Quick hits (part I)

1) Are liberals just as anti-science as conservatives, just on different issues?  Thanks to motivated reasoning, anybody will be anti-anything they are not disposed to agree with, regardless of what science says.  So, yes.  But degree matters:

However, the negative reaction of conservatives when they read about climate change and evolution was four times greater than that of liberals who read about nuclear power and fracking. Both liberals and conservatives showed evidence of motivated resistance against the facts related to the science topics that challenged their political beliefs.

But again, conservatives reacted more strongly than liberals, probably because the issues were hot buttons for conservatives.

Explain it away all you want (as the article) does, but this difference matters.

2) Great satire of anti-vaxxers– I’m an anti-braker.

3) It really bothers me that in a very wealthy county, many think it is the job of parents, not the state/county, to pay for full-day Kindergarten.

4) Very thoughtful piece from Amanda Hess on the incredibly blurry line of where drunk sex becomes sexual assault.

5)  Fred Hiatt on the anti-science beliefs of believing that GM foods are bad for you.

6) Seth Masket on the long-term strategic (and successful!) campaign of the Federalist Society to turn the federal judiciary substantially more conservative.

7) Regardless of how wrong Brian Williams may have been (and I’m pretty forgiving given what we know of how human memory works), I think Jon Stewart nails it on the media obsession.

8) Cannot say I’m surprised to learn that Wall Street firms secretly pay their employees to work in government.

9) How Louisiana’s refusal to expand Medicaid is leading to very real harm in the form of closed ER’s.

10) North Carolina’s Innocence Commission is awesome.  I really wish more states would do something similar (and I’m grateful that the current powers in Raleigh have not tried to eliminate it).

11) Pretty amazing how bad the vaccination rates are for the kids of America’s most famous Silicon Valley tech companies.

12) Obviously, I’m no expert on foreign affairs, but I found both these pieces really compelling.  They both argue that the solution is not military, but doing what we can to help improve Ukrainian society and government.

What Putin fears most in this whole confrontation isn’t the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets; it’s a thriving, prosperous Ukraine—it’s an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics (and to the people of eastern Ukraine, and for that matter Russia) that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin’s dream of a resuscitated USSR…

Ukraine needs a massive infusion of aid and, even more, investment, along with expansive political ties with the West.

13) Is Scott Walker too far right to win the Republican nomination?  I don’t think so, because I think he’s really good at coming across as far less extreme than he actually is.

14) Love this Aaron Carroll piece on the best way to prioritize young lives (more focus on suicide reduction, for example, would be great).  It’s a great argument that we ignore the opportunity costs when we focus on some approaches (for very rare, but scary, causes of death) and ignore other, far more common, causes.

15) Jon Chait on how Democrats have become the child care party.

16) I found this totally fascinating (and I think my wife will too if she makes it this far into quick hits) on how brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are all actually the same plant.  Really!  (Thanks, Vox!)

17) It really is crazy how communities are expected to massively subsidize the sports stadiums that enrich millionaires and billionaires.

The NFL’s misguided moralism

I wrote very briefly before about the NFL’s way overly harsh punishment of Josh Gordon for marijuana use (it would be an understatement to say this is not exactly a performance-enhancing drug for a football player), and now they have suspended him a whole season for using… alcohol.  

CLEVELAND — Josh Gordon is officially suspended without pay for a minimum of one year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Browns announced Tuesday. And the team couldn’t sound more fed up with the wide receiver.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Jan. 25 that Gordon had failed a league-issued substance abuse test, this time for alcohol. This is Gordon’s third NFL suspension. Also, the team suspended Gordon on the final week of the season for missing team activities. The NFL had issued a zero-drinking stipulation for Gordon as a result of his repeat offenses…

In a first-person letter published by a website called Medium, Gordon said he was not an alcoholic or a drug addict and took exception to television commentators broadly categorizing him as such. He also said that he had two beers and two drinks during a flight with teammates to Las Vegas on Jan. 2, and that he was summoned to be tested upon the plane’s landing.

One can argue that Gordon agreed to the NFL’s stipulation, but what business does the NFL have stipulating a grown man cannot consume a perfectly legal product?!  I’m no big fan of alcohol, but when used in moderation and with appropriate caution (i.e., driving, heavy machinery) it’s pretty harmless (and actually has some health benefits) so where the hell does the NFL get off saying no alcohol at all?  Did Mormons or Southern Baptists take over?  Again, the idea that an employer should be able to punish an adult for simply using a perfectly legal product that does not violate league substance abuse policies and using the product away from the place (and time) of employment is just absurd.

A perfectly defensible call

I know you are not here for my NFL analysis, but I am so annoyed at all the piling-on on Pete Carroll and the Seahawks today.  They were one great individual defensive play (the interception) from winning the Super Bowl and nobody would be complaining about choosing to call a pass for that play.  A variety of analyses suggest that a run was a better call, but not actually by a dramatic amount, and that for a number of strategic reasons, a pass was a more-than-defensible call.

First, Bill Barnwell in Grantland:

You might argue that the logic there doesn’t include the danger of throwing the football and the downside of an interception, and that’s true, but there are negative possibilities in every play call. In fact, this season it was more dangerous to run the football from the 1-yard line than it was to throw it. Before Sunday, NFL teams had thrown the ball 108 times on the opposing team’s 1-yard line this season. Those passes had produced 66 touchdowns (a success rate of 61.1 percent, down to 59.5 percent when you throw in three sacks) and zero interceptions. The 223 running plays had generated 129 touchdowns (a 57.8 percent success rate) and two turnovers on fumbles.

That said, Barnwell not a fan of the call:

The key phrase there, of course, is “in a vacuum.” This wasn’t a vacuum. This was the Seahawks and the Patriots, and while the size of the stage shouldn’t matter, the matchups should. As I mentioned in my Super Bowl preview, this was a matchup specifically built for running the football with Lynch in short yardage. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were the worst team in the league in power-running situations and fifth-worst in terms of stuffing the opposition for no gain or a loss. Seattle was the second-best power running team and the sixth-best team at avoiding stuffs. If there was ever a matchup that called for a team to live and die on the back of its running game from the 1-yard line, this was it.

Still, part of not a vacuum is what’s happened in the game and the Patriots had stopped Lynch in short yardage.

In Slate, Brian Burke also brings the data (and the statistical simulation):

Had Seattle run on second down and failed, it would have had to use its final timeout. This would mean that New England would know a pass was very likely on third down. If that had happened, the Internet would now be bashing Carroll for an entirely different reason…

The simulation—which is different than Win Probability—gave Seattle an 85 percent chance of winning by running and a 77 percent chance by passing. It turns out the added risk of a sack, penalty, or turnover was not worth the other considerations of time and down…

Seattle’s decision was not the best one possible, but it was defensible and supported by some reasonable considerations. Ultimately, it was a great defensive play that truly decided the game.

And Justin Wolfers brings the game theory:

The key insight of game theory for an N.F.L. coach is that when you think about what choice you should make, you need to also consider the response from the opposing coach, understanding that he is also thinking strategically. This line of thinking suggests that you should not necessarily call a run play, even if you’re blessed with a great running back. Likewise, it’s not clear that you should definitely pass. Rather, your choice should be somewhat random — a choice that game theorists call a “mixed strategy.”…

The logic is that if you always choose to run in this situation, then you make the opposing coach’s job too easy, as he will set a defensive formation aimed at stopping your running back. Forget guarding the receivers, Belichick would respond by piling players between Marshawn Lynch and the end zone. As great as Lynch is, even he would find it difficult to run over a stacked defense that was waiting for him. Likewise, if the Seahawks would always decide to pass in this situation, there would be little need for the Patriots to guard against the run, and so their defense could double-team the eligible receivers.

Instead, you need to keep your opponents guessing, and the only way to do this is to be unpredictable. The only way to be unpredictable is to be a little bit random…

Game theory points to the possibility that Carroll’s decisive call was actually the result of following the best possible strategy, and that this is a strategy that involves an element of randomness in play-calling. This leads to the intriguing possibility that if that fateful final play were to be run in a dozen parallel universes, with each coach continuing to play the same mixed strategy, the actual plays called would differ, as would their outcomes.

And so the same teams pursuing the same strategies under the same circumstances might have yielded a different Super Bowl champion.

Pete Carroll did not get where he is by being an idiot.  Was this call suboptimal?  Maybe.  Especially given the larger strategic considerations, it strikes me as more than defensible.  It’s a little ridiculous how everybody in America all of a sudden thinks they know better than one of the NFL’s best coaches.

UPDATE: Just after posting this I also found an excellent analysis at 538 which makes a strong argument that the really poor coaching choice was Belechick’s to not take a time out at the end.

This isn’t about passions, and it isn’t about statistical mumbo-jumbo. It’s about arithmetic.

Under the most pro-Beast set of assumptions, rushing may have been the better play but by the slimmest of margins (0.3 percentage points). Under a more pro-Gostkowski set of assumptions, passing may have been the best play by up to 3 percentage points.

But we’re still discussing marginal improvements in odds. Pick which assumptions you like; it doesn’t really matter. Carroll’s decision wasn’t the epically bad call many have made it out to be…

Note again that if we take the assumptions that are most unfavorable to Carroll, his mistake would have cost Seattle only 0.3 percentage points, while under the assumptions most favorable to Belichick, his error cost the Patriots 2.1 percent.4

But winning erases all sins.


Mega quick hits (part II)

1) I would say I simply trust in David Simon on his new show, but Treme was just so boring.  But a really interesting profile of Simon and what he’s been up to.

2) Vox provides a useful perspective on the ridiculous Michelle Obama headscarf flap

  1. American officials in Saudi Arabia typically do not wear headscarves, including at formal government functions. Michelle was following normal protocol.
  2. Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton did not wear headscarves on similar official visits to Saudi Arabia. Neither did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

3) This advice from a “supervillian” is actually pretty awesome.

4) I so loved “Boyhood.”  Seeing all the actors age– especially child actors– was awesome.

5) Unvaccinated kids should be barred from school without a very compelling reason– should not take a child with leukemia to sue to make it happen.

6) With the latest death penalty protocol going before the Supreme Court, enjoyed this Op-Ed:

Last summer, Alex Kozinski, a federal appellate judge in California and a supporter of the death penalty, called out this charade for what it is.

Lethal injections, he wrote, are “a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful.” But executions “are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

7) Want to be in the Yelp top 100 restaurants?  Be in a place with great weather and provide good value.

8) 2014 set a record for exonerations.   The good– yeah, innocent people actually getting their freedom.  The bad– clearly, we’ve got a lot of innocent people locked up.

9) The improvement in NFL placekickers over time really is pretty amazing.

10) Police departments sure like to shoot mentally ill people with knives.  How about one guy with a knife surrounded by dozens of officers and yards of space between– but still gets shot.  Ugh.

11) Europe certainly does a lot of stuff better than us, but you can make a pretty good case that it really goes too far in hampering business.

12) Apparently men are ugly and women are not.  At least among OKCupid users.

13) Interested in a high-resolution audio player for $400 that the average listener’s ears cannot distinguish from an Iphone?

14) Somebody needs to tell Scott Walker that professors work a lot (and Full Professors work the most!)

15) Physicians are now raking in the dollars for stent procedures to unclog blood vessels in limbs.  Of course, there’s little evidence this is actually any more effective than far more inexpensive treatment options.

16) The economic benefits of paid parental leave.

17) Really enjoyed Adam Gopnik’s take on the very different conceptualizations of free speech in America and Europe.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Holy unintended consequences, Batman.  How Africans are using free malaria-preventing mosquito nets to fish and destroying fish populations and ecosystems.

2) Olga Khazan’s take on the idea of sorority parties instead of fraternity parties.  Liked this part:

Under the current regime, he said, women have to perform a certain slutty femininity in order to please frat brothers and gain entry into their houses.

“So if you dress like they want you to, drink like they want you to, dance like they want you to, then you’ll get in [to the frat house]; you’re a babe,” Kimmel said. “If you don’t do that, you’re a bitch, you won’t get in.”

What he proposed, instead, is for sororities to be the gatekeepers to the keggers.

3) Of course many secular people are just as, if not more, moral than religious people.

When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

4) The only recent elections that mattered were 2010 and 2014.  If you are a Republican.

5) Volkswagen cannot sell a $70,000 luxury car in America because Americans simply won’t buy a car that expensive– no matter how good a car– with “Volkswagen” on it.  Europeans are not so silly.

6) A new Pennsylvania law bars convicted felons from discussing their crimes if it might cause “mental anguish” to the victim.  This is so nuts.  This better be struck down by a judge with extreme prejudice.

7) Jon Stewarts‘ takedown of Mike Huckabee’s culture war hypocrisy is awesome.

8) I love The Great Gatsby.  Baz Luhrman’s take (which I just finished watching) left me somewhat annoyed.  So loved this quote in Richard Corliss’ review.

 The camera of cinematographer Simon Duggan seems to think it can’t simply capture an image; it must wrestle it unconscious to the ground. It views a character from a ceiling perch or rushes breathlessly up to his face.

9) I’m so done with people who don’t vaccinate their kids.  It’s not about you!  It would be one thing if it only meant there own kids getting sick, but do the importance of herd immunity, it has much wider repercussions.  I’m just glad I’m not living in one of these crazy anti-vaccine clusters like they have in California.

10) It’s rarely successful in the short-term to replace an NFL head coach.  Of course, every team is convinced that their new hire will be the next Bill Belichick.

11) Nice NYT piece on all the wrongness in the Tamir Rice shooting.

12) Thanks to the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission, Joseph Sledge is a free man 36 years after his murder conviction.  Looking forward to having his lawyer, Christine Mumma, as a guest speaker in my Criminal Justice Policy class later this semester.

13) Ezra Klein sure had fun writing what Obama would have really said in the SOTU had he been honest.

14) We ask jurors if they think they can be free of bias and go by their answers.  Of course, anybody who knows anything about social psychology knows that’s nuts.

15) You know how that being bilingual is supposed to be so great for your brain thing?  Way oversold (except for the very strong evidence on postponing onset of dementia).  Why?  The results that favor bilingualism get published, those that call this into question do not.

16) Almost every Republican Senator voted on a resolution that humans do not cause climate change.  Brad Plumer’s got the right take– the Senate is a hoax.

17) The poorer you get, the less good a place America is to live– in chart form:


Quick hits (part I)

1) Loved this NPR story about a 19th century doctor who figured out long before the rest of the medical establishment that washing hands between delivering babies was the key to the insane rates of maternal infection and death in hospitals.  Alas, nobody really believed him and countless more women needlessly died.

2) File under not surprising– CIA’s own internal investigation found that the intelligence value of torture (or “brutal interrogation”) was way oversold.

3) Mount Holyoke does not want “The Vagina Monologues” on campus because the famed feminist production is not fair to women without vaginas.  Seriously.

4) Really like Harold Meyerson’s take on the SOTU and the Democrats’ message:

Democrats have long sought to represent the interests of both business and labor. At times, this has led them into cul-de-sacs of self-negation (something that the president’s simultaneous advocacy of pro-worker tax policies and yet another trade treaty sadly exemplifies). But they seem to be finding a new ideological and political sweet spot: They’re the party that rewards work, that seeks to increase labor income even if — and you’d better believe they’ve polled on this — it means taking a bite out of capital income. Given the weight of money in politics, theirs will be a halting and incomplete conversion, but the signs of their new faith are too numerous to dismiss. Their new emphasis may also help them win back a share of the white working-class voters who have increasingly been electing Republicans. It likely won’t be a big share, but the Democrats don’t need a big share to build an electoral majority.

Indeed, the new Democratic focus puts Republicans in a bind. The GOP would be happy to increase workers’ incomes if it didn’t involve diminishing the ability of wealthy investors and CEOs to claim the lion’s share of Americans’ incomes for themselves. Alas, for the Republicans, that’s arithmetically impossible. Once the national discourse turns to economic inequality, Republicans, already averse to the claims of science, will also have to dismiss the validity of math.

5) I would totally pay a premium for a charging cable that charged my devices twice as fast.

6) How alcohol-soaked college Greek parties might be a lot safer for women if they occurred in sororities instead of fraternities.

7) Funny little take on the SOTU and Obama’s tan suit.

8) I’m an Aaron Rodgers fan.  We need more of this

“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome,” Rodgers said. “He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

9) Nice Chait article thinking about Obama’s legacy.

10) Are liberals to blame for our modern over-incarcerated America?  I’d say no, but here’s the case that they are.

11) It is so cool that honey basically lasts forever.  Here’s why.

12) I think I had something on Invisibilia last week, but I especially liked this profile in the New Yorker.

13) I have to admit, I found this Vox post on human feces incredibly fascinating.  Especially (of course) this bit about bacteria:

It’s tempting to think of feces as simply the used-up remains of the food you ate — the stuff that makes it through after digestion.

In reality, this stuff is present, but 50 to 80 percent of your poop (excluding water) is actually bacteria that had been living in your intestines and was then ejected as food passed through. Many of the bacteria in poop are still alive, but some are dead — carcasses of species that bloomed as they fed on the indigestible plant matter you consumed, then died shortly afterward.

14) Loved this Josh Marshall post on Constitutional Conservatives.  Kept meaning to give it its own post and failed:

At the end of the day, though, the federal constitution was created to battle and overpower the political ideals and devotion to limited, weak government that today’s Tea Partiers and ‘constitutional conservatives’ embody. The history leaves no other possible conclusion. The central belief of the men who spearheaded the constitution was that only a strong central government could make America great and strong and thus safe. There’s a lot in those ideas that today’s liberals would not find welcoming at all. And the anti-Federalist, anti-constitutionalist strain in American history, which the Paulites and Tea Partiers of today embody, has played an important role as a counter-force. But the constitution, the aims, beliefs and goals of the constitution-makers are the polar opposite of what the Rand Paul types and Tea Partiers believe.

Quick hits

Busy week of visiting my family (which I haven’t done in far too long) means far less reading on-line and fewer quick hits.  Nonetheless, I don’t want to disappoint.  So…

1) Nice piece on how Hollywood is very much a man’s world.  What I found most interesting is the idea that female directors are punished for a “flop” far more than male directors.

2) On how must Russians don’t even realize what dire trouble their economy is in.

3) On how being a CEO is (too much) like being a Silverback:

IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body. Bosses spread themselves out behind their large desks. They stand tall when talking to subordinates. Their conversation is laden with prestige pauses and declarative statements.

4) Apparently, tumeric is awesome.  I think I like it in stuff my wife cooks, but I’m not even sure.

5) Krugman on what we can learn by comparing and contrasting US and UK’s recent economic policy (short version– austerity doesn’t work).

6) Among the super shady practice of college sports, the perfectly legal practice of recruiting a kid’s mentor to your coaching staff has got to be among the sleaziest.  Apparently, it works, though.  Speaking of college sports– Go Buckeyes!

7) Seth Masket on what 2014 taught us about American politics.

8) Very nice piece from Vox on “the invisible primary.”  And if you really want to understand the primaries in 2016 and not be like a cable news pundit/hack, this is a really, really good start.

9) Matt Taibbi on what we can learn from the NYPD work slowdown:

If you’re wondering exactly what that means, the Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests “only when they have to.” (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds)…

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

10) I love that the link I saw for this referred to it as the holy grail of tech tips.  How to remove google+ contacts’ birthdays from being automatically included on your calendar.  Done.

11) Now that it’s 2015, this is actually the year of Back to the Future Part II.  A nice look at what the movie got right and wrong about the future.  Big wrong– dominance of fax machines.

12) They are very racist in Ukraine, but at least they are very honest about it.  Nice first-person essay:

The officer walked toward me, gave a Soviet-style military salute and demanded that I present my passport. He looked it over before telling me to follow him into a mini-police unit inside the station. Once there, I asked the cop why I was being held. In Russian, he responded, “You’re a nigger and I know you’re bringing drugs into our country,” he said. “Where are the drugs?” …

As bad as the experience sounds, I appreciated the young cops’ forwardness. He made it clear that his stop was motivated by race and nothing more. In New York City, where I now live, the NYPD immediately rejects any suggestion that racism can motivate officers’ behavior, even subconsciously.  They categorically dismiss research that shows black people are habitually treated more severely than whites when suspected of the same crime. They swear that policing policies like “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” aren’t racially motivated, even though studies have repeatedly shown that they disproportionately target minorities. These knee-jerk denials breed distrust and allow tensions to fester.

13) So depressing that even in this environment of a super-cheap gas prices, the super-smart and endorsed by pretty much all economists and people who take policy seriously idea of raising the gas tax is going nowhere.  Ugh.


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