Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to give this Chait post on #sharpiegate last week it’s own post.  It’s really good:

Increasingly, Republicans are dispensing with the fig leaf and flaunting their complicity. Putting money in Trump’s pocket by booking his properties has become a symbol of partisan solidarity. It is a signal of support both to the president and to fellow Republicans or business clients that you are on the ins with the boss. [emphases mine] “President Trump has really been on the side of the Evangelicals and we want to do everything we can to make him successful,” one Evangelical leader tells the Times. “And if that means having dinner or staying in his hotel, we are going to do so.” Aggressive lack of curiosity has given way to open boasting of the quid pro quo arrangement.

None of these stories by itself has the singular drama of a Teapot Dome or a Watergate. Indeed, the mere fact that there is so much corruption prevents any single episode from capturing the imagination of the media and the public. But it is the totality of dynamic that matters. A corrupt miasma has slowly enveloped Washington. For generations, both parties generally upheld an assumption that the government would abide rules and norms dividing its proper functioning from the president’s personal and political interests.

The norm of bureaucratic professionalism and fairness is a pillar of the political legitimacy and economic strength of the American system, the thing that separates countries like the U.S. from countries like Russia. The decay of that culture is difficult to quantify, but the signs are everywhere. Trump’s stench is slowly seeping into every corner of government.

2) This is a really interesting analyses if the substantial and under-appreciated differences within Black voters.  But the headline, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted” is misleading.  So long as Republicans are unequivocally the white people’s party, the overwhelming majority of Blacks will vote Democratic regardless of their precise ideological dispositions.

3) Vox’s Josh Godelman convinced me to pony-up for TSA pre-check.  I didn’t realize your $80 is amortized over 3 years.  Even though I don’t fly a lot, would I pay $20 per flight to avoid regular security?  Hell yeah.  Also, this is wrong.  “It absolutely shouldn’t exist, and is absolutely an incredible value.”

4) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the very limited eliteness (especially on twitter) of super-wokeness:

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work…

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work.

In both cases, critics of the comedians in questions tried to portray their most recent work as a sudden, jarring shift from what they had produced before. Suddenly, Louis C.K. was “punching down.” Suddenly, he was using his comedic powers for evil, not for good. This argument, which popped up everywhere, made no sense if you were at all familiar with C.K.’s past work. This was a guy who, before and during the time he was garnering glowing coverage as a hero of humanistic, progressive comedywas making jokes about how it’s okay to use the word ‘faggot’ as long as the target is sufficiently mockable, and how sad it was he couldn’t say it anymore, and who once said, during a hilarious segment on his irrational hatred of deer, “I would happily blow 20 guys in an alley with bleeding dicks so I could get AIDS and then fuck a deer and kill it with my AIDS.” During that same segment, he referred to a “faggot cunt n*gger deer.” But now he’s an offensive crank! Here’s Slate, about a full decade later, responding to C.K.’s use of the phrase “Jewish faggot” in a characteristically over-the-top part of the leaked set: “Whatever you think about C.K.’s past use of slurs in his act, his old material at least made some attempt to think about what they meant.” Ah, yes, that thoughtful critique of deer.

In the case of Chappelle, too, critics have been squinting really hard and ignoring a great deal of the man’s previous output in order to draw a stark line between his old and new material. Back when he was celebrated almost unanimously among progressive culture critics, he had a recurring slapstick character named Tyrone Biggums whose entire shtick was… being a crackhead…

So the claim that both these comedians have taken some dark thematic and political turn is mostly off-base. Rather, what’s going on is that their output is now being judged in a very different light because they have been ‘cancelled’ (C.K. more so than Chappelle, of course). It is a weird sort of retconning that makes the narrative more tidy: These guys were Good, and now they’re Bad. Their comedy tells the story; it traces a neat and satisfying arc…

Those who view any critique of cancel culture or political correctness as inherently bankrupt often derail conversations about it by claiming that PC is simply a synonym for “Being a decent person” — if you’re a decent person, in other words, you won’t get in trouble, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. But this isn’t how most of the country sees things, and it doesn’t accurately capture how the rules over who can get away with saying what are made, revised, and enforced.

The best data we have suggest that the vast majority of Americans view political correctness as a problem, and that, contra the claim of many progressives, this is not a battlefield consisting of resentful ranting whites on one side and oppressed people on the other, the latter simply asking to be treated and spoken of with decency. In fact, the people most enthusiastic about intense forms of language-policing tend to be more privileged and more white, according to a national political-correctness survey conducted by the firm More in Common that made headlines last year. As Yascha Mounk wrote in his writeup in The Atlantic, “While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than $100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a problem, only 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree share that sentiment.” Moreover, “Whites are ever so slightly less likely than average to believe that political correctness is a problem in the country: 79 percent of them share this sentiment. Instead, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87 percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to oppose political correctness.”

5) Eric Foner is an amazing historian.  I really don’t remember too many books I read as an undergraduate, but Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men that still influences how I think about our history and politics.  Great interview with Isaac Chotiner on how to think about Reconstruction:

You say early in the book that, in one sense, “Reconstruction never ended.” What exactly do you mean?

I defined Reconstruction in two ways. One, it’s a particular time period of American history. You can debate the dates. It starts in 1865, when the Civil War ends, or maybe it starts in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation is issued, and it ends sometime in the eighteen-seventies, although there’s debate about that also.

But, I think, more importantly, Reconstruction is a historical process. And the process is, How does the United States come to terms with the results of the Civil War? The unity of the nation we seem to have come to terms with. But the other matter is the destruction of slavery. How does the United States deal with the fact that four million people who were slaves became free? What role would they have? What rights would they have? How would they be treated? And those debates are still going on. Pick up today’s newspaper, and you’ll find things which relate back to the legacy of slavery. So in that sense, the reckoning has never happened, or we’re still grappling with the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of slavery…

Your book gestures at the fact that we’re still dealing with these issues today. I don’t want to turn this interview into a thing about Trump, but has anything about the last few years, with Trump’s rise, changed the way you view the work you do or the period you study?

You know, that’s an interesting question. It may be too soon to tell. I think a lot will depend on whether Trump is reëlected. Is Trump an aberration? Is this just a crazy thing that happened in some countries— that’s happening in England right now? If Trump is reëlected, I think we have to then sit and say, “You know, maybe some of our assumptions about how deeply rooted democratic values are in our country, how deeply rooted notions of equality are in America, maybe we need to rethink that.”

There was a sort of Cold War view of America as the exemplar of liberalism, of democracy, of equality, you know—never quite complete, but always striving in that direction and improving in that direction. Maybe that’s not correct. Maybe that’s one strand of American history, but maybe what we need to do is emphasize other strands, equally powerful. The strand of nativism, the strand of racism, the strand of, you know, hostility and hatred of the other. Maybe we need to rewrite American history to highlight those. Not to throw away everything else, but to say maybe we’ve been a little bit Pollyanna-ish about what American culture really is.

6) How many damn headlines like this are there in American criminal “justice”? She Was Convicted of Killing Her Mother. Prosecutors Withheld the Evidence That Would Have Freed Her: By the time Noura Jackson’s conviction was overturned, she had spent nine years in prison. This type of prosecutorial error is almost never punished.”  Ugh.  And the key is that last sentence.  So long as prosecutors can ruin people’s lives with impunity, they will ruin people’s lives with impunity.  It’s almost as if incentives matter.

7) This is interesting, “Slavery and the Holocaust: How Americans and Germans Cope With Past Evils”

For two decades after World War II, Germany — East and West – practiced “moral myopia.” Communist East Germany claimed that since it was a postwar antifascist state and all the former Nazis were in West Germany (they were not), it bore no responsibility for genocide. West Germans, in Neiman’s words, “from dogcatcher to diplomat,” falsely insisted that only the Third Reich’s leadership knew of the mass murder. “Our men were gallant fighters, not criminals,” one German told her. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer appointed former Nazis to some of the government’s highest jobs, thus telegraphing the message that, on a personal level, all was forgiven. Even the reparation process, Neiman says, was “meanspirited and arduous.” Auschwitz survivors received a smaller pension than former SS guards and their widows. Simply put, Germans, East and West, refused to articulate the words: I was guilty.

What changed? In the late 1960s West German children and grandchildren of Nazis began to struggle with their families’ crimes. Having watched the televised Eichmann and Auschwitz trials, and inspired by student protests sweeping Europe, young Germans demanded an honest account of past wrongs. That confrontation with history, while hardly complete and now under attack from right-wing forces, remains far more extensive and honest, Neiman says, than anything that occurred in the United States regarding slavery and discrimination…

Neiman notes that while Germany’s past no longer immunizes it against resurgent nationalism and anti-Semitism, there is in the heart of Berlin a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by Germans. “A nation that erects a monument of shame for the evils of its history in its most prominent space is a nation that is not afraid to confront its own failures.” While a museum dedicated to the African-American experience has opened in the heart of Washington, recent expressions of racism not just from the highest office in this land but also from many politicians, pundits and ordinary people suggest that America’s confrontation with its legacy of slavery and racial hatred is far from complete.

Many Americans, in the South and the North, insist that Confederate monuments are historical artifacts that simply honor the region’s history and its loyal defenders. They ignore the fact that most were built 50 years after the war, when the children of the Confederacy were creating the myth of a noble lost cause. Others were erected during the 1960s in protest of the civil rights movement. [emphasis mine]

8) Obviously I really appreciated this Washington Post piece on the “war” between animal and plant-based alternatives for the future of meat:

But as plant-based meat goes from an afterthought to a financial juggernaut that aims to change how most people eat, the opposition has suddenly awakened: Many of the country’s 800,000 cattle ranchers have declared war on newcomers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, which use technology to make products that hew closely to the taste and texture of meat, and now “first-generation” veggie burgers and similar products are caught in the crossfire.

In 2019, officials in nearly 30 states have proposed bills to prohibit companies from using words such as meat, burger, sausage, jerky or hot dog unless the product came from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional way. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming have already enacted such laws. In Missouri, the first state where the ban took effect, violators incur a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in prison. Mississippi’s new law is sweeping: “Any food product containing cell-cultured animal tissue or plant-based or insect-based food shall not be labeled meat or as a meat product.”

The states, in most cases backed by cattlemen’s associations, claim consumer confusion as the driving force for the laws. The newest offerings, they say, cross a line when they make unsubstantiated health claims (many have long lists of processed ingredients and are high in sodium) and when the packaging is unclear.

“Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles has a picture of a cow on the front and says ‘plant-based’ in very small lettering at the bottom,” said Mike Deering, a cattle rancher and the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “I’m a dad and I’m going through the grocery store before one of my boys has a meltdown, and [if] I pick up that package that says beef with a picture of a cow on it, I’m going to buy it.”

This isn’t quite a David vs. Goliath fight. The cattle associations have enormous political power, and several of the top veggie brands such as Morningstar Farms and Boca are owned by food giants such as Kellogg and Kraft Heinz. Notably, the major meat processors — Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, for instance — aren’t taking sides, relying on the ranchers for traditional meat but also investing heavily in these new alternatives they believe consumers increasingly desire.

Two things.  1) OMG it is so annoying and pathetic when industries argue– in obviously bad faith– that they are just looking to protect us oh-so-ignorant consumers who cannot tell the difference between hamburger and soy protein.  2) I love that this is such a perfect example of “interest group politics” where powerful organized interests face-off to determine policy.  Perfect for PS 310 :-).

9) Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed was an absolutely terrific book, whether or not you have children.  Really looking forward to his new book on college.  Here’s an except on college admissions, “What College Admissions Offices Really Want: Elite schools say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity. But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all.”

The dictates of financial-aid optimization and the algorithms of modern enrollment management have made the process of college admissions more opaque and unbalanced than ever. They have empowered affluent students, allowing them to be more choosy about where they go and how much they pay to go there. They have created brand-new obstacles for working-class and low-income students trying to rise above their family’s economic situation.

10) Some good political science in the Monkey Cage, “No, Trump isn’t Teflon. Scandals lower his approval among Republicans — if they see the news.”

11) Apparently, some white people don’t like to learn about the legacy of slavery when they visit historic sites that were, among other things, slave plantations:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A Monticello tour guide was explaining earlier this summer how enslaved people built, planted and tended a terrace of vegetables at Thomas Jefferson’s estate when a woman interrupted to share her annoyance.

“Why are you talking about that?” she demanded, according to Gary Sandling, vice president of Monticello’s visitor programs and services. “You should be talking about the plants.”

At Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and other plantations across the South, an effort is underway to deal more honestly with the brutal institution that the Founding Fathers relied on to build their homes and their wealth: slavery.

Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia, some sites are also connecting that ugly past to modern-day racism and inequality.

The changes have begun to draw people long alienated by the sites’ whitewashing of the past and to satisfy what staff call a hunger for real history, as plantations add slavery-focused tours, rebuild cabins and reconstruct the lives of the enslaved with help from their descendants. But some visitors, who remain overwhelmingly white, are pushing back, and the very mention of slavery and its impacts on the United States can bring accusations of playing politics.

“We’re at a very polarized, partisan political moment in our country, and not surprisingly, when we are in those moments, history becomes equally polarized,” Sandling said.

The backlash is reflected in some online reviews of plantations, including McLeod in Charleston, S.C., where one visitor complained earlier this summer that she “didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.”

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting video on the “Rat apocalypse” in New Zealand and the promise and peril of using Crispr plus gene drive to combat the problem.  Perhaps I’m too much of techno-optimist, but I say go for it.

2) Not all that long ago I think I had somewhat overly brought into the promise of STEM education as the best path to a future job.  I’m still a big fan of STEM, but definitely somewhat more skeptical now.  Caitlyn Zaloom, “STEM Is Overrated: College is not just job prep, and the job market changes constantly.”

At any rate, the rise of temporary work means that college graduates can expect to face spikes and dips in income as they lose or finish one job and worry about when the next will come and from where. On top of this volatility, they also have to contend with the rapid transition to automation in white-collar work. Although media discussions tend to pit robots directly against humans in the quest for jobs, today human abilities are more often complemented by automated tasks. Still, together the temporary nature of work and automation undermine arguments for educations that prepare students for specific skills and jobs. If students accept the argument that their college years should be dedicated to job preparation, graduates cannot be certain that the lucrative jobs they envision will still be available, let alone secure…

Dewey’s argument is sharply relevant today. Rather than impressing on college students that they should commit to particular jobs and the direction of corporate executives, colleges and universities ought to enhance students’ ability to experiment and prepare them for an open future, even one in which automation may play a significant role. When universities can broaden “their reach to become engines of lifelong learning,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun has argued, they will also “robot proof” education.

Today’s students need universities and colleges that will help them navigate a world where constant changes are the norm and where learning how to adapt is the central problem of living and of citizenship. The idea that the college years should be primarily about potential is not idealistic or naive; it is prescient.

3) You know what’s always struck me as dumb?  Painting all “processed foods” with an extremely broad brush.  The Kashi Go Lean I have for breakfast is chock full of whole grains, protein, and fiber.  Sorry, but that’s good– processed or not.  It’s not exactly oreos.  And, sure my vanilla greek yogurt has added sugar, but it sure beats tortilla chips.  Anyway, really liked this in Wired,”Let’s All Just Chill About Processed Foods”

But it’s time to get real about processed foods. For one, processed doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and indeed it’s only because of certain processed foods that people around the world get the nutrition they need. Two, processed foods keep better, cutting down on food waste. And three, if we expect to feed a growing population on a planet with finite arable land, we have to engineer new sources of food, protein in particular.

The core of the confusion around processed foods is definitional. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, processing is—and get ready for this—“one or more of a range of operations, including washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, heating, freezing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, frying, drying, concentrating, pressurizing, irradiating, microwaving, and packaging.”

So … virtually everything you put in your mouth is processed. “Highly refined foods like yogurt, olive oil, and bread have many, many processing steps, and they don’t look anything like the original product they started with,” says Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University…

What people likely mean when they invoke processing has more to do with ingredients. Any bread will involve grinding, mixing, fermenting, and heating. But white bread goes through an extra step to bleach the flour, which removes some natural nutrients, which are later added back in to make it fortified. And something like a Twinkie takes processing to a whole new level, with added corn syrup and, for good measure, high fructose corn syrup thrown in as well.

It’s the added ingredients that have given processed foods a bad name, because while not all processed foods are junk foods, all junk foods are processed. Supercharging taste with saturated fat, sugar, or salt can be easy, but they’re unhealthy hacks when taken too far. [emphasis mine]

4) It’s been a while since I’ve seen “American Beauty” and I recognize that certain elements don’t hold up all that well 20 years later, but I still think it’s a damn entertaining movie, as opposed to the “worst best picture winner of the modern era.”

5) In the totally unsurprising headline, but it still important to mention category, “Trump’s trade war has killed 300,000 jobs.”  So much winning!

6) Okay, apparently I’m five years late to this, but I’m blown away by how good Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is.  I thought no way would I listen to a whole 3+ hour podcast on just the prelude to WWI, but damn is Carlin good.  I’m not on episode two devoted entirely to August 1914.

7) Hurricane forecasts are pretty amazing now.  I really enjoyed this “tale of two hurricane forecasts” comparing Dorian to Cleo in 1964.

8) Speaking of hurricanes, a little old, but Philip Bump placing Trump and Hurricane Dorian directly into the 1984 Orwellian context was the best thing I read the matter.  Also, if you haven’t, you really, really need to read 1984.  

9) Nicholas Kristof on Seattle’s experiment with Raj Chetty’s insights on social mobility to improve outcomes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future: A low-cost experiment in Seattle is breaking the cycle of poverty.”

One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving.

In Rath’s new “high-opportunity neighborhood” in Renton, a suburb, a low-income 2-year-old like Amina will on average earn $260,000 more over a lifetime than growing up in her old neighborhood, Chetty calculates. Such a girl will also be 8 percent less likely to have a baby as a teenager.

The Seattle program is an outgrowth of a national initiative called Moving to Opportunity, which in the 1990s provided vouchers for low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Early evaluations suggested it had failed: Adults who received the vouchers didn’t earn more money.

Then in 2015, a follow-up study shook the policy world. While the moves hadn’t helped the adults, those who moved as toddlers were more likely to go to college, to marry, to earn more money and to pay more taxes — enough to pay for the program with interest.

Subsequent research has backed this finding: Neighborhood matters enormously, for young children. That’s the reason for the focus on Amina: Older siblings will also benefit, but the impact is greatest on those who move young and grow up entirely in a high-opportunity neighborhood.

Chetty has developed an online “Opportunity Atlas” that shows how some neighborhoods around the country, without being more expensive, consistently help children get ahead. It’s still unclear what the secret sauce is, although it apparently has something to do with decent schools, less poverty, lots of dads present in families and positive social norms.

10) I’m confident that JDW (and hopefully others) will enjoy this New Yorker article and video in appreciation of the forehand in tennis.

11) NPR’s Greg Rosalsky with “the case for summer vacation.”  Count me in!

12) This Heather Havrilesky provocatively asks “is marriage obsolete?” but the answer is definitely no.  As with summer vacation, also a big fan of marriage:

It’s hard enough just to live peacefully with someone by your side making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done, interrupting, undercutting, begging to differ. Once you throw in Tinder, internet porn, and our scrolling, tl;dr attention spans, marriage seems not just antiquated but utterly absurd. So why do I love this torturous state of affairs so much? The daily companionship, the shared household costs, and the tax breaks are not enough. Maybe I’m the sort of weak bird who would rather wait for her very flawed mate to come home than go out preening and showboating just to wind up with another flawed mate in the end.

And yet there’s something distinctly reassuring about breaking down, falling into disrepair, losing your charms, misplacing your keys, when you have an equally inept and irritating human tolerating it all, in spite of a million and one very good reasons to put on his walking boots and take his love to town. If marriage is irrational, in other words, as with child-rearing and ambition and art, that’s also part of its appeal. Even when my husband and I go through a rough time, bickering more than usual over how many tantrums a 12-year-old should throw per day or how long a particularly fussy loaf of bread should be left to rise, after we’ve spent a few weeks staring at our phones at night instead of enjoying each other’s company, I can always trust that we’ll enter an equal and opposite period of humble satisfaction and connection. The other day, in the wake of such a market correction, we began our morning walk with the dogs (who are too neurotic to be walked by one person alone), and my husband announced, “The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning was, You don’t have what it takes. You never did and you never will.” This made us both laugh loudly for a solid block.

Marriage can’t simply be about living your best lives in sync. Because some of the peak moments of a marriage are when you share in your anxieties, your fears, your longing, and even your horrors. That commitment, the one that can withstand and even revel in the darkest corridors of a life, grows and evolves and eventually transcends a contract or a ceremony the way an ocean overflows and subsumes a thimble of water…

But by unearthing our most discouraged moments together without turning away, by screeching at the moon side by side, admitting “This is all our fault,” we don’t just reaffirm our love, we reaffirm our shared and separate ability to face the unknown from this point forward. That’s why sickness and death are key to marriage vows. Because there is nothing more divine than being able to say, out loud, “Today, I am really, truly at my worst,” knowing that it won’t make your spouse run for the hills. My husband has seen my worst before. We both know that our worst is likely to get worse from here. Somehow that feels like grace.

 

 

The great academic conspiracy to give conservative students lower grades

Which, of course, does not exist.

There was a nice write-up on some great research on this from a long-ago friend at Ohio State earlier this summer and I never got around to it.  But, now that the semester has started and it’s time for me to start discriminating against my conservative students (note– tongue firmly in cheek!), here you go:

The idea that left-wing college professors are both brainwashing undergraduates and discriminating against conservative students has emerged as one of the most consistent right-wing lines of attack against American higher education over the last few decades. While conservative undergrads, like many types of students, may often feel isolated, a new working paper led by a public policy professor who tells me he’s a “lifelong Republican” suggests that any evidence for bias in grading against conservative students is at best minimal and most likely absent.

Matthew Woessner, associate professor of political science and public policy at Pennsylvania State University–Harrisburg, has been working with various colleagues on questions related to political identity and higher education for years…

Woessner tells me that, when he first went into this field of research, “I came at this expecting to find evidence of discrimination, but the data didn’t support it.” Now, years later, having published a book and over a dozen articles on the topic, he concludes that college campuses, “are not a hotbed of ideological discrimination. There are challenges for any minority in the academy, and that includes political minorities and racial minorities,” Woessner says, and those challenges can lead some conservative students to “lay low.” But there’s just no evidence that college professors—who do indeed trend liberal in many departments—routinely discriminate against conservative students…

Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets with a perennial grudge against professors have made the curious choice to report on this study as evidence of professorial bias. These reporters must not have read to the end of the paper, where the authors write: “[Our] results do not paint a picture of conservative students under siege. They remain largely satisfied with their college education, and perform nearly as well as, if not better than, their liberal counterparts.” And that’s just as it should be.

Actually, I finally got around to posting this because a friend just shared a nice profile of Woessner within the context of this research.

Also, reminded me of this great twitter thread recently:

 

Am I cheating my students?

For the first time ever, I have assigned an  ebook as the primary textbook for my class.  There is an option to get the hardcover, but it is notably more expensive.  So, why did I do this?  In this particular case, it’s so affordable.  The price for the ebook plus access to the on-line learning system was less than $40 through a special deal between the publisher and the NC State bookstore.  That was too good to pass up.

Also, you know who gets money off this?  The publisher, the authors, and the NC State bookstore.  I’m quite comfortable with all of that.  The publisher and authors work together to create and publish the intellectual content and should definitely be rewarded.  The NC State bookstore provides the logistical service of matching up books and classes for students.  When students buy used books (or rent books), the authors and publishers get $0.  The only profit goes to Amazon, Chegg, or whomever, not the actual people who create a valuable product.  So, in that sense I much prefer this model.

Additionally, textbooks cost so damn much because publishers try to capture all the value with the very first new book sale because after that, the capture none of the value from the rental and used book market.  It also leads to an absurd level of “new” editions of books about very basic concepts (e.g., Intro Calculus) that absolutely rarely need new additions.  By delivering “new” digital content to students each semester, it’s largely the publisher and authors (i.e., the worthy parties) capturing the profit.

So, hooray for the ebook.  But, there’s some pretty good evidence that students do not learn as well from ebooks.  That’s a problem.  Hechinger report on the issue:

Clinton decided to delve into at all the studies published since 2008 about reading on screens. She compiled results from 33 high-quality studies that tested students’ comprehension after they were randomly assigned to read on a screen or on paper and found that her students might be right.

The studies showed that students of all ages, from elementary school to college, tend to absorb more when they’re reading on paper than on screens, particularly when it comes to nonfiction material. “Sometimes you should print it out, especially if it’s long,” said Clinton.

Clinton now tells her students to order the book if they prefer reading paper. “It’s enough of a benefit that it’s worth the paper and ink and the cost of the book,” she said.

The benefit for reading on paper was rather small, after averaging the studies together, Clinton said. But 29 of the 33 laboratory studies found that readers learned more from text on paper.

Clinton’s analysis, published earlier in 2019, is now at least the third study to synthesize reputable research on reading comprehension in the digital age and find that paper is better.

I strongly suspect there’s some “best practices” for reading digitally that at least minimize the differences, but this is definitely concerning.  I told my students that they needed to strongly consider spending the additional money for the hardcopy.  I also– for the first time ever– assigned the accompanying learning software to help ensure that they get something out of their reading.  Interestingly, I decided to give it a try because I was impressed with it when my college sophomore son was using it last year.  I’ll definitely be paying attention to this research and trying to figure out how my students can learn best from ebooks.

Quick hits (part I)

Finally.  The first Saturday 6am quick hits in seemingly forever (I’m thinking of your happiness DJC).  Enjoy.

1) Timothy Egan on why people hate religion (or at least the horribly hypocritical “Christian” Trump supporters)

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor,the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicalssay their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump,” said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior.

2) It is possible that estrogen protects women from mental illness and that they become more susceptible after menopause?  Quite interestingly, yes.

3) It is possible that my phone was listening while a friend was telling me about this research and that’s why the article showed up in my FB feed later that night?  Yes!  And creepy!

4) So, to raise a reader I should neither reward my kids for reading or punish them for not reading, but simply model my love of reading.  You know what?  That latter approach so does not work for my kids.  So, yeah, sometimes I just make them do it.  And, hopefully, if they read enough they’ll actually realize reading is awesome.  But, otherwise, it would be all Fortnite all the time.

5) OMG it’s awful and horrible what’s going on with radical Islamist women at a refugee camp in Syria.  Really, really disturbing read.

6) And a story in the Post, too, “At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule

7) Well, it dropped from the news really quickly (appropriately so, I think), but good work from Ben Wittes on the ridiculous anti-Comey report from the DOJ Inspector-General:

And there it is: the inspector general of the United States Department of Justice taking the position that a witness to gross misconduct by the president of the United States has a duty to keep his mouth shut about what he saw. Remember, after all, that Comey was a witness here as well as the former FBI director. That’s an extraordinary position for a law enforcement organization to take. If that is what FBI policy and an employment agreement required of Comey under the extraordinary circumstances he faced, so be it. I’m glad both were given their due weight.

8a) Yglesias is quite right, “The wild corruption of Trump’s golf courses deserves more scrutiny: Mike Pence is staying three hours outside of Dublin so Trump can make money.”  Democrats really need to sink their teeth into this.  Pretty much any other government employee would be fired over such egregiously corrupt behavior.

8b) Unsurprisingly, Chait is really, really good on this:

As an ethical violation, what’s notable about Pence going (literally) out of his way to stay at a Trump property is the meagerness of the stakes and the black-and-white clarity of the offense. Any government official below Trump’s rank who engaged in a similar offense would be fired. Just imagine if some assistant secretary was running a hotel on the side and told one of their subordinates to stay there on official business. They’d be fired on the spot.

It might seem strange for Trump and Pence to incur the awful publicity that comes with engaging such corruption in broad daylight, especially when the payoff — a handful of additional customers at a resort — is relatively small. But it is precisely that disjuncture between the brazenness and the scale that makes this episode significant. Pence is establishing the principle that Trump is entitled to profit from his office, and — far more importantly — his participation signals his culpability in the scheme.

Trump is generally an outgrowth of the party’s broader authoritarian evolution, but one way in which he is an outlier is his determination to blend his business with his public duties. Before Trump, Republicans never contemplated the idea that a president could run a private business while serving in office. Trump has blurred this line so repeatedly it barely registers when he does so. His staffers promote his daughter’s brand, he touts one of his resorts as a potential host site for next year’s G7 summit, his Washington hotel becomes a marker for foreign and domestic allies to pay tribute — the accretion of small violations gradually implicates the entire party establishment.

9) Some good PS research… why are young Evangelicals sticking with the Republican Party?  Abortion and the stickiness of Party ID.

10a) I read very few autobiographies or memoirs, but I read Andre Agassi’s Open upon the strong recommendation of my friend Laurel (i.e., “Elder” in all the “Elder and Greene” parenthood and politics research) and I’m really glad I did.  The New Yorker found it worth remembering 10 years later.

10b) Which reminds me.  I really should check out some from this NYT list of best memoirs of the past 50 years.

11) Loved this history lesson on the political party system in the 1850’s (I actually wrote a graduate school paper on the topic) for never Trumpers:

Ex-Democrats in the 1850s and 1860s didn’t have to become Whigs. They were able to join a new political party—albeit one dominated by former Whigs.

The shrewdest of today’s Never Trump Republicans realize that they face only one clean choice, and it is, of course, more jarring: Become Democrats or, like the prominent GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, become independents and support Democrats. Third parties have rarely taken flight in American history, and when they have, they rarely stay airborne for long.

Like the Iowan who felt as though he were “tearing [himself] away from old home associations,” Never Trumpers will find it a bitter pill to swallow.

But history offers them some consolation.

In the process of abandoning their party allegiance, most Democrats-turned-Republicans disenthralled themselves from political prejudices that no longer made much sense. In Congress, they avidly supported distinctly Whiggish policies like the Homestead Act, the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, all of which established a foundation for the country’s post-war economic growth. On some level, the war catalyzed this political realignment. But something equally fundamental may also have been at play: Having concluded that their former Whig enemies shared their fundamental commitment to the good of the nation, ex-Democrats freed themselves to imagine a larger space for political collaboration.

12) This was really interesting, “Why Euthanasia Rates at Animal Shelters Have Plummeted: A cultural transformation: Spaying and neutering are now the norm, and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.”

13) I think I might have mentioned (if not here, at least on twitter), my frustration with Elizabeth Warren rejecting nuclear power.  Henry Olsen, “Don’t trust candidates who ignore nuclear power.”  I know he’s forgotten these days, but hooray for Cory Booker.

14) Good stuff (as always!) from Thomas Edsall on the growing education split in the parties:

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.

This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.

The authors, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, political scientists at Duke and Ohio State, make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

For the record I took my Intro to Comparative Politics class with Kitschelt 27 years ago.

15) So, apparently there are three pillars of charisma:

Olivia Fox Cabane, a charisma coach and the author of the book “The Charisma Myth,” says we can boil charismatic behavior down to three pillars.

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

To master this pillar, Ms. Cabane suggests imagining a person you feel great warmth and affection for, and then focusing on what you enjoy most about your shared interactions. You can do this before interactions, or in shorter spurts while listening to someone else speak. This, she says, can change body chemistry in seconds, making even the most introverted among us exude the type of warmth linked to high-charisma people.

16) The miracle treatment for poverty?  Cash for poor people.  Seriously .

17) I had no idea that typical electric cars had a single-speed transmission!  This was really interesting.

To go with a 0 to 60 mph time under three seconds, 750 horsepower, and the ability to refill its battery in just over 20 minutes, the engineers at Porsche gave their all-new, all-electric Taycan a two-speed gearbox. And while that feature is unlikely to grace any headlines, it represents a potentially major shift for the electric car market.

Apart from the Taycan, every production EV uses a single-speed transmission, and gets along just fine. Internal combustion engines need a bunch of gears because they have a narrow RPM window within which they can operate efficiently. For electric motors, that window is much wider, so a single-speed works for both low-end acceleration and highway driving. It does require some compromise, and so EV makers favor low-end acceleration over Autobahn-worthy top speeds. Where most electrics top out around 125 mph (Tesla limits its cars to 163), the Taycan will touch 161 mph.

18) When Sean Trende says, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas” the GOP should worry about Texas.

19) Some interesting research:

There are many reasons people fail to act in environmentally friendly ways. Inertia, for some. Fatalism, for others. Then there’s the difficulty of fully grasping the long-term consequences of our actions.

New research points to another, more surprising disincentive for going green: the fear that others might question our sexual orientation.

As a 2016 study confirmed, environmentalism is widely perceived as feminine behavior. Even today, caring and nurturing behavior is associated with women—and that includes taking steps to sustain the environment.

But as this new paper points out, specific types of pro-environment behavior can align with either masculine or feminine stereotypes. It also reports that engaging in the “wrong” type of environmentalism can lead people to wonder about your sexuality, and perhaps even avoid socializing with you.

20) This really bugged me, “Whole Foods CEO on plant-based meat boom: Good for the environment but not for your health.”  Sure, I’m biased because I love the stuff, but I don’t think the point of this is that it’s health food.  Yes, it is highly processed, but nobody is mistaking fake meat for broccoli and blueberries and it surely lacks some of the bad stuff for you in real meat.  But far more importantly, relative to real meat, plant-based meat is so damn good for the planet.  That’s why I am happy to eat all I can.

21) This interactive NPR feature is really, really cool (and informative!), “PLASTICS
What’s recyclable, what becomes trash — and why”

Quick hits (part I)

1) The total disrespect for science out of the Trump administration is so depressing.  USDA version (one of many there):

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

2) So, apparently that walking around with a water bottle all day to hydrate may not be so great.   Some interesting research suggests hydrating is much more effective with meals.  Hooray for me and my 60 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper with pizza lunches:

“If you’re drinking water and then, within two hours, your urine output is really high and [your urine] is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says…

“People who are drinking bottles and bottles of water in between meals and with no food, they’re probably just peeing most of that out,” Nieman says. Also, the popular idea that constant and heavy water consumption “flushes” the body of toxins or unwanted material is a half-truth. While urine does transport chemical byproducts and waste out of the body, drinking lots of water on an empty stomach doesn’t improve this cleansing process, he says.

3) This is cool. “Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong.”

Consider the assumptions underlying that common answer:

“Gravity is the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “force.” We can say gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces, but it’s such an outlier that the word “force” becomes nearly meaningless. The strong nuclear force (which keeps atomic nuclei intact) is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which creates the light spectrum), which in turn is up to 10,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force (which facilitates the subatomic interactions responsible for radioactive decay). Three forces, all within six orders of magnitude of one another. Then comes gravitation. It’s about a million billion billion billion times weaker than the weak nuclear.

To put that discrepancy into perspective, you can try this experiment at home. Place a paper clip on a tabletop. There it remains, unmoving, anchored to its spot by its gravitational interaction with the entire planet beneath it. The Earth’s mass is 6,583,003,100,000,000,000,000 tons. A paper clip’s mass is 4/100 of an ounce. Now take a refrigerator magnet and wand it over the paper clip. Presto! You have counteracted the gravitational “force” of the entire Earth with a wave of your hand…

So: “Gravity is.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “is.” We know what gravity does, in the sense that we can mathematically measure and predict its effects. We might anticipate what happens when two black holes collide or when we let go of a rock. But we don’t know how it does what it does. We know what its effects are, and we can give the name “gravity” to the cause of those effects, but we don’t know the cause of that cause.

Not that cosmologists particularly care. In science, knowing what you don’t know is a good start. In this case, it has led scientists to believe that finding a quantum solution to gravity is a key — perhaps the key — to understanding the universe on the most fundamental level. Until then, they will work with what they do know, no matter what every bone in their bodies tells them:

Gravity is not the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.

4) I find it astounding and depressing that we still have headlines like this in 2019.  How clueless of a school administrator do you need to be to not get this.  “Georgia school faces backlash over display of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ black hairstyles.”

5) Don’t quite understand what the Fed does and feel like you should?  Just take 5 minutes with this from Planet Money.

6) Michelle Goldberg asks, “Why Not Cory Booker? He’s winning the debates and he’s great on paper. When will he catch on?”  I’m not about to put money on him, but Booker is good stuff and I think there’s still a non-trivial chance he’ll catch on.  I would be a very enthusiastic supporter.

7) Our criminal justice system is so disgustingly screwed up in systematically unfair ways.  This Radley Balko headline kind of says it all, “A young black football player was arrested after claiming ‘cocaine’ on his car was bird poop. It was bird poop.”

This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.

Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.

  • Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
  • Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
  • Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
  • 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere? …

Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaptortilla doughdeodorantbilliards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mintsloose-leaf teaJolly RanchersvitaminsKrispy Kreme doughnut glazeairTylenoljust about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience storedry wallBC powdercotton candypowdered sugar, and now . . . bird poop.

8) Dahlia Lithwick with the best take of the photo of the Trump’s with the orphaned baby in El Paso:

Trump is really only good at one thing: being on television. Any event that can be engineered to look like a scene from The Apprentice can be fudged to his advantage. Stadium rallies, press availability from inside the Oval Office, even canned speeches read from a teleprompter can be salvaged; so long as he is essentially only producing a simulacrum of presidenting, he can shift along. But reality confounds him. Take him out from behind the oceans of fawning MAGA hats and put him next to a real survivor of sexual violence, and all the grinning and preening tricks fail him. Put him next to actual heads of state discussing actual international policy, and he sulks and mopes. Oh, he can pull off the photo-op; this is a man made of photo-ops. But time and time again, when he is called on to deal with real people—not glassy superfans but genuine human beings whom he allegedly serves as president—he fails to meet the occasion. The consummate reality-TV president is unerringly confounded by reality.

It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans—that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.

Trump cannot function in reality. He lives in a hall of mirrors with his made-for-TV family, as the national security apparatus, the national intelligence apparatus, the foreign service, and foreign policy detonate all around him. And on the rare occasion on which he is called to step out from behind the glass panopticon that he has built, he fails, spectacularly, because that which really matters can’t be tweeted or reduced to a campaign video.

9) Another only-in-America health care story (at least among industrialized nations), “He lost his insurance and turned to a cheaper form of insulin. It was a fatal decision.”

10) Love what David Morse is doing with his students, “I teach my college students to lie. Honestly. Whoppers. It’s good for them.”

To begin, each student adopted the persona of a real-world politician, journalist or so-called expert, then used a Twitter-style platform to advance their arguments, criticize their opponents and introduce new “evidence.” With gusto, the Liars took advantage of the tools in the deceivers’ playbook, larding their lies with facts (e.g., government experiments on vulnerable populations), asking leading questions, posing worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, the Truthers, beholden to the facts, could not provide an accurate answer to the liars’ demands as to the location of the missing prisoners. Instead they feebly attempted to shift the debate to the jobs that NASA creates, or criminal justice reform.

11) As much as I love Vox on policy, articles like this always end up with me rolling my eyes in dismay, “Orange Is the New Black celebrated diverse women. It also exploited their stories.”  One of the few shows that tells stories of diverse women to a mainstream audience, apparently, because the writing is sometimes cliche and mediocre, they are actually “exploiting” these women.

12) David Graham on presidential appointments:

Ideally the goals of serving the president and serving the people and the Constitution do not conflict, but the important moments are the ones when they do. Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the withdrawal of Representative John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican he’d tapped to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. That abortive nomination lays bare how acute this tension has become in the Trump administration.

13) I watch Jurassic Park movies pretty much every time they are on basic cable TV (I still love having cable and just flipping through the guide on weekends to see what’s on).  Anyway, was utterly fascinated to learn this about amber fossils:

That amber fossils exist at all is a bit of a miracle—a succession of miracles, even. First, a tree has to be oozing sap (in the Dominican Republic, amber forms from the sap of the Hymenaea tree). Healthy trees don’t dribble goo—trees do so only when they are stressed by damage, insects, fires, or disease. The resin acts like a translucent bandage, protecting the tree from further injury.

Then, an insect or other creature has to be trapped in the resin. The most common victims are flies (about half of biological inclusions are flies), but social insects such as ants, bees, and termites are also often found in stalactites of resin. The creature either drowns as the sticky goo fills its mouth and spiracles (bug lungs) or starves as it struggles to escape the resin. Most insects or arthropods fossilized in amber are less than seven-eighths of an inch long, since larger creatures can usually pull themselves out of the resin’s deadly grasp.

The resin must then land on wet, swampy soil and, eventually, end up in a freshwater current—if the resin lands on a dry forest floor, it will disintegrate into powder or crack into pieces. Once in freshwater, the resin must flow to an ocean or marsh, where it can be covered by sediment in an oxygenless environment. In this prehistoric kitchen, with millions of years of time plus pressure, the resin hardens into a polymer, in the same way plastic is made from petroleum. The resin has then become amber—nonreactive, stable, and a perfect preserver for the life caught inside.

When plate tectonics or erosion brings the amber to the surface, human hands can pick it up or chisel it out of the surrounding gray layers of lignite.

14) Good stuff in Wired on the difficulty of human spaceflight all the way to Mars.  Maybe a good pillow would help.

15) Misunderstanding of the nature of opioid addition are so common.  Great stuff from Sally Satel:

In tightening controls on doctors who prescribe pain relievers, state and federal agencies were focusing on the aspect of the problem most subject to regulatory intervention.

To some degree, the strategy worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths declined by around 5 percent in 2018—a dip attributable almost exclusively to fewer deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids. (Fentanyl deaths are still climbing.) Now that the fever of the opioid crisis may be breaking, Americans can revisit some of the stories we have told ourselves about the role of prescription medication in the crisis.

Did policymakers and public health experts correctly assess who was at risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications? Were their views on the addictive potential of such drugs realistic? Did they anticipate the consequences of policies devised to constrain doctors from over-prescribing? In retrospect, policymakers seriously misjudged the answers to these questions, overestimating the risk that these drugs posed to the average patient while simultaneously doing too little to urge clinicians to identify those most vulnerable to addiction. The best time to correct course is now—while the opioid problem still commands public attention, and before the restrictions imposed at the height of the crisis harden into permanent practice…

In fact, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication report receiving the drugs from their doctor, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Misuse is a term that includes anything from taking an extra pill beyond the quantity prescribed by a doctor to full-blown addiction.) About half obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative, while others either stole or bought pills from someone they knew, bought from a dealer, or went out looking for a doctor willing to write prescriptions.

People who abuse pills are rarely new to drugs. The federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, revealed that more than three-fourths of misusers had used non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, or inhalants. A study of OxyContin users in treatment found that they “were not naive individuals with accidental addictions who were introduced to painkillers by their physicians as reported by the media…[instead they had] extensive drug use histories.”

Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in single digits; studies show an incidence from under 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed towards the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

16) Jonathan Bernstein: “The Long, Slow Destruction of the U.S. Government: The Trump administration continues its attacks on foreign policy, innovation and economic management.”

Item: Sue Gordon announced her plans to retire as principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking decades of experience with her, in a less-than-appreciative letter — what Dan Drezner called “Mattis Letter II.

Item: A Foreign Service officer resigned in an op-ed, saying “ I can no longer justify … my complicity in the actions of this administration.”

Item: The Donald Trump administration is finding creative ways to destroy the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which Catherine Rampell describes as “arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency.”

That’s all from Thursday. They are hardly the only examples of how the administration is, to put it bluntly, destroying the U.S. government.

We’ve seen this from the start of Trump’s presidency, and it continues. I don’t think there’s any full accounting of all the damage that’s being done, whether it’s attacks on government statistics or the capacity to do science or the well-publicized war against an accurate census.

Some of this, like the attacks on the intelligence community, seem to be a combination of Trump’s personal preferences and conspiracy-minded thinking in Republican-aligned media. Some of it is mindless budget-cutting from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Trump likely neither knows or cares about. Some of it is what happens when the government is turned over to the short-term interests of major corporations.

But in the long term, the U.S economy will likely pay dearly for it. Economic management will suffer without reliable statistics. Productivity will suffer without government assistance in innovation (regardless of what ideologues on one side or the other will claim, innovation in the U.S. has always been a product of both public and private initiatives).

And the same thing for U.S. foreign policy, and really everything else.

This is of course not to say that everything the federal government does is worthwhile or running at maximum efficiency. Or that every federal bureaucrat is delivering for the nation. But there’s nothing systematic about any of what’s happening here. No plan. No strategy. No effort to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. It’s just basically random attacks on random pieces of the government. It will take years to recover from. In some ways, perhaps the nation will never recover.

17) This is really good from Peter Beinart, “What the Measles Epidemic Really Says About America:
The return of a vanquished disease reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.”

Declining vaccination rates not only reflect a great forgetting; they also reveal a population that suffers from overconfidence in its own amateur knowledge. In her book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jennifer Reich notes that starting in the 1970s, alternative-health movements “repositioned expertise as residing within the individual.” This ethos has grown dramatically in the internet age, so much so that “in arenas as diverse as medicine, mental health, law, education, business, and food, self-help or do-it-yourself movements encourage individuals to reject expert advice or follow it selectively.” Autodidacticism can be valuable. But it’s one thing to Google a food to see whether it’s healthy. It’s quite another to dismiss decades of studies on the benefits of vaccines because you’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. In an interview, Reich told me that some anti-vaccine activists describe themselves as “researchers,” thus equating their scouring of the internet on behalf of their families with the work of scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways, the post-1960s emphasis on autonomy and personal choice has been liberating. But it can threaten public health. Considered solely in terms of the benefits to one’s own child, the case for vaccinating against measles may not be obvious. Yes, the vaccine poses little risk to healthy children, but measles isn’t necessarily that dangerous to them either. The problem is that for others in society—such as children with a compromised immune system—measles may be deadly. By vaccinating their own children, and thus ensuring that they don’t spread the disease, parents contribute to the “herd immunity” that protects the vulnerable. But this requires thinking more about the collective and less about one’s own child. And this mentality is growing rarer in an era of what Reich calls “individualist parenting,” in which well-off parents spend “immense time and energy strategizing how to keep their children healthy while often ignoring the larger, harder-to-solve questions around them.”

18) Definitely the summer of Fornite for the Greene kids (and the neighbor kids who are over here playing it with them every day).  And, oh my, is my poor wife tired of it.

What makes a good college teacher?

Enjoyed this older post (2016) I just came across in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Perhaps, because I feel like a lot of the criteria fit me pretty well :-).  To be fair, there’s a lot to good teaching beyond what’s here, but as a basic guide for how to interact with students, this certainly fits my favorite professors as a student and what I have tried to model in my classrooms.  Only my students could tell you how well I actually do at this.

They are good-natured. The best teachers tend to be approachable, as opposed to sour and forbidding. Grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic curmudgeons can sometimes make effective teachers, too, if for no other reason than that they prepare us for grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic bosses. I had some grouchy teachers myself, especially in graduate school, and learning to cope with them was a valuable experience I would not wish to deny anyone. But most of my very best teachers were pretty easy to get along with — as long as I paid attention in class and did my work.

They are professional without being aloof. Most academics tend to keep students at arm’s length — the obvious message being, “I’m your teacher, not your friend.” Clearly, professionalism requires a certain amount of boundary-setting, which can be difficult, especially when dealing with older students, where the age gap is often not all that wide and, under different circumstances, they might actually be your friends. My best teachers always seemed to effortlessly walk that very fine line between being an authority figure and being someone I felt I could talk to. I didn’t even understand what they were doing — or how difficult it was — until I had to do it myself years later.

They have a good sense of humor. They may or may not be ready for the Improv, but they don’t take themselves or their subject matter too seriously. Few things are more off-putting than faculty members who think they’re much smarter than anyone else in the room (or any room) — unless it’s those who think their subject is the most important of all and expect students to feel the same way, other classes be damned. My best teachers not only understood that their course was just one of several we were taking, but also had a great, self-deprecating wit, often making jokes at their own expense and even sometimes making light of their subject. Funny how an ounce of humor can sometimes help students grasp the material better than a pound of gravitas.

They seem to enjoy what they do. Some faculty members don’t really like students. They are the academics who constantly whine about their workload and complain about how rude or unprepared their students are. I’ve often wondered: Why are such people even in this profession? What did they expect? The teachers I remember as the very best were those who clearly loved teaching and got a kick out of associating with students every day. After all, no one wants to feel like a nuisance, which is exactly how some teachers make their students feel…

They seem comfortable in their own skin. Perhaps one reason students tend to like these faculty is that they like themselves, without being in love with the sound of their own voices. This is related to not taking themselves too seriously, but it goes beyond that. The root cause of bad teaching is a fundamental lack of self-confidence, leading teachers to overcompensate by being unreasonably demanding, aloof, or condescending to students. Paradoxically, professors who appear arrogant and narcissistic are often trying to cover up what they perceive as profound deficiencies in their own personalities and abilities. The best teachers are confident without being arrogant, authoritative without being condescending.

There’s more, but I think those seem to capture what I’m trying to do pretty well.  I think even the students who don’t like my teaching will admit that I really enjoy what I do.  And I think I’m funny, as do many of my students, but I also enjoy a good laugh at the not entirely uncommon complaint of “he’s not as funny as he thinks he is.”

Of course, if you have all that and you are not good at explaining key concepts or figuring out the most important material for students to know, you’ll be an enjoyable teacher, but not necessarily a good one.

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