Quick hits (part I)

Finally.  The first Saturday 6am quick hits in seemingly forever (I’m thinking of your happiness DJC).  Enjoy.

1) Timothy Egan on why people hate religion (or at least the horribly hypocritical “Christian” Trump supporters)

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor,the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicalssay their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump,” said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior.

2) It is possible that estrogen protects women from mental illness and that they become more susceptible after menopause?  Quite interestingly, yes.

3) It is possible that my phone was listening while a friend was telling me about this research and that’s why the article showed up in my FB feed later that night?  Yes!  And creepy!

4) So, to raise a reader I should neither reward my kids for reading or punish them for not reading, but simply model my love of reading.  You know what?  That latter approach so does not work for my kids.  So, yeah, sometimes I just make them do it.  And, hopefully, if they read enough they’ll actually realize reading is awesome.  But, otherwise, it would be all Fortnite all the time.

5) OMG it’s awful and horrible what’s going on with radical Islamist women at a refugee camp in Syria.  Really, really disturbing read.

6) And a story in the Post, too, “At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule

7) Well, it dropped from the news really quickly (appropriately so, I think), but good work from Ben Wittes on the ridiculous anti-Comey report from the DOJ Inspector-General:

And there it is: the inspector general of the United States Department of Justice taking the position that a witness to gross misconduct by the president of the United States has a duty to keep his mouth shut about what he saw. Remember, after all, that Comey was a witness here as well as the former FBI director. That’s an extraordinary position for a law enforcement organization to take. If that is what FBI policy and an employment agreement required of Comey under the extraordinary circumstances he faced, so be it. I’m glad both were given their due weight.

8a) Yglesias is quite right, “The wild corruption of Trump’s golf courses deserves more scrutiny: Mike Pence is staying three hours outside of Dublin so Trump can make money.”  Democrats really need to sink their teeth into this.  Pretty much any other government employee would be fired over such egregiously corrupt behavior.

8b) Unsurprisingly, Chait is really, really good on this:

As an ethical violation, what’s notable about Pence going (literally) out of his way to stay at a Trump property is the meagerness of the stakes and the black-and-white clarity of the offense. Any government official below Trump’s rank who engaged in a similar offense would be fired. Just imagine if some assistant secretary was running a hotel on the side and told one of their subordinates to stay there on official business. They’d be fired on the spot.

It might seem strange for Trump and Pence to incur the awful publicity that comes with engaging such corruption in broad daylight, especially when the payoff — a handful of additional customers at a resort — is relatively small. But it is precisely that disjuncture between the brazenness and the scale that makes this episode significant. Pence is establishing the principle that Trump is entitled to profit from his office, and — far more importantly — his participation signals his culpability in the scheme.

Trump is generally an outgrowth of the party’s broader authoritarian evolution, but one way in which he is an outlier is his determination to blend his business with his public duties. Before Trump, Republicans never contemplated the idea that a president could run a private business while serving in office. Trump has blurred this line so repeatedly it barely registers when he does so. His staffers promote his daughter’s brand, he touts one of his resorts as a potential host site for next year’s G7 summit, his Washington hotel becomes a marker for foreign and domestic allies to pay tribute — the accretion of small violations gradually implicates the entire party establishment.

9) Some good PS research… why are young Evangelicals sticking with the Republican Party?  Abortion and the stickiness of Party ID.

10a) I read very few autobiographies or memoirs, but I read Andre Agassi’s Open upon the strong recommendation of my friend Laurel (i.e., “Elder” in all the “Elder and Greene” parenthood and politics research) and I’m really glad I did.  The New Yorker found it worth remembering 10 years later.

10b) Which reminds me.  I really should check out some from this NYT list of best memoirs of the past 50 years.

11) Loved this history lesson on the political party system in the 1850’s (I actually wrote a graduate school paper on the topic) for never Trumpers:

Ex-Democrats in the 1850s and 1860s didn’t have to become Whigs. They were able to join a new political party—albeit one dominated by former Whigs.

The shrewdest of today’s Never Trump Republicans realize that they face only one clean choice, and it is, of course, more jarring: Become Democrats or, like the prominent GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, become independents and support Democrats. Third parties have rarely taken flight in American history, and when they have, they rarely stay airborne for long.

Like the Iowan who felt as though he were “tearing [himself] away from old home associations,” Never Trumpers will find it a bitter pill to swallow.

But history offers them some consolation.

In the process of abandoning their party allegiance, most Democrats-turned-Republicans disenthralled themselves from political prejudices that no longer made much sense. In Congress, they avidly supported distinctly Whiggish policies like the Homestead Act, the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, all of which established a foundation for the country’s post-war economic growth. On some level, the war catalyzed this political realignment. But something equally fundamental may also have been at play: Having concluded that their former Whig enemies shared their fundamental commitment to the good of the nation, ex-Democrats freed themselves to imagine a larger space for political collaboration.

12) This was really interesting, “Why Euthanasia Rates at Animal Shelters Have Plummeted: A cultural transformation: Spaying and neutering are now the norm, and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.”

13) I think I might have mentioned (if not here, at least on twitter), my frustration with Elizabeth Warren rejecting nuclear power.  Henry Olsen, “Don’t trust candidates who ignore nuclear power.”  I know he’s forgotten these days, but hooray for Cory Booker.

14) Good stuff (as always!) from Thomas Edsall on the growing education split in the parties:

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.

This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.

The authors, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, political scientists at Duke and Ohio State, make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

For the record I took my Intro to Comparative Politics class with Kitschelt 27 years ago.

15) So, apparently there are three pillars of charisma:

Olivia Fox Cabane, a charisma coach and the author of the book “The Charisma Myth,” says we can boil charismatic behavior down to three pillars.

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

To master this pillar, Ms. Cabane suggests imagining a person you feel great warmth and affection for, and then focusing on what you enjoy most about your shared interactions. You can do this before interactions, or in shorter spurts while listening to someone else speak. This, she says, can change body chemistry in seconds, making even the most introverted among us exude the type of warmth linked to high-charisma people.

16) The miracle treatment for poverty?  Cash for poor people.  Seriously .

17) I had no idea that typical electric cars had a single-speed transmission!  This was really interesting.

To go with a 0 to 60 mph time under three seconds, 750 horsepower, and the ability to refill its battery in just over 20 minutes, the engineers at Porsche gave their all-new, all-electric Taycan a two-speed gearbox. And while that feature is unlikely to grace any headlines, it represents a potentially major shift for the electric car market.

Apart from the Taycan, every production EV uses a single-speed transmission, and gets along just fine. Internal combustion engines need a bunch of gears because they have a narrow RPM window within which they can operate efficiently. For electric motors, that window is much wider, so a single-speed works for both low-end acceleration and highway driving. It does require some compromise, and so EV makers favor low-end acceleration over Autobahn-worthy top speeds. Where most electrics top out around 125 mph (Tesla limits its cars to 163), the Taycan will touch 161 mph.

18) When Sean Trende says, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas” the GOP should worry about Texas.

19) Some interesting research:

There are many reasons people fail to act in environmentally friendly ways. Inertia, for some. Fatalism, for others. Then there’s the difficulty of fully grasping the long-term consequences of our actions.

New research points to another, more surprising disincentive for going green: the fear that others might question our sexual orientation.

As a 2016 study confirmed, environmentalism is widely perceived as feminine behavior. Even today, caring and nurturing behavior is associated with women—and that includes taking steps to sustain the environment.

But as this new paper points out, specific types of pro-environment behavior can align with either masculine or feminine stereotypes. It also reports that engaging in the “wrong” type of environmentalism can lead people to wonder about your sexuality, and perhaps even avoid socializing with you.

20) This really bugged me, “Whole Foods CEO on plant-based meat boom: Good for the environment but not for your health.”  Sure, I’m biased because I love the stuff, but I don’t think the point of this is that it’s health food.  Yes, it is highly processed, but nobody is mistaking fake meat for broccoli and blueberries and it surely lacks some of the bad stuff for you in real meat.  But far more importantly, relative to real meat, plant-based meat is so damn good for the planet.  That’s why I am happy to eat all I can.

21) This interactive NPR feature is really, really cool (and informative!), “PLASTICS
What’s recyclable, what becomes trash — and why”

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(Long lost) quick hits

Quick hits are back!

1) When I’ve read/heard of musical intellectual property violations, it’s typically pretty obvious.  Think Vanilla Ice meets Queen/David Bowie.  Or less dramatically, but still obvious, Sam Smith having Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” at half-speed.  I was not aware that these copyright lawsuits were not totally out of hand trying to claim that basic and universal musical features can be copyrighted.  Good stuff on the matter in Vox.

2) Interesting series on sexism in Political Science in the Monkey Cage, including this, “Political science professors assign fewer readings by women than by men. Here’s why that matters.”  Here’s the thing– I literally have no idea what percent of my readings are by men or women.  I pretty much pay no attention at all to the gender of the author except to make sure I write the name down correctly in the on-line reserve system.  Does that make me sexist?  Heck, when I publish articles, I don’t even know the gender at all of a bunch of our citations.

3) Right now there’s still lots of room for laws to regulate guns under the Supreme Court precedent of DC v. Heller.  This Linda Greenhouse column scared me, though.

4) So, this seems kind of nuts.  Apparently, there’s all these great tools to actually defeat ransomware and Europe is great at helping people use them.  But, the U.S.?  Not so much.

5) Queued up before David Koch’s death, the New Yorker on climate change and the Koch brothers in “Kochland”

“Kochland” is important, Davies said, because it makes it clear that “you’d have a carbon tax, or something better, today, if not for the Kochs. They stopped anything from happening back when there was still time.” The book also documents how, in 2010, the company’s lobbyists spent gobs of cash and swarmed Congress as part of a multi-pronged effort to kill the first, and so far the last, serious effort to place a price on carbon pollution—the proposed “cap and trade” bill. Magnifying the Kochs’ power was their network of allied donors, anonymously funded shell groups, think tanks, academic centers, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which Koch insiders referred to as their “echo chamber.” Leonard also reports that the centrist think tank Third Way quietly worked with the Kochs to push back against efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could have affected their business importing oil from Canada. Frequently, and by design, the Koch brothers’ involvement was all but invisible.

Others have chronicled the cap-and-trade fight well, but Leonard penetrates the inner sanctum of the Kochs’ lobbying machine, showing that, from the start, even when other parts of the company could have benefitted from an embrace of alternative energy, Koch Industries regarded any compromise that might reduce fossil-fuel consumption as unacceptable. Protecting its fossil-fuel profits was, and remains, the company’s top political priority. Leonard shows that the Kochs, to achieve this end, worked to hijack the Tea Party movement and, eventually, the Republican Party itself.

6) Nikole Hannah-Jones essay for the 1619 project really is a must read.  Do it.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

7) From the, “of course, because Republicans are in charge” files, “Tyson wants fewer government inspectors in one of its beef plants. Food safety advocates are raising alarms. Consumer advocates warn that the changes could threaten food safety by keeping red flags out of the sight of expert inspectors.”

8) Elaina Plott on Ken Cucinelli, the xenophobe now helping run Trump’s immigration policy:

Enter Cuccinelli. The former Virginia attorney general joined the Trump administration in late May. His background includes trying to eliminate birthright citizenship, questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and proposing to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense. Accordingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised the president against nominating Cuccinelli to any post that required Senate confirmation. To some, Cuccinelli’s arrival meant that Miller had, at long last, found the consummate ideological ally. (A representative for Cuccinelli declined my request for a phone interview with the director.)…

This week, Cuccinelli has gone on a media blitz of sorts to defend the administration’s crackdown on legal immigration. The new public-charge rule specifically allows the government to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants it deems a financial burden, based on an individual’s current or likely reliance on programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. In an interview with NPR yesterday, Cuccinelli went so far as to suggest a rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Would you also agree that … ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ are also part of the American ethos?” the host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli. “They certainly are,” he replied. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

9) Elizabeth Warren remains my favorite Democratic presidential candidate.  But, I wish she’d respect the fact that the Justice Department was pretty clear that Michael Brown was in no way murdered (the same Justice Department that reported on the horrible, systemic racism of the Ferguson PD).

10) Somehow, I never heard of this incident before.  In Republicans’ America where we are free from all those damn burdensome regulations, kids get decapitated on water slides.  Seriously

In 2012, the Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, together with the senior designer John Schooley, fast-tracked Verrückt’s construction to coincide with an appearance on a reality TV show about amusement parks. (They were also gunning for a Guinness World Record.) Although they had built rides before, neither Henry nor Schooley had a background in mechanical engineering. And according to state law, they didn’t need those credentials to deem their own ride safe. Unlike in the neighboring state of Missouri, water parks in Kansas do not require inspections by a state agency. Still, Henry and Schooley delayed the ride’s opening three times due to safety concerns.

11) To provide a little context for Jeffrey Eptstein’s prison death, Ken White’s, “Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison” was terrific.  And we should all be horrified at the quotidian inhumanity in our prison system.

12) As you know, I never tire of pointing out that health care producers (doctors and hospitals) are typically the real opponent of meaningful reform, not so much the health insurance companies.  But insurers are not great.  Pro Publica, “Health Insurers Make It Easy for Scammers to Steal Millions. Who Pays? You.”

Williams’ case highlights an unsettling reality about the nation’s health insurance system: It is surprisingly easy for fraudsters to gain entry, and it is shockingly difficult to convince insurance companies to stop them.

Williams’ spree also lays bare the financial incentives that drive the system: Rising health care costs boost insurers’ profits. Policing criminals eats away at them. Ultimately, losses are passed on to their clients through higher premiums and out-of-pocket fees or reduced coverage.

Insurance companies “are more focused on their bottom line than ferreting out bad actors,” said Michael Elliott, former lead attorney for the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in North Texas.

13) Nice little Slate feature on how to bond with your teenager. I was pleased to see I already do most of these.  And as damn surly as my 13-year old can be, I really appreciate that he’s still openly affectionate when he’s not busy rolling his eyes at me.

14) Dahlia Lithwick on the utter idiocy of our approach to guns:

Andreychenko didn’t die last week. Instead, officers took the man into custody “without incident.” That’s a tremendous surfeit of good fortune for a man who was apprehended both by an armed bystander and the police. By its very definition, white privilege is the ability to film yourself conducting a “social experiment” with military-grade weapons at the same chain where a mass shooting just happened, without being shot dead in your tracks. Trayvon Martin wasn’t even granted the luxury of being allowed to conduct a “social experiment” with a bag of Skittles.

Instead, Andreychenko was charged with, basically, “scaring the people”—formally with “making a terrorist threat.” Presumably, he and all the other social experimenters will be free to go back to their laboratories of Second Amendment democracy just as soon as this latest mass shooting slips out of our minds. Springfield attorney Scott Pierson even told a local news outlet that Andreychenko might not have been arrested for the incident if it had happened before the shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton. “But because of those things [that] happened, a reasonable person would be fearful of an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle,” he said.

By this logic, Andreychenko could have … what? Waited a week and then tried his stunt then? Chosen a Kmart instead of a Walmart? Worn a lab coat? At what point would a reasonable person believe that “an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle” is just there to shop? A few years back, in response to a rise in men claiming First Amendment rights to mass around restaurants armed to the teeth, Christian Turner and I argued that it’s impossible to tell who’s doing performance art and who’s there to kill or terrorize folks. “Given how many people die every year as a result of gun violence, reasonable observers can’t differentiate between the AK-47 being brandished for lethal purposes and the one being brandished to celebrate freedom and self-reliance,” we wrote. “That’s why reasonable observers tend to feel intimidated and call the cops.”

15) Once the Amazon burns it’s not coming back.  This was a horribly depressing article, “The Horrifying Science of the Deforestation Fueling Amazon Fires.”

16) Always listen to Sean Trende, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas.”

Nationally, the 2016 election can be viewed as a contest that Democrats won in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, but lost in the rural areas.  In the lead-up to that election, prognosticators focused on changes in Democrats’ favor in the urban areas, but forgot just how many people voted in rural areas and small towns in many states. In particular, in states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Democrats’ weakness in rural areas and small towns overwhelmed their strong performance in the larger cities. In the Midwest, a near-majority of the votes are still cast in rural areas, small towns and large towns. The notable exceptions are Minnesota, where over 60% of the votes are cast in metropolitan areas, and in Illinois, which is dominated by metro Chicago.  Tellingly, these are the states that Trump failed to flip.

When people think of Texas, they think of rural areas. Cowboys on horseback, cattle roaming the plains, and giant ranches (complete — for people of a certain age — with J.R. Ewing in a Stetson hat). But while the Llano Estacado – what we might call “stereotypical Texas” – does cover a large swath of the state, it is relatively underpopulated.

The nature of rural America changes dramatically when one crosses the 100th meridian. Here, as famously described by John Wesley Powell, rainfall drops beneath levels required for reliable crop growth, so a flourishing rural population never took hold.  Unlike eastern states, states west of this longitude are better thought of as city states: Think of how Denver dominates Colorado, Phoenix dominates Arizona, Salt Lake City dominates Utah, and Las Vegas dominates Nevada.

Texas straddles the 100th meridian. Eastern Texas is actually an extension of the Deep South: It is wooded, humid, has a large number of small towns and cities, and has some rural African American population. The rest of the state, however, is more like New Mexico or western Oklahoma.  Much of the land is given over to ranching, and few votes are cast there.

Instead, votes are cast in the major metropolitan areas. In 2016, the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas combined for a majority of the vote in Texas. Donald Trump very nearly lost these areas for the GOP for first time in recent memory, receiving just 48% of the vote there. Despite winning the popular vote nationally by larger margins than Clinton, Barack Obama took just 43% of the vote here in 2012, and 45% during his landslide win in 2008.

17) Interesting analogy– today’s Republicans who know the reality of Trump and are just cowards as compared to Vichy French.

18) In a better world, we would have had more news coverage on curing Ebola.  That’s a big deal!  Nice Wired story on how the new treatments work.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum expands on Jared Bernstein’s four economic myths and adds one:

You can read the whole thing here, but the details are less interesting than his entirely correct conclusion:

Pegging the “natural rate” too high, ignoring the harm from exposure to international competition, austere budget policy, low and stagnant minimum wages — all of these misunderstood economic relationships have one thing in common.

In every case, the costs fall on the vulnerable: people who depend on full employment to get ahead; blue-collar production workers and communities built around factories; families who suffer from austerity-induced weak recoveries and under-funded safety nets, and who depend on a living wage to make ends meet. These groups are the casualties of faulty economics.

In contrast, the benefits in every case accrue to the wealthy: highly educated workers largely insulated from slack labor markets, executives of outsourcing corporations, the beneficiaries of revenue-losing tax cuts that allegedly require austere budgets, and employers of low-wage workers.

It’s funny how mistakes like this always seem to point in the same direction, isn’t it? And I’d add at least one more: that lower taxes on the rich are good for the economy. There is, at best, some thin evidence that this is true if top marginal rates are very high, but that’s about it. In the America that we actually live in today, there’s simply no reason to think that cutting taxes on the rich will have any effect other than the rich paying lower taxes and the budget deficit going up.

But don’t expect to stop hearing this anyway—or any of Bernstein’s other four examples. They’re just too convenient for the rich and powerful.

2) This from Nick Hanauer was really good in the July Atlantic, “Better Schools Won’t Fix America
Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.”  Alas, I was shocked that smart people could be so willfully naive on the issue of education.  But, motivated reasoning.  Damn.  At least Hanauer has opened his eyes to something I thought all liberals already knew (though, apparently not the super-rich philanthropic class):

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself…

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem. [emphasis mine]

3) OMG, how had I never heard of musical political satirist Randy Rainbow before this week’s Fresh Air.  So good.  Just watch some of these.

4) Drum again, on race:

For what it’s worth, this was mostly the conclusion of Republicans themselves, too. The famous post-election autopsy written by the Republican National Committee after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, said this:

In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white….According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country….The Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.

But there was always a glaring problem with this strategy, one that everybody was keenly aware of: reaching out to black voters would only work if Republicans also ceased their tolerance of white bigotry. In other words, they’d almost certainly lose votes on a net basis at first, which would mean handing over the presidency—and maybe much more—to Democrats for upwards of a decade or so. That’s just too big a sacrifice for any political party to make.

So instead they took another route: they went after the white vote even harder. In Donald Trump they found a candidate who wasn’t afraid to appeal to racist sentiment loudly and bluntly, something that simply hadn’t occurred to other Republicans. They never thought they could get away with something like this in the 21st century, and normally they would have been right: it would have lost them as many votes among educated whites as it won them among working-class whites. But after eight years of a black president in the White House, racial tensions were ratcheted up just enough that Trump could get away with it. Only by a hair, and only with plenty of other help, but he did get away with it, losing 10 points of support among college-educated whites but gaining 14 points among working-class whites.

The entire Republican Party is now all-in on this strategy. They mostly stay quiet themselves and let Trump himself do the dirty work, but that’s enough. Nobody talks anymore about reaching out to the black community with a spirit of caring or any other spirit. Nor is there anything the rest of us can do about this. Republicans believe that wrecking the fabric of the country is their only hope of staying in power, and they’re right. If working-class whites abandon them even a little bit, they’re toast.

4) Jamelle Bouie on the gleeful hatred at Trump rallies:

The chanting was disturbing and the anger was frightening, but what I noticed most about the president’s rally in Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday night was the pleasure of the crowd.

His voters and supporters were having fun. The “Send her back” chant directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was hateful but also exuberant, an expression of racist contempt and a celebration of shared values.

This dynamic wasn’t unique to the event. It’s been a part of Trump’s rallies since 2015. Both he and his crowds work from a template. He rants and spins hate-filled tirades; they revel in the transgressive atmosphere. The chants are their mutual release. Sometimes he basks in them.

To watch raucous crowds of (mostly) white Americans unite in frenzied hatred of a black woman — to watch them cast her as a cancer on the body politic and a threat to a racialized social order — is to see the worst of our past play out in modern form.

To be clear, the Trump rally was not a lynch mob. But watching the interplay between leader and crowd, my mind immediately went to the mass spectacles of the lynching era. There’s simply no way to understand the energy of the event — its hatred and its pleasures — without looking to our history of communal racial violence and the ways in which Americans have used racial others, whether native-born or new arrivals, as scapegoats for their lost power, low status or nonexistent prosperity.

5) Have we hit “peak podcast“?  Probably.  Just a ridiculous amount of great content out there now.  That said, this is definitely harder than it looks, as a lot of mediocre podcasters have learned the hard way:

There’s no available data comparing podcast formats, such as how many interview shows exist and how many are news programs or narrative journalism. But industry analysts and production companies say that so-called “bantercasts,” in which the host and guests chitchat for an hour or more, likely comprise the bulk of new productions.

“So many of these are just painful,” said Tom Webster, the senior vice president of Edison Research, which tracks consumer media behavior. “We revere the great interviewers, but it’s an incredible skill that nobody has. What did Terry Gross do before she had her own show? Well, she was an interviewer, not a marketer for a software company.”

6) Great satire from New Yorker, “This Password is Invalid.”

Thank you for creating your new online account! Please choose a password.

password: lovedogs

error: Password must contain at least nine alphanumeric characters, including one number.

password: ilovemydog2

error: Password must contain at least one hard-to-guess number.

password: ilovemydog8

error: Getting warm, but not quite.

password: ilovemydog88

error: Uh-oh. Getting colder.

password: mydogismybestfriend1

error: Yeesh. Password must be less sad.

7) For you, DJC, “Born to Walk Barefoot: Shoes protect our feet, but they also alter our strides and could increase the wear on our leg joints.”  I will say I love my summertime barefoot walks.  Though, when it gets too cold in October, back to the shoes.

8) OMG what a scam safe deposit boxes are.  Clear lesson– don’t actually put anything truly valuable in them.

9) Nice essay from Dahlia Lithwick on all the damage Trump is doing to the rule of law:

The rule of law is a curious thing. It is made up not only of the skeletal legal rules, the ability of the courts and other authorities to enforce them, but also a range of norms, precedents and assumptions—the tissue, ligaments and nerve endings that hold those bare bones in place. These too are, in practice, essential to checking the caprice of brute power, and ensuring justice is pursued without fear or favour. Had the transition lasted longer than a couple of months, there might have been an interesting discussion among conservative and liberal critics of Trump about where the threat would come from—might his White House literally refuse to do the courts’ bidding? Might it instead subvert or bully those courts? Or might, in the end, all the sound and fury of the campaign trail be seen off by America’s trusty old political culture and constitution?…

When we look for evidence of erosion of the rule of law, it is not necessarily to be found in the “Muslim ban,” or the new anti-abortion regulations, or the big showy policy changes, many of which will be halted in the courts. The erosion of the rule of law is both much larger and far smaller than any of those big-ticket actions. It is happening because the crash barriers of constitutional order as anticipated by the Framers—a free press, an independent judiciary, a congress jealous of its own prerogatives, independent government agencies—have lost public trust. The very nature of language and truth have become confounded and confused. Far more worrying than any single cruel policy or a host of bad life-tenured judges, will be the lasting Trumpian legacy of a public that no longer believes in rules, in laws, or in the soft tissue of democracy itself.

10) So, this is cool, “Team Sports May Help Children Deal With Trauma: Training, working hard and learning to win and lose help children develop resilience, experts say.”  Also, playing on and/or coaching a soccer team is so much fun :-).

11) I have to say, 1984 is probably one of my favorite books ever.  And for something written in 1948 it is amazing how relevant it is to the world today.  Nice essay from George Packer on the meaning of 1984 today.  Also, if you haven’t read it, you really, really should.  And it’s a really good read, too, not just something you need to feel obligated to read.

12) An interesting argument that we are doing elementary education all wrong by putting too much emphasis on reading comprehension and not enough on knowledge.  Not sure I’m sold on this, but definitely an interesting argument.

Sticks and stones…

Really enjoyed this NYT article on how to “bullyproof” your child.  Maybe, more “bully resistant.”  Especially since my 8-year old daughter could so benefit from the advice in here.  Honestly going to try role-playing this with her:

Searching for answers, I came upon the work of Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist, educator and author of “Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends.” His concept of the golden rule is to treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.

Following his online advice, I told my daughter: “If they say they don’t want to play with you, say very politely, ‘It’s a free country. It’s O.K. if you don’t want to play with me.’ Then find something else to do.”…

Mr. Kalman’s strategy differs from the approach favored by many schools in several ways: It avoids labeling a child as a bully (it’s an insult, like “wimp” or “loser”), but also advocates going to adults for advice or help with role playing. His method encourages kids to solve problems on their own rather than asking an adult to put pressure on the school to take the side of the upset child over the one identified as the “bully.” He also teaches children how to handle threats and situations where they are made to feel unsafe.

Of course, if a child is physically attacked, he deems that a crime and endorses calling for adult intervention.

“The message given today is that although sticks and stones can break my bones, words can kill me, but that is counterproductive,” Mr. Kalman said. If someone is committing a crime against you, go to the authorities. “But not because they’re insulting you or don’t want to sit with you at lunch.”

Don’t Punish Kids for Saying Negative Words

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Here’s the part I love and will so try to implement.  Not because my daughter is bullied, but because she so easily allows others to provoke her:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on.

2) They have been making themselves upset.

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying.

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop. [emphasis mine]

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

I definitely find this interesting in how it speaks to larger issues about whether we are actively harming our kids by trying to over-protect them.  It’s not simple:

The popular model of encouraging parents and educators to report and punish bullying often escalates to more aggression, according to Susan Kavich, a principal at Three Rivers School in Channahon, Ill., who uses Dr. Kalman’s methods.

Dr. Doris M. Greenberg, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Savannah, Ga., said “Of all the approaches to the problem of bullying, Izzy Kalman’s approach stands out.”

But many anti-bullying experts think Mr. Kalman’s scripts oversimplify things and call on a child who is likely to be upset to show outsize maturity and restraint.

Anyway, I think really reinforcing the lesson of “sticks and stones…” has some really value in that, ultimately, the person that controls whether you get upset, is you.  A good lesson for kids and adults.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Haven’t read all of it yet, but Emma Green on the future of Christianity in the Middle East is really good:

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

2) Among things I’ve seen all over twitter this week, but not so much news coverage, is the fact that Donald Trump is a big an of psychopathic mass murderers.  As long as they are in the U.S. Military.  Seriously.  The details about these war criminals he wants to pardon are just abhorrent.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular…

The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others. [emphasis mine]

3) Emily Oster on what evidence-based parenting reveals.  This is really good, “There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot.”

Except, it turns out that a lot of the things that get attention in these “optimize your baby” strategies do not actually seem to boost child outcomes. I’ve done a lot of research on this recently, and the overwhelming sense you get is that much of these investments do not matter…

How do we understand these contrasts — where, on the one hand, the first few years are the crucible of success and, on the other, the kind of investments that many of us obsess about do not seem to matter much?

The answer is that we tend to ignore the big picture. The differences we see by demographic groups in the United States — the inequality of outcomes for children from poor and rich backgrounds — are driven by a combination of vast differences in experiences.

Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter. [emphasis mine]

4) I wanted to find something good on regulatory capture for my public policy class in light of the Boeing 737 Max issue.  This is really good.

Last year, before Democrats took control of the House, Trump signed a Republican bill that began rolling back regulations on banks that had been put in place after the abuses that caused the Great Recession. He said the big banks deserve even more “relief” from regulators.

The administration has worked hard to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to police scams that were rampant before the 2008 banking crisis. As a result, enforcement activity has fallen dramatically.

This is happening across the intersection of big business and government, where risk of “regulatory capture” is always high. That’s when the regulated industries use their lobbying power to defang the agencies intended to protect the public. Sometimes it happens because the industry itself has the most expertise compared to the staff of the underfunded regulator.

Over the past two years, the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters have taken over the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dropped. This change includes fewer workplace-safety inspectors. Dozens of regulations in areas ranging from net neutrality to education have been rolled back or are headed that way.

Trump also rescinded an Obama administration rule that generally banned lobbyists for two years from going to work for regulators they had sought to influence. The potential conflicts of interest now are enormous.

5) It is actually kind of mind-boggling how rapidly major league breaking ball pitches have improved.

6) I knew North Carolina Republicans wanted to pass a bill for the fantastical situation of the attempted abortion born-alive.  But it’s ridiculous that they are making members– including sick ones– show up every day hoping to sneak it through because they don’t actually have enough votes.

7) Enjoyed this on how Raj Chetty has Harvard re-thinking it’s introduction to Economics course.  It does strike me that Chetty’s approach is far more valuable to the typical non-Economics major graduate than knowing how to plot supply and demand curves, etc.  And here’s where I call for my son who just finished his Econ course based on the mentioned Mankiw text to read this and weigh in in the comments.

8) Is the ability to have vegan foods available when you are doing your job fighting fires a human right?  Yes, says a Canadian firefighter.

9) I liked this– “What Game of Thrones Could have taught us about electoral politics.”

These are hard issues—legitimacy, counterinsurgency, propaganda, what wars do to civilians and combatants—in which “Game of Thrones” has been immersed. Robert’s Rebellion, which brought down the Mad King, was, we were told, based on a lie about the king’s son having kidnapped and raped a Stark. (The two were Jon’s parents, and secretly married.) The mere giving of credibility to the rumor that Cersei Lannister’s children with King Robert Baratheon were not legitimate set off the War of the Five Kings. Two of those kings were brothers, one of whom, Stannis Baratheon, tried for quick-kill fixes by murdering first his brother Renly and then his daughter, Shireen; the latter act caused the bulk of his troops to abandon him in horror—a reminder that the appearance of what might be called majesty is not irrelevant, even in a feudal system. Nor is the function of consent. (The power of the later-season High Sparrow and his religious followers provided another such reminder—before Cersei immolated them, anyway.) Power vacuums, in Westeros, tend to lead to a surfeit of competing claims. In the final episode, it produced a row of chairs, haphazardly inhabited, at the council where Ser Davos thinks it’s at least possible he’ll get a vote. Meanwhile, Grey Worm, who has real power, in the form of an army, seems to assume that he is disenfranchised, telling the others, “Choose, then.”

The solution that Tyrion comes up with represents a deep misunderstanding of the role of narrative in establishing legitimacy. The king, he says, should be Bran Stark—“Bran the Broken”—because he has the best story. He was pushed out of a window by Jaime Lannister, and survived, and can “warg” into—basically, psychically inhabit—birds, and thus fly. Indeed, Bran has, in his possession, all the stories, because he has become the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning that he can see into the past and also have visions. And what in the world, Tyrion asks, is more powerful than a good story?

That narrative power is real, as in the case of Shireen, but it came not from having a story but from telling it and persuading others of its truth. And we didn’t see a trace of that in Bran’s ascension.

10) The willingness of local governments to waste public money on millionaire sports owners is endlessly frustrating.  And endless.  Carolina Panthers edition.

11) Drum is right, “Donald Trump Admits He Doesn’t Really Want to Stop Illegal Immigration”

12) How the hell that humans ever get to Polynesia thousands of years ago anyway?  I’m not going to read either of these two books on the matter, but I really did enjoy learning more by reading this NYT review.

13) Having recently completed Frans de Waal’s Mama’s Last Hug, I especially enjoyed reading Ed Yong on how bonobo mothers intervene to improve their sons’ sex lives.

Bonobos live in mostly matriarchal societies, where females both occupy the highest ranks and form the core of social groups. If sons stick close to their mother, they’re more likely to end up at the center of a community, where more females sit. “That creates more mating opportunities,” Surbeck says. “It’s not that the moms physically drag their sons over. It’s more like a social passport.”

But mothers frequently took matters into their own hands, too. As Hanna did, they would stop unrelated males from interfering with their sons’ sexual encounters. They’d interfere themselves, stopping unrelated males from mating with other females. They’d gang up with their sons to evict other males from trees with lots of females.

Surbeck thinks that the mothers use these strategies as a way of furthering their own genetic legacy. They can do this by having more children of their own, or by ensuring that their children give them more grandchildren. They have little influence over their daughters, because bonobo females tend to leave home to find their own communities. Males, however, stay with their birth group, and especially near their mother. Even in the best-case scenario, a male bonobo can easily go through life without reproducing, and without a mother’s presence, the odds of his having a kid are about one in 14. To increase the size of her own dynasty, a mother needs to ensure that her sons have the best sexual opportunities.

And that’s exactly what the team has now found: Males who still live with their mother were three times more likely to sire their own children than those whose mothers had gone.

14) I consider it a personal failing that I still have not watched “Deadwood.”  It was really sad to read about David Milch dealing with Alzheimer’s.

15) Really interesting piece from an obstetrician on the reality of the “threat to mother’s life/health” exceptions on abortion:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”

My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.

16) I suppose I’ll give Netflix’s “Rim of the World” a try pretty soon (though, right now, spending my time catching up on “Chernobyl” and loving “Fleabag,” but really enjoyed reading about it’s place in the changed movie ecosystem:

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time, but now isn’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t

17) I had already queued this up as literally the dumbest electoral college take I had ever seen, “Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College” when I saw Smotus‘ succinct take, “The argument here is yes the Electoral College gives our minority group an outsized voice in presidential elections, but we deserve it because we grow food.”

18) This NYT magazine article “How Data (and Some Breathtaking Soccer) Brought Liverpool to the Cusp of Glory” was terrific.  A true must-read for my fellow fans of both soccer and data.  Also, interesting that even with a ton of data, it seems that far-and-away the greatest utility is simply in player personnel decisions and is not meaningfully changing the way the game is played (unlike, say, the NBA).

Why you should have four kids

Because it works so well for me!

Anyway, how could I not love this article,”What Number of Kids Makes Parents Happiest?”
in the Atlantic that makes the case for four as the optimum number of children?

Bryan Caplan is an economist and a dad who has thought a lot about the joys and stresses of being a parent. When I asked him whether there is an ideal number of children to have, from the perspective of parents’ well-being, he gave a perfectly sensible response: “I’m tempted to start with the evasive economist answer of ‘Well, there’s an optimal number given your preferences.’”

When I pressed him, he was willing to play along: “If you have a typical level of American enjoyment of children and you’re willing to actually adjust your parenting to the evidence on what matters, then I’ll say the right answer is four.”

Four does happen to be the number of children Caplan himself has. But he has a rationale for why that number might apply more generally. His interpretation of the research on parenting, which he outlines in his 2011 book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, is that many of the time- and money-intensive things that parents do in hopes of helping their children succeed—loading them up with extracurriculars, sending them to private school—don’t actually contribute much to their future earnings or happiness.

In other words, many parents make parenting unnecessarily dreadful, so maybe, Caplan suggests, they should revisit their child-rearing approach and then, if they can afford to, consider having more kids, because kids can be fun and fulfilling. No sophisticated math brought him to the number four. “It’s just based upon my sense of how much people intrinsically like kids compared to how much needless suffering they’re doing,” he said. Caplan even suspects that more than four would be optimal for him.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a proselytizer of the gospel of Caplan on having more kids because if you think they are too time-consuming, you are probably doing too much.

And, no, there is no scientifically-determined optimal family size (but, really, don’t just stop at two as it seems the vast majority of educated Americans do these days), but there is a nice round-up of the research on family size in the Atlantic article:

A handful of studies have tried to pinpoint a number of children that maximizes parents’ happiness. One study from the mid-2000s indicated that a second child or a third didn’t make parents happier. “If you want to maximize your subjective well-being, you should stop at one child,” the study’s author told Psychology Today. A more recent study, from Europe, found that two was the magic number; having more children didn’t bring parents more joy.

In the United States, nearly half of adults consider two to be the ideal number of children, according to Gallup polls, with three as the next most popular option, preferred by 26 percent. Two is the favorite across Europe, too….

The two-child ideal is a major departure from half a century ago: In 1957, only 20 percent of Americans said the ideal family meant two or fewer children, while 71 percent said it meant three or more. The economy seems to have played some role in this shift. Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, says that the ideal during the Baby Boom was in the neighborhood of three, four, or five children. “That number plummeted as the cost of rearing children rose and as more women entered the workforce and felt a growing sense of frustration about being reduced to childbearing machines,” he said.

The costs of raising children are not just financial. “As a parent who prizes his own mental and physical health,” says Robert Crosnoe, a sociology professor who is also at the University of Texas at Austin, “I had to stop at two, because this new style of intensive parenting that people feel they have to follow these days really wears one out.” (He added: “I am glad, however, that my parents did not think this way, as I am the third of three.”)…

Parents may decide that a certain number of children is going to maximize theirhappiness, but what about the happiness of the children themselves? Is there an optimal number of siblings to have?

Generally speaking, as much as brothers and sisters bicker, relationships between siblings tend to be positive ones. In fact, there’s evidence that having siblings improves young children’s social skills, and that good relationships between adult siblings in older age are tied to better health. (One study even found a correlation between having siblings and a reduced risk of getting a divorce—the idea being that growing up with siblings might give people social toolkits that they can use later in life.)

There is, however, at least one less salutary outcome: The more siblings one has, the less education one is likely to get. Researchers have for decades discussed whether “resource dilution” might be at play—the idea that when parents have to divvy up their resources among more children, each child gets less. Under this framework, going from having zero siblings to having one would be the most damaging, from a child’s perspective—his or her claim to the household’s resources shrinks by half.

But this theory doesn’t really hold up, not least because children with one sibling tend to go further in school than only children. “Resource dilution is attractive because it’s intuitive and parsimonious—it explains a lot with a simple explanation—but it’s probably too simple,” says Douglas Downey, a sociologist at Ohio State University. “Many parental resources are probably not finite in the way the theory describes.”

A small example: Parents can read books to two children at once—this doesn’t “dilute” their limited time. A larger one: Instead of splitting up a fixed pile of cash, parents might start saving differently if they know they’re going to pay two kids’ college tuitions instead of one’s. “They put a bigger proportion of their money toward kids’ education and less toward new golf clubs,” Downey explains.

Anyway, lots more good stuff in there.  I’m sure I’d still be a super-happy dad with just David and Alex.  But I sure cannot imagine live without Evan and then without Sarah.  More kids means more love and so many new and different opportunities as a parent (piano recitals, dance recitals, barbie dolls, band concerts) and all sorts of other stuff we’d have missed out on with only two.  Of course, by this logic why not stop at 11?  That said, I strongly suspect most modern American families who stop at two could definitely handle one or two more kids and would be glad they had them.

Alright, soccer afficionados

Here’s what I posted on FB.  I got some good suggestions, though not quite as much as I was hoping.  You know what to to do…

Okay, so Sarah’s soccer team will be moving to 7v7 and having goalkeepers next year for the first time. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should be doing to improve my coaching approach so that 1) the girls get better at soccer while 2) maximizing success in games. So, here’s the key constraints—this is rec and most all the best players in terms of technical skills and aggressiveness will be playing at a higher level. So, I will be coaching not-particularly-aggressive girls with not-particularly-refined ball skills for 90 minutes a week plus the game. So, what can I do in that time that will maximize individual development and team success? More focus on passing? Teamwork in small numbers? E.g., Wall passing, pressure-cover, etc? General field awareness and positioning? Set plays? Something else? Short version: what’s the Moneyball approach to coaching U9 girls rec soccer next year? (While I’m at it, I’ve been thinking 2-3-1 on formation, but very much open to input there, too).

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