Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Amanda Taub has come to the same conclusion as me… Trump is using “political correctness” as an excuse for just being a jerk.

2) When you consider how common wisdom teeth extraction is, it almost has to be an overused medical procedure (I had mine out when I was 23 and it took me out of commission for the better part of a week).  What I really want to know is what are the outcomes in poor countries where people are not routinely having these teeth removed (though, surely there’s a lot of confounds with that).  Still, I cannot believe this many Americans have been this poorly served by evolution.

3) Loved this column on how the lead in Flint problem is a direct result of “small government” ideology.

4) Really interesting summary of a new book that focuses on American slavery as a slave breeding industry.

5) Michael Tesler on what a new poll shows about the populist appeal of Trump.

6) NPR story on the new research finding systematic bias against women in teaching evaluations.  I don’t doubt this is a genuine problem we should think about, but I’m still waiting for professors who get good evaluations to say they are worthless and professors with poor evaluations to admit maybe there is some value to them:

“That the situation is Really Complicated,” Philip Stark writes in an email to NPR Ed, and, he adds, it won’t be easy to correct for it. In fact, the authors titled their paper “Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness.”

These results seem pretty damning, but not everyone is convinced.

Michael Grant is the vice provost and associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He says there’s a lot of research supporting the effectiveness and usefulness of student evaluations.

“There are multiple, well-designed, thoughtfully conducted studies that clearly contradict this very weakly designed study,” he says, citing this study from 2000 andthis study conducted at his own university. His personal review of student ratings from one department at CU Boulder over nine years did find a bias in favor of men, he says, but it was very small — averaging 0.13 on a 6-point scale.

7) Teller of Penn & Teller was a high school Latin teacher before becoming a famous magician.  His take on how teaching is like performing magic.

8) Some common-sense recommendations for being more humane with how we wean cows.  Good for the cows; good for the farmers; good for the conscience of conflicted meat-eaters.  We really should do far more to ensure that our meat food supply is generated in a humane manner.

9) Really interesting piece on the evolution of single-sex bathrooms:

Today’s most-prominent arguments against inclusive restrooms are remarkably consistent with the Victorian notions that led to sex-segregated bathrooms in the first place. When the ideology of separate spheres for male and female, public and private, the market and the home reigned, the growth of women’s presence in public life led to the desire to protect women from the crude dangers of the male world. Among the legal effects was the 1873 Supreme Court holding in Bradwell v. Illinois that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny women admission to the bar on the basis of their sex, with a famous concurring opinion that stated, “Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” The same separate-spheres paternalism led to the designation of certain physical spaces for women apart from those for men, including bathrooms in public venues. These were safe spaces, if you will, tucked in a world in which women were vulnerable. As our society is currently experiencing a resurgence of paternalist concern about women’s sexual vulnerability—especially in the context of that great equalizer, education—it is no surprise that there would also be a new emphasis on the Victorian phenomenon of separate restrooms.

10) Great story on the Virginia Tech professor who was crucial to uncovering the Flint water problems.

11) I’m planning on reading Neurotribes and I expect to learn a lot from it.  That said, based on articles about the book and interviews with the author, the book seems to very much elide how substantially and severely very many people and families are affected by autism.

12) Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on foreign policy of Republican presidential aspirants:

Robert Gates , a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday . “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.” [emphasis mine]

13) Can’t say I’m all that surprised to learn that exercise far surpasses all other treatments in effectively reducing back pain.

14) Loved this John McWhorter piece on how it is not at all simple to separate a language from a dialect.  I had no idea.  It’s been sitting in an open tab deserving it’s own post for too long:

I have a Swedish pal I see at conferences in Denmark. When we’re out and about there, he is at no linguistic disadvantage. He casually orders food and asks directions in Swedish despite the fact that we are in a different country from his own, where supposedly a different “language”—Danish—is spoken. In fact, I’ve watched speakers of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian conversing with each other, each in their own native tongues, as a cozy little trio over drinks. A Dane who moves to Sweden does not take Swedish lessons; she adjusts to a variation upon, and not an alternate to, her native speech. The speakers of these varieties of Scandinavian consider them distinct languages because they are spoken in distinct nations, and so be it. However, there is nothing about Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian in themselves that classifies them as “languages;” especially on the page, they resemble each other closely enough to look more like dialects of one “language.”

15) Nice Pew summary with cool charts of demographic trends affecting politics.

16) Good piece on how Trump represents a disappearing America from Heather Digby Parton.

17) I want my genetically-modified mosquitoes!  A great way to fight mosquito-borne disease, but facing great resistance from un-trusting populations.  Yes, there’s uncertainties and things could go wrong.  If I lived in an area where people were regularly facing death and debilitation from tropical disease, I’d take the chance.

18) Just finished re-reading Animal Farm for the first time in about 30 years.  What an absolutely delightful and brilliant book.  My only complaint is that it was too short– I didn’t want it to end.

19) Nice Wonkblog summary on what scientific research can tell us about marijuana.  Short version: not a lot to worry about.  There is a reasonable debate to be had about legalizing drugs such as heroin and cocaine (and I’m increasingly of the legalize everything perspective), but with marijuana, it’s hardly even a reasonable debate anymore.  In a country where alcohol is legal, it is preposterous that marijuana is not. Also, the Wonkblog post on the research suggesting that marijuana does not, after all, affect IQ from teenage use (not that I’ll be giving it to my own teenagers any time soon).

20)And your Sunday long-read– terrific piece from John Judis on Trump, Sanders, and the meaning of populism in America.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff.  Let’s go!

1) A friend with a nice piece on the true story behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

2) Bill Ayers on America’s fear problem:

I make this point because the gap between the macro-level facts and our fears is enormous and seems to be growing larger. Contrast this to past periods in history when people were legitimately frightened of important things. In the early 1800s, for example, there was a worldwide epidemic of crop failures and famines (caused, as it turns out, by amassive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific that was barely noticed at the time). Thousands died of starvation, millions became refugees, and the political and cultural landscape of much of the world was rewritten. In Europe, authoritarianism made a comeback against the early revolutionary gains of the Enlightenment as people decided that freedom could be sacrificed for food and safety.

Compare that world to our time – and then to the rhetoric we hear every day. Donald Trump and Daesh do share something in common – they have found ways to elevate people’s fears, to paint a picture of a world gone not just wrong but horribly wrong, so wrong that radical and formerly unthinkable action must be taken. These dystopian views are so far removed from reality that those of us who don’t share them are left shaking our heads at the insanity of it all.

3) Vox on how America’s lead problem is far more than Flint.

4) Why are humans the only animals with chins?  (Who knew?!)  Good question.

5) On Rubio’s blinders when it comes to Cuba policy.

6) Texas 8th grader suspended for helping classmate during a serious asthma attack.  The people who did the suspending and the teacher who wanted to wait for the school nurse to answer an email should be out of jobs.

7) I’ve probably linked this before, but I was reminded of it in a conversation with a student the other day.  I first came across it in an article proclaiming it the best TV ad ever.  It sure is damn good.

8) Nice Molly Ball piece on why so many in the Republican Party loathe Ted Cruz:

But a Republican policy expert close to a number of top GOP operatives and donors insisted it’s not about Cruz’s style or his positions. It’s his disingenuousness—and inability to produce results. “He knows his tactics are bound to fail, but pursues them to debase his Republican colleagues under false pretenses and endear himself to the base as the only authentic conservative,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he runs an organization that does not endorse candidates. But the effort doesn’t result in smaller government or the end of Obamacare—all it achieves is drawing attention to Cruz. “He is incapable of delivering anything but theater,” the expert added.

9) A Pennsylvania judge was sentencing teenagers to jail in a money-making scheme.  Seriously.  Now that he’s been caught, that judge should never leave prison again.  I’d let out several drug dealers to make room for him.

10) How Jimmy Carter made the Iowa Caucuses what they are today.

11) If only we could regulate guns for safety like we regulate cars for safety.  The absolute worst part is that when people try to make safe guns, they are little ostracized by the gun nuts.

 

Sixteen years ago, after Bill Clinton’s administration announced a partnershipwith gunmaker Smith & Wesson to improve firearm safety, the National Rifle Association led a boycott of the company. Smith & Wesson had agreed to a number of safety requirements, including making trigger-locks standard and adding a hidden set of serial numbers to new handguns to make it harder for anyone to scratch off identifying marks. Other gun manufacturers blasted the company as a sellout. (Part of why Smith & Wesson agreed to the deal in the first place was because the federal government agreed to drop a number of lawsuits against the company in exchange for its cooperation. This was, of course, before Congress agreed to give all gunmakers protection from various litigation.)

The backlash nearly ruined Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of handguns. And before long, it had retreated from key parts of the deal. One aspect of the agreement that never came to pass: a requirement that gunmakers move forward with developing authorized-user technology—the same kind of technology that President Barack Obama pushed for earlier this month, and that McNamara and others are trying to build.

12) Love this project that is provides data on how common particular books are across millions of college syllabi.

13) How the Koch brothers are using their money to try and influence students.

14) Loved this piece on the evolution of movie special effects in movies and how “practical” effects are all now the rage:

The rebooters would tell you those old feelings can’t be summoned with new tools. Trevorrow explained to Wired UK that his animatronic dinosaur “drew a beautiful performance out of the actors—we couldn’t have done it with a computer.” (The apatosaurus had been mortally wounded by a rampaging C.G.I. dino—a perfect metaphor for the state of the movies.) As the producer Patrick Crowley put it, “Colin said we needed to have a working animatronic in this movie because that’s how this series of movies was built.”

That’s the rub. We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, toldfxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total.

15) So, this is a few years old, but new to me.  Jesse Eisenberg and Marv Albert performing “Marv Albert is my therapist.”  A slam dunk.

 

16) The FEC does not properly regulate campaign finance because Republicans don’t want it to.

17) Yes, the system is set up to make it too easy for college students to go way too far into debt, but it still doesn’t seem right to blame the system to think it is a remotely reasonable idea to go $240,000 in debt for degrees in music performance and bioethics.

18) Young people are getting drivers licenses at much lower rates these days.  My 16 year old doesn’t even want to get one.  I made him go get a Learner’s Permit yesterday, in fact.

19) I actually totally agree with Radley Balko that we should not have mandatory seat belt laws as a primary offense (I still think it is a fine idea as a secondary offense):

But there’s another argument against seat-belt laws that’s much more pertinent to the policing issues now in the news: Seat-belt laws create an entirely new class of police-citizen interactions. They’re another excuse for pretext stops. Moreover, unless there’s clear dash-camera footage, whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time the police officer spotted you is basically your word against the officer’s. It’s another opportunity for police to look for probable cause for a search, or for behavior that could justify a forfeiture of your cash, your car or anything inside of it. And as we’ve seen inSouth Carolina, Indiana, California and elsewhere, they create more interactions that could potentially lead to escalation, violence and even death. (Note that the article in the last link is from Florida.) The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled that police can arrest you, handcuff you and jail you even if your only crime was to fail to buckle your seat belt. In 2012, the court ruled that you can be strip-searched, too

Our highways have gotten remarkably safer over the past 30 or so years. Fatalities have dropped dramatically. Even the most ardent libertarian can’t help but admit that federal efforts had something to do with it, though I tend to think public education and PR safety campaigns have been more effective than more punitive policies. But we should also be cognizant of unintended consequences, especially with laws that are more about protecting people from themselves than from other people. If a seat-belt violation causes a low-income man to be pulled over, searched, fined and fined again for nonpayment, then results in a suspended license, and then arrest and incarceration for driving on a suspended license, the state is no longer protecting him — it’s ruining him.

20) Important read from Nate Silver arguing that the Republican Party is failing.

21) I’m reading a fabulous book about the war on drugs.  More on that later.  For now, familiarize yourself with Rat Park, if you have not before.  And even if you know Rat Park, this comic version is pretty awesome.  Seriously.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Watched Aliens yesterday for the first time in 20+ years so my 16-year old son could see it (we watched Alien a few months ago).  He loved it.  And I still did.  Holds up great.  A terrific movie and we both marveled at how impressive the old-school special effects were.  Here’s a nice essay on it.

2) Smart James Surowiecki piece on what’s wrong with our corporate tax code and how to fix it.

3) Nate Silver on Trump’s unpopularity with general election voters.

4) Love this Drum piece on the problems with twitter:

This is the basic problem with Twitter: It’s too damn big and too damn easy to use. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, people had to do some work if they wanted to casually trash you. Maybe write a letter to the editor. Or dig up your home address and write a letter to you. On rare occasions, they might even call you on the phone.

Then email made the ALL CAPS insult genre a lot easier: just click a link, pound out a few sentences, and hit Send. Easy peasy. Still, no one saw your brilliance except the target, and you rarely got a response. It was progress, but still not very satisfying.

Then came Twitter. It was even easier than email. Just hit Reply or RT and do your thing. You’re limited to 140 characters, so it’s not very much work. Everyone who follows you gets to see it, and your target knows it—so they sort of feel obligated to defend themselves. And to make things even better, while the 140-character limit is great for random vituperation, it’s a tough limit for reasoned response. And to make things even more better, getting a mob of fellow outrage junkies to follow your lead isn’t just easy, it’s almost inevitable. It practically happens on its own…

Anyway, in the end this is a lesson about economics. What happens when you vastly reduce the cost of being an asshole? Answer: the supply of assholes goes up. That’s what Twitter has done for us.

5) Really nice Max Fisher post on how our debates about Iran are really about much bigger debates of how we conceive of our foreign policy.

6) Ross Douthat’s act of contrition for ever supporting Sarah Palin.

7) Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has forbidden chess as the work of the devil.  Good to know this country is our close ally.

8) A UNC Economist analyzes the Republican approach to unemployment policy in NC and finds it has come up short.

9) I had not heard about this first amendment case at the Supreme Court.  Potential implications are disturbing.

But Heffernan did allege expression protected by the First Amendment. He lost because two federal courts actually ruled that picking up a political campaign sign doesn’t count as speech under the First Amendment unless you really mean it. By playing along with the fiction that Heffernan didn’t exercise a First Amendment right, the Supreme Court may miss an opportunity to make sure that cases like his really are rare.

10) Interestingly, self-made billionaires seem to be much more generous than those who inherited their money.

11) Andrew Cohen on the Supreme Court’s (absurdly) strong recent death penalty stand.

12) Really liked this Frank Bruni column on re-thinking elite college admissions:

The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.

The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.

That’s a great thing to say to our children, and just as important a thing to say to ourselves.

13) Drum on the latest global temperature report.  Just maybe conservatives can stop trying to fool people based on the outlier year of 1998 now.

14) Somehow, I had never learned of the great famine of 1315.  Thanks to Amy Davidson’s recent New Yorker comment, now I have.  Good stuff.

15) Believe it or not, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into what I would say in my interview if I were ever a Jeopardy contestant.  And I can never come up with anything good!  I love that there is a twitter account that subtly mocks these interviews.

16) Vox on how dogs are smarter than we think.

17) I’ve never paid that much attention to deflategate, but was interested to learn that independent science strongly suggests the Patriots did not do anything wrong.

17) Listened to a great This American Life this week about a woman who made amazing discoveries about her genetic disease.  Here’s the written version (and with much-needed photos).  A worthy long-read for your Sunday.

Quick hits (part I)

And we’re off…

1) The conservative case for solar subsidies (hmmm, given that there’s a good conservative and a good liberal case, we really ought to have solar subsidies).

Of course, conservatives will respond that their core objection remains: Solar functions only because of government subsidies. But there are a couple of issues to consider…

For one thing, not all subsidies are created equal, and the government actually has a good track record in promoting new energy technologies. New developments often face two market gaps that can potentially delay or even kill them: the “technological valley of death,” in which promising advances hit a technical brick wall, and the “commercialization valley of death,” in which an effective technology can’t get to market. Government research labs and subsidies have supported a number of forms of energy — from nuclear energy, to hydraulic fracturing, to photovoltaic solar — through these troughs.

And there’s nothing unique about the government’s support for solar. According to the Congressional Research Service, total government support for the oil and gas sector over the years dwarfs the amount of support for the solar industry.

2) I didn’t watch Nikki Haley’s SOTU response originally, but I quickly learned her teeth were the talk of the internet.  A little googling and I ended up on this take complaining it’s all about sexism.  That’s too bad.  But, no, then I watched.  It’s like she’s talking with her jaw wired shut.  It was truly bizarre.  It would be weird not to comment about it.  Of course sexism is a problem, but damn I hate the damage people to do feminism when they reach the point that virtually any non-policy critique of a female politician is sexism.

3) Greater Chronicle of Higher Education article on The Monkey Cage blog and how it has become so influential.

4) Dahlia Lithwick on the Supreme Court and public sector unions.

5) Just one small bit of Trump’s inanity (and seemingly endless macho bs posturing), but I do get a kick out of him arguing that football players should cause themselves brain injuries for our entertainment:

What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — itwas done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?

“Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause] It’s true. It’s true.

6) What can you learn about the history of liberalism in America from the recent problems of The New Republic?  So much in the capable hands of political scientist Jonathan Ladd.  This is really, really good.

7) I truly do recognize that college teaching evaluations are seriously flawed.  That said, I do get a kick out of seeing that my friends/colleagues who most zealously share the stories on the matter are those who might be somewhat suspect in the teaching department.  I’m guessing they are pretty sure the bias is against them.  One thing is for sure is the bias based on gender is, sadly, quite potent.  The authors of the latest research say there’s no way to correct for this?  Really?  How about just comparing faculty to each other within gender?  Not perfect, but that would go along way.

8) Oh, and how’s this, at least in the discipline of Economics, when men and women publish together, men get pretty much all the credit.  I really want to know how well this holds up across disciplines.  I particularly wonder how it may impact the work of Laurel and me, especially as our work is so focused on gender.

9) Shankar Vedantam on hierarchical versus egalitarian ideologies, inequality, and drunkenness.

10) Is this how multi-cellular life on earth got it’s start?  Maybe.  Cool stuff.

11) The Upshot with the case for why the Powerball winners should take the annuity.

12) James Downey on how the supposed mainstream GOP completely enables the fringe:

The difference is that now, between Cruz, Trump and Ben Carson, the “everything is awful” portion of the GOP is a clear majority, not limited to the fringe.

Frankly, though, Haley and company shouldn’t be surprised. Though her speech may not have been as hyperbolic, it still subtly fed the fears that sustain that “Make America Great Again” anger. There is “chaotic unrest in many of our cities,” she said.  America faces “the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.” Democrats are “demonizing” American success. In short, Haley said, “we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory.”

If all of these things are true, and if as Haley said, the GOP must admit that it has “played a role in how and why our government is broken,” why should the conservative base trust the Republican establishment? Why shouldn’t they be fearful of where the United States is going? Isn’t anyone not standing firm against such “threats” endangering America?

13) Obviously our current drug policy is a disaster, but Drum on how the problems with opiates strongly suggests we exercise appropriate caution in thinking about how to decriminalize or legalize drugs.

14) A week late, but a really good piece to help understand what’s going on with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

15) Of course cops get held accountable for their misbehavior.  At least when that misbehavior is to properly apply the law and refuse to arrest somebody their superior tells them to.

16) Really enjoyed this Atlantic piece arguing that, not, consciousness really is not that mysterious:

The consciousness we describe is non-physical, confusing, irreducible, and unexplainable, because that packet of information in the brain is incoherent. It’s a quick sketch.

What’s it a sketch of? The brain processes information. It focuses its processing resources on this or that chunk of data. That’s the complex, mechanistic act of a massive computer. The brain also describes this act to itself. That description, shaped by millions of years of evolution, weird and quirky and stripped of details, depicts a “me” and a state of subjective consciousness.

This is why we can’t explain how the brain produces consciousness. It’s like explaining how white light gets purified of all colors. The answer is, it doesn’t. Let me be as clear as possible: Consciousness doesn’t happen. It’s a mistaken construct. The computer concludes that it has qualia because that serves as a useful, if simplified, self-model. What we can do as scientists is to explain how the brain constructs information, how it models the world in quirky ways, how it models itself, and how it uses those models to good advantage.

17) The ancient Romans really tried to make an effort with public hygiene.  Alas, their total misunderstanding of what actually caused disease meant that their efforts (public toilets, baths, etc.) did not make them any healthier .

18) Nate Silver on three theories of Trump’s rise.

19) Michael Cooper on how the Democratic party in the South has changed.

20) And finishing off with a longer Politico piece making the case for the importance of Obama’s domestic policy legacy.

How tall will your kids be

I didn’t realize there was a handy formula for estimating the height of children based on their parents.  There is.  From the NYT:

For boys, the formula combines the height of both parents, adds five inches (or 13 centimeters) and divides by two.

For girls, it combines the height of the parents, subtracts five inches and divides by two. A more complex formula accounts for extremes in parental height.

Obviously, not all children of the same parents, nor even those of the same sex, end up the same height. Adult height tends to decrease in younger siblings, and younger children may grow more slowly.

Other factors are involved in growing taller, most notably nutrition, but genetics is estimated to account for 60 percent to 80 percent of one’s final height. A 2000 study of 8,798 pairs of adult Finnish twins, published in the journal Behavior Genetics, found that heritability accounted for around 78 percent of height in adult men and 75 percent in women.

According to this, my boys should be about 5’11.5″  (half an inch shorter than me) and Sarah should check in 1/2 in inch taller than her mom, at 5’6.5″.  We’ll see.  I actually think only Alex will make it, though.

Quick hits (part I)

Well, after taking last weekend off due to family travels, we are extra loaded for quick hits this week.  Who knows, may end up with a part 3.  Here goes…

1) Nice summary of the research on portion size and weight gain/loss.  My family switched to using smaller dinner plates years ago.  And another reason I try and never have my kids snack out of anything but small bowls.

2) Absolutely brilliant satire in the New Yorker on the Founding Fathers and the 2nd amendment.  Please read it.

3) Why are there so many stupid college bowl games?  Because people watched.  More people (including me!) watched a meaningless football game between Duke and Indiana than watched the most recent Duke-UNC basketball game.

4) More positive female role models is not the way to get more women into science.  Telling them about the problem is.

In a study of 7,505 high school students, Geoff Potvin, a researcher at Florida International University, measured the effect of a handful of common interventions on students’ interest in physics: single-sex classes; having role models including women physics teachers, women guest speakers, and women who made contributions to the field; and discussing the problem of underrepresentation itself. Of these efforts, only the last one succeeded in making high-school women more interested in pursuing a career in the physical sciences.

5) What sort of a man is Donald Trump?  Oh come on, you know the answer to that.  But find out more anyway.

6) Such a sad story of a new mom, and a baby’s death at daycare plus broader reflections on how horrible our country is on maternity leave.

7) I love the linguistic basis on this theory for why Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter.

8) Seasonal allergic rhinitis?  Blame your neanderthal ancestors.

9) Interesting essay on when are you really an adult.  For me, no longer being financially dependent on my parents (plus, becoming married at the same time) felt like it pretty much did it.

10) How come Indonesia has so many Muslims, but so few violent radical Muslims?

In November, The New York Times pointed to one factor behind the muted response to ISIS in Indonesia: Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization that claims to have 50 million members. NU preaches an Islam of compassion, inclusivity, and tolerance of other faiths, as opposed to ISIS’s fundamentalist, Wahhabi-inspired theology. “We are directly challenging the idea of ISIS, which wants Islam to be uniform, meaning that if there is any other idea of Islam that is not following their ideas, those people are infidels who must be killed,” Yahya Cholil Staquf, the general secretary to the NU supreme council, told the Times

However, “the people that are getting recruited into ranks such as ISIS and other jihadi groups before that are not coming from Nahdlatul Ulama,” so the organization’s impact may be more limited than its size suggests.

Instead, Jones mentioned several other causes: “Indonesia is a country that doesn’t have a repressive government, is not under occupation, it’s politically stable, so there’s no social unrest or conflict, and the Muslims aren’t a persecuted minority. So when you put all of those factors together, it’s not all that surprising that it’s actually only a tiny minority of even the activist population that’s leaving for Syria.”

Indeed, the countries that send the largest numbers of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, either in absolute terms or on a per-capita basis, tend to be either politically repressive (Saudi Arabia, 2,500 fighters), politically unstable (Tunisia, 6,000 fighters), discriminatory toward a Muslim minority (Russia, 2,400 fighters), or a combination of the above.

11) No more micro-beads!

12) Readers’ favorite New Yorker cartoons of the year.  Lots of damn good ones.

13) Does a football player really brutally punch his girlfriend if the public never sees it?

14) Benjamin Wallace-Wells on Rubio’s natural political talent and what it is, and is not, suited for:

Rubio’s great theme is the global longing to be part of the American middle class, and the heroic human efforts made to join it. This is a specific theme, in that it narrates the immigrant experience of his parents. (His father was an itinerant bartender, his mother a hotel maid and a store clerk.) But it is also a magnificently flexible one, in that it can give emotional depth to a riff about how higher education channels all students to be philosophers rather than welders (because to be an American welder is something much of the globe would love) or to his defense of foreign aid (because the American Dream is not uniquely American)…

The fragility and beauty of the middle class, the necessity of the fight to protect it—it was all there. Rubio’s conservatism is not in any major substantive way an update of George W. Bush’s, and if you hated the original you probably won’t love the sequel, which harbors the same instinctive militarism, rigid social conservatism, and gauzy talk of freedom. But Rubio has President Obama’s sharp, outsider eye for human longing and suffering: his talent is in giving stray, chaotic conservative interests an emotional coherence. Walking away, I had the same feeling I’ve had each time I’ve seen him: the man is a natural…

For the moment this talent is devoted, a bit awkwardly, to internecine political combat. Rubio is best when he is engaged in aspirational summoning; he has little instinct for the shiv.

15) On how programs persist even when they are shown empirically to not work just because the people invested think they’ve just got to work.

16) Love this Atlantic article on the return of Electroconvulsive Therapy.  The evidence for it’s efficacy is great (and look at Carrie Mathison!) but it is so stigmatized that it is way under-utilized now.  I would happily submit myself or a loved one to this therapy if they had a condition that it was shown to be effective for.

17) Really enjoyed this Froma Harrop column on how the Republican Congress is far more interested in protecting investors than American taxpayers.

18) MSG is harmless.  So why are so many people still convinced it gives them headaches, etc.?

19) Nice Seth Masket piece on politicians complaining about political correctness.

This is a much more invidious complaint about political correctness. The concept here seems to be that the president and his advisors know whom to track and investigate, but they are refusing to do so because they are concerned about angering or alienating Muslim Americans. This is absurd on its face—Muslims are neither a particularly large nor influential political presence in the United States, and the political risks of allowing terror attacks are surely greater than those of alienating Muslim voters. It also doesn’t point the way to a particularly effective policy of deterring terrorism. Investigating all Muslims all the time, in addition to being morally repugnant and logistically impossible, creates a great deal of noise for law enforcement to sift through. Perusing the activities of millions of innocents doesn’t really help you find a handful of wrongdoers, and actually works against it. What’s more, it tells those millions that they are not full citizens by virtue of their faith, doing ISIS’s propaganda work for it.

20) Of course I love that they are analyzing the gut bacteria (and finding really interesting stuff) of the amazingly preserved pre-historic mummy known as Otzi.

21) Maria Konnikova on how we learn fairness and how it differs across societies.

22) And Konnikova on how children learn to read and the role of brain development:

Hoeft’s discovery builds on previous research that she conducted on dyslexia. In2011, she found that, while no behavioral measure could predict which dyslexic children would improve their reading skills, greater neural activation in the right prefrontal cortex along with the distribution of white matter in the brain could, with seventy-two-per-cent accuracy, offer such a prediction. If she looked at over-all brain activation while the children performed an initial phonological task, the predictive power rose to more than ninety per cent. Over-all intelligence and I.Q. didn’t matter; what was key was a very specific organizational pattern within your brain.

The group’s new findings go a step further. They don’t just show that white matter is important. They point to a crucial stage where the development of white matter is central to reading ability. And the white-matter development, Hoeft believes, is surely a function of both nature and nurture. “Our findings could be interpreted as meaning that there’s still genetic influence,” Hoeft says, noting that preëxisting structural differences in the brain may indeed influence future white-matter development. But, she adds, “it’s also likely that the dorsal white-matter development is representing the environment the kids are exposed to between kindergarten and third grade. The home environment, the school environment, the kind of reading instruction they’re getting.”

23) There’s no evidence for the efficacy of workplace drug testing, but of course we keep doing it anyway.  Could our country be any more dumb about drugs?

That’s plenty for a day.  Enjoy.

Photo of the day

Truly terrific Wired gallery of best space photos of 2015:

Gallery ImageNASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled a small section of the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago. Known as the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures. The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. NASA/ESA/HUBBLE HERITAGE TEAM

 

 

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