Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this NYT story about the amazing science and technology behind the decades-long effort finally create a pizza MRE.  Now that’s a worthy cause.

2) Sebastian Mallaby on how “Trumponomics” is not working:

So is Trumponomics working? With one significant caveat, the answer is no. For one thing, Trump’s trade policy is turning out to be worse than expected. For another, the growth surge mostly reflects a temporary sugar high from last December’s tax cut. Economists are already penciling in a recession for 2020

But the greatest damage stems from Trump’s trade war with China. His opening demand — that China abandon its subsidies for strategic high-tech industries — was never going to be met by a nationalistic dictatorship committed to industrial policy. His bet that tariffs will drive companies to shift production to the United States is equally forlorn. If manufacturers pull out of China, they are more likely to go elsewhere in Asia. And even if some manufacturing does come to the United States, this gain will be outweighed by the job losses stemming from Trump’s tariffs, which raise costs for industries that use Chinese inputs. In short, Trump isn’t helping the American workers he claims to speak for. Instead, he is battering the rules-based international system that offers the best chance of constraining China.

Phases in economic history are remembered by their labels: the go-go ’60s, the stagflationary ’70s and so on. The current populist era in the United States will turn out no better than populist projects elsewhere: in Britain, where a self-harming experiment in deglobalization has dragged down the national growth rate; in Italy, where expensive promises to voters could bring on a debt crisis. So do not be surprised if the populists are temporarily popular: Popularity is what they crave most, after all. But recall that, everywhere and throughout history, the populists’ folly is unmasked in the end.

3) This is a great point, with NC’s post-Florence problems, “North Carolina’s Problem Isn’t Florence, It’s Poverty: The floodplains read like maps of inequality and race.”

4) I’m pretty sure I walk faster when I’m with DJC.  NYT, “Faster. Slower. How We Walk Depends on Who We Walk With, and Where We Live.”

People move differently when they walk in groups than when they walk alone. And their walking style is especially distinct when they walk with children, according to a fascinating new cross-cultural study of pedestrians in several nations.

The study, which also shows that men tend to walk differently with other men than with women and that some cultures may promote walking speed over sociability, underscores that how we move is not dependent solely on physiology or biomechanics.

It is also influenced to a surprising extent by where we grew up and who we hang out with…

Given this complexity, exercise scientists have long been interested in how we manage the physical demands of walking. In laboratory studies, they have determined that each of us has a particular pace at which we are most biologically efficient, meaning that we use the least energy.

In theory, this is the pace that we naturally would settle into when we walk.

But other, real-world studies and observations indicate that people rarely perambulate at their most efficient pace. Impediments such as crowds, streetlights and scheduling concerns affect walking speed, of course.

But even on uncrowded pedestrian pathways, people often choose walking speeds that are slower or faster than their physiological ideal. Men, for instance, tend to slow their natural pace when they walk with women who are romantic partners, a few past studies show, but hasten their velocity when walking with other men.

5) It’s cool that there’s a Raleigh teacher on the cover of Time’s cover story about under-paid teachers.  That said, I think it’s a real mistake to choose a teacher making $69,000/year as the face of under-paid teachers.

6) Good parenting advice (and for certain progeny of the blogger who read this) here from NYT– how to help teenagers embrace stress:

But the conventional wisdom is that stress does harm and so, accordingly, we should aim to reduce, prevent or avoid it. Not surprisingly, this negative slant on stress can shape parenting and also leave teenagers feeling stressed about being stressed.

“Especially within the last five years,” says Sarah Huss, the director of human development and parent education at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles, “we’ve seen a rise in the number of parents who feel that it’s their job to rescue their child from situations that are stressful.”

To reframe how we think about a phenomenon that has been roundly, and wrongly, pathologized, we should appreciate that healthy stress is inevitable when we operate at the edge of our abilities. Stretching beyond familiar limits doesn’t always feel good, but growing and learning — the keys to school and much of life — can’t happen any other way. [emphases mine]

According to Jeremy P. Jamieson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who studies how stress impacts emotions and performance, “Avoiding stress doesn’t work and is often not possible. To achieve and grow, we have to get outside our comfort zones and approach challenges.”

Stress is also known to have an inoculating effect. Research shows that people who overcome difficult life circumstances go on to enjoy higher-than-average levels of resilience. In short, achieving mastery in trying situations builds emotional strength and psychological durability.

How students themselves regard stress — whether they see it as positive or negative — has powerful downstream effects. Studies find that when faced with steep intellectual tasks, individuals with a stress-is-enhancing outlook outperform those with a stress-is-debilitating one…

Happily, studies also find that it’s not hard to convert people to the stress-is-enhancing perspective. To do this in my own work with adolescents, I liken the demands of school to a strength-training program. Everyone understands that lifting weights to the point of discomfort is the only way to build muscle; the process of developing intellectual ability, including the ability to manage the stress that comes with it, works just the same way.

In talking with teenagers, I matter-of-factly point out that their teachers should be giving them hard academic workouts, because that’s what will transform them from wobbly middle school colts into graduation-ready racehorses.

To be sure, some days will be light on challenge and others will feel overwhelming. But I try to reassure students by telling them this: If, on balance, they are feeling stretched at school and asked to step up to a new level once they’ve mastered an old one, then things are going exactly as they should.

7) Open tab for too long– Sean McElwee on the power of “Abolish Ice.”

The Voter Study Group also asks respondents whether undocumented immigrants make a contribution to society or are a drain on it. In 2011, 40 percent of white Democrats said undocumented immigrants make a contribution, 16 percent said neither and 31 percent said “mostly a drain” (the rest were unsure). By 2016, 61 percent of white Democrats said undocumented immigrants made a contribution, 10 percent said neither and 22 percent said mostly a drain.

The abolish ICE debate is a product of the way American policymaking has changed in our hyperpartisan age. Debates and dialogue hardly every occur across the aisle, but activists in each party form a collective vision, often when they are out of power, and implement it when they gain power. Though the Republican Party seems to think it can use the Abolish ICE movement against Democrats everywhere, the idea that it will provide a bludgeon in the midterm is a phantom. For one, ICE is rapidly losing popularity and political capital, with 49 percent of Americans expressing a positive view and 44 percent a negative view in recent Pew polling. That’s the lowest of any agency they examined. Even the I.R.S. has 57 percent positive views and 36 percent negative views.

Data for Progress also commissioned a national survey from YouGov Blue. We asked respondents, “Would you support or oppose defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and enforcing immigration violations like other civil infractions?” We found 32 percent of respondents in support and 38 percent opposed (with another 30 saying neither or they didn’t know). Half of Democrats supported defunding ICE (18 percent opposed) and among people under 45, 33 percent supported the idea and 27 percent opposed it…

8) Love this “Be Better at Parties” guide from NYT, especially the part on making good conversation:

3 TIERS OF GOOD CONVERSATION

Tier one is safe territory: sports, the weather, pop culture, local celebrities and any immediate shared experience (that free information Ms. Fine talks about).

Tier two is potentially controversial: religion, politics, dating and love lives. “Test the waters, and back away if they’re not interested,” he warned.

Tier three includes the most intimate topics: family and finance, buckets into which Mr. Post Senning includes health and work life. “Some people love to talk about what they do and their kids, but don’t ask a probing question until the door has been opened,” he advised. Those sorts of questions can also become exclusionary, so think about everyone involved in the conversation before you start.

Knowing the tiers can save you from making the most embarrassing faux pas, e.g., “I notice you’re not drinking, are you pregnant?” Note also that while “So, what do you do?” is a pretty common and acceptable question in America, in Europe it’s as banal as watching paint dry.

They’ll think, “Why would you ever talk about that?” Mr. Post Senning said. Instead of “What do you do?,” Ms. Fine suggested “What keeps you busy?,” which applies to people whether or not they have traditional jobs, are stay-at-home-parents or are currently employed.

Ms. Fine has another basic rule: “Don’t ask a question that could put somebody in a bad spot: ‘Is your boyfriend here?’ ‘Did you get into that M.B.A. program?’” Instead try: “Catch me up on your life,” or, “What’s going on with work for you?”

BE MORE INTERESTED TO BE MORE INTERESTING

Don’t head to a party with the intent of leaving everyone in stitches, unless perhaps you’re a professional comedian. Instead, as Ms. Aarons-Mele puts it, “Channel your inner Oprah.” This is especially helpful advice for introverts.

“If you just talk a lot you might get exhausted, but if you ask questions and listen and draw people out, they’ll think you’re a great conversationalist,” she said.

“For me it comes down to being aware that I should be more interested than I should be interesting,” Mr. Karia said. He brought up a study in which two researchers from the psychology department at Harvard University found that talking about yourself triggers the same pleasure sensation in the brain as food. “People would forgo money in order to talk about themselves,” he said. You can use this to your advantage simply by listening.

Mr. Ford wrote of this in his Medium post. At one party, he found himself saying: “Wow. That sounds hard,” after a stranger told him what she did for a living. It worked brilliantly. “Maybe a hundred times since I’ve said, ‘Wow, that sounds hard’ to a stranger, always to great effect.”

9) Presumably you’ve heard about the Flynn effect of IQ rise over the 20th century.  Now there’s evidence for an anti-Flynn effect of IQ decline.  Ruh-roh.

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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)

So far been pretty lucky with the storm here.  Power was out for about three hours yesterday morning (during which my kids drove me crazy), but other than that, pretty good.  So, you’ll actually have your (rare, these day) on-time Saturday morning quick hits.

1) Oh, to be a pharmaceutical executive and justify price-gouging with your medicine:

In the category of saying the quiet parts out loud, consider this statement by Nirmal Mulye, the chief executive of drug company Nostrum Laboratories: “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.”

Mulye was responding to questions posed by the Financial Times about his quadrupling the price of an essential antibiotic to $2,392 per bottle. The drug, nitrofurantoin, is used to treat urinary tract infections. It has been on the market since 1953 and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine for “basic healthcare systems.”

In his interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday, Mulye defended Martin Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who became the face of the industry’s profiteering in 2015 when he jacked up the price of a generic anti-parasitic drug needed by HIV patients by more than 5,000%. “I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told the FT. (Shkreli is currently serving a prison term on fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.)

This is a capitalist economy….We have to make money when we can.

2) Vox’s Zack Beauchamp with a long and depressing tale about Hungary’s gradual move from democracy to authoritarianism.  And the out-group scapegoating behind so much of it.

3) David French on the need to end “qualified immunity” for police and others to violate constitutional rights with impunity.

I’m going to start with a story that will break your heart. In the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, a young man named Andrew Scott was up late, home with his girlfriend. They were playing video games when they heard a loud pounding on the door. Alarmed, Scott grabbed a pistol and opened the door. He saw a man crouching outside in the darkness. Scott retreated, gun still at his side, pointing down to the ground.

Almost instantly, the crouching figure fired his own weapon. The encounter was over in two seconds. Scott lay on the ground, dead. The man who fired? He was a police officer. He was at the wrong house. Andrew Scott was a completely innocent man who had done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

As for the officer? Well, not only was he at the wrong house, but he had no search warrant even for the correct house, he had not turned on his emergency lights, and he did not identify himself as police when he pounded on the door.

The officer was never prosecuted. The state ruled that the shooting was “justified” — in part because it said the police had no obligation to identify themselves. Then, when Scott’s estate sued the officer for money damages, the court threw out the lawsuit. A panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Then last year the entire court rejected en banc review.

A police officer killed a completely innocent man because of the officer’s inexcusable mistake. He escaped criminal prosecution. And then he even escaped civil liability — because of a little-known, judge-made legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Sadly, this was but one injustice caused by this misguided doctrine. It will not be the last. But there’s a solution. Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

4) It is misleading to judge hurricanes primarily by maximum sustained wind.  Something involving total energy or total potential destruction would be better.  That said, this stuff annoys me:

Most people know that the bigger the category, the scarier and more notable a storm.

That rule of thumb has the benefit of being true: It was legitimately worrying when, earlier this week, Hurricane Florence seemed like it might become the first Category 5 storm to strike the East Coast north of Florida. Only 33 Category 5 storms have ever been observed in the Atlantic Ocean, and as President Donald Trump exclaimed last year: “I never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

But this rule can also guide families to ruin, especially if they make a survival decision on the basis of category. A family might decide to ignore an evacuation order since it’s survived a Category 4 storm before. But a storm can be scary and notable without having a high category. That’s because only one trait determines a storm’s categorial intensity: its maximum sustained wind speed.

I don’t doubt we can have better measures.  But the fact is no matter what measures we use, some people are going to act stupidly.  We should not base our measures or media coverage(!!) on the fact that some people will always act stupidly.  Pretty clear that we do with the media coverage.

5) The state of New York is ridiculously bad when it comes to it’s arcane voting laws and the end result is less participation for New Yorkers.  That really needs to change.  On the bright side, an excellent example of how institutional factors affect turnout for my PS 302 students.

6) Generally a fan of Fareed, but this is among his weaker efforts, “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Leaving aside the wisdom of the New Yorker festival disinvite, this is a huge mis-reading on Zakaria’s part.  It’s not about suppressing his ideas, but making the statement that they are beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse, due to their white nationalist elements.  Its not fear of the ideas, but rather that there should be some clear lines and that white nationalism is one of them.

7) Relatedly, this essay in the Economist on whether political correctness has gone too far is top notch:

Regardless of how it is labelled, its underlying idea is the same: that measures to increase “tolerance” threaten the liberal, Enlightenment values that have forged the West. Self-styled opponents of political correctness and proponents of free speech may find themselves (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When framed like this, it seems utterly reasonable to think that political correctness has the potential to be a menace. Moreover, some aspects of tolerance culture, particularly the actions of students—who frequently draw the ire of such culture warriors—are, in many cases, cloying and precious…

However, some easily-dismissed examples aside, the notion that political correctness has gone too far is absurd. That a man who boasts gleefully about grabbing women by their genitals, mocks disabled reporters and stereotypes Muslims as “terrorists” and Mexicans as “rapists” was able to become the leader of the free world should disabuse anyone of that notion. Indeed those who invoke “political correctness” often use it for more cynical means. It is a smoke screen for regressivism…

These phenomena—invoking “political correctness” as a fig-leaf for naked prejudice, and in spite of evidence to the contrary—find their most troubling embodiment in political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. [emphases mine] Mr Trump once stated that “the problem [America] has is being politically correct,” and sees himself as a corrective to that. Mr Farage, too, sees himself as a crusader against political correctness.

Both consider themselves to be “taking back” their respective countries from a varied cast of bogeymen: among them elitists, social justice warriors, Muslims and immigrants. Both seem to want to undermine the very institutions that preserve our rights and liberties.

At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.

8) I’m a huge fan of “next generation” nuclear power.  Let’s make it happen.  Nice article in Wired.

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real…

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

9) Apple is just done with small (i.e., non-huge) Iphones.  I love my SE.  This makes me sad.  This is actually the one thing that might eventually move me to Android.

10) Watch this Super pod of dolphins.  So cool!

11) Can’t remember if I shared Wirecutter’s guide to adult board games.  Bought Dixit and played it twice already.  The whole family loves it.  Already fans of 7 Wonders and Ticket to Ride.

12) Speaking of playing games, can we play our way to a better democracy?  Yes?

But not all play is created equal. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist at Boston College, studies the effects of “free play,” which he defines as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Guitar lessons and soccer practice are not free play — they are supervised and directed by an adult. But when kids jam with friends or take part in a pickup soccer game, that’s free play.

The absence of adults forces children to practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes with no help from a referee, and then vary the rules or norms of play when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take small risks, rather than assuming that adults will always be there, like guard rails, telling them where the limits of safety lie. Outdoor free play, in mixed-age groups, is the most effective way for children to learn these essential life skills, Professor Gray says…

By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers. These large increases do not just reflect a greater willingness to seek help; there has been a corresponding rise in self-harm,suicidal thinking and suicide among American adolescents and college students.

The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.

It’s easy to see how overprotection harms individuals, but in a disturbing essay titled “Cooperation Over Coercion,” the economist Steven Horwitz made the case that play deprivation also harms liberal democracies. He noted that a defining feature of the liberal tradition is its desire to minimize coercion by the power of the state and maximize citizens’ freedom to create the lives they choose for themselves. He reviewed work by political scientists showing that self-governing communities and democracies rely heavily on conversation, informal norms and local conflict resolution procedures to manage their affairs with minimal appeal to higher authorities. He concluded that self-governance requires the very skills that Peter Gray finds are best developed in childhood free play. [emphasis mine]

13) Even though my daughter is a good reader, we’re having a rough time actually getting her to read every day.  Maybe I should be making her practice math instead:

A large body of research has revealed that boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing and are often relatively better at these than they are at math, even though their math skills are as good as the boys’. The consequence? A typical little boy can think he’s better at math than language arts. But a typical little girl can think she’s better at language arts than math. As a result, when she sits down to do math, she might be more likely to say, “I’m not that good at this!” She actually is just as good (on average) as a boy at the math — it’s just that she’s even better at language arts.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s taking place in the minds of babes. But studies revealing developmental differences between boys’ versus girls’ verbal abilities alongside developmental similarities in boys’ and girls’ math abilities — combined with studies that show that among girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance — seem to indicate that something like the above dynamic might be going on.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind, that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.

It’s important to realize that math is, to some extent, like playing a musical instrument. But the instrument you play is your own internal neural apparatus…

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Take it from someone who started out hating math and went on to become a professor of engineering: Do your daughter a favor — give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)

14) Meanwhile, Amanda Ripley looks at why girls in the Middle East outperform boys by so much:

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

15) Even liberal political science professors can be racist.  Though, I’m damn sure I’ve never mistaken a Black female political scientist for the hired help and damn sure I never would.

16) Originalism is such crap and pretty much always just a pretext for reaching conservative decisions that fit with a judge’s ideology.  Always happy to read something making this case.

The problem with these appeals to originalism, and the impartiality they connote, is that they have not held true in practice. Which is why to critics, and I’m one of them, the label of originalist strikes us as a cover for imposing conservative value judgments.

Consider that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Scalia, voted to strike down huge swaths of constitutional law without historical justification. Together they invalidated state and federal affirmative action laws, campaign finance legislation, federal laws directing the states to help implement national programs such as background checks for gun purchasers, and many other important pieces of legislation without relying on persuasive originalist evidence.

Justice Gorsuch has only been on the court for a term and a half, but he has already joined with Justice Thomas (and the other conservatives) several times to strike down state laws without relying on originalist sources…

All of which is to say that, for these originalists, originalism didn’t figure very importantly, if at all, in how they cast their votes on some of the court’s most consequential recent cases. Instead, they used, for their own ends, the same type of values-based living constitutionalism that they and other conservative jurists and politicians typically decry.

17) And an interesting take on the politicized Supreme Court, “What’s the Point of the Supreme Court? If you know beforehand how justices will vote based on which president appointed them, then what’s the point of having a court that, in theory, operates above politics?”

18) Jonathan Bernstein is right about the 25th amendment:

If those close to Trump really think he must be removed from office, impeachment and removal are a better tool. The case for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and generally violating the oath of office may still not be so obvious that it demands congressional action. But impeachment has always been political, and it’s reasonable for Congress to take into account Trump’s general unfitness for office when it decides whether to move ahead. Meanwhile, impeachment has a lower congressional threshold, making it (relatively) easier than relying on the 25th. And it is constitutionally swift and sure, leaving no ambiguity after it happens. 3 It’s true that the anonymous op-ed writer seems at least as concerned with Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, especially on trade, than he or she is with the general lawlessness of the administration. But perhaps that’s just a message for Republicans who refuse to accept what all the other anonymous leakers have told us. At any rate, there’s no reason it should guide anyone going forward.

The bottom line is that the 25th Amendment simply isn’t adequate to the task of removing a president who remains in good enough condition to contest it and wants to do so. Regardless of whether impeaching the president is a serious question, talk of invoking the 25th, even if well-intentioned, is just misguided and dangerous.

19) Discovered this super-cool interactive power outage map today.  You can see the effect of the hurricane in NC and that things get dramatically worse immediately to the southeast of my home, Wake County.

Photo of the day

This is a recent animated gif satellite image.  I was confused at first, but then realized since it is the visible image, it is the sun rising over Hurricane Florence:

NOAA

Lots more cool satellite images here.

Hurricane moral panic (you can be too safe)

OMG what a frustrating day.  I should have been at NCSU teaching class like normal.  My kids should have been in school.  Today’s weather was cloudy, high around 80, and occasional winds 10-20mph.  Seriously.  That’s it.  Yes, there is a huge hurricane moving this way, but it is doing so slowly and in a reasonable predictable path.  To make a decision on Wednesday afternoon that it was going to be too dangerous for school today (and on Tuesday that NC State needed to close on Wednesday at noon) is an excess of caution.  Yes, you can be too safe.  If safety was all we really cared about, we’d never leave our homes and certainly not get in cars.  Life is all about managing acceptable risk and for Wake County Public Schools to decide it was too risky today was the wrong call and an excess of caution.  Had they simply followed the evolving weather forecasts (again, slow-moving storm), they could have realized yesterday that barring a nearly unprecedented shift in hurricane forecast, that the Raleigh area would be okay today.  It’s not at all uncommon for us to have winter weather really close to crippling freezing rain versus totally harmless 33-34 degree rain an they’ll wait to make the call at 4am if they have to.  But “hurricane!” and we have to decide now!

So, all the local schools and universities gave into the moral panic.  When they initially decided that school would be out after half a day on Thursday, I’m sure there were tons of panicked messages from parents about putting their kids at extreme risk.  Of course, even then, that extreme risk was 30-40 mph winds.  Not great, but sure not high risk.  NCSU canceled for Wednesday at noon (which was basically canceling all day based on morning class attendance I heard) and we’ve had two days of better-than-average September weather.  If they held off and then things really did get worse, there would still have been plenty of time to cancel and take action.  I’ll italicize again– it’s a slow-moving storm with quite accurate predictions for 24-48 hours ahead.  I had a nice enough day at home.  Played with the kids; figured out how to string a guitar, worked on an external tenure letter, but the non-faculty employees literally were not allowed on campus today and forced to use their leave that they were surely saving up for real vacations.

I know, I know.  It could have been much worse.  Predictions earlier this week had hurricane force winds coming to the Raleigh area.  But, we know that these longer-range predictions have incredibly high uncertainty and we know that when forecasts change, there is time.  Slow-moving.  Even the worst predictions were never suggesting central NC would be in a evacuation type situation.

Why did NCSU cancel prematurely?  I’m sure because UNC did.  Why did my son’s Wake Tech classes prematurely?  I’m sure because NCSU.  It’s just social contagion.  People hear “hurricane” “epic storm” etc., and seem to lose all ability to make reasoned, rational costs/benefit calculations.  Again, I’m not exactly talking about the coast here (sure, those people around Wilmington are more than entitled to freak out).  Nobody wants to be the one university or public school system “putting the kids in danger!” while the other systems exercise their “abundance (excess) of caution.”

Of course, as annoyed as I am in Wake County, the counties north of us truly have no excuse.  Even they canceled today.  Presumably, they thought, “well, we’re next to Wake and Wake canceled…” even though it was marginal at best that Wake should have.   Check out Vance and Granville here (north central NC)

Image result for nc county map

Meanwhile, check out these maps for wind and rainfall potentials:

[Image of WPC QPF U.S. rainfall potential]

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

Not exactly the stuff of which school cancellations should be made.  Honestly, if you just told people, “Weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” nobody would say “OMG cancel schools!”  Alas, tell people, “Due to Hurricane Florence, weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” and everybody thinks this is the most reasonable thing in the world.

When ranting about this to my kids today it struck me that it’s almost like how people lose all rational calculation with cancer.  Many cancers favor watchful waiting and less-invasive treatment, but so many people hear cancer and all they can think is “get it out!”  It seems that with hurricanes causing the weather– even if local conditions are far from hurricane like– people just can’t deal rationally.

Oh, and I know, chance that it could get worse all that.  But again, slow moving, and thus plenty of warning.

And, lastly, I wasted far too much time today arguing with Amazon over the package of mine they have seemingly lost.  I ordered it Monday for Wednesday delivery and they have the nerve to tell me the hurricane is why it’s not here.  It’s been in Durham– great weather and 20 miles away since Tuesday!  Every email/chat they’re all like “well.. hurricane” and I’m like “ummm, I live here and no.  If the Durham warehouse is telling you (back in India?) ‘hurricane!’ they are lying.”  My most recent email from them said they were evacuating employees.  Durham is not even under a Tropical Storm Watch (i.e., much less a Warning).

For the record, my Amazon package was an external battery charger so my son Alex can still watch Peppa Pig and Phineas and Ferb on his Ipad through multiple charges should we lose our power.  Now, if we do lose it and Alex ends up upset, I’ll be really mad.

Okay.  Feels damn good to get all that off my chest!

A blue wave in NC

No, not the storm surge.  But, if I had spent the time blogging this week that I have spent obsessively checking computer models of Hurricane Florence, I’d have had a good dozen posts for you.  Sorry.  Big fan of the Cyclocane site and the Weather Underground models summary.  Also, quite happy for the moment that I just make it into the “moderate” impacts, rather than “high” impacts region.

Anyway, leaving aside the storm surge that really scares me for my beloved NC beaches, might there be a blue wave in NC politics.  So, suggests this WP story, that features my friend, Julie von Haefen running for NC legislature just south of me in Apex, NC (NC-36).

Democrat Julie von Haefen, center, who is running for the North Carolina House, talks with Stefan Franzen, left, and his daughter Kirsten Franzen while canvassing last week in Apex, N.C. (Madeline Gray for The Washington Post)

So, how are things looking?

An unusual political battle is unfolding across North Carolina, where national and state Democrats have recruited an army of candidates and are spending millions of dollars on a campaign to loosen a years-long Republican grip on a state legislature that has turned an otherwise evenly split state into a bastion for some of the country’s most conservative measures. Among them: a limit on transgender access to bathrooms that was ultimately repealed under pressure from business leaders, congressional district maps that courts have ruled were designed to curtail the voting power of African Americans, and education spending levels that have sparked mass protests at the State Capitol.

“North Carolina has been a beacon in the South, and I had to try and stop this Republican leadership from tarnishing our brand,” said the leader of the campaign, Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has watched the GOP’s legislative super­majority override his vetoes 20 times since he narrowly ousted a Republican incumbent two years ago.

The effort reflects a subplot of the Democratic Party’s broader push to engineer a “blue wave” across the country in the November midterms — tapping into voter anger over President Trump as well as Republican policies on school funding, taxes and health care to chip away at GOP dominance in state capitals.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee plans to spend $35 million on state legislative races across the country, twice as much as in 2016, with hopes of flipping 15 chambers nationwide, according to a spokeswoman. The group’s Republican counterpart expects to spend more — over $45 million, according to a spokesman.

In North Carolina, where Democrats have recruited candidates in all 170 legislative districts for the first time anyone can recall, the party’s contenders are knocking on doors and holding town halls to persuade voters that Republicans hold too much power in Raleigh. Many Republicans, meanwhile, seem to sense that they are vulnerable and are emphasizing centrist positions on school spending and health care. Both parties, and many outside groups, are planning to blitz the airwaves with ads for the next two months.

Democrats say they are encountering enthusiasm on front stoops and at volunteer recruitment events — a sign, they say, of a building voter backlash against GOP policies.

Alright, let’s go NC Democrats.  But, then this is pretty sobering:

Democrats hold just 45 of 120 seats in the North Carolina House and just 15 of 50 seats in the Senate. While they face steep odds in their quest to win the legislature outright, some Republicans here have begun to acknowledge their party appears increasingly likely to lose the veto-proof supermajorities that have been key to much of their success in thwarting Cooper. [emphasis mine] For that, Democrats must pick up just four seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. If they do, Cooper has promised to check the Republican agenda with his veto pen, try to expand Medicaid and try to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission to put an end to gerrymandering.

Ummmm, ending an absurd super-majority (damn are these legislative districts gerrymandered) is not exactly a blue wave.  That’s really a pretty low bar.  But Democrats really do have the energy and enthusiasm on their side.  If not for the state gerrymander, I suspect we’d almost surely get a Democratic legislature.  But, gerrymanders are good because Republicans are good.  Or something like that.

Anyway, we’ll see, and I did love seeing my friend’s campaign in the Post.  Looking forward to her as a guest speaker next time I teach Gender & Politics.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Not going to read the memoir of Steve Jobs’ daughter, but found the NYT book review really fascinating.

2) Ezra Klein on Republicans blaming Obama for the rise of Trump:

There are reams of evidence supporting this explanation, and I run through much of it in my piece “White Threat in a Browning America.” Obama’s presidency was inextricable from the massive demographic change that made it possible, and that continues to reshape American life and politics. But it wasn’t just demographic change that Obama represented. Obama, though a Christian himself, led an increasingly secular coalition, and was othered as a secret Muslim in the minds of many conservatives. Similarly, perceptions of economic change were filtered through broader views about Obama and the country: the political scientist Michael Tesler found that the most racially resentful Americans were the most economically pessimistic before the 2016 election and the most economically optimistic after it…

Trump, for all his flaws, ran a campaign based on clear positions and aspirations. He promised to build a wall; he said that our country was being weakened by louche, violent, parasitic immigrants; he said Obama was an illegitimate president with a forged birth certificate; he vowed to stop Muslims from traveling to the country; and in every speech, at every turn, he promised to turn back the clock, to make America great again.

That a crucial portion of the Republican electorate agreed with him in all of this is undeniable. What it says about them is often treated as if it is unspeakable — either because to state their beliefs clearly is insulting or because it just makes a bad political situation worse.

Trump did not create these voters. They long predated him — they were present in both Pat Buchanan’s and Ross Perot’s candidacies — but they were homeless in American politics, suppressed by the two parties for reasons of both principle and political expediency.

Trump, with his money, celebrity, and media-savvy, taking advantage of new communication technologies, a weakened Republican Party, and the rage that grew on the right amid the daily affront of Obama’s presidency, was able to break through the cartel and offer those voters the choice they actually wanted, and in the Republican primary, enough of them took it to make him the nominee.

3) My wife and I keep arguing about the utility of the Myers-Briggs personality test.  I’m definitely in the they are fun, but not really science, camp.

4) Evidence that ancient Siberians ritually (and selectively) sacrificed dogs:

Choosing which animals would live, work, and reproduce is a form of selective breeding and an important feature of domestication, the study authors argue. As such, these human actions shaped the physical characteristics and personality traits of the animals that lived at Ust’-Polui.

The fact that some dogs were ritually buried while others were butchered suggests a complex set of beliefs regarding the place of dogs in society. Canines were not seen as a homogeneous group. Researchers don’t know why they received different treatment, but these new findings suggest that humans only built an enduring relationship with the dogs they deemed valuable to the community, molding them to their needs and cultural specificities. “These diverse practices—whether intentional or not—drove the evolution and domestication of dogs in this region,” says Angela Perri, an archaeologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved with the study.

5) I’m honestly pretty curious for Nicole’s take on how much of the rise in transgender is social construction.  I don’t don’t the reality of any individual’s transgender experience, but it does strike me that there may be a strong social element in some cases.  The Economist:

Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of behavioural and social sciences at Brown University, was curious about what was causing these changes. She had come across reports from parents on online forums describing a new pattern of behaviour: adolescents without a history of childhood gender dysphoria were announcing they were transgender after a period of immersing themselves in niche websites or after similar announcements from friends. Her study suggests that these children may be grappling with what she calls “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”.

For the study, Dr Littman recruited 256 parents of children whose symptoms of gender dysphoria suddenly appeared for the first time in adolescence. These parents—Ms Miller among them—took part anonymously in an online, 90-question survey. Dr Littman’s findings suggest that a process of “social and peer contagion” may play a role. According to the parents surveyed, 87% of children came out as transgender after spending more time online, after “cluster outbreaks” of gender dysphoria in friend groups, or both. (In a third of the friendship groups, half or more of the individuals came out as transgender; by contrast, just 0.7% of Americans aged between 18 and 24 are transgender.) Most children who came out became more popular as a result. Rachel, Ms Miller’s daughter, says that when she told her friends, all of whom she had met online, they congratulated her: “It was, like, welcome home.”

Dr Littman thinks that some adolescents may embrace the idea that they are transgender as a way of coping with symptoms of a different, underlying issue. Almost two-thirds of the children had one or more diagnoses of a psychiatric or developmental disorder preceding the onset of gender dysphoria; nearly half had self-harmed or experienced some trauma. This is consistent with other studies of gender dysphoria when it sets in during puberty. Some people distract themselves from emotional pain by drinking, taking drugs, cutting or starving themselves. Dr Littman suggests that, for some, gender dysphoria may also be in this category.

6) I really don’t care who wrote the anonymous Op-‘ed, but William Saletan makes a good case for Jon Huntsman.

7) Given that Title IX reforms are coming from Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration, it is understandable that liberals would be hugely skeptical.  And, I suspect some of the reforms will be not good.  But Emily Yoffe is right that reforms move things in the right direction:

What happens when a morally reprehensible administration puts forth morally just reforms? We are about to find out. A New York Times report on Wednesday outlined the Trump administration’s proposed revisions of rules governing how campuses deal with sexual misconduct allegations (the official release is expected by October)…

On campuses, this type of discussion—or indeed any introspection about the excesses of Title IX, the unfairness of the procedures, and the damage done to both young men and women on campus—has been strenuously avoided. But institutions of higher education are exactly the place where such examination should take place. I understand the unease in embracing policies promulgated by a reprehensible administration. But reprehensible things have been happening on campus for too long now. The Trump administration is proposing needed reform that will go through the safeguards of public notice and comment. Those who seek to resist and discredit due process and fairness are only hurting their own cause.

8) This Slate article makes a pretty strong case that Brett Kavanaugh perjured himself before the Senate in earlier hearings.  All else aside, I really don’t think we should have Supreme Court justices who have done that.

9) Damn do I love this Alexis Madrigal history of modern capitalism through the perspective of the straw.  And a great 99PI on it.

10) Society generally thinks morning birds are awesome and night owls are lazy slackers, but this is actually largely genetically set.  Most people are somewhere in the middle, but I’m definitely towards the night owl side.

11) Given that I had three boys followed by a girl, my wife runs an on-line children’s clothing store,  and that I teach a class on Gender, I’m definitely interested in what gendered clothing has to say about our society. Really enjoyed this essay:

I eventually realized that, even in an age of female fighter pilots and #MeToo, boys’ clothes are largely designed to be practical, while girls’ are designed to be pretty. Now when I shop for Lia, I hit the boys’ section first. It’s not just about avoiding skinned knees, but also the subtle and discouraging message that’s woven right into girls’ garments: you are dressed to decorate, not to do.

Sarah has always loved girlie clothes (though, now it is shorts and t-shirts instead of dresses) and she has definitely noticed the lack of practicality when it comes to pockets, etc.

12) Love this Op-Ed, “The False Comfort of Securing Schools: The instinct to use law enforcement tactics to make parents feel less anxious about mass shootings is misguided.”

The instinct to offer parents immediate relief from their anxieties risks making schools into fortresses. For example, in Texas, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security used a recent hearing to focus on discussing “various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

What does transforming schools into “harder targets” really achieve? If anything, it tends to make students feel less safe. For example, in the aftermath of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, students had an intense and negative reaction to being required to use clear backpacks, expressing concern that these measures were creating a climate of mutual suspicion — “like jail,” as one student put it.

13) We’ve got a bunch of Constitutional Amendments on our November ballot here in NC.  Rather than needed Constitutional change, it’s just pure GOP politics.  This N&O op-Ed captures it:

For Republican leaders, this lack of awareness and general confusion about the impact of the amendments isn’t a problem. It’s their intention. Their strategy for gaining voter approval of amendments that range from needless to dangerous relies on voters being kept in the dark.

That’s why the most consequential amendments were written with vague and misleading language. And that’s why the legislature came back into special session to block a commission from adding clarifying captions about the amendments to the ballot. And that’s why a three-judge panel found the language of two amendment ballot questions so inaccurate that it ordered the legislature to rewrite them.

Informing voters exposes this partisan abuse of the amendment process. When the Elon pollsters read the commission’s official explanations of the amendments that will be distributed to local election boards, support for the photo ID and tax cap amendments dropped. But voters will have to seek out those explanations. They won’t be on the ballot.

14) This 12-year old girl is obviously a truly amazing soccer player. And her parents are obviously everything that’s wrong with over-involved sports parents.

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