Quick hits (part I)

1) Maybe we should be prescribing more medical marijuana and less opioids.  Seriously.

So the evidence suggests marijuana is good for treating chronic pain without any huge side effects.

What about opioids? While there is research that opioids effectively treat acute pain, there is no good evidence for their treatment of chronic pain.

2) I was annoyed at this piece arguing that there’s no such thing as a “healthy” food, only “nutritious” food where the author claimed this was not just a semantic distinction.  No, really it is.  In common usage, kale is healthy and sugar cookies are not and we all know what that means.  So, sure a zoologist might complain when you say that a snake is “poisonous”– it’s not, it’s venomous, but we all know to stay away from the bite.

3) A critic’s tour of David Bowie’s musical changes.  Yes, Bowie did some really good stuff, but from my FB feed, you would have thought all the Beatles and Rolling Stones died at one time.

4) Here’s actually my favorite David Bowie appearance ever.  From the much under-appreciated Extras.

5) Max Fisher on Bernie Sanders’ problems on foreign policy.


6) Drum argues that Republicans are going way too easy on Donald Trump.  He seems to have a point.

7) It’s become quite the truism that NFL coaches are way over-cautious.  Still, an enjoyable analysis looking at recent playoff games.  And the last minutes of the Green Bay game in regulation was amazing.

8) Carly Fiorina turns pre-school field trip into anti-abortion event.

9) There’s so many damn https://news.ncsu.edu/2016/01/bertone-home-arthropod-2016/ in your home (and probably even more in mine).  NC State behind this cool research.

10) Drum on Trump and “two Corinthians”

Now, nobody with a brain has ever believed that Donald Trump is a Christian in any serious sense. I don’t think he could pass a third-grade test of Bible knowledge. But today’s gaffe, as trivial as it seems, suggests more: that he literally has paid no attention to Christianity at all. In fact, given how hard that is in a country as awash in religious references as the United States, it suggests much more: Donald Trump has spent most of his life actively trying to avoid religion as completely as possible. And yet, apparently evangelicals love him anyway. Go figure.

11) And some first-rate Trump satire.

12) The myth of limited resources to support NC education.

13) Maybe Gillian Anderson getting offered less money than David Duchovny for the new X Files is sexism.  Maybe he’s a more bankable star because of work since the X Files first aired.  I’m not sure, but don’t assume the former without at least addressing the latter.

14) Loved this NYT feature on scientific research on the origins of dogs:

Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.

Wolves mate for the long haul and wolf dads help with the young, while dogs are completely promiscuous and the males pay no attention to their offspring. Still, dogs and wolves interbreed easily and some scientists are not convinced that the two are even different species, a skepticism that reflects broader debates in science about how to define a species, and how much the category is a fact of nature as opposed to an arbitrary line drawn by humans.

15a) A look at Jane Mayer’s new book on the Koch brothers.

15b) And Mayer’s piece on their re-branding in the latest New Yorker.  I actutally had thought they were sincere about criminal justice reform.  Now I’m not so sure.

16) Haven’t watch Making a Murderer yet, but I find the controversy fascinating.  I really liked this piece in Slate:

So, it’s not bias that unsettles me. Rather, it’s bias posing as impartiality that makes me uneasy. Because so much seems to have been left out, I now have lingering doubts that the directors of Making a Murderer ever gave the other side a genuinely fair hearing.

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the directors of the superb Paradise Lost trilogy, were consistently upfront about the injustices they felt were committed against the West Memphis Three, yet they were still able to secure interviews with the investigators who wanted to keep the three behind bars. It was largely because of the global attention the trilogy received that those injustices were (at least partially) corrected when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were released from prison in 2011. Sometimes, artistic advocacy is a very good thing, but only when it feels complete.

Whether or not you loved or hated the evidentiary back-and-forth of Serial, Sarah Koenig excelled as an investigative reporter when it came to putting all her cards on the table. The detectives and prosecutors involved in Adnan Syed’s conviction declined to speak with her, but Koenig still managed to give the prosecution’s theory of the crime real consideration, as the jury in his trial would had to have done. That added depth and dimension to her story.

17) Loved this three-way loser ending of Jeopardy.  Seriously, nobody thought to save at least $1?!

18) Seth Masket on how Republicans can stop Trump.

19) Such a good little idea on programming your phone.  I went right ahead and did this.

20) How Charlottesville, VA moms got Whole Foods to enforce their no guns policy.

21) Had an open tab on this one for too long.  How poor parents raise their kids differently than middle-class parents.

22) Can we cure unpleasant emotional memories (and PTSD, etc.) with a drug?  Maybe.

23) Great Tom Edsall piece on the nature of Republican orthodoxy today.

On the meaning of the hijab

Good debate on the matter in the NYT (given my history on the subject– see #5).  Loved these two takes:

Asra Q. Nomani:

As mainstream Muslim women, we see the girl’s headscarf not as a signal of “choice,” but as a symbol of a dangerous purity culture, obsessed with honor and virginity, that has divided Muslim communities in our own civil war, or fitna, since the Saudi and Iranian regimes promulgated puritanical interpretations of Sunni and Shia Islam, after the 1970s Saudi oil boom and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

In the eight times the word hijab, or a derivative, appears in the Koran, it means a “barrier” or “curtain,” with spiritual, not sartorial, meaning.

Today, well-intentioned women are wearing headscarves in interfaith “solidarity.” But, to us, they stand on the wrong side of a lethal war of ideas that sexually objectifies women as vessels for honor and temptation, absolving men of personal responsibility.

And Nushin Arbabzadah:

Standing on the road that ran alongside the main school building, I watched mustachioed secret policemen carry about a dozen girls out of my school on stretchers. I was bewildered. The next day, at the regular morning assembly on the school field, our headmistress told us that the mujahedin had poisoned our drinking well because our girls didn’t cover their hair properly. She declared that from now on, the school would follow much stricter hijab rules. No more headscarves that loosely hung over our heads. No more thin scarves that more rebellious girls slung around their necks, “like snakes,” she said.

My school decided to appease, rather than defy and defeat, the mujahedin, or “holy warriors.” From now on I had to wear a white headscarf. I learned that the hair on my head was not just a battleground for an ideological war between the secular government and the mujahedin. It was also a political symbol that could be negotiated without my consent.

My hair didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the Soviet-backed Kabul regime and its enemy, the Western-backed mujahedin. My hair was the target of a proxy war.

Obviously, there’s some contrary views.  But I find these by far the most compelling.

Scalia: God hates Jews (and loves the Clemson football team)

In case you missed Scalia’s latest comments on church and state.  Most of it was stuff I’d heard before, eg., :

He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is “no place” in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.

“To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?” he said. “To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?”

Okay, fine.  Debatable points, but whatever.  Here’s whet so disturbs me:

He said God has been good to America because Americans have honored him.

Scalia said during the Sept. 11 attacks he was in Rome at a conference. The next morning, after a speech by President George W. Bush in which he invoked God and asked for his blessing, Scalia said many of the other judges approached him and said they wished their presidents or prime ministers would do the same.

“God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke his name we do him honor. [emphasis mine] In presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways,” Scalia said.

“There is nothing wrong with that and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that,” he added.

Ugh.  The problem with this theology is how quickly it becomes problematic when you give it just a little thought.  Most simply, the obvious corollary is that God is not good to those who do not honor him.  I don’t see how this theology does not lead to the logical conclusion that God punished the Jews with the Holocaust because they insufficiently honored him.  Meanwhile, what do you make of thoroughly secular nations such as Denmark, Norway, etc., full of happy, prosperous people?  And I guess all Dabo Swinney’s extremely public Christianity must be why Clemson is playing for the national title next week.  I guess all those other football coaches who thanked Jesus after victories just didn’t mean it as much.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox post on where Christmas trees come from.  Yes, Oregon leads the way, but we do pretty well here in NC.  In fact, I’m pretty much in the heart of NC Fraser Fir country.  Love driving by all the Christmas tree farms between my wife’s parents’ house and her grandmother’s house.

2) I’m not sure I ever disagree with Michael Specter.  Love this post on Climate change and nuclear power.

3) Really enjoyed this spoiler-heavy debate on whether Star Wars VII was too nostalgia-heavy.

4) Didn’t actually finish this whole piece on how Fox News brainwashes its viewers, but seemed to have some good stuff in there.

5) Allow me to culturally biased.  There’s something wrong with a culture (in this case Afghanistan) where it is seemingly okay for a mob to beat a woman to death for an imaginary crime.

6) Chait looks at five theories as to why Rubio isn’t winning, decides none of them are very good, and that Rubio will be winning before long.

7) Really enjoyed this Alan Sepinwall post in defense of the TV episode (even in serialized drama, there’s definitely something to be said for a well-crafted individual episode).

8) Anne-Marie Slaughter, always excellent on how we think about”work-life balance.”

9) Enjoyed this Vox post in defense of secular Christmas.

10) Totally disagree with Juliet Lapidos (from last year, but just came across it) that you should finish whatever book you started.  That’s horrible advice.  She far too simply elides the main reason not to:

The most common defense of book-dropping I hear is that because there are more good books than any one person could possibly read, it’s stupid to waste time on a dull or otherwise unsatisfactory novel. That argument makes sense if the novel is utter trash—if it’s so bad that the reader needn’t respect the author and would possibly get dumber by going forward.

But if a novel starts well and descends into trash, then it seems to me that it’s worth continuing to see if it gets better, or to see where the writer went wrong. And if it was bad from page one, then the whole “should I drop it?” issue is secondary. The best way to avoid wasting time on trash is to avoid trash entirely—i.e. to not start reading it. That shouldn’t be too hard. Skim a few book reviews, ask a few friends, flip through the first chapter before starting a novel in earnest.

When you do start a novel—in earnest—just finish it.

No!  Hello– opportunity cost!  Even if you argue that a book might get better.  There’s books that start great and stay that way.  Why spend you time on a book that might get good.

11) Enjoyed this Star Wars review from somebody who had never seen any Star Wars movies before.

12) Republicans really don’t want you to know who is spending money to influence elections.  This is no way to run a democracy.

13) A toddler I know has been climbing out of his crib and I mentioned a crib tent.  Apparently, they have been deemed too dangerous.  A little research led me to this Consumer Reports page where they were listed as dangerous items along with blankets and bumbos.  Maybe crib tents actually are dangerous, but I wouldn’t go by the judgement of CR when they say bath seats are dangerous simply because (obviously!!!) you don’t leave a baby alone in a bathtub.

14) I don’t know how I had missed this great Atlantic piece on the rise (and semi-fall) of the Red Delicious apple.  Not surprisingly, when you breed a fruit only for color and shelf life, taste suffers.  The wonder of it is that people kept buying them for so long (and still do!).

15) Gotta admit that I was surprised that half of all Americans live 18 miles or less from their mom.  I spent most of my adult life at least 250+ away.

Quick hits (part II)

1) In part of an effort to actually treat prisoners like humans, New York is doing away with Nutraloaf.

2) Unique features of Yoda’s syntax, this article describes.

3) How to actually persuade people when you argue with them– appeal to the issue through their— not your– moral framework.

VEDANTAM: So the data comes from Matthew Feinberg at the University of Toronto, and along with Robb Willer, they find that both Liberals and Conservatives tend to fall back on the moral frameworks of their own side when making arguments. When the researchers asked Liberals and Conservatives to make arguments – for example, they asked Conservatives to formulate arguments about why English should be the official language of the United States, overwhelmingly, Conservatives used the argument that having a united country meant speaking the same language. Very few appealed to a liberal moral framework by saying, for example, when people speak English, they are less likely to face racism.

The same thing happened with Liberals on the subject of gay marriage. Instead of painting same-sex marriage as a patriotic issue, most Liberals framed their support for same-sex marriage using arguments about fairness. Now it should be no surprise that when Liberals and Conservatives actually used arguments that spoke to their opponent’s moral framework, they were actually far more likely to persuade their opponent.

4) USB type C– technology of the year.

5) Bush v. Gore was a truly abysmal Supreme Court decision.  Always nice to have a reminder explaining why.

6) Apparently there are actually Sandy Hook deniers.  There’s a professor at Florida Atlantic looking to lose his tenure for falling into this category.  Yes, I believe in tenure and academic freedom, but even tenured professor should have some minimum expectation of connection to reality.

7) John Williams‘ (easily the best composer of the 20th century, for my money) movie scores ranked.  One of my favorite anecdotes– they seriously considered a disco score for Star Wars.  Safe to say it would not have been the same.

8) Damn it.  Now I’ve got to feel guilty for the environmental impact of watching Netflix.

9) Ana Swanson on why violence is contagious:

However, research into the brain and violent behavior suggests that exposure to violence — whether personally or through the media — is one important factor. Some people who study violence explain these recurring patterns with a simple metaphor: That violence is contagious and spreads like a disease. Just as tuberculosis spreads in the lung and cholera multiplies in the intestine, a violent experience or image can take hold in the brain, and be reproduced from there into real life. The more emotional and shocking the images — as were those that emerged from Columbine — the more contagious violence proves to be…

In practice, that could mean new reporting suggestions for the media on how to cover violent events like mass shootings. It could mean that average people, realizing that their brains are vulnerable to violence, choose to take additional steps to shield themselves or their kids. Or, it could mean rethinking how communities police themselves, putting more resources into detecting and stopping conflicts and violent events before they start, instead of punishing people afterward.

10) Say what you will about Paul Ryan, I do like the man’s beard.

11) With all the great reviews of the new Star Wars movie (I’m planning on going Monday), a nice reminder that the Phantom Menace actually got great reviews when it was new.

12) Vox on the huge growth in the popularity of podcasting.

13) Milennials are much more likely than older generations to see Christmas as primarily a cultural holiday (rather than religious).  I very much see it as both and enjoy it as both.

14) And if you see Christmas as primarily religious and have a nativity scene, here’s what’s wrong with it.

15) Sticking with Christmas– why cash is the worst gift (i.e., economists don’t really understand everything).

16) Fascinating story of the epidemic of Hepatitis C in Egypt and the huge effort now underway to treat it.

17) David Roberts with the best story I read on the recent climate deal.

18) Loved this essay on how and why English is such a unique language.

19) Several people posted this story about a false rape accusation on FB and said it was a must-read.  They were right.

Does Islam promote violence?

No.  It’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, just like the overwhelming majority of adherents of most religions.  Does Islam promote violence more than other religions?  It seems to be one would have to be willfully obtuse to say otherwise?  While it may have been popular hundreds of years ago, you don’t see a lot of people killing in the name of Jesus these days  (Westboro Baptism and similar groups are horrible, but they don’t encourage violence).  Or Buddha for that matter.  Or Judaism.  Yes, of course, most Islam is actually peaceful, but it is also eminently clear that, in the present world, unfortunately, Islam is far more likely to be associated with violence conducted in its name.  Now, does that mean Islam “encourages violence” more than other religions?  Maybe it’s a semantic debate, but it also seems to me that the answer is “yes” and I don’t think saying so makes me one bit of a religious bigot.  But apparently, we actually have quite an interesting– and new– partisan divide on this.  From a new Pew study:

Growing partisan gap in views of whether Islam encourages violence

Anyway, pretty interesting.  That said, if I were asked this survey question, I might actually answer “no” to suggest that I think Islam is fundamentally a peaceful religion, despite what ISIS and Al Qaeda believe.  But again, based on the real world we live in, it seems to me hard to argue that those 68% of Republicans aren’t right given the number of groups that do promote violence in the name of Islam.

Also in this study it is nice to see that a solid majority of Americans do not think American Muslims should face extra scrutiny (only conservative Republicans disagreeing):

Should Muslims be subject to greater scrutiny because of their religion?


Quick hits (part II)

1) I didn’t realize quite how old I am.  This cool 538 chart shows at what age your are older than half the population and how that has changed over time.  Suffice it to say, I am older than well over half the population.

2) Elizabeth Kolbert on Republican efforts to sabotage the US position at Paris climate conference:

That Republicans would try to undercut the Administration’s efforts to do something—anything—to reduce carbon emissions is no surprise. Willful ignorance about climate change has become a point of pride among elected officials in the G.O.P. Recently, the Associated Press asked a panel of eight scientists to assess the accuracy of Presidential candidates’ tweets on climate change using a scale of zero to a hundred. (The tweets were shown to the scientists without the candidates’ names, to guard against bias.) All nine of the Republican candidates graded got failing scores. Donald Trump, for instance, received a fifteen, while Ben Carson got a thirteen and Ted Cruz a six. “This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner,” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, who served as one of the judges, wrote of Cruz’s statements. “That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.”

But if the recent votes aren’t surprising, they’re still discouraging. They demonstrate, once again, the power of defeatist thinking. Congressional Republicans rail against the federal government; then, with their own antics, confirm their worst criticisms.

3) The New York Times’ front page editorial on gun violence.  And the less famous LA Times editorial.

4) Orrin Hatch doesn’t think much of that whole separation between church and state and that we should have state-based public religion.  Apparently, he’s ignorant of a topic I teach in Intro– selective incorporation.

5) If you haven’t you ought to watch this rather disturbing display of Islamophobia at a public meeting.

6) Great Josh Marshall post on how Trump not only pays no price, but is rewarded for his despicable behavior:

If you’re surprised that Donald Trump isn’t apologizing for mocking a reporter’s physical handicap and doesn’t seem to be paying any price for it, let me help. Half of rightwing politics is about resentment over perceived demands for apologies. Apologies about race, about fear of Muslims, about not being politically correct, about not liking the losers and the moochers, about Christmas, about being being white. This will hurt Trump about as much as going after Megyn Kelly did. Remember: his biggest applause line at the first GOP debate came for calling Rosie O’Donnell a fat slob.

About half the juice of far-right politics in this country is rooted in refusing to apologize when ‘elites’ or right thinking people reprove you for not being ‘politically correct.’

7) Mazda is bringing back the rotary engine.  Apparently, not such a great idea, but plenty of nostalgia around it.  For much of my junior year of high school I drove a 1981 RX-7

8) Can’t imagine that many of my readers care about East Carolina firing their football coach (I’ve followed his career as he as an assistant at Texas Tech back when I was there and we get ECU coverage in the N&O).  But I had to comment that ECU’s AD strikes me as delusional if he thinks he’s going to get a better coach.

9) Nice HuffPo summary of some interesting research on conspiracy theories done by some good friends of mine.


10) The President of Oklahoma Wesleyan got some attention for declaring the university “not a daycare.”  I did very much enjoy this response:

Most college students are allowed to leave their rooms whenever they want. You might say it’s one of the hallmarks of life outside day care. And Oklahoma Wesleyan does generously allow you to come and go as you please — during the day. But coming in late after curfew, or“sneaking out at night,” in the handbook’s wording, is another minor violation of school policy.

No dancing. No sneaking out at night. What then, exactly, can you do at this place that’s a university and “not a day care”?

11) You know how I hate tipping.  Nice NPR post about the good old days when people realized it was un-American.

12) Somewhat bizarre piece from George Will attacking the idea of progressive taxation.  The marginal utility of a dollar is not a complicated concept.  At some point some conservative economists called the case for it “uneasy” and that’s more than enough for Will.  He also is basically making a case for supply side economics using fancier words despite the fact that evidence is very much in on the failure of supply side economics.  This column is a great example of Will seems to be the erudite and reasonable conservative columnist for those who don’t know better.

13) Judge Posner sticks it to Scalia on his theocratic leanings.

14) Dana Milbank lets loose on Trump:

Let’s not mince words: Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.

Some will think this an outrageous label to apply to the frontrunner for a major party’s presidential nomination. Ordinarily, I would agree that name-calling is part of what’s wrong with our politics.

But there is a greater imperative not to be silent in the face of demagoguery. Trump in this campaign has gone after African Americans, immigrants, Latinos, Asians, women, Muslims and now the disabled. His pattern brings to mind the famous words of Martin Neimoller, the pastor and concentration camp survivor (“First they came for the socialists…”) that Ohio Gov. John Kasich adroitly used in a video last week attacking Trump’s hateful broadsides.

It might be possible to explain away any one of Trump’s outrages as a mistake or a misunderstanding. But at some point you’re not merely saying things that could be construed as bigoted: You are a bigot.

15) Time for the DEA to get smarter about marijuana.

16) How the norm of smiling in photos is cultural evolution that has gradually caught on.

The photographic smile, Kotchemidova argues, was a byproduct of an increasingly sophisticated advertising culture focused on telling cheerful stories about products. By the 1920s, companies were using pictures of smiling models to sell everything from canned vegetables to cars. Employing the same visual language to sell cameras, Kodak and others had — in a very meta way — installed the smile as one of the “standards for a good snapshot.”

17) Somehow I had never heard of this psychedelic drug– Ibogaine– that can help with heroin addiction by pretty much eliminating withdrawal symptoms upon quitting opiates.  Despite evidence for it’s efficacy, of course it is illegal in the US.

18) What the prosecution of the Chicago cop who shot Laquan McDonald means:

The repercussions for both officers, in other words, seem less the result of the criminal justice system working as it should, and more the product of politically motivated decision-making brought on by the court-mandated release of the McDonald footage. There’s something intuitively enraging about that motivation—why can’t our elected representatives do the right thing just because it’s right? But, viewed another way, there’s also something reassuring and exciting about it. Often, change happens not when the people in power have a moral or ethical epiphany, but when their constituents force them to make decisions that they might not otherwise make. Even under the most cynical reading of what happened in Chicago this week, officials were responding to the threat of a public backlash. That means the efforts of those invested in justice for Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd worked. It means the climate has changed to the point where powerful politicians know that—under some circumstances, at least—brushing the killing of citizens by police under the rug is no longer a viable option.

19) Jamelle Bouie on the gun control proposals of the Democratic candidates.   They’re not perfect, but they’d help.

20) Nice Q&A with Mann and Ornstein on what to make of the Republican party today.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 666 other followers

%d bloggers like this: