Quick hits

1) While everybody has been complaining about the silliness of the dress being black/blue or gold/white, the truth is, this really is a fascinating case of the ambiguities of human color perception.  David Pogue’s take was my favorite.  And a good one in Wired, too.

The really crazy part for me is that on Friday morning this was totally white and I could not even imagine how it could be blue.  Then Friday afternoon when I showed my kids, it was blue.  Friday night, it was white again.  As of this later Friday night writing, it’s back to blue again.  Try as I might, I cannot see it as the dingy white I did just two hours ago.  Argh!  Crazy and awesome.

2) Not generally a big fan of Maureen Dowd, but she’s exactly right to question Jeb’s decision-making in relying on all his brother’s worst advisers.  Paul Wolfowitz– seriously?!

3) Our nation’s way over-reliance on solitary confinement truly is a national shame.

4) Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members is literally one of the funniest books I’ve read in years.  I read it in a day (can’t remember the last time I did that) and laughed out loud a bunch while I was reading it.

5) Really liked this take on David Carr’s death and the stigma of lung cancer.

6) I so hate the twitter guardians of decency who seem to take such pleasure in ruining lives.  Absolute worst part of the Lindsey Stone case was how the morons basically had no sense of humor or context.  Horrible and pathetic.

7) How twin studies show that whether you believe in God or not, is significantly genetic.

8) Enjoyed this story on Dianne Rehm’s advocacy in the Right to Die movement.

9) I think Scott Walker’s moronic comments that he’s ready to face down ISIS because he faced down public employee unions mostly just show that he’s not ready for primetime (of which we’ve had ample evidence of late).  Plus, there’s something about the set of his eyes that just seems wrong to me.

10) Will Saletan on how Obama should more forthrightly call out Republicans.  Not going to happen, but it’s nice to think about:

Please. If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.

11) Found this NYT story utterly fascinating about two French babies switched at birth and how they stayed with their non-biological families when the error was learned many years later.

12) St Louis is a great example of what goes wrong when a metropolitan area has too many local governments.

13) I’ve only watched three episodes of House of Cards and that’s all it will likely ever be.  As Alyssa Rosenberg writes, it insults our intelligence.  Also, from what I’ve seen it has basically no sense of humor (which is decidedly not the case from other great dramas of recent times).

14) If the Supreme Court actually makes the transparently political and nakedly partisan decision to strike down Obamacare subsidies, this could actually put Republicans in a real jam.

15) Our system of elected judges is truly one of the worst parts of the American system of government.  Easy pickings, of course, for John Oliver.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The justification for stripping this professor from tenure over a blog posting (scary!!) is pretty pathetic.

2) It would be nice if Supreme Court Justices actually had some real world experience.  Somehow, John Roberts has never even been pulled over while driving!

3) Jon Chait with a handy reminder that Mitt Romney predicted we would face economic doom if Obama were re-elected.

4) The NYT headline, “Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says.”  Only problem is the need to qualify with “report says.”  Sadly, this is just reality.  And the modern debtors prison part is especially distressing.

5) New Yorker’s Sarah Larson with one of the better takes on Jon Stewart stepping down.

6) Are you “gluten sensitive”?  Chances are pretty good it’s in your head.  Emily Oster in 538:

If you don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy and are experiencing distressing gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten — lack of satisfaction with your stool consistency, for example — there is something like a 1 in 30 chance that the gluten is potentially responsible. If you cut out gluten and it makes you feel better, great. Although it may all be in your head.

If you are cutting out gluten for any other reason, all that will happen is you’ll feel the same, but without the pleasure of bread that tastes like bread.

7) Frank Bruni on the value of a liberal arts education.  Personally, I’m still not sold on Shakespeare.

8) I’ve always been blaming my genes for the extreme picky eating of my kids.  In truth, it’s also clearly some pretty sub-optimal parenting in this regard.

9) Really  enjoyed Will Saletan’s takedown of those who argue Christianity never does any wrong.

10) Wow– the twitter police are just nuts!  Scariest part– the tweet that basically ruined Justine Sacco’s life was so obviously meant ironically, but the twitter police are apparently willfully obtuse.

11) Parents stop reading to their kids too soon.  David is 15 and we’re still going strong.  Often my favorite time with my kids each day– why end this before it’s absolutely necessary.

12) Fall and rise of US inequality in two charts.

13) Michael Tomasky on the need for raising the gas tax, and the greater need for actually leveling with the American people:

The second, broader point is this. Someday, some Democrat who wishes to take the reins of this great nation is going to have to level with the people and say look, you say in poll after poll that you want certain things—the preservation of Social Security without benefit cuts, more assistance for higher education, better day care, paid family leave. Fine. I want to give you those things. But they aren’t free. And the rich, even though they’re rich, only have so much to contribute. The top marginal tax rate just isn’t going to get much higher, and the corporate tax rate if anything should be lowered (although as loopholes are simultaneously closed). So you’re going to have to pay a little.

14) Meaningful tax reform just isn’t going anywhere in today’s Congress.

15) Investing in energy efficiency really pays off.  We should do more of it.

16) John Judis on the Republicans’ emerging advantage with white, middle class voters.  Well worth reading, here’s the conclusion:

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

Mega quick hits (part I)

1) Fascinating NYT Magazine piece on kids with Prader-Willi syndrome.  It basically turns off your brains ability to feel stated from food.  The sufferers perceive as if they are always starving.

2) Lawrence Krauss says, no, astrobiology has not made the case for God (I did not realize people were arguing that it has– but they are wrong).

3) Stop playing too long, boring games with your kids and play these instead, says 538.  I’m going to order Pocket Hive and glad to see our family favorite, Carcassonne, made the list of top games.

4) Really nice Op-Ed from Zephyr Teachout on big money corruption in US politics:

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

5) Maybe putting it a little strongly, but I really liked this piece entitled, “If you don’t understand poverty, you’re a sociopath.”

6) The Vatican has stopped releasing doves because they have been getting killed by other birds upon release.

7) The A-10 is an awesomely effective plane and super-affordable to use compared to others.  But it’s old technology and the Air Force wants to replace it with the astronomically more expensive F-35.

8) The social pressure people place on their peers to drink is so absurd.  Here John Ore shares all the strategies he uses to deal with this when he takes January off from drinking.  People just shouldn’t care so much whether their friends are drinking or not.  But they do.  As a mostly non-drinker– simply don’t like the taste of most alcohol and I really don’t need a drug for a social lubricant– this drives me crazy.

9) Five useful pieces of advice for raising nicer kids.  Definitely need to use this more on at least one of my progeny.

10) “Giant snow penis demolished at Texas Tech.”  The headline says it all– though there’s a nice video at the link.

11) I keep reading articles on why I should turn down my heat.  Sorry, hate being cold.  Actually much prefer being hot.  I suffered through graduate school freezing through the winters to save money, but have since rewarded my professor self with not freezing through the winter (much easier in NC than OH, too).

12) A universal flu vaccine may be coming down the pipe in a few years.  That would be awesome.

13) This profile of a Boston marathon bombing survivor trying to decide whether to amputate her one remaining (and very painful) leg or not was a tremendous read.  Long, but totally worth it.

14) Did cutting unemployment benefits lead to more people getting jobs.  Some economists think so.

15) I did not realize that there was such a controversy raging over “American Sniper” until quite recently.  I gotta say, this piece hoisting Chris Kyle by the petard of his own words, makes a good case.

16) Haven’t been hearing much about Russia lately, but it’s economy is in big, big trouble.

17) Some research shows that registering young people to vote before they turn 18 is actually a really effective way to increase turnout among 18-year olds.  Naturally, NC Republicans did away with our law that used to do just this.

18) Enjoyed this “medical mystery” account.  Kind of amazing the ultimate source of this retired nurse’s very serious medical problems.  (Sorry, not going to give it away– quite an interesting surprise).

19) The moment when the purpose of college went to simply getting a job– we have Ronald Reagan to thank.

20) For the moment, this oh-so-disturbing New Yorker article on how the Albuquerque PD just love to shoot people and get away with it is ungated.  Read it while you can.

It’s all women’s fault!

Love this post from Alexandra Petri on how Cardinal Leo Burke (formerly the highest ranking official in the US Catholic Church until the Pope had the good sense to knock him down a peg) is just utterly clueless when it comes to gender and society:

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is right.

Women are scary. Women are terrifying. They come into churches and bring cooties with them, and there is no ritual for casting out cooties. Demons, yes. Cooties, no. They come into boardrooms and take seats. They serve the altar — and they are good at it.

These are all alarming facts to consider…

He notes near the very beginning of the interview that “the radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized.”

Yes. That is what has happened. When I look at men, the first word that springs to mind is “marginalized.” (The second word is “Cumberbatch.”) Men can barely hold every single Catholic priesthood and they are a mere 100 percent of presidents and 80 percent of Congress. They are struggling on the fringes, barely able to bring home their $1.29 on a woman’s dollar. They are forced to spend paternity leaves being creatively stifled and drinking. Their lot, in short, is not a happy one. “Marginalized” sums it up nicely.

Burke observed: “The Church becomes very feminized. Women are wonderful, of course. They respond very naturally to the invitation to be active in the Church. Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.”

Well, sure. Women are wonderful. Only, if they’re involved, everything is RUINED. Other than that, they are great and it is wonderful that they are participating.

Burke noted: “The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural.” [emphasis mine]

Really?!  That last bit just gets me for its obtuseness.  You think just maybe all the reports of priests sexually abusing boys might have had just a little bit more to do with boys not being altar servers.

“I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.”

Of course, if it were only possible for these girls who were very good at altar service to grow into women who could experience their own vocations — no, of course, that would be silly, because they are girls, ew.

Again, seriously?  I’ve been to many a Catholic Mass.  There are no “manly virtues” in holding up a book for the priest to read from, etc.  Goodness.  Petri continues:

These are the words of someone who is afraid.

These are the words of someone who is petrified of women, who thinks that any gain or advance made by a woman comes at the cost of a place for a man. That it is impossible that having women involved in a thing might be good for everyone. That “feminization” means “making worse and weaker.” That manliness and womanliness exist in opposition, not in tandem, and that gains for one can only be losses for the other.

Women are scary if you think, as he genuinely seems to, that this is a zero-sum game.

If you think that once women come into places and do things, there won’t be room for men to come into those places and do things any more, you are scared that the power you have is undeserved. Or you would not be so desperate to keep the door closed.

Agreed.  What is telling and disturbing is that a man with such retrograde and just plain silly views rose to the very highest levels of the Catholic Church.  This, sadly, is the church and legacy of JPII.  Here’s to Pope Francis (who to be clear, has come out against women in the priesthood) changing that.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The James Fallows essay on “The Tragedy of the American Military” that is the cover of this month’s Atlantic was just fantastic.  It was also endorsed by a colleague of mine who is an expert in national security.  You should read it.

2) There’s a new education policy thinktank in NC.  That’s great.  Among their first pieces is a article about the perverseties of salary structure where many principals are paid less than the teachers they are leading.  I could not believe (I guess I should not have been surprised) how woefully underpaid principals here in NC are.

3) Among the many features of Finnish schools that are superior to American ones is that in Finland they recognize that children should not just sit at desks all day.

4) Dana Goldstein on the teenager brain of the Boston bomber and how that may factor into his trial.

5) A while back I complained that NC was instituting a 10 point grading scale (it’s currently) 7 next year, but that only starting with rising 9th graders.  Current 9th graders like my son would have the old grading scale for the rest of their days.  Very much to their credit, the State Department of Public Instruction actually listened to all the criticism and reversed their decision.  More A’s (I sure hope!) for David next year.

6) Seth Masket on the important and under-appreciated role of staff in state legislatures.

7) The Onion’s take on the 2016 Republican candidates.  I love that Hans Noel said that this makes about as much sense as any of the current pundit pronouncements.

8) Pope Francis making it clear that caring for poor people is not communism (and it if is, call me a commie).

9) To the surprise of many the KKK was once quite popular in NC.

10) Due to a number of strong reviews and endorsements, I recently read the first of the “Southern Reach” trilogy.  Boring!  Would have never finished if not for it being short.  I nonetheless wish I had stopped.  Yes, it is weird as hell (as this New Yorker post discusses), but that’s sure not enough for me.  I prefer books where things actually happen.

11) But, hey, as long as I’m mentioning books, I’m half-way through Phil Klay’s National Book Award winninng story collection about the Iraq War, Redeployment.  I never read story collections, but this is simply brilliant.  I decided I had to read it after Klay was on Fresh Air.

12) In case you needed research to know that reading to your kids is a good thing.

13) Lessons from Ruth Bader Ginsburg on balancing career and parenting.

14) Vox is wonderfully thorough on the issue of police wearing body cameras.  (Yes, they should).

15) Maryland police messed with the wrong family for letting their kids walk home alone from the playground.

16) Nice NYT Op-Ed on why pharmaceutical drugs cost so much (because unlike every other advanced nation, we refuse to place price controls and use the bargaining power of the government).

17) I’ve been meaning for a long time to do a post on this great NPR story on how poor people are regularly punished by losing their driver’s license for offenses that have nothing to do with driving (and it gets way harder to pay things off when you don’t have a car to drive to jobs).  I’ve failed long enough.  This is so wrong.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this from Tim Wu on the non-economic costs to passengers from the fee-based system airlines rely on now.  Here’s the key insight:

But the fee model comes with systematic costs that are not immediately obvious. Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.  [emphasis mine]

2) Stephen Pinker applies the thesis (the world is actually getting substantially less violent) to the chaotic and violent world of today and says, yes, we’ve still got it pretty good.

3) Nice piece on the partisan politics of education policy and how they have dramatically changed.

4) How to actually debunk false beliefs (it’s not easy).

5) Everything is awesome!  Sort of.  Or at least the economy is doing a lot better than people realize says Michael Grunwald.   Some nice analysis of why people are so negative.  The media.  And:

The other problem in acknowledging good news, not just for the press but for the public, is that it has come to feel partisan, like an endorsement of whoever occupies the White House. Republican leaders have exacerbated this problem by describing everything Obama has done — his 2009 stimulus package, his 2010 Wall Street reforms, his 2013 tax hikes on high earners, his various anti-pollution regulations aimed at coal-fired power plants, and most of all Obamacare — as “job-killing” catastrophes that would obliterate the economy. It’s hard to point out that the economy is humming along nicely without making those doom-and-gloom predictions sound ill-advised and over-the-top. Because they were.

6) Speaking of which, Matt O’Brien reminds of us a not atypical WSJ Op-Ed predicting doom– especially for the stock market– under Obama’s economic policies.

7) Loved this David Frum book review looking at the world wars and how America became an economic superpower.  I thought I knew my 20th century history in this regard pretty well, but I learned a lot.

8) Thought this was a great analysis of the Sony hack and understanding North Korea’s actions.

9) I’m certainly interested in the  sociology of e-cigarettes versus cigarettes, but was really fascinated to learn how the biology and physics interact to affect all this:

Along with replicating important sensory aspects of smoking, like taste, the biggest hurdle for the new devices, experts say, is delivering nicotine with the efficiency of a cigarette. Within seconds of taking a drag, a smoker feels the nicotine’s soothing effects because compounds that are produced when tobacco burns are perfectly sized to carry nicotine deep into the lungs allowing the drug to quickly reach the brain. Those same compounds, which are collectively known as tars, also cause cancer and other diseases.

By comparison, the type of vapor generated by e-cigarettes, experts say, is a less efficient carrier of nicotine than smoke. “There is more deposition in the mouth,” with vapor, said Jeffrey S. Gentry, the chief scientific officer of R.J. Reynolds, a division of Reynolds American.

10) I ended up reading several lists of best video games of the year.  I haven’t played much but the occasional Ipad game in a while.  Since I love first-person shooters and I’m on vacation, I decided I’d investigate a little more to find something older (since I don’t have a high quality graphics card) and cheaper.  Apparently, Half Life 2 is the best fps ever.  I downloaded it for $5 and have had a lot of fun when I should have been blogging.

11) I’ve also enjoyed Monument Valley for Ipad which is easily the most visually engaging game I’ve ever played.  It’s spatial puzzles also seem custom-made to appeal to my 8-year old son, Evan, who has had to help me through several levels after conquering the whole game in an hour or so.

12) Nice piece in the Atlantic about the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law in recent controversies (personally, I prefer the spirit).

13)  Vox interviews the anti Dr. Oz.

14) I took a number of really good classes on Christianity and the New Testament back at Duke, so I cannot say that all that much in this exhaustive (in a good way) essay in Newsweek about how amazingly misunderstood the bible is was a surprise to me.  But it’s a great summary of modern academic scholarship on the bible and how so much of modern Christianity gets it wrong.

14b) Also led me to discover this study I had never seen on how most Christians are actually far more like pharisees than what Jesus preached (not that this result surprised me).

Mega quick hits (part II)

1) The cluelessness of an NYPD police precinct tweeting out Jack Nicholson’s “you can’t handle the truth” speech is sadly telling about mindset of too many police.

2) Matt Yglesias wrote a nice piece about all that Obama has accomplished despite the fact that he is unpopular.  Seth Masket hypothesizes that Obama is unpopular because of all he has accomplished:

3a) So, this Bill Nye thing explaining evolution with emojis is mildly entertaining, but this headline claiming he “annihilates” creationists with the video is preposterous.  Ummm, no.  This didn’t even strike me as a particularly good summary of how evolution works.

3b) Speaking of evolution, Darwin was awesome, but his speculation on the mechanism was spectacularly wrong.

4) Love this collection of posters about the dangers of giving women the right to vote.

5) Apparently not knowing the difference between screening tests and diagnostic tests is leading some people to abort healthy fetuses.  Pretty disturbing.

6) My  first ever post from Modern Farmer!  Interesting story about the problem of invasive Asian Carp and the various efforts to try and address the problem.

7) PPP on football fandom in NC.  This result on college football particularly struck me– Duke is now more popular than NC State!  Wow, nothing like winning:

When it comes to college football loyalties in the state, little has changed from a year ago. 26% of North Carolinians say they’re UNC fans to 15% for Duke, 14% for NC State, 9% each for Appalachian State and East Carolina, and 4% f0r Wake Forest.

8) I had never thought about the issue of the lack of body hair on women in post-apocalyptic movies and TV, but it really does say something interesting about our society and gender.

9) I’m strongly considering switching over to T-Mobile at some point for my Iphone.  More than anything, I love how they are trying to disrupt the very consumer-unfriendly practices of the cell phone industry.  And so does David Pogue.

10) Really, really good piece by Tom Edsall on “welfare chauvinism.”  Like most all Edsall, long, but very educational:

The current failings of the American system are less the fault of politics per se than of the irreconcilability of the conflicts that politicians are forced to reckon with. Globalization and technological advance are driving punitive employment practices that no one has figured out how to address. Illegal immigration by men and women determined to raise their living standards is difficult if not impossible to restrain. Social-cultural issues like abortion and same-sex marriage involve competing moral absolutes that do not lend themselves to compromise. Perhaps even more significant, the causes of poverty and inequality remain bitterly disputed.

11) Looking back at former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney’s decision 20 years ago to leave coaching at the height of professional success to devote all his energy to Promisekeepers.

12) A nice piece on the Sony hack and why we should all be very afraid.  I also liked Chait’s take that defending American culture from North Korean attack is a job for the US Government– not a private corporation.

13) Took me a week to finally getting around to watching the brilliant Office: Middle Earth skit from SNL starring Martin Freeman.  As a fan of the British Office and an enjoyer (not really a fan) of Jackson’s Hobbit movies, this was oh, so good.

14) Speaking of which, really enjoyed this take– Peter Jackson must be stopped.  I’ll see the final Hobbit movie because I’ve seen the first two, but I’m not particularly looking forward to it.

15) No, you don’t really want to boost your immune system.

16) Watched Edge of Tomorrow yesterday.  Loved it.  Very much agree with these two reviews.  Also, David really loved it– I’ve got to watch Groundhog Day with him.

17) Jamelle Bouie on how America’s prison system makes it quite clear that, as a country, we are okay with torture.

18) Yet another fine NYT piece on the absolute insanity of medical prices (echocardiogram edition).

19) Wisconsin has put a pregnant woman in jail for using drugs before she knew she was pregnant.  Sometimes like is far too like The Handmaid’s Tale.

20) Really meant to give this it’s own post, but since it’s just sat there in an open tab for a month… Anyway, really nice article on the science of willpower and self control.



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