Quick hits (part II)

1) So, in addition to the refugee thing, our governor now wants the state to join a lawsuit about transgender restrooms.  More evidence that McCrory will try and get re-elected by appealing to the GOP base in 2016, rather than 2012’s strategy of appearing a moderate acceptable to Democratic voters.  (Not that Democrats are going to the mattresses on transgender bathroom issues, but it speaks to a culture war focus to gin up GOP base support).

2) I saw a drug ad yesterday that advertised the drug as the most prescribed for a particular condition.  Why in the world then, does it need to be advertising directly to consumers?  Nice Op-Ed in NYT against this practice.

3) Judge Posner certainly understands what “undue burden” means.  And a nice piece on it from Dahlia Lithwick.

4) Fascinating society in Northern Syria based on radical notions of gender equity:

‘‘The battle made me think of women differently,’’ he told me. ‘‘Women fighters — they saved us. My society, Yazidi society, is more, let’s say, traditional. I’d never thought of women as leaders, as heroes, before.’’

Mirza heard about the academy at a refugee camp, and here his education in feminism had continued. He and his fellow students studied a text that Ocalan wrote on gender equality called ‘‘Liberating Life.’’ In it, Ocalan argues that problems of bad governance, corruption and weak democratic institutions in Middle Eastern societies can’t be solved without achieving full equality for women. He once told P.K.K. militants in Turkey, ‘‘You don’t need to be [men] now. You need to think like a woman, for men only fight for power. But women love nature, trees, the mountains. … That is how you can become a true patriot.’’

5) Why today’s college students don’t want to be teachers.

6) Are good doctors bad for you health?  Quite possibly.  Excellent column from Zeke Emmanuel:

One thing patients can do is ask four simple questions when doctors are proposing an intervention, whether an X-ray, genetic test or surgery. First, what difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment? Second, how much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make? Third, how likely and severe are the side effects? And fourth, is the hospital a teaching hospital? The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.

7) On the rising prominence of on-line polls.

8) Dylan Matthews on how the media has no idea how to deal with Trump’s shameless lying.

9) George Will’s take on the overly-sensitive students in recent college protests.  I could deal without Will’s smugness, but some more good examples of this all going too far.

10) John Cassidy on the latest pharmaceutical merger:

Read, in his statement explaining the proposal to merge with Allergen, said that it would help put Pfizer “on a more competitive footing within our industry.” This was a reference to the fact that other big pharma companies, such as AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis, are headquartered in countries with lower corporate tax rates than the United States. However, there is scant evidence that being based in the United States has handicapped Pfizer or made it more difficult for the company to raise capital.
To the contrary, being based in the United States enables Pfizer to exploit the vast reservoirs of technical expertise that reside here, and to access federal support for scientific research. For example, according to the company’s Web site, it has dozens of collaborative projects with the National Institutes for Health. And being headquartered in the United States certainly hasn’t prevented Pfizer from making a lot of money. Over the past two years, the company has generated almost nineteen billion dollars in net profits.

11) What to do about those prosecutors who abuse their authority with no concern for Constitutional rights?  Prosecute them.  A thousand times, yes.

12) Nice piece from early-childhood expert (and Matt Damon’s mom!) on putting way too much emphasis on testing and academics at way too early an age.  Kind of depressing.

13) The highest bridge in the world.

14) Jamelle Bouie on why “fascist” is the most appropriate term for Donald Trump:

With that said, it is true that there are fascist movements, and it’s also true that when you strip their cultural clothing—the German paganism in Nazism, for example—there are common properties. Not every fascist movement shows all of them, but—Eco writes—“it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” Eco identifies 14, but for this column, I want to focus on seven.

They are: A cult of “action for action’s sake,” where “thinking is a form of emasculation”; an intolerance of “analytical criticism,” where disagreement is condemned; a profound “fear of difference,” where leaders appeal against “intruders”; appeals to individual and social frustration and specifically a “frustrated middle class” suffering from “feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”; a nationalist identity set against internal and external enemies (an “obsession with a plot”); a feeling of humiliation by the “ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”; a “popular elitism” where “every citizen belongs to the best people of the world” and underscored by contempt for the weak; and a celebration of aggressive (and often violent) masculinity.

If you are so inclined, Bouie spells out how these apply to Trump.  But I think it is plenty obvious.

15) Not impressed by Mockingjay Part 2.  One movie would have been plenty sufficient.  More so, the source material just wasn’t that great.  Suzanne Collins came up with a terrific idea for The Hunger Games.  It was a great idea for one book, not three.

16) Nice long read in Wired on how humans got such big brains.

Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the delay.  Thanksgiving vacation and all.

1) Really interesting piece about Massachusetts‘ complicated relationship with Common Core.

2) Vox summarizes the research on children and happiness.  Maybe it really doesn’t make a difference on average and I suppose I would still be a happy person without kids, but no way would I be as happy.

3) Kristof with a strong column on anti-refugee sentiment.

4) Had no idea that Syracuse, NY had one of the worst slum problems in the country.  On how a downtown highway contributes to the problem.

5) I don’t buy “expensive” running shoes, but maybe I should go even cheaper based on research.

6) Max Ehrenfreud spoke with psychologists about the psychology of support for Trump:

From a psychological perspective, though, the people backing Trump are perfectly normal. Interviews with psychologists and other experts suggest one explanation for the candidate’s success — and for the collective failure to anticipate it: The political elite hasn’t confronted a few fundamental, universal and uncomfortable facts about the human mind.

We like people who talk big.

We like people who tell us that our problems are simple and easy to solve, even when they aren’t.

And we don’t like people who don’t look like us.

Most people share these characteristics to some degree, but they seem to be especially prevalent among Trump’s base.

7) Contra the rest of the country, Virginia has gone on a marijuana arrest binge.  Not surprisingly, the state is way disproportionately arresting Blacks.

8) NPR story on how young people are much more okay with “socialism” than older Americans.  Surely, in part, it just doesn’t have the same connnotations as it did a generation ago.

9) Really good NPR interview about political polarization and trust with great political scientist and fine human being, Marc Hetherington, about his new book:

You say that Americans really aren’t getting all that ideologically polarized. That doesn’t feel true. So how on Earth is that right?

Hetherington: People are not so polarized on issues specifically or in terms of their ideological predispositions.

And the reason is that most people don’t pay that close of attention to politics. And in order to have extreme viewpoints on the issues or in terms of their ideologies, that requires a lot of political expertise to take extreme positions on issues.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not polarized. It just means that we’re not polarized in terms of our issue positions or ideologies. We point out that ordinary Americans are, in fact, polarized, but it’s in their feelings, not in their issue positions. We’ve come to dislike our opponents in a way that we’ve never disliked them at this level before.

How did that happen?

It’s a combination of lots of things over time. A big part of this, at least to Tom and me, is that there’s really nothing that [our representatives] in Washington agree on across party lines any longer. In other words, all the moderates kind of disappeared from the people who represent us.

It’s a story that’s tied up in the evolution of the parties on racial issues. As race came to dominate politics, no longer could Southern Democrats survive, so they were replaced with ever-more conservative Republicans and, in the Northeast, Northeastern Republicans couldn’t survive; they were replaced by really liberal Democrats.

So, the center of both parties ended up disappearing, in fact, becoming pretty conservative among the Republicans [and] Southerners, and liberal among the Democrats — the Northeasterners and far Westerners, for that matter.

So, a big part of why we don’t like each other is the people who provide us with our cues — that is, our leaders — they basically spend all their time telling us that the other side is always wrong, on every single vector. And that’s one of the things that causes people to dislike the other side.

Another important piece is the types of issues that divide us these days — when we are divided about things people have deep, strong feelings about, like race and ethnicity, as it is tied up in immigration these days, or gay rights.

10) Oh man do I hate the guardians of propriety on twitter.


11) The Washington Post takes its turn on money and college sports.  Good stuff.

12) On having fewer kids to do your part for the environment.  Hey, at least I recycle!

13) On the Catholic Church in Africa (with Francis visiting this week).  Oh my.

At the synod last month, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea grabbed headlines with a speech that equated gay rights with terrorism. He said both were “apocalyptic beasts” with a “demonic origin.”

“What Nazi-fascism and communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” said Cardinal Sarah, who has served in the Vatican for years and was named to the top liturgical post there by Francis in 2014.

14) It would be great if we could clean up pollution really cheaply in local lakes with solar-powered devices.  Seems like time to admit they are not working, though.

15) Randall Munroe (XKCD) explains relativity.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Girls aren’t meaner than boys– it only looks that way:

So how do we account for girls’ relational infamy? The answer may have little to do with how, or how often, girls are unkind, and more to do with the chain reaction that is set off when girls are on the sharp end of a peer’s stick.

Evidence suggests that girls, more than boys, are injured by social mistreatment. We’ve long known that girls place a higher premium on their interpersonal relationships than boys do, so it follows that they become more upset when their relational ties are threatened. Indeed, research finds that, disproportionately, girls harbor painful thoughts and feelings when hurt by their peers. They fret about why they were targeted, wonder if they had it coming, and strategize about how to befriend the antagonist.

To soothe their bruised feelings girls, more than boys, reach out to their friends . Turning to peers puts girls in touch with valuable social support, but we also know that recruiting friends to analyze social slights in detail can actually deepen a girl’s emotional distress. In contrast, boys who are hurt often seek out distractions— they stop thinking about hard feelings by thinking about something else. This may render boys less fluent in the language of their emotions, but they tend to feel better, faster.

2) Plenty of cross-national evidence (via Vox) that welfare doesn’t make people lazy, but helps get them out of poverty.

3) The uncertainty of “sanctuary cities” in NC after a new state law.

4) Sure, the Star Wars prequels don’t match the originals.  Don’t hate.

5) Nothing like liberals arts college protesters.  The ones at Smith want to bar all journalists except those that disagree with them.   College meets kindergarten.

6) Love the story behind the famous image of a toddler throwing a tantrum in front of Obama in the Oval Office.

7) Mockery is so fun.  But I do agree with Drum that it will not change many minds (on the Syrian refugees, or anything else).

8) So, did you know the meaning of “Netflix and chill”?  Was quite surprised to learn this from my students this week.  So far, I have not been able to convince my wife we need more Netflix time together.

9) So, about that “crime wave” caused by #blacklivesmatter?  Not so much.

10) I do find this issue of copyright and Anne Frank’s diary to be really fascinating.  Nice column on the trouble with present copyright law.


The foundation dedicates all the earnings from the diary to charitable ends, but its move underscores what many copyright experts and public advocates see as a disturbing perversion of copyright principles. Instead of providing a limited monopoly to creators to promote the flow of artistic works to the public, it’s become a practically limitless source of income to creators’ heirs–sometimes generations removed–and corporate rights holders.

“There’s no way a 95-year copyright term is an incentive for anyone to create anything,” says Dennis Karjala, a law professor at Arizona State who led the opposition to the Copyright Term Extension Act, the 1998 federal law known as the Sonny Bono Act after its chief promoter in Congress. The act set copyright duration at the author’s life plus 70 years, or 95 years after publication for works done for hire.

The act wasn’t aimed at encouraging artistic expression, Karjala says. It was pushed by corporate entities such as the Walt Disney Co., which would soon lose rights to the earliest films featuring Mickey Mouse. “They were all concerned about the cutoff of the royalty spigot,” Karjala says.

Rather than promote the flow of works into public view, copyright here and abroad has become a tool for keeping works out of the public domain.

11) How our microbiome (may) shape autism.  My guess is that microbes shape all sorts of aspects of human behavior that we don’t yet appreciate.

12) Are you hating Muslims?  Exactly what ISIS wants you to be doing.

Extremist groups feed off of alienation, some counterterrorism experts say, and Islamist militants deliberately aim to make Muslims in the West feel isolated and turn against their own communities.

13) Great piece on the research of NCSU professor Walt Wolfram on Southern accents.


14) Today’s college students really do approach college living with a different mindset.

Particularly in the way things have unfolded at Yale, students’ social-justice activism has been expressed, in part, as the need for care from authority figures. When they experience the hurt that motivates them to political action, they’re deeply disappointed with parental surrogates for not responding adequately or quickly enough to support and nurture them. The world in which it’s not bizarre for a young person to rebuke someone for failing to “create a place of comfort and home,” or to yell, “Be quiet … You’re disgusting!,” and storm away, is the world of family, where a child in pain desperately desires empathy and understanding from a parent. The online scorn heaped on the student who was filmed behaving this way represents an unproductive refusal to compassionately translate her behavior across the generational divide. In a piece called “Hurt at Home,” another Yale student wrote, “I feel my home is being threatened,” and contrasted her comforting relationship with her father to the care she felt students emphatically did not receive from the master of Silliman College. Yale tells its students that the residential college is their “home away from home,” but this generation might be the first to insist so literally on that idea.

15) With disgusting amounts of xenophobia on the loose, it’s also helpful to remember Japanese internment.

16) Drum on the anti-science leadership of the House Science Committee:

In any case, Smith is a disgrace, and it’s a disgrace that Republicans allow him to chair a committee on science. Smith’s view of science is simple: if it backs up his beliefs, it’s fine. If it doesn’t, it’s obviously fraudulent. This is the attitude that leads to defunding of climate research or banning research on guns. After all, there’s always the possibility that the results will be inconvenient, and in the world of Smith and his acolytes, that can’t be allowed to stand. Full speed ahead and science be damned.

17) The “quiet eye” and coordination in athletes.

18) Ezra Klein on how America only pretends to value moms.

19) Jonathan Cohn on the trouble Obamacare is facing with individual policies:

As HHS acknowledges, the remaining uninsured tend to be the hardest to reach. This includes those don’t qualify for subsidies or receive only modest assistance, and don’t find the insurance affordable or valuable. What’s more, people shopping for coverage on the exchanges are finding that the policies have high deductibles and limited physician networks. If insurers raise prices, the danger is that more and more people will decide such coverage is simply not worth buying — even if it means paying the penalties.

The Affordable Care Act has already accomplished a great deal — slashing the uninsured rateand providing millions with consumer protections like the guarantee of coverage regardless of preexisting conditions. But enrollment could stagnate.

So what would happen then? It’s impossible to be certain, but many experts think the subsidies would function as a built-in safeguard against a severe market collapse — “the news about United does not presage a death spiral,” Kingsdale said — because that financial assistance keeps coverage cheap for millions of lower- to middle-income people, even if insurers raise their premiums. The mandate would obviously make a big difference, too.

But the law’s architects and supporters had hoped enrollment would continue growing beyond where it is today, reaching more and more people and providing as great a benefit to the affluent middle class as to the working class and poor. If enrollment stalls, the law would still be helping millions of Americans, but it would also be coming up short of expectations.

20) On the easy and unearned virtue of hating “bad” things.

21) Jedediah Purdy on Bernie Sanders and the history of socialism.

22) Speaking of Bernie, anecdotally it was clear to me that my students strongly prefer him over Clinton.  Actual polling (and quality polling done by my colleague Mike Cobb) shows this to be very much the case.  Sadly, Ben Carson also leads among NCSU students.

23) So, back in my classic-rock-loving teen years, I listened plenty to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (Karn Evil #9 being a particular favorite).  I was at a improv class performance for my oldest son at The Cary Theater and there was a sign for Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy tonight.  I mostly thought it was interesting, but not much more.  At 7:50, I checked recent set lists on-line and decided I had to go.  Made it by 8:05 before the show started.  Turns out the show was actually sold out, but somebody had turned in an extra ticket.  Pretty cool.  Great show.

24) Really nice longer read from HuffPol and Chronicle of Higher Education on money and college athletics.  Lots of cool statistics, too (such as the good news that students at my university have to pay very little to subsidize intercollegiate athletics– at some places it is a ridiculous amount).

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff this week.  Let’s go.

1) I did not read the (surely great) NYT series on how big business has basically taken away all our rights in the fine print (with a very strong assist from the Supreme Court), but I did love the Fresh Air interview on the matter.

2) A physician on the problem of allowing only 15 minutes for appointments.

3) Sadly, NC Republican legislators really do pretty much hate public schools.

4) Frank Bruni with a nice takedown of the epic phoniness of Ted Cruz.

5) Loved the Wired interview with JJ Abrams about making the new Star Wars movie.

6) So, our whole Middle East terrorism problem.  We should be talking more about Saudi Arabia.  And another take on Saudi Arabia.   And yet one more.  Maybe all these people are onto something.

7) On how building relationships with students leads to student success.

Last year faculty on my campus met for dinner to discuss How College Works,by Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs. The book documents a long-term study the authors conducted to understand which aspects of the college experience had the greatest impact on students — both during their undergraduate years and afterward.

Their most consistent finding: Students cited the relationships they formed as the most important and memorable aspect of college. Those relationships began with fellow students, but also included connections with faculty and staff members. The number and intensity of those relationships not only predicted students’ general satisfaction with college, but had the power to motivate them to deeper, more committed learning in their courses.

8) Can reading (books) make you happier?  Of course.  That said, it makes me sad that the author of one of my very favorite books, The Corrections, left me pretty disappointed with Purity.  

9) So, what’s up with this daesh thing?  An explanation.

10) Great story on the secret effort to thwart the Nazi’s nuclear effort by blowing up their heavy water production.

11) Fascinating story on risk at baseball games and umbrellas.  I don’t go to many baseball games, but when I do, you will never find me near the field down the baselines.

12) And speaking of fascinating… this story of the most extensive face transplant ever.  At least click through and check out the photos.

13) Summary of my colleagues’ research on how state-level corruption doesn’t really hurt political parties.

14) It’s time (is it time?) for the Supreme Court to end the death penalty.

15) Future redistricting and North Carolina’s changing demographics.

16) What a journalist learned from interviewing imprisoned ISIS fighters.

17) Scoring in hockey is down significantly.  Goalies are bigger and better.  Time for bigger goals?

18) Religious children are more selfish than secular kids:

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

19) Phil Klay’s tweets on the refugees (whole series at the link).  And another opportunity to plug his brilliant book, Redployment.  

20) Very much enjoying the new Gimlet podcast, Suprisingly Awesome.  Especially this episode on free throws.

21) Long read to finish things off– John Judis on Bernie Sanders.



When values collide on campus

Count on George Packer for some great analysis:

Statements of absolute value should rarely be trusted, at least not absolutely. But for me, and perhaps for you, there are at least two to swear and live by: racism is always and everywhere wrong. And a decent society depends on the freedom to think and say what we want. At their heart, these statements uphold the same thing: the dignity and autonomy of every individual—the right to be seen and heard as yourself. They are mutually affirming, even mutually necessary. The struggle against racism requires intellectual freedom, including the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear, in order to advance justice in the face of hatred, ignorance, or indifference. And free speech becomes arid or venomous without a spirit that extends to everyone the recognition of his or her humanity.

In the controversies at Missouri and Yale, now gone national, these two absolute values seemed to run headlong into each other—to the point where some writers thought they had to set aside one or the other as beside the point…

Accounts like these get closer than viral videos to the reality lived by most people swept up in controversies. They aren’t happy stories, but they aren’t hopeless, either. Nor do they lend themselves to the outrage and contempt that provide a satisfying sugar high. But the whole tendency of our politics and our media pulls in the other direction. Twitter too often makes its users more hotheaded and simpleminded than they really are. Ambivalence and uncertainty and distinction-making don’t easily fit the form, and no one wants to give an inch—otherwise you’d be cut to pieces. A news story activates a burst of responses, instantly polarized along boringly familiar lines, which generates a second storm of commentary on the comments, drenched in name-calling and, sometimes, threats—many of them made much nastier by anonymity, the coward’s byline. The commentary itself then creates another news story, a gathering storm, and the rain comes down again.

All of it is highly ritualized, as are the abject confessions, forced apologies, and tendered resignations that sometimes follow. Everyone knows the script by heart…

In this context, it’s all the more depressing to find highly regarded American universities giving in to the notion that racial justice requires a new form of repression. This week, Mizzou police issued a statement encouraging students to report not just physical threats, but also “hurtful speech”—a dangerously wide category

Whatever the intentions, the vocabulary and logic of “safe spaces,” “micro-aggressions” (slights and insults, including inadvertent ones), and “trigger warnings” (labels accompanying written or visual material informing readers that the content might be upsetting) can be just as insidious as actual speech codes. (Tocqueville noted that, in American democracy, social pressure could be a more powerful force than the coercive measures of less free societies.) The technical sound of these terms gives them an authority they don’t deserve. They inevitably create an atmosphere of self-censorship, intolerance, and groupthink—all intensified by social media. [emphases mine] They take difficult human business out of the messy realm of exchanges between individuals who have to learn how to reason and argue and get along, and turn it over to the ghostly arbitration of the mob. They leave young people ill-equipped to navigate the less forgiving world of adults. Or, perhaps, the new campus culture is preparing the next generation to be citizens of a republic of mentally armed camps.

Yeah, that.

America has a race problem and universities are part of America

I finally realized what has been bothering me so much about the recent campus protests and it is encapsulated in the title of this post.  Of course, American universities have a race problem.  American universities are part of America, which clearly has a race problem.  That said, I would posit that universities have far less of a problem than America in general.  Universities are typically run by liberal persons with a real commitment to diversity and ending racism.  Universities actually have real institutions in place, e.g., Diversity offices, multi-cultural centers, curriculum requirements, to try and address the problems of racism.  So, I’ll got back to the Ayers post I recently included on quick hits (and clearly should have just saved for here):

Conflicts often arise between aggrieved students and university administrators or faculty, which is an example of the lamppost fallacy: tackling what you can see, rather than going where the problem really is. The fundamental conflict is between members of minority groups (blacks, latinos, transgender, etc.) and members of the majority group who want to discriminate against and oppress them. If that is the core of the conflict, there is no unilateral solution – neither group can wipe the other out, both must continue to live in the same society together. The question is, how?

Colleges are great places to have protest.  There’s a a huge tradition of it.  University administrators are actually a sympathetic audience for protesters due to the aforementioned factors.  But universities are not the problem.

And, while I’m at I should mention with regards to protester demands for more minority faculty that virtually every university in America wants more African-American faculty.  Seriously.  NC State is far from alone in having a special fund just to make this happen.  But wishing it will not make it so.  Simply put, there are not enough Black PhD’s in the pipeline.  Presumably, universities could do more in this regard (though, see efforts above), but this is not a problem that can be solved at the university level.  This is a problem with, quite obvious, deep-seated historical and sociological roots.

Of course universities should do what they can, but I would argue that your typical public university is already far more progressive on these issues than most aspects of American society.  The difference is that, for a number of historical, sociological, and logistical reasons, universities are great places to protest.

The ultimate trigger warning

Love Jonathan Rauch’s take on over-sensitivity on college campuses.  He suggests we just handle it with one big trigger warning:

The trouble is that intellectually safe places are finishing schools, not universities. They can confer connections, polish and useful skills, but they will not educate, because to educate is to inflict and to endure criticism, which is not comfortable…

So it is only fair to warn students and their parents that higher education is not a Disney cruise. Tell them in advance so they can prepare. Not, however, with multiple trigger warnings festooning syllabi. One will suffice:

“Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful personal behavior, you may at any moment, and without further notice, encounter ideas, expressions and images that are mistaken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudiced, insulting or deeply offensive. We call this education.” [emphasis mine]

Display that trigger warning prominently on the college website. Put it in the course catalog and in the marketing brochures. Then ask students and their parents to grow up and deal with it. And watch as they rise to the challenge.



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