Lead is political

Great column from Nicholas  Kristof:

In Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested for lead turned out to have elevated levels. That’s inexcusable. But in 2014 in New York State outside of New York City, the figure was 6.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent. On the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of the children tested in 2014 had lead poisoning. In Iowa for 2012, the most recent year available, an astonishing 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. (I calculated most of these numbers from C.D.C. data.)

Across America, 535,000 children ages 1 through 5 suffer lead poisoning, by C.D.C. estimates…

Yet anti-lead programs have been dismantled in recent years because in 2012 Congress slashed the funding for lead programs at the C.D.C. by 93 percent. [emphases mine] After an outcry, some money was restored, but even now these lead programs have only a bit more than half the funding they once had.

Lead poisoning is an old problem: An Australian doctor, Lockhart Gibson, diagnosed the first case in 1904.

Then in 1943, a doctor in Boston encountered a young boy who had tried to stab his teacher, and remembered that the same boy had suffered lead poisoning years earlier. Researchers soon found that early exposure to lead impairs brain development and is strongly associated with later violent or criminal behavior.

Yet the lead industry ferociously fought attempts at regulation. It wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that lead was largely removed from gasoline, and until 2008 that a regulation reduced lead in paint to a reasonable level. Millions of children continue to suffer brain impairment because of the greed of the lead industry…

Today the continuing poisoning of half a million American children is tolerated partly because the victims often are low-income children of color.

Truly appalling that our country lacks the political will to stop poisoning any of our children with lead.

Quick hits (part II)

1) In Madison, Wisconsin they actually invested in replacing in lead pipes before they caused any trouble.  Alas, most cities are not willing to make the investment until it’s too late.

2) Terrific interview with a food safety expert.  I especially resent the way in which public health is held hostage to interest group politics in this area:

If salmonella is so problematic, why hasn’t the government protected consumers from it? 

There’s a case that goes back to the 1970s, American Health Association (AHA) vs. Earl Butz, who was the secretary of agriculture under President Nixon. The AHA didn’t even know about E. coli 0157, the kind that gets people really sick, back then. They were focused on salmonella, and they wanted to put a label on it that said ‘hey consumer, you need to cook this,’ and the meat industry went nuts, they said no way we’re not going to do this. So the AHA sued the government because they thought it was necessary, and the government sided with the industry, and in essence said it was a naturally occurring bacterium on meat, which is untrue, and housewives—this is actually in the case, I swear—know how to cook it, what to do to make this food safe. That mentality is just below the surface in the meat industry, whether it’s the beef, chicken, or any other facet. That sort of mentality that there’s really nothing we can do about it, and it’s really the consumer that is at fault if anybody gets sick, it’s their problem. This is exactly the argument that the industry waged in 1994, with E. coli, but there the government changed its tone because there were 700 people who got sick and 4 children who died, and it was kind of hard to ignore that.

3) On the “ag gag” law in North Carolina.  Damn it, business should be free to do any sort of horrible thing they want without fear that somebody might surreptitiously record them doing so and thereby possibly face accountability.  Thanks to NC Republicans for standing up for important values.

4) You don’t need me to tell you how amazingly unserious Republican presidential candidates are on foreign policy.  But Fred Kaplan will.

5) Just some social science showing that men are (not surprisingly) absurdly over-confident, as compared to women.

6) Howard Dean and Iowa will remain one of my favorite anecdotes to explain the role of expectations and media coverage for years to come.  So many people just don’t get what happened.  Nate Silver and friends do.  Good stuff.

7) Republicans seem to think high-deductible health plans are cure-alls for health care costs.  Evidence strongly suggests otherwise (when has that ever affected Republican legislators?).  That said, we can be much smarter about how we use deductibles.  Nice piece in the Upshot:

Some health economists say the solution to the problem may be smarter but more complicated forms of health insurance that provide patients with important care free, but charge them for treatments with fewer proven benefits. Mr. Chernew, for one, argues that ordinary deductibles are too “blunt” an instrument, but smarter insurance plans could harness economic incentives to reduce wasteful health spending without discouraging needed care. If such plans held down costs as well as deductibles, they could keep insurance affordable without as many risks. The theory behind such plans is compelling, but given how bad people are at shopping for health care, more empirical evidence is needed to know how well it works in practice.

8) What were the people at Simon Fraser University in Canada thinking when they thought this video was remotely appropriate?

9) Digging into the Iowa polls suggests trouble ahead for Ted Cruz.

10) Nice Op-Ed about the current government in NC and among other things, their disdain for public education.  And and N&O Editorial on our “teacher shortage by design.”


11) Interesting essay on how we shouldn’t judge people with “tramp stamps” and how we definitely shouldn’t call them that.  Am I a bad person if I’m not convinced?  Anyway, this statistics was really suprising:

For the first time in decades, women are more likely to have tattoos than men. In 2013,47 percent of women under 35 reported having a tattoo, compared with only 25 percent of men. And this rising demographic isn’t solely due to the trendiness of tattoo culture.

12) Lee Drutman reviews Rick Hasen’s new book on campaign finance and suggests we really need to move away from “corruption” and re-think about how we conceptualize the problem.

13) On how Hillary Clinton actually properly used social science in her get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa (unlike Ted Cruz).

14) This summary of evidence on learning says highlighting and re-reading is a waste of time.  I’m very familiar with the evidence that says testing yourself is the best way to study (and I emphasize this to my students), but I cannot imagine pulling off the grades I did without marking (in the margins, actual highlights take way too long) and re-reading key passages in texts.

15) Vox interviewed some political scientists on the electability of Cruz and Trump.  Masket says Cruz is more electable than Trump, and I’m with him:

Masket said he recognized that Trump is more moderate on some issues than Cruz. But while Cruz may have more extreme policy positions, he is the better candidate, because Trump could really drive away Republican elites and voters.

Masket pointed to several issues in particular on which this group regards Trump as fundamentally unreliable: the social safety net, the military, abortion, and taxes.

“A large number of more ‘establishment’ Republican elites may bolt the party and support a third party candidate should Trump win a majority of delegates. Even if that doesn’t happen, a sizable number of Republicans might simply not vote,” Masket said in an email.

He didn’t argue that Cruz is a great general election candidate. But since Cruz has proven consistently conservative, he would at least be able to unite the Republican Party and ensure that its voters go to the ballot box.

“[Cruz] is basically in line with the party on most of its key issues,” Masket said. “Nominating him could put them at a slight disadvantage due to his extremism, but there’s little chance of him actually splitting the party.”

I sure would love for it to be either of them, though, because no doubt they would fare worse than Rubio (or anybody else from the “establishment” lane).

16) This Vox article on potential mosquito eradication frames it as bad news that the best estimates suggesting we could have the biotechnology for widespread mosquito eradication in 3-5 years.  WTF?  That kind of technology within even 10 years would be unbelievable awesome and save so many lives.

17) Beautiful example of motivated reasoning in action.  Somehow, most all Democrats are better off than 8 years ago today and most Republicans are worse off.  I actually am better off.  Or maybe I’m only imagining it because I’m a Democrat.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The State Superintendent of Public Instruction in NC suggested that NC teachers get a 10% pay raise, which would still not even bring us up to the national average.  NC Republicans, of course, think this idea entirely untenable.

2) Can we start expecting kids to get kicked out of school based on their DNA?  Maybe.  Here’s one case.


3) Great look at the http://www.vox.com/2016/2/5/10918164/donald-trump-morality of the presidential candidates.  Some of what you would expect; some you wouldn’t.

4) An Iowa voter confronts Cruz with the reality of taking Obamacare away.

5) Why are American colleges obsessed with leadership?  Good question.  We can’t all be leaders.

6) Great Chronicle of Higher Ed interview with the Virginia Tech professor behind the Flint/lead story:

Q. Do you have any sense that perverse incentive structures prevented scientists from exposing the problem in Flint sooner?

A. Yes, I do. In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.

If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.

7) This history of Japan video is almost too awesome to be believed.  Seriously, trust me on this.

8) Is Dodd-Frank perfect?  No.  Is it actually working?  Yes, says Drum (and the data).  A more elaborate post on the same topic from Wonkblog (nicely titled “What Republicans and Bernie Sanders get wrong about Wall Street.”)

9) NFL stadiums are such a rip-off to their communities.  Let the damn owners pay for them.  St Louis will still be saddled with debt for a stadium that now becomes a white elephant.

10) Very nice piece on all that’s wrong with the college admissions process.  I don’t plan on encouraging my own kids to apply for anything more elite than our fine NC universities in part because the process has become so nuts.

11) Loved this Dylan Matthews case against NH and Iowa always being first.  Especially this Part

Iowa and New Hampshire have plenty of defenders. Their arguments are all bad. The most serious attempt to defend Iowa’s place in the system is the 2010 book Why Iowa?by political scientists David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan. They argue that the caucus system creates more informed (albeit fewer) voters, and that the sequential primary system lets candidates be heard and informs voters in later primaries.

They put together a good argument, but it’s not an argument for Iowa. It’s an argument for sequential voting. Indeed, the authors conclude with a proposal for a “caucus window,”in which any number of states could hold caucuses, followed by a national primary.

“We suggest that the national parties could opt for a process in which any number of states could hold caucuses on the first voting day of the sequence,” they write. “Another alternative would have the parties retaining a sequence in which Iowa, or some other relatively small state, is granted first-in-the-nation priority.”

At most, the virtues of caucuses and sequential primaries argue for having one small state go first. But they don’t argue for that state being Iowa or New Hampshire.

12) Lessons from Flint about how we make weather and climate (and much environmental) policy.

13) What happens to your brain when you get stoned every day for five years?  It’s not great, but not as bad as you might think.

14) Loved this Onion headline, “Middle-Aged Man In Gym Locker Room Puts Shirt On Before Underwear.”  Used to see a guy like this at the OSU gym all the time and it bugged the hell out of me.

15) The real reason I’m supporting Hillary– her campaign spends the most on pizza.

16) Ezra Klein with a good take on Thursday’s debate:

And where Clinton’s experience gives her deep knowledge of virtually every facet of American policymaking, Sanders’s career has let him focus on the issues he cares about, and left him poorly informed on international affairs.

Which is all to say that Clinton has the benefits and drawbacks of an insider, and Sanders has the benefits and drawbacks of an outsider. Her view of the political system is realistic, her knowledge of the issues is deep, and her social ties are strong. All these qualities would likely make her an effective president. But they also mean she’s captured by the political system, and that she is implicated in virtually everything Americans hate about it.

Sanders’s view of the political system is idealistic, his ideas are unbounded by pragmatic concerns and interest group objections, and his calls for political revolution are thrilling. All these qualities make him an inspiring candidate. But they also mean he’ll be perceived as an enemy by the very system he intends to lead, and that his promises of sweeping change might collapse into total disappointment.

17) We’ve reached the point where conservatives have deluded themselves into believing there’s actually more racism against white people than Black people.  And I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

18) The government changed the font on highways signs to make them more readable.  Apparently, in real world conditions they actually were not so the font is changing back.

19) Drug shortages are leading to some real rationing and some real hard decisions.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Amanda Taub has come to the same conclusion as me… Trump is using “political correctness” as an excuse for just being a jerk.

2) When you consider how common wisdom teeth extraction is, it almost has to be an overused medical procedure (I had mine out when I was 23 and it took me out of commission for the better part of a week).  What I really want to know is what are the outcomes in poor countries where people are not routinely having these teeth removed (though, surely there’s a lot of confounds with that).  Still, I cannot believe this many Americans have been this poorly served by evolution.

3) Loved this column on how the lead in Flint problem is a direct result of “small government” ideology.

4) Really interesting summary of a new book that focuses on American slavery as a slave breeding industry.

5) Michael Tesler on what a new poll shows about the populist appeal of Trump.

6) NPR story on the new research finding systematic bias against women in teaching evaluations.  I don’t doubt this is a genuine problem we should think about, but I’m still waiting for professors who get good evaluations to say they are worthless and professors with poor evaluations to admit maybe there is some value to them:

“That the situation is Really Complicated,” Philip Stark writes in an email to NPR Ed, and, he adds, it won’t be easy to correct for it. In fact, the authors titled their paper “Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness.”

These results seem pretty damning, but not everyone is convinced.

Michael Grant is the vice provost and associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He says there’s a lot of research supporting the effectiveness and usefulness of student evaluations.

“There are multiple, well-designed, thoughtfully conducted studies that clearly contradict this very weakly designed study,” he says, citing this study from 2000 andthis study conducted at his own university. His personal review of student ratings from one department at CU Boulder over nine years did find a bias in favor of men, he says, but it was very small — averaging 0.13 on a 6-point scale.

7) Teller of Penn & Teller was a high school Latin teacher before becoming a famous magician.  His take on how teaching is like performing magic.

8) Some common-sense recommendations for being more humane with how we wean cows.  Good for the cows; good for the farmers; good for the conscience of conflicted meat-eaters.  We really should do far more to ensure that our meat food supply is generated in a humane manner.

9) Really interesting piece on the evolution of single-sex bathrooms:

Today’s most-prominent arguments against inclusive restrooms are remarkably consistent with the Victorian notions that led to sex-segregated bathrooms in the first place. When the ideology of separate spheres for male and female, public and private, the market and the home reigned, the growth of women’s presence in public life led to the desire to protect women from the crude dangers of the male world. Among the legal effects was the 1873 Supreme Court holding in Bradwell v. Illinois that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny women admission to the bar on the basis of their sex, with a famous concurring opinion that stated, “Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” The same separate-spheres paternalism led to the designation of certain physical spaces for women apart from those for men, including bathrooms in public venues. These were safe spaces, if you will, tucked in a world in which women were vulnerable. As our society is currently experiencing a resurgence of paternalist concern about women’s sexual vulnerability—especially in the context of that great equalizer, education—it is no surprise that there would also be a new emphasis on the Victorian phenomenon of separate restrooms.

10) Great story on the Virginia Tech professor who was crucial to uncovering the Flint water problems.

11) I’m planning on reading Neurotribes and I expect to learn a lot from it.  That said, based on articles about the book and interviews with the author, the book seems to very much elide how substantially and severely very many people and families are affected by autism.

12) Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on foreign policy of Republican presidential aspirants:

Robert Gates , a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday . “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.” [emphasis mine]

13) Can’t say I’m all that surprised to learn that exercise far surpasses all other treatments in effectively reducing back pain.

14) Loved this John McWhorter piece on how it is not at all simple to separate a language from a dialect.  I had no idea.  It’s been sitting in an open tab deserving it’s own post for too long:

I have a Swedish pal I see at conferences in Denmark. When we’re out and about there, he is at no linguistic disadvantage. He casually orders food and asks directions in Swedish despite the fact that we are in a different country from his own, where supposedly a different “language”—Danish—is spoken. In fact, I’ve watched speakers of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian conversing with each other, each in their own native tongues, as a cozy little trio over drinks. A Dane who moves to Sweden does not take Swedish lessons; she adjusts to a variation upon, and not an alternate to, her native speech. The speakers of these varieties of Scandinavian consider them distinct languages because they are spoken in distinct nations, and so be it. However, there is nothing about Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian in themselves that classifies them as “languages;” especially on the page, they resemble each other closely enough to look more like dialects of one “language.”

15) Nice Pew summary with cool charts of demographic trends affecting politics.

16) Good piece on how Trump represents a disappearing America from Heather Digby Parton.

17) I want my genetically-modified mosquitoes!  A great way to fight mosquito-borne disease, but facing great resistance from un-trusting populations.  Yes, there’s uncertainties and things could go wrong.  If I lived in an area where people were regularly facing death and debilitation from tropical disease, I’d take the chance.

18) Just finished re-reading Animal Farm for the first time in about 30 years.  What an absolutely delightful and brilliant book.  My only complaint is that it was too short– I didn’t want it to end.

19) Nice Wonkblog summary on what scientific research can tell us about marijuana.  Short version: not a lot to worry about.  There is a reasonable debate to be had about legalizing drugs such as heroin and cocaine (and I’m increasingly of the legalize everything perspective), but with marijuana, it’s hardly even a reasonable debate anymore.  In a country where alcohol is legal, it is preposterous that marijuana is not. Also, the Wonkblog post on the research suggesting that marijuana does not, after all, affect IQ from teenage use (not that I’ll be giving it to my own teenagers any time soon).

20)And your Sunday long-read– terrific piece from John Judis on Trump, Sanders, and the meaning of populism in America.

Thinking about SIDS

As someone who has (debatably) successfully raised four children to pre-school age and older, I’ve thought a lot about SIDS over the years.  Especially since my wife and I ignored the advice of the famous “back to sleep” campaign and let our babies sleep on their stomachs so that they could sleep more deeply.  In the case of David, we actually had doctor’s permission because of his bad GERD, but with the others, we just went with it because it was quite clear that they slept more soundly on their stomachs than their backs.  And when you’ve got a newborn to take care of, sound sleep is definitely your friend.

In fact, in the NIH official recommendations on the matter, the fact that your baby will sleep more deeply on their stomach is specifically mentioned as a reason not to do it:

Compared with infants who sleep on their backs, infants who sleep on their stomachs:

  • Are less reactive to noise.
  • Experience sudden decreases in blood pressure and heart rate control.
  • Experience less movement, higher arousal thresholds, and longer periods of deep sleep. [emphasis mine] 5,6

Here’s the thing, in reading about SIDS through the years, what seems fairly clear to me, but that they never tell you, is that if you follow all the other safe, sleeping recommendations, i.e., make sure they cannot get their face in bedding, under a blanket, etc.., make sure you don’t fall asleep next to them while you are intoxicated in any way, and others, that your risk of SIDS is going to be really, really low.

Here, the American Academy of Pediatricians provide their broad “safe infant sleeping environment” guidelines:

The recommendations described in this report include supine positioning, use of a firm sleep surface, breastfeeding, room-sharing without bed-sharing, routine immunization, consideration of a pacifier, and avoidance of soft bedding, overheating, and exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs. [emphasis mine]

Notice that supine sleeping position is just one of a series of safety considerations.  My guess is that if you mess up on all these others (though, I don’t want to get into the bed-sharing debate, but, again, guilty), having your baby on it’s back is definitely protective.  What goes unsaid, though, is that if your baby truly has a safe sleeping environment otherwise, there is probably minimal additional risk from being on their stomach instead of the back.  Of course, what also goes unsaid is that authorities don’t actually trust parents to implement all these other factors, so the “better safe than sorry” approach is to have your baby on its back.

From my reading on the subject, it seems pretty clear that, in one sense, SIDS is suffocation.  The baby fails to get enough oxygen.  Now, if your baby is just buried under a heavy comforter, that’s not so much SIDS as obvious suffocation.  SIDS is the fact that instead of waking up and crying because it cannot breath, the baby’s arousal mechanism does not kick in and it dies from lack of oxygen.  With stomach sleeping and deeper sleep, it is therefore more likely that this arousal mechanism will fail and the baby will die from lack of oxygen when in a low oxygen environment.  Here’s the thing, though, as far as I have been able to read on the matter, this only becomes relevant if for some reason the baby is not getting enough oxygen, e.g., head under a blanket, caught in padding at side of crib, etc.  So, it seems to me that if you can be sure your baby will have a steady supply of oxygen and the sleeping environment is fully safe in that regard, the issue of stomach versus back should likely have minimal impact.

Now, I get why they emphasize back-sleeping so much.  Plenty of parents make mistakes in these other regards and back-sleeping is clearly more forgiving of these other mistakes.  But when the only going for you with your colicky newborn is some nice, sound sleeping, it’s nice to know you can get that on your baby’s stomach.  A little more forthrightness on what SIDS really is and the role that back-sleeping plays would be nice.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that you should ignore this advice and put your newborn to sleep on its stomach.  I am, saying, however, that I strongly, suspect the practice of stomach sleeping when accompanied by otherwise safe sleeping practices is not nearly as dangerous as made out to be.  And, I suspect, only very marginally more dangerous than back-sleeping.

The best post I have found written on the matter from a statistical perspective is from a parent.  Here’s the key section:

Correlation is not causation: the actual statistics on SIDS

Basically, the statistics in the United States are roughly thus:

— about 1 in 1000-1500 prone-sleeping babies die of SIDS
— about 1 in 2000-3000 supine-sleeping babies die of SIDS

(Black and Native American populations have 2-3 times the rates as whites, but the cause is unknown.  There are also other seemingly random variations that occur in different regions of the US, different seasons of the year, etc.)

No matter what position, 999 of 1000 babies will be just fine.  If we randomly chose a sleeping position for infants, about 1/3 of SIDS deaths would still occur in babies on their backs.


Anyway, the upshot.  If you have a healthy baby that sleeps better on their stomach, chances are very small, this will directly contribute to SIDS.  If you have a healthy baby that sleeps better on their stomach and you follow all the other safe sleeping guidelines, it would seem chances are very, very small, that this would contribute to SIDS.  Just a little perspective.

Quick hits (part II)

1) John Judis, who once argued for the “Emerging Democratic Majority” takes to Vox to caution that maybe changing demographics are not so beneficial to the Democrats.

2) Yglesias on the single-payer debate we are not, but should be having:

Medicare works because it pays providers less

Single-payer skeptics tend to be simply incredulous that government-run systems, both in the United States and abroad, are more cost-effective. Isn’t the government a legendary cesspool of waste and inefficiency? Why would a government-run system be more efficient?

Well, here’s the answer: Foreign single-payer systems pay doctors less. They also pay pharmaceutical companies less. They pay less for medical devices, too.

It turns out that Medicare uses this trick, too, offering doctors only about 80 percent of what private insurance plans pay them…

The problem, politically speaking, is that doctors and hospital administrators like money. When politicians try to take away their money, they complain and they lobby. And it turns out that most people have more confidence in doctors than they do in members of Congress, so not only does the lobbying cash count but the complaining is extremely effective.

3) And Harold Pollack on the incredibly difficult politics of creating a single payer system in America.  These two paragraphs are important:

As with ACA, the biggest winners would be relatively disorganized low-income people in greatest need of help. The potential losers would include some of the most powerful and organized constituencies in America: workers who now receive generous tax expenditures for good private coverage, and affluent people who would face large tax increases to finance a single-payer system. [emphasis mine] At least some of these constituencies would need to be accommodated in messy political bargaining to get single-payer enacted. And states would have a role to play, too, potentially replicating the messy patchwork we got with ACA reforms.

Single-payer would require a serious rewrite of state and federal relations in Medicaid and in many other matters. It would radically revise the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which strongly influences the benefit practices of large employers. Single-payer would require intricate negotiation to navigate the transition from employer-based coverage. The House and Senate would be in charge of this tension, and at risk of the negotiations among key legislators and committees who hold sway.

4) So, this is a somewhat old National Journal piece analyzing the states that will pick the president.  It’s still incredibly relevant, but I’ve had it in an open tab for far too long without ever writing a post.  So…

5) Maybe teenage marijuana use does not lead to lower IQ after all.  Maybe.

6) How will you die?  Who knows?  God?  But you can at least take a look at these cool statistics for the likeliest age and cause (short version: old from disease).

7) Tipping as we practice it is, of course, so stupid.  But as long as we’re going to continue with it, servers should definitely be pooling tips.

8) Great Dahlia Lithwick (and Sonya West) piece on Florida’s absurd law to prevent doctors from asking about guns in the home:

The result was the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act. The law provides that licensed health care practitioners and facilities: “may not intentionally enter” information concerning a patient’s ownership of firearms into the patient’s medical record that the practitioner knows is “not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others,” and “shall respect a patient’s right to privacy and should refrain” from inquiring as to whether a patient or their family owns firearms, unless the practitioner or facility believes in good faith that the “information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.” Violations of the act could lead to disciplinary action including fines and suspension, or revocation of a medical license. Proponents of such laws say these doctor-patient dialogues violate the patients’ Second Amendment rights.

If something seems amiss to you about this argument, you’re not alone. A group of three doctors, the Florida Pediatric Society, and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, joined by the Brady Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit, claiming that the gun-talk ban violates the physicians’ free speech rights. As their complaint points out, restrictions on speech (such as this one) that only apply to a particular subject matter are generally recognized as being the worst kind of First Amendment violation—a content-based regulation. In order for the government to enact a content-based regulation on speech, it must show that the law serves a “compelling” interest. The doctors explain, however, that in light of the connection between guns and injuries, accidents, and suicides, this law actually stops doctors from addressing an incredibly serious health-related topic.

9) Want to reduce political polarization?  Give to political parties, not candidates and groups.


10) Apparently, the state of Kansas considers using marijuana (even if clearly prescribed for medical purposes in a state where it’s legal) to be cause to take your kids away.  Yet, you can be a raging alcoholic.  Ugh.

11) Interesting take on our over-protectiveness as parents and what it says about us as a society:

In September, the journalist Selena Hoy tackled the unique independence of Japanese children for CityLab, noting that kids in that country often venture onto public transit by themselves at age 6 or 7. She found the big difference between Japan and the U.S. to be an “unspoken” sense of community. Hoy writes:

What accounts for this unusual degree of independence? Not self-sufficiency, in fact, but “group reliance,” according to Dwayne Dixon, a cultural anthropologist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Japanese youth. “[Japanese] kids learn early on that, ideally, any member of the community can be called on to serve or help others,” he says.

The path to giving American kids greater autonomy may have nothing to do with laws, but with parents putting trust—misplaced or no—in the kindness of strangers.

12) Way back when, I use to drive a Plymouth Sundance Turbo(!).  Sold it the week before I got married for a Geo Prizm because I wanted something more reliable.  Apparently turbo engines are way more advanced now and making a comeback.

13) Eric Holder takes a big step to limit the utter travesty that is Civil Asset Forfeiture.  Sadly little news coverage of this.  Thanks, Obama!!

14) Andrew Prokop on Trump and Cruz’s contrasting strategies for winning Iowa:

The upshot is clear: Cruz thinks he can win by mobilizing the traditional conservative base whose pulse he’s spent years taking. But Trump is hoping to win by using his star power and xenophobic rhetoric to transform the composition of the GOP caucus electorate. And the question of which of them succeeds will have major implications not just for the primaries but for just what the Republican Party actually is today.


15) On moms as the default parent.  I got an email the other day from an organization that does focus groups and they need kids.  “Moms, tell us what toys your child plays with…” began the email.  I was so pissed.  As if a typical dad could not even tell you his child liked legos or barbies or whatever.  I responded as I think Evan would love a lego focus group, but I let them have my $.02 on how the email was addressed.

16) I don’t recall super-highly recommending Frum’s Atlantic cover story analyzing the fractures within the contemporary Republican Party.  If I already did, it is certainly good enough to read again.



Quick hits (part I)

Well, after taking last weekend off due to family travels, we are extra loaded for quick hits this week.  Who knows, may end up with a part 3.  Here goes…

1) Nice summary of the research on portion size and weight gain/loss.  My family switched to using smaller dinner plates years ago.  And another reason I try and never have my kids snack out of anything but small bowls.

2) Absolutely brilliant satire in the New Yorker on the Founding Fathers and the 2nd amendment.  Please read it.

3) Why are there so many stupid college bowl games?  Because people watched.  More people (including me!) watched a meaningless football game between Duke and Indiana than watched the most recent Duke-UNC basketball game.

4) More positive female role models is not the way to get more women into science.  Telling them about the problem is.

In a study of 7,505 high school students, Geoff Potvin, a researcher at Florida International University, measured the effect of a handful of common interventions on students’ interest in physics: single-sex classes; having role models including women physics teachers, women guest speakers, and women who made contributions to the field; and discussing the problem of underrepresentation itself. Of these efforts, only the last one succeeded in making high-school women more interested in pursuing a career in the physical sciences.

5) What sort of a man is Donald Trump?  Oh come on, you know the answer to that.  But find out more anyway.

6) Such a sad story of a new mom, and a baby’s death at daycare plus broader reflections on how horrible our country is on maternity leave.

7) I love the linguistic basis on this theory for why Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter.

8) Seasonal allergic rhinitis?  Blame your neanderthal ancestors.

9) Interesting essay on when are you really an adult.  For me, no longer being financially dependent on my parents (plus, becoming married at the same time) felt like it pretty much did it.

10) How come Indonesia has so many Muslims, but so few violent radical Muslims?

In November, The New York Times pointed to one factor behind the muted response to ISIS in Indonesia: Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization that claims to have 50 million members. NU preaches an Islam of compassion, inclusivity, and tolerance of other faiths, as opposed to ISIS’s fundamentalist, Wahhabi-inspired theology. “We are directly challenging the idea of ISIS, which wants Islam to be uniform, meaning that if there is any other idea of Islam that is not following their ideas, those people are infidels who must be killed,” Yahya Cholil Staquf, the general secretary to the NU supreme council, told the Times

However, “the people that are getting recruited into ranks such as ISIS and other jihadi groups before that are not coming from Nahdlatul Ulama,” so the organization’s impact may be more limited than its size suggests.

Instead, Jones mentioned several other causes: “Indonesia is a country that doesn’t have a repressive government, is not under occupation, it’s politically stable, so there’s no social unrest or conflict, and the Muslims aren’t a persecuted minority. So when you put all of those factors together, it’s not all that surprising that it’s actually only a tiny minority of even the activist population that’s leaving for Syria.”

Indeed, the countries that send the largest numbers of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, either in absolute terms or on a per-capita basis, tend to be either politically repressive (Saudi Arabia, 2,500 fighters), politically unstable (Tunisia, 6,000 fighters), discriminatory toward a Muslim minority (Russia, 2,400 fighters), or a combination of the above.

11) No more micro-beads!

12) Readers’ favorite New Yorker cartoons of the year.  Lots of damn good ones.

13) Does a football player really brutally punch his girlfriend if the public never sees it?

14) Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Rubio’s natural political talent and what it is, and is not, suited for:

Rubio’s great theme is the global longing to be part of the American middle class, and the heroic human efforts made to join it. This is a specific theme, in that it narrates the immigrant experience of his parents. (His father was an itinerant bartender, his mother a hotel maid and a store clerk.) But it is also a magnificently flexible one, in that it can give emotional depth to a riff about how higher education channels all students to be philosophers rather than welders (because to be an American welder is something much of the globe would love) or to his defense of foreign aid (because the American Dream is not uniquely American)…

The fragility and beauty of the middle class, the necessity of the fight to protect it—it was all there. Rubio’s conservatism is not in any major substantive way an update of George W. Bush’s, and if you hated the original you probably won’t love the sequel, which harbors the same instinctive militarism, rigid social conservatism, and gauzy talk of freedom. But Rubio has President Obama’s sharp, outsider eye for human longing and suffering: his talent is in giving stray, chaotic conservative interests an emotional coherence. Walking away, I had the same feeling I’ve had each time I’ve seen him: the man is a natural…

For the moment this talent is devoted, a bit awkwardly, to internecine political combat. Rubio is best when he is engaged in aspirational summoning; he has little instinct for the shiv.

15) On how programs persist even when they are shown empirically to not work just because the people invested think they’ve just got to work.

16) Love this Atlantic article on the return of Electroconvulsive Therapy.  The evidence for it’s efficacy is great (and look at Carrie Mathison!) but it is so stigmatized that it is way under-utilized now.  I would happily submit myself or a loved one to this therapy if they had a condition that it was shown to be effective for.

17) Really enjoyed this Froma Harrop column on how the Republican Congress is far more interested in protecting investors than American taxpayers.

18) MSG is harmless.  So why are so many people still convinced it gives them headaches, etc.?

19) Nice Seth Masket piece on politicians complaining about political correctness.

This is a much more invidious complaint about political correctness. The concept here seems to be that the president and his advisors know whom to track and investigate, but they are refusing to do so because they are concerned about angering or alienating Muslim Americans. This is absurd on its face—Muslims are neither a particularly large nor influential political presence in the United States, and the political risks of allowing terror attacks are surely greater than those of alienating Muslim voters. It also doesn’t point the way to a particularly effective policy of deterring terrorism. Investigating all Muslims all the time, in addition to being morally repugnant and logistically impossible, creates a great deal of noise for law enforcement to sift through. Perusing the activities of millions of innocents doesn’t really help you find a handful of wrongdoers, and actually works against it. What’s more, it tells those millions that they are not full citizens by virtue of their faith, doing ISIS’s propaganda work for it.

20) Of course I love that they are analyzing the gut bacteria (and finding really interesting stuff) of the amazingly preserved pre-historic mummy known as Otzi.

21) Maria Konnikova on how we learn fairness and how it differs across societies.

22) And Konnikova on how children learn to read and the role of brain development:

Hoeft’s discovery builds on previous research that she conducted on dyslexia. In2011, she found that, while no behavioral measure could predict which dyslexic children would improve their reading skills, greater neural activation in the right prefrontal cortex along with the distribution of white matter in the brain could, with seventy-two-per-cent accuracy, offer such a prediction. If she looked at over-all brain activation while the children performed an initial phonological task, the predictive power rose to more than ninety per cent. Over-all intelligence and I.Q. didn’t matter; what was key was a very specific organizational pattern within your brain.

The group’s new findings go a step further. They don’t just show that white matter is important. They point to a crucial stage where the development of white matter is central to reading ability. And the white-matter development, Hoeft believes, is surely a function of both nature and nurture. “Our findings could be interpreted as meaning that there’s still genetic influence,” Hoeft says, noting that preëxisting structural differences in the brain may indeed influence future white-matter development. But, she adds, “it’s also likely that the dorsal white-matter development is representing the environment the kids are exposed to between kindergarten and third grade. The home environment, the school environment, the kind of reading instruction they’re getting.”

23) There’s no evidence for the efficacy of workplace drug testing, but of course we keep doing it anyway.  Could our country be any more dumb about drugs?

That’s plenty for a day.  Enjoy.


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