Quick hits (part I)

Lots and lots of good stuff this week.  Here goes:

1) Ten things every college professor hates.  These are generally so true.

2) Nice post from Drum on how the average American family ends up only paying about a 5% effective federal income tax rate and the political implications.

3) Great post by my friend Mark Binker on how Interest Groups and lobbyists shape policy in NC (and everywhere, for that matter).

4) Using police cameras fairly is not as straightfoward as you think.  Here’s how.

5) Had not actually thought about how renting cable boxes is pretty much as big a consumer scam as when we had to make monthly payments to the phone company to rent our phone when I was a little kid (yes, seriously!).  But it is.

6) It may be time to assess whether it’s actually worth doing college assessment.

7) How schools are handling over-parenting.  And what parents can do differently.

Three things parents can do right away:

1. Stop saying “we” when you mean your kid. “We” aren’t on the travel soccer team, “we” aren’t doing the science project and “we” aren’t applying to college. Our kid is. These are their efforts and achievements. We need to go get our own hobbies to brag about.

2. Stop arguing with all of the adults in our kids’ lives. As Jess well knows, teachers are under siege from overinvolved parents insistent upon engineering the perfect outcomes for their kids. Principals, coaches and referees see the same thing. If there’s an issue that needs to be raised with these folks, we do best for our kids in the long run if we’ve taught them how to raise concerns on their own.

3. Stop doing their homework. Teachers end up not knowing what their students actually know, it’s highly unethical, and worst of all it teaches kids, “Hey kid, you’re not actually capable of doing any of this on your own.”

8) Obama doing not so bad on keeping his 2008 campaign promises.

9) All that news about replication failure in Psychology.  Maybe not as bad as you think.

10) A teenager is being charged with sexual exploitation of a minor for having nude photos of a minor–himself!!— on his phone.  Only in America.  And I’m thinking that the fact that the teenager is Black is not a coincidence.

11) I know pretty much nothing about foster care, but investing resources in helping parents to be better parents so their kids don’t end up in foster care sounds like a great idea.

12) 12 scientists on what one thing they would want humanity to know if civilization were destroyed.  My favorite answers are from scientists not biased towards their own field.

13) More evidence that Scott Walker is just desperate?  Building a wall on the Canadian border.  No, not a Onion headline.  That said, Andy Borowitz nails it: “Cutting losses, Kochs to sell Scott Walker.”  And the Post on Walker’s seeming collapse.

14) On a serious note, Scott Walker (and other Republican contenders) just don’t get it when it comes to the actual facts about the declining risks faced by police officers.

15) Hate the new google logo?  There’s plenty of good reason to.

16) Nice to see Chipotle’s idiocy on GMO come back to bite them.

17) That UNC class that teaches “sympathy for the terrorists.”  Here’s the actual syllabus.  Bad enough for some freshmen to think that’s what this syllabus shows.  The fact that a purported news organization (i.e., Fox) spent 5 minutes on it looks even worse.  A little due diligence?!

18) A former Naturopath who changed to science-based medicine.  I had no idea that many states let these poorly-trained quacks basically pretend like they are real doctors.  Yikes!

19) If I ever do learn another language, Duolingo sounds awesome.  I love both the principles behind how the app works and that the creator wants to keep it free to support learning language as a key to social mobility.

20) Nice Yglesias piece on how Hilary’s emails show Washington to be far more like Veep than House of Cards (perhaps why I love the former and have no time for the latter).



Whether you call autism a “disease” or not, we should want less of it

Just finished listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Steve Silberman about his new book on the history of (our understanding of) autism.  Fascinating stuff.  And really upsetting to realize how much a single mis-guided psychiatrist, Leo Kanner, did so much to make my older brother’s life (and my mom’s, in blaming her for his autism) so much worse.  Here’s some from Dylan Matthews in Vox:

What society thought of as the natural course of autism was actually a very skewed view of what happened to autistic people when they were put in institutions. For decades, the recommended course of treatment for autism was institutionalization.

Parents were routinely told they should put their child in an institution, quietly remove their photographs from the family albums, never speak of them again, and enlist in decades-long courses of psychoanalysis to think about why they were motivated to wound the developing psyches of their children.

Not only that, he literally blamed the mothers for being emotionally distant “refrigerator mothers.”  Imagine hearing that as a mom (as my own mother did).

Why has autism exploded in diagnosis?  Primarily because Kanner’s rigid, short-sighted definition, was finally overthrown in the 1970’s by one that actually reflected reality.

Anyway, Matthews’ piece has a really interesting interview with Silberman (read it, you should), but I just can’t let this beginning part go:

Most people think of autism as a disease, a major impediment of which an increasing number of children are “victims.” But over the past two decades, a growing number of adults on the autism spectrum, myself included, have rejected this frame and called for non-autistic “neurotypicals” to respect and accommodate “neurodiversity.” We believe that autism is a natural and in many ways desirable variation in how people think, not a great evil to be stamped out.

To neurotypical people, this may seem like a shocking reversal. But as science journalist Steve Silberman writes in his new book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, the man who discovered autism, Austrian psychiatrist Hans Asperger, conceived of it similarly, as a way of thinking that brings blessings as well as hardships

I don’t know that we need to “stamp out” autism, but there would be a lot more happier people in this world (those with autism and very much their families) if we worked to remediate it in all but mild cases.   Because of Alex, I’ve known a lot of  of kids with autism.  Sure, some kids seem to get along okay, but just cannot stop talking about Thomas the Train or some particular video game, but lots of kids are quite impaired in their daily functioning due to their autism.  And whatever “desirable variations” in thinking that may be there are little compensation for the sensory overload,  anxiety, and other difficulties that so often come with autism.  For some people who are less impaired, that’s “who they are” and their identity and they can function reasonably well in the world– all well and good.  Nobody’s trying to stamp you out. But there’s lots of people with autism where it creates a major impairment in the ability to function in society and to enjoy life.  I’m absolutely not willing to accept that as “neurodiversity” but rather something we as a society (and myself as a parent) should be working to overcome to whatever degree we can through various therapies, medications, etc.

Anyway, really looking forward to reading Silberman’s book, but just had to get that out there.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really  looking forward to reading this book on the modern history of Autism and Aspergers and the doctors who defined (and mis-defined these diseases).  It’s not too far a stretch to say Leo Kanner, the doctor who was the autism expert, made my older brother’s life, far, far harder than it should have been.

2) Nice summary on all the damage total Republican control has done to NC.

3) I love that NC State researchers have created a vomiting machine to study Norovirus.

4) When liberals go too far, they should be called out.  As Drum does with those who think there shouldn’t be Chik-Fil-A in an airport.

5) Can’t say I’m surprised to learn that surgery for the most basic form of breast cancer apparently does nothing to improve a woman’s life expectancy.  I’m also not surprised that cancer surgeons are arguing that they should still be doing it.  I am sad for all the women who needlessly go physically and emotionally traumatic unnecessary treatment.

6) Jordan Weissman on Rubio and Walker’s plans to replace Obamacare:

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this idea. But it only works if the federal government sets acceptable guidelines about what sorts of plans insurers are allowed to sell. Otherwise, it would almost certainly spur a harmful race to the bottom, in which companies would flock to states with the loosest regulations, and offer cut-rate insurance offering little protection. The likely result, as the Congressional Budget Office argued years ago, is that young, healthy customers would opt for the least expensive options available, while older, sicker Americans would end up paying morefor coverage. Meanwhile, many of those invincible-feeling twentysomethings would find their health insurance wasn’t worth much once they actually needed it. And the chances are that a Walker or Rubio administration wouldn’t do much to stop that from happening…

But the big takeaway is that the establishment GOP contenders are edging toward a consensus alternative to Obamacare, a three-part plan that would potentially make insurance cheaper for the young, more expensive for the old and sick, and depending on how tight-fisted Congress felt, unaffordable for the ill. Thankfully for them, nobody should notice for a while. Everybody is still paying attention to Trump, after all.

And Jon Cohn’s take while I’m at it.

7) Nice explanation of exactly what the deal is with Hillary’s email.  Should she have done what she did?  Oh, surely not.  Is it actually that big a deal?  Not really.

8) Awesome, awesome open letter from a gay man to his future in-laws who are unwilling to attend his wedding.

9) Cory Booker admits what so few politicians are willing to– we cannot solve mass incarceration simply by easing up on drug users and non-violent felons.  We also need to admit that violent felonies are not as cut and dried as they may seem.

10) Really interesting piece in the Federalist on the Republican Party and white identity politics.

11) Love this from a former CIA analyst on how to help undermine ISIS by scamming them on the internet.  Seriously.

12) Can’t say I’m surprised to learn that science now has MRI evidence to show that it is good to read to your young kids.  But, if that convinces more people to something all parents should be doing, then that’s a good thing.

13) I was telling my son David about a new colleague and how you can just instantly tell he was a person of great warmth.  Then David asked me to define emotional warmth.  Trickier than I realized.  Here’s the first take I found.  And I think this quora take is pretty good.  Here’s my own simple definition I came up with after thinking about it: a readiness to share positive emotions with others.

14) Interesting take on the strength of Trump’s support in the polls:

In poll after poll of Republicans, Mr. Trump leads among women, despite having used terms like “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals” to denigrate some of them. He leads among evangelical Christians, despite saying he had never had a reason to ask God for forgiveness. He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters. He leads among the most frequent, likely voters, even though his appeal is greatest among those with little history of voting.

15) Personally, I find it quite disturbing that the solid majority of pre-natal Down’s Syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion.  And it’s great politics to try and pass a law– as Ohio is attempting— that bans abortion if a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis is the reason.   But this is so blatantly unconstitutional under Roe and Casey.  A Constitutional right based on the right to privacy does not mean you have have to provide an appropriate reason to exercise it.

16) Matt Taibbi on Donald Trump and the unleashed stupidity in American politics.  Pretty much a perfect combination.  Read this one.  (edits for language below by me)

Why there’s suddenly this surge of hatred for immigrants is sort of a mystery. Why Donald Trump, who’s probably never even interacted with an undocumented immigrant in a non-commercial capacity, in particular should care so much about this issue is even more obscure. (Did he trip over an immigrant on his way to the Cincinnati housing development his father gave him as a young man?)

Most likely, immigrants are just collateral damage in Trump’s performance art routine, which is an absurd ritualistic celebration of the coiffed hotshot endlessly triumphing over dirty losers and weaklings.

Trump isn’t really a politician, of course. He’s a strongman act, a ridiculous parody of a Nietzschean superman. His followers get off on watching this guy with (allegedly) $10 billion and a busty mute broad on his arm defy every political and social convention and get away with it. [emphasis mine]

People are tired of rules and tired of having to pay lip service to decorum. They want to stop having to watch what they say and think and just get “crazy,” as Thomas Friedman would put it.

Trump’s campaign is giving people permission to do just that. It’s hard to say this word in conjunction with such a sexually unappealing person, but his message is a powerful aphrodisiac. F**k everything, f**k everyone. F**k immigrants and f**k their filthy lice-ridden kids. And f**k you if you don’t like me saying so.

Quick hits

1) Shankar Vedantam on cognitive biases, shorter showers, and low-flow toilets.

2) Josh Vorhees on how Trump getting specific with policy proposals is bad for the GOP.  I think he’s right as this will pull candidates who can win further to the right than they want to be for the general.  To wit, we’ve even got Jeb saying “anchor babies” now.

3) The Connecticut Supreme Court with a strong argument against capital punishment.

4) How gender bias in academia is a very real thing.  My personal fight against it?  Cutting and pasting descriptive phrases from previous recommendation letters irrespective of the gender of the person I am recommending.

5) I’m sure Upworthy has sanitized this version, but it’s pretty clear that treating heroin addiction as a disease to be treated instead of a felony is a win-win, policy-wise.

6) Why is Black Lives Matter going after Bernie anyway?  Jamelle Bouie explains (short version: stategery).

7) Physician Ben Carson doesn’t really seem to understand abortion and emergency contraception all that well.

8) Seth Masket went to both a Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump rally last week:

 And then, of course, there was the music. Clinton’s team played Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to warm up the crowd before the candidate’s appearance. Trump’s team played ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I don’t know what this means, but it’s entirely possible that whoever chooses songs for Clinton is a perky, empowered woman in her 20s and whoever chooses songs for Trump is a middle-aged guy with hair issues who longs for the ’80s. Or maybe they’re just trying to reach out to those demographics.

9) Are you smarter than other NYT readers?  Damnit, I wasn’t.  But my response showed some minimal intelligence.

10) Are you gluten sensitive?  Perhaps you should find another blog to read that is not so enamored with science.  And as long as we’re talking diets, I always enjoy a good takedown of Paleo (Vox style).

11) My stepmom is convinced Carly Fiorina would be a great president.  Why?  Fiorina’s daughter is her bible study.  Also, she thinks Fiorina is a great businesswoman.  Evidence says otherwise.

12) Fortunately, I have not had to spend too many nights in hospitals.  But Good God they need to find a way to let people sleep better at night without constant interruptions.

13) This new female libido drug seems as flawed as anything that’s ever made it to market.  Serious side effects for .5 more sexual episodes per month.  Sure doesn’t pass the cost/benefit test (though, many husbands surely feel otherwise during that extra session of sex every two months).  I’ve read enough to think this is a real issue that could potentially be improved with the right medication.  This drug isn’t it.

14) Call me crazy, but I don’t think national parks should be wide-open shooting ranges.  I’m okay with preserving limited, regulated areas for that purpose.  But you shouldn’t have to fear for your life (or hear constant gunfire) just because you want to go hiking or camping.

15) And your long read for the day… great, great GQ profile on Stephen Colbert.  What an amazing human.

Coca cola vs. science

Wow, so this is disturbing.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my past few years of reading so much about diet and nutrition (and from my own personal experiences) is that is way easier to modify calories in than calories out.  Of course, Americans on average are way too sedentary and need more exercise, but apparently Coke has been funding a non-profit to argue that this is the key to America’s obesity problem, not our over-consumption of food, especially food with added sugars.  Basically, they want to argue, exercise more and drink Coke.  Of course, the answer is (of course) exercise more and (of course!) don’t drink Coke.  As for what the scientific near-consensus on the matter says:

Most public health experts say that energy balance is an important concept, because weight gain for most people is about calories in vs. calories out. But the experts say research makes it clear that one side of the equation has a far greater effect.

While people can lose weight in several ways, many studies suggest that those who keep it off for good consume fewer calories. Growingevidence also suggests that maintaining weight loss is easier when people limit their intake of high glycemic foods such as sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates, which sharply raise blood sugar.

Physical activity is important and certainly helps, experts say. But studies show that exercise increases appetite, causing people to consume more calories. Exercise also expends far fewer calories than most people think. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, for example, contains 140 calories and roughly 10 teaspoons of sugar. “It takes three miles of walking to offset that one can of Coke,” Dr. Popkin said…

“Adding exercise to a diet program helps,” said Dr. Anne McTiernan, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. “But for weight loss, you’re going to get much more impact with diet changes.”

But much like the research on sugary drinks, studies of physical activity funded by the beverage industry tend to reach conclusions that differ from the findings of studies by independent scientists.

Pretty shameful.  And it’s sad to think that some people will listen to them and then wonder why they are not actually losing any weight.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Excellent Josh Marshall on the declining marginal value of crazy in the Republican Party:

In a crowded field, for almost everyone but Bush, it’s critical to grab hold of the mantle of anger and grievance. But the Huckabees and Cruzes simply cannot compete with Trump, who is not only willing to say truly anything but also has – whatever else you can say about his nonsense – a talent for drama and garnering press attention honed over decades. With a mix of aggression, boffo self-assertion and nonsense, Trump has managed to boil modern Republicanism down to a hard precipitate form, shorn of the final vestiges of interest in actual governing.

2) Actual scholars of international conflict are way more skeptical of war than the American public.

3) The research on small class size is not quite what you think it is and certainly should not be used to eliminate teaching assistants in early grades.

4) What not to say to people who struggle with infertility.  Definitely good advice.

5) In general elections, debates really don’t matter all that much.  They are surely more important in primaries (where voters don’t have the Party ID cue to rely upon) and Thursday’s was probably especially important for shaping the Invisible Primary.

6) On why it is a good idea to make college education available to prisoners.

7) Inkjet printers are one of the biggest scams in the marketplace (the ink is priced like a precious metal).  Fortunately, we switched to a laser ages ago.  David Pogue on a new Epson that actually charges you what the printer costs but doesn’t horribly screw you over on ink prices.  The big question is whether consumers are smart enough to think beyond the initial purchase price.

8) People complain about teacher’s unions, but seems to me that police unions create way more problems.  Seems like they believe police never do wrong.

9) You’ve probably seen all the reporting on how the formula for setting workplaces too cold in the summer is based on 1960’s men.  I appear to have a metabolism similar to women and I hate the workplace in the summer.  I’ve been known to use my space heater in July.

10) This is from a while back, but new to me: how gothic architecture took over college campuses.  As a Duke alum, I found this particularly interesting.  I was always told a story that they purposely used stone in the stairways that would wear away extra fast from foot traffic to make it all appear older.

The American college campus, and its Gothic filigree, seem timeless, pristine constructions. Nothing could be farther from the truth: They are historical eruptions, made possible by philanthropic economics, continental envy and racism. That doesn’t detract from their inherent beauty: Rather, to think more clearly about colleges, we should recognize and adapt ourselves to their history and their contingency.

11) A friend recently shared a Richard Thaler graduation speech it’s good stuff.  Especially on the economics of doing what you enjoy.

12) I get so tired of the “Democrats did it, too!” you hear from NC Republicans.  I’m not alone.

13) Yes, lawns are evil.  Especially when you live in west Texas where it rains less than 20 inches a year (my previous home) or you live somewhere with a bunch of rain, but your soil is clay and all covered up by big oaks which provide great shade (now).  I could have a nice lawn if I wanted to spend hours every single week on it.  I don’t.

14) Having health insurance is great.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually save the country money on overall health expenditures.  That said, the non-dollar benefit of peace of mind and better health that come from actually having health insurance seem plenty worth the added cost.

15) Loved this Ezra Klein on the absolute shamelessness of Trump.

16) Picky eating among children is linked to adult anxiety and depression.  When I think about the psychology of picky eating, I’m not all surprised.  I guess I’m unusual for being a picky eater but as psychologically stable as they come.

17) Nice Op-Ed on school vouchers and the enemies of public education.

18) Maybe teenagers hanging out on social media all the time isn’t really so bad.

Where is the doom and gloom?

A new report on “Teens, Technology and Friendships” from the Pew Foundation puts an unusually positive spotlight on the online lives of teenagers as they build friendships and connections in a digital world. Teenagers aged 13 to17 are finding ways to strengthen their relationships with real-world friends as well as making new friends through social media, video gaming, messaging apps and other virtual connectors.

This is not the usual story of teenagers in the online realm. Where are the dire warnings about how the online world is depriving our teenagers of their opportunity to learn the skills needed to interact with people instead of screens while exposing them to all manner of bullying and cruelty, and tempting them to fritter away endless hours playing video games?

19) I don’t like beer.  At all.  American or otherwise.  That said, I did find this article on why American beer is so weak to be fascinating.

20) After listening to a Fresh Air interview with Sarah Hepola, I realized that I didn’t truly understand an alcohol induced blackout.  You are conscious and functioning (though, impaired), but stop laying down long-term memories.  Freaky.  That means a person can say “Sure, I want to have sex with you” and climb into bed, but then “wake up” under somebody else and have absolutely no idea how they got there.  Of course acquaintance rape is a real and genuine problem, but I cannot help but wondering how many times a blackout is mistaken for a lack of consent.  And here’s the Salon piece on Hepola’s memoir of excessive drinking.


Quick hits (part I)

1) In what’s really no surprise, an absurdly small number of people have an absurdly huge influence over American elections.

2) The case for giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish (I’m a proud donor to Give Directly myself).

3) Will Saletan catalogs the inconvenient truths admitted to in the Republican debate.  Reihan Salam on how Trump is not going away and part of a larger, international populism.  Fred Kaplan on how the GOP candidates showed shockingly little knowledge of foreign policy.

4) I learned the difference between i.e., and e.g., year ago and it is proved helpful on myriad occasions.

5) Two theories of CEO pay– I’ve got a lot of confidence in the “CEO Pay is basically irrational” theory.

6) Don’t look to the 8th Circuit for solid legal reasoning on abortion.

7) Very nice column on what we do wrong in criminal justice and how we can do better.  Also, a great Fresh Air interview with the author:

We need to quit wasting time trying to sort out who deserves blame and get out of the payback business. Instead, we should focus on remedying the harm, rehabilitating the criminal, discouraging others from taking similar actions, and treating the conditions that precipitated the crime in the first place.

Most important, a public-health model of crime allows us to shift resources from punishment to prevention. A reactive criminal-justice system, like the one we have now, is doomed to always come up short. There is no execution that can compensate for a victim’s murder. There is no appeal process that can restore the lost years of a wrongful conviction. In the future, our major tools for fighting crime will not be police officers, trials, and incarceration, but better prenatal intervention, improved schools, and widely available mental-health care. That will make for duller episodes of Law & Order, but it will leave us far safer and more just.

8) The latest research on choosing the right running shoe (just pick the one that is the most comfortable– seriously).

9) How Jon Stewart changed media.

10) The expert witness who never met a police shooting he didn’t like.

11) Kristof with a nice column on the absolute absurdity of Republicans trying to cut family planning funding.

12) Nice infographic on the deadliest drugs.  The top three are all legal.

13) For some reason, people keep being surprised that I still use the Netflix DVD service.  It’s still far and away the most economical way to see most of the movies you’d actually want to see.

14) On how John Roberts has been fighting against the Voting Rights Act for his whole career.

15) Probation sounds pretty easy, but it can end up being a very harsh (and often arbitrary) punishment.

16) I ignored the links to this for a while, but I did enjoy this paramedic arguing in favor of the high minimum wage for fast food workers.

17) Some nice Ayn Rand satire from McSweeney’s.

18) Nice take on the war on public education in North Carolina.

19) Really, really good James Fallows in the Iran deal.  Short, but really hammers home some key points.

20) How poverty damages the brains of young children (maybe we should try harder to do something about it).

21) Found this history of Google + to be really interesting (also make me think a lot of Hooli Nucleus).

22) Really nice Marshall Project report on life without parole (and just how non-sensical it can be)

Prisoners like Rodriguez represent a paradox for parole boards: Older inmates who have committed the most serious crimes, and served the longest terms, are the least likely to commit new crimes upon release.

One Stanford University study of 860 murderers paroled in California found only five returned to prison for new felonies, and none for murder.

This is especially true for older prisoners. Recidivism rates drop steadily with age. And older prisoners are more expensive: The average annual cost per prisoner doubles at age 55 and continues to climb thereafter.

Still, these prisoners are consistently the least likely to be paroled. Though they pose a low risk of future violence, the political risk of releasing them is huge. Parole board members are routinely pilloried in the news media and chastised by the public. Many have lost their jobs for releasing people whose crimes were violent.

“There’s some offense conduct you just can’t outrun,” said William Wynne, a member of the Alabama parole board.


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