Autism is not a good thing!

My regular readers here know I love Freddie deBoer, but, damn nothing he’s written has resonated with me quite like his takedown of the whole “it’s all good, it’s just neurodiversity” approach to autism.  Fair to say, autism basically ruined by older brother’s life.  As for my son, he’s definitely more impacted by his intellectual disabilities than his autism, but autism undoubtedly makes his life harder and more unpleasant than it would otherwise be.  That’s not a good thing.  That’s not just “neuordiversity”  So, with that prelude, onto deBoer:

When I was in my late 20s (early 2007 to mid 2009, maybe) I worked for the local public school district in my hometown. For the bulk of my time there I was in a special program for kids with severe emotional disturbance, which I’ve written about once or twice. But I worked in a number of capacities in those years, and for a little while I helped out in a conventional special ed classroom for the middle school. I guess you’d say I was a paraprofessional, just extra coverage when they needed it.

In that class there were two boys who had autism which resulted in severe academic and social and communicative impairments. One of them was completely nonverbal and had been his entire life. As I understood it, he had never been capable of speaking or reading, could not dress himself, wore sanitary garments, could not go to the bathroom without assistance. He would occasionally screech very loudly, without clear cause. I believe these days he would be referred to as having Level Three autism, as defined by the DSM. He needed a lot of help, and though he was unable to complete what might conventionally be called academic work the school provided him with structure, support, and time during which his mother didn’t have to care for him. I met her on several occasions when she came to pick him up after school. She would sometimes talk about the difficulties of raising a disabled child in language that would be frowned on today, but I admired how frank and honest she was.

She was really not a fan of the autism awareness community of the time. This was well before the “neurodiversity” movement and all of its habits. It was all about awareness, raising awareness, 5ks for awareness, bumper stickers for awareness. That was precisely what angered her the most. She said to me once, “What does awareness do for my kid? How does it help me?” Words to that effect. It was a good question, one I couldn’t answer. Today I don’t hear about awareness so much, but there’s still plenty of the basic disease of awareness thinking – the notion that what people who deal with a particular disability need is a vague positivity, that what every disabled person requires is the laurel of strangers condescendingly wishing them the best. Now, with the rise of neurodiversity and the notion that autism is only different, not worse, we are confronted with similar questions. When a mother struggles every day to care for someone who will likely never be able to care for himself, what value could it hold for her that his condition is called diversity, rather than disorder? What value can it have for him, who cannot speak to comment on the difference?

I thought of that mother when I read about the recent cancelation of an academic panel at Harvard. It seems a panel of experts was slated to speak on the subject of how best to help those with autism. But as they planned to speak about treatment, about treating autism as a hindrance to be managed, the event was decried as “violently ableist” by Harvard activists and swiftly shut down. It’s worth looking at the petition that was organized as part of this effort. One part reads

Autism is a neurodevelopmental and neurobiological disability that is not treatable or curable. It is not an illness or disease and most importantly, it is not inherently negative. Autistic people at Harvard and globally have advocated in the face of ableism to defend ourselves from such hateful, eugenicist logic.

This is, I think, nonsensical. It asserts that autism is a disability, a dis-ability, but also that it’s not an illness, a disease, or inherently negative. But the very concept of disability depends on the notion that disabilities are inherently negative. If they are not in some sense disabling, the term has no meaning. What’s more, the entire moral and legal logic that underpins the concept of reasonable accommodation – the affordances we make for people with disabilities, mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act – depends on the idea that these things are both unchosen and harmful. If they’re not, then there’s no communal obligation to accommodate them. What would they even need accommodation for?

More, though, I cannot comprehend the arrogance of the woman who led the charge against the panel at Harvard, Kris King, to sit on her perch at the most exclusive university in the world and declare for the entire autistic community what autism is and means. It’s unsurprising that she’s disdainful of the need for treatment, given that she’s so high-functioning that she’s flourishing at an Ivy League university. She will never live the life that mother I knew lived. She will likely never care for someone whose autism has devastated them, robbed them of their ability to have conventional human relationships, to have a career, to be in love. Such debilitated people and their families will never have the cultural influence of a self-promoting Harvard student and so they’re simply read out of the conversation. Meanwhile autism activists and advocates make sweeping pronouncements about the lives of people they don’t know and could never understand.

“Autistic people at Harvard and globally have advocated in the face of ableism to defend ourselves,” she writes. In fact, Ms. King, globally there are millions of people whose autism ensures they can’t advocate at all. Spare a thought for them, while you’re busy framing your diploma.

Yes, yes, yes!!  Among other things, I know a young adult who has indeed been “cured” of autism through some great therapy and the hard work of his parents. And his life is so clearly the better for fit!  If my own son could be “cured” of an unhealthy obsession with “The Cupid Shuffle” (let’s just say of the 74 million views at the link, Alex is responsible for more than his fair share) and be more flexible and understanding of life’s inevitable twists and turns, his life would be enriched.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my son and enjoy him immensely, but this is in spite of his autism, not because of it.  I have literally no doubt he would be a happier person and better share his charming personality with the world if he didn’t have autism.  A Harvard undergraduate sure does not speak for him or his needs.  And, I won’t even go into how profoundly negatively my brother’s life has been shaped by being born with autism in 1961 when the disorder was hardly understood and literally blamed on “refrigerator mothers” (that was not so great for my mom, either– a warm, generous woman).  

Anyway, for people like my son and my brother there is much to be learned about the condition and how best to treat and accommodate it.  And maybe that Harvard panel would’ve really helped some people.  But because other people gave into a mob crying “ableist!” we’ll never know.  To hell with them.  And shame on Harvard for giving in.  

The (not) secrets of happiness

Last month Arthur Brooks had a nice piece on practical ways to improve your happiness.  If you pay attention to this research at all, no surprised, but a nice succinct list and things you can actually do.  

1. Invest in family and friends. The research is clear that though our natural impulse may be to buy stuff, we should invest instead in improving our closest relationships by sharing experiences and freeing up time to spend together.

2. Join a club. The “social capital” you get from voluntarily and regularly associating with other people, whether or not you do so through a formal club, has long been known to foster a sense of belonging and protect against loneliness and isolation.

3. Be active both mentally and physically. You can make this advice as complicated and expensive as you want. But if you like to keep things simple, just try to walk for an hour and read for an hour (not for work!) each day.

4. Practice your religion. This might sound impractical if you don’t have a traditional faith or practice it traditionally. However, for the purposes of happiness, religion can be understood more broadly, as a spiritual or philosophical path in life. Search for transcendent truths beyond your narrow day-to-day life.

5. Get physical exercise. This is a slightly souped-up version of No. 3 above: Your daily walk should be supplemented with a purposive exercise plan. This is consistent with the research showing that regular exercise of all different types enhances mood and social functioning.

6. Act nicely. Agreeableness is consistently found to be highly and positively correlated with happiness, and it can be increased relatively easily.

7. Be generous. Behaving altruistically toward others rewards the brain with happiness-enhancing boosts of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

8. Check your health. Of all health issues, those that create the greatest unhappiness are typically chronic pain and anxiety. Don’t neglect your visits to the doctor and the dentist, and seek mental-health assistance if your emotions are interfering with your work, relationships, or social activities.

9. Experience nature. Studies have shown that, compared with urban walking, walking in a woodland setting more dramatically lowers stressincreases positive mood, and enhances working memory.

10. Socialize with colleagues outside of work. Data have shown that work friendships increase employee engagement, which is associated with both happiness and productivity for workers. I believe that the move to remote work during the pandemic has inadvertently lowered the true compensation of work for millions, explaining in part the so-called Great Resignation. Bonding with your co-workers is a way to take it back.

This list is quite similar to the advice routinely dispensed by top academics writing for popular audiences, such as the UC Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (who was also one of the 18 experts in the study), and by nonacademics who write about the science of happiness, such as Gretchen Rubin. “These ideas are terrific—and familiar,” Rubin told me recently. What impressed her wasn’t their originality (your grandmother might’ve told you most of them); rather, it was the fact that they were both effective and practical. “For many of us, the bigger challenge isn’t knowing what actions would make us happier, but actually doing those things,” she said.

I think the evidence is pretty clear that the most important thing is investing in quality relationships with other humans.  Meanwhile, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz had a nice piece on money and happiness in the NYT as part of the blitz for his new book (which I’ll definitely be reading):

The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening. People get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the scenery is beautiful.

The findings on the data of happiness are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us this?”

But I would argue that there is profundity in the obviousness of the data on happiness.

Sometimes, big data reveals a shocking secret. At other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And that’s the case with happiness.

This is crucial to keep in mind for the many of us who are not doing the obvious things that make people happy. We are falling for traps that the data says are unlikely to make us happy.

Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and the economist Alex Bryson found that work is the second-most-miserable activity; of 40 activities, only being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. The economist Steven Levitt found that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.

Man, that part about work is sad!  Sure, I complain about meetings and various other bureaucratic stuff.  But I really like my work and and generally happy when doing it.

Many of us while away hours on social media — also not a path to happiness. The Mappiness project found that, of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks dead last in how much happiness it brings. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being.

Ooof, well there’s my fail.  Though, I’d say most social media users are obviously just doing it wrong.  I love being connected to old friends and seeing their families, adventures, etc., and I honestly learn more from twitter (and I love to learn) than pretty much anywhere else.  

The summary:

Big data tells us there are very simple things that do make people happy, things that have been around for thousands of years. After reading all the studies on happiness, I concluded that modern happiness research could be summed up in one sentence, a sentence we might jokingly call the data-driven answer to life.

The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.

I will say I sure do love being with loved ones at bodies of water and I actually should try and do that more.  

Do I need more friends?

Really enjoyed this NYT article (haven’t done any gift NYT articles yet this month, so I made that one) on the science of adult friendships:

For years, friendship in America has been in decline, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. Three decades ago, 3 percent of Americans told Gallup pollsters they had no close friends; in 2021, an online poll put it at 12 percent. About a year into the pandemic, 13 percent of women and 8 percent of men age 30 to 49 said they’d lost touch with most of their friends.

There are health implications to all of this. Friendship can be an important factor in well-being, while loneliness and social isolation — distinct but related conditions — can be associated with an increased risk for conditions like depression and anxiety or heart disease and stroke. An often-cited 2010 meta-analysis led by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, concluded that loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day…

While she and other friendship researchers admit there aren’t many studies that have specifically tackled the question of how many friends people should aim for, those that have been done offer a range — and somewhere between three and six close friends may be the sweet spot.

If your goal is simply to mitigate the harmful impact loneliness can have on your health, what matters most is having at least one important person in your life — whether that’s a partner, a parent, a friend or someone else, said Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

“Going from zero to one is where we get the most bang for your buck, so to speak,” Dr. Hall said. “But if you want to have the most meaningful life, one where you feel bonded and connected to others, more friends are better.”…

While friendship research offers some benchmarks, it may be more useful for most of us to simply do a bit of soul-searching. Marisa Franco, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming book “Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends,” recommends starting with a fairly obvious but powerful question: Do I feel lonely?

“Loneliness is a sort of signal or alarm system,” Dr. Franco said. Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but this is a deeper question about whether you regularly feel left out or isolated. One recent survey suggested that roughly one in three Americans have experienced “serious loneliness” during the pandemic.

It also helps to ask yourself if there are parts of your identity that feel restricted, Dr. Franco said.

“Different people bring out different parts of us. So when you have a larger friend group, you’re able to experience this side of yourself that loves golf, and this side of yourself that loves cars, and this side of yourself that loves flowers,” she said. “If you feel like your identity has sort of shrunk, or you’re not feeling quite like yourself, that might indicate you need different types of friends,” she added.

Of course, making friends in adulthood isn’t always easy. Research shows people struggle with it because they find it difficult to trust new people, and because they are simply crunched for time. For those reasons, it is often easier to start by rekindling old relationships that have fizzled, Dr. Franco said. Take initiative and don’t assume that friendships just happen organically, she said. But be judicious. Spending time with friends you feel ambivalent about — because they’re unreliable, critical, competitive or any of the many reasons people get under our skin — can be bad for your health.

The amount of time you actually spend with your friends matters, too. Dr. Hall’s research suggests that on average, very close friendships tend to take around 200 hours to develop. Quantity and quality go hand-in-hand.

I think I’m doing okay, actually, but as an extrovert who likes to consider himself multi-faceted, I think I need a lot of friends.  I love that there’s friends I can talk politics with, talk sports (mostly hockey), talk TV and movies, talk cool science and social science, talk books, talk about teaching college, talk parenting.  Hey, I think I’ve got it all pretty much covered.  But, that actually covers a fair number of people.  And I’m definitely not up to 200 hours (that’s a lot!) with all of them.  

Meanwhile, I was all set to post that, and David Epstein’s latest newsletter was an interview all about relationships, including adult friendships (the whole thing is great and totally worth your time, but I’m sticking to friendships here):

DE: Ok I want to switch gears to friendship. I liked this quote: “The weakness of friendship is also the source of its immeasurable strength.” Can you explain what you mean there?

EB: Friendship gets the short end of the stick as far as relationships go. Which is sad, because work by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shows friends make us happier than any other type of relationship. I’m not trying to cause a Category 5 Twitter Storm here, but friends beat spouses when it comes to increasing our happiness. (Sorry, spouses.)

The issue here is that most every other form of bond has an institution behind it, a metaphorical lobbying group promoting its interests. You have an employment contract with your boss, a marital contract with your spouse and you can go to jail for not taking care of your kids. Screw up any of those relationships and there will be direct consequences. With friends, uh, not so much. We can just walk away.

Friends are only in our lives because we want them to be. And this is why friendships make us happier than any other relationship: it’s always a choice, never an obligation.

DE: So what did Dale Carnegie get right and wrong about “how to win friends and influence people”?

EB: Most of what Carnegie wrote has been validated by the research. Seeking similarity is powerful. Paying people sincere compliments is effective. (Did I mention that “Range” is an utterly amazing masterwork of a book?) The only big point Carnegie was wrong about was saying we should try and see things from the other person’s perspective. Studies show we’re pretty terrible at this and it actually makes us worse at relating to others.

The real problem with Carnegie’s work is that while it’s great for the initial stages of a casual friendship, it doesn’t offer much in the way of building deep connections. Carnegie wrote the book for developing business relationships. Everything in it is fairly easy to do, which is why we like it – but that also makes it a great playbook for manipulative people. To build deep friendships we need to display “costly signals” that can’t be easily faked. If you think that just noting similarities and paying compliments is going to get you a brother-from-another-mother or a sister-from-another-mister level of friendship, you probably believe disco is going to make a comeback.

DE: One more friendship question for you: You marshaled a mountain of research on how important deep friendships are for health and happiness, and yet, we don’t always treat friendships as a daily priority. Any suggestions?

EB: Making time is critical. A Notre Dame study of 8 million phone calls showed friendships were more likely to persist when people checked in roughly every two weeks. Still, that can seem difficult for many of us with busy lives. The secret here is making it more organic. Turning the regular time together into something more of a ritual or a habit. Exercising together. Having a lunch or call every Sunday. Starting a book club. Routine activities like this can make keeping up with friends relatively effortless.

I definitely try to make time for my friendships (mostly through pizza lunches, as many of my readers know), but I could certainly do better on the long-distance friendships.  I used to do more evening phone calls when I was doing the dishes, etc., but now I just always listen to a podcast.  

Anyway… friends are important.  Value them and make them happen.

The suburban juror

With apologies to 30 Rock.

I’ve received several summons for jury duty (or jury service as they really like to call it), but never actually went in before after explaining that I had classes only I could teach.  I always volunteered to come at another date after the semester, but all I ever got in response was “excused.”  Well, with a July 15 summons, I finally had no excuse.

I’ve always told people that if I ever got questioned to serve on a jury (voir dire), I might survive if I was just a random political science professor.  But if it got into the fact that I teach Criminal Justice Policy, I would very likely be out.  Well, I was not queried as to what classes I teach, but we were all asked about our personal interactions with law enforcement.  “Well, I’ve had the chief of police of [the law enforcement organization engaged this case] as a guest speaker in my class on several occasions” pretty much opened that Pandora’s Box.  I briefly thought I might survive as my admitted overall skepticism of law enforcement [DA: “do you teach with a slant against law enforcement in your class?”  Me: “No.  I teach about the many problems and failures of our criminal justice system– including law enforcement– and how best to address them.”] was mitigated by my admitted respect for the law enforcement organization in question.  Apparently not.  So, I was struck.  Not bad, getting my jury service done in four hours.  Still, would have been pretty cool to be on a jury for a criminal trial.

So, what else did I take away from this process?  Ummm, the jury pool is not exactly a “jury of your peers” for many Wake county defendants.  I walked into the jury assembly room and thought “oh my, this room is white.”  And, jury the voir dire when everybody gave their residence and occupation, I thought, “oh my, this is not just white, but a bunch of white professionals.”  Software engineers, biostatisticans, college professors, real estate brokers, etc.  Anyway, not quite sure why the jury pool turns out this way– or how much it might have just randomly been disproportionate today– but, wow, not exactly a jury of one’s peers for many Wake County defendants.

Image result for rural juror

Do Millennials understand love and marriage better than me?

Ummm, maybe yes, says expert Helen Fisher (in a NYT column from Tara Parker-Pope).  As for me, I got married at the age of 22, three weeks after I graduated from college in 1994.  25 years and four kids later, I’m pretty happy with it.  Even back in 1993 I recall my mom saying I should wait till I was older to get married.  Anyway, here’s the interesting argument that Millennials know better:

Is the secret to lasting love to take it slow? As in really, really slow?

The millennial generation is putting that theory to the test, opting for what the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher calls “slow love.” Studies show that millennials are dating less, having less sex and marrying much later than any generation before them, and a younger generation appears to be following in their footsteps.

These changes have prompted hand-wringing among some experts who speculate that hookup culture, anxiety, screen time, social media and helicopter parents have left us with a generation incapable of intimacy and commitment. (The Atlantic recently declared we are in the midst of a “sex recession.”)

But Dr. Fisher takes a more generous view, and suggests that we could all learn a thing or two from millennials about the benefits of slow love. It’s not that millennials are wrecking marriage, she says. It may be that they value it more.

“It seems everyone is swept up in a very myopic understanding of sex, love and romance,” said Dr. Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute. “I would like people to understand that while millennials are not marrying yet, and they are not having as much sex as my generation, the reasons for this are good.”…

But what is particularly striking is how quickly the cohort has rewritten the rules for courtship, sex and marriage. In 2018, the median age of first marriage was approaching 30 (29.8 for men and 27.8 for women). That’s more than a five-year delay in marriage compared to 1980, when the median age was 24.7 for men and 22 for women…

Dr. Fisher, author of “Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, has devoted her career to studying love and relationships. Most recently she has collected data on more than 30,000 people related to current courtship and marriage trends. Dr. Fisher believes that instead of criticizing and judging millennials, perhaps we should be paying more attention. It’s possible, she said, that today’s singles are carving a more successful path to lasting love than previous generations…

She notes that people who date three years or more before marrying are 39 percent less likely to divorce than people who rush into marriage. “This is a real extended period of the pre-commitment stage,” said Dr. Fisher. “With slow love, maybe by the time people walk down the aisle they know who they’ve got, and they think they can keep who they’ve got.”…

Dr. Fisher says her research suggests today’s singles seek to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before they spend time, energy and money on courtship. As a result, the path to romance has changed significantly. Whereas a “first date” used to represent the getting-to-know-you phase of a courtship, now going on an official date with someone comes later in the relationship.

And for some singles, sex has become the getting-to-know you phase of courtship. In a study conducted for, Dr. Fisher found that among a representative sample, 34 percent of singles had sex with somebody before the first date. She calls it “the sex interview.”

“In my day you went out on a first date with someone you didn’t know very well, and you went to dinner or mini golf,” she said. “The first date has changed — it’s time consuming and expensive. Now they have a sex interview with a person to see if they want to invest in a first date.”

Hmmm.  Okay, I get it, I’m just an old out-of-tough guy, but the “sex interview” before an actual date?!  Also, though the terms are not mentioned in seems to come back to the capstone versus cornerstone view of marriage:

Ms. Alexander, who lives in Princeton and identifies as bisexual, said she and her partner want to finish their education, start their careers and be on solid financial footing before marriage.“To be successful in a marriage you have to be compatible in a lot of different ways,” she says. “Sex is one for those vectors of compatibility where I feel like millennials want to make sure they’re also compatible.”

For millennials, financial issues also loom large in their decisions about relationships. They talk about the burden of student debt, and their desire to find meaningful work in an increasingly impersonal job market. Many say their lives were deeply affected by the 2008 financial crisis as they watched their parents lose businesses, struggle with debt and even go through divorces.

I’m willing to grant that, maybe, Millennials have figured out something here.  Certainly there’s a lot to be said about being slow and thoughtful with a decision to marry, but I don’t think that’s at all the same thing as waiting till you’ve subjectively “made it” as an adult.  There’s a lot to be said for finding a great person and making it as an adult together.

Social media life complements real life

I have no doubt that used improperly (like anything) social media can be a real net negative in some people’s lives.  That said, I totally disagree with this Op-Ed arguing to post less good news on social media:

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I get so many great interactions in-person precisely because I post a lot on FB.  Instead of a casual “how’s it going Steve?” to which I typically do not answer, “oh, good, Alex’s brain tumor is shrinking,” friends that I would not necessarily think to just share that with in a quick hall-way hello, say, “I saw about Alex’s shrinking tumor— that’s awesome!  Tell me more.”  Or, “wow, your soccer team is kicking butt– what’s the secret.”  Or, “I saw Evan’s science award– that’s awesome.”  And so many others.  And these lead to great conversations.  We end up talking about Evan’s love of science, or how David is doing at Wake Tech, or Alex’s health, or Sarah’s soccer team, etc.  And it’s great.  All because I post pictures, etc.  When I see a friend in the hallway at work and they say “how’s it going?” I don’t say, “great, Sarah had a really nice dance recital on Saturday.”  But, it’s awesome when that same friend says, “loved the photos at Sarah’s dance recital.”

I could go on.  But, the short version is that social media leads to me sharing so much more of my life than I otherwise would in most spontaneous interactions and that has absolutely enhanced my real-world relationships.

Oh, and I didn’t go to my Duke 25th reunion this weekend, but had a great time seeing a couple of Duke friends at brunch yesterday.


Hurricane panic reaches new levels of insanity!

OMG am I frustrated today.

First, the background.  Here in the Wake County/Raleigh area, we were very much spared the worst of the hurricane.  4-6 inches of rain and wind gusts in the 40’s for periods on Friday and Saturday.  At one point, 10% of the county was without power, but as of this writing, we are at .1%.  There’s been Flash Flood warnings, but no serious flooding in this area that I can find in the news anywhere (or flood maps).  I would say the local situation is pretty equivalent to serious thunderstorms moving through on Friday night.

And yet, NC State has canceled class tomorrow and Wake County public schools have canceled school (and added to the totally un-needed Saturday make-up for last Thursday with a day before Thanksgiving make-up– my kids will be attending neither of those make-up days).  “Ongoing effects of the hurricane” my ass!  The ongoing effects for Wake County are pretty much non-existent.  I swear you would think whoever is in charge gets a bonus for each day of canceled school.  If this exact same weather had been caused by unusually violent thunderstorms, there’s no way school would be canceled tomorrow (or, that all local government operations like weekend classes, museums, libraries, etc., would be closed today, as they are), but “hurricane!” and it seems like anything goes.  And, yes, literal disaster conditions exist in many parts of NC.  But not here!!  It’s like saying, well, how can we have school while kids are dying in the Syrian civil war.

NC State should be super-accommodating of students whose homes were flooded out, of course, but why does that mean the rest of us shouldn’t, you know, actually have an education tomorrow. Meanwhile my son’s classes at Wake Tech were canceled, too.  Presumably they say NCSU and UNC’s over-reaction and said, “hey, no school for us, too!”  At least the former have the excuse of many students who live in affected areas.  Wake Tech is a non-residential community college in a county largely unaffected.  What the hell?!

Sometimes I feel like the only sane person around here.  Except for the positive feedback from my readers– thanks!

Oh, and while I am at it, those Amazon Logistics deliveries are such a joke! (as Nicole pointed out in earlier comments).  I had two packages finally show up, in theory, this morning marked delivered “handed to resident” while the whole family was actually at Krispy Kreme.  What the hell I’ve never had an Amazon package from USPS or UPS mis-delivered (highly unlikely some nefarious neighbor claimed my package in-person).  I’ve already gotten my refund, but what an awful experience.

Damn is it all frustrating, but feels good to get it out.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Social science says you should try and get along with your siblings.  I get along well with my siblings, but undoubtedly, could do significantly better:

The quality of sibling relationships is one of the most important predictors of mental health in old age, according to The American Journal of PsychiatryResearch shows that people who are emotionally close to their siblings have higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression later in life. In times of stress or trauma, siblings can provide essential emotional and monetary support.

2) A couple days ago, everybody was all like, “read Julia Azari on norms versus values.”  They were right.

3) Jay Willis has a terrific deconstruction of how a conservative conspiracy (spygate!) comes into being and then is zealously embraced by the president.

4) So, what I really found interesting about this is that the NBA actually has a strict national anthem policy, but everybody is okay with it because the league really is with the players.

5) And, you gotta love Steve Kerr on the matter:

“It’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr said, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “They’re just playing to their fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But thats how the NFL has conducted their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacfully protesting. Our leadership in the NBA understands when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or military. But our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit, pandered to their fanbase, created this hysteria. It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country right now – people in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag as if the flag is something other than it really is – which is a representation of what we’re about, which is diversity, peaceful protests, right to free speech. It’s ironic actually.”

6) This teacher’s stop bullying strategy really does sound like a great idea.

7) Sure, we should let it go, but still, a good argument, “Why Comey’s October Surprise Was Pointless and Wrong.”

8) Really good Vox interview on marriage:

Sean Illing

I’ve always objected to this idea that the best wife or husband is the one who helps you become the best version of yourself. I think the best partner is the one who helps you transcend yourself, who draws you out of yourself. I guess that’s why I always hated that line from Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” To me that’s narcissism, not love.

Eli Finkel

I agree! I would say that the Maslovian perspective isn’t the Jerry Maguire perspective because “you complete me” suggests that there is a void that has to be filled — that I have a void in me and that I need somebody else to fill it. I actually think that is sometimes the opposite of what I’m talking about or what Maslow might be talking about.

We have goals, we have aspirations. We’re reasonably proud of who we are, but we can think of ways that we can be better, more ambitious, more energetic, or maybe better at relaxing. We’re trying to achieve those goals, and the reality is that humans aren’t individual, isolated goal-pursuers. Our social relationships have profound influence on the extent to which we get closer to versus further from our ideal self.

The best marriages these days take that seriously. They take the responsibility for trying to help each other grow and live authentic lives to an extent that would have seemed bizarre in 1950.

Sean Illing

I like the idea of love as a practice that takes our attention away from ourselves — away from our needs, away from our petty desires, away from our impulses. I understand the egoistic accounts of love, but I think they’re describing something other than love, and hopefully something other than marriage.

Eli Finkel

I love that. Remember that the modern marriage is not just about what I get; it’s also, and more importantly, about what I give. We’re looking for a marriage to help us with our self-expression and personal growth. I believe that the majority of us have an understanding that that’s a two-way street.

9) Drum and NBC with a nice chart on gender and political candidates:

10) Dahlia Lithwick on the moral dilemma for conscientious Republicans in the age of Trump.

11) How to overcome your hidden weaknesses. Of course, you don’t get published without regular feedback or teach college classes with student evaluations, so that should help in my case. Also, my kids are not shy about feedback on my parenting ;-).  So, how am I doing as a blogger?

First, ask for feedback. It’s not easy, and it can sometimes be tough to hear, but outside input is crucial to shining a light on your blind spots. Here are some tips for getting and giving better feedback.

Second, keep learning. The more knowledgeable you are about something, the more you’re able to identify the gaps in your own understanding of it.

12) How to accept a compliment?  Don’t just say “thank you.”

In other words, in the United States, the compliment is a coded invitation to chitchat, and simply saying, “Thank you” linguistically slams the door in the complimenter’s face.

13) The case for treating addiction like cancer:

The surgeon general’s report defines it as a “chronic neurological disorder” and outlines evidence-based treatments. These include drugs like methadone and buprenorphine; individual and group counseling; step-down services after residential treatment; mutual aid groups like Alcoholics Anonymous; and long-term, coordinated care that includes recovery coaches.

Unfortunately, much of this knowledge isn’t being applied in doctors’ offices or even many treatment centers. “There’s a wealth of literature collected over many decades, along with a robust medical evidence base, showing what works and what doesn’t,” Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of the Stanford University Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, told me. “Treatment for addiction works, on par with treatment for other chronic relapsing disorders. So, it’s not really that there’s no road map. It’s that the road map has not been recognized or embraced by the house of medicine.”

14) The NYT asks, “Is Joe Bryan an innocent man, wrongfully imprisoned for the past 30 years on the basis of faulty forensic science?”  Ummm, this is America, I’m pretty sure we know the answer.  Ugh.  Story after story after story after story like this.  Damn I wish “beyond a reasonable doubt” actually meant something in murder trials.  Unfortunately, our societal thirst for vengeance means that’s not the case.  How many innocent people are in prison for crimes they did not commit.  Almost surely thousands and thousands.  And don’t get me started on forensic “science” that’s not.

15) How asking about previous salary helps fuel the gender pay gap.  In Britain they are trying to use transparency and shame to improve the gap.

16) Of all the stuff I’ve read this week, the Vox article on why human feet keeping washing ashore has stuck with me the most.

Sometimes, everything actually does work out perfectly

So, Mika was kind enough in comments to ask what happened in the soccer tournament this weekend.  We won, we won!  I was sooooo happy.  We last one this post-season tournament in 2013.  Despite having the best team in our league in the regular season every year but last year (2nd best), we fared no better than 2nd in 2014-2017.  Last year’s winners won all their spring games, then swept the tournament, then had a great party.  And that was it– they were almost all high school seniors.  I was actually pretty happy for them because we had shared a practice field with them for 4 years and knew them well.  And I so much wanted us to go out the same way.  And we did!  We lost to that team in the first game of the tournament last year, won our remaining three games, then had two perfect 8-0-0 seasons this year.  And, finally, followed it up with a first place in the tournament.

And the final was tough.  Due to lots of rain, games were shortened to 20-minutes halves, a much less reliable predictor of the better team than our usual 45 minute halves (which were supposed to be 35 for the tournament).  Anyway, we pulled it out 1-0, but it was actually the only game all year we won by a single goal (most every other we won by 3+).

After the game one of the player’s family’s with a lovely home hosted everybody for a season-ending pool party.  It was so great.  Especially enjoyed all the players saying a few words (and especially good words from my son and frequent blog reader, David) about what the team and the coaches (including my redoubtable assistant and some-time reader of this blog, Larry) meant to them.   And then kind of a receiving line at the end where I got to have a few words with each player, some of whom I’ve coached since they were 11 (and most through all of high school) and watched grow into young men.   It was honestly just perfect.  On the way home, my wife said something along the lines of, “I hope you appreciate just how perfectly this worked out.  Life rarely works out so nicely.”  I do, I do!

As many of you know I’m a pretty big Duke basketball fan.  I’ve always loved the way Coach K says what he really values most is not the winning, but the relationships.  I totally get what he means.  I’ll be honest, I actually like winning more than I should and am probably far more competitive as a Blasters coach than any other aspect of my life.  That said, I have loved, loved, loved watching these player grow and improve not just as soccer players, but as young men.  And I’ve had so much fun with them and will really, really miss it.

For now, the soccer journey continues with Sarah’s (soon-to-be) U8 Tornados.  And believe me, that team shows it is definitely not about the winning.  And you better believe as long as Sarah wants to play, I’ll be coach.

Anyway, this is the reason my Instagram profile says, “Dad, professor, soccer coach, blogger.”

Quick hits (part II)

Busy weekend of soccer coaching plus feeling like crap from a nasty cold equals really late quick hits.  On the bright side, I’ve got quotes for pretty much all of them.  Enjoy.

1a) South Carolina has under-funded and brutal prisons.  Yeah, they committed crimes, but they are still humans.  Many died needlessly in a recent riot.  John Pfaff:

Although the state is often held up as a criminal justice success story after a 2010 sentencing law reversed decades of rising incarceration rates, its system has faced legal challenges for years over how it is run. Only a few states spend less per prisoner than South Carolina, and while the national inmates-per-officer ratio is on the order of five to one (at least according to data from 2005, the most recent data we have), at Lee on the night of the violence the ratio was much, much higher. Initial reports said there two guards per housing block, with 250 men in each block. Later reports suggested that there may have been four guards per block, not two, but that wouldn’t really paint a better picture either: 63 to one is still an unacceptable ratio.What is clear is that South Carolina’s prisons are underfunded and understaffed — about 30 percent of all positions are vacant, and low pay and low morale have made it hard to retain corrections officers. The facilities are poorly maintained, and programming is inadequate for the size of the prison population. All these factors are policy choices driven by budgeting, and all of them contribute to prison violence.

 Prisons need not be like this. Facilities in countries like Germanylook almost nothing like prisons in the U.S., even though they often detain people convicted of serious violent crimes. The institutions are well-maintained, and correctional officials — who view their jobs more as social work than law enforcement — are well-paid and well-trained. While most correctional officers in the U.S. receive, at most, three months of training before being sent into a prison, in Germany the minimum is two years. Treated in a less adversarial manner in more humane settings, those held in European prisons tend to respond accordingly.

1b) And Historian Heather Ann Thompson:

Today, seven young men — men who were someone’s child, father, sibling or partner — are dead because we allow our nation’s correctional facilities to be run brutally. But, thanks to their cellphone keyboards and cameras, those who live in this terrible place can tell us what really goes on, and how we might change it.

They are desperate for state senators to pass new laws so that South Carolina prisoners have “an incentive to get out in society and live life again.” They argue that officials could eliminate the contraband problem simply by allowing cigarettes and cellphones to be sold in the canteen (instead of sold to them by guards, who can get upward of $1,700 for a phone). They would be less hungry if state officials would simply allow their families “to send inmates packages of food” and they’d be more productive and better able to re-enter society, they tell us, if prisons simply reinstated classes in “life skills and trades.”

2) Nice article about Pope Francis.  The key paragraph as far as I’m concerned:

But it is Francis’ prioritizing of social justice over culture-war issues [emphasis mine] such as abortion that has caused the sharpest internal divisions, with a small but committed group of conservative cardinals publicly suggesting that he is a heretical autocrat leading the faithful toward confusion and schism.

You know what Jesus talked about pretty much all the time?  What we now call “social justice issues.”  Culture war issues, not so much.

3) On how Charleston, WV is giving up its needle-exchange program despite all the evidence that these programs work:

The research is unambiguous: Needle exchanges reduce the spread of bloodborne diseases like hepatitis C and H.I.V. and do not increase drug use. They’ve been shown to reduce overdose deaths, decrease the number of needles discarded in public places and make it more likely that drug users enter treatment. They also save money: One recent study estimated that $10 million spent on needle exchanges might save more than $70 million in averted H.I.V. treatment costs alone.

Health experts say the programs create relationships between deeply addicted people and the health care system, an essential step if they are to be reintegrated into society. “It’s the most low-threshold way for people who use drugs to have contact with any kind of public health professional,” said Alex H. Kral, an epidemiologist with RTI International, a nonprofit research organization. “And that’s a powerful intervention.”

4) I am emphatically in favor of joint bank accounts and not separate accounts for married couples.  Kim and I do not to even the tiniest degree have my money and her money.  It’s all “our money” damnit.  The sub-head–“It doesn’t signal a lack of trust—to some, it’s a way for spouses to show they trust each other more”  of this Atlantic article strikes me as far as rationalization far more than reality.

A joint bank account has, traditionally, been a sign of commitment. As newlyweds start their lives together, it is perhaps the clearest way for them to say, to each other and to the world, “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.”

But these days, some young couples are skeptical. “There has been a generational change,” said Joanna Pepin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland who studies the organization of money in romantic relationships. “The research we have shows that, cross-culturally, more people are keeping money separate.” Indeed, a Bank of America study published earlier this year seemed to suggest that Millennial married and cohabitating couples were more likely to hold separate accounts than previous generations were.

Pepin says this trend is particularly pronounced among low-income couples, who are likelier to value access to their own earnings over the show of commitment and loyalty that comes with the decision to merge finances, a quality often prioritized by higher-earners.

Some of this has to do with Millennial marriage trends more generally. Compared to previous generations, Millennials get married later in life, and thus significantly more of them live together before marriage. Because cohabiting couples are far more likely than married couples to keep finances separate, a certain inertia develops. “Once you’ve established your relationship norms,” Pepin asked, “why would you change them?”

When today’s young adults do decide to get married, many of them are further along in their careers, with a better sense of who they are and what they contribute to their workplace. One 29-year-old I talked to, a medical resident in San Francisco, told me that for those who believe one’s bank account offers a clear reflection of a person’s work ethic or success, it can be hard to cede control. “It’s about wanting to maintain one’s sense of identity, individuality, and autonomy,” said Fenaba Addo, an assistant professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

When I asked several married Millennial couples why they decided to keep their finances fully or partially separate, one reason came up more than any other: A joint bank account seemed to blur each individual’s financial contributions at a time when women are earning more than they used to. “If we just had a joint account, it would bring an uneasy feeling—a sense of inequality,” said Zack Pasillas, a 26-year-old office worker from Orange County, California. Zack’s wife, Karina, works in customer service at the local water company. She knows that, in the future, she’ll likely make less money than Zack, but that makes her even more eager to keep their finances separate. “When buying him gifts, when picking up the tab at dinner, I like knowing that I am also contributing to this relationship,” she said. “It’s my work—it’s my money.” Another Millennial I talked to worried that, if he and his wife merged bank accounts, their relationship might begin to conform to antiquated gender roles, with the man in charge of all the finances. The concept of a joint account, to him, felt dated…

Indeed, the 20- and 30-somethings I spoke with all felt strongly that separate bank accounts don’t signal a lack of trust—if anything, they said, it’s a sign that partners trust each other more. Zack and Karina Pasillas have a clear understanding that, if either of them needs money, they’ll help each other out. Their debts are due, and their salaries come in, at different times of the month, so sometimes one will cover the other. “It’s about having trust that, if needed, I can cover her end, and she can cover my end, too,” Zack Pasillas said.

No, no, no!  It’s a marriage, it’s not about “her end” or “my end” it all “our end”!  Of course, I expect my Millennial readers to disagree ;-).

5) Good stuff on why Trump supporters don’t mind his lies.  Like most everything else in politics, it comes down to motivated reasoning:

The results of the experiments, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that reflecting on how a falsehood could have been true did cause people to rate it as less unethical to tell — but only when the falsehoods seemed to confirm their political views. Trump supporters and opponents both showed this effect.

Again, the problem wasn’t that people confused fact and fiction; virtually everyone recognized the claims as false. But when a falsehood resonated with people’s politics, asking them to imagine counterfactual situations in which it could have been true softened their moral judgments. A little imagination can apparently make a lie feel “truthy” enough to give the liar a bit of a pass.

These results reveal a subtle hypocrisy in how we maintain our political views. We use different standards of honesty to judge falsehoods we find politically appealing versus unappealing. When judging a falsehood that maligns a favored politician, we ask, “Was it true?” and then condemn it if the answer is no.

In contrast, when judging a falsehood that makes a favored politician look good, we are willing to ask, “Could it have been true?” and then weaken our condemnation if we can imagine the answer is yes. By using a lower ethical standard for lies we like, we leave ourselves vulnerable to influence by pundits and spin doctors.

6) This amazing, prize-winning photo was disqualified for using a taxidermied anteater.

Marcio Cabral had faked The Night Raider with a taxidermy anteater — a charge he denies.

Marcio Cabral/Natural History Museum

7) Really interesting interview with Helen Fisher on sex and love.  Ends with her formula for a happy marriage:

You talk to a psychologist, and they’ll probably give you a different answer, but I can tell you what the brain says about happiness in a longterm partnership. There are three brain regions that become active when you are in a longterm, loving relationship.

A brain region linked with empathy, a brain region linked with controlling your own stress and your own emotions, and a brain region linked with what I call “positive illusion,” the ability to overlook what you don’t like about somebody and focus on what you do.

You want a happy marriage? Do all those things that psychologists and others might suggest, but this is what the brain says: Express empathy, control your own emotions, and overlook the negatives in your partner and focus on the positives.

8) As great as a college education is, it’s definitely not for everyone.  We need to do a better job teaching trades and getting the right people into them.  NPR:

While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening, even as the price — and the average debt into which it plunges students — keeps going up.

But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.

“Parents want success for their kids,” said Mike Clifton, who teaches machining at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, about 20 miles from Seattle. “They get stuck on [four-year bachelor’s degrees], and they’re not seeing the shortage there is in tradespeople until they hire a plumber and have to write a check.”

In a new report, the Washington State Auditor found that good jobs in the skilled trades are going begging because students are being almost universally steered to bachelor’s degrees.

Among other things, the Washington auditor recommended that career guidance — including choices that require less than four years in college — start as early as the seventh grade.

“There is an emphasis on the four-year university track” in high schools, said Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report. Yet, nationwide, three out of 10 high school grads who go to four-year public universities haven’t earned degrees within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. At four-year private colleges, that number is more than 1 in 5.

“Being more aware of other types of options may be exactly what they need,” Cortines said. In spite of a perception “that college is the sole path for everybody,” he said, “when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you’re paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration.”

9) Liked Brian Beutler on how journalists should deal with stolen/hacked information:

In the brave new world of mass hacking—and particularly of the kind of hack-and-dump tactics deployed against Clinton—the tradeoff is different, and in some ways should be less severe. Whatever we gleaned from the contents of Podesta’s emails or the DNC emails, reporters were aware of, and should have been able to incorporate, one cardinal fact: the source materials were the the spoils of an extremely serious crime.

That shouldn’t make stolen information off limits—a lot of great journalism is the fruit of crime—but it does make the information part of a larger story. In Clinton’s case, the larger story was that some entity (likely Russian intelligence, though the Trump campaign did its level best to muddy those waters) was trying to sabotage the campaign of one of America’s two major party presidential candidates, to tip the election to her opponent. That’s a huge deal, even if the “entity” is Trump’s fabled 400 pound man in New Jersey. Don’t believe me? Publish all of your emails online and see how it alters your horizons. Or tell Bob Woodward he should’ve been more interested in what the Watergate burglars stole than in why they stole it. The crime isn’t always as important as the loot, but it often is, and major media outlets have clearly struggled devising new editorial standards to account for that.

The main impediments to implementing such standards aren’t technical or even that subjective. They are hardwired professional incentives that reward reporting the latest news as quickly as possible in a competitive environment. Reporters and editors and anchors and producers make judgment calls about what’s important and what’s not all the time. They know how to use their platforms to emphasize some pieces of information over others, and present stories in ways that are proportionate to their news value. The problem is the economic pressures of journalism often force journalists to ask not “what will give consumers the clearest sense of what’s happening in the world?” but “what is the most recent thing I’ve learned?”—and then to report whatever the answer is.

That’s too bad, because a more considered approach to information dumps like the Podesta emails would address many of the concerns raised by critics of 2016 campaign coverage—or at least concerns about the stolen-email half of the media’s email fixation—and leave the public better informed than it is under the current paradigm. It would help protect American democracy against a repeat of the subversion we witnessed in 2016. And it would still leave plenty of room for people to argue on Twitter about Clinton’s private email server—the greatest political crime in the history of the world.

10) Bonus.  Finally got a somewhat decent video of one of my U18 players doing his awesome flip-throw throw-in.

No, really, I am a good husband

So, interestingly, my wife took some exception to my “why I’m a great husband” post.  So, I’m clearing the record here.  I’m only a very good husband.  I falsely assumed that my wife could detect my tongue in my cheek in the the title, but, like emails, maybe everything is not entirely clear in a blog post.  Mostly, though, it was this that bugged her, “And, she does the substantial majority of the cooking.  But even when she doesn’t, dishes are mine. ”  So, in the interests of blogging accuracy and spousal harmony, I shall clarify.  I pretty much never cook.  It’s just that when nobody cooks (e.g., Wendy’s and Bojangles, etc.) I still do the dishes.  And when I go to Political Science conferences to learn about fascinating (and not) research and to hang out with old friends in cool cities, dishes are on her.  So, there you have it.

Why I never give up the internet

I was going to put this in quick hits, but I loved this New Yorker essay from Matthew J. X. Malady to make it share.  He “unplugged” for 72 hours and I totally love his response to it:

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing. I still read deeply, and study things closely, and get lost for hours at a time in sprawling, complicated pieces of literature. Since moving to California from Manhattan a couple of years ago, I’m almost certain I’ve paid attention to more sunsets and cloud configurations and blooming flowers than I had in the previous decade. But I also enjoy being able to find out what year Chinua Achebe published “Things Fall Apart” in roughly three seconds. And, while it is true that, as Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, and others have pointed out, my desire to learn in this manner means that I am opening myself up more completely to advertising saturation and affronts to personal privacy, I’ve made the choice to live with and combat such vexations rather than proceed through life overrun with stagnating curiosity.

Yes, yes, yes!  My favorite thing about the internet.  I am always, always learning.  No way would I voluntarily give that up.  A couple times a year when we visit my grandmother-in-law I am without any internet for most of a day.  And it’s usually a lovely day, but I feel absolutely no need to voluntarily untether.  There’s too damn much to learn.

%d bloggers like this: