Map of the day

So, I just discovered the “Terrible maps” twitter account.  I no I shouldn’t, but I found this one (among others) irresistible:


Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the big delay.  Busy weekend.  Had an amazing time seeing Green Day Friday night (when I’m usually finishing off quick hits) and now visiting with family.  Here goes:

1) Interesting essay on modern television and Netflix’s lack of any kind of brand identity for it’s original programming.

2) Where did the Zika virus go and is it coming back?

3) In a saner world, I’d have more time to get mad about Trump’s horrible idea of getting more military weapons back in the hands of police.

4) What hybrid animals can teach us about evolution.

5) Our current system for organ transplants is way too arbitrary depending upon what state you live in.  Fortunately, people are working to change that.

6) The real scourge on college campuses– loneliness.

7) Jennifer Victor on teaching in the age of Trump.  Definitely thinking a lot about these issues in my first Intro course since his election:

However, the challenge of getting students to take a detached, nonjudgmental viewpoint on current events is maximized in the Trump administration. How can one be dispassionate in the face of a leader who aligns himself with white supremacists? While commitment to scientific principles remains priority, it would be unethical and morally irresponsible not to express judgment against repugnant behavior that is baldly bigoted. As a social scientist, I can talk about the president breaking with democratic norms and precedent, but as a human being, I also want to expose the dehumanizing effects of vitriolic language and the violence it encourages…

My strategy in class this semester is to be both scientific and human. We can retain a commitment to social science by analyzing behaviors in the context of strategic behavior, institutional incentives, social influences, individual psychology, or any other typical and academic way of examining politics. We can respond as humans by openly noting when behavior is inhumane, immoral, unethical, or racist. American political scholars may be less accustomed to doing the latter when discussing current events and the US president, and instructors may feel like they are breaking scientific practice to do so, but we need only look to our colleagues in other subfields for guidance.

Comparativists do not wince at describing despotic regimes. They do just fine objectively identifying authoritarian, tyrannical, or violent leadership. No one accuses scholars in international relations as being ideologically motivated for observing warmongering or international exchanges that threaten American security. Americanists simply need to do what comparativists have been saying for years: treat the US as a single case, not a special one.

8) The decline of midwestern public research universities.

9) What’s up with those fire ant balls in Texas.

10) Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings was more more complicated than either side would like to admit and cannot be easily summarized in terms of “property” or “mistress.”

11) Loved this story on how Driscoll’s re-invented the strawberry.  Apparently, they are changing cultivars on us all the time without our even knowing.  I love fresh local strawberries from the NC farmer’s market every April, but I don’t find the mass-produced strawberries in the grocery store even worth eating.

12) I don’t think a new book lamenting the lack of emphasis on teaching in universities will surprise many (though, like many, I wish it were otherwise).  I totally agree with this part of the review:

What does seem to have shifted in recent years is the wholesale acceptance of business norms by many academic institutions, which have adopted a strategy focused on the bottom line despite their nonprofit status. This has resulted, among other things, in the willingness to charge students ever-higher tuitions while driving labor costs down, and in the adoption of a star system that resembles the tournament structure of our whole society.

13) Pro Publica’s March 2016 feature on how Houston and Texas are not ready for a major hurricane.

14) David Brooks recent column has been widely and appropriately derided for arguing that white identity politics have only infected the GOP since 2005.

15) We really do need to invest more in high-quality vocational training.

16) I didn’t realize just how toxic Silicon Valley’s work-all-the-time culture had become.  Really interesting essay on the matter.  I guess I’m a loser for valuing time with my family.  Oh, also, not surprisingly, it’s not great for productivity:

The truth is that much of the extra effort these entrepreneurs and their employees are putting in is pointless anyway. Working beyond 56 hours in a week adds little productivity, according to a 2014 report by the Stanford economist John Pencavel. But the point may be less about productivity than about demonstrating commitment and team spirit.

“Everyone wants to be a model employee,” said Anim Aweh, a clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed-out tech workers. “One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’ ” [emphasis mine]

Seriously?  Working smart is a bad thing.  Ugh.  Also, if this is the culture, it ends up invariably having a disproportionately negative impact on women.

17) German Lopez on how to fix America’s broken policing.  Excellent stuff.  Right onto the next PS 313 syllabus.  Also, this chart:

18) Rebuilding quantum theory from the ground up.

19) Charles Pierce on Houston and Texas’ regulatory environment:

So, conservative ideas have triumphed in Texas. A business-friendly environment has been created, based on free-market principles, deregulation, and a return to 10th amendment freedoms just as the Founders designed them, because the best government is the one that is closest to the people.

Basic chemistry doesn’t care, via NBC News:

A flooded chemical plant near Houston exploded twice early Thursday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and triggering a fire that the firm plans to let “burn itself out.” Arkema Group, which is one of the world’s largest chemical companies, had warned Wednesday that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point — adding there was nothing that could be done about it.

 Awfully blithe for a company whose massive chemical plant just exploded because the company was unprepared for a completely predictable meteorological catastrophe, I’d say. Of course, over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn. Anyone who saw the essential Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle on the electric teevee machine with Kindly Doc Maddow on Wednesday night knows exactly what I’m talking about. (And, if you’re not following him on the electric Twitter machine—@mizzousundevil—you should be.) They played a tape of a conference call on which Dempsey pressed the CEO of Arkema, Rich Rowe, about what substances were in the company’s plant that would be released if the plant blew, as it apparently did Thursday morning. Rowe refused to answer, which was his perfect right within Texas’ business-friendly environment. They could be hoarding nerve gas in that place, and be perfectly within the law not to tell anybody about it.

In fact, and this is the delectable part of the entire farce, there apparently is a law in Texas that specifically forbids many cities and towns from designing their own fire codes. Hell, the state even passed a law forbidding cities and towns from requiring fire sprinklers in new construction. Freedom!

20) A defense of the de rigueur standing ovation on broadway.  I still like the idea of saving it, but I think this captures why:

The reason, I’d conjecture, is the soaring price of theatre tickets. The average Broadway ticket now costs a hundred and nine dollars, and the highest-priced seats for megahits like “Hamilton” and “Hello, Dolly!” can reach the eight-hundred-dollar range—not to mention that resellers sometimes charge more than a thousand. Long-running shows rely ever more on out-of-towners willing to spend big on a Broadway show. After investing that kind of cash, perhaps theatregoers are quicker to leap to their feet as a form of self-justification: for these prices, I’d better have had a “superlative experience.”




The eclipse post

1) Wow.  Wow.  I had read that it would be emotional and mind-blowing.  It was emotional and mind-blowing.  I’m generally pretty even-keeled, but not yesterday.  I was practically a-tingle with excitement as totality approached and totality was probably the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.  Even though you know it is coming cognitively, of course, it is still totally mind-blowing to experience.  My favorite quote on experiencing totality versus advanced partial, “it’s the difference between riding an airplane and jumping out of an airplane.”  Oh, and I totally loved the partial part.  Would have been amazing just to watch and experience changes as sun went from 0% covered into the 90’s.

Naturally, I took a ton of photos, but planned on putting my camera down during totality to just experience.  But then it was so cool I had to try and take some.  I ended up taking a few that weren’t great because I hadn’t thought about the fact that my settings were way off.  In fact, almost all my totality photos were poor because my rational photographer mind was pretty much on hiatus as I experienced pretty much sheer euphoria.

2) Soooo cool to share it with all my family.  We were all just giddy and celebrated with a family group hug when it was over.

3) As you know, I was semi-obsessed and planned the hell out of this thing.  Totally paid off.  I was completely right that traffic right before would not be bad.  People arriving in South Carolina were clearly spread out all over the weekend.  I was ultimately convinced to leave Sunday night to make sure and we experienced heavy, but basically fine, traffic getting as far as the SC border (that was basically where hotels stopped having eclipse pricing).  There was one small back-up on Monday morning getting into the zone, but traffic was basically fine– just like I thought it would be.  I can confirm this as reader MDG left Cary, NC on Monday morning and had no real traffic issues.

I wanted to watch on the north side of the zone and near 95 so I could beat traffic back out and settled on Sumter, SC.  Thanks to the internet, I could learn all about their parks.  Found a great park– Palmetto Park– with a playground and sprayground which kept our kids totally entertained for the duration of the eclipse.  Not too crowded as Sumter had an actual eclipse festival in another park that seemed to suck up the crowd.  Was so glad we watched where we did.

Totality was over at 2:45 and we were leaving the park by 2:48 so we could be heading north on 95 as soon as possible.  I few small back-ups, but totally paid off.  Friends who waited longer and started from further South had far less pleasant returns.

On a related note, don’t know what was up with Google traffic yesterday (BF?)  I kept checking behind us out of curiosity and it basically showed just very small delays after the eclipse.  Yet, my friends returning from Charleston where on the road an extra 3-4 hours.

4) Really annoyed at how articles in the N&O downplayed the local impact.

“Because the sun is so bright, you really won’t see anything,” said Rachel Smith, an astronomy professor at Appalachian State University in Boone. “It won’t get very dark at all. It won’t even be perceptible.”

Wrong!!  I wasn’t in Raleigh, but I know what 93% was like in SC and it was totally perceptible.  And really, really cool.  Temperature was way more pleasant in the sun and the overall light was clearly dimmer.  And, it was awesome to look at the sun with eclipse glasses and see it 93% obscured (And, all this, of course, was confirmed by my friends who stayed in the area).  Now, if you tried looking directly at the sun without glasses, it was not perceptible at all, but there’s much more to an eclipse than that.  In fact, I looked directly at that sun at about 2 minutes before totality and with the naked eye (just for a second, mind you), the sun was still just a giant ball of fire.

5) There was so a natural economics experiment to be done with hotel pricing.  I was basically watching the zone of eclipse pricing expand every day last week on  One week before, Florence, SC (30 minutes from zone) was totally cheap; two days before it was 4-5x regular prices.

6) A couple of photos I’m pretty pleased with.  You can see my whole gallery here.

Map of the day

I loved this Washington Post graphical feature that shows how far you can get from a major city center in rush-hour compared to regular times.


Sure don’t miss the time way back when, when I had the Washington DC commute.  Pittsburgh looks pretty good.  Plenty more cities by region at the feature.

Map of the day

Love this map showing the U.S. as similar latitudes in Europe:



Quick hits (part II)

1) Garrett Epps with an interesting take on the church/state issues in the SC’s recent decision.

2) Love this take on insurance from Adrienne LaFrance— “good health never lasts.”

Good morning, fellow mortals!

At this pivotal moment in American policymaking, I’m here to remind you of our individual and collective doom. Wellness, like youth, is temporary. In the end, you either get sick, then die—or you die before you can get sick in the first place. It bears repeating, apparently, at a time when the health-care debate in the United States has become so partisan as to imply the population of sick people and well people is just as cleanly divided as Americans are politically split. But this isn’t the case.

You can’t choose to be healthy or ill the way you can choose to be a Republican or a Democrat. You can’t choose for your babies not to be born with medical problems.

You can do everything right to stay in good health. You can be one of “those people who lead good lives,” as the Alabama Republican Representative Mo Brooks put it in a television interview, explaining why healthy people should get to pay less for insurance than sick people. And you’re still likely to find yourself facing unexpected medical costs at one point or another.

3) Tennessee legislature condemns porn as a public health crisis leading to a decline in marriage.

4) Gorsuch’s anti-gay dissent is really pretty pathetic.

5) Yglesias on the conservative health care vision:

Having worked out a few of the rough kinks in the House plan, conservative wonks are in fact on board for a program that reduces taxes on high-income households by hundreds of billions of dollars and pays for it with hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to health care for lower-income households. The bill leaves Medicare unchanged (indeed, it keeps in place Obama-era reforms that Republicans opportunistically denounced) and it leaves in place the employer-based framework that serves the majority of middle-class Americans.

But it cuts taxes for the rich, cuts taxes for insurance industry players, cuts taxes for some employers of low-wage workers, and it pays for it all by stripping low income people of their coverage without thinking too hard about what happens next. That’s not an absence of vision for what the country should look like, it’s what the vision is.

6) The Art Pope-funded John Locke foundation has this handy “analysis” titled, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on Benefit Mandates.”  Of course, a more apt title might be, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on requiring insurance benefits that people actually need to be healthy.”

7) Love this take from Bill Ayers on the nature of expertise:

But there’s another aspect to expertise that actually contributes to its widespread rejection. The nature of expertise is that people who are experts see things that non-experts can’t see. They perceive things in the universe that are, quite literally, invisible to the rest of us.

This phenomenon has been well-documented in all sorts of arenas. Elite athletes, for example, have been studied extensively. It turns out that, while they tend to be in excellent health and have certain physical gifts, they’re not especially more physically gifted in general than the rest of us. It’s that the tens of thousands of hours of practice they put in have rewired their brains so they can perceive things other’s can’t. That’s why the best hitters in professional baseball actually stand a good chance of hitting a baseball thrown by a professional pitcher, traveling at more than 95 miles per hour. He can see things about that ball that are invisible to the rest of us.

The same is true in medicine. An experienced doctor will see in a list of symptoms, or the way a patient answers a question, possible diagnoses that we know nothing about. Nor can we understand the connections between those little bits of information and the much larger issue. Doctors carry around a whole world of knowledge in their heads that is inaccessible to non-experts.

So it goes for nearly every field of human endeavor. Architects see things in buildings that the rest of us miss. Musicians hear things in music we can’t hear. Engineers, lawyers, designers, auto mechanics – in almost any human endeavor involving expertise, experts are privy to a world out of reach of the rest of us…

I encounter this all the time in my own area of expertise – politics – because, as John Stewart Mill put it over 100 years ago, politics “is a subject which no one, however ignorant, thinks himself incompetent to discuss”. In the political realm, we all think that we can see everything there is to see. And when “experts” come along and try to point out what we can’t see, we often dismiss them because, well, we can’t see what they’re pointing at. We think they’re just making it up.

8) Meant to have this last week.  Trevor Noah on Philandro Castille.  Good stuff.

9) NC State doing its part for breeding better blueberries.  It turns out the real trick is finding tasty blueberries that hold up to machine-picking.

“Right now, 20 percent of blueberries are harvested mechanically, while 80 percent is handpicked,” he said. Because handpicking is expensive, he said, “We want to reverse that – we want 80 percent to be mechanically harvested and 20 percent handpicked.”

I’m all for more affordable blueberries.

10) Kevin Williamson post in National Review about Trump is so good.  Read it.

Trump may have his problems with women, but it is his unrequited love of the media that is undoing him.

“I always tell the president, ‘You don’t need them,’” says Sean Hannity, the self-abasing monkey-butler of the Trump regime. The president, Hannity says, can reach more Americans via Twitter than he could through the conventional media. That isn’t true, of course: Only about one in five Americans uses Twitter. Hannity might be forgiven for not knowing this, a consequence of his much more general habit of not knowing things. But he actually does know the president. How could he possibly believe that this man — this man — does not need them?

He needs them the way a junkie needs his junk.

Donald Trump cares more about how he is perceived in the media than he cares about anything else in the world, including money. Trump is a true discipline of Bishop Berkeley, professing the creed of the social-media age: Esse eat percipi— “To be is to be seen.” Trump is incapable of enjoying anything — money, success, sex — without being perceived enjoying it.

11) How forgetting is the key to learning.

12) Good Jelani Cobb piece on militarizing the minds of police officers:

For the past two decades, David Grossman, a former Army Ranger and self-described product of a law-enforcement family, has been conducting police-training seminars on the use of deadly force. Policing is a complex job that at times requires split-second decision-making. More often, though, it requires a reservoir of knowledge about social interaction and human behavior, and the ability to read situations that may become violent. Officers are granted a great degree of latitude in their work, partly because interacting with the public requires more nuance than any rigorous set of codes could possibly hope to encompass. Grossman’s “Bulletproof Warrior” philosophy, however, dispenses with these gray areas. Here the war on crime is not metaphorical; police are a kind of domestic militia tasked with subduing a potentially lethal enemy. Danger is ambient, ever present, and unpredictable. (Grossman did not respond to a request for an interview.) Grossman’s seminar exists at the opposite pole of the current drive for criminal-justice reform. While progressives emphasize police training to de-escalate conflict, Grossman’s seminar pushes officers to become more comfortable with the use of deadly force. As Grossman informs one group of attendees, “only a killer can hunt a killer.” Killing is a central theme of Grossman’s seminars but is only a fractional portion of law enforcement’s responsibilities. The vast majority of police in this country never use deadly force in the course of their careers. [emphasis mine]

Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, in Minnesota, last year, belongs not only to the small percentage of officers who have killed civilians but also to the much larger group of officers who have attended Grossman’s seminars. He reacted quickly, interpreted an otherwise calm moment as the paramount danger, and fired seven times into a vehicle with a four-year-old girl in the back seat. A jury determined that Yanez had not committed any crime, but, at the very least, no reasonable person would understand his handling of the situation as good policing.

13) Richard Hasen on the absurd fraud that is Trump’s voting fraud commission.

14) How Netflix is trying to be the new HBO.

15) Headline says it all category, “Syrian doctor caught in travel ban gives up, moves to Canada.”  I’m sure he was, in actuality, a potential terrorist wanting to destroy America.

16) It’s nice to be reminded that Harry Potter books were not always a phenomenon.

17) Good piece on the Republicans’ “uncertainty strategy” on Obamacare.

18) How Illinois became a poster child for fiscal mismanagement.

19) I think you know the answer to the question in this Guardian headline, “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?”

The core of Elsevier’s operation is in scientific journals, the weekly or monthly publications in which scientists share their results. Despite the narrow audience, scientific publishing is a remarkably big business. With total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable. In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.

But Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.

20) Some places in America have too many jobs and not enough workers.

21) Another great take on Republican Medicaid cuts, “Plan on Growing Old? Then the Medicaid Debate Affects You.”

These are the stories we tell ourselves: I will never be poor. I will never be disabled. My child will develop normally. They stand a decent chance of being true, even.

There is one tall tale, however, that ought to inspire a great deal of skepticism: I will be able to pay for myself in my old age.

In fact, a majority of people cannot and do not. One in three people who turn 65 end up in a nursing home at some point. Among the people living in one today, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 62 percent cannot pay the bill on their own.

And when that happens, Medicaid pays. The very Medicaid program that stands to have hundreds of billions of dollars less to spend if anything like the health care bills on the table in Washington come to pass.

Americans and breasts

A couple things that I couldn’t resist about this story.  First, this lede:

On a sunny day on the boardwalk, with salt on her skin and ocean breezes snapping the American flag behind her, Cynthia Heath did not want her perfect beach vacation ruined by toplessness.

“Not here, Ocean City is not that kind of place, it’s a family place. Absolutely not,” Heath, 55, said, leaving the restaurant where she just had lunch with her husband, her 9-year-old granddaughter and her granddaughter’s friend.

They ate at Hooters.

Welcome to America, land of mixed messages and double standards. Breasts, especially, continue to confound us.

And, also, because when I was a kid my family owned a condo at Ocean City, MD, and went there every summer.  Nice to know that the Ocean City of 35 years ago remains in this description:

Breasts made national news because the all-American summer destination Ocean City was confused about whether women could show them.

And that’s pretty funny.

Because this family-friendly place with “No Profanity” signs along the boardwalk also has guys selling Bongzilla outside its boardwalk shops; T-shirts with pot jokes, sex jokes and drinking jokes on every corner; hotels with giant kiddie pools outside and clouds of marijuana smoke inside; guys lugging suitcases of Pabst everywhere. Also: twerking, thongs and foam dance parties galore.

But please, save the children from breasts.

Actually, there’s also an interesting public policy debate to be had here.  But, mostly, yes, Americans are pretty schizophrenic about female breasts.

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