stand up and applaud. And because feelings drive reasoning, these feelings of gratitude will make it hard for anyone to present arguments to them about the downsides of a Trump presidency.

Trump’s anger at being policed or fenced in apparently speaks to the resentment of many American men and their resistance to being instructed, particularly by a female candidate, on how they should think, speak or behave.

7) I keep meaning to write a post about how we’ve been apparently getting it wrong on Telomeres.  Not going to happen, so quick hits it is.

8) The ethics of sex robots.

9) Yes, we absolutely need more investment in public pre-K.  Alas, we still don’t have as good an understanding as we’d like about what really works in these programs.

10) How come we cannot really remember anything from before we were 3 1/2?

11) The Tea party nuts in Kansas are now railing against “government schools.”  Ugh.  As always with this nuttiness, I worry how long until our Republicans in the NC legislature decide it’s a good idea.

12) Evan Osnos on the NRA, anti-government rhetoric, and race:

For critics of the N.R.A., it was an awkward exposure of what is usually left unsaid: the organization is far less active in asserting the Second Amendment rights of black Americans than of white ones…

The Dallas ambush has also exposed an uncomfortable fact for the gun-rights movement: for decades, even as it maintains its abstract tributes to law enforcement, it has embraced a strain of insurrectionist rhetoric, overtly anti-government activism that endorses the notion that civilians should have guns for use against American police and military. In a 1995 fund-raising letter, the executive vice-president of the N.R.A., Wayne LaPierre, called federal law-enforcement agents “jack-booted thugs,” and suggested that “in Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” In Texas, where the police ambush occurred, an open-carry advocate last year urged the killing of state legislators if they do not approve a more relaxed policy. (“They better start giving us our rights or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be gamed up . . . We should be demanding [Texas legislators] give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason.”) At the annual N.R.A. convention last year, the board member Ted Nugent said, “Our government has turned on us.” Stopping short of calling for violence, he urged members to focus their ire on “the bad and the ugly.” He said, “It’s a target-rich environment. If it was duck season, there’d be so many ducks, you could just close your eyes and shoot ’em.”

13) Using computers to analyze the emotional arcs of stories.

14) This is pretty great– best goals of 2016 so far.

15) Sure, I use safety pins in my bib when I run in a race. I had no idea that the elites still did this.  Or that bibs are just there for sponsors now.

16) Fighting back against modern debtor’s prison.  I would love to see this win:

A suit filed July 6 against the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles alleges the DMV indefinitely suspends driver’s licenses of those too poor to pay fines and court costs in an “unconstitutional scheme.”

“Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their licenses simply because they are too poor to pay, effectively depriving them of reliable, lawful transportation necessary to get to and from work, take children to school, keep medical appointments, care for ill or disabled family members, or, paradoxically, to meet their financial obligations to the courts,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Western Virginia.

The suit, filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents low-income Virginians, says more than 940,000 people in Virginia currently have their licenses suspended for nonpayment.

According to the Legal Aid Justice Center, the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment can prevent people from keeping or obtaining jobs, leading to a vicious cycle of additional fines, unemployment and, sometimes, incarceration. The suit says more than one-third of suspensions for failure to pay are related to convictions unrelated to motor vehicles.

17) I’ve been slacking off with the high-intensity interval training of late (it’s hard; I’m lazy), so how nice to read this study in the NYT that (admittedly, based on rats) suggests that good old-fashioned moderate-paced jogging may be the best for your brain:

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.

And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all.

Obviously, rats are not people. But the implications of these findings are provocative. They suggest, said Miriam Nokia, a research fellow at the University of Jyvaskyla who led the study, that “sustained aerobic exercise might be most beneficial for brain health also in humans.”

18) Okay, I still need to fully read this, but, sadly, I’m not at all surprised that a disturbingly inaccurate $2 drug test is regularly sending people to prison.

19) What we can learn from the Nordic countries:

Lakey: A lot of people mistakenly believe that the countries with Viking ancestry—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland—have always had the high standard of living that they do today. That’s not the case, and people don’t realize what it took to create the kind of society we see today in each of these countries.

A century ago, the economic elite ran each of those countries. There was the pretense of democracy, but it was always the decisions of economic elites that carried the day. There was poverty and a lack of empowerment of the people. The change that came about in the Nordic countries so that they eventually moved to an economic model where there was less of a wealth gap, and better quality of life, came about after everyday people made demands on their governments to change.

The 1 percent may occupy state power, but when the majority of the country stands up in opposition to the 1 percent, they can make the country ungovernable. That’s what happened in Nordic countries, and that’s what opened up the political space in which they could build an economic model that far outperforms the economic model of the United States.

20) So, just when are you an adult?  I recently went to Old Salem— a recreation of a historic 19th century Moravian town.  They talked about all the children leaving home at 15 and essentially assuming adult responsibilities.  The person I talked to was all like, “well, it was just different back then.”  My thinking, well, sure, it was, but I’m pretty sure the human brain did not mature any faster in 19th century North Carolina.  And, these kids may have taken many an adult responsibility, but they sure didn’t have an adult brain.

21) Great NYT piece on Trump dividing the country by race.  And Greg Sargent’s take on it.

22) Jay Rosen (as smart an observer of the media as there is) on how Trump takes advantage of journalistic norms.

23) I’ve got no use for the Gladwell haters.  Gladwell is awesome and so is his new podcast series.  This recent episode about college as engines of social mobility (or not) is especially good).

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Was prepared to not like this piece blaming feminists for anti-feminism.  But really liked the bit about “mansplaining.”  I have way too often simply seen this term as a way to shut down discussion than as a legitimate critique of unnecessary explanation.

Whatever the reasons for the current cycle of misandry — yes, that’s a word, derided but also adopted for ironic use by many feminists — its existence is quite real. Consider, for example, the number of neologisms that use “man” as a derogatory prefix and that have entered everyday media language: “mansplaining,” “manspreading” and “manterrupting.” Are these primarily male behaviors that justify the gender-specific terms? Not necessarily: The study that is cited as evidence of excessive male interruption of women actually found that the most frequent interrupting is female-on-female (“femterrupting”?).

In fairness, though, I still think plain old misogyny is responsible for most anti-feminism.

2) Sonia Sotomayor is taking on our criminal justice system through her dissents:

Justice Sotomayor would go on to write eight dissents before the term ended last Monday. Read together, they are a remarkable body of work from an increasingly skeptical student of the criminal justice system, one who has concluded that it is clouded by arrogance and machismo and warped by bad faith and racism.

3) In New Jersey, even death does not get you out from under your student loans.  It’s ugly.

4) Apparently Amazon is moving away from even showing (typically misleading) list prices on it’s items.  Really interesting discussion of pricing and business practices.

5) I think this piece over simplifies, but I don’t doubt at all that the nature of human communities shapes the fundamental values of those communities.  In this, “farmers” and today’s working class are the authoritarians and the elites and their egalitarian values are the modern day “foragers.”  Alas, no discussion of the fascinating idea that honor cultures are an extension of herding societies.

6) Jeffrey Toobin on Clarence Thomas’ unique take on the Constitution:

The abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn’t respect the Court’s precedents. He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law. It’s an act of startling self-confidence, but a deeply isolating one as well. Even his ideological allies, who mostly come out the same way on cases, recognize that they must dwell within the world that their colleagues and predecessors created. Thomas, in contrast, has his own constitutional law, which he alone honors and applies.

7) A pretty entertaining take on the meaning of “Make America Great Again.”

8) This was a bit of a pain to set up, but given that I have unlimited free Google Drive space through NCSU, this is my new automatic backup system.

9) Turn your anxiety into excitement.  I’ve got a progeny or two to whom I’m going to show this video.

10) Poor Donald Trump.  The liberal media always making up his antisemitism and all-around bigotry out of whole cloth.

11) The headline says it all, “The FDA’s Abstinence-Only Approach to Eating Cookie Dough Is Unrealistic and Alarmist.”

12) Loved this column from Josh Levin explaining the logic of Kevin Durant’s decision.  Levin is generally about 2-3 analytical planes beyond most people who write about sports.

13) Where ordinary people and nutritionists disagree about what’s healthy (people way over-estimate the healthiness of granola and orange juice, among others  And seriously, people actually think frozen yogurt is healthy?!).

14) Great Pete Wehner column on the theology of Donald Trump and his troubling embrace by evangelical leaders:

This fulsome embrace of Mr. Trump is rather problematic, since he embodies a worldview that is incompatible with Christianity. If you trace that worldview to its source, Christ would not be anywhere in the vicinity.

Time and again Mr. Trump has shown contempt for those he perceives as weak and vulnerable — “losers,” in his vernacular. They include P.O.W.s, people with disabilities, those he deems physically unattractive and those he considers politically powerless. He bullies and threatens people he believes are obstacles to his ambitions. He disdains compassion and empathy, to the point where his instinctive response to the largest mass shooting in American history was to congratulate himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”

What Mr. Trump admires is strength. For him, a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and above all to power. He never seems free of his obsession with it. In his comments to that gathering of evangelicals, Mr. Trump said this: “And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: If you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.”

In eight sentences Mr. Trump mentioned some variation of power six times, to a group of individuals who have professed their love and loyalty to Jesus, who in his most famous sermon declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the meek,” who said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” and who was humiliated and crucified by the powerful.

15) I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time several times.  Never had put much thought into the meaning of the giant, evil brain, though.  Constance Grady does in Vox.

16) Dylan Matthews extensively details just horrific bull-fighting is.

17) In discussion about Trump’s potential VP pick on the most recent Slate political gabfest, John Dickerson pointed out that basically anybody with any hopes of a real political future in the Republican Party has withdrawn from consideration.  Whomever it is, should definitely be interesting.

18) Hippotherapy is awesome.  Need to do more of this with my son, Alex.

19) Open tab for too long… There’s way too many lame non-profit, private colleges.  Or, as this article states, “The Quality Crisis at America’s Private, Non-Profit Colleges.”  Or my take– non-elite private colleges: the worst value in higher education.

What matters in education

Nice piece from Dana Goldstein about Hillary Clinton represents a sharp break with Obama on education policy.  Personally, I think Obama was too hard on teacher unions, as are many reformers.  That said, I think there are certainly some problems with teachers unions that should be addressed (yes, it should be easier to hire bad teachers).  The thing is, though, remedying issues with teacher unions is probably not even in the top 15 items that would actually improve public education (sadly, so many reformers seem to somehow think it’s issue #1).  Anyway, here’s a nice succinct summary from Goldstein of what does matter:

Research demonstrates five major, measurable influences on student achievement: Every study shows that, by far, the biggest factor is the educational background and socioeconomic status of parents. In-school factors account for less than half of the variation in how students perform, but at least four are important:peers (a poor child will perform worse if most of his or her classmates are also living in poverty); school funding (districts with more money per pupil provide more resources that kids need, from social workers and guidance counselors to foreign language and art classes); gaps in teacher quality, which research suggests account for between 7 and 15 percent of the achievement gap between poor and middle-class children; and principals, the key figure whose leadership can replicate good teaching across classroom walls.

Yes, we want better teachers.  It matters.  I’ve written plenty on what we should do about that.  But worrying about teacher quality and incentives does not matter as much addressing broader socio-economic issues and eliminating schools of concentrated high poverty.  How about we stop obsessing on teacher’s unions, charter schools, etc., and work on these five things.  Radical, I know.

Can you meaningfully reduce your cancer risk?

A while back, I read a highly-reviewed, but really disappointing book to Evan– Dead End in Norvelt (a story without any conflict really isn’t much of a story).  The one redeeming feature of the book is that there was a lot about obituaries in there and Evan and I started occasionally reading obituaries and discovering the extraordinary lives of seemingly ordinary people.

So, yesterday Evan was just sitting around at the kitchen table and started reading the obituaries and discovered that the long-time art teacher at his (and previously older brothers’) elementary school had recently died from ovarian cancer.  My kids loved her art classes and I had many a pleasant conversation with her at back-to-school nights and such over the years, but little did I realize that Mrs. Howard had played basketball for UNC or been a Miss Lincoln County.  Alas, she was done in my ovarian cancer at the age of 64.

Evan said he thought that people didn’t die from cancer any more.  If only.  It certainly got me thinking about not wanting to die from cancer.

So, by way of that lengthy introduction, that brings me to this recent post from Aaron Carroll in the Upshot on the preventability (and lack thereof) of various forms of cancer.  Here’s the thing– turns out there’s a lot you can to do to lower your risk of cancer.  For now, cancer is still very much a crapshoot with a lot of luck involved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lower the odds of that bad luck hitting you.  To wit:

What we really care about is how much we can reduce our own risk of cancer by changing our behavior.

A more recent study published in Nature argues that there is a lot we can do. Many studies have shown that environmental risk factors and exposures contribute greatly to many cancers. Diet is related to colorectal cancer. Alcohol and tobacco are related to esophageal cancer. HPV is related to cervical cancer, and hepatitis C is related to liver cancer.

And you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that smoking causes lung cancer and that too much sun can lead to skin cancer.

Using sophisticated modeling techniques, the researchers argued that less than 30 percent of the lifetime risk of getting many common cancers was because of intrinsic risk factors, or the “bad luck.” The rest were things you can change…

Most recently, in JAMA Oncology, researchers sought to quantify how a healthful lifestyle might actually alter the risk of cancer. They identified four domains that are often noted to be related to disease prevention: smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise.

They defined people who engaged in healthy levels of all of these activities as a “low-risk” group. Then they compared their risk of getting cancer with people who weren’t in this group…

About 82 percent of women and 78 percent of men who got lung cancer might have prevented it through healthy behaviors. About 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men might have prevented colon and rectal cancer. About 30 percent of both might have prevented pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer was much less preventable: 4 percent.

Over all, though, about 25 percent of cancer in women and 33 percent in men was potentially preventable. Close to half of all cancer deaths might be prevented as well. [emphasis mine]

So, no, you can’t eliminate your cancer risk, but you can make a very meaningful change.  And it’s not even really all that hard.  To be low risk really isn’t all that onerous:

I was especially worried because, in this study, “low-risk” status required all four healthy lifestyles. Failing in any one domain put you in the high-risk category, and that seemed like a lot to ask of people.

On further reading, though, I discovered that the requirements weren’t overly burdensome. Not smoking was defined as never having smoked or having quit at least five years ago. That’s clearly good for health. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as no more than one drink a day on average for women, and no more than two for men. That’s pretty much what I argued for in my column on alcohol, and in no way requires abstinence.

Adequate weight was defined as a BMI of at least 18.5 and no more than 27.5. The cutoff for “overweight” is 25, meaning that you don’t have to be thin; you just have to be less than obese (BMI 30). Finally, exercise was defined as 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. That’s the benchmark I talked about in detail two weeks ago.

I was surprised to realize that I’m already “low risk.” I bet many of you are “low risk,” too.

Hooray– I’m low risk.  I suspect that the exercise is the hang up for many.  More incentive than ever to get moving.  And, of course, these are just factors the researchers were able to study.  There’s surely additional features of healthy living (I’ve got to think there’s something to fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, etc., beyond body weight) that reduce cancer risk.  Anyway, even though we cannot eliminate our cancer risk, it certainly is good to know that we can make real progress through healthy lifestyles.

Quick hits (part I)

1) So, maybe princess movies are good for boys, but princess culture is bad for girls (though, I’ve not seen any truly negative consequences in my princess-loving daughter).

2) Among other silliness, our state’s Republican leaders now seem to think we need a constitutional right to hunt and fish.  Seriously?  Honestly, this just makes an absolute mockery of what a Constitution is supposed to be about.

3) Should we even allow citizens in a democratic republic the power to make major policy– without checks– via referendum such as the Brexit case?

4) Are family friend policies for professors unfairly friendly to male professors?

5) Wedding gifts as a sign of social connection (I admit I feel lame choosing off the registry for someone I know well, but usually do it anyway):

VEDANTAM: Well, Ward and her adviser Susan Broniarczyk conducted a series of experiments, Audie, that found that close friends are indeed more likely than strangers to buy things that they think we want or need rather than simply listen to the preferences that we’ve expressed ourselves.

They also found interestingly that when gift-giving is anonymous, when volunteers give gifts anonymously, this effect disappears, meaning close friends are now OK with buying off of a registry. In other words, when our close friends depart from a registry, they say they’re doing it because they know what we really want more than we know ourselves. But if that was the case, they should still buy those gifts when they’re giving anonymously.

The fact that they don’t suggests the real reason close friends depart from the registry is to send a signal to us, to the world, maybe even to themselves that they have a special relationship with us and the unique gift is an advertisement for that special relationship.

6) People talk a lot about private prisons, but it really is so much more than prisons.  Of course, the real problem is that it creates incentives to increase human suffering (i.e., less quality in supervision, etc.) to make more profit.

7) Is our criminal justice war on poor people really a war on poor Black people?

8) Just a reminder that Donald Trump’s economic policies are phenomenally bad.

9) Oh it feels good to see Ken Starr get his comeuppance.

10) Oh, my I love this formulation from law professor Stephen Carter, via Conor Friedersdorf:

Law professors and lawyers instinctively shy away from considering the problem of law’s violence.  Every law is violent.  We try not to think about this, but we should.  On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill. They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed. But I point out that even a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws.

It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff – or the SWAT team – or if necessary the National Guard. Is this an exaggeration? Ask the family of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a decision to crack down on the sale of untaxed cigarettes. That’s the crime for which he was being arrested. Yes, yes, the police were the proximate cause of his death, but the crackdown was a political decree.

The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. And whether that officer acts out of overzealousness, recklessness, or simply the need to make a fast choice to do the job right, the violence inherent in law will be on display. This seems to me the fundamental problem that none of us who do law for a living want to face.

But all of us should.

11) Love this WRAL editorial— abolishing local government is simply the logical conclusion of the actions of the NC Republican legislature.

12) Great– and horribly depressing– NYT story about municipalities bidding out essential services– ambulances, etc.,– to private equity firms who then, not surprisingly, do a piss-poor job of serving essential public needs.  Merica.

13) Syphilis, yes syphilis, is making a comeback in America.  I wonder which political party we can blame for failing to properly fund our public health infrastructure.

14) How Trump systematically stiffed small businesses in the building of his casinos.

15) Really liked this Atlantic article about our “war on stupid people.”  We truly have come too highly value intelligence in this country (and I say that as one who very much used to suffer from that particular bias– largely inherited from my parents).

16) The Supreme Court’s three most conservative members really seem to be willing to let pretty much anything go in the name of freedom of religion.

17) Really enjoyed this article on how the Washington Post has changed under Jeff Bezos.

 

18) Garrett Epps with a very interesting piece on the genuinely evolving jurisprudence of Anthony Kennedy.

19) Friedman on Brexit (and Trump):

A major European power, a longtime defender of liberal democracy, pluralism and free markets, falls under the sway of a few cynical politicians who see a chance to exploit public fears of immigration to advance their careers. They create a stark binary choice on an incredibly complex issue, of which few people understand the full scope — stay in or quit the E.U.

These politicians assume that the dog will never catch the car and they will have the best of all worlds — opposing something unpopular but not having to deal with the implications of the public actually voting to get rid of it. But they so dumb down the debate with lies, fear-mongering and misdirection, and with only a simple majority required to win, that the leave-the-E.U. crowd carries the day by a small margin. Presto: the dog catches the car. And, of course, it has no idea now what to do with this car. There is no plan. There is just barking.

Like I said, not the end of the world yet, but if a few more E.U. countries try this trick we’ll have quite a little mess on our hands. Attention Donald Trump voters: this is what happens to a country that falls for hucksters who think that life can just imitate Twitter — that there are simple answers to hard questions — and that small men can rearrange big complex systems by just erecting a wall and everything will be peachy. [emphasis mine]

20) Really meant to do a post on this fascinating interview in Vox about IQ.  But, it’s been sitting in an open tab since May, so onto quick hits it goes.

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