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Relax, You're Probably Doing OK As a Parent

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 10:02 AM EDT

A recent research paper suggests that the amount of time you spend actively parenting your children doesn't really make much difference. Lots of people have cried foul. Justin Wolfers is one of them:

This nonfinding largely reflects the failure of the authors to accurately measure parental input. In particular, the study does not measure how much time parents typically spend with their children. Instead, it measures how much time each parent spends with children on only two particular days — one a weekday and the other a weekend day.

The result is that whether you are categorized as an intensive or a distant parent depends largely on which days of the week you happened to be surveyed. For instance, I began this week by taking a couple of days off to travel with the children to Disneyworld. A survey asking about Sunday or Monday would categorize me as a very intense parent who spent every waking moment engaged with my children. But today, I’m back at work and am unlikely to see them until late. And so a survey asking instead about today would categorize me as an absentee parent. The reality is that neither is accurate.

Trying to get a sense of the time you spend parenting from a single day’s diary is a bit like trying to measure your income from a single day.

This really doesn't hold water. Sure, Justin's Monday this week might be different from his usual Monday. But if your sample size is big enough, this all washes out in the averages. And in this case, the sample size is 1,605, which is plenty big enough to account for individuals here and there whose days are atypical for the particular week of the study. This is basic statistics.

At the risk of igniting a parenting war—and no, I don't have children—middle-class parents tend to resolutely reject the idea that their parenting matters a lot less than they think. It's easy to understand why, but unfortunately, there's a considerable amount of evidence that parenting styles per se have a surprisingly small impact on the personalities and life outcomes of children. Obviously this doesn't hold true at the extremes, but for the broad middle it does.

In a way, this shouldn't come as a big surprise. We all know families whose children are wildly different even though they share parents and share half their genes just to make them even more similar. Is this because the children have been treated extremely differently? That's unlikely. They'll be treated differently to some degree—boys vs. girls, firstborns vs. middle kids, etc.—but the differences generally aren't immense. What's more, the differences that do exist are often reactions to the personalities of the kids themselves. A quiet child will get treated one way, while a loud, demanding child will get treated a different way. But parents shouldn't mix cause and effect: the child's temperament is largely driving the difference in treatment, not the other way around.

There's a second way this shouldn't come as a surprise: when you think about it, parenting is a surprisingly small part of a child's upbringing. There are also peers. And school. And innate personalities. And socioeconomic status. And babysitters. And health differences. Parenting is a part of the mix, but not even the biggest part. Maybe 20 percent or so. The rest is out of your direct control.

Judith Rich Harris made this case at length in The Nurture Assumption, and it's a controversial book. But I think she's right on the basics. As an example, think about this: kids whose parents come from a different country generally grow up speaking English with an American accent. Why? Because they take their cues from peers, not parents. Their peers, and their interactions with peers, are more important than their parents. This means that the single biggest difference you can make is to be rich enough to afford to live in a nice neighborhood that provides nice playmates and good schools.

Now, none of is a license to ignore your kids—I'm not personally as dismissive of parenting as Harris, and it seems clear that parenting styles do have some impact—but parenting probably matters less than you think. Kids are born with personalities, and to the extent they get molded, there are lots of influences. Direct parenting styles play only a moderate role.

But my experience is that middle-class parents pretty flatly reject this idea. They simply can't stand the idea that they're unable to guide their kids in the direction they want. And yet, the number of kids who don't take after their parents is enormous. Neat parents raise slobs. Quiet parents raise extroverts. Honest parents raise crooks. Pacifist parents raise Army recruits. Bohemian parents raise Wall Street analysts.

So this latest study is probably roughly right. You might not like it, but it's probably right. And there's good news here too: Don't beat yourself up too badly if you think you're blowing it as a parent. Unless you're way off the charts, you're probably doing OK.

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Michele Bachmann Just Posted One of the Most Hateful Obama Rants You'll Ever Read

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 8:35 PM EDT

Michele Bachmann was a member of the United States House of Representatives for 8 years. Here's a thing she just wrote on Facebook.

Facebook

I need a drink.

Update: The Washington Examiner's T. Becket Adams noted earlier today that this is a day old and no one noticed. Once upon a time the media would have pounced on anything Bachmann wrote this incendiary. We had Google alerts set up, damnit! Now? It took a day for the national media to stumble on to this. I mean, I guess this could be considered...progress?

Chris Rock Is Taking a Selfie Every Time He Gets Pulled Over by the Police

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 4:23 PM EDT

"Stopped by the cops again wish me luck."

That's the message Chris Rock paired with a selfie on Monday, capturing what is apparently the third time in just seven weeks the comedian has been pulled over by police. It's not known why police stopped Rock during these three separate incidents, but the succinct caption alone sums up what's clearly a routine event for him as a black man in America driving what we can assume is a nice car.

Rock has long been a vocal critic of racial profiling. In a December interview with New York magazine, Rock talked candidly about the everyday racism he encounters with his family, despite being one of the most well-known and respected comedians in the country. "I mean, I almost cry every day," he told Frank Rich. "I drop my kids off and watch them in the school with all these mostly white kids, and I got to tell you, I drill them every day: Did anything happen today? Did anybody say anything? They look at me like I am crazy."

WhoSay
WhoSay

In 2013, while filming an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Rock and Jerry Seinfeld were pulled over by New Jersey police for speeding. "It would be such a better episode if he pulls me to the side and beats the shit out of me," Rock jokingly tells Seinfeld. "If you weren't here, I'd be scared. Yeah, I'm famous—still black."

This Letter From a Gay Veteran's Brother Is the Most Heartbreaking Response to Indiana's Law We've Read Yet

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 3:57 PM EDT

On Tuesday morning, Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, published a full front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new bill that has incited national furor because it allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, citing their religious beliefs.

Tuesday's Indianapolis Star. @markalesia/Twitter

By the end of the day, the paper received a heartbreaking letter from Nick Crews of Plainfield. Crews writes about walking his dogs to the local market that morning to pick up two copies of the day's Star, something he never does. He continues:

With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.

At the grave I opened the Star. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.

And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to the Star. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.

Read his entire letter here.

Arkansas Governor Asks For Changes to Religious Freedom Bill

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 3:21 PM EDT

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for changes in the state's controversial religious freedom bill on Wednesday, amid mounting criticism from businesses, local leaders, gay rights advocates, and even members of his own family. 

"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson told reporters. "But these are not ordinary times."

Hutchinson said in a press conference that he would not sign the bill as presented to his desk and asked state lawmakers to change the bill's language to "mirror" the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Twenty other states, including Indiana, have similar religious freedom legislation

"This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial," Hutchinson told reporters. "But these are not ordinary times."

In a press conference on Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whose state has also faced a barrage of criticism from businesses, celebrities and athletes alike, called on lawmakers to clarify Indiana's religious freedom bill that "makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."  

Though Hutchinson had once said he would approve the bill with amendments, the governor shifted his stance after receiving backlash from local leaders and businesses, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who called on the governor to veto the bill. 

"Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold," McMillon said in a statement. "For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."

Hutchinson told reporters that the controversial legislation, which critics say would allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians, hit home. His son, Seth, a labor organizer with the Texas State Employees Union, asked him to veto the legislation. "I love my dad, and we have a good, close relationship," Hutchinson's son told the New York Times. "But we disagree a lot on political issues. This is just another one, but a lot of families disagree politically. But we stay close."

"The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions," Hutchinson said. "It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue."

The Arkansas General Assembly has not yet agreed to recall and amend the bill. The governor declined to say whether he would veto the bill if it returned to his desk unchanged. 

For the First Time, California Is Enforcing Water Restrictions

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

Today, California Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state's history. The announcement follows a drought of more than three years, which has officials worrying that Californians may have only one year of drinking water left.

The regulations require California cities to decrease water use by 25 percent, though, crucially, only requires agricultural users to report their water use and submit drought management plans. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of California's water usage. (For more drought background, check out our past coverage on agricultural water use—almonds are the biggest suck—and municipal water use.)

From the press release:

The following is a summary of the executive order issued by the Governor today.

Save Water

For the first time in state history, the Governor has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This savings amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water over the next nine months, or nearly as much as is currently in Lake Oroville.

To save more water now, the order will also:

Replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments;
Direct the creation of a temporary, statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with more water and energy efficient models; Require campuses, golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscapes to make significant cuts in water use; and
Prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip irrigation systems are used, and ban watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

Increase Enforcement

The Governor’s order calls on local water agencies to adjust their rate structures to implement conservation pricing, recognized as an effective way to realize water reductions and discourage water waste.

Agricultural water users – which have borne much of the brunt of the drought to date, with hundreds of thousands of fallowed acres, significantly reduced water allocations and thousands of farmworkers laid off – will be required to report more water use information to state regulators, increasing the state's ability to enforce against illegal diversions and waste and unreasonable use of water under today’s order. Additionally, the Governor’s action strengthens standards for Agricultural Water Management Plans submitted by large agriculture water districts and requires small agriculture water districts to develop similar plans. These plans will help ensure that agricultural communities are prepared in case the drought extends into 2016.

Additional actions required by the order include:

Taking action against water agencies in depleted groundwater basins that have not shared data on their groundwater supplies with the state;
Updating standards for toilets and faucets and outdoor landscaping in residential communities and taking action against communities that ignore these standards; and
Making permanent monthly reporting of water usage, conservation and enforcement actions by local water suppliers.

 

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Once Again, We Are Unlearning the Lesson of the Great Debt Bubble

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 1:41 PM EDT

Is this good news?

Millions of Americans unable to obtain credit cards, mortgages and auto loans from banks will receive a boost with the launch of a new credit score aimed at consumers regarded as too risky by lenders.

Here's more:

The new score is largely a response to banks’ desire to boost lending volumes by increasing loan originations to borrowers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify, many of whom tend to be charged more for loans....The new score, which isn’t yet named, will be calculated based on consumers’ payment history with their cable, cellphone, electric and gas bills, as well as how often they change addresses and other factors.

....The new score could help applicants who don’t use credit often but are responsible with their monthly payments to get approved for financing....But many borrowers who don’t have a traditional FICO score are very risky.

....Besides increasing their pool of borrowers and loan originations, banks stand to earn more in interest revenue from riskier borrowers. Lenders charge higher interest rates and in some cases extra fees to borrowers who present a higher risk of falling behind on debt payments.

Color me deeply skeptical. Helping people who are denied credit simply because they don't currently use any credit sounds great. And assessing them by their reliability in paying normal monthly bills sounds perfectly reasonable.

But I very much doubt this is really the target of this initiative. After all, people with no previous credit history already have access to credit. They just have to start slowly, with low credit limits and so forth. This new scoring system probably won't change that.

What it will do is give banks an excuse to extend high-cost credit to risky borrowers—exactly the same thing they did during the housing bubble. As you may recall, that didn't turn out well, and there was a simple reason: risky borrowers are risky for a reason. When banks start to get too loose with their lending standards they end up dealing with default rates much higher than they expected.

This won't happen right away, of course. Banks will be relatively cautious at first. They always are. But just wait a few years and it will be a different story. Then the standards will be lowered just a little too far, the rocket scientists will do their thing, and we'll be headed toward yet another debt crisis.

This is almost certainly a bad idea. We'd all like to see everyone get a chance, but there are good reasons to restrict credit to borrowers who are likely to repay. We should remember that.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle has a different take here. I'm skeptical, but it's worth reading.

This Is the Only Funny April Fools' Prank That Has Ever Been Pulled

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 12:56 PM EDT

It's April Fools' Day! Or is it? It is. But how could you know? I'm just some schmuck stating a fact. On most days you could believe me—but on this day, April 1, according to tradition, anything stated as fact must be viewed with suspicion. Because it's April Fools', and on April Fools' otherwise normal, sane, decent, jazzy, fun, neat, and cool people lie. For no real reason, really. Rarely are the lies funny. Mostly they're just "haha, I tricked you into believing something that could be true but isn't. GULLIBLE IS WRITTEN IN THE SKY, DIPSHIT."

The internet is so awful on April Fools'. It makes me want to put a knife in my head. The information superhighway is filled with hoaxes and bullshit on a normal day! On April Fools' Day, it's extra unreliable. Sometimes the "pranks" aren't even pranks. Here is the front page of Amazon today:

"Whoa, what happened to Amazon? This new design is crazy! It looks like it's from like olden days or something! Oh, snap! It's an April Fools' Day prank! This corporate web portal just S-E-R-V-E-D me good." Except, not really, because it says in big bright words "Amazon.com has gone retro—April Fools." It's explaining it's own awful prank. It's supposed to be what? Cute? Is that what April Fools' Day is now? An opportunity for #brands to be #cute? It's ironic because in reality April Fools' is about misleading people and #brands spend every day doing that.

To be totally real, April Fools' essentially exists to allow boring unfunny people to let loose one day a year by lying to their friends and colleagues.

Want an April Fools' joke? Here's an April Fools' joke:

Man runs into apartment. A beautiful woman with a very sad way about her is there. He says, "honey, baby doll, light of my life, I love you!" "Leave me alone," she says. "No, honey, you don't understand. I did it." "Did what?" "I left her! I left my wife!" He shows her his left hand. There is no ring on his ring finger. She's overjoyed. She jumps into his arms, wraps her legs around him, kisses him hard and long, and they fall back onto her bed and make passionate love. Then the guy gets out of bed, puts the ring back on his finger and says, "April Fools'!"

Resolved: April Fools' is evil. (And OVER.)

However there was once a funny April Fools' prank. It happened once and only once and it will be told about in stories for generations to come:

Greg Stekelman

In 2012, this image made the rounds on the internet purporting to show how the BBC "won April Fools" with a great prank. (For some reason many news organizations prank their readers on April 1.) But it was not the case. It was actually a joke created by writer Greg Stekelman.

As he put it in a comment on this Gothamist post, "It seems ironic that an article about April Fools you didn't take the time to check whether the article was actually from the BBC. I thought it would be fun to do an April Fools' story that was so implausible that no one would think it was real. Oh well."

So on April 1 let us think of Greg Stekelman, the man who told the only funny April Fools' joke ever.

More Good News: Obamacare Has Not Overwhelmed the Health Care System

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 11:20 AM EDT

Obamacare has provided health insurance to millions of people who previously lacked it. And yet, doctors' offices aren't jammed, as some people feared. Sarah Kliff takes a look at why this is, and I think this is the key point:

Federal data released earlier this month shows that the uninsured rate has fallen 35 percent since the coverage expansion began in 2014....In that way, the health law's insurance expansion was big. But put another way, it's also small: 14 million people gaining coverage in a country of more than 300 million residents is kind of a drop in the bucket. We're talking about 4 percent of the country going from uninsured to covered.

And it's not just that. Of that 4 percent, a lot of them were healthy people who simply didn't have much need for medical attention but were forced by the Obamacare mandate to purchase insurance anyway. So they got insurance, but since they were healthy, they still didn't go in to see their new doctors much. In reality, I suspect that the number of new patients with real medical needs probably amounted to 2-3 percent of the population. That's an extra burden on the health system, but not a huge one.

Medicare turned out to be similar when it began in 1965. As Kliff says, "In practice, these programs are relatively small: each only insured a small chunk of the population. Even though they're remaking American health care, they're doing so in a small, slow progression. That helps explain why none of these coverage expansions have overwhelmed doctors, despite our expectations."

IS Expansion Is More Illusion Than Reality

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 10:58 AM EDT

Islamic State has been getting a lot of attention lately, and not just for its grisly beheading videos coming out of Iraq and Syria. It also seems to be expanding rapidly, with offshoots taking credit for atrocities across northern Africa and the Middle East. But the LA Times wisely suggests today that this should all be taken with more than a pinch of salt:

Like an accelerating drumbeat, the deeds of groups purporting to be linked to Islamic State have mounted, each seemingly designed to exact a toll more cruel than the last....But many intelligence officials and academic experts are skeptical that the parade of gore represents a leap in the degree of command and control being exerted across the region by the group's leadership in Syria and Iraq.

....Some evidence points instead to looser arrangements that nonetheless carry significant benefits for Islamic State and its professed offshoots....Under such informal pacts, opportunistic but relatively obscure militant groups can make themselves appear to be far more powerful players in their chosen arena of conflict, while the media-savvy Islamic State can depict itself as having dramatically widened its geographic spread, an assertion that fits neatly with the group's grandiose claim that its "caliphate" is destined to hold sway across the Muslim world, while also diverting attention from its struggle to hang on to territory seized in Iraq and Syria.

There are homegrown terrorist groups all over the Middle East. Most of them have local grievances, but nonetheless find it useful to be viewed as an ally of a group like IS, which has a useful reputation for extreme brutality. Likewise, IS benefits from a public image of massive, unstoppable growth.

But both are more illusion than reality. Neither the amount nor the target of terrorist activity has changed much over the past year. We're just seeing the publicity results of a very loose "franchise" model combined with a lot of bluster, much as we did with Al Qaeda in the past decade. There's much less here than meets the eye.

That's not to say there aren't some dangers inherent in this model, and the Times does a good job of spelling them out. Generally speaking, though, IS remains in serious trouble in its home territory, and no amount of PR alliances elsewhere really changes that.