Quick hits (part I)

1) Loved this wide-ranging interview with what is probably my favorite scientist, E.O. Wilson.  Especially liked this part:

What’s causing our blind spots: Funding? Overspecialization? Politics?

A. You’re asking me an impossibly large question. Let me make one suggestion, and maybe that’ll lead to another.

I am unhappy about STEM. That is, I’m unhappy about how it’s presented as the principal portal for careers in science and technology. Young people — in some cases, young enough to be as far back as grammar school — are presented with this intellectual triathlon in order to go into science and technology.

There’s no question that we need all the ablest people that can be recruited to go into science and technology to keep this country strong. But STEM is an unnecessarily forbidding set of stairs.

Consider a young person who’s thrilled by seeing a natural system, a remarkable geological formation that stirs the imagination, or a group of animals or plants. This youngster says, Boy, when I get to college, I would like to move on to a career in science, and biology especially. Now, the STEM-oriented teacher — if we are following the STEM ideology as we hear it — says: “I think that’s a good ambition. But remember that biology is based substantially upon chemistry. So, I advise you to start getting a good background in chemistry. Oh, and while you’re at it, you should keep in mind that chemistry is based upon, to a major degree, principles of physics. So consider starting to get a background in physics, too. And, oh, I almost forgot: To get into physics, and a lot of the best parts of chemistry, you’re going to need ‘M,’ mathematics. So I want you to get started on math courses right now.”

Now, I’m going to say something startling. And I’m going to get myself in trouble. But heck, that’s why you’re here.

Q. Yes.

A. And I’m going to say: Nonsense!

The right way to create a young scientist who’s going to be on fire by the time they’re in college is to let them pick something, some subject, that has really excited them. If they dream of space exploration, if they dream of curing a cancer, if they dream of going to distant jungles and discovering new species — whatever their dream is, let them dream.

2) Really enjoyed this interview with Howard Stern:

It’s more that I’m wondering — and maybe this sounds corny — if you think he’s actually capable of a certain level of soulful introspection.No, I don’t. Donald is a well-guarded personality. I think he’s actually so emotional that somewhere along the line he had to close it off. That’s a valuable technique for people who have been traumatized. Donald has been traumatized, make no mistake. I believe his father was a very difficult guy. My theory about Donald, having spent some time with him — don’t forget Donald was at my wedding, and I was at one of his — is that deep down he did not want to be President. It was a publicity stunt. These are my beliefs based on facts that I know.

Facts like what? I know people who orchestrated some of these things. I was at Mar-a-Lago around when it was announced that Donald was going to run for president, and like everyone else, I thought, Ha-ha-ha. So, knowing Donald, I can tell you with some assurance that I don’t believe that he thought anyone would buy in. Lo and behold, people did. But I’m pretty sure that there was no intention of actually being president.

3) Really great explanation on different views of stare decisis and what this may mean for Roe v. Wade.

In Hyatt, however, the five conservative justices based their decision to overrule the earlier decision almost exclusively on their belief that it was an “erroneous precedent” that “is contrary to our constitutional design.” The justices’ lack of respect for precedent was evident in the amount of space the majority opinion devoted to stare decisis — a mere three paragraphs — and in what the court said about it.

Everything the court said about stare decisis in Hyatt could be part of a decision that overrules Roe v. Wade. For example, the court’s first paragraph on stare decisis declared that stare decisis is weakest — and it is easier to overrule a decision — when the decision interpreted the constitution rather than a federal statute. The second paragraph focused on how the earlier decision was wrong and “stands as an outlier.” You can imagine the conservative justices saying the same about Roe as they overrule it.

4) This is really good, “In Baltimore, Police Officers Are the Bad Guys With Guns: Plainclothes police officers are waging war on citizens.”

We spent the last two years reporting a book on the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, a once-celebrated police squad whose members were ultimately indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2017. We learned that a war on guns in Baltimore looks a lot like the war on drugs: It is a city waging war on its own citizens.

And it doesn’t work.

The war on guns, like the war on drugs, is primarily waged on poor people by small operations units that drive around in unmarked cars looking for trouble. They’re called jump-out boys or knockers, and they do not respond to citizen calls. Instead, they take away resources and credibility from the patrol officers who do. They do not solve homicides, and they often damage community trust, hampering the efforts of those who do solve homicides.

In 2016, when the task force was most active, the Police Department solved only 38 percent of the 318 homicides. In 2018, in what was deemed a big improvement, detectives came closer to solving 50 percent of the cases. When people know that there’s only a 50/50 chance of finding a killer, retaliation becomes a coin toss. Murder is answered by murder, because the law has no real authority.

Like any counterinsurgency, units like the task force don’t recognize civilians. Everyone is a potential combatant. They are the reason residents have said they feel both “overpoliced and underserved” by the police. When residents call for help, no one comes. When residents try to walk to the store or the bus stop, they are as afraid of the police as they are of criminals.

5) Twitter is not real life.  Twitter using Democrats (including me) are no fans of Joe Biden.  Polls seem to indicate, though, that most Democrats are not like those of us on twitter.

6) Josh Barro, “Trump’s Tariffs Only Work If Americans Pay Them”

President Trump is fond of saying China “pays” the tariffs he imposed, and a lot of journalists (including me) are fond of pointing out the tariffs are actually paid by Americans. Specifically, they are paid by American importers of foreign goods, who will presumably seek to pass the cost of the tariff on to end consumers.

The New York Times points to recent economic research on Trump’s tariffs, including two papers estimating that 100 percent of the cost of tariffs is being borne by American consumers. One of the research teams determined this by looking at changes in the price indices for highly specific goods. They found the price of products not subject to new tariffs remained more or less flat, while products subject to new tariffs went up in price about in proportion to the tariffs imposed. That’s pretty straightforward: Americans pay.

7) Oh, man, the cowardice of Harvard on this Ronald Sullivan representing Harvey Weinstein as his attorney really bugs me.  And, Randall Kennedy:

The upshot is that Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

Now, of course, Harvard authorities are dredging up various supposed delinquencies on Mr. Sullivan’s part. An exposé in The Harvard Crimson refers to allegations that he and his wife were highhanded in their dealings with the staff at Winthrop House. No one is perfect; perhaps there is something to these claims.

8) Game of Thrones (spoiler content in this excerpt):

It rings false because this isn’t just Dany abandoning her moral principles; it’s Dany abandoning her goals and the entire point of her journey. Her family built the Red Keep, and ruled King’s Landing and its people only a generation ago. Even if her goal is naked political power, why would she destroy the precise things she came to reclaim? When her ancestors burned Harrenhal, they did it to make a point, to get the rest of King’s Landing to bend the knee. Here, the knee is already bent; destroying King’s Landing at this point is basically destroying her own economy, infrastructure, and political capital.

Sure, she can rule over the ashes as Queen of Bones, but as much as the show wants us to think that she’s gone Lawful Evil, this is some Chaotic Evil shit for sure. She’s not a good guy gone bad, doing terrible things because the ends justify the means; she’s the Joker, robbing a bank and then setting all the money on fire just to watch it burn.

9) New book on America’s westward expansion, “Historians have largely discarded the lie that the “frontier” was an empty Eden waiting for American expansion—but not David McCullough.”

10) My friend Sarah Bowen’s book on the sociology of home cooking now gets the Atlantic treatment.

11) Aaron Carroll on the overlooked importance of safe gun storage for saving lives:

Legislators and gun safety advocates often focus on how guns are purchased. But many lives could be saved, especially among children, if they looked more at how they are stored.

In the last decade, guns killed more than 14,000 American children. A startling number of those deaths — more than a third — were classified as suicides, and around 6 percent as accidents. Many more children were injured.

Nearly everyone agrees that children should not be able to buy guns, and no state lets them do so on their own. When children die by suicide in this way, it’s a result of being able to get hold of a gun that someone else already obtained — often legally.

How guns are stored matters. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that even a modest increase in owners who lock up their guns would pay off in an outsize drop in gun deaths.

Dr. Michael Monuteaux, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, said, “We need to communicate to parents that storing guns in a way that makes them inaccessible to children can reduce the number of children who die year after year, especially from suicide.”

In 2010, researchers examined who owned the firearms used in youth suicides. In cases where this could be determined, three-quarters of the time the owner was a parent, and for a further 7 percent it was some other relative.

In a 2005 study published in JAMA, researchers found that keeping guns locked and unloaded, and keeping ammunition locked and separate from guns, were significantly associated with lower levels of suicides and accidents among adolescents in gun-owning households. This held true for both handguns and long guns.

But such safety practices aren’t common. If a recent New York bill is signed into law, it will make the state one of just a handful with comprehensive gun storage laws to protect children.

If it were up to me, adults would be criminally responsible for children being harmed through guns that were not safely stored and regularly held to account on this.

12) This from the College Board is interesting:

The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing.

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.

The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.

13) Unsurprisingly, fathers totally not pulling their weight at home.  Myself excluded, of course :-):

The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.

Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?

The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.

Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. Men resist because it is in their “interest to do so,” write Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, in their book, “Gender and Families.” By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

14) Germany looking to step up its game on measles.  Sounds good to me:

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has proposed a fine of up to 2,500 euros, or about $2,800, for parents who refuse to immunize their school-age children against measles, part of efforts to combat a disease that has surged after decades of decline.

The fine is part of a draft bill that the minister, Jens Spahn, submitted to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for debate this week, but the proposal has prompted a wider discussion about whether mandating vaccinations is an infringement on personal freedom. Germany has seen 300 cases of the disease already this year, after more than 500 cases in 2018.

Outbreaks of measles have increased around the world, in part because of the anti-vaccination movement.

Under the proposed draft, toddlers and young children in Germany who have not been immunized would not be allowed to enter preschool. But German law mandates school attendance starting at age 6, so parents whose children have not had their scheduled shots would face a fine.

Mr. Spahn has defended his proposal by drawing a parallel to traffic laws that force drivers who are caught speeding to pay a fine because their actions are a danger to others. “The goal is not to fine people, the goal is to ensure that people are immunized,” he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

15) I follow abortion politics pretty closely, but I learned a good bit from Ruth Graham on how the pro-life movement has increasingly moved away from the rape/incest exception.

16) This New Yorker piece on the role of Sandra Day O’Connor in abortion jurisprudence was really interesting.

17a) No, CBD is not a wonder-drug, cure-all.  Yet, it does seem to be a really interesting molecule that may well have a lot to offer therapeutically for a variety of conditions.

17b) Meanwhile, law enforcement is dumb enough to arrest (and not immediately drop charges) for a local woman using this legal product, “NC mom smoked legal hemp for anxiety. Police charged her with marijuana possession.”  Also, ridiculous that the local police chief and DA did not feel any responsibility to explain their actions.

18) This NYT story on the value of low-stakes friendships was really interesting.  Also one clear lesson (which I’m pretty good at): just talk to people:

Want to relish in a full Rolodex of low-stakes friends? Here’s how you can get the most out of these relationships.

Give yourself permission to talk to familiar faces. Dr. Sandstrom tells participants in her studies to speak to one new person a week. “I think people need to feel like it’s O.K.,” she said. “When you give people permission to talk and they take it, they enjoy it.”

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Instead of considering these minor brushes of socialization throwaway interactions, cultivating low-stakes relationships can pay dividends. Here’s why you should exchange pleasantries the next time you see a friendly face when you’re out and about…

Shift your attitudes. Since research suggests talking with strangers is a pleasant experience and leaves us feeling fulfilled, there’s no reason to groan when your Uber driver strikes up a conversation. By altering your expectations around the level of enjoyment these conversations provide — both for you and the other person — you’re more likely to engage in the first place.

Mirror an expert’s behavior. When she was growing up, Dr. Sandstrom watched her father interact with virtually everyone he encountered. As an adult, she adopted some of his conversational habits when speaking with acquaintances. Do you have friends who seem to strike up a conversation with everyone in the bar? Observe them: How do they initiate the exchange? What questions do they ask? What topics do they avoid? (For more on this, here are some tips on how to have better conversations.)

Make the conversations meaningful. If your goal is for these low-stakes friendships to evolve into something more significant, it’s important for these exchanges to be high quality, Dr. Hall said. “When we have that sense of connection with somebody, it accelerates the process by which we try to take action to create a deeper friendship.”

19) Apparently not only PPP has fun with polls, “Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news.”  The article doesn’t reference “Veep,” but I have to think that was the inspiration.

20) I wrote some stuff about abortion a long time ago.  I’m seriously going to get back into public opinion on abortion research:

Although the 2000 Republican and Democratic national party platforms show the parties at opposite poles on abortion policy, Governor George W. Bush publicly supported a vaguely defined “culture of life,” rather than the constitutional amendment barring abortion that was advocated by his party. In light of Bush’s campaign strategy, this article uses national survey data to examine the accuracy of citizens’ knowledge of the candidates’ abortion policy positions. Interestingly, pro‐choice Republican voters were much less likely to defect from their party in 2000 than in 1996, suggesting that the Bush campaign’s efforts to avoid public opposition to his abortion position were successful.

21) Almost seems crazy not to buy this camera at this price.  And yet, pretty sure my wife will say no.

22) The best explainer on advanced hockey stats I’ve come across.

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Quick hits (part I)

Oh my, I have been a complete loser blogger this week.  Cannot believe I’ve gone quick hits to quick hits with nothing in between.  And late, too.  Forgive me.  I promise a better week next week.

1) I order a lot from Amazon and thus have a non-trivial amount of Amazon returns.  I was actually somewhat surprised recently when I got my refund as soon as UPS scanned the return package.  I presume Amazon has some algorithm that says I’m a good customer that does not abuse the return process.

2) I also wondered what would happen to the electric razor that I was unhappy with (for my oldest son– I’m all about the Mach 3 Turbo).  Enjoyed this story about trying to make money on bulk Amazon returns.  I imagine, alas, that used electric razors end up in the trash.

3) Stephen Moore is such an absurd hack that it is offensive to hacks to call him a hack.  It’s a very good thing he will not serve on the Federal Reserve.  And to the utter shame (as is so much) of today’s Republicans that they ignored his horrible qualifications and nutty economic ideas, but only gave up on him for his absurd sexist remarks.  Great take from Yglesias:

Stephen Moore is a charlatan who plays a policy expert on TV

If you consume a lot of conservative media, you could easily be under the impression that Moore is one of the top economic policy thinkers in the country.

He has written extensively over the years for the Weekly Standard and National Review, long the two leading intellectual magazines of the conservative movement. He’s a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He’s a contributor to CBN News and a former Fox News guy who jumped to CNN in 2017. But, again, even though Trump probably best knows him from television, he’s not just a television pundit. He published in the American Enterprise Institute’s in-house journal and was the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute for many years.

In short, the institutional conservative movement appears to regard him as a serious heavyweight thinker on economic policy…

Moore’s nomination deserved to sink because he’s a crank. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, he complained of imminent hyperinflation at the height of the Great Recession while now arguing that the economy faces deflation when there’s no evidence of this in economic data. He “advocates — at least when politically convenient — crank economic ideas, including returning to the gold standard.” Paul Krugman reminds us that in 2007-’08 when the country was tumbling into recession, he called for interest rate hikes that would have greatly exacerbated the problem.

4) The economics of creating new antibiotics are really not good in today’s big Pharma world.  The good news, is that there are some innovative policy ideas to encourage the creation of new antibiotics.  And we really need them.

5) A good friend of mine recently had to have his daughter treated with anti-venom for a copperhead snakebite.  Sounded like an all-around nightmare. Especially wondering if his insurance (same as mine!) was going to cover the $14,000 anti-venom.  Christopher Ingraham on why it costs so damn much (only in America, of course), “The crazy reason it costs $14,000 to treat a snakebite with $14 medicine”

Shockingly, the cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.

6) I finally watched John Oliver’s take on how prosecutors are the fundamental problem in our criminal justice system.  He’s right.  And, of course, it’s a really good segment.

7) I just came across this Conversation piece from a few years ago by an NC State professors on the genetics of Eastern Coyotes and how coywolfs are not a thing.  I had no idea that there was always a mix of dog in there:

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

8) Chait, “Trump Claims He Can Ignore Subpoenas Because Congress Is Mean”

This same argument runs nearly all of Trump’s refusals to abide congressional subpoenas. “These aren’t, like, impartial people,” the president declared of Congress. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

The first thing to understand about this legal theory is that it is not a legal theory. Congress is a coequal branch of government which has a legal right to conduct investigations, including of the Executive branch and its officials. There is a legal gray zone around “executive privilege,” which describes the right of officials in the Executive branch to have some confidentiality around their internal discussions.

But Trump is not articulating a theory of executive privilege here. Nor would such a privilege cover a president’s right to maintain a business empire that accepts payments that may or may not be bribes disguised as legitimate reimbursements in complete secrecy from Congress and the public.

Essentially Trump’s argument is that congressional oversight is simply “politics” and, therefore, somehow null and void. Trump’s Deutsche Bank lawsuit has a passage that could have been lifted from an op-ed written by a sophomore member of the College Republicans. It quotes Nancy Pelosi promising “checks and balances to the Trump administration,” then asserts she was “not referring to legislation.” It proceeds to quote a series of journalists describing Congress’s investigations as being unpleasant for Trump:

9) Can’t say I find this Jesse Singal headline all that surprising,”Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising.”

10) Here’s my tweet on the latest Game of Thrones episode:

That said, I loved this tactical analysis of the battle from Angry Staff Officer.

11) Given how much the abortion debate tends to focus on the much more complicated issue of later abortions, this chart from Drum is very useful:

12) I’ve often wondered why getting pictures framed is so damn expensive.  I really would like to framed art in my house, but, the framing always seems like such a rip-off.  Vox is on the case:

Higher pricing is the consequence of frame stores keeping options on hand

According to a 2018 IBISWorld report, there are 9,000 local frame shops in the United States, and if you’ve ever been to one, you know it to be a pretty intimidating experience. You go in knowing you only need one black frame, but are then bombarded with a host of options: There’s matting (a piece of paper or cardboard that goes inside the frame and mounts the print or photo), molding (decorative embellishments on the outside of the frame), glass (referred to as glazing, which can be made of glass or acrylic, and, depending on what you choose, can offer UV protection), and the frames themselves.

According to Mark Klostermeyer, a member of the Professional Picture Frames Association, it’s the sheer amount of mattings, moldings, glazings, and frames a shop provides that drives up prices. The fewer options a business offers, the more able they are to order in bulk, therefore cutting down costs.

Klostermeyer has owned Design Frames, a local custom frame shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for 50 years. “I’m a second generation framer,” he tells me. Klostermeyer offers 2,000 different frames at his shop, along with hundreds of mats and specialty fabric matting options. He also gets custom moldings from eight different vendors.

13) This account of a (non-tenure-track) Duke professor being fired because he may have offended some small percentage of students with just horrible due process is really depressing.

14) Really liked reading about the idea of “decoupling” in Jesse Singal’s article about erisology, the study of how to argue effectively:

The concept of decoupling is erisology at its best. Expanding on the writing of the mathematician and blogger Sarah Constantin, who was herself drawing on the work of the psychologist Keith Stanovich, Nerst describes decoupling as simply the idea of removing extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own, rather than the fog of associations, ideologies, and potentials swirling around it.

When I first heard of decoupling, I immediately thought about the nervous way in which liberals discuss intelligence research. There is overwhelming evidence that intelligence, as social scientists define and measure it, has a strong hereditary component; according to some estimates, genetic factors account for about half the variation in intelligence among individuals. None of that has anything to do with race, because races do not map neatly onto genetic difference. But because the link between intelligence and genetics is so steeped in oppression and ugly history—that is, because charlatans have so eagerly cited nonsense “research” purporting to demonstrate Europeans’ natural superiority—discussions even of well-founded studies about intelligence often end in acrimony over their potential misuse.

Once you know a term like decoupling, you can identify instances in which a disagreement isn’t really about X anymore, but about Y and Z. When some readers first raised doubts about a now-discredited Rolling Stone story describing a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, they noted inconsistencies in the narrative. Others insisted that such commentary fit into destructive tropes about women fabricating rape claims, and therefore should be rejected on its face. The two sides weren’t really talking; one was debating whether the story was a hoax, while the other was responding to the broader issue of whether rape allegations are taken seriously. Likewise, when scientists bring forth solid evidence that sexual orientation is innate, or close to it, conservatives have lashed out against findings that would “normalize” homosexuality. But the dispute over which sexual acts, if any, society should discourage is totally separate from the question of whether sexual orientation is, in fact, inborn. Because of a failure to decouple, people respond indignantly to factual claims when they’re actually upset about how those claims might be interpreted.

15) I really enjoyed telling my wife about the Vegetable Lamb this week:

It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.

According to 19th-century naturalist Henry Lee, who penned an exhaustive 60-page treatise on the history of the vegetable lamb, in Europe this legend “met with almost universal credence from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Its source, it seems, was the Middle Ages’ most famous traveler, Sir John Mandeville, whose fantastical accounts of his roamings abroad in the 1300s led to no small number of misconceptions back in England.

Mandeville writes in Middle English, so I’ll go ahead and just paraphrase for you: In Tartary (what is now Russia and Mongolia), there grows a plant that produces gourds, and from these issue forth tiny lambs, which men eat. Mandeville, who likely made up a good chunk of his travelsand pulled from reference material instead, wrote that in his experience, they are quite delicious. So based on vegetable lambs not actually existing, we can confirm that Mandeville was somewhat of a liar. (Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, refers to him hilariously as “the problematic Sir John Mandeville.”)

16) Aaron Rupar on the generally sad media coverage of Trump’s latest lie-fest rallies: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses
Lying is still being recast as ‘reviv[ing] an inaccurate refrain.'”

17) You’ve likely noticed that I like Wired and that it has a paywall.  I’m a subscriber to the print magazine (I love that my 13-year old devours it when it shows up every month), so I happily get the digital as part of that.  I enjoyed reading their lessons from a year behind the paywall:

But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattledindustry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.

First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent over the year before. We don’t know if they’ll resubscribe (please do); we don’t know if they’ll ultimately pay higher prices (please do); we don’t know if it’ll be as easy to get the next batch of people to join (please do). But the early signs are good, particularly for a year in which the bottom fell out from some traffic referrers that used to drive subscribers (hello, Facebook) and the greatest growth was on a platform (hello, Apple News) where getting direct subscribers in 2018 was as easy as hitting a bank shot 3-pointer, and getting subscribers in 2019 will now essentially require a half-court heave.

The second lesson: The stories that led people to subscribe were a little surprising. When we started this, we invested in three new kinds of pieces: longform reportingIdeas essays, and issue guides. All three types overindex in generating subscriptions.

18) Ken Tucker reviewed a new Lizzo album at the end of a Fresh Air episode this week.  I had never heard of her before.  Not my usual type of music, but damn is she good.  I’ve really been enjoying on Spotify this week.  In fact, I’m listening as I work on this post.

19) Black incarceration rates are down.  That’s good.  And we still need to do better.  The charts:

20) So many great takes this week on the amazing awfullness that is William Barr.  Kept meaning to write a post.  I still will,  But this is good.  “Mueller Spent Years Collecting Evidence. Barr Is Pretending It’s Not There.: The special counsel meticulously collected backup for his claims. Barr’s testimony Wednesday dismisses it.”

21) I really hate the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to overlook all sorts of evidence to pretend that Trump’s administration is acting in good faith when it is so transparently not.  Ugh.  Drum on the census case:

In oral hearings yesterday, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives made it pretty clear that they intend to allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers a pointed and largely correct explanation of why this is so bad:

Everyone knows that in the census case Ross “papered” a rationale to justify a decision made for other reasons. But the Court can overturn the decision without finding that he lied — simply by holding that it was arbitrary and capricious to sacrifice the accuracy of the count to obtain citizenship data that could be obtained (at least as accurately, and perhaps more accurately) through administrative records without adding a question to the census. That seems a pretty reasonable holding given that the Constitution itself focuses on an accurate count of the whole population.

But if the Court goes the other way, it is truly an “emperor has no clothes” opinion. The Court will uphold the reasonableness of Ross’s “determination” even though everyone knows those were not his real reasons — in other words, basing its ruling on what everyone knows to be a fictional story, concocted to pass judicial muster. If the Court is willing to tolerate that, what won’t it tolerate?

And then there are the plainly partisan consequences of the ruling. Combine it with the almost-certain rejection of constitutional challenges to gerrymandering, and other election-related decisions and everything points in the same direction — entrenchment of Republican power to resist the forces of demographic change.

Ross lied initially about the citizenship question, saying it had been requested by the Justice Department even though it hadn’t been. Then he badgered DOJ into requesting it. Then he finally asked his own census experts to weigh in, and they said pretty clearly that they could get better data and a more accurate count without the citizenship question. However, they couldn’t be absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of that, and that was enough for Ross to hang his hat on. If there was even a 1 percent chance of the citizenship question producing better data, then by God, the census would have a citizenship question…

Republicans know that they’re in a demographic death spiral, so they’ve been doing their best to nickel-and-dime additional votes over the past decade. They’ve tried voter ID laws, gerrymandering, targeting of black voters, and now the census. In every case, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has taken their side. It’s hard to think of a series of cases that could more clearly demonstrate that Republicans on the Supreme Court are naked partisans when it comes to voting issues, but they don’t seem to care. This is why Mitch McConnell broke the Senate in order to get another Republican on the court, and it looks likely to pay off yet again. [emphasis mine]

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

Sorry I did not get to more blogging this week.  Busy catching up after a mini vacation, plus standard end-of-semester busyness.  But so much I wanted to write about and just didn’t have time.

1) As a parent who’s child was diagnosed with autism under 2 (our autism concerns were our first clue that actually read to his rare disease diagnosis), I’m definitely interested in the latest research looking for early signs of autism to allow for earlier intervention:

Every pediatrician knows that it’s important to diagnose autism when a child is as young as possible, because when younger children get help and intensive therapy, their developmental outcomes improve, as measured in everything from improved language, cognition and social skills to normalized brain activity.

“The signs and symptoms for most children are there between 12 and 24 months,” said Dr. Paul S. Carbone, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah and a co-author of “Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Every Parent Needs to Know,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If we can get them in for evaluation by then, the therapies are available as young as those ages, you can easily start by 2,” he said. “We’d like to give kids the benefit of getting started early.”…

Researchers looking to find a biomarker that may help with the early diagnosis of autism have seized on the question of how young children react to hearing their names called. Dr. Dawson was the corresponding author on a study in April in the journal Autismwhich used computer vision analysis to look at the reactions of toddlers from 16 to 31 months old, in response to hearing their names called. Those with autism spectrum disorder took significantly longer to look away from a video and orient toward the person who had called.

“Toddlers and infants who will go on to develop autism are paying attention to the world in a very different way,” Dr. Dawson said.

The hope is eventually to make a tool that would be easily available in low-resource countries, or in any area in the United States, perhaps by having parents collect data on their phones.

2) I learned about the legal thicket of sex-by-deception pretty recently.  It’s actually a complicated and varying legal issue:

Abigail Finney was in her freshman year at Purdue University in Indiana in February 2017 when she fell asleep in her boyfriend’s dorm room. During the night he snuggled up to her in bed in the pitch black, his hand grazing her breast, and they began having sex.

She soon stopped to go to the bathroom and, when she returned, discovered, to her horror, that it wasn’t her boyfriend who was in bed with her.

Was it rape?

Ms. Finney thought so and went to the police, who arrested Donald Grant Ward, the 19-year-old impostor. Mr. Ward, a friend of her boyfriend’s, admitted that he knew he was tricking Ms. Finney; he was charged with two counts of rape, which carries a sentence of three to 16 years.

The Finney family connected with Joyce Short, an activist and sexual assault survivor who runs ConsentAwareness.net. Ms. Short, 70, wants a universal law stating that consent is “freely given, knowledgeable, and informed agreement.” This may sound obvious, but it’s actually not, because there’s no universal definition of consent in the United States. Each state defines it differently, if it defines it at all.

3) So fascinated by and enjoying James Holzhauer’s run on Jeopardy.  Nice NYT interview.  And cannot say I disagree with Drum’s take: “The Key to “Jeopardy!” Is Knowing Lots of Stuff”

As a longtime Jeopardy! fan, my problem with Holzhauer is that I feel like I’m watching a different species play the game. Even with a guy like Ken Jennings, I could sort of fool myself into thinking that I could beat him if I just got a little lucky. But Holzhauer? Forget it. He’d crush me like an ant. His buzzer timing and his board skills are off the charts, which merely masks the fact that he’s also wildly knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. I don’t think there’s been a category yet where he’s shown any serious weakness.

So that’s that. The Jeopardy! folks should probably be thinking about a special two-entity showdown between Holzhauer and IBM’s Watson, since I’m not sure any other human has a chance of beating him.

4) This is interesting, “Tiny Knee Bone, Once Lost in Humans, Is Making a Comeback: The fabella disappeared from our lineage millions of years ago, but over the last century, its presence in people’s knees has become more common.”

5) Criminalizing voter registration drives due to the totally foreseeable human errors involved is so wrong.  And, sadly, so indicative of today’s GOP.

6) The technology to stop spoofed (e.g., fake your area code) calls to your cell phone may actually be on the way.  Hooray!

7) I find it rather intriguing that hockey has the smallest home field advantage of major American professional sports despite that it’s the one sport to give a clear, rules-based advantage to the home team (the timing of line changes during stoppages).  Ended up having a great discussion on the matter when I shared this on FB recently.

8) Great piece from Rebecca Traister asks what changes when the presidential field is full of men:

The tight knot for women in politics (and perhaps in life) has been, will always be, this: Everything associated with motherhood has been coded as faintly embarrassing and less than — from mom jeans to mommy brain to the Resistance. And yet to be a bad mom has been disqualifying, and to not be a mom at all is to be understood as lacking something: gravity, value, femininity. Just this month, Tucker Carlson wondered, about New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whether “someone who’s never even raised children gets the right to lecture me about morality,” as if parents are given a moral compass upon the birth of a child.

Fatherhood for male politicians so far has, for the most part, worked only as a bonus. It’s been a way to show off the shiny white teeth of a strong gene pool and an escape hatch from a job you’re getting fired from — in order to spend more time with your family! It’s been a way for powerful men to signal respect for women without evincing femininity themselves: They are the fathers of daughters, folks. At its best, presenting publicly as a committed father has offered an opportunity for men who otherwise cast themselves as tough and authoritative to demonstrate their tender side.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie, “Why Trump Won’t Stop Talking About Ilhan Omar”

The way Representative Omar’s address made its way to President Trump is emblematic of how inflammatory ideas and rhetoric are transmitted from individual lawmakers and conservative media to the national stage. Omar spoke in public — Fox News even streamed it for its audience. But it wasn’t a controversy until it reached the ears of Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Republican who took the snippet on 9/11 and framed it as something disrespectful. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” Crenshaw said on Twitter. “Unbelievable.”

With that, the wider world of conservative media pounced. “You have to wonder if she’s an American first,” declared Brian Kilmeade, one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post took it a step further with a Thursday front page showing a photo from 9/11 — the moment the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center — with the headline, “Here’s Your Something.”…

It is easy to tie these attacks to Trump’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. But anti-Muslim prejudice was common in Republican politics before he stepped on the political stage with his “birther” charges against President Barack Obama.

It was an important force among Republican voters — in one 2004 poll, for example, about 40 percent of self-identified Republicans said that Muslim Americans should be required to register with the government and 41 percent said that Muslim-American civic groups should be infiltrated by the government. Well before Obama was a household name and Trump a political figure, a 2006 Gallup poll found wide anti-Muslim prejudice “with Republicans ascribing more negative political and religious qualities to Muslims, and being more opposed to having Muslims as neighbors than are Democrats and independents.”

It was an important force in conservative media. Conservative radio and television hosts frequently conflated all Muslims with the actions of extremists. In one 2006 segment on his radio show, Glenn Beck warned that if “good Muslims” aren’t “the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head,” then “human beings” might be forced into “putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it.”

2) Loved this Atlantic article how unlike most medicine, much of dentistry is not currently evidence-based medicine.  Also, pretty sure that my dentist is actually one of the good guys.  The dentist in the article?  Whoa!

3) I love hockey, but I’ll never forget my first hockey game being amazed and appalled at how many of the fans seemed to really revel in the fights and violence.  I love the amazing speed and skill.  And, yes, I appreciate a good clean hit where nobody gets injured.  But the fact that fighting is still essentially allowed (just a minor penalty) puts it at odds with every other serious sport.  Also, it can be bad for your brain.

4) Krugman on Republicans’ crazy obsession with AOC and Omar:

The attack on Democrats has largely involved demonizing two new members of Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Omar is Muslim, and the usual suspects have gone all-out in using an out-of-context quotation to portray her, completely falsely, as sympathetic to terrorists. AOC, who calls herself a democratic socialist — although she’s really just a social democrat — has been the subject of obsessive coverage on the right. Over a six-week period, Fox News and Fox Business mentioned her more than 3,000 times, invariably portraying her as ignorant, radical, or both.

It’s surely not an accident that these two principal targets are both women of color; there’s a sense in which supposed concerns about extremism are just a cover for sexism and white nationalism. But it’s still worth pointing out that while both Omar and AOC are on the left of the Democratic Party, neither is staking out policy positions that are extreme compared with either expert views or public opinion.

5) Yes, Sylvia Hatchell made some inappropriate racially-charged remarks, but, damn did she sure deserve to get fired for the complete disregard for her players’ health.

6) Good stuff in Wired on sleep:

He ran down all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.

“Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology,” he said. “Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.”…

His message came across as a rebuke of the idea that sleep deprivation and success somehow go hand in hand. Tim Cook reportedly wakes up at 3:45 am to start work. Barack Obama said he only sleeps about 5 hours. He’s a “night guy.” Donald Trump and Elon Musk both have said they sleep only a few hours a night. But Musk has also admitted to The New York Times that his work schedule was taking a toll on his mental health and whole life. Walker argued that it’s time to stop thinking that needing sleep is a sign of weakness or laziness. In fact, it’s the opposite.

7) Enjoyed this interview with Melinda Gates:

In terms of the work you’re doing right now — as a person, a human being — what keeps you up at night? Contraceptives. Reproductive health. Any time I see anything in the United States that looks like we’re rolling back women’s health, I’m thinking, What communities does that affect in the United States, and whom does it affect disproportionately? Then I worry even more, to be honest, about what the repercussions are going to be on foreign aid in the dollars that we spend in other countries. Because, boy, do I see the difference contraceptives make there.

You’re not thinking about more microlevel stuff late at night? No. I’m thinking about contraceptives, where we’re helping lead internationally. In the United States, when something changes, people are going to stand up. But my role is to make sure that I’m advocating on behalf of, for example, women in Kenya. United States funding of reproductive health rights affects those women. So I have to think macro. I have to.

8) No, not cable pundits, but assuming “mainstream media” = good newspaper journalism, then the Mueller report means three cheers for the mainstream media.  Paul Farhi, “Mueller report suggests the ‘fake news’ came from Trump, not the news media.”

9) ICE departs widower of KIA soldier.  Than reverses course in face of media firestorm.  I wish the latter wasn’t necessary for ICE to do the right thing.  Right now, ICE is an absolute embarrassment of a government agency.

10) Yglesias with a good take on Buttigieg meteoric rise:

As personalities and political thinkers, Buttigieg and Donald Trump are very different. But Buttigieg seems to have assimilated a key lesson of Trump’s 2016 campaign — in a crowded field, attention is the scarcest commodity, and it’s worth seeking wherever it can be found. Trump didn’t have traditional political experience or a traditional campaign operation, but he was willing and eager to be omnipresent on television in unscripted situations…

There’s a cliché in American politics that opposition parties like to select a nominee who is in some sense the opposite of the hated incumbent. And Buttigieg — a young, gay, and extremely earnest Midwestern intellectual who’s also a combat veteran — certainly fits one version of that bill. But he’s also very much a beneficiary of the extent to which Trump’s election has lowered the bar for qualification for high office.

As Olivia Nuzzi, the author of a big new Buttigieg profile in New York magazine, pointed out over the weekend, he’s very much followed the model of obtaining coverage by making himself fun to cover.

11) Drum with a skeptical take on that encouraging Lebron-sponsored public school:

If you read between the lines, here’s what you get:

If:

  • You refuse to take students in the bottom ten percent . . .
  • And you choose students whose parents have affirmatively shown an interest in getting their kids into a better school . . .
  • And you increase the school’s budget by 50 percent to hire lots of tutors and extra aides . . .
  • And you extend both the school day and the school year . . .

Then:

  • You can expect a modest improvement in performance during the students’ first year.

Believe me when I say that I know how cynical this sounds. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised about getting results like this from a program with this framework. Programs similar to this one have been started up before and have often shown promise, just as you’d expect. The problem is getting them to scale; getting them to work when you have to take all comers; and getting them to continue working over the long term. We have very few success stories like that.

12) America making some nice progress on offshore wind power and the technological developments behind it.

13) This NYT interactive graphic on the Notre Dame fire is pretty awesome.

Social media life complements real life

I have no doubt that used improperly (like anything) social media can be a real net negative in some people’s lives.  That said, I totally disagree with this Op-Ed arguing to post less good news on social media:

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I get so many great interactions in-person precisely because I post a lot on FB.  Instead of a casual “how’s it going Steve?” to which I typically do not answer, “oh, good, Alex’s brain tumor is shrinking,” friends that I would not necessarily think to just share that with in a quick hall-way hello, say, “I saw about Alex’s shrinking tumor— that’s awesome!  Tell me more.”  Or, “wow, your soccer team is kicking butt– what’s the secret.”  Or, “I saw Evan’s science award– that’s awesome.”  And so many others.  And these lead to great conversations.  We end up talking about Evan’s love of science, or how David is doing at Wake Tech, or Alex’s health, or Sarah’s soccer team, etc.  And it’s great.  All because I post pictures, etc.  When I see a friend in the hallway at work and they say “how’s it going?” I don’t say, “great, Sarah had a really nice dance recital on Saturday.”  But, it’s awesome when that same friend says, “loved the photos at Sarah’s dance recital.”

I could go on.  But, the short version is that social media leads to me sharing so much more of my life than I otherwise would in most spontaneous interactions and that has absolutely enhanced my real-world relationships.

Oh, and I didn’t go to my Duke 25th reunion this weekend, but had a great time seeing a couple of Duke friends at brunch yesterday.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Very cool NYT visualization of how “The Democratic Electorate on Twitter Is Not the Actual Democratic Electorate. ”

2) Jonathan Ladd with a great MIschiefs of Faction piece, “The Senate is a much bigger problem than the Electoral College: While the Electoral College is a stranger, more poorly designed institution, the Senate poses much bigger challenges going forward.”

Because of their similarities — they are both unusual, state-based, winner-take-all constitutional features — it is easy to assume that the Senate and Electoral College both distort democratic representation in similar ways. But this is not the case. The Senate gives a big advantage to voters in small states, because every state gets an equal number of Senators.

Thus, California’s 39 million people get two senators in Washington, while two Senators also represent states like Wyoming (578,000 people), Vermont (626,000 people), and Alaska (737,000 people). In 2013, the New York Times pointed out that the six senators from California, Texas, and New York represented the same number of people as the 62 senators from the smallest 31 states. (Florida has since passed New York to be the third-biggest state, but the pattern persists.)

People in overrepresented states are not the same as the people in underrepresented states. While there are a few small states on the coasts (hello, Rhode Island and Delaware!), many more small states are inland and rural. The coasts and their large cities tend to be in larger states. This means that the economic and infrastructure needs of cities get less representation in the Senate.

America’s nonwhite population tends to be overwhelmingly in large or medium-sized states. To illustrate, the 10 biggest states (by 2018 Census estimates) all have nontrivial percentages of nonwhite voters, while the 10 smallest states mostly consist of rural, overwhelmingly white states…

The Senate’s representational biases make it harder to do many things, including continuing to reduce systematic unequal treatment of nonwhite people in American society and trying to mitigate climate change. The most plausible reforms — ending the filibuster and admitting DC and Puerto Rico — only begin to reduce the problem. Anyone working to improve American public policy needs to think hard about the vexing problem of Senate reform, because without such reform, adequately addressing the most serious problems facing the United States is impossible. [emphasis mine]

3) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander looking at the relationship between brain size as well as other features, like neuron density, across the animal kingdom and how that relates to intelligence:

To cut to the conclusion: birds have lots of cortical neurons, and number of cortical neurons may be one of the most important biological substrates of intelligence.

It looks like the main driver behind the encephalization quotient results is that bigger animals have bigger neurons. Although elephants have big brains, each of the neurons in those brains is also big, so they don’t have many more neurons than smaller animals. One exception is primates, who have “managed to escape this scaling factor”. In primates, bigger brains translate into more neurons at about a 1:1 rate, which is part of why we’re so smart.

The other exception is birds. Driven by the need to stay light enough to fly, birds have scaled down their neurons to a level unmatched by any other group. Elephants have about 7,000 neurons per mg of brain tissue. Humans have about 25,000. Birds have up to 200,000. That means a small crow can have the same number of neurons as a pretty big monkey.

Does this mean they are equally smart? There is no generalized animal IQ test, so nobody knows for sure. But AII tried to get a rough feeling for this by asking blinded survey participants to rate the intelligence of various animal behavioral repertoires (which, unknown to them, corresponded to the behaviors of either a primate or a bird). They found that participants judged birds to be about as smart as similarly-neuroned primates. In particular, birds with more neurons were rated as smarter than primates with fewer neurons, which is a pretty crushing blow to us monkeys. It also suggests that the different organization of the mammalian cortex and the avian pallium doesn’t matter much.

So does that mean that intelligence is just a function of neuron quantity? That the number of neurons in your brain, plugged into some function, can spit out your IQ?

It…comes pretty surprisingly close to meaning that.

4) North Carolina’s extreme pollen is so bad this year it made the NYT (including these photos that went viral on FB):

Storm clouds pushing pollen over Durham, N.C., earlier this week.  Reuters

5) My own beloved wife actually got taken in by the faux, bad-faith, outrage over Ilhan Omar and 9/11.  Conor Friedersdorf is on the case:

Last month, Representative Ilhan Omar attended a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where she delivered remarks for roughly 20 minutes.

A major theme was prejudice against Muslims. “Here’s the truth,” she said. “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Omar’s meaning was clear: Many Muslims felt collectively blamed for something that was indisputably perpetrated by a tiny fraction of their co-religionists and marshaled new resources to protect their civil rights in response. (CAIR was actually founded in the 1990s, but expanded significantly after 9/11.)

Her speech was covered live. It generated no blowback upon delivery. Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as ‘Some people did something,’ then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil.”

CAIR is not, in fact, a terrorist organization. Anyone with third-grade reading comprehension can review Omar’s clumsy words and see that they do not, in fact, assert that 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, nor that its perpetrators were not terrorists. Arriving at the opposite conclusion requires interpreting Omar’s words in a manner that is both implausible and willfully optimized for offense-taking.

Nevertheless, Representative Dan Crenshaw retweeted the imam’s remarks, seizing a chance for a woke callout and the expression of disdainful outrage. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” he wrote. “Unbelievable.”

What’s “unbelievable” about imperfect extemporaneous speech?

There was no reason to suspect that Omar holds any objectionable views about 9/11. Crenshaw was opportunistically drawing attention to an unintentionally problematic word choice, like an “SJW” filing a frivolous complaint about a microaggression. He needlessly drew attention to an inartful locution on an emotionally fraught topic. And he was not the worst offender…

At the Washington Examiner, Tom Rogan shows the way. “I do not believe Omar’s words were designed to deride our fallen fellow citizens,” he writes. She was emphasizing “the ideological separation between American Muslims and al Qaeda.” It is understandable “why Omar would be frustrated at the damage that the 9/11 attacks did to American perceptions of her faith,” he added. “Many Muslims also died on 9/11, and the vast majority of American Muslims are decent patriots. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that was her key point: al Qaeda are not us, and their evil should not be used to collectively punish Muslims. You don’t have to approve of CAIR or Omar to appreciate the legitimacy of this idea.”

6) Parents leave a loaded gun in a car with their two kids.  Four-year old shoots and kills six-year old.  If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.  But, in gun-loving America, it’s not.  That really needs to change.

7) I knew that the St Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington was a rookie sensation.  I had no idea he was 25 or had such an interesting backstory.  It also makes me wonder how many clearly qualified professional athletes are in the minor leagues while they are nonetheless better than the people at the top level.  I suspect it is not a trivial number.

8) Trump’s trade war doing so much damage to all sorts of farmers.  Of course they still love him.

9) This is good and true, “To Reform the Police, Target Their Union Contract.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — After decades of lawsuits and mass protests failed to radically reform the troubled Police Department, we tried a new tactic a few years ago: Targeting one of the most problematic police union contracts in the country. As a result, Austin went from having a retrograde contract to one that offers transparency and accountability. Others cities can follow this route as well.

For years, the Austin Police Department’s contract limited civilian oversight, allowed police misconduct records to basically vanish and kept certain important internal affairs files under seal. This lack of oversight, accountability and transparency was linked to the over-policing of Austin’s black community…

For 18 months, our group, the Austin Justice Coalition, led a major grass-roots organizing campaign. We demanded a seat at the bargaining table with the City Council and the police union and pressed for reforms with teeth.

And we won.

In 2017, the City Council voted down the police union contract because of concerns over accountability, not for the usual reasons like salary or benefits — reportedly the first time a City Council has ever done this.

10) This is some awesome social science & historical research:

Emancipation should have laid waste to the Southern aristocracy. The economy was built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans, and almost half the Confederacy’s wealth was invested in owning humans. Once people could no longer be treated as chattel, that wealth evaporated.

But less than two decades after the Civil War, Southern slave-owning dynasties were back on top of the economic ladder, according to an ambitious new analysis from Leah Boustan of Princeton University, Katherine Eriksson of the University of California at Davis and Philipp Ager of the University of Southern Denmark.

Their research upends the conventional wisdom that slave owners struggled after they lost access to their wealth. Yes, some fell behind economically in the war’s aftermath. But by 1880, the sons of slave owners were better off than the sons of nearby Southern whites who started with equal wealth but were not as invested in enslaved people…

The findings by Boustan and her colleagues indicate generational inequality in the United States isn’t just about the money. Even after the enslaved people on whom their wealth was built were freed, Southern elites passed their advantages to their children through personal networks and social capital. [emphasis mine]

11) Nice Washington Post Op-Ed on border policy, “Neither Trump nor Democrats have advanced a solution for the border. Here’s one.”

A cogent plan to cope with the tsunami of asylum-seeking migrants, mainly Central American families and unaccompanied minors, would start with hundreds more immigration judges to supplement the existing 400 or sowhose backlog of roughly 800,000 cases means that hearings are now scheduled for 2021 and beyond. It would mean expanding and constructing detention centers near the border, suitable for families, that could accommodate many multiples of their current capacity while migrants await the adjudication of their cases. And it would probably entail congressional action that would permit authorities to hold families for more than the three weeks that court decrees have set as a limit on detentions that involve children. Crucially, the existence of a functional system would in short order begin to deter migrants without plausible asylum claims from embarking on the risky and expensive journey.

12) OMG, Brett Easton Ellis‘ recent interview on politics was insane.  This guy should so not be writing anything about politics.

13) Joshua Spivak “The electoral college is a failure. The Founding Fathers would probably agree.”

The electoral college did not succeed in warding off the creation of “cabals” — better known today as political parties. And as the 2016 election showed, foreign powers have been very happy to try to manipulate the election, and the current version of the electoral college did nothing to limit such behavior.

Despite this, all the plans to get rid of the electoral college are, at the moment, fantastical. The Republican Party is firmly opposed to the idea, and there seems little hope that Republicans will change their minds. The Interstate Compact has not been adopted by any “red” states, and even if it passed, it would be certain to face legal challenges.

It’s safe to say the electoral college is here to stay. But in accepting that, we shouldn’t pretend as though the electoral college is part of some grand bargain that the founders enacted to balance the country. It’s not. Instead, it’s a relic of the 18th century that failed in some of its most important intended purposes.

14) We had a interesting class discussion this week about why it seemed everybody was seeming to run for president.  Occasioning this photo:

This NYT story addresses the dynamics at work:

But at the very least, if recent history is a guide, a run is likely to yield better things, perpetuating the victory-in-defeat incentive structure endemic to modern presidential politics.

Today’s primaries tend to produce one nominee but many winners. Beyond the long-shot candidates effectively auditioning for cabinet positions or building a profile (and donor base) for future races, there are prospective books to sell and television contracts to sign, boards to join and paid speeches to paid-speak. Any setback is temporary, any embarrassment surmountable.

“There’s just absolutely no downside and only upside,” Antonia Ferrier, a longtime Republican strategist and former senior aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, said of quixotic presidential runs. “It is an industry of self-promotion. What better way to self-promote than run for president?”

15) This is fun, “You Are Not as Good at Kissing as You Think. But You Are Better at Dancing.: We overestimate and underestimate our abilities in weird ways.”

More recent studies have found examples in which people tend to underestimate their capabilities. One found that most people thought they would be worse than average at recovering from the death of a loved one. Another study reported that people thought they were worse than most at riding a unicycle. Here, they exhibit illusory inferiority.

So when are people likely to be overconfident in how they rank? And when are they underconfident?…

Four factors consistently predicted overconfidence. (If you want to try this yourself, go here.)

First, people tend to be overconfident on skills that reflect one’s underlying personality or character. This helps explain why people overestimated how they compare with others in their ethics, their reliability as a friend and their value as a human being.

And since many people feel pressure to conform to gender norms, this may help us understand why men and women tend to be particularly overconfident on different tasks. Across the 100 skills tested, men are a bit more overconfident overall in how they compared themselves with members of their gender. But men’s overconfidence is particularly noticeable in stereotypically male tasks. Men think they can best the majority of other men in poker, fixing a chair and understanding science. Women are far less confident that they can outperform other women in these tasks.

In contrast, women think they are better than most other women in understanding other people’s feelings, cooking a delicious meal and child-rearing. Men are less confident that they outrank other men in these tasks…

Next, the researchers found that people tend to be overconfident on tasks that are perceived as easy and underconfident on tasks that are perceived as hard. People overestimate how they compare with others in chopping vegetables (easy) but underestimate where they rank in their ability to recite the alphabet backward (hard).

16) Really likes this pro-nuclear power Op-Ed.  I’m totally on board.  “Nuclear Power Can Save the World: Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy.”

But we actually have proven models for rapid decarbonization with economic and energy growth: France and Sweden. They decarbonized their grids decades ago and now emit less than a tenth of the world average of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. They remain among the world’s most pleasant places to live and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany to boot.

They did this with nuclear power. And they did it fast, taking advantage of nuclear power’s intense concentration of energy per pound of fuel. France replaced almost all of its fossil-fueled electricity with nuclear power nationwide in just 15 years; Sweden, in about 20 years. In fact, most of the fastest additions of clean electricity historically are countries rolling out nuclear power.

This is a realistic solution to humanity’s greatest problem. Plants built 30 years ago in America, as in France, produce cheap, clean electricity, and nuclear power is the cheapest source in South Korea. The 98 U.S. reactors today provide nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity generation. So why don’t the United States and other countries expand their nuclear capacity? The reasons are economics and fear.

New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. This is why so few are being built. But they don’t need to be so costly. The key to recovering our lost ability to build affordable nuclear plants is standardization and repetition. The first product off any assembly line is expensive — it cost more than $150 million to develop the first iPhone — but costs plunge as they are built in quantity and production kinks are worked out.

Yet as a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it, while France has two types of reactors and hundreds of types of cheese, in the United States it’s the other way around. In recent decades, the United States and some European countries have created ever more complicated reactors, with ever more safety features in response to public fears. New, one-of-a-kind designs, shifting regulations, supply-chain and construction snafus and a lost generation of experts (during the decades when new construction stopped) have driven costs to absurd heights…

All this, however, depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public and many activists. The reality is that nuclear power is the safest form of energy humanity has ever used. Mining accidents, hydroelectric dam failures, natural gas explosions and oil train crashes all kill people, sometimes in large numbers, and smoke from coal-burning kills them in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year.

By contrast, in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one (many deaths resulted from the tsunami and some from a panicked evacuation near the plant); and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day. (Even if we accepted recent claims that Soviet and international authorities covered up tens of thousands of Chernobyl deaths, the death toll from 60 years of nuclear power would still equal about one month of coal-related deaths.)

17) On a related note, Jesse Singal, “How The Left Can Lose The Political Battle Over Climate Change.”

18) There’s ever more streaming services and that’s not actually so great for consumers.  Nice Washington Post piece, “How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey, complicated mess.”

19) Loved this Krugman, “Donald Trump Is Trying to Kill You.”

But the biggest death toll is likely to come from Trump’s agenda of deregulation — or maybe we should call it “deregulation,” because his administration is curiously selective about which industries it wants to leave alone.

Consider two recent events that help capture the deadly strangeness of what’s going on.

One is the administration’s plan for hog plants to take over much of the federal responsibility for food safety inspections. And why not? It’s not as if we’ve seen safety problems arise from self-regulation in, say, the aircraft industry, have we? Or as if we ever experience major outbreaks of food-borne illness? Or as if there was a reason the U.S. government stepped in to regulate meatpacking in the first place?

Now, you could see the Trump administration’s willingness to trust the meat industry to keep our meat safe as part of an overall attack on government regulation, a willingness to trust profit-making businesses to do the right thing and let the market rule. And there’s something to that, but it’s not the whole story, as illustrated by another event: Trump’s declaration the other day that wind turbines cause cancer

But there’s more to this than just another Trumpism. After all, we normally think of Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, as people who minimize or deny the “negative externalities” imposed by some business activities — the uncompensated costs they impose on other people or businesses.

For example, the Trump administration wants to roll back rules that limit emissions of mercury from power plants. And in pursuit of that goal, it wants to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from taking account of many of the benefits from reduced mercury emissions, such as an associated reduction in nitrogen oxide.

But when it comes to renewable energy, Trump and company are suddenly very worried about supposed negative side effects, which generally exist only in their imagination. Last year the administration floated a proposal that would have forced the operators of electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear energy. The supposed rationale was that new sources were threatening to destabilize those grids — but the grid operators themselves denied that this was the case.

So it’s deregulation for some, but dire warnings about imaginary threats for others. What’s going on?

Part of the answer is, follow the money. Political contributions from the meat-processing industry overwhelmingly favor Republicans. Coal mining supports the G.O.P. almost exclusively. Alternative energy, on the other hand, generally favors Democrats.

20) This Amanda Ripley essay on how to have better journalism by taking into account social science (such as all the great Kahneman and Tversky stuff) is really good.  And, really, really long.  But you’ve got all Sunday.

or decades, economists assumed that human beings were reasonable actors, operating in a rational world. When people made mistakes in free markets, rational behavior would, it was assumed, generally prevail. Then, in the 1970s, psychologists like Daniel Kahneman began to challenge those assumptions. Their experiments showed that humans are subject to all manner of biases and illusions.

“We are influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over, and we don’t know we’re doing it,” as Kahneman put it. The good news was that these irrational behaviors are also highly predictable. So economists have gradually adjusted their models to account for these systematic human quirks.

Journalism has yet to undergo this awakening. We like to think of ourselves as objective seekers of truth. Which is why most of us have simply doubled down in recent years, continuing to do more of the same kind of journalism, despite mounting evidence that we are not having the impact we once had. We continue to collect facts and capture quotes as if we are operating in a linear world.

But it’s becoming clear that we cannot FOIA our way out of this problem. If we want to learn the truth, we have to find new ways to listen. If we want our best work to have consequences, we have to be heard. “Anyone who values truth,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote in The Righteous Mind, “should stop worshipping reason.”

We need to find ways to help our audiences leave their foxholes and consider new ideas. So we have a responsibility to use all the tools we can find — including the lessons of psychology.

Quick hits (part I)

1) It’s very early yet, but really promising stuff coming out of the LeBron James-sponsored public school in Akron:

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

The school opened with some skepticism — not only for its high-profile founder, considered by some to be the best basketball player ever, but also for an academic model aimed at students who were, by many accounts, considered unredeemable…

The scores reflect students’ performance on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, a nationally recognized test administered by NWEA, an evaluation association. In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th.

The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

The students have a long way to go to even join the middle of the pack. And time will tell whether the gains are sustainable and how they stack up against rigorous state standardized tests at the end of the year. To some extent, the excitement surrounding the students’ progress illustrates a somber reality in urban education, where big hopes hinge on small victories.

2) Even if airlines don’t want to keep buying the 737 Max, they’ve got little choice:

Yet for all the uncertainty facing Boeing today, analysts believe there is little long-term risk to the company. Boeing and its European rival Airbus are the only significant manufacturers of commercial aircraft. And the 737 Max, for all its problems, remains one of two midsize fuel-efficient passenger jets on the market, along with the Airbus A320neo.

“Boeing’s best protection is that this is a supply-constrained industry,” Mr. Aboulafia said. “There are only two modern airplanes that offer fuel savings. The risk of defection is minimal because of that.”

Nor is there much risk that airlines that have already placed orders with Boeing will walk away, analysts said. With Airbus also backlogged, airlines looking for new planes have no real alternatives.

“Boeing’s ability to modify the aircraft effectively, the duopoly structure of the aircraft market, the large installed base of 737s, and Boeing’s deep and long-term relationships with its customers mean that demand for the Max will not change dramatically,” Mr. Seifman wrote.

3) Chait with an update on Trump’s “war on democracy.”

In recent days, the warning lights have flashed as bright as ever. Trump has ramped up the volume of his authoritarian rhetoric. This week alone, Trump has used “treasonous” as a description for both Democratic immigration policy (“I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS. Their Open Border mindset is putting our Country at risk”) and the Mueller investigation (“In fact, it was an illegal investigation that should never have been allowed to start. I fought back hard against this Phony & Treasonous Hoax!”).

Meanwhile, he is energetically subverting the independence of the Federal Reserve. The country’s economic health and the president’s standing are generally in alignment, but to the extent that they diverge, Trump wants to ensure that the Fed will prioritize the latter over the former. He has appointed a pair of flagrantly unqualified hacks to the board. “He wants guys he can call at home at night and tell them what he wants done,” a former administration official tells The Wall Street Journal

The Republican Senate recently mounted faint, ineffectual resistance to Trump’s plan to unilaterally redirect federal funds for a purpose Congress has rejected. And it has formed a solid wall of support behind Trump’s refusal to hand over his tax returns to Congress, despite both deep-rooted norms and law supporting the demand that he do so. This is in keeping with a broad Republican decision that Trump is entitled to run a personal business empire while holding office without disclosing the numerous avenues for corruption this arrangement opens up.

Also this week, Attorney General William Barr supplied fresh evidence he is carrying out the job the way Trump has always demanded: as a Roy Cohn figure committed to ignoring Trump’s misconduct while hounding his enemies. Barr announced he is investigating the possibility that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign. The most likely explanation for what went on, and the one supported by all the known evidence, is that the FBI merely investigated figures associated with the Trump campaign who were connected with Russian intelligence, not the campaign itself. But Barr instead teased more nefarious explanations, even prejudging the outcome of his investigation. (“I think there was a failure among a group of leaders [at the FBI] at the upper echelon.”) And he attacked the FBI for allegedly failingto inform the Trump campaign of Russian infiltration, when in fact it did exactly that

The most dire outcomes do not have to be the most probable outcomes in order to legitimately command our attention. We know for sure that whatever Trump’s capabilities, the malevolence of his intentions lies beyond dispute. If Trump does win reelection — a prospect that is close to a coin-flip proposition under current economic conditions — that would place us now barely more than a quarter of the way through his presidency.

4) Good stuff from Paul Waldman:

Congratulations are in order to JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States. It just reported that in the first quarter of 2019 it made a record profit of $9.18 billion on $29.9 billion in revenue. Truly, we are living in an age of boundless prosperity.

Well, some of us are. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made $31 million last year. Which led to an interesting exchange between him and first-term Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) this week in a Capitol Hill hearing, when Porter asked Dimon to consider the financial situation of a teller working at Dimon’s bank in Irvine, Calif., the location of her district.

A video of Porter questioning Dimon is spreading, and it’s an excellent reminder of something with profound implications for next year’s presidential campaign…

Porter is uniquely situated to do this kind of questioning. A law professor with deep expertise in topics such as bankruptcy, she is quickly becoming one of the financial services industry’s most formidable critics on Capitol Hill. And she was doing more than making Dimon uncomfortable. She was obviously trying to make a larger point not just about JPMorgan Chase or even just about the banking industry, but about the American economy in general.

That point is this: If you have a bank that’s making $9 billion in profit in a single quarter, with a CEO who makes $31 million a year, and yet people who work for that bank can’t possibly make ends meet, something is very, very wrong. And that should be at the center of the campaign of every Democrat running for president.

5) Nice analysis from Pew, “State Drug Imprisonment Not Correlated With Drug Use, Arrests, or Overdose Deaths.”

6) Nice summary of what science has found a year in space did to Scott Kelly, relative to his identical twin, Mark.  Though, this Wired story is actually way more interesting and more fun.

7) The current Jeopardy! champion is a professional gambler and, damn, is he just kicking butt.

8) Okay, so the woman who opened up this “clean” Chinese food restaurant is a total idiot (it’s clean, in the sense of organic, gluten-free, etc.), but damn is the whole culture of ready-offense-taking and cultural appropriation so tiresome.

9) The anti-climate-change right is pushing its message in Finland(!).

HELSINKI, Finland — When they really wanted to rile up conservative voters this spring, the politicians from Finland’s nationalist party made a beeline for the rawest subject in this year’s general election.

No, not immigration. Climate.

As Finland’s other parties competed with each other to offer ambitious climate goals ahead of Sunday’s general election, the Finns Party has seized on climate as a new front in the culture wars, warning its conservative, working-class supporters that they are being betrayed by urban elites.

Aggressive environmental measures will “take the sausage from the mouths of laborers,” warned a Finns Party politician, Matti Putkonen, in a recent televised debate. And, more important, from dogs and cats, whose food, he said, would increase in price by 20 to 40 percent.

“What are you going to say to the little girl or boy who cries when Mom and Dad say that they can’t afford it any longer?” he said. “And take the lovable pet to be put down?”

10) Pew with an early look at the 2020 electorate.

In 2020, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z

11) Jonathan Bernstein on the Republic vs. Democracy foolishness and some nice points about the nature of democracy:

I don’t really know whether the “republic-not-a-democracy” folks are sincerely just misguided pedants or if they are actively trying to use a confusion in the language to place restrictions on voting rights. Either way, they’re just plain wrong. In 21st century America, democracy and republic should be used interchangeably.

12) Love this ruling on needlessly mandatory skirts for girls’ school uniforms:

Three girls in North Carolina were fed up with a school policy prohibiting female students from wearing pants. Skirts, they said, were uncomfortable and restrictive. They wanted to be free to play at recess, do cartwheels with the boys and focus on learning in the classroom — not the position of their legs.

So the girls, then ages 5, 10 and 14, decided to do something about it.

What began with a school petition by one of the students seeking to allow girls to wear pants to school stretched into a yearslong battle that culminated last week when a federal judge struck down the school’s uniform policy as unconstitutional.

“The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” the judge, Malcolm J. Howard, wrote in the ruling, filed on Thursday.

The ruling landed amid a larger discussion about how female students of all ages are viewed, after recent episodes at other schools.

13) Enjoyed this from Scott Alexander.  Here’s just a sampling:

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. “Mutton” takes the popular vote, but “grass” wins in the Electoral College. The wolves wish they hadn’t all moved into the same few trendy coastal cities.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The Timber Wolf Party and the Gray Wolf Party spend most of their energy pandering shamelessly to the tiebreaking vote.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Everyone agrees to borrow money, go to a fancy French restaurant, and leave the debt to the next generation.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The sheep votes for the Wolf Party, because he agrees with them on social issues.

14) Interesting idea.  Actually, I spend a lot of time with kids and pretty much never ask them this question, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up: The question forces children to define themselves in terms of work.”

15) Why are walruses plunging to their deaths en masse in a new nature documentary (that my family so needs to watch)?  Climate change.

16) James Hamblin on the health importance of human touch and the changing ground rules of how we think about it.

17) Michael Lewis has a new podcast on the podcast network co-founded by Malcolm Gladwell.  Podcast nirvana.  And, yes, it is great.

18) I read this article title to my wife this week, “How to Stop Thinking Your Teen Is ‘Pushing Your Buttons’ Do clothes on the floor make you crazy? Experts say that the tension is often about the way the parent responds.”  She responded, “uhhh, yeah, tell them to spend time with Evan at 6:30am or right when he gets home from school.”

19) How insane is it to try and make meaningful conclusions about human health from a group of 10(!!) college students.  Pretty insane.  The NYT should no better, as most of the commenters mentioned.  We need good research on sitting and exercise.  This isn’t it.

 

 

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