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.

Quick hits (part I)

I may be in Chicago for a Political Science conference, but look, you still get your quick hits on time (part II may be late).

1) Jennifer Rubin with an excellent piece on Trump’s actual peril from Mueller.

2) And Matt Glassman with a great twitter thread on the matter.

3) Confessions of a former Sinclair news director.

4) Wow– this Wired piece on disposing of human bodies (dead ones, that is) through chemistry was utterly fascinating.

5) I don’t think privatization of government services should be rejected out of hand, but it is a disaster when it comes to prisons.  You are basically monetizing human suffering and creating a profit motive to treat humans worse.  To wit, this private prison in Mississippi.  Of course, the Trump administration wants to expand their use:

On the witness stand and under pressure, Frank Shaw, the warden of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, could not guarantee that the prison was capable of performing its most basic function.

Asked if the guards were supposed to keep inmates in their cells, he said, wearily, “They do their best.”

According to evidence and testimony at a federal civil rights trial, far worse things were happening at the prison than inmates strolling around during a lockdown: A mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, gang members were allowed to beat other prisoners, and those whose cries for medical attention were ignored resorted to setting fires in their cells.

So many shackled men have recounted instances of extraordinary violence and neglect in the prison that the judge has complained of exhaustion.

The case, which has received little attention beyond the local news media, provides a rare glimpse into the cloistered world of privately operated prisons, at a time when the number of state inmates in private facilities is increasing and the Trump administration has indicated that it will expand their use

The genesis of the problems at East Mississippi, according to prisoner advocates, is that the state requires private prisons to operate at 10 percent lower cost than state-run facilities. Even at its state-run institutions, Mississippi spends significantly less on prisoners than most states, a fact that state officials once boasted about.

The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center after years of complaints from inmates, seeks to force wholesale changes at the prison.

Testimony has described dangerous conditions, confused lines of oversight and difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified staff.

Security staff at East Mississippi earn even less than the $12-an-hour starting wage made by their public service counterparts, and private prison guards receive only three weeks of training — less than half the training time required of state prison guards.

6) How Jay Wright has built an amazing program at Villanova.  As a Duke fan, I’m horribly jealous.  And so tired of one-and-done’s.

7) Focused deterrence is the way to go for limiting gun crime.  Great explanation in this NYT Op-Ed.

8) Margaret Sullivan is right, “The term ‘fake news’ has lost all meaning. That’s just how Trump wants it.”

9) This is one of my favorite examples ever of how statistics can be mislseading– I’m going to be using it for years.  Why do dogs die at a disproportionate rate on United Airlines?  Because they have been the only company willing to take short-nosed breeds (e.g., boxers, pugs, etc.) that are far more prone to respiratory distress.

10) Love this Wired history of memes.  Including my favorite.

11) And yet another case of a Republican state legislator saying stupid, stupid stuff.  There’s just nothing approaching symmetry here.  NC’s own:

According to a North Carolina legislator, some March For Our Lives speakers also called for a far more nefarious approach. State Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Republican from the coast, suggested on her Facebook page that speakers at the marches expressed violent intentions.

“Many of the speakers at these rallies were calling for gun registration, confiscation, Second Amendment repeal and even the murder of those who would not turn over their guns to the government,” Boswell wrote on her campaign Facebook page.

12) Unsurprisingly to everybody but the regulators who somehow said this would actually help consumers, the merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster has been bad for competition and bad for consumers.

Non quick hits

Sorry, instead of working on these I watched the first ever #16 seed victory.  Totally busted my bracket that had Virginia winning it all, but totally worth it.

Also, busy night attending the Cary High School performance of “The Secret Garden” musical.  Mini-rant– my least favorite musical I’ve ever seen.  Firstly, just so not a fan of English Countryside-set ghost stories, but really not a fan of characters who’s actions just keep making no sense and seem to come from no coherent motivation.  (And, yes, I do have much lower standards for musicals).  Also, the music wasn’t bad, but I’d at least like to be humming one song on my way out of a musical.  A shame, because the CHS kids are really, really talented and I didn’t think the source material was worthy of them.

Quick hits to come later worked around soccer coaching and basketball watching.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really enjoyed this very personal essay (from dealing drugs on a corner to the NBA in four years) from former NBA player Steve Francis, whom I remember well from his ACC days at Maryland.

2) Sure, concerns about kids watching porn on their smartphones at school are real.  But if you give a kid a smartphone– or let them hang with any other kids at all– that’s a risk you take.  Talk to your kids.  The solution is not to suggest schools ban smartphones as a solution.

3) Nice piece from Nate Cohn on how the exit polls way over-estimated Trump’s support among college-educated whites, leading to a current false conclusion that his support has slipped among them more than it has.

4) Trump would not even get within smelling distance of a security clearance if he wasn’t president.  Seriously.

5) Paul Waldman, “All the crazy things Trump wants you to believe about the Stormy Daniels scandal.”

This scandal provides a vivid reminder that in the Trump era, not only are we lied to constantly, we’re also asked to believe lies that are so obvious and absurd that one can only marvel at their epic shamelessness. Granted, if you had an affair with a porn star and paid her $130,000 in hush money, you might be spinning out a few implausible excuses to explain the whole thing away, too. But the preposterousness of the Stormy lies really sets them apart.

Here are some of the things Trump and his defenders would have us believe:…

[you get it, preposterous lies.  Click through if you are curious]

While the Stormy Daniels affair may not seem as momentous as some other Trump scandals, we have to keep reminding ourselves that the president allegedly had an affair with a porn star and paid her $130,000 in hush money to cover it up. It would have ended the presidency of just about any of his 44 predecessors, and yet we treat it like it’s somewhat amusing but not really any big deal.

Just as important, Trump and his allies are acting like we’re all idiots and we’ll believe any ludicrous claim they make. But at this point, what else would we expect from them?

6) I would so never take my family on a Disney cruise.  Though, the best part of this piece from a sceptical travel-writer who did just that is all the hating on each other from the commenters.

7) Americans may not prefer sons over daughters any more:

The new study, a working paper published in September, used the same technique, but with fertility data from 2008 to 2013. “We were surprised to find that it was not true anymore that having a girl encouraged additional births,” said Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell and one of the paper’s authors. “There could be a daughter preference.”

Ms. Blau and her colleagues said the new data shows that other factors now outweigh the preference for sons. That could indicate a preference for daughters, or it could be a combination of things.

In general, Americans — especially men — have been more likely to say they want a child of their own gender. In the 2011 Gallup survey, 31 percent of women wanted a boy and 33 percent a girl, while 49 percent of men wanted a boy and 22 percent a girl.

Part of the reason is parents want to share interests and hobbies with a child, research shows, and think this will be based on gender. Now that girls play sports and do other things that used to be considered masculine, fathers might feel more of an affinity for them. Stereotypes about what boys spend their time doing have not changed as much.

As women have gained more decision-making power in marriages, and become more likely to be single mothers, they might be exercising their daughter preference more often than they used to. That could explain the difference between the Gallup survey responses and the results from the new research. (Gallup said it was planning another survey on this question this year.)

8) Farhad Manjoo spent two months getting all his news from print newspaper and recommends it.  I love print newspapers, but sure not giving up my on-line NYT and WP.  I think the key is to not have a “breaking news” addiction.

9) This is so good.  Pro-gun moron writes stupid email to teacher blaming teacher’s anti-gun stance on lack of masculinity.  Teacher uses it as opportunity to teach his students how to actually argue:

A North Carolina teacher who was accused in a letter of having a “lack of testosterone” and being a “wuss” for not wanting to arm teachers got the last laugh by having his seventh-grade students critique the letter.

Justin Parmenter, a language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, argued in an opinion piece in The Charlotte Observer that more counselors and social workers are needed instead of armed teachers following the Valentine Day’s mass school shooting in Florida.

A person who said he was a parent of two public school students emailed Parmenter to say that based on the educator’s picture, the teacher had “never even saw a barbell, much less lifted one, and most likely gets queasy at the sight of a gun.”…

Parmenter said his students gave advice such as “work to understand opposing points of view,” “take a fact-based approach if you want to persuade” and “refrain from name calling. It’s often cover for a weak position.”

Parmenter, who used to be a gun owner, said he was amazed and inspired by the civil discourse shown by his students. He said it reminded him of how some survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, have become advocates against gun violence.

“I’m inspired by the ability of the Parkland students and my own students to cut through the noise and focus on what’s most important: our need to be courageous and unite in the face of our shared challenges,” he wrote.

Parmenter’s response to the email has drawn praise from fellow educators. James Ford, a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year, tweeted that the email exposes “the fragile masculinity at the root of so much of this debate.”

10) Thanks to Mika for sharing this MoJo report on the Obama administration response to the Russians in 2016.

11) I’ve always been intrigued by the gender gap in political knowledge.  Some nice new PS research on the matter:

Gender-based differences in political knowledge are pervasive in the United States and abroad. Previous research on the source of these differences has focused on resource differentials or instrumentation, with scholars arguing either that the gender gap is real and intractable, or that it is an artifact of the way the concept is measured. Our study differs from past work by showing that (1) male–female differences in political knowledge persist even when knowledge is measured with recommended practices, but that (2) knowledge gaps can be ameliorated. Across laboratory, survey, and natural experiments, we document how exposure to information diminishes gender-based differences in political knowledge. The provision of facts reduces—and often eliminates—the gender gap in political knowledge on questions covering a range of topics.

12) Find out by how much teachers in your state are underpaid (and, unless you are in one of a handful of states, they probably are).

13) This Aaron Carroll twitter rant on the amoral wrongness of Medicaid lifetime limits is so good.  Click and read the whole thread.



My ancestry by the numbers

So, my son Evan and I got DNA kits for Christmas.  I just got my results yesterday:

So, it’s well known that my dad came from Eastern European Jews.  Ukraine, I’m pretty sure, but the DNA is no help there.  Thus the 41% is clear, though its got me wondering about the, presumably, remaining 9% on my dad’s side (though, there’s a fair amount of potential error in these numbers, they do provide fairly broad ranges when you click on them).  Meanwhile, both my mom’s parents immigrated from Germany, her dad from Baden-Württemberg and her mom from Bavaria.  Kind of curious how that all mixed together in the various European sources.  Especially that 14% Iberian thrown-in.

So, this morning Evan’s came in.  Good news– he’s mine.  The big shock was his plurality 26% Scandinavian (and 2% Finland– Mika!).  My wife thought she was pretty much 100% Scotch-Irish.  Apparently not.

Anyway, pretty cool.  And not bad for the $50 Christmas sale.

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