Better not talk to kids!

Via the (awesome) Free Range Kids blog.  As the parent of a very friendly child with special needs who will be an adult with special needs, I find this so upsetting:

A Philadelphia area man with autism is being held on $100,000 bail for talking to some children.

The man, Daniel Lee, 26, of Wayne, PA,  spoke to a group of three siblings, 8, 9 and 10 on Wednesday, asking them about their school and telling them he was on his way to a cabin in the woods. It’s unclear if he told the kids he wanted them to join him or not. (News accounts differ: See this and this.)

He walked off then found and talked to the kids again 20 minutes later near Wayne Elementary School, whereupon the children’s mom saw him and called the police. The police found the man in just two minutes.

Why so fast? My guess is because he was not a crafty creep trying to elude the authorities. He is a man with a disability that makes it hard for him to interact like a “normal” man around kids, which is apparently to never interact with them at all, but run in the opposite screaming, “Get away! I hate kids! I am not a predator!”

Now, WPVI “Action News” reports,  Lee is in jail, “charged with Attempting to Lure Children into a structure, which is in reference to his statements about a cabin, corruption of the morals of a minor, and harassment.”

Corruption of morals? Really? How, exactly? He doesn’t seem to have said anything salacious. And police say that at no time did Lee make any physical contact or even attempt to make physical contact with the children. Yet here’s how the news anchor played up the story:

“The big story on Action News tonight is word of an attempted luring at a Radnor Township school and police have a suspect in custody.”

My God, they make it sound as if the kids just barely escaped a depraved menace. As the “suspect’s” mom explained to the reporter — and police — Daniel has autism, and sometimes likes to talk to kids.

But, WPVI reports, “The police say…they can’t take any chances.” After all, here’s a grown man, living at home, with a part time job at a movie theater. That’s the big time! Why cut him any slack?  [emphases mine]

A psychiatric evaluation will be performed and I guess if it’s determined that Daniel’s parents are not making up their son’s diagnosis, perhaps the charges will be dropped.

But shouldn’t the charges be dropped for anyone facing such an accusation? Is it really a crime to talk to kids about a cabin in the woods if you never touch or attempt to touch or grab them? Wouldn’t that make it a crime to read “Little Red Riding Hood” to a kid who isn’t your own?

Daniel’s mom said that she will teach Daniel that what he did was wrong. Who will teach the police that it’s wrong to throw a man in jail as if he’s a rapist when he clearly has special needs and hasn’t done anything more than talk to some neighborhood kids? – L

Arghh!  This is just as stupid as the moronic zero tolerance(/intelligence) policies in schools.  Just look at the damn context!  I can well imagine my son when he’s an adult enjoying telling some kids that he’s going to look for a cabin in the woods, just as now he will happily tell any stranger that he enjoys going to Grandma’s house or that he really likes opening the garage.  Not taking any chances is doing a very simple investigation, figuring out this is a well-meaning adult with autism, and then spending time and resources on things that would actually keep the community safe.  I’m so sick of this “abundance of caution” crap as if any utterly stupid and inane action can be justified by “caution.”  And to imagine this poor guy with autism stuck in prison when all he did was think he was being friendly with some kids.

Gender and toys

Interesting story in the NYT about gender and children’s toys.  Something I notice a lot about in my house filled with Star Wars legos, dinosaurs, My Little Pony, Barbie, etc.  Anyway:

Aliceana and her parents, Brittany and A.J. Belling, make up one of many families that are fed up with the strict princess dresses for girls, action figures for boys stereotyping that they say still pervades children’s toys, clothes, costumes and other merchandise.

Retailers and manufacturers in the $22 billion toy industry, along with media companies, are starting to heed these concerns. Not only are toymakers more wary of marketing some items only to boys or only to girls, they and major store chains are creating gender-neutral or androgynous labels and store aisles.

In August, Target announced that it would no longer use signs to label toys for girls and boys in their stores. For the first time this year, the Disney Store is banishing girl and boy designations from its children’s Halloween costumes, labeling all outfits “for kids.” It also has switched to generic tags on lunchboxes, backpacks and other accessories.

Amazon no longer uses gender-based categories for children’s toys. Next spring, Mattel is introducing a line of action figures based on a new franchise, DC Super Hero Girls. And on Monday , the TV series “Supergirl” debuted on CBS.

“The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to,” said Jim Silver, the editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review website. “The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play with Easy-Bake.”

That said, I suspect this is mostly about labeling.  I have no interesting in pushing my daughter towards pink, being a princess for Halloween (again), loving Barbie and My Little Pony, etc.  She’s all over that on her own.  She’s also never had much interest in Legos.  Until this:


Some toy makers have made some efforts to change that rigid assortment — but not without controversy. Lego’s “Friends” line, introduced in 2012 to appeal to girls, upset consumers because of its pink and purple blocks, curvy figurines and themes like hairdressing and horse riding.

But, most telling:

And despite the recent changes, a stroll through the toy section at a Target or a Toys “R” Us is still a gender-specific experience. At a Target store in Brooklyn, there were the “Frozen” princess dresses, My Little Pony figurines, and the convertible-driving, glitter-haired Barbie dolls in one half of the children’s section. Then there were the separate aisles of Roboraptor robot dinosaurs, Star Wars spaceships and Nerf guns.

I’m totally for kids playing with whatever toys they want.  And yes, I know that society encourages boys and girls in different directions.  That said, I still do think there’s something more to my boys’ love of dinosaurs (and Sarah’s total disinterest– other than the “How do dinosaurs…” books) and her total love of Barbies, etc.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write a post where I could include the adorable photo above.

Missing something here

I’m no believer in genetic determinism.  But surely one’s genetic endowment matters.  A lot.  It’s kind of preposterous that this article on the struggles of adopted kids doesn’t even bring it up:

Being adopted can be one of the best things to happen to a kid. People who adopt tend to be wealthier than other parents, both because of self-selection and because of the adoption screening process. Adoptive parents tend to be better-educated and put more effort into raising their kids, as measured by things like eating family meals together, providing the child with books, and getting involved in their schools.

And yet, as rated by their teachers and tests, adopted children tend to have worse behavioral and academic outcomes in kindergarten and first grade than birth children do, according to a new research brief from the Institute for Family Studies written by psychologist Nicholas Zill…

Adoptive parents go to great lengths to do a great service. Why are their young kids’ behavior and test scores nonetheless worse, on average?

One clue might be attachment theory, which holds that a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving. That adult can be the adoptive parent, but the adoption itself might mean that the bond with the birth parent was disrupted or never formed, Zill writes. In the worst cases, these children might have experienced a traumatic event prior to their adoption. Early trauma can affect the parts of the brain that control mood and learning.

Actually, early childhood issues may very well be a lot of it.  But to completely ignore the fact that adopted kids probably come from less smart and/or disciplined parents and go to more smart/disciplined parents seems to me missing a potentially significant portion of the equation.  Lots of good research on this in my favorite parenting book.

Quick hits

1) Great Rolling Stone article on the Freedom Caucus.  Gives a really full and nuanced picture of these radicals.

2) Will Saletan with among the better takes on the Benghazi hearings.  And a good take from John Cassidy.

3) Not only most powerful hurricane ever measured, but reaching the theoretical limits of hurricane strength.  Amazing.

4) And a good Politco piece on the Freedom Caucus:


There hasn’t been a bloc like the Freedom Caucus for at least a century, one that refuses to work with its own party leadership while being steadfastly unwilling to reach across the aisle. “There have been groups that often broke from the party, but in doing so, they didn’t stand as a third force,” says former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards. “This group is very different.”

The Freedom Caucus, rather than breaking from Republican ranks, has forced Republican leaders to break from them. It’s a perverse sort of political jujitsu. One of outgoing Speaker John Boehner’s supposed crimes was that he went begging Democrats for help passing legislation when he couldn’t find the votes within his own caucus. Some rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, have made a separate peace with Democrats on reviving the Export-Import Bank. Normally the opposite would happen and it would be the insurgents reaching across the aisle. But that presupposes an interest in governing.

5) Seth Masket on why we should not be asking “who won?” after debates.

6) I must say, I agree with google on this.  I hate the idea of an app for every stupid website you want to go to.  Just give me a goo mobile website.

7) A James Hamblin video on our meatless future.  I really do think this is going to happen.  It’s just chemistry.

8) Weight Watchers might be doomed by all the free weight loss apps, but I still love it for basing it’s diet around choice and actual scientifically-based weight loss principles.  We’ll see if Oprah can save it.

9) Yes, it is time for baseball’s unwritten rules to be re-written, but that is not why the sport is losing popularity.  No, that’s because it’s boring and takes too long:

Baseball has lagged behind basketball and football in popularity for a number of reasons, but primarily because the game is too buttoned down. In many ways, baseball has been the team version of golf.

10) Finally, the truth on what makes for good college teaching.

11) I love Terry Gross.  I already lament whenever she retires because there’s just no other interviewer close.  And I loved this NYT Magazine profile.

12) Best piece I’ve read on explaining the reasoning behind the recent and important (and somewhat complicated) Federal Appeals Court decision on gun control.

13) You know what’s good for poor people, but not bad for rich people?  More poor people living near rich people.

Critics would do well to study Mount Laurel itself, where an affordable housing development that opened in 2000 has yielded benefits that have been chronicled in a study led by the Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey. The study, recounted in the book “Climbing Mount Laurel,” shows that an attractive, well-maintained affordable housing development in an affluent neighborhood can improve the lives of struggling families without jeopardizing local property values, precipitating more crime or becoming an economic burden on the community.

14) And how white children may benefit from integrated schools.

15) I used to think birth order was bunk.  Then I read some research in grad school and thought it was real.  Latest research says it’s basically bunk.

16) Jesus would probably not be such a big Tea Party fan.

17) Enjoyed this post on the Star Wars movies in light of the new trailer:

Coming to the original “Star Wars” trilogy at the right age is a minor blessing: young enough to be confused by the fact that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” looked like the future, or to be terrified by pretty much all of “The Empire Strikes Back,” or to think that tiny Teddy bears armed with sticks and rocks really might be able to defeat armored professional soldiers. But old enough to recognize the regret and redemption of Obi-Wan Kenobi, squirm at the flirty banter of Han and Leia, and understand just how magnificently terrible it would be to discover that Darth Vader is your father.

18) Those “social welfare” PAC’s that are supposedly about educating the public rather than electoral advocacy are about the biggest, most embarrassing sham in American politics.  Looks like the one supporting NC Senator Thom Tillis has been caught in its fraud.  I doubt anything will happen.  And the N&O on it.

19) The secret to a easy to remember but hard to crack password?  Poetry.

20) If you are betting, Hillary is way under-valued as a presidential candidate.  I really need to put actual money in this some day.  For now, I’ve just got lunch riding on it (in a bet dating back to 2013).



Marriage cure

Way back in the Spring I spoke to Rachel Cohen, the author of this interesting take on marriage and public policy.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything here, but I sure do love that she name-checks my book:

As political scientists Laurel Elder and Steven Greene have traced in their book, The Politics of Parenthood: Causes and Consequences of the Politicization and Polarization of the American Family, the Democrats’ family rhetoric began to veer to the right under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Since then, nontraditional families have been without a political champion, at least in presidential politics.

Nice!  So, onto the main point of the article:

If there were policy interventions that would lead people to feel secure enough to marry, as the Marriage Opportunity Council hopes, that would be great. Stable and loving marriages are to be cherished, and evidence suggests they are salutary for children. But the government is just not very good at promoting such marriages. [emphasis mine] And poverty corrodes them. Single parenthood and divorce have continued to increase under conservative rule as well as liberal. Today, more than 40 percent of American children are born outside of marriage.

That’s why making it easier for parents, married or not, to manage their responsibilities is so critical. Economic policies like universal child care, paid family leave, paid sick leave, living wages, child allowances, rent subsidies, affordable health care, and quality public transportation are examples of the types of reforms that we know would dramatically improve the lives of millions of families.

Good points.  I’m just not so sure we should give upon the government promoting healthy marriages.  Healthy marriages do tremendous good for the individual, the children, and society (that’s been a key plank in Jonathan Rauch’s compelling argument for same-sex marriage).  Basically, there’s a very nice liberal case laid out here for all the liberal policies government can do that, among other things, should help marriages.  And I think it can.  But this confidence in government disappears when it comes to the “conservative” idea that marriage should be encouraged.  We may not have a very good idea, given the known benefits of healthy marriages, I absolutely don’t think the government should simply give up on promoting them.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Richard Hasen on how the balance of the Supreme Court may well be the most important outcome of the next presidential election.

2) Drum on what Ben Carson really means when he says “political correctness.”

3) If we listen to Huckabee (and lots of Republicans on guns), e.g., we might also not try to do anything about Iran either.

4) Oh damn did I love this Vox interview with Brookigs scholar Jeremy Shapiro on Putin and Syria:

It’s a little bit depressing that on both sides we’ve gotten into this kind of machismo foreign policy, where we think that whoever appears strongest and most macho is winning. As if that has any meaning in international relations. This is not a pissing contest. Boldness rarely has benefits in international relations, particularly for status quo states like the United States. Caution is a good thing, and boldness is rarely rewarded…

The truth is that everybody’s critical of the Obama policy in Syria, and nobody has a better alternative. I’ve never fucking heard one. And if you heard something that even resembles a good idea on Syria in the Republican debate I would eat my head.

There is a lot of pressure in US politics, particularly under a presidential campaign, to “do something,” to look tough. And one of the advantages of being a powerful country is that you can do stupid things for a long time and it won’t affect you that dramatically.

So we have a history in this country of doing things that aren’t good for us, but we don’t suffer on the scale that some countries experience. So the Vietnam War, we survived it pretty well — the Iraq War, ditto. We have the possibility of doing that again [in Syria]. It won’t be the fall of the American empire if we do, but how many times can you make these kinds of mistakes?

5) Not surprisingly common beliefs held by anti-immigration folks have little connection to reality.

6) The latest study does not link breast feeding with a child’s IQ (quite importantly, this controls for mother’s socio-economic status).

7) Big Steve on the lameness of all the pro-gun arguments.

8) Great Onion headline: “Man Can’t Believe Obama Would Use Tragedy To Push Anti-Tragedy Agenda.”

9) On a related note, another sad retread (from a 2014 mass shooting) that’s really good, “There is no catastrophe so ghastly that America will reform its gun laws.”

10) David Brooks with some hard truths on our mass incarceration problem (i.e., it’s not just letting out non-violent drug offenders, etc.).

11) Seattle schools have responded to the racially-biased use of school suspensions by dramatically cutting school suspension.  Good for them.

12) John Cassidy on the Republican response to the shooting:

The Republican Party has long exercised a veto on any meaningful addition to the gun laws. And among its current crop of Presidential candidates, there is no sign of anybody breaking ranks. Reaction to the shooting ranged from nonexistent to predictably depressing. As far as I could see, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, the third- and fourth-place candidates in the polls, didn’t say anything on Thursday about what had happened in Oregon. In a message on Twitter, Jeb Bush called the massacre a “senseless tragedy.” Donald Trump, in an interview with the Washington Post, referred to it as a “terrible tragedy.” He also said, “It sounds like another mental-health problem. So many of these people, they’re coming out of the woodwork.” Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon, took a similar line. “Obviously, there are those who are going to be calling for gun control,” he said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” “Obviously, that’s not the issue. The issue is the mentality of these people.”

As if only America has people with violent mental illness.  No, only America has them routinely shoot up strangers.

13) North Carolina’s Republicans again taking the position that local government is better.  Unless local government wants to pass liberal laws, of

14) I so love how smart crows are.  Here’s a fascinating new study that shows that have (wisely) learned to fear death in their fellow crows.

15) Very nice piece from Seth Masket arguing that it is far too early to suggest that party elites no longer control nominations as The Party Decides crowd has been arguing.

Basically, it’s still really early. At this point in the 2012 election cycle, Rick Perry was the poll leader. It was Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani at this point in the ’08 cycle. Wesley Clark was heading to an easy Democratic nomination at this point in ’04. Oh, and Teddy Kennedy was beating Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination at this point in the 1980 cycle. It’s actually pretty rare for the poll-leader a year out from the election to get the nomination. So just by that metric alone, a Donald Trump nomination would be highly unusual.

16) You might have seen mention of the New Yorker article back in July about the massive earthquake and tsunami overdue to strike the Pacific Northwest.  Finally got around to reading it.  Fascinating!  And scary.  And a really well-written article.  Somebody needs to turn this into a post-apocalyptic (as it will be for that region) novel.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Sexual violence on campus is a bad thing.  But so is going to far in combating it for universities to ignore basic principles of due process.  Good to see the courts got it right where University of Michigan got it wrong.

2) Really enjoyed this post/video on the importance of aspect ratio in film.

3) Love this— imagine if the media covered alcohol like other drugs.  E.g.,

NEW ORLEANS — An ongoing drug epidemic has swept the US, killing hundreds and sickening thousands more on a daily basis.

The widespread use of a substance called “alcohol” — also known as “booze” — has been linked to erratic and even dangerous behavior, ranging from college students running naked down public streets to brutal attacks and robberies.

4) Are college lectures “unfair” to minorities?  I say no.  To say that sub-optimal teaching is noticeably less effective for students less prepared for college is one thing.  To call lectures unfair seems a bit much.

5) I suppose I’m not surprised the best jobs require you to be a people person.  Also, this advantages women.

6) Just came across this great piece from a couple years ago looking at the failures of American education in a comparative perspective.

7) You”ll surely be shocked as I to learn that changes to tax policy in NC’s latest budget are regressive.

8) It should also be noted in the Ahmed Mohamed case that it was a violation of the 14 year-old’s civil rights to deny his request to have his parents there.  I’ve already told my 15-year old never talk to the police without me.

9) Garrett Epps on what’s worth celebrating about the Constitution on our recent Constitution day.

10) When all my NoVa friends’ kids started school after labor day, I was so pleased to see that my home school system is actually listening to science and has moved back high school start times.

11) Great piece on how regardless of the famous singer, a huge portion of today’s top pop songs come from a bunch of middle-aged Swedish men:

Seabrook describes the pop sound this way: “ABBA’s pop chords and textures, Denniz PoP’s song structure and dynamics, ’80s arena rock’s big choruses, and early ’90s American R&B grooves.”…

More telling is the record executive Jason Flom’s reaction to meeting a young Katy Perry: “Without having heard a note of music, I was sure that Katy was indeed destined for stardom”—a statement that says more about the nature of the industry than about Perry.

12) Risperdal was a great drug for my son Alex for quite a while– really helped calm down the worst features of his autism-induced anxiety and misbehavior.  But he put on too much damn weight (though, not enough to grow breasts as roughly 5% of male patients did).  After a rough transition, he’s done well on the Clonidne patch.  But as for Risperdal, apparently Johnson & Johnson spent years trying to hide its side effects.  Kristoff is on the case.

13) Can we still blame the media for the Donald Trump phenomenon?  John Sides says yes.

14) What happens when Barbie meets Skynet. I imagine it won’t be long before Sarah is wanting the artificially intelligent Barbie.  Kim loved Barbie as a girl and gets such a kick out of sharing that with Sarah (that’s why it’s fun to have both genders of children– you are just more likely to share experiences from your own childhood).  Surely won’t be long before Sarah wants one of these.

15) Krugman on fact and fiction in the GOP debate:

I began writing for The Times during the 2000 election campaign, and what I remember above all from that campaign is the way the conventions of “evenhanded” reporting allowed then-candidate George W. Bush to make clearly false assertions — about his tax cuts, about Social Security — without paying any price. As I wrote at the time, if Mr. Bush said the earth was flat, we’d see headlines along the lines of “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.”

Now we have presidential candidates who make Mr. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. But who will tell the people?

16) It is a very, very bad thing for vaccines to become a politicized issue.

17) Nice little infographic (though, a little business-oriented) on common cognitive biases.

18) I’ve kept this tab on the “Coddling of the American Mind” Atlantic cover story about the changing  intellectual culture on college campuses open long enough without writing a post.  Honestly, it’s simply one of those things that if you are  the type of person who enjoys this blog (and you’ve made it down to the 18th quick hit, so you are) you should read.  So just do it.


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