Like any parent, I would love to believe that my awesome kids are a result of my awesome parenting. Sadly, expert opinion indicates it ain't so. Genes have an enormous influence. Peers and culture have an enormous influence. But parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person's personality or success in life, at least that social scientists have been able to detect. . . . This isn't to say parents and parenting aren't important. Parents supply the genes, except in cases of adoption (or remarriage). They control, at least to some extent, the peers and environments to which children are exposed. And of course they crucially affect a child's quality of life at home, which, as I will argue shortly, is not some minor detail.I've made the point recently that there are a few other things that buck the trend of genetic determinism in parenting. Many of traits we associated with "good character" in children, the extent to which a child is comfortable physically touching others, the religious beliefs a child learns growing up (although not necessarily the way a child responds to those beliefs within that tradition), the language that a child learns, and the opportunities that a child has to learn new languages at an age young enough for that instruction to "take", do have something to do with parenting choices.
But it's safe to say that your kids' long-term fate will not be meaningfully affected by the speed and timing of potty training, the brand of educational videos you purchase, or the precise tone of voice in which you discipline. A large proportion of the Parenting Industrial Complex isn't about kids — it's about generating content for nervous parents who feel like they should be doing something.
Also, just because refraining from "abuse or neglect" and escaping its frequently companion, poverty, is commonplace, doesn't mean that it is always easy when faced with a colicky baby or balancing the need to work long hours to be able to afford essentials and the need to be personally present with your children.
But, it is certainly fair to say that parents, especially affluent new parents with few children who grew up small families themselves, are prone to dramatically overestimate the role of parental nurture in how they turn out.
And, David Roberts, the author of this Vox article does have one other good caveat for us:
The alternative to viewing childhood as preparation is viewing it as life, to be savored and enjoyed. Life is just a series of moments, and it's amazing how many of them we miss, rush past, or disrupt because our minds are elsewhere, anticipating the future or dwelling on the past. But a moment of joy or connection is its own justification, not a means to an end.* Another Vox retread that has long been well established, but mysteriously hasn't swept the nation despite being well established empirically is that: Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets.
This miracle has been demonstrated over and over again, in Denver, in Southeast Colorado, in Central Florida, and in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Utah, to name a few examples. Yet, it is so contrary to what "everyone knows is true" that politicians and the public stubbornly resist implementing this fairly simple idea.
* The same thing is true about the common American criminal justice practice about routinely incarcerating people charged with crimes pending trial if they can't post bond, which many poor arrestees cannot.
The Vera Institute of Justice developed powerful empirical evidence in the 1960s that the modern institution of bail was unjust and that releasing all but a handful of high risk poor criminal defendants awaiting trial did not pose a heightened risk to public safety, greatly reduced the cost of the criminal justice system for the municipalities that adopted this reform (supervision by pretrial services officers costs about a tenth as much as keeping someone locked up), and produced more fair criminal justice outcomes.
But, as the New York Times and other investigative journalists who have looked into the story have shown, bail remains an institution for unjust and expensive mistreatment of the poor, even in New York City where some of the first experiments with an alternative were wildly successful. Consider this paragraph from the New York Times Magazine (via Vox):
[The Bronx Freedom Fund] bailed out nearly 200 [low-income] defendants and generated some illuminating statistics. Ninety-six percent of the fund's clients made it to every one of their court appearances, a return rate higher even than that of people who posted their own bail. More than half of the Freedom Fund's clients, now able to fight their cases outside jail, saw their charges completely dismissed. Not a single client went to jail on the charges for which bail had been posted. By comparison, defendants held on bail for the duration of their cases were convicted 92 percent of the time. The numbers showed what everyone familiar with the system already knew anecdotally: Bail makes poor people who would otherwise win their cases plead guilty* Empirical research by educational psychologists and pediatricians had strongly established that high school students perform better if their school days start later. Despite the existence of this proven, easy to implement, no cost way to improve secondary education, however, this remains the exception rather than the rule, with the lion's share of school districts sending elementary school children who are bright eyed and bushy tailed early in the morning to school late in the day, and giving high school students the early shift.
One rare promising example of a school listening to the empirical evidence, however, is the newest charter high school in the Denver Public Schools, Northfield High School in the Stapleton neighborhood, whose doors open this fall for its first entering class, which will also feature an extended school year with less summer vacation (another empirically proven way to improve school performance that has not overcome decades of tradition that no longer makes any sense in the modern world).
* I hadn't realized until stumbling upon an article on the reform of California's draconian "three-strikes and you're out" law that the 2012 ballot initiative that reformed it was largely the work of two men, George Soros and a California law professor, whose roughly equal combined $1.9 million of contributions to the total $2.7 million raised by the campaign as a whole (about $1.5 million of which paid for the process of getting approval for a petition and circulating it with paid petition gatherers to get it one ballot).
They accomplished what liberals in California's legislature, seemingly unanimous academic and newspaper editorial opinion, the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the power of the Governor of California to commute criminal sentences, and scathing dissenting opinions by judges had not. This measure bought the freedom of roughly 3,000 people who were unjustly imprisoned for life for minor third crimes (many of which would have been misdemeanors for first offenders), at a price of less than $1,000 each, in an act reminiscent of a wealthy man buying slaves to free them (something that still happens in places like Mali).
The fact that a couple of wealthy individuals could get 69% of Californians to vote for a citizen's initiative to fix a clear problem which the state legislature in a liberal state wasn't willing to take on points to how fundamentally flawed the legislative process can be.
* Op-Ed columnist George Will meanwhile calls attention to another set of deep flaws with our legislative process recalling Jonathan Rauch's 1994 book "Demosclerosis", which he accentuates with the example of Mohair subsidies supported by no rational policy argument to the tune of $5 million a year that managed to be reenacted for most of the time period since 1954. Simply put, Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10 be damned, the inattentive majorities to which Congress theoretically responds turns out to be utterly incompetent at overcoming the will of attentive minorities. Individually, this senseless subsidies are a drop in the bucket, but collectively, they add up.
They are also canaries in the mine alerting us to flaws in the process that have the potential to manifest in more damaging ways elsewhere, and undermine basic civics assumptions about how our democratic system of government should work. In short, it is proof, once again, that we have a system of government that is no longer state of the art or enviable as a world model of a democracy that works well, something that undermines our "soft power" on the world stage.
* Louisiana has lost 1,880 square miles of land to the sea in the last century, a trend that Hurricane Katrina accentuated. Many of the remaining settlements outside New Orlean's new and improved levees will be gone after the next serious Hurricane to this the region (which may be a few years due to the existence of one of the strongest El Nino conditions on record in the Pacific right now, which suppressed Atlantic Hurricanes while enhancing Pacific Monsoons).
Incidentally, those Pacific Monsoons which have hit rural Indian hard, are also dragging down world gold prices, because rural India despite being relatively poor internationally, accounts for about 20% of world gold purchases (proportionate to its population but greatly disproportionate to it share of world GDP) because large gifts of gold are common their as gifts for weddings and other occasions. But, monsoon driven hard times have curtailed their purchases and thus curtailed demand for what is roughly speaking as a first approximation, a fixed world supply of the commodity.
* There are still crazy people in the world.
For example, there are people who get stories published in religious magazines in the United States, who claim with a straight face that having Rhesus (RH) negative blood is a sign that you are descended from the Nephilim (i.e. human-angel hybrids), described in passing in the Bible and at length in the non-canonical Book of Enoch which has had immense impact on Judeo-Christian mysticism or metaphysical lore that has made its way into popular culture. Despite the fact that the Nephilim of apocryphal Christian tradition were generally evil, the proponents of this theory try to fit an angelic origin of RH negative blood into a doctrine of white supremacy (although ironically a white supremacy that favors the European Catholics and Jews whom the KKK persecuted almost as severely as blacks) noting that:
Northern Spain and Southern France is where you can find some of the highest concentration of the RH-negative factor in the Basque people. Another original group were the Eastern/Oriental Jews. In general, about 40 – 45% of Europeans have the RH-negative group. Only about 3% of African descendent and about 1% of Asian or Native American descendent has the RH-negative group.They also argue that angelic ancestry is associated with:
* Higher than average IQNeedless to say, all of this is absurd and has no legitimate basis in either science or Christian or Jewish religious doctrine.
* More sensitive vision and other senses.
* Lower body temperature
* Higher blood pressure
* Increased occurrence of psychic/intuitive abilities
* Predominantly blue, green, or hazel eyes
* Red or reddish hair
* Increased sensitivity to heat and sunlight
* Cannot be cloned
* Extra vertebra
* Modern African Christianity, meanwhile, has latched onto to doctrines of demon possession and exorcism, deliberately de-emphasized in the Northern hemisphere branches of these denominations despite the prominent role that these doctrines play in the canonical New Testament, in which an exorcism ministry was one of the core activities of Jesus Christ and his apostles.
African Christians have also taken up the Old Testament injunction to kill witches with unfortunate gusto, a practice that European Christians largely abandoned after the 17th century as the Enlightenment largely banished the notion of witchcraft as being anything more than fiction among the elites that held the power to continue the practice. (Persecution of suspected witches is also alive and well in modern Islam.)
* Crazy people are more frightening, however, when they have power. For example, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (who was re-elected by the people of Alabama to the post after being removed from it for judicial misconduct) thinks that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage because Satan influenced them to do it.
* Our criminal justice system is quite impervious not just to uncommon insights, but to common sense too. The prevailing view in the law of post-conviction review of criminal convictions is that "an innocent person convicted after a procedurally adequate trial" is not constitutionally entitled to release from prison, because "actual innocence" has not been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a valid legal basis for a habeas corpus petition (a perverse position famously strongly supported by Justice Scalia). I strongly suspect that Justice Kennedy and the four liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court might change that precedent if the right case presented itself (and President Obama's solicitor-general might not argue too strongly for a contrary result).
But, right now, this is a status quo that Congress in an effort to weaken post-trial review of death penalty sentences has enacted as policy in statutes like the habeas corpus reforms of Title I of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which has made post-trial review of state criminal convictions into an angels on pinheads procedural maze, even though the act has actually proved in practice to be more of a barrier in non-death penalty cases than in those where the death penalty is actually imposed.
This unfortunate legislation was one of a number of bad policies signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It routinely compounds the harm done by state court trial judges when they make grave mistakes that unjustly ruin people's lives. Concern about the possibility that his wife would also support those bad policies if elected President is one reason that some Democrats, rightly or wrongly, are concerned about a Hillary Clinton Presidency. Maybe she has learned from experience. Democrats have been known to do that a bit more often than members of the other major political party. But, it would be nice to have a nominee who was right on issue like that the first time.
* You would think that U.S. Supreme Court litigation specialists would be that the top of the food chain when it comes to pay in the legal profession and would have the highest hourly rates. This might be true, and certainly, none of them are going hungry. But if their rates are as high as they get, the "winner take all" economics of many other parts of the U.S. economy aren't as powerful in law as they are in many professions.
Top U.S. Supreme Court advocates charge $1,020 to $1,800 an hour. For a unique, national, premier specialty, this is a surprisingly small multiple of the roughly $250-$300 per hour charged by perfectly ordinary, run of the mill lawyers in the regional, not particularly high cost of living. It is less than the effective hourly rates earned by many lawyers working on perfectly ordinary contingent fee cases, where it isn't unusual to see effective hourly rates of $500 an hour or more.