The best use of statistics ever?

I love candy.  And I love this 538 feature using head-to-head comparisons and statistics to figure out what makes various candy appealing.  For myself, I’m all about chewy.  Love laffy taffy, gummies, twizzlers.  And, of course, chocolate.  What kind of failed human doesn’t love chocolate.  Anyway, here’s the top of the ranking (whole thing at the link):

I do love both twix and kit kat, which are near the top.  I enjoy Reese’s, but did not realize the combination of chocolate and peanut butter was so beloved.  What makes this extra cool, though, is the OLS regression model to determine which features make candy most appealing.

So, there you go, not just chocolate and peanut butter, but fruit flavors.  Now, what the statistician in me really wants to see is an interaction term for chocolate and peanut butter together.  I strongly suspect that would be statistically significant.

Anyway, happy Halloween!  Rest assured, I will be plucking twix, kit kat, and twizzlers right out of my kids’ Halloween pumpkins tonight as candy tax.


Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m loving all the Wirecutter stories in my FB feed these days.  I’m especially intrigued by the idea of a carry-on carry-on bag.

2) Frum (back in February) makes a case for what effective anti-Trump protest should look like:

It’s possible I’m not the right person to offer the following analysis. Yet it’s also a good rule to seek wisdom wherever it may be found. So here’s what I have to offer from the right, amid the storms of the Trump era.

The more conservative protests are, the more radical they are.

You want to scare Trump? Be orderly, polite, and visibly patriotic.

Trump wants to identify all opposition to him with the black-masked crowbar thugs who smashed windows and burned a limo on his inauguration day. Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag. Open with the Pledge of Allegiance. Close by singing the Star Spangled Banner––like these protesters at LAX, in video posted by The Atlantic’s own Conor Friedersdorf. Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.

3) Stan Greenberg’s take on why Clinton lost.

4) Garrett Epps‘, “America’s Red and Blue Judges: Justice Neil Gorsuch exemplifies how the Supreme Court has become fully enmeshed in the rankest partisan politics.”

5) Chait on how Trump bungled the politics of the NFL:

These comments had two swift effects, each disastrous for the president. First, it turned the question away from the style of the protest to the right to conduct it. The national anthem is a potent symbol of patriotism, but so is the First Amendment to the Constitution. “No, I don’t agree with [Trump], said University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh Saturday, “That’s ridiculous. Check the Constitution.”

Even pro-Trump coaches and owners began to issue statements attacking the president. “I’m pissed off,” said Rex Ryan. “I supported Donald Trump. [These comments] are appalling to me … I never signed up for that.”

Second, it turned the pregame drama into an anti-Trump protest. The pregame kneel has now become a spectacle of resistance, with dramatic gestures of white players joining black ones to oppose the crude attacks from the great orange bigot. Fans who might have complained before about politics being inserted into football — as if the bloated displays of military might attached to the NFL were not a form of politics — could no longer miss that Trump was now more likely than anybody else to politicize the game.

6) Eric Reid’s NYT Op-Ed on why he kneels is awesome and eloquent.  Puts the haters to shame.

It should go without saying that I love my country and I’m proud to be an American. But, to quote James Baldwin, “exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

7) John Pavlovitz, “White America, It’s Time to Take a Knee.”

8) Literally the one non-dessert food all the Greene’s will eat?  Pancakes.  The science behind what makes them so good.

9) Not at all surprising to learn, “Obesity surgery may work by remaking your gut microbiome.”

10) Every single cognitive bias in one infographic.

11) Didn’t realize that so many website started pushing video as a way to increase ad revenue.  That said, I’m surprised that this CJR story did not mention that for your typical informative story, video is just a way, way less efficient way to consume information.

12) The saddest part on so many Republicans and their racial resentment is how oblivious they are to it.  This is the Republican candidate for mayor of Raleigh.  Looks like he changed the settings on the original post, but here’s the screenshot:

13) Tom Price is just an amazing sleazeball.  Good riddance!  Nice NYT editorial on what he represents in Trump’s view of public service.

14) James Hamblin of ongoing Republican efforts to sabotage ACA.

15) Jay Bilas on the NCAA after the FBI investigation:

In the movie “Jurassic Park,” actor Jeff Goldblum’s character had a memorable line — “Life finds a way.” In my view, the same goes for money. In college sports, money will find a way. Money will always find a way, because the NCAA and its member institutions are addicted to money and will continue to chase it. That seems beyond reasonable dispute…

The NCAA could act as The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club if it wished. The Masters does not allow commercialization of its product beyond its comfort level and has rules for its media partners. Augusta National could make far more money off that property if it wished, but it finds other things more important. Not the NCAA. If your decisions reveal your priorities, the NCAA’s first priority is money.

16) A remarkably candid admission from a Freedom Caucus stalwart that deficits only matter when Democrats are president.

17) The latest research finds that “broken windows” policing may actually lead to more crime.

18) Drum makes the case for bringing pork barrel spending back to Congress:

It’s not hard to guess why. Party leaders are the ones responsible for wrangling enough votes to pass big, complicated bills. To do that, they need to be willing to pressure members for votes any way they can. Offering a wavering member a freeway on-ramp or a senior center in her district may not be the most important bit of leverage they have, but sometimes it’s enough to get the final few votes they need to cross the finish line. Is this unseemly? Maybe, but former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle thinks the earmark system was a net positive anyway: “It wasn’t pretty,” he admitted in 2014, “but it worked.”

Here’s another dirty secret: Earmarks don’t actually cost anything. Overall spending levels are set by Congress in appropriations bills, and bureau­cratic formulas decide how much money goes to each state. Earmarks merely redirect some of that spending; they don’t add to it.

19) Latest thorough research suggests that campaigning of all sorts has virtually no impact in persuading voters of whom to vote for.  That said, there still is evidence for its effects on turnout.

20) Why yes, we should “get the keg out of the frat house.”

Alcohol is the wellspring of most fraternity vice, and evidence shows that reducing drinking at chapters makes them safer — and not just for fraternity brothers. According to the National Institute of Justice, women who frequent frat parties are more likely to become victims of “incapacitated sexual assault.” Many fraternity brothers and alumni maintain that fraternities shouldn’t be blamed for excessive drinking — that it is just a part of college life — but the numbers tell a different story.

Study after study has shown that fraternity men are the heaviest drinkers on campus. According to Harvard public-health research, considered the most definitive, 86 percent of men living in chapter houses binge on alcohol, twice the level of those who live elsewhere. A University of Maine survey found that three-quarters of fraternity members report they’ve been hazed, including being forced to drink into unconsciousness.

(That said, let’s not ignore selection bias in these statistics).

21) Peter Beinart on how Republicans are not apparently totally okay with Roy Moore’s blatant anti-Muslim prejudice.

22) And Chait on the GOP surrender:

Moore has openly defied legal authority in service of his belief that his theology overrides the authority of the United States government. This ought to disqualify Moore for service in public office, the most minimal qualification for which is a profession of respect for the rule of law. And yet, rather than declaring Moore unfit to serve, Republicans have endorsed his candidacy. Their stated qualms are limited to the concern that he might fail to vote for their tax-cut plan.

“He’s going to be for tax reform, I think,” Ohio senator Rob Portman of Ohio tells Politico. “Who won? I wasn’t paying attention. I’m just worried about taxes,” adds Nevada senator Dean Heller. If America slides into authoritarianism, the history of the Republican Party’s complicity could be titled, “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m just worried about taxes.” [emphasis mine]

23) Interesting feature on how Darrell Hammond lost his SNL Trump impression to Alec Baldwin.

24) Lee Drutman on our era of super-competitive national elections and non-competitive state elections is great.  Here’s a key chart:

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:



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