Hurricane panic reaches new levels of insanity!

OMG am I frustrated today.

First, the background.  Here in the Wake County/Raleigh area, we were very much spared the worst of the hurricane.  4-6 inches of rain and wind gusts in the 40’s for periods on Friday and Saturday.  At one point, 10% of the county was without power, but as of this writing, we are at .1%.  There’s been Flash Flood warnings, but no serious flooding in this area that I can find in the news anywhere (or flood maps).  I would say the local situation is pretty equivalent to serious thunderstorms moving through on Friday night.

And yet, NC State has canceled class tomorrow and Wake County public schools have canceled school (and added to the totally un-needed Saturday make-up for last Thursday with a day before Thanksgiving make-up– my kids will be attending neither of those make-up days).  “Ongoing effects of the hurricane” my ass!  The ongoing effects for Wake County are pretty much non-existent.  I swear you would think whoever is in charge gets a bonus for each day of canceled school.  If this exact same weather had been caused by unusually violent thunderstorms, there’s no way school would be canceled tomorrow (or, that all local government operations like weekend classes, museums, libraries, etc., would be closed today, as they are), but “hurricane!” and it seems like anything goes.  And, yes, literal disaster conditions exist in many parts of NC.  But not here!!  It’s like saying, well, how can we have school while kids are dying in the Syrian civil war.

NC State should be super-accommodating of students whose homes were flooded out, of course, but why does that mean the rest of us shouldn’t, you know, actually have an education tomorrow. Meanwhile my son’s classes at Wake Tech were canceled, too.  Presumably they say NCSU and UNC’s over-reaction and said, “hey, no school for us, too!”  At least the former have the excuse of many students who live in affected areas.  Wake Tech is a non-residential community college in a county largely unaffected.  What the hell?!

Sometimes I feel like the only sane person around here.  Except for the positive feedback from my readers– thanks!

Oh, and while I am at it, those Amazon Logistics deliveries are such a joke! (as Nicole pointed out in earlier comments).  I had two packages finally show up, in theory, this morning marked delivered “handed to resident” while the whole family was actually at Krispy Kreme.  What the hell I’ve never had an Amazon package from USPS or UPS mis-delivered (highly unlikely some nefarious neighbor claimed my package in-person).  I’ve already gotten my refund, but what an awful experience.

Damn is it all frustrating, but feels good to get it out.

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Having a “nice” weather day

Chances are you are if you live in Long Beach, CA.  Unsurprisingly, odds are much lower in Anchorage, AK.  Based on a reasonable, but ultimately somewhat arbitrary definition of nice days, the Post has a cool article on which cities have the most and least:

Using automated weather stations with relatively complete data between 1998 and 2018, we systematically evaluated every daily and hourly observation for 373 stations around the country for all 365 days of the year and computed the number of days per year that met all of the following specific criteria:

  • High temperature between 65 and 85 degrees
  • Maximum dew point temperature less than or equal to 65 degrees
  • Peak daily wind (including gusts) less than 25 mph
  • Average daily cloud cover less than or equal to 65 percent
  • No measurable precipitation

 

I’m no expert on Honolulu’s climate, but pretty sure I’d take it over most any other place but Southern California.  And I’m 99.9% sure I’d prefer it to Lubbock.  Maybe it’s too humid?  Presumably the 0 measurable precipitation is a problem for places that have brief rain on lots of days, too.  Dew point under 65 is definitely a good thing, but I wonder how much better, Raleigh, for example, would do if you let that get up to 66 or 67 (okay, probably not all that much).  Raleigh does make the top of the “middle of the pack” not worth an actual chart:

Here are additional city annual nice-day counts — ranking close to the middle of the pack:

  • Albuquerque: 50
  • Denver: 52
  • Miami: 53
  • Detroit: 54
  • Memphis: 54
  • Houston: 54
  • Louisville: 56
  • Indianapolis: 56
  • San Antonio: 57
  • Columbus: 57
  • New Orleans: 58
  • Nashville: 59
  • El Paso: 66
  • Raleigh: 66

Anyway, a fun exercise to think about all this.  My 2000-2002 home of Lubbock is definitely losing some days to the overly-windy problem.  And Raleigh may only have 9 more “nice days” per year than Columbus, but I would argue that, overall, the weather here is dramatically better.  I suppose we also need a count of “pretty good” days :-).  I think we’d do really well there.  A count of “bad days” would be fun, too.  No sun at all definitely hits that mark for me.

Anyway, fun stuff.

Is social media good for you or bad for you?

It depends.  My 12-year old complains that I’m on Facebook too much.  Personally, I find a ton of value out of it.  I love seeing what friends are up to and getting great and fascinating things to read from the interesting people I know.  And, I love sharing my love of photography and of my kids in a visual medium.   So there you go.

Anyway, really enjoyed this NYT article from back in May that rounds up some of the more interesting research on social media and the changing nature of relationships:

Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

Taken on their own, these numbers are a damning indictment of internet-era connections, even if social networking was in its MySpace-Friendster infancy in 2004 and the iPhone did not exist.

But in 2011, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania headed by Keith N. Hampton found evidence that “close social relations do not attrite with internet use and that internet users tend to have larger personal networks,” and that social isolation was actually lower in 2008 than in 1985.

Indeed.  When it comes to the decline in close friends over time, talk about correlation is not causation.  (Speaking of things changing over-time, we might as well blame over-protective parenting on cell phones).  Outside my family, nothing I like doing more than spending time with real humans who are my friends.  I honestly cannot think of social media eating into that one bit (“Sorry, Bill, no time for lunch today, gotta check Facebook and reply to some tweets”).

Other papers by Dr. Hampton argue that the internet and social media can facilitate offline social connections. One states that “internet use may be associated with higher levels of participation in traditional settings that support the formation of diverse networks,” such as visiting public spaces or knowing more people in the neighborhood. Another suggests that frequent Facebook users have more close and more diverse social tiesthan the average American — though roughly the same number of overall connections.

Sounds great.  Social media for the win.

The oft-cited “Dunbar’s number” is an average of 150 casual friends for humans (really, a range of 100 to 200). These are the people who might come to your wedding or funeral.

Within this roster, there are embedded layers of intimacy that grow smaller by a factor of three: 50 of these make the next cut to buddies, about 15 are good friends, around five confidants form our circle of trust, and finally we have an average of 1.5 people we deem our closest relationships. (Conversely, we can keep track of roughly 500 acquaintances and 1,500 faces we can match to names.)

One may presume that boasting thousands of social media friends or followers would inflate Dunbar’s number, but Dr. Dunbar said that is “absolutely not at all” the case. In a recent paper analyzing Facebook and Twitter data, and another one looking at mobile phone calls, his team determined that people still “showed the same frequencies of interaction as in face-to-face relationships” for the corresponding layers of intimacy, he said.

However, digital media channels “don’t distinguish between quality of relationships,” he said. “They allow you to maintain relationships that would otherwise decay. Our data shows that if you don’t meet people at the requisite frequencies, you’ll drop down through the layers until eventually you drop out of the 150 and become ‘somebody you once knew.’ What we think is happening is that, if you don’t meet sometime face to face, social media is slowing down the rate of decay.”

The result, then, can be a glut of old acquaintances that are not as easily forgotten online and which therefore stifle the development of newer, in-person friendships.

“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the internet,” Dr. Dunbar said. If it’s spent with people who are “remote,” whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, “you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.”

Now that’s interesting, but I don’t buy it. At least not for me or most of the other heavy social media users in my network.  Many of those I know who love Facebook the most are extreme extroverts and take human contact wherever they can get it.  I don’t hang out with people at 11pm, and when I’m the only one in the office hallways on an afternoon, there’s nobody to talk to, but, hey Facebook is there for a quick hit of social contact.

And then there’s the whole screen vs. face-to-face issue:

As with many millennials, talking on the phone was never a big part of her routine and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions. “I’ve asked people over Gchat if they want to talk on the phone, and they hem and haw,” she said. “It can feel draining — there isn’t a casual component to it.”

There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture unconsciously,” Ms. Flora said. “It’s a rapport humans have developed over thousands of years, and you don’t get that when you only follow someone on social media.” (Skype et al. can be comparable, though, Dr. Dunbar observed.)

But now it’s common for this synchrony to be disrupted in person, thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone. Imagine Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks” recomposed today, with the three late-night diners and counterman all gazing at screens.

“If there’s a bunch of guys at a bar together and they’re all on their phones,” Dr. Dunbar said, “they’re not doing much to trigger the endorphin system to create the sense of bondedness.”

Because members of Generation X such as Ms. Flora based the passionate friendships of their youth primarily on in-person interactions or “rambling” phone calls, when they “make the transfer” to digital friendships they “can take advantage of the benefits of it,” she said. “But for younger people, I would worry about them compromising that precious face-to-face time, not sensing or adjusting to what their friends are really thinking or feeling.”

Speaking of her generation’s possibly diminished capacity for deep friendships, Ms. Schiller issued an unintentionally resonant qualification.

“It might just be me,” she said.

A Facebook friend (acquaintance from high school, who honestly, I would never be in touch with if not for social media– but I love her posts because she married one of my good HS friends who is not into FB), posted about how a boy called to talk to her middle-school-age daughter.  So sweet.  Any many commented on the fact that, hey, not just a text message.  I did love those long rambling teenager phone calls.   I’m actually surprised to find my wife and I text each other all the time.  But, a lot of it is just little snippets of connection that we just didn’t have before our Iphones.  It’s actually added to our connectedness.  It’s not like we’re texting over dinner.

Anyway, lots of interesting stuff and plenty of food for thought.  Friend me ;-).

Yet another super-duper-cool map

Bloomberg has an amazing piece looking at American land use patterns with all sorts of really cool maps.  This last one is kind of the summary map.  Definitely worth checking them all out!  Also, OMG, the pasture-land!  (And too much golf)

 

Slow blogging

So, it’s that time of year again– Maymester.  I actually quite enjoy teaching a class compressed into 3 weeks, but 2:45 of teaching every work day definitely cuts into blogging time.  I’ll still try to get some out, but at least you’ll know to expect less.  Also, I’ve found a new hobby to compete for my free time.  Just bought this.  My fingers really hurt, but I’m really enjoying it.

Are SUV’s for suckers?

I’ll lay my cards on the table here… I don’t like SUV’s.  They are way more fuel inefficient just so people can have a car they think is more prestigious and sit a foot higher off the road.  Except for you, dear blog reader, you have a perfectly legitimate reason for having an SUV.  Yeah, I have a minivan in addition to my Jetta, but that is obviously all about practicality (you try taking a family of 6 on vacation without one).

Anyway, I was particularly struck by this line in an Op-Ed about Ford’s unfortunate decision to essentially abandon the passenger car market:

American carmakers spent the years around their great bailout professing their ardor for a new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles, but in the end they were only too happy to steer people back into S.U.V.s, which are more profitable.

Call it the S.U.V. Profit Paradigm: Added height elevates the price people are prepared to pay for what is essentially the same vehicle. S.U.V.s and crossovers sell at higher prices than cars of equivalent size, but they cost little, if anything, more to build.

Obviously, there are some people who have very legitimate needs for an SUV and it fits their lifestyle better in many ways.  But, lots of people are just paying extra for height.

Quick hits (part I)

1) A little dated now (that happens fast these days), but I liked Jack Shafer’s take on Kevin Williamson and the Atlantic.

That Goldberg invested in a feral conservative like Williamson spoke well for the Atlantic. The last thing the magazine needed was another house-broken righty like David Frum who would speak nicely to its largely liberal and centrist readers. But as it turned out, Goldberg’s tent wasn’t big enough to accommodate somebody of Williamson’s swagger. The writer’s proximate undoing was a tweet and then the discovery of a podcast in which he proposed hanging as the proper punishment for women who have abortions—a perfect example of a writer going too far. In the internal email announcing the departure, Goldberg justified the dismissal by writing that Williamson’s “callous and violent” comments run “contrary to the Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace,” and hinting that Williamson may have misrepresented the offending tweet as a momentary lapse rather than a deeply held belief.

Without relitigating Williamson’s abortion views—which I don’t share—let’s agree that if he hadn’t been sent packing for his less–than-modern views on abortion, his critics would have griped about something else in his archives to engineer his removal. Let’s be real here: Kevin Williamson wasn’t sent packing for expressing strong language on abortion but for being Kevin Williamson. The very things that made him so appealing to Goldberg were destined to lead to his exit.

The loser here isn’t Williamson. Like other excellent writers who’ve gotten the ax, he’ll find a new job soon enough—and now he’s become the right’s latest free-speech martyr. The real losers are Atlantic writers and Atlantic readers—writers because they’ll become faint-hearted about their work (who wants to be the next Williamson?) and readers because the magazine will be less eager to challenge them.

2) Separate (by gender) and unequal in the Marine Corps.

3) Speaking of the Marines, I loved Eat the Apple by Matt Young.

4) My Jordan Peterson quasi-obsession has abated for the moment, but I came across again the Current Affairs article that first introduced to him.

5) The decline of local news is bad for democracy.  Hell, yeah, it is.

6) Nice article in Wired looking at the decline in teen driving by the numbers.  My 18-year-old is certainly indicative of this decline. “71% of high school seniors have a driver’s license—the lowest percentage in decades.”

7) Oh man this cartoon is awesome:

8) Nicholas Kristoff on “how to win an argument about guns.”  How sweet that he thinks you can win arguments with facts and reason.

9) NYT with 5 interesting case studies of plants and animals confused by climate change.

10) I was telling a new friend at last week’s PS conference about my undergrad’s honor’s research (which he presented in a poster at the conference) and she told me about this very similar research.  When it comes to a political campaigns, Southern accents are a decided disadvantage.  (And more on my student’s research in a later post).

For the study, the researchers had 757 participants from Alabama and Connecticut listen to a 1-minute campaign speech from a fictitious political candidate. The speech was either read by a male candidate with a Southern accent, a male candidate with a neutral accent, a female candidate with a Southern accent, or a female candidate with a neutral accent. But in all four cases the content of the speech was the same.

The candidate with a Southern accent was viewed as less trustworthy, less honest, less intelligent, and less competent. Participants also assumed the candidate was more conservative and rated them as less likeable when he or she had a Southern accent.

“The Southern accent can be a detriment to political candidates,” Cooper told PsyPost. “Surprisingly, the negative attributes associated with the Southern accent exist even among Southerners themselves. These accents also come with political assumptions about ideology and issue stances, which candidates should keep in mind when trying to communicate their agendas.”

11) Weather in NC has finally March turned for the better this Spring.  But I’ve been somewhat unhealthily obsessed with just how unusually cold March and early April have been.  Turns out in Raleigh was 6.5 degrees colder than February.  That’s nuts!

12) Enjoyed this Sean Illing interview with Robert Sutton on how to deal with what I like to refer to as very-unpleasant-self-centered persons:

Sean Illing

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the book, which is about how to deal with assholes. So tell me, what’s your best asshole neutralization strategy?

Robert Sutton

First, it depends on how much power you have. And second, on how much time you’ve got. Those are the two questions that you have to answer before you can decide what to do. Assuming that you don’t have Dirty Harry power or you’re not the CEO and can’t simply fire people you don’t like, I think you have to do two things in terms of strategy.

To begin with, you’ve got to build your case. You’ve also got to build a coalition. One of my mottos is that you have to know your assholes. We already talked about temporary versus certified assholes, but another distinction that’s really important is that some people, and you mentioned this at the outset, some people are clueless assholes and don’t realize they’re jerks, but maybe they mean well.

In that situation, you can have backstage conversations, gently informing them that they’ve crossed a line. This is simple persuasive work. But if it’s somebody who is one of those Machiavellian assholes who is treating you like shit because they believe that’s how to get ahead, in that case you’ve got to get the hell out of there if you can.

13) Under a remotely normal presidency, EPA director Scott Pruitt’s fabulously corrupt behavior would be a much bigger story.  Drain the swamp?!  How about make it 6 feet deeper and throw in a broken sewer pipe feeding into it.

14) Yglesias on Paul Ryan, “House Speaker Paul Ryan was the biggest fraud in American politics.”

15) Action/thriller movies for grown-ups are such an endangered species now.  At least a few still managed to get made.  Looking forward to seeing Beirut.

16) Really enjoyed Thomas Frank’s book on success and luck.  Here’s his short version of how to reduce inequality in a nice Wonkblog compilation of expert takes (oddly, none of them advocate cutting taxes on the wealth):

Two of the biggest problems now confronting the nation are runaway growth in income inequality and crumbling infrastructure. That the best ways to address these problems are mutually reinforcing should therefore come as welcome news.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would cost more than $4.5 trillion to bring our existing stock of infrastructure into serviceable condition by 2025. Given the incentives that engineers face, this may be an overstatement. But no one doubts that the task would be enormously expensive. Raising taxes on the nation’s top earners is the only feasible way to pay for it. That step alone would reduce the skewness of the nation’s post-tax income distribution.

But it would also reduce inequality by boosting the incomes of those further down the income ladder. As previous expansions of infrastructure investment — such as the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression and the Interstate Highway System initiative of the 1950s — have taught us, many useful tasks can be done by properly supervised unskilled workers. Infrastructure projects couldn’t employ all unskilled workers, but increased demand for such workers in some sectors invariably creates labor shortages and more rapid wage growth in others.

Top earners have historically resisted tax hikes, in the apparent belief that higher rates would make it harder to buy things they want. But that view is a garden variety cognitive error. Top earners, who already have everything they might reasonably be said to need, are like others in their desire to buy additional things that seem special. But “special” is a relative concept. A nice house is one that is nicer than most other houses. A high-performance car is one that performs better than most other cars, and so on. To get such things, we must outbid others who also want them. Successful bidding depends almost entirely on relative purchasing power. And because tax increases don’t affect relative purchasing power, they have no effect on our ability to buy special things.

Consider the following thought-experiment: Rich car enthusiasts in World A, which has low taxes, can afford to buy $300,000 Ferraris but must drive them on roads riddled with foot-deep potholes. Their counterparts in World B, which has higher taxes, can afford only $150,000 Porsches, which they drive on roads maintained to a high standard. In which of these worlds would rich motorists be happier?

17) Great piece from Vox’s Brian Resnick on “9 essential lessons from psychology to understand the Trump era.”  Lots of great political psychology here.

18) I’ll always be a Duke basketball fan.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like what they’ve become in the one-and-done era.  Loved this piece on the very real downsides for the players involved.

19) This is really, really interesting for those of us who grew up on John Hughes movies.  Molly Ringwald looks back through the #metoo lens.

20) Love this– in a great prank, Georgia high school somehow gets “What’s New Pussycat” stuck on the PA system in a loop for 45 minutes.

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