Tag Archives: play

Super Tuesday Is Looking a Lot Like Super Trumpday

Mother Jones

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Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. On the Republican side, Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding lead both nationally and in nearly every state being contested. No surprise there. But what happened on February 15 or thereabouts?

The Pollster chart on the right shows the state of play over the past few weeks. Since February 15, the non-Trump part of the field has gone nowhere. They attract almost exactly the same aggregate share of the vote today as they did two weeks ago. Trump, by contrast, has gained more than five points.

Is this a bandwagon effect, in which Trump has been picking up undecided voters who felt like they had permission to take him seriously after he won New Hampshire? Is it because Trump is picking up nearly all of the votes of the candidates who have dropped out of the race? Is it somehow related to the death of Antonin Scalia on February 13?

It’s a bit puzzling. Trump’s sudden spike comes after two months of holding pretty steady in the national polls. So what happened on February 15?

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Super Tuesday Is Looking a Lot Like Super Trumpday

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Will a Blizzard Affect the Iowa Caucuses? Here’s a Live Look at the Weather.

Mother Jones

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Finally, the 2016 presidential contest starts today, and each candidate hopes to motivate as many voters as possible to caucus in one of Iowa’s 1,774 precincts. It can be a challenge to get a large turnout in good weather, but forecasters are expecting potentially heavy snowfall across the state. Winter storm warnings are in effect in many counties, and Iowans in the northwest are under a blizzard warning until 4 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasters predict that heavy snows won’t start accumulating until 9 p.m. local time, and caucuses begin at 7 p.m. So there’s no telling if the weather or these predictions will influence turnout. If you’re concerned about snow in the Hawkeye State tonight, here’s how you can monitor the conditions.

Below is a live looping weather map from the National Weather Service. The weather has been clear for most of the day but, in the mid-afternoon, some precipitation began to move into the state from the southwest.

Here’s a live shot from the Iowa State University’s Memorial Union, located in Ames, which is almost the geographical center of the state (have fun controlling the camera):

This is another live shot from the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, about an hour and 45 minutes due east of Des Moines:

From the northeast part of the state, this is the view from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa (click the play button):

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Will a Blizzard Affect the Iowa Caucuses? Here’s a Live Look at the Weather.

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Winnie the Pooh Banned From Playground For Wrong Reason

Mother Jones

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Goodmorning. Here is something stupid:

Winnie the Pooh has been banned from a Polish playground because of his “dubious sexuality” and “inappropriate” dress.

The much-loved animated bear was suggested at a local council meeting to decide which famous character should become the face of the play area in the small town of Tuszyn. But the idea soon sparked outrage among more conservative members, with one councillor even denouncing poor Pooh as a “hermaphrodite”.

“The problem with that bear is it doesn’t have a complete wardrobe,” said Ryszard Cichy during the discussion. “It is half naked which is wholly inappropriate for children.”

“The author was over 60 and cut Pooh’s testicles off with a razor blade because he had a problem with his identity,” she said.

Here’s the thing, Winnie the Pooh should be banned but not because he doesn’t wear pants. He should be banned because he glamorizes stealing honey and tells children to play with bees. It’s like he’s never even seen My Girl.

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Winnie the Pooh Banned From Playground For Wrong Reason

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Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist

Mother Jones

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Your kid probably isn’t a Leninist, but research suggests she’d like to divvy up other people’s stuff equally. Solodov Alexey/Shutterstock

At the playground, I watch my 10-month-old son beeline to the center of the sandbox where there is a bright pink shovel. But before he gets there, a rambunctious 2-year-old snatches up the coveted toy first. As my son watches the shovel slip away, a wobbly 14-month-old comes over and offers him a half-chewed cookie. I tear up a bit at this random act of kindness. It’s probably just “hormones,” but I am touched by the empathy that this little person is showing my child.

What caused this toddler to “do the right thing” and show kindness to a stranger? Was it good parenting or an innate personality trait? That’s the mystery that cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of the recent book Just Babies, is working hard to figure out: Can the youngest of our species distinguish good from evil practically from birth—or does morality need to be taught?

Philosophers like John Locke and psychologists like Sigmund Freud took for granted that we are born with a blank moral slate. But Bloom rejects that. He argues that babies actually have a natural sense of morality and fairness—one that simply emerges, like many other developmental milestones. “I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses,” says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast. “They’re equal in the same way that all babies come with a visual system, and the ability to move around, and a propensity to learn language.”

Bloom thinks this sense of morality emerged via Darwinian evolution, just like every other adaptive trait that marks our species. But how can he tell? How does one study morality in babies who can’t wax poetic? Scientists have come up with several clever solutions to break the language barrier.

“The way we do it here at Yale,” says Bloom, “is we show babies one-act plays.” These one-acts, playing at the Yale lab run by Karen Wynn, who is Bloom’s colleague and wife, star puppets who model behaviors that we would label as naughty or nice. Similar experiments are being conducted at the Center for Infant Cognition at the University of British Columbia, where Wynn’s former graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, now runs her own lab.

We asked Hamlin to share some short videos of the one-acts that Bloom describes in his book and on the podcast. In one play, for example, a dog is enjoying playing with a ball. She loses control of the ball or, depending on your interpretation of events, tosses it to one of two nearby cats. Then one of two things happens. In the first video below—from Hamlin’s lab at UBC—the orange cat refuses to return the ball and instead runs away with it. In the second video, by contrast, a gray cat returns the ball to the dog.

After watching the play, the babies are given a choice: Which kitty would they like to play with—the helpful gray one or the naughty orange one? The scientists carefully monitor the children’s reactions. “With the younger babies, like 3-month-olds, we can see which one they orient to, which one they look at,” says Bloom. Older babies can actually reach for and grab the preferred character. And with babies and toddlers alike, time and time again, “we find they look to the good guys.” Like in this video, again from Hamlin’s Lab:

But these labels of “good guy” and “bad guy” are adult constructs. Are we simply projecting our own judgments onto the behavior of the babies? “There’s no consensus even for adults what makes something moral or not moral,” acknowledges Bloom. “But one cue for adults, at least, is intuitions about reward and punishment.” So the scientists investigated how babies respond when the bad character is punished and the good one is rewarded.

For example, another play tells the story of a cow who is trying to open a plastic box full of toys. Flanked by two little piggies, the cow struggles with the box for a few moments. Then the play has one of two possible endings. Either one of the pigs helps the cow open the box and get the toys, as in this video…

…or the other pig hinders her efforts by jumping on the box and slamming it shut, as shown here:

Babies under the age of 1 then watch another character either reward or punish the naughty and nice pigs by handing out treats; the babies show a preference for characters who reward good and punish evil. Toddlers are given the opportunity to administer the reward or punishment themselves, and they tend to punish the hinderer and reward the helper.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people’s stuff. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally,” says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

But what happens when the children being studied are themselves the lucky recipient of the extra resources? Well, that changes everything. “So, they’re very egalitarian when it comes to other people,” says Bloom. “When it comes to themselves, they’re not the slightest bit egalitarian. Particularly when dealing with strangers, they want everything.” So while babies do seem to have an innate capacity to separate good from evil, their moral lives are still fairly limited. “Babies are kind of jerks,” Bloom says.

It turns out that humans aren’t the only primates that have evolved a sense of fairness. In one study, Capuchin monkeys performed a task and were rewarded with slices of cucumbers. But when they observed another monkey getting a grape—which tastes much better—for doing the same amount of work, they went on strike. The previously rewarding cucumber slices were no longer worth the effort.

Does this mean that babies (human or otherwise) are making actual moral judgments? Or are they simply learning what types of behaviors get rewarded in the society in which they are born? In other words, are the scientists really just observing a tool that helps infants navigate complex social interactions? As Bloom points out, babies don’t have a lot of control over their own lives—they can’t choose the people with whom they interact. So what’s the point of having a preference for those who are fair or moral? “It could be when choosing a social partner, and particularly who to learn from, they pay attention to how these individuals react towards other individuals,” notes Bloom.

But it also could be that this capacity is useless in the beginning. “A second possibility is that this capacity does no good for babies, but it’s just wired to pop in early on,” he says. “It’s like sexual organs, which emerge early in development even though they aren’t used as sexual organs until much later.”

So what separates a morally mature adult from a well behaved toddler? “As we get older, we become more like moral philosophers,” says Bloom. “We become more able to use reason and deliberation to figure out what’s right and wrong.” And we tend to grow out of our selfish phase. “Most adults are far nicer than babies and 2-year-olds,” says Bloom.

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also singled out as one of the “Best of 2013” on iTunes—you can learn more here.


Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist

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Here Is What Robert De Niro Had To Say About Being Nervous His First Time On Camera

Mother Jones

Robert De Niro’s first appearance on screen, in the 1965 French film “Three Rooms in Manhattan.” Les Productions Montaigne

Robert De Niro was born August 17, 1943. To celebrate his birthday, here is the two-time Oscar winner—who has appeared in nearly 100 films—telling Playboy about his first time on camera.

PLAYBOY: Do you remember your first experience before the cameras?

ROBERT DE NIRO: There was some little thing I did that I don’t know whatever happened to. Some walk-on for an independent film: I walked in and ordered a drink at a bar.

I remember a bunch of other young actors hanging around, moaning and bitching, all made up, with pieces of tissue in their collars; it was the kind of thing you always hear about actors—where they’re just silly or vain, complaining back and forth, walking around primping, not wanting to get the make-up on their shirts.

PLAYBOY: So you didn’t exactly feel as if you had found a home.

ROBERT DE NIRO: No, I didn’t want to be around those people at all. I just walked in and walked out. I was nervous, though, just to say the line “Gimme a drink.” It makes me think of that joke: “Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” You know that joke?


ROBERT DE NIRO: I’m surprised you never heard it; it’s a famous actor’s joke.

This guy hasn’t acted in about 15 years, because he always forgets his lines, so finally he has to give it up. He’s working in a gas station and gets a phone call from someone saying that they want him for a Shakespearean play—all he has to do is say, “Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” He says, “Well, God, I don’t know.” The director says, “Look, it’ll be OK. You’ll get paid and everything.” So he says, “OK, I’ll do it.” The play has five acts and he has to go on in the third act and say, “Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” That’s all he has to do. So he rehearses it when he’s in his apartment: “Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” Every variation, every possible emphasis. They’re into rehearsal, and he’s got it written on his mirror: “Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” And so on. Finally, comes opening night, first act, no problem. Second act, things go fine. Audience applauds. Stage manager says, “You have five minutes for the third act.” He tells him to get backstage. His time comes, he runs out, muttering to himself, “Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!” And as he runs out, he hears a big brrrooooom!! Turns around and says, “What the fuck was that?”

Robert De Niro is great.

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Here Is What Robert De Niro Had To Say About Being Nervous His First Time On Camera

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Why Can’t We Teach Shakespeare Better?

Mother Jones

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After writing about a common misconception regarding a particular scene in Julius Caesar, Mark Kleiman offers a footnote:

Like many Boomers, I had to read Julius Caesar in the 10th grade; not really one of the Bard’s better efforts, but full of quotable passages and reasonably easy to follow. (As You Like It, by contrast, if read rather than watched, makes absolutely no sense to a sixt Shakespeare wrote great musicals.) This would have been a perfect scene to use as an example of dramatic irony. But I doubt my teacher had any actual idea what the passage was about, and the lit-crit we read as “secondary sources” disdained anything as straightforward as explaining what the play was supposed to mean or how the poet used dramatic techniques to express that meaning.

This was my experience too, but in college. I remember enrolling in a Shakespeare class and looking forward to it. In my case, I actually had a fairly good high school English teacher, but still, Shakespeare is tough for high schoolers. This would be my chance to really learn and appreciate what Shakespeare was doing.

Alas, no. I got an A in the class, but learned barely anything. It was a huge disappointment. To this day, I don’t understand why Shakespeare seems to be so difficult to teach. Was I just unlucky?

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Why Can’t We Teach Shakespeare Better?

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Most Americans Think Racial Discrimination Doesn’t Matter Much Anymore

Mother Jones

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On Thursday Pew released its latest “typology report,” which breaks down Americans into seven different groups. I’m a little skeptical of these kinds of clustering exercises, but I suppose they have their place. And one result in particular has gotten a lot of play: the finding that more than 80 percent of conservatives believe that blacks who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition.

But I think that misstates the real finding of Pew’s survey: everyone thinks blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition. With the single exception of solid liberals, majorities in every other group believe this by a 2:1 margin or more. That’s the takeaway here.

The other takeaway is that the news was a little different on the other questions Pew asked about race. The country is split about evenly on whether further racial progress is necessary, and large majorities in nearly every group continue to support affirmative action on college campuses. A sizeable majority of Americans may not believe that discrimination is the main reason blacks can’t get ahead, but apparently they still believe it’s enough of a problem to justify continuing efforts to help out.

Overall, though, this is not good news. It’s obvious that most Americans don’t really think discrimination is a continuing problem, and even their support for affirmative action is only on college campuses, where it doesn’t really affect them. If that question were about affirmative action in their own workplaces, I suspect support would plummet.

I don’t have any keen insights to offer about this. But like it or not, it’s the base on which we all have to work. Further racial progress is going to be very slow and very hard unless and until these attitudes soften up.


Most Americans Think Racial Discrimination Doesn’t Matter Much Anymore

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The Money Bracket: What If the Richest Team Won?

Mother Jones

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Data from the US Department of Education

March Madness is big business. The tournament rakes in $1 billion in ad sales, $771 million in broadcast rights, and a countless amount in office pool payouts that you never win. (Players will make $0, though a select few are compensated in torn nylon.) Here’s what two NCAA tournament brackets would look like if teams advanced by measures other than points scored: total athletic revenue and total men’s basketball expenses per win this season.

How would the bracket look if it were based on funding for women’s teams?

What’s amazing about filling out a bracket based on athletic department wealth (see above) is how similar it looks to a bracket based on real tournament predictions. The school with the least revenue, Mount St. Mary’s at $7.5 million, doesn’t even make it out of the play-in game with Albany (a result that mirrors real life). Deep-pocketed Texas emerges from a difficult region (Texas, Michigan, and Tennessee all have nine-figure revenues, with Louisville coming close) to take home the trophy.

Win Cost
By taking a school’s total men’s basketball expenses, we can figure out how much each team spent per win this season. North Carolina Central, with its relatively small budget and 28-5 record, spent only about $34,000 on each victory. (This ignores strength of schedule—wins in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference can be easier to come by than wins in a more powerful conference). On the other end, Ohio State took home the “least efficient” title, dropping more than $750,000 per win. Five other teams—Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State—also broke the half-million-per-victory mark.

Data from the US Department of Education

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The Money Bracket: What If the Richest Team Won?

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