Quick hits (part II)

Wow– so when was the last weekend I had both part I and part II up at the regularly-scheduled time.  Go me.

1) Fortunately, we really got just a glancing blow from Florence, but many others in NC were not so lucky.  If we had had to evacuate, we would have been fine, but it is not at all so simple for many.  Really enjoyed this take:

In the aftermath of landfall, it might be tempting to condemn the people who stayed behind, but please be gentle. Evacuation, like most disaster resilience actions—and really, like most of life—is easier if you have wealth, health and extensive social networks. Being able to pack up your life and leave takes privileges you may not even realize you have. Everyone is doing the best they can based on their personal context.

It takes money to displace yourself. It takes having somewhere better to go and a way to get there. Having a full tank of gas is a luxury when you live paycheck to paycheck. Spending money up front and then waiting for reimbursement requires that you have the money in the first place, while knowing what expenses are covered and how to file the paperwork requires knowledge not everyone has or has access to.

2) Greg Sargent on the latest polls and the Trump backlash:

The anti-Trump backlash is about to collide violently with the GOP’s structural, counter-majoritarian advantages in this election — and the winner of the clash will decide whether President Trump will be subjected to genuine oversight or will effectively be given even freer rein to unleash more corruption and more authoritarianism, while expanding his cruel, ethnonationalist and plutocratic agenda.

Three new polls this morning confirm that this anti-Trump backlash is running strong, with less than two months to go until the midterm elections:

  • new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Democrats have opened up a 14-point lead in the battle for the House, 52-38. Voters want Congress to be more of a check on Trump by 58 percent to 27 percent.
  • new CNN poll finds that Americans approve of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by 50-38, a new high in CNN polling. By 61-33, Americans say it is examining a “serious matter that should be fully investigated,” as opposed to the “witch hunt” that Trump rage-tweeted about again this morning.
  • new NPR-Marist poll finds that Democrats lead by 12 points in the battle for the House, 50-38. Trump’s approval is at 39-52, making this the fifth recent poll to put Trump below 40 percent.

Crucially, these polls all dovetail with the basic story we’ve seen throughout this cycle, which is that Trump has provoked a backlash among minorities, young people and college-educated and suburban whites, especially women — and even seemingly among independents — that has powered Democratic victories in unlikely places. The new polling finds the backlash is running strong among these groups right now…

What is remarkable about the current moment is the degree to which Trump’s attacks on our institutions appear to be failing, both as a self-defensive tool and perhaps even as a midterm strategy.

For over a year now, Trump has waged a full-scale assault on the mechanisms of accountability arrayed around him. He has savaged the Mueller probe and law enforcement as riddled with corruption and as orchestrating an illegitimate Deep State conspiracy against his presidency. He has attacked the news media as the “enemy of the people,” by which he means Trump and Republican voters, characterizing the free press as part of of that conspiracy against his presidency and his supporters.

But today’s new polling confirms that these things are not working with the broader electorate. There is broad and growing support for the Mueller investigation. And the Quinnipiac poll shows Americans trust the news media more than Trump to tell them the truth by 54-30, and 69 percent say the media constitutes an important part of democracy. Support for our institutions appears to be holding.

3) Friedman on the GOP’s “Devil’s bargain.”

More and more, I wonder if the disgruntled senior Trump administration official who wrote the anonymous Op-Ed in The Times was actually representing a group — like a “Murder on the Orient Express” plotline where every senior Trump adviser was in on it. Why? Because the article so perfectly captured the devil’s bargain they’ve all struck with this president: Donald Trump is amoral, dishonest and disturbed, a man totally unfit to be president, but, as the anonymous author self-servingly wrote, “There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

That’s the anonymous-G.O.P. credo today: We know Trump is a jerk, but you’ve gotta love the good stuff — you’ve got to admit that his tax cuts, deregulation, destruction of Obamacare and military buildup have fueled so much growth, defense spending and record stock market highs that we’re wealthier and more secure as a country, even if Trump is nuts. So our consciences are clear.

This view is not without foundation. Economic growth and employment have clearly been on a tear since Trump took office. I’m glad about that.

But what if Trump is actually heating up our economy by burning all the furniture in the house? It’s going to be nice and toasty for us — at least for a while — but where will our kids sleep?

4) Nobody legally bound to not-disparage Trump should ever be allowed on TV to discuss him.

5) How conservatives successfully work the refs, facebook style:

Four of Facebook’s chosen fact-checkers—the Associated Press, Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, and Snopes—are widely trusted and nonpartisan. The fifth, the Weekly Standard, has generally high-quality editorial content with a conservative ideological bent. This week, the Weekly Standard used its gatekeeping role in an incredibly troubling way, declaring that a story written by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress was false, essentially preventing Facebook users from accessing the article…

Unfortunately, Facebook has now given the Weekly Standard what appears to be total veto power over ThinkProgress’ articles. According to a source who spoke to Quartz, Facebook selected the magazine as a fact-checker to “appease all sides”—that is, to convince conservatives that the social network isn’t beset by liberal bias. As a result, a Weekly Standard editor may compel a ThinkProgress writer to “change the headline” or risk losing Facebook traffic. Not because ThinkProgress was wrong, but because the Weekly Standard disagreed with its legal analysis. That is not fact-checking. It is censorship. Indeed, it is the kind of censorship that conservatives wrongly accuse Facebook of foisting upon right-wing outlets.

6) I’m with Drum on Serena Williams

As many people have pointed out, Osaka was playing well and there’s a pretty good chance she would have won regardless. Osaka was up a break, 4-3, and had to hold her serve twice to win the match. After the penalty made it 5-3, it meant she only had to hold her serve once to win. We’ll never know for sure, but there’s no question she was in command of the match both before and after the penalty.

So what’s the conclusion from all this? First, Williams was out of line about the coaching penalty. It’s true that “everyone coaches” and it’s also true that it doesn’t get called a lot. But it does get called, and Mouratoglou’s coaching was far from subtle. The umpire did nothing wrong here.

Ditto for smashing the racket. That was an obvious code infraction.

And that leaves only the third code infraction. This is a judgment call. There’s no question that Williams was ranting and screaming. In one sense, calling a verbal abuse penalty was a no-brainer. On the other hand, it’s the tail end of a grand slam, and some umpires would have just let Williams run out of steam and then allow the match to play out. You could justify either approach, I think.

As for the charge of sexism, I don’t see it. I watch a fair amount of tennis, and I’ve seen men throw temper tantrums. I’ve also seen them get called for it. But with the caveat that I haven’t seen every temper tantrum in recent history,¹ Williams really did have a pretty epic meltdown. I haven’t seen anything like it that I can remember. The penalty may have been a judgment call, but it was a perfectly justifiable judgment call.

If you want to take Serena’s side on this, that’s fine. But please don’t do it on a knee-jerk basis. Williams’s behavior was atrocious, and the umpire, at worst, made a barely incorrect judgment call toward the end of the match. That’s it.

7) Among the most worrisome potential impacts from the massive amounts of rain and flooding from Hurricane Florence in eastern NC is pig manure everywhere.

8) I have a little sympathy for kids who don’t want to do class presentations (even though I never require it myself), but not too much.  Logic like this, does not impress me:

But in the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options. This week, a tweet posted by a 15-year-old high-school student declaring “Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” garnered more than 130,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes. A similar sentiment tweeted in January also racked up thousands of likes and retweets. And teachers are listening…

“Nobody should be forced to do something that makes them uncomfortable,” says Ula, a 14-year-old in eighth grade, [emphasis mine] who, like all students quoted, asked to be referred to only by her first name. “Even though speaking in front of class is supposed to build your confidence and it’s part of your schoolwork, I think if a student is really unsettled and anxious because of it you should probably make it something less stressful. School isn’t something a student should fear.”

Oh, my.  There’s a reason we don’t let 14-year olds decide what’s best.  I’m with these educators:

But when it comes to abolishing in-class presentations, not everyone is convinced.

“We need to stop preaching to get rid of public speaking and we need to start preaching for better mental health support and more accessibility alternatives for students who are unable to complete presentations/classwork/etc due to health reasons,” one man tweeted.

Some educators agree. “My thoughts are that we are in the business of preparing students for college, career, and civic life. Public speaking is a piece of that preparation,” says Ryan Jones, a high-school history teacher in Connecticut. “Now, some kids (many) are deathly afraid to do it, but pushing outside of comfort zones is also a big part of what we do.”

9) Yes, this Alabama pastor’s protest against Nike really does tell us a lot about “Christianity” for so many conservatives and it’s not pretty.

10) 538’s Perry Bacon, “Americans Are Shifting The Rest Of Their Identity To Match Their Politics.”

We generally think of a person’s race or religion as being fixed — and that those parts of identity (being black, say, or evangelical Christian) drive political views. Most African-Americans vote Democratic. Most evangelical Christians vote Republican. But New York University political scientist Patrick Egan has written a new paper showing evidence that identity and politics operate in the opposite direction too — people shift the non-political parts of their identity, including ethnicity and religion, to align better with being a Democrat or a Republican…

I don’t want to overemphasize the results of these studies. Egan still believes that the primary dynamic in politics and identity is that people change parties to match their other identities. But I think Egan’s analysis is in line with a lot of emerging political science that finds U.S. politics is now a fight about identity and culture (and perhaps it always was). Increasingly, the political party you belong to represents a big part of your identity and is not just a reflection of your political views. It may even be your most important identity.

11) Doctors have a really hard time stopping certain medical practices after it becomes clear they are wasteful or harmful.

12) Nice WP Op-Ed on the latest voter fraud fraud shenanigans from the Trump administration, focused on NC:

IT WAS 5 p.m. on a Friday, just as Labor Day weekend was starting, when, without warning, faxes arrived at North Carolina’s state board of elections and 44 county election boards. The faxes contained a demand so outlandish — and so blatantly in violation of state privacy laws — that several officials assumed they were a hoax. A federal subpoena demanded practically every voting document imaginable, going back years. Absentee, provisional and regular ballots. Registration applications. Early-voting applications. Absentee ballot requests. Poll books.

In fact, it was no hoax. The subpoena sought a list of items which, if satisfied, would force state and local officials to produce at least 20 million documents — in less than four weeks. Prosecutors also demanded eight years of records from the state Division of Motor Vehicles, through which voters are allowed to register to vote. No explanation was provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or federal prosecutors, who sought the documents. It is a fishing expedition by the Trump administration to support the president’s repeatedly discredited assertions that voting fraud is widespread, especially by noncitizens casting illegal ballots.

The effect of this expedition, led by Robert J. Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, is easy to foresee: This is one more in a long line of GOP efforts to suppress the vote. Members of the state board of elections, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, voted unanimously to fight the subpoena, which would overwhelm local boards’ administrative capacity. It also would intimidate voters who, with good reason, would fear their votes and other sensitive information were being handed over to federal officials.

13) Really good Pro Publica piece on the growing gap between prosperous cities and those cities left behind:

You might expect regional inequality to self-correct, given how costly and congested the hyper-prosperous cities have become. Instead, the success of these cities feeds on itself, as more employers and highly educated people decide they need to be where the action is. It’s a winner-take-all, rich-get-richer effect. The result is less than ideal for everyone: Those in the winner-take-all cities struggle to get by even with a decent salary, while those in the left-behind cities face demoralizing blight and struggle to find fulfilling work.

This is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen in the digital age. The internet was supposed to free us to live anywhere. But as Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti foresaw in his 2011 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the tech economy in fact encourages agglomeration: Innovation happens best in close proximity, not to mention that it’s easier to make your venture-capital pitch face to face. “It is almost as if, starting in the 1980s, the American economy bifurcated,” Moretti wrote. “On one side, cities with little human capital and traditional economies started experiencing diminishing returns and stiff competition from abroad. On the other, cities rich in human capital and economies based on knowledge-intensive sectors started seeing increasing returns and took full advantage of globalized markets.”

14) Voter Study Group on the hopelessness of third parties:  Pay particular attention to the last point.  Third parties in America are utterly hopeless without major structural changes which the American public is entirely unwilling to embrace. [emphases in original].

Key Findings

  • Two-thirds of Americans want a third party. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that two parties do not do an adequate job of representing the American people and that a third party is needed.
  • But third-party enthusiasts don’t agree on what that third party should be. About one-third want a party of the center, about one-fifth want a party to the left of the Democrats, and about one-fifth want a party to the right of the Republicans, with the remainder wanting something else. It would take at least five parties to capture the ideological aspirations of Americans.
  • Partisans are not about to abandon their party; most value what makes their party distinct from the other major party. Seventy-seven percent of Americans feel better represented by one party or the other, leaving only 23 percent who are equivocal between the two existing parties. And overwhelming majorities of partisans feel well-represented by their parties (81 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) and very poorly represented by the other major party (68 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans).
  • Americans neither support nor see the necessity for reforms that would help create a multiparty system. Electoral reforms like ranked-choice voting would be necessary for third parties to gain support — even more so given that the actual demand is for multiple additional rather than a single third party. But our research shows little understanding of or support for such reforms. Few make the connection between their stated desire for a third party and the electoral reforms that would make that possible.

15) So, we’re kind of wrong about everything.  The end of the piece mentions Factfulness, which I gave up reading because I actually felt like I already knew pretty much all of it.  My 12-year old son is really enjoying it now, though.

16) Excellent Adam Serwer on the NRA’s problem with Black men shot by police:

Loesch’s reaction is an example of what one might call the “Rice rule,” after Tamir Rice, the 12-year old killed by a white police officer while playing in a park with a toy gun: There are no circumstances in which the responsibility for a police shooting of an unarmed black person cannot be placed on the victim.

At the same time, scolding dead people for being unarmed is standard procedure for the NRA, which attacked Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine parishioners were massacred by the white supremacist Dylann Roof, for supporting gun control. The group similarly suggested that shootings at Planned Parenthood; at Umpqua Community College in Oregon; in Fresno, California; and at the Capital Gazettein Maryland were so deadly because the victims weren’t armed. The NRA even faulted James Shaw Jr., who prevented a mass shooting at a Waffle House by tackling the shooter, for not being armed while he did it. Ted Nugent, the closest thing the NRA has to a celebrity spokesperson, once called mass-shooting victims “losers” who “get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter.”

But the NRA’s conspicuous lack of outrage after the shootings of Philando Castile, Jason Washington, and Alton Sterling, all black men killed by police while in possession of a firearm, suggests an impossible double standard. When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. To this day, Loesch defends Castile’s shooting as justified—despite the fact that Castile informed the officer he was carrying a firearm. In Washington’s case, Loesch said she was “never going to keyboard quarterback what police are doing.”

17) Really like how Montgomery County, MD is re-thinking “gifted” education.

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Quick hits (part I)

So far been pretty lucky with the storm here.  Power was out for about three hours yesterday morning (during which my kids drove me crazy), but other than that, pretty good.  So, you’ll actually have your (rare, these day) on-time Saturday morning quick hits.

1) Oh, to be a pharmaceutical executive and justify price-gouging with your medicine:

In the category of saying the quiet parts out loud, consider this statement by Nirmal Mulye, the chief executive of drug company Nostrum Laboratories: “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.”

Mulye was responding to questions posed by the Financial Times about his quadrupling the price of an essential antibiotic to $2,392 per bottle. The drug, nitrofurantoin, is used to treat urinary tract infections. It has been on the market since 1953 and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine for “basic healthcare systems.”

In his interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday, Mulye defended Martin Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who became the face of the industry’s profiteering in 2015 when he jacked up the price of a generic anti-parasitic drug needed by HIV patients by more than 5,000%. “I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told the FT. (Shkreli is currently serving a prison term on fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.)

This is a capitalist economy….We have to make money when we can.

2) Vox’s Zack Beauchamp with a long and depressing tale about Hungary’s gradual move from democracy to authoritarianism.  And the out-group scapegoating behind so much of it.

3) David French on the need to end “qualified immunity” for police and others to violate constitutional rights with impunity.

I’m going to start with a story that will break your heart. In the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, a young man named Andrew Scott was up late, home with his girlfriend. They were playing video games when they heard a loud pounding on the door. Alarmed, Scott grabbed a pistol and opened the door. He saw a man crouching outside in the darkness. Scott retreated, gun still at his side, pointing down to the ground.

Almost instantly, the crouching figure fired his own weapon. The encounter was over in two seconds. Scott lay on the ground, dead. The man who fired? He was a police officer. He was at the wrong house. Andrew Scott was a completely innocent man who had done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

As for the officer? Well, not only was he at the wrong house, but he had no search warrant even for the correct house, he had not turned on his emergency lights, and he did not identify himself as police when he pounded on the door.

The officer was never prosecuted. The state ruled that the shooting was “justified” — in part because it said the police had no obligation to identify themselves. Then, when Scott’s estate sued the officer for money damages, the court threw out the lawsuit. A panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Then last year the entire court rejected en banc review.

A police officer killed a completely innocent man because of the officer’s inexcusable mistake. He escaped criminal prosecution. And then he even escaped civil liability — because of a little-known, judge-made legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Sadly, this was but one injustice caused by this misguided doctrine. It will not be the last. But there’s a solution. Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

4) It is misleading to judge hurricanes primarily by maximum sustained wind.  Something involving total energy or total potential destruction would be better.  That said, this stuff annoys me:

Most people know that the bigger the category, the scarier and more notable a storm.

That rule of thumb has the benefit of being true: It was legitimately worrying when, earlier this week, Hurricane Florence seemed like it might become the first Category 5 storm to strike the East Coast north of Florida. Only 33 Category 5 storms have ever been observed in the Atlantic Ocean, and as President Donald Trump exclaimed last year: “I never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

But this rule can also guide families to ruin, especially if they make a survival decision on the basis of category. A family might decide to ignore an evacuation order since it’s survived a Category 4 storm before. But a storm can be scary and notable without having a high category. That’s because only one trait determines a storm’s categorial intensity: its maximum sustained wind speed.

I don’t doubt we can have better measures.  But the fact is no matter what measures we use, some people are going to act stupidly.  We should not base our measures or media coverage(!!) on the fact that some people will always act stupidly.  Pretty clear that we do with the media coverage.

5) The state of New York is ridiculously bad when it comes to it’s arcane voting laws and the end result is less participation for New Yorkers.  That really needs to change.  On the bright side, an excellent example of how institutional factors affect turnout for my PS 302 students.

6) Generally a fan of Fareed, but this is among his weaker efforts, “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Leaving aside the wisdom of the New Yorker festival disinvite, this is a huge mis-reading on Zakaria’s part.  It’s not about suppressing his ideas, but making the statement that they are beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse, due to their white nationalist elements.  Its not fear of the ideas, but rather that there should be some clear lines and that white nationalism is one of them.

7) Relatedly, this essay in the Economist on whether political correctness has gone too far is top notch:

Regardless of how it is labelled, its underlying idea is the same: that measures to increase “tolerance” threaten the liberal, Enlightenment values that have forged the West. Self-styled opponents of political correctness and proponents of free speech may find themselves (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When framed like this, it seems utterly reasonable to think that political correctness has the potential to be a menace. Moreover, some aspects of tolerance culture, particularly the actions of students—who frequently draw the ire of such culture warriors—are, in many cases, cloying and precious…

However, some easily-dismissed examples aside, the notion that political correctness has gone too far is absurd. That a man who boasts gleefully about grabbing women by their genitals, mocks disabled reporters and stereotypes Muslims as “terrorists” and Mexicans as “rapists” was able to become the leader of the free world should disabuse anyone of that notion. Indeed those who invoke “political correctness” often use it for more cynical means. It is a smoke screen for regressivism…

These phenomena—invoking “political correctness” as a fig-leaf for naked prejudice, and in spite of evidence to the contrary—find their most troubling embodiment in political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. [emphases mine] Mr Trump once stated that “the problem [America] has is being politically correct,” and sees himself as a corrective to that. Mr Farage, too, sees himself as a crusader against political correctness.

Both consider themselves to be “taking back” their respective countries from a varied cast of bogeymen: among them elitists, social justice warriors, Muslims and immigrants. Both seem to want to undermine the very institutions that preserve our rights and liberties.

At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.

8) I’m a huge fan of “next generation” nuclear power.  Let’s make it happen.  Nice article in Wired.

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real…

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

9) Apple is just done with small (i.e., non-huge) Iphones.  I love my SE.  This makes me sad.  This is actually the one thing that might eventually move me to Android.

10) Watch this Super pod of dolphins.  So cool!

11) Can’t remember if I shared Wirecutter’s guide to adult board games.  Bought Dixit and played it twice already.  The whole family loves it.  Already fans of 7 Wonders and Ticket to Ride.

12) Speaking of playing games, can we play our way to a better democracy?  Yes?

But not all play is created equal. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist at Boston College, studies the effects of “free play,” which he defines as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Guitar lessons and soccer practice are not free play — they are supervised and directed by an adult. But when kids jam with friends or take part in a pickup soccer game, that’s free play.

The absence of adults forces children to practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes with no help from a referee, and then vary the rules or norms of play when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take small risks, rather than assuming that adults will always be there, like guard rails, telling them where the limits of safety lie. Outdoor free play, in mixed-age groups, is the most effective way for children to learn these essential life skills, Professor Gray says…

By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers. These large increases do not just reflect a greater willingness to seek help; there has been a corresponding rise in self-harm,suicidal thinking and suicide among American adolescents and college students.

The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.

It’s easy to see how overprotection harms individuals, but in a disturbing essay titled “Cooperation Over Coercion,” the economist Steven Horwitz made the case that play deprivation also harms liberal democracies. He noted that a defining feature of the liberal tradition is its desire to minimize coercion by the power of the state and maximize citizens’ freedom to create the lives they choose for themselves. He reviewed work by political scientists showing that self-governing communities and democracies rely heavily on conversation, informal norms and local conflict resolution procedures to manage their affairs with minimal appeal to higher authorities. He concluded that self-governance requires the very skills that Peter Gray finds are best developed in childhood free play. [emphasis mine]

13) Even though my daughter is a good reader, we’re having a rough time actually getting her to read every day.  Maybe I should be making her practice math instead:

A large body of research has revealed that boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing and are often relatively better at these than they are at math, even though their math skills are as good as the boys’. The consequence? A typical little boy can think he’s better at math than language arts. But a typical little girl can think she’s better at language arts than math. As a result, when she sits down to do math, she might be more likely to say, “I’m not that good at this!” She actually is just as good (on average) as a boy at the math — it’s just that she’s even better at language arts.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s taking place in the minds of babes. But studies revealing developmental differences between boys’ versus girls’ verbal abilities alongside developmental similarities in boys’ and girls’ math abilities — combined with studies that show that among girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance — seem to indicate that something like the above dynamic might be going on.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind, that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.

It’s important to realize that math is, to some extent, like playing a musical instrument. But the instrument you play is your own internal neural apparatus…

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Take it from someone who started out hating math and went on to become a professor of engineering: Do your daughter a favor — give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)

14) Meanwhile, Amanda Ripley looks at why girls in the Middle East outperform boys by so much:

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

15) Even liberal political science professors can be racist.  Though, I’m damn sure I’ve never mistaken a Black female political scientist for the hired help and damn sure I never would.

16) Originalism is such crap and pretty much always just a pretext for reaching conservative decisions that fit with a judge’s ideology.  Always happy to read something making this case.

The problem with these appeals to originalism, and the impartiality they connote, is that they have not held true in practice. Which is why to critics, and I’m one of them, the label of originalist strikes us as a cover for imposing conservative value judgments.

Consider that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Scalia, voted to strike down huge swaths of constitutional law without historical justification. Together they invalidated state and federal affirmative action laws, campaign finance legislation, federal laws directing the states to help implement national programs such as background checks for gun purchasers, and many other important pieces of legislation without relying on persuasive originalist evidence.

Justice Gorsuch has only been on the court for a term and a half, but he has already joined with Justice Thomas (and the other conservatives) several times to strike down state laws without relying on originalist sources…

All of which is to say that, for these originalists, originalism didn’t figure very importantly, if at all, in how they cast their votes on some of the court’s most consequential recent cases. Instead, they used, for their own ends, the same type of values-based living constitutionalism that they and other conservative jurists and politicians typically decry.

17) And an interesting take on the politicized Supreme Court, “What’s the Point of the Supreme Court? If you know beforehand how justices will vote based on which president appointed them, then what’s the point of having a court that, in theory, operates above politics?”

18) Jonathan Bernstein is right about the 25th amendment:

If those close to Trump really think he must be removed from office, impeachment and removal are a better tool. The case for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and generally violating the oath of office may still not be so obvious that it demands congressional action. But impeachment has always been political, and it’s reasonable for Congress to take into account Trump’s general unfitness for office when it decides whether to move ahead. Meanwhile, impeachment has a lower congressional threshold, making it (relatively) easier than relying on the 25th. And it is constitutionally swift and sure, leaving no ambiguity after it happens. 3 It’s true that the anonymous op-ed writer seems at least as concerned with Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, especially on trade, than he or she is with the general lawlessness of the administration. But perhaps that’s just a message for Republicans who refuse to accept what all the other anonymous leakers have told us. At any rate, there’s no reason it should guide anyone going forward.

The bottom line is that the 25th Amendment simply isn’t adequate to the task of removing a president who remains in good enough condition to contest it and wants to do so. Regardless of whether impeaching the president is a serious question, talk of invoking the 25th, even if well-intentioned, is just misguided and dangerous.

19) Discovered this super-cool interactive power outage map today.  You can see the effect of the hurricane in NC and that things get dramatically worse immediately to the southeast of my home, Wake County.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Not going to read the memoir of Steve Jobs’ daughter, but found the NYT book review really fascinating.

2) Ezra Klein on Republicans blaming Obama for the rise of Trump:

There are reams of evidence supporting this explanation, and I run through much of it in my piece “White Threat in a Browning America.” Obama’s presidency was inextricable from the massive demographic change that made it possible, and that continues to reshape American life and politics. But it wasn’t just demographic change that Obama represented. Obama, though a Christian himself, led an increasingly secular coalition, and was othered as a secret Muslim in the minds of many conservatives. Similarly, perceptions of economic change were filtered through broader views about Obama and the country: the political scientist Michael Tesler found that the most racially resentful Americans were the most economically pessimistic before the 2016 election and the most economically optimistic after it…

Trump, for all his flaws, ran a campaign based on clear positions and aspirations. He promised to build a wall; he said that our country was being weakened by louche, violent, parasitic immigrants; he said Obama was an illegitimate president with a forged birth certificate; he vowed to stop Muslims from traveling to the country; and in every speech, at every turn, he promised to turn back the clock, to make America great again.

That a crucial portion of the Republican electorate agreed with him in all of this is undeniable. What it says about them is often treated as if it is unspeakable — either because to state their beliefs clearly is insulting or because it just makes a bad political situation worse.

Trump did not create these voters. They long predated him — they were present in both Pat Buchanan’s and Ross Perot’s candidacies — but they were homeless in American politics, suppressed by the two parties for reasons of both principle and political expediency.

Trump, with his money, celebrity, and media-savvy, taking advantage of new communication technologies, a weakened Republican Party, and the rage that grew on the right amid the daily affront of Obama’s presidency, was able to break through the cartel and offer those voters the choice they actually wanted, and in the Republican primary, enough of them took it to make him the nominee.

3) My wife and I keep arguing about the utility of the Myers-Briggs personality test.  I’m definitely in the they are fun, but not really science, camp.

4) Evidence that ancient Siberians ritually (and selectively) sacrificed dogs:

Choosing which animals would live, work, and reproduce is a form of selective breeding and an important feature of domestication, the study authors argue. As such, these human actions shaped the physical characteristics and personality traits of the animals that lived at Ust’-Polui.

The fact that some dogs were ritually buried while others were butchered suggests a complex set of beliefs regarding the place of dogs in society. Canines were not seen as a homogeneous group. Researchers don’t know why they received different treatment, but these new findings suggest that humans only built an enduring relationship with the dogs they deemed valuable to the community, molding them to their needs and cultural specificities. “These diverse practices—whether intentional or not—drove the evolution and domestication of dogs in this region,” says Angela Perri, an archaeologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved with the study.

5) I’m honestly pretty curious for Nicole’s take on how much of the rise in transgender is social construction.  I don’t don’t the reality of any individual’s transgender experience, but it does strike me that there may be a strong social element in some cases.  The Economist:

Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of behavioural and social sciences at Brown University, was curious about what was causing these changes. She had come across reports from parents on online forums describing a new pattern of behaviour: adolescents without a history of childhood gender dysphoria were announcing they were transgender after a period of immersing themselves in niche websites or after similar announcements from friends. Her study suggests that these children may be grappling with what she calls “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”.

For the study, Dr Littman recruited 256 parents of children whose symptoms of gender dysphoria suddenly appeared for the first time in adolescence. These parents—Ms Miller among them—took part anonymously in an online, 90-question survey. Dr Littman’s findings suggest that a process of “social and peer contagion” may play a role. According to the parents surveyed, 87% of children came out as transgender after spending more time online, after “cluster outbreaks” of gender dysphoria in friend groups, or both. (In a third of the friendship groups, half or more of the individuals came out as transgender; by contrast, just 0.7% of Americans aged between 18 and 24 are transgender.) Most children who came out became more popular as a result. Rachel, Ms Miller’s daughter, says that when she told her friends, all of whom she had met online, they congratulated her: “It was, like, welcome home.”

Dr Littman thinks that some adolescents may embrace the idea that they are transgender as a way of coping with symptoms of a different, underlying issue. Almost two-thirds of the children had one or more diagnoses of a psychiatric or developmental disorder preceding the onset of gender dysphoria; nearly half had self-harmed or experienced some trauma. This is consistent with other studies of gender dysphoria when it sets in during puberty. Some people distract themselves from emotional pain by drinking, taking drugs, cutting or starving themselves. Dr Littman suggests that, for some, gender dysphoria may also be in this category.

6) I really don’t care who wrote the anonymous Op-‘ed, but William Saletan makes a good case for Jon Huntsman.

7) Given that Title IX reforms are coming from Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration, it is understandable that liberals would be hugely skeptical.  And, I suspect some of the reforms will be not good.  But Emily Yoffe is right that reforms move things in the right direction:

What happens when a morally reprehensible administration puts forth morally just reforms? We are about to find out. A New York Times report on Wednesday outlined the Trump administration’s proposed revisions of rules governing how campuses deal with sexual misconduct allegations (the official release is expected by October)…

On campuses, this type of discussion—or indeed any introspection about the excesses of Title IX, the unfairness of the procedures, and the damage done to both young men and women on campus—has been strenuously avoided. But institutions of higher education are exactly the place where such examination should take place. I understand the unease in embracing policies promulgated by a reprehensible administration. But reprehensible things have been happening on campus for too long now. The Trump administration is proposing needed reform that will go through the safeguards of public notice and comment. Those who seek to resist and discredit due process and fairness are only hurting their own cause.

8) This Slate article makes a pretty strong case that Brett Kavanaugh perjured himself before the Senate in earlier hearings.  All else aside, I really don’t think we should have Supreme Court justices who have done that.

9) Damn do I love this Alexis Madrigal history of modern capitalism through the perspective of the straw.  And a great 99PI on it.

10) Society generally thinks morning birds are awesome and night owls are lazy slackers, but this is actually largely genetically set.  Most people are somewhere in the middle, but I’m definitely towards the night owl side.

11) Given that I had three boys followed by a girl, my wife runs an on-line children’s clothing store,  and that I teach a class on Gender, I’m definitely interested in what gendered clothing has to say about our society. Really enjoyed this essay:

I eventually realized that, even in an age of female fighter pilots and #MeToo, boys’ clothes are largely designed to be practical, while girls’ are designed to be pretty. Now when I shop for Lia, I hit the boys’ section first. It’s not just about avoiding skinned knees, but also the subtle and discouraging message that’s woven right into girls’ garments: you are dressed to decorate, not to do.

Sarah has always loved girlie clothes (though, now it is shorts and t-shirts instead of dresses) and she has definitely noticed the lack of practicality when it comes to pockets, etc.

12) Love this Op-Ed, “The False Comfort of Securing Schools: The instinct to use law enforcement tactics to make parents feel less anxious about mass shootings is misguided.”

The instinct to offer parents immediate relief from their anxieties risks making schools into fortresses. For example, in Texas, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security used a recent hearing to focus on discussing “various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

What does transforming schools into “harder targets” really achieve? If anything, it tends to make students feel less safe. For example, in the aftermath of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, students had an intense and negative reaction to being required to use clear backpacks, expressing concern that these measures were creating a climate of mutual suspicion — “like jail,” as one student put it.

13) We’ve got a bunch of Constitutional Amendments on our November ballot here in NC.  Rather than needed Constitutional change, it’s just pure GOP politics.  This N&O op-Ed captures it:

For Republican leaders, this lack of awareness and general confusion about the impact of the amendments isn’t a problem. It’s their intention. Their strategy for gaining voter approval of amendments that range from needless to dangerous relies on voters being kept in the dark.

That’s why the most consequential amendments were written with vague and misleading language. And that’s why the legislature came back into special session to block a commission from adding clarifying captions about the amendments to the ballot. And that’s why a three-judge panel found the language of two amendment ballot questions so inaccurate that it ordered the legislature to rewrite them.

Informing voters exposes this partisan abuse of the amendment process. When the Elon pollsters read the commission’s official explanations of the amendments that will be distributed to local election boards, support for the photo ID and tax cap amendments dropped. But voters will have to seek out those explanations. They won’t be on the ballot.

14) This 12-year old girl is obviously a truly amazing soccer player. And her parents are obviously everything that’s wrong with over-involved sports parents.

College kids today

Love this piece from NPR emphasizing that today’s “typical” college kid is not the full-time, 18-22 year old student, fresh out of high school.  The reality:

But these days that narrative of the residential, collegiate experience is way off, says Alexandria Walton Radford, who heads up postsecondary education research at RTI International, a think tank in North Carolina. What we see on movie screens and news sites, she says, is skewed to match the perceptions of the elite: journalists, researchers, policymakers.

Today’s college student is decidedly nontraditional — and has been for a while. “This isn’t a new phenomenon,” Radford says. “We’ve been looking at this since 1996.”

So, what do we know about these “typical” college students of today?

Radford has done a lot of research on this and defines the nontraditional student as having one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Financially independent from their parents
  • Having a child or other dependent
  • Being a single caregiver
  • Lacking a traditional high school diploma
  • Delaying postsecondary enrollment
  • Attending school part time
  • Being employed full time

So here’s a snapshot of the 17 million Americans enrolled in undergraduate higher education, according to numbers culled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

  • 1 in 5 is at least 30 years old
  • About half are financially independent from their parents
  • 1 in 4 is caring for a child
  • 47 percent go to school part time at some point
  • A quarter take a year off before starting school
  • 2 out of 5 attend a two-year community college
  • 44 percent have parents who never completed a bachelor’s degree

One thing for sure, says Radford, is that it’s probably time to coin a new phrase for nontraditional students, considering they are the new normal.

Pretty sure that most of my students still fit the “traditional” narrative, but Radford is right that, on the whole, this is really misleading and we need to adjust out cultural conception of “college student” to better reflect reality (and have policy that follows).

Quick hits

Pretty busy trying to finish stuff up before a PS conference and then attending a PS conference, so pretty late on this.  But, hey how better to spend your Labor Day than reading quick hits.

1) Julia Azari takes a look at the Democratic Party’s rules changes on Superdelegates

2) Yasha Mounk with a good take on McCain:

Some people hope that Americans might one day be able to cast aside our differences and recognize that, far from being either enemies or adversaries, we are actually friends. That hope is naïve: Complex societies like ours will always have deep political fault lines. The spirit of democracy is not to hide or overcome those disagreements, but rather to channel them into productive political competition.

That is why McCain was not a bi- or even non-partisan patriot, as some misremember him. Rather, he represented something we need much more urgently: a decent partisan, who was animated by his conviction about how to change the country, and yet deeply respectful of the people with whom he disagreed.

And this, of course, also helps us to understand the true nature of the man whom McCain so obviously disdained: The deepest problem with Donald Trump is not that he has political views with which many Americans viscerally disagree, or even that he desperately wants his own side to win. It is that he casts anybody who does disagree with him as an enemy, not only of himself, but of the country as a whole. And in that sense, the most ignoble thing Trump ever said about McCain—his suggestion that McCain wasn’t a war hero because he had been captured (and badly tortured) by the Vietcong—was a logical outflow of his core convictions: Trump’s world view does not brook the possibility that a man who disagreed with him as deeply as McCain always did might nevertheless have had universally admired accomplishments to his name.

3) Mark Joseph Stern on the NC gerrymandering decision:

Typically, at this point, North Carolina Republicans would file an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court, which would place the district court’s ruling on hold by a 5–4 vote. But right now the court has only eight members, and it’s evenly split between liberals and conservatives. As election law expert and Slate contributor Rick Hasen has pointed out, if the court deadlocks 4–4, the district court order will stand. So long as no liberal justices defect—and there’s a possibility one might, though not a strong one—North Carolina may have fair districts in the 2018 election. (Because ballots must be printed in September, Republicans cannot simply wait until October to appeal.)

But that may prove to be the last gasp of robust, competitive elections in the state. In 2019, SCOTUS will probably hear a proper appeal of the district court’s decision. At that point, if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will almost certainly join the conservatives to rule that federal courts may not invalidate partisan gerrymanders. Republicans are poised to retain control of the state legislature in 2018 due to a different gerrymander that is only partially fixed. If they do, they may seek to re-implement the old heavily biased congressional maps as quickly as possible, perhaps even in advance of the 2020 election. Put simply, if voters don’t break Republicans’ grasp on their state Legislature, the GOP may wind up regaining its stranglehold on congressional districts.

So, in November, voters will have a chance to oust the Republican legislators who illegally entrenched their own power. They may not get another shot.

4) The microwave attack on diplomats in Cuba is spy thriller movie stuff.  And apparently real.

5) I think Paul Krugman is a little pessimistic in this column (I think we’re a lot further from Poland or Hungary than he suggests), but the case he makes is nonetheless disturbing as hell:

Many Trump critics celebrated last week’s legal developments, taking the Manafort conviction and the Cohen guilty plea as signs that the walls may finally be closing in on the lawbreaker in chief. But I felt a sense of deepened dread as I watched the Republican reaction: Faced with undeniable evidence of Trump’s thuggishness, his party closed ranks around him more tightly than ever.

A year ago it seemed possible that there might be limits to the party’s complicity, that there would come a point where at least a few representatives or senators would say, no more. Now it’s clear that there are no limits: They’ll do whatever it takes to defend Trump and consolidate power. [emphasis mine]

This goes even for politicians who once seemed to have some principles. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was a voice of independence in the health care debate; now she sees no problem with having a president who’s an unindicted co-conspirator appoint a Supreme Court justice who believes that presidents are immune from prosecution. Senator Lindsey Graham denounced Trump in 2016, and until recently seemed to be standing up against the idea of firing the attorney general to kill the Mueller investigation; now he’s signaled that he’s O.K. with such a firing.

But why is America, the birthplace of democracy, so close to following the lead of other countries that have recently destroyed it?

Don’t tell me about “economic anxiety.” That’s not what happened in Poland, which grew steadily through the financial crisis and its aftermath. And it’s not what happened here in 2016: Study after study has found that racial resentment, not economic distress, drove Trump voters.

The point is that we’re suffering from the same disease — white nationalism run wild — that has already effectively killed democracy in some other Western nations. And we’re very, very close to the point of no return.

6) I’ve never really had a strong position on Amy Klobuchar one way or the other, but based on this, I am not impressed.  How hopelessly naive to think that of Democrats had not ended the filibuster for federal court nominations that McConnell would not himself have done so under Trump.

7) Cool NYT feature on how much hotter (number of 90+ degree days) your hometown has become and how much hotter it likely will be in the future.  Ugh.

8) The Vox politics folks take a look at which Democratic 2020 candidates are over-rated and under-rated on betting prediction markets.  Sell Biden and buy Bernie?

9) Love David Graham on why Trump can’t even fathom Manafort and Cohen’s convictions.  We have such a white-collar crime problem in this country:

In other words, the behavior for which Manafort and Cohen are now likely to go to prison long predates the Trump presidency. These were not one-time acts, but chronic patterns of behavior. And just like every vanquished Scooby-Doo villain, they probably would have gotten away with it if not for that meddling president.

The dirty secret about many types of white-collar crime is that they’re never prosecuted. In the top income brackets, it’s relatively easy to cheat on your taxes and, if you get caught, simply shrug, apologize, and write the IRS a check. The same is true of laws such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act. When Mueller indicted Manafort for violating the seldom-enforced statute, it triggered a panicked wave of new registrations, as people who’d been skirting the law rushed to avoid legal exposure…

Trump’s comments are indicative of his own m.o. before becoming president. As a businessman, he frequently bent or broke the rules and the law, confident—correctly—that he would be able to pay a fine, settle, and do whatever else it took to make something go away without ever having to go to trial or face criminal charges…

For Trump, crime simply isn’t something that well-to-do men like himself, or Cohen, or Manafort do. It’s something that young men of color do. Businessmen can always find the right price to make trouble go away. [emphasis mine]

10) How much of a man’s man is Jordan Peterson?  Meat-only diet!

11) Damn, Baylor University is evil, “Report: Baylor Secretly Infiltrated Sexual Assault Survivor Groups.”

12) From the Nature is a Maaaad Scientist files, “Naked-Mole-Rat Queens Control Their Subjects by Having Them Eat Poop

And according to a new study from Japan, naked-mole-rat queens use their hormone-rich poop to govern their subordinates. When the subordinates eat the hormone, it turns them into attentive caretakers of the queen’s own pups. It’s mind control, via poop.

Naked mole rats had interested Kazutaka Mogi, a biologist at Azabu University, because of their unusual social structure. Like ants and bees, but unlike almost all other mammals, naked mole rats live in large colonies where the queen is the only female that reproduces. Her subordinates take care of the pups, and they never make sex hormones of their own or become sexually mature. Mogi and his team had investigated parenting in mice, and they knew that hormones play a key role in triggering parental behaviors in mammals. If the bodies of the subordinate naked mole rats aren’t making any hormones, how do they become such attentive caretakers—to pups that aren’t even their own?

The team collected fecal pellets from pregnant queens and gave them to a handful of subordinate females, which soon became much more responsive to the cries of pups. Then they repeated the experiment to make sure the hormones were really the key component of the poop. This time, they took fecal pellets from nonpregnant queens and added estradiol—a type of estrogen—to only half of the pellets. Only the naked mole rats that ate the estradiol-supplement poop became more responsive to pup cries.

Mogi was excited. He had never seen hormones work like this before. Hormones are powerful mediators of behavior, but their effects are normally limited to the body of the animal making them. Here the queen seems to be making hormones to alter the bodies of totally separate animals. Insect colonies have sometimes been called superorganisms for the way thousands of individuals behave as one unit; in this case, hormones seem to be acting on naked-mole-rat colonies as a single superorganism.

13) Helping less economically-advantaged students take the SAT and ACT more than once, can make a dent in the racial gap in college admissions.

14) Political scientists make the Onion, “Political Scientists Reassure Americans That Stripping Minorities Of Citizenship Usually Where Descent Into Fascism Peters Out.”

15) Vox’s on the latest in the social science replication crisis, “More social science studies just failed to replicate. Here’s why this is good.  hat scientists learn from failed replications: how to do better science.”

16) And Ed Yong focuses on what the on-line betting market on this recent replication test can tell us:

At the start of the market, shares for every study cost $0.50 each. As trading continued, those prices soared and dipped depending on the traders’ activities. And after two weeks, the final price reflected the traders’ collective view on the odds that each study would successfully replicate. So, for example, a stock price of $0.87 would mean a study had an 87 percent chance of replicating. Overall, the traders thought that studies in the market would replicate 63 percent of the time—a figure that was uncannily close to the actual 62-percent success rate.

The traders’ instincts were also unfailingly sound when it came to individual studies. Look at the graph below. The market assigned higher odds of success for the 13 studies that were successfully replicated than the eight that weren’t…

“It is great news,” says Anna Dreber from the Stockholm School of Economics, who came up with the idea of using prediction markets to study reproducibilityin 2015. “It suggests that people more or less already know which results will replicate.”

“If researchers can anticipate which findings will replicate, or fail to, it makes it harder to sustain dismissive claims about the replications or the replicators,” adds Brian Nosek from the Center of Open Science, who was part of the SSRP…

Beyond statistical issues, it strikes me that several of the studies that didn’t replicate have another quality in common: newsworthiness. They reported cute, attention-grabbing, whoa-if-true results that conform to the biases of at least some parts of society. One purportedly showed that reading literary fiction improves our ability to understand other people’s beliefs and desires. Another said that thinking analytically weakens belief in religion. Yet another said that people who think about computers are worse at recalling old information—a phenomenon that the authors billed as “the Google effect.” All of these were widely covered in the media.

When Nosek reads studies like these, he asks himself whether he would care at all if the results were negative. In many cases, the answer would be no. Some of the traders relied on similar judgments. “I did a sniff test of whether the results actually make sense,” says Paul Smeets from Maastricht University. “Some results look quite spectacular but also seem a bit too good to be true, which usually that means they are.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this NYT article about how we need to fail and talk about it the right way to enable growth.

We’ve all flopped on a big presentation.

After weeks of careful preparation and practice, you feel ready to knock it out of the park. But the day comes and, for whatever reason, every joke seems to fall flat, you bumble through all your numbers and your technology seems to be working against you.

The embarrassment and blow to your self-worth can manifest in unlimited ways — and sometimes it feels like it’s manifesting in all ways — and our bodies’ response to failure can even mimic that of physical pain, Bradley Staats, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School, writes in “Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself and Thrive.”

“We respond that way, and then we feel bad about responding that way, and so we try to cover it up instead of learn from it,” Mr. Staats said. “We shouldn’t be ashamed of the reaction. It is natural.”

Even though most people prefer to process failure internally and quickly move on for fear of causing a scene or seeming unprofessional, taking the time to reflect on and communicate about unwanted outcomes can go a long way in creating more congenial, trusting and ultimately productive workplaces.

2) NYT again, “An Underappreciated Key to College Success: Sleep.”  To be fair, replace “college” with any number of potential words there.  But, yeah, perhaps a particular problem for college students.  Then again, we aren’t crazy enough to start at 7:30 like they do in HS.

Whatever you may think can get in the way of a successful college experience, chances are you won’t think of one of the most important factors: how long and how well you sleep. And not just on weekends, but every day, Monday through Sunday.

Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating.

3) More research on how sitting for too long is bad for your brain.  This study suggests an advantage to getting up every 30 minutes.  Between my kids always wanting something at home and my frequent bathroom breaks at work, I should be doing pretty well.

4) Really loving Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show (and appreciating the deal I just got on Showtime).  Here’s why it is so hard to win a lawsuit against him (mostly, because he lets people entirely voluntarily make fools of themselves, whether false pretenses or not).

5) Child services launches weeks long investigation for 8-year old walking dog on her own.  Ugh.  It all ended up okay, and I get that child services needs to investigate, but this should have been a 5-minute investigation.

6) NYT’s “Smarter Living” guru argues for the value of life-tracking apps.  I’m mostly with him.  (Big fan of My Fitness Pal).

7) How fun and not surprising that the did Trump or John Gotti say it quiz is not all that easy.

8) It should not take a special counsel investigating the president to hold people accountable for white-collar crimes.  Alas, in 2018 America, it pretty much does.  Sad.

Oh, the audacity of dopes. The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. One can almost sympathize with them: If it wasn’t for their decision to attach themselves to the most unlikely president in modern history, there’s every reason to think they might still be working their frauds today.

But how anomalous are Mr. Manafort and Mr. Cohen? Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the I.R.S.? Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed? What about the world of luxury residential building in which Mr. Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement. The F.B.I. shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s. The I.R.S.’s criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition. The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

No wonder Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort were so brazen. They must have felt they had impunity.

How could they not? Any person in any bar in America can tell you who was held accountable for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which peaked 10 years ago next month: No one. No top officer from any major bank went to prison.

But the problem goes beyond big banks. The Department of Justice — in Democratic as well as Republican administrations — has lost the will and ability to prosecute top executives across corporate America, at large industrial firms, tech giants, retailers, drugmakers and so on. Instead the Department of Justice reaches settlements with corporations, which pay in dollars instead of the liberty of their top officers and directors.

9) NYT NeverTrumper Brett Stephens makes the post-Manafort and Cohen convictions case for impeachment.  Honestly, Trump is so corrupt, but I think campaign finance violations (the whole system is so convoluted and so much of what’s wrong is what’s actually legal) that I really do not think this is the hill upon which to take down the self-dealing, corrupt, incompetent liar in the White House.

10) One area of clear bipartisan agreement?  Not in my backyard.

11) Perhaps you heard about the toppling of the Confederate memorial statue, Silent Sam, at UNC.  Forbes give us, “Scholars Explain The Racist History Of UNC’s Silent Sam Statue.”

12) Just throw some white nationalist chum to Trump (via Fox, of course) and he cannot resist.  Ugh.

13) You really can get addicted to marijuana.  And it’s not great.  That said, cost-benefit wise, I’d still argue almost anything is an improvement over the disaster that is federal schedule I and strict criminalization.

14) An interesting speculation on what if there were a tape of Trump saying the N word:

Let’s play this out for a moment. What would happen if a tape surfaced featuring the president using the N word? History is useful here. For a subset of the country, it would weaken the taboo on using the word. Some of these Americans would likely litigate whether the usage was, in fact, a slur directed at black people, or whether he was merely discussing the word. It was very improper language, and he’s acknowledged that, but I don’t characterize it as a slur.It’s always wrong to use that word. But as the president today he has not used that word. It was a quipLocker-room talka private conversation that took place many years agoTalk and action are two different thingsAlso within this subset would be the vocal contingent of folks—most, apparently, white men—for whom the proscription on saying the word constitutes the last, totemic vestige of racial discrimination. This is part and parcel of the left’s hypocrisy when it comes to the N wordThe question is, will the American people be smart enough to see beyond the manipulation? I expect this group already glories in the usage of the word in private, and if the president used it, they would consider that full license to take their newly desegregated word public, and shout it from the mountaintops. Free at last.

15) Your scientific guide to making friends.

So what should you do if your social life is lacking? Here, too, the research is instructive. To begin with, don’t dismiss the humble acquaintance. Even interacting with people with whom one has weak social ties has a meaningful influence on well-being. [7] Beyond that, building deeper friendships may be largely a matter of putting in time. A recent study out of the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a “real” friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend. [8]

If that sounds like too much effort, reviving dormant social ties can be especially rewarding. Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime. [9] And if all else fails, you could start randomly confiding in people you don’t know that well in hopes of letting the tail wag the relational dog. Self-disclosure makes us more likable, and as a bonus, we are more inclined to like those to whom we have bared our soul. [10]

[7] Sandstrom and Dunn, “Social Interactions and Well-Being” (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2014)

[8] Hall, “How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?” (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 2018)

[9] Levin et al., “Dormant Ties” (Organization Science, July–Aug. 2011)

[10] Collins and Miller, “Self-Disclosure and Liking” (Psychological Bulletin, Nov. 1994)

 

 

Great advice for college students

I had a lot of great conversations with brand new college students last week.  Among other pieces of advice I shared, one of them was basically… faculty one-on-one time is the most under-utilized resource at the university.  So many students just don’t appreciate this fact at all, or are totally intimidated, or are just after their degree and nothing more.

Loved this Frank Bruni column from this weekend on how to get the most out of college:

But others do have the freedom to tailor their time. They just neglect to take advantage of it. My friend Eric Johnson, who provides guidance to underprivileged students at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put it to me this way: “The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”

Johnson is as thoughtful and insightful about higher education as just about anyone I’ve come across. The wisest students, he said, “move into a peer relationship with the institution rather than a consumer relationship with it.” They seize leadership roles. They serve as research assistants.

And they build social capital, realizing that above all else, they’re in college “to widen the circle of human beings who know you and care about you,” [emphases mine] he said. That’s perfectly put…

But perhaps the most important relationships to invest in are those with members of the school’s faculty. Most students don’t fully get that. They’re not very good at identifying the professors worth knowing — the ones who aren’t such academic rock stars that they’re inaccessible, the ones with a track record of serious mentoring — and then getting to know them well…

Walker is an example of what a mammoth study by Gallup, Purdue University and the Strada Education Network has found. Previously known as the Gallup-Purdue Index and now called the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, it has questioned about 100,000 American college graduates of all ages about their college experiences, looking for connections between how they spent their time in college and how fulfilled they say they are now.

The study has not found that attending a private college or a highly selective one foretells greater satisfaction. Instead, the game changers include establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project and playing a significant part in a campus organization. What all of these reflect are engagement and commitment, which I’ve come to think of as overlapping muscles that college can and must be used to build. They’re part of an assertive rather than a passive disposition, and they’re key to professional success.

Great advice.  If you are a college student, follow it.  If you are an NC State student, you know where to find me.  And you know where to find organizations to get yourself involved.

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