Infographic of the day

Age at which European students start learning foreign language and the number of languages they must learn via Pew:

Most Students in Europe Must Study Their First Foreign Language by Age 9

Wow– we are so woefully behind on this.  The worst part, of course, is that our late start to foreign language learning runs contrary to pretty much everything we know about the development of the human brain and language acquisition.  Frustrating.

Video of the day

This short film has been making the rounds on FB.  After a couple of strong recommenations, I finally realized I need to watch it.  So good.  Take the five minutes.  Seriously.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice Krugman column on slavery’s long-lasting impact on American society and politics.

2) Loved this Vox piece on how the voice for Siri was created (by a human) and on how voice artists work.

3) Some days I hate how much email I get.  Definitely some good suggestions in here.  Some I already use (Doodle!).  And my favorite piece of advice:

“If we email each other three times over the same issue, it’s time for one of us to pick up the phone.”

4) Why North Carolina lawmakers just back-tracked part way on the state’s Voter ID law.

5) Enjoyed Toobin’s take on King v. Burwell.

For writing the opinion upholding the law, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is being hailed (and denounced) as a latter-day Earl Warren—a Republican appointee who turns out to be a secret liberal. This is hardly accurate. Roberts is still the author of the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and an eager member of the court majority in Citizens United and all the other cases that undermined our system of regulating political campaigns. But as his restrained and cogent opinion in King demonstrated, he is not a partisan ideologue. Quoting liberally from opinions by Justice Antonin Scalia, Roberts made the commonsensical observation that a law must be interpreted as a whole, not by the analysis of a few stray words here and there. And the context of the full A.C.A. compelled the obvious conclusion that the subsidies were intended to go to individuals on both the federal as well as state exchanges. The law would otherwise make no sense.

Meanwhile, George Will writes that this is all part of the liberal project to overthrow the Constitution.  Seriously.  It’s just amusing to me that so many still seem to see Will as a more reasonable, sober conservative.  If only.

6) Really enjoyed this essay on why “white privilege” is not the problem.  Does not explicitly mention John Roberts, but certainly akin to his idea that the best way to get past racism is to stop talking about race at all.  I don’t necessarily agree with all this,  but it is very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

7) Also enjoyed Reihan Salam’s same-sex marriage take:

Back in 2005, Peter Berkowitz, a conservative political theorist, made the case that the triumph of same-sex civil marriage was all but inevitable. The reason he gave was that arguments that can be made in the language of individual freedom almost always win out in the constitutional realm over those grounded in other considerations. One could argue that the debate over abortion is a clash between two interpretations of what individual freedom demands. Do we protect the autonomy of women or do we protect the rights of unborn children? The fact that both sides of the abortion debate can be rooted in the language of individual freedom has kept the debate alive.

But the debate over same-sex marriage is different. Advocates of same-sex marriage insist that the organization of intimate relations should be left up to the individuals in question, an idea that has become an article of faith among modern Americans. Proponents alone are rooting their arguments in individual freedoms. Critics of same-sex marriage, in contrast, tend to emphasize the potential harms children might experience as society moves away from traditional marriage.

8) Got in a huge argument on FB about the problem of sexism in Jurassic World.  I really don’t like the way this essay seems to suggest every dumb thing a female character does or every poor writing choice is inherently “sexist.”  Sure there’s some valid points here, but I would argue that when you are alienating the likes of me from your feminism, you are doing more harm than good to the feminist cause.

9) Do conservatives have more self-control than liberals?  At least one study says so.

In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.

They also report that participants’ performance on the tests was influenced by how much they believed in the idea of free will, which the researchers define as the belief that a person is largely responsible for his or her own outcomes.

10) Your big long read for the week– an interesting take from a British science journalist arguing that climate science is way politicized, alarmist, and harming scientific credibility.  There’s definitely some important ideas in here worth really thinking about and considering, but the author (a genuine science journalist, but also a Conservative MP in Parliament), is clearly very political in his take, which very much undermines his credibility.  As for me, on the whole big picture thing, I would say that if chances of catastrophe are not likely, but simply non-trivial, that’s still a damn good reason to try and do something about it.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Bail is incredibly unfair to poor people.  We should fix it.  John Oliver’s segment.

2) The FIFA-produced Sepp Blatter biopic just made $607 in box office in America.

3) Maria Konnikova explains how the lessons of the Stanford Prison Experiment are far more complicated than you think.

4)I know there’s all sorts of complicated stuff going on, but I can’t help thinking that– to a disturbing degree– police office in Baltimore are just being petulant for being asked to be held accountable.

5) Republicans are playing catch-up when it comes to modern digital campaigning.

6) The City of Raleigh has improved tremendously in recent years.  Why?  Government action; not the free market.

7) Vox with what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy.  Obviously, that’s just a pipe dream, but it does help explain a lot of the key issues in expanding our use of renewables.

8) Can reading make you happier?  It does for me:

So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.

9) Dahlia Lithwick argues that a finding for the plaintiff in King v. Burwell would be a huge political win for the Democrats and that this fact may factor into the justices’ calculus.

10) How Disney World has left the middle class behind.  Disney’s daily admission is now $105.   When it opened in 1971, it was the equivalent of $20 in 2014 dollars.  As long as people are willing to pay their ever-higher prices, they will keep raising their prices.  The Greene family will not be contributing to this cycle.

11) Lots of differences between Iceland and the US, but I agree with Yglesias that it’s definitely a good thing to put bankers in jail.  As long as the finance types only have to worry about their companies losing money and just maybe losing a job, they will do horrible, criminal things.  Throw a few of these guys in jail– where they belong– and things will change.

12) I’m not even going to say exactly what this Vox article is about (it involves toilets), but I will say I did come to this solution on my very own decades ago.

13) Good to see that, at least in some places, school systems are realizing that kindergartners should be playing.

14) I really don’t like the taste of any beer I’ve ever had and pretty much never drink it.  Nonetheless, I found this Wonkblog post on the history of why Americans prefer bland beer to be fascinating.

15) Economists on Westeros.  I especially liked this first one.

From Ryan Decker, an economist who blogs at Updated Priors:

To me, the most striking economic fact about Westeros is the lack of focus on saving. Given the length of winters and the fact that winter means little or no food production, why isn’t every house focused like a laser on storing food and developing better food storage technology? If I were (the late) Tywin Lannister, the only weapons I’d buy would be the ones used to guard my storehouses. I’d be sending gold by the cartload to Highgarden in exchange for food. I’d be looking at the advanced civilizations in the east for storage technology ideas (as Eric Crampton has noted at, Westeros could really benefit from more glass).

16) I think I like Whole Foods new rating system.   There definitely is more to food than being organic (I do think organic is good, but surely over-rated by many consumers) and it’s good to see Whole Foods taking that into account.

17) I’ve kept meaning to do a post on the horrible, inhumane way we treat the pigs we raise for food.  I have failed my porcine friends (doubly-so, as I had some good barbecue at Smithfield’s last night), but here’s a nice Wired post.  And a Fresh Air interview on the matter.   I really, really wish we could just treat our animals better and pay more for our meat.  Of course, the only way we will get there is with substantially more government regulation.  This is definitely a case where unfettered capitalism fails us.  (If you want to talk externalities, it does not get any worse than living near an industrial hog farm).

How working moms are good for kids

Had this Upshot post open forever.  Finally wanted to write a quick post.  With all the “mommy wars” as a constant in our culture, here’s some interesting research on how it is good for kids to have a working mom:

Nearly three-quarters of American mothers with children at home are employed. That fact doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for mothers to drop a toddler at day care or miss school plays. The mommy wars might seem like a relic of the 1990s, but 41 percent of adults say the increase in working mothers is bad for society, while just 22 percent say it is good, according to the Pew Research Center.

Yet evidence is mounting that having a working mother has some economic, educational and social benefits for children of both sexes. That is not to say that children do not also benefit when their parents spend more time with them — they do. But we make trade-offs in how we spend our time, and research shows that children of working parents also accrue benefits. [emphasis mine]

In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes. Having a working mother didn’t influence the careers of sons, which researchers said was unsurprising because men were generally expected to work — but sons of working mothers did spend more time on child care and housework…

Other researchers are less confident that the data has proved such a large effect, because it is difficult to know whether a mother who worked caused her daughter to work, or whether other factors were more influential. “The problem is we don’t know how these mothers differed,” said Raquel Fernandez, an economics professor at New York University who was not involved with the Harvard study but who has also studied the topic. “Was it really her mother working who did this, or was it her mother getting an education?”

Either way, the new study is part of a shift away from focusing on whether working mothers hurt children and toward a richer understanding of the relationship between work and family.

Okay, I know what you are thinking, good social scientist that you are, but the study authors are good social scientists, too:

Ms. McGinn said she ran dozens of tests to see if the results could be explained by something other than the mother’s time at work — like the influence of a broader culture in which women worked more frequently, or the benefits of a mother’s increased income — but they could not. She controlled for factors including age, education and family makeup. The effects shrank after she controlled for these, but Ms. McGinn said the difference was still statistically significant.

Obviously, this is complicated stuff and there’s many different factors as play, but it’s hard to argue that working mothers are bad for children.  As I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, parenting is far more about quality than quantity, and clearly most working moms are doing pretty well with quality.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Dana Milbank on just how radical Republicans have gotten and how quickly it’s been happening.

2) One way I end up with quick hits is by often having 20+ browser tabs open Chrome.  Sometimes when the wrong tabs are open, the whole computer slows to a crawl.  Now I understand why, and even better, Google is fixing the problem.  Also no more ads just randomly playing when the tab has been sitting open for hours.  Already installed the Beta..

3) Yes, Ted Cruz is an idiot, but unfortunately, politicians all too rarely make the straightforward and sincere apology when they screw up, as Cruz has done in the case of Joe Biden.

4) Some great satire from the New Yorker on (fictitious) Republican attempts to use a toddler’s temper tantrum in the Oval Office for political gain.

5) Steve Benen on a Congressional hearing this week and the phony Republican arguments on King v. Burwell.

Just once, I want to hear an ACA critic admit what is plainly true: King v. Burwell is a brazenly stupid con, but they’re playing along with the charade because they really hate the president and his signature domestic policy initiative.
Pretending the case is anything but a laughingstock is, at this point, simply impossible.

6) Best way for doctors to be sued less for malpractice?  Be more open with and talk to their patients more.  Of course, I’ve known this for years ever since reading The Medical Malpractice Myth upon Kevin Drum’s recommendation of it.

7) Yet more on the state of Kansas reaping the fruits of its tax cuts.  Of course, now they are looking to raise taxes in the most regressive manner possible via increased sales tax.  That’s some redistribution for you.

8) Really enjoyed this Monkey Cage piece on political fact-checking and when it works and when it doesn’t:

What fact-checking does best is reduce or prevent inaccurate political rhetoric and may be most effective during primary races. The growing effort is helping to shape what politicians say and whether their partisans take those statements on faith or with facts.

Political fact-checking can’t do everything. The old line “I know what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts” accurately sums up how stubbornly people can hold onto their most cherished convictions.

9) Given the choice, chimpanzees prefer cooked food.  And on a tenuously related note, I really enjoyed finally seeing “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” yesterday.  Andy Serkis is awesome.

10) Do feminists need to take women’s sports more seriously?  Maybe.  Though, I’m not sure I buy the premise that America’s sports fans would love women’s sports more if they just got more media coverage.

11) Fascinated by this story of the first ever skull and scalp transplant.

12) So, the main point of this essay was about teaching your kids to support causes even if you don’t believe in the cause.  But I was floored to learn that many people oppose Autism Speaks because they are trying to end autism.  That’s nuts!

13) Why America never adopted the metric system (or at least why not when everybody else first did it).  And I’d never heard this part before.

14) Interesting piece on why Obama should offer Snowden a deal:

Did he expose violations of law? Check. Last month, a federal appeals court held that the phone records collection program was illegal. Did he reveal abuses of authority? Check. The NSA’s inspector general has acknowledged dozens of incidents in which employees tracked phone calls and emails of former girlfriends, objects of romantic interest, or in one case an “unfaithful husband.” Did he point out gross mismanagement? Check. The mere fact that Snowden was able to walk out with a treasure trove of top-secret information more or less proves the point. Did Snowden bring to light the waste of public funds? Quite possibly, check again. The government has provided no evidence that the costly program has prevented a single terrorist attack.

Unfortunately for Snowden, the Whistleblower Protection Act contains a major exception: It does not apply to people who work for intelligence agencies, including the NSA. The Justice Department maintains that Snowden’s actions fall under a very different kind of law, the draconian and anachronistic Espionage Act of 1917. The Whistleblower Protection Act protects you as long as you believe you are doing right in leaking information about government wrongdoing to the press—even if you are wrong. The Espionage Act treats you as a traitor even if you acted with patriotic intent, as Snowden convincingly claims to have done—and even if you are right.

The chasm between the government’s encouragement of some whistleblowing and its severe punishment of other whistleblowing constitutes the limbo in which Snowden finds himself.

15) Scientists can calculate your risk of dying in the next five years based on 13 questions.  I’m as likely to die in the next five years as a British (that’s the population studied) 16-year old.

16) Woman almost dies from a broken bat.  I don’t go to baseball games much anymore, but when I do, you better believe I sit behind the net or well clear of the area quick-flying foul balls and broken bats go.

(Belated) Quick hits (part II)

1) Bill Moyers on the challenge of journalism in our plutocracy.

2) I’m with Drum.  Man do I hate it when politicians decide some particular disease needs funding because it happens to affect somebody in their own family.  The failure of empathy and vision on such matters is just breathtaking.

3) The politics of facial hair.

4) Can family friendly policies be too generous?  Maybe.

5) Americans (and me) love their circumcision.  (And there’s a pretty fascinating case in here involving child custody, too).

6) Cool interactive feature on how family income affects a child’s chances of going to college.

7) I hate the tone of this piece, but it’s nice to see some conservatives admitting our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.

8) Something tells me, though, the author of the above would not admit to the pervasive racism throughout our criminal justice system.  Vox nicely summarizes it, though.

9) Pretty amazing story about the chocolate diet hoax.  You really should read this to be an informed consumer of health journalism.  Personally, I vaguely recall seeing some links about this and concluding based on the headlines that it was probably junk science with nothing there.

10) I was actually watching this Messi goal when it happened.  One of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

11) Former GW Bush administration flunkie took to the NYT in a data-free column to argue that the Democratic party has shifted even further left than the Republicans have moved to the right.  Seth Masket corrects this with a little thing called data.

12) The NC legislature passed a horrible law to prevent employees from reporting malfeasance by their employers (yes, seriously).  To his credit, our governor vetoed it.  Alas, it appears the legislature has the votes to override.

13) I’m frequently amazed at who has a “black belt” in martial arts.  Suffice it to say, earning a black belt is not what it used to be.

14) As for this academic career advice from an almost geezer?  Already on top of almost all of it.  Apparently I figured out early in my career what took him decades.  Good advice for a lot of careers actually.

15) How America became a global power in a series of maps (via Vox).

16) I love apples and I love Planet Money, so this story was just catnip for me.  That said, I do think Honeycrisp apples are good, but way overrated (and over-priced)..


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