Quick hits

1) I feel like I wrote something on the stupidity of American lawns pretty recently.  But given drought conditions in much of the country, lawns are dumber than ever.  And this is a nice story on it (that also links to a great 99% episode on the matter).

2) Speaking of wasting water.  Stop drinking bottled water.  Seriously.

3) And stop trying to be so original with your baby names.  Today’s uncommon may well be tomorrow’s top 10.

3) Re-thinking addiction not as a disease after all.  Really interesting take.

The title of his manifesto lays out Lewis’s basic argument, which he insists upon throughout the book. “I’m convinced that calling addiction a disease is not only inaccurate, it’s often harmful,” he writes (repeatedly). “Harmful first of all to addicts themselves.” The alternative, he asserts, is to call addiction what it is: a really bad habit caused by a constellation of variables and a brain that is receptive to compulsively reinforcing really bad habits. Most important, that habit is possible to break, not by becoming a “patient” getting medical attention in order to “recover” but by becoming a responsible adult with a solid vision of the future who has at last decided to break a destructive habit.

4) Destroying mountains for coal removal?  All good for this Southwestern, Virginia community.  “Ruining” the view with windmill farms?  Not so much.  Oh, and wasting an absurd amount of money to build a modern “technology park” in basically the middle of nowhere?  Oh, yeah, on that.  Tech workers love locating to extremely rural areas.  Surely a great way to attract business development.

5) Bojack Horseman is my new TV obsession.  Season 1, down.  Starting season 2 tonight.  How can I not love comparing Bojack to Mad Men.

6) Donald Trump as the political equivalent of chaff.  Love it.

Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things — yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.

7) Speaking of Trump, nice take from Yglesias comparing him to the far right movements in Europe.

8a) So much wrong about college football (but I just keep watching it)

All of which makes Gilbert M. Gaul’s “Billion-Dollar Ball” a hard and challenging book, but one that I hope college football diehards will join me in reading. Gaul, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post, forces us to confront what major college football has become. When we cheer for our schools and our teams, we’re also supporting a powerful and autonomous entertainment business that monetizes every aspect of the game, an operation that is not only divorced from the mission of higher education but that often undermines it.

8b) Much of which can be seen in Under Armour’s relationship with University of Maryland.

9) You’ve all read me brag about the great diversity in my kids’ schools, but sadly, Wake County is going in the wrong direction on this.

10) I hope some graphic designer was fired over this.

11) Nice essay on how we need to move past the idea that the ideal worker is one who sacrifices family life.

Mr. Groysberg and Ms. Abrahams found that “even the men who pride themselves on having achieved some degree of balance between work and the other realms of their lives measure themselves against a traditional male ideal.” They quoted one interviewee as saying, “The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.” Men who are counting their caregiving in terms of the last 10 minutes of a day are not playing a caregiving role on a day-to-day basis.

12) Time for the media to start treating the names of mass murderers like the names of rape victims?  There’s definitely something to be said for the idea.

13) Irony is when the guy wearing the “less government; more freedom” t-shirt has his butt saved by firefighters.

 

14) Love this metaphor in the case for teaching ignorance.

Michael Smithson, a social scientist at Australian National University who co-taught an online course on ignorance this summer, uses this analogy: The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

Mapping the coast of the island of knowledge, to continue the metaphor, requires a grasp of the psychology of ambiguity. The ever-expanding shoreline, where questions are born of answers, is terrain characterized by vague and conflicting information. The resulting state of uncertainty, psychologists have shown, intensifies our emotions: not only exhilaration and surprise, but also confusion and frustration.

15) Not the least bit surprised that a documentary about the evils of sugar is chock full of pseudo-science (not to argue that sugar is all great shakes, but anytime something gets demonized like this, you should probably be skeptical).

16) The Duke freshmen who can’t read handle reading a book with lesbian sex(!!) in it need to get over themselves.  Local columnist Barry Saunders with a nice take.

17) I’ve been meaning to give this Ezra Klein piece on how conservative media helped the far right take over the Republican Party it’s own post for a long time.  I’ve failed long enough.  To quick hits it goes.  Read it.

What’s public education for anyway?

This from John Green is three years old, but a friend shared it today with NC schools starting this week.  I sure wish our legislators were smart enough to understand it’s message.

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jon Cohn’s take while I’m at it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the doom and gloom?

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) How Jon Stewart changed media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits

1) How the year you born influences your political views.

2) How always blaming mental illness for mass shootings is a cop-out.

3) The BBC ranks the 100 best American films.

4) On how schools should be working on building non-cognitive skills.

5) The new chair of the NC GOP is completely nuts.  Here he has decided to link Hillary Clinton to the KKK.

6) Great Upshot piece by Brendan Nyhan on how to use and interpret presidential election polls.  This is going to be assigned reading for multiple classes.

7) On how the Southern Drawl is fading away in Raleigh.  Safe to say my two children born in the area don’t have the slightest hint of a Southern accent.

8) Yes, the mob justice for killer of Cecil the Lion (honestly, I think it is pretty awesome that he is losing his dental practice over this) is arbitrary and severe.  As German Lopez points out, so is very much of American criminal justice.

9) We bought What Pet Should I Get last night.  Not Seuss’s greatest, but good stuff.  That said, it’s pretty clear that he never had any intention of publishing it and that makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

10) Very cool NYT multi-media feature on a rogue fishing boat and the environmentalists that hounded them for thousands of miles.

11) No standing desks for me!  But some good evidence that just a little bit of movement interrupting your sitting can make a big difference.  Between my small bladder and short-attention span at work and my whiny/demanding kids at home, I’d like to think this probably works out okay for me.

12) Not all surprising, but certainly damning is the way the police officers in Cincinnati worked together to agree to a false narrative in the Dubose shooting.

13) Your long read: NYT Magazine feature on Republican efforts to roll back the Voting Rights Act.  Sadly, North Carolina plays a starring role.

Republicans against public education

Sure, it’s one thing for me to complain about how many Republicans in our NC legislature are actively against public education, but it’s nice to have confirmation from Republicans in this state who actually do care about public education.  And how incredibly sad to even have to right that sentence.  If there ever should be a bipartisan issue, it should be support for public education.  Sure, I can handle disagreements about how best to do it, but the fact that so many of our “leaders” don’t actually care about NC having good public education is beyond depressing.  Anyway, great article in the N&O on the war within the NC GOP:

About two years ago, the Republican-dominated southern suburbs of Mecklenburg County elected Paul Bailey to represent them on the school board. He was endorsed by a roster of GOP officials that included three state legislators.

That made Bailey’s comments on the Republican-dominated General Assembly this week all the more striking.

“I’m extremely concerned that we have a state that is dismantling our public school system,” he said. “This state is going in the wrong direction when it comes to public education.”…

“I’m a Republican,” Bailey told me after Tuesday’s board meeting. “But I’m just tired of this crap.” …

But the sharpest criticism of state leaders came from the board’s GOP members.

“This makes me laugh, it’s so ridiculous,” Rhonda Lennon said.

“We are getting ready to open our classroom doors. … And we don’t have a clue yet if we’re going to have to (lay off) 500 teacher assistants or try to hire almost 140 new teachers,” Tim Morgan said.

Larry Shaheen, a Republican political consultant from Charlotte, says the state’s Republicans are split between those who support public education and those who believe that private business can do better than government schools. [emphases mine] In a state that’s currently dominated by the GOP, he says, that struggle will shape the state’s future.

“Regardless of your political persuasion, North Carolina has a rich heritage of public education. You can’t just dismantle it because it happens to be built by Democrats,” said Shaheen, who worked on Morgan’s and Bailey’s campaigns and counts himself in the pro-public education camp.

Shaheen’s comments conclude:

Shaheen says national tensions, including teacher unions that demonize Republicans [ed: hmmm, I wonder why], fuel attitudes in Raleigh. But he says polls support his contention that in Mecklenburg and across North Carolina, belief in public schools crosses party lines.

“Republicans have got to get better on public education,” he said, “and if they don’t, the majority in Raleigh will be unsustainable.”

Alas, this is nothing new with the guys in Raleigh, but they still have solid majorities.  I think PT Barnum had something relevant to say that very much applies to this.

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