Kids These Days!

Steven Pinker wants you to cut them some slack:

Every generation thinks that the younger generation is dissolute, lazy, ignorant, and illiterate. There is a paper trail of professors complaining about the declining quality of their students that goes back at least 100 years. … I know a lot more now than I did when I was a student, and thanks to the curse of knowledge, I may not realize that I have acquired most of it during the decades that have elapsed since I was a student. So it’s tempting to look at students and think, “What a bunch of inarticulate ignoramuses! It was better when I was at that age, a time when I and other teenagers spoke in fluent paragraphs, and we effortlessly held forth on the foundations of Western civilization.” Yeah, right.

Here is a famous experiment.

A three-year-old comes into the lab. You give him a box of M&Ms. He opens up the box and instead of finding candy he finds a tangle of ribbons. He is surprised, and now you say to him, “OK, now your friend Jason is going to come into the room. What will Jason think is in the box?” The child says, “ribbons,” even though Jason could have no way of knowing that. And, if you ask the child, “Before you opened the box, what did you think was in it?” They say, “ribbons.” That is, they backdate their own knowledge. Now we laugh at the three-year-old, but we do the same thing. We backdate our own knowledge and sophistication, so we always think that the kids today are more slovenly than we were at that age.

Update from a reader who disagrees with Pinker:

No, three year olds do not “backdate” their knowledge. They answer incorrectly because they have not developed what is known as “Theory of Mind” – they are unable to understand fully that others see the world through their own perspective. They do not yet understand that others do not know, necessarily, what they know. Therefore they assume everyone knows it is full of ribbons – they do, so why wouldn’t another kid? Same for understanding that their knowledge has changed (or perhaps even fully understanding what a question like “What did you think was in the box bvefore you opened it?” actually means.  He’s three. This question is complicated and asks him to fully understand what thought is, how it changes over time, what “before” means relative to now, etc. This same kid may easily think everything not right now is tomorrow or yesterday).

A clever and elegant-looking argument.  But it’s not really true. And cannot be applied to an adult’s memory of what he/she was like at 16.

Another reader:

Kids These Days have been sliding inexorably toward delinquency, indolence, and immodesty for at least 1000 years. From the autobiography of the Benedictine monk Guibert of Nogent (c. 1055-1124):

O God, Thou knowest how hard, how almost impossible it would be for women of the present time to keep such chastity as [my mother’s example]; whereas there was in those days such modesty, that hardly ever was the good name of a married woman smirched by ill report Ah! how wretchedly have modesty and honour in the state of maidenhood declined from those times to these, and both the reality and the show of a mother’s guardianship shrunk to naught! Therefore coarse mirth is all that may be noted in their manners and naught but jesting heard, with sly winks and ceaseless chatter. Wantonness shews in their gait, only silliness in their behaviour. So much does the extravagance of their dress depart from the old simplicity that in the enlargement of their sleeves, the straitness of their skirts, the distortion of their shoes of Cordovan leather with their curling toes, they seem to proclaim that everywhere shame is a castaway A lack of lovers to admire her is a woman’s crown of woe. On her crowds of thronging suitors rests her claim to nobility and courtly pride. There was of old time, I call God to witness, greater modesty in married men, who would have blushed to be seen in the company of such women, than there is now in married women; and men by such shameful conduct are emboldened in their amours abroad and driven to haunt the marketplace and the public street.

Another points to another old passage:

When I read threads like this (Pinker etc.) I’m always reminded of Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529). His Book of the Courtier (Part II) pretty much nails it:

I have often considered not without wonder whence arises a fault, which, as it is universally found among old people, may be believed to be proper and natural to them. And this is, that they nearly all praise bygone times and censure the present, inveighing against our acts and ways and everything which they in their youth did not do; affirming too that every good custom and good manner of living, every virtue, in short every thing, is always going from bad to worse.

And verily it seems quite contrary to reason and worthy to be wondered at, that ripe age, which in other matters is wont to make men’s judgment more perfect with long experience, should in this matter so corrupt it that they do not perceive that if the world were always growing worse, and if fathers were generally better than children, we should long since have reached that last grade of badness beyond which it is impossible to grow worse.

Against Gluco-Determinism

David Kohn investigates the notion that blood sugar levels regulate self-control:

“We have three weeks of food in our kitchens,” [psychologist Michael] McCullough says. “But that’s not how we evolved. It doesn’t make sense that cognition is so fragile that two hours after your last meal, thinking goes haywire. I don’t think natural selection would have been kind to humans whose brains shut down whenever they got hungry.”

I asked him how he would explain my kids’ tendency to insurrection when they’re hungry. “I am perfectly willing to believe that hunger is linked to angry outbursts in your kids,” he said. “If a child or animal is running low on blood glucose, it will act differently.” But this, he points out, does not prove that glucose regulates self-control. The change in behavior could be a direct, perhaps unconscious, way to signal hunger. (If that’s true, the strategy works, at least in our house. Outbursts usually lead to a pre-dinner snack.) Or it may be a vestigial sign that the organism is sick of being hungry, and is getting ready go find some food on its own.

Update from a reader:

Ya, the brain goes haywire when it’s low on glucose. Our six-year-old daughter is a Type 1 diabetic. We watch her behavior for both high and low blood sugar tip offs. However, one of the dead give-aways that she is going low is that she becomes dreamy and illogical. Last night, in the tub, she said “Dad, do all liquids controls their containers? Like if I were water in a bucket, would I have a shoe?” Yep: Blood sugar of 48. And just as inexplicable, when she’s high (say 230 against a normal of 130), she is very hungry and very crabby.

Gays Don’t Stray Far

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At least not when they live in “gayborhoods,” according to a recent study:

In their simplest model, comparing the travel patterns of members of gay, lesbian, and straight couples, the authors found that travel for non-work purposes were shorter in neighborhoods with more gay and lesbian couples. But this was especially true for gay men. Travel distances of trips made by straight men and women and lesbian women decreased by 6.2 percent for each percentage-point increase in the share of same-sex couples in the census tract. For gay men, trips decreased in length at nearly twice that rate, at an incredible 12.2 percent. …

So what’s behind this connection between shorter travel distances and gay neighborhoods?

The authors suggest that it reflects a broader concept of “neighborhoods of affinity,” where people live in neighborhoods because they share common interests and are drawn to similar features and amenities, as well as, potentially, the kinds of jobs that are available. In other words, in addition to our search for jobs, services and amenities, and transportation access, it is the very fact that we sort and cluster together that defines the way we move around a neighborhood. And these travel patterns can inadvertently reinforce the forces of sorting and segregating, as shorter travel patterns create even more self-contained worlds for some city residents.

So why doesn’t the pattern hold for lesbians? As the authors speculate (gated paper),“Gay neighborhoods are often located closer to the urban core and are typically denser than lesbian neighborhoods … This may be because gay men have the capital to locate in more expensive areas; moreover, being less likely to have children, gay men may have the disposable income to live in high-amenity locations.” Update from a reader:

I certainly think there’s some value in appreciating how social networks create certain neighborhood identities. In geography, my discipline, the emphasis would be on the reciprocal nature of this relationship: how communities create spaces that reflect their own interests and identities but also how those spaces in turn help solidify or further influence individuals’ social identity. Gay men didn’t just go to the Castro because they were gay. In some sense, living there may have defined for them what being gay meant.

However, I’m also struck in this article by the almost complete absence of any literature on segregation and external factors that limit the mobility of individuals. Certainly, when we consider race or poverty, high concentrations of minority groups aren’t just a matter of similar populations preferring to live in close proximity (though that can’t be completely discounted as a factor). In my own research on food access, I talked to several individuals who shopped at stores in the neighborhoods, but only because they lacked the resources to go elsewhere. One summed it up this way: “I live in the ‘hood, but I hate it.” In the case of Smart and Klein’s article, a focus on neighborhoods of affinity leaves largely unstated what seems an equally significant issue: these communities are necessary in part because the people and spaces found there remain socially unacceptable in many other communities.

In case you’re interested, I’m also sending along a couple of articles done by a couple of geographers on census maps of gay/lesbian households in San Francisco [pdf – here and here]. They similarly found that gay men were highly clustered at a neighborhood scale, but that lesbian households were much more dispersed and thus more “invisible” in conventional mapping approaches. They ask how the concentration of same-sex couples in urban areas might affect both their political power and their sense of their own sexual identities.

Mental Health Break

Lori Dorn gives it new life:

In this 2011 video posted by Stegmeier53, a little bird in the street dances in perfect time to the Daft Punk song “Something About Us”.

I saw this bird ,a snipe, on the road and stopped to take a picture. I had music playing in my car and the bird danced across the street to the music.

Update from a reader:

That’s no snipe! It’s a woodcock. I am 100% sure of this. Maybe you shouldn’t print why I’m sure (if you print this at all) but here it is: I’m an upland bird hunter. I’ve spent countless autumn days in alder, aspen, and swamps with my spaniels trying to flush the little buggers out. Some will say hunting woodcock is some of most challenging wing shooting out there. Anyway, that’s a woodcock, not a snipe.

I didn’t get a picture, but I once saw a mom woodcock and four chicks crossing a road once. They all walked just like that. In unison. A sight to behold.

Sponsored Content Watch

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Dish readers remain vigilant:

It’s official: the New York Times takes sponsored posts on its regular website. Screenshot attached. Same typeface – pretty sneaky!

How long does it take you to spot it? Update from a reader:

Umm no, it’s not the same typeface for either header or blurb. The font size is about the same but the “PAID POST” is slightly bolder, and the blurb is sans serif whereas blurbs for non-sponsored content is with serifs. That being said, however, due to the font size being the same size and the presentation on the page itself, it does lend itself to deception, despite the slight differences. The sneakiness is putting just enough differences that eagle-eyed readers would spot it but to the casual reader, the difference isn’t enough to highlight that it’s sponsored.

The Technology Of Marijuana Legalization

Matt Honan tests out a new vaporizer, the Firefly:

A personal disclosure: I’ve smoked a lot of pot. I’m no stoner, but I’ve been smoking it for more than 25 years, and in that time I’ve used all sorts of vaporizers. They’ve evolved a great deal over the years, from giant complex tabletop devices to today’s generation of e-cig-style vapes that deliver brain-hammering doses of butane-extracted cannabis oil. The Firefly does those devices one better, magically and almost instantly vaporizing actual plant material at the touch of a button. It is just wonderful.

It offers all the convenience of a pipe—it’s portable and downright stealthy; you can slip it in your pocket, carry it loaded up with marijuana—but it’s less harmful than a conventional pipe, because you are inhaling vapor, not smoke. The Firefly uses a lithium-ion battery to power a convection heating element that reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The chamber is insulated by air, which means the Firefly’s housing doesn’t get hot enough to burn your fingers, or anything else, when you slide it back into your pocket.

He looks more broadly at how legalization is spurring innovation:

For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.

Update from a reader:

There are all sorts of good stuff being produced out there since the legalization of medicinal marijuana. For Oregon patients, it’s now even available in beverage form: drinkvitonic.com. Their manufacturing process is quite precise, taking a lot of the uncertainty out of the actual dose that the consumer gets. Plus it’s delicious.

(Full disclosure: the producers are friends of mine)