Popular, you’re [not] gonna be pop-​​yoo-​​oo-​​lar

John Allen Poulos asks, “Are your friends more pop­u­lar than you are?” Probably:

There doesn’t seem to be any obvi­ous rea­son to sup­pose this is true, but it prob­a­bly is. We are all more likely to become friends with some­one who has a lot of friends than we are to befriend some­one with few friends. It’s not that we avoid those with few friends; rather it’s more prob­a­ble that we will be among a pop­u­lar person’s friends sim­ply because he or she has a larger num­ber of them.

The rest is here. H/​t Paul Hsieh.

Testing & learning

Test-​​taking teaches stu­dents. This New York Times arti­cle describes research that sug­gests stu­dents learn more about a sub­ject by tak­ing tests about it than by study­ing it.

In the exper­i­ments, the stu­dents were asked to pre­dict how much they would remem­ber a week after using one of the meth­ods to learn the mate­r­ial. Those who took the test after read­ing the pas­sage pre­dicted they would remem­ber less a week later than the other stu­dents pre­dicted — but the results were just the opposite.

. . . .

Why retrieval test­ing helps is still unknown. Perhaps it is because by remem­ber­ing infor­ma­tion we are orga­niz­ing it and cre­at­ing cues and con­nec­tions that our brains later recognize.

When you’re retriev­ing some­thing out of a computer’s mem­ory, you don’t change any­thing — it’s sim­ple play­back,” said Robert Bjork, a psy­chol­o­gist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

But “when we use our mem­o­ries by retriev­ing things, we change our access” to that infor­ma­tion, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are prac­tic­ing what you are going to need to do later.”

This fits my expe­ri­ence. I took my share of stan­dard­ized tests in grade school (I remem­ber tak­ing the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in ele­men­tary school). The sub­jects were usu­ally not that inter­est­ing, but I would recall the sub­jects and silly lit­tle facts from them years later. One 7th-​​grade test included a pas­sage about beriberi—a dis­ease caused by a vit­a­min defi­ciency linked to eat­ing pol­ished (white?) rice—that I still vaguely recall today.

Homeland insecurity

Anne Applebaum says that the Department of Homeland Security does not pro­tect America against ter­ror­ist plots. Yes, she says, “[t]errorists have been stopped since 2001 and plots pre­vented, but always by other means.” She continues:

After the Nigerian “under­wear bomber” of Christmas Day 2009 was foiled, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed “the sys­tem worked” — but the bomber was caught by a pas­sen­ger, not the feds. Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe bomber, was undone by an alert stew­ardess who smelled some­thing funny. The 2006 Heathrow Airport plot was uncov­ered by an intel­li­gence tip. Al Qaedas recent attempt to explode cargo planes was caught by a human intel­li­gence source, not an X-​​ray machine. Yet the TSA responds to these events by plac­ing restric­tions on shoes, liq­uids, and now per­haps printer cartridges.

It’s short: read the whole thing.

Lessons in tautology, Part I

From The New York Times’ Bits blog:

So the con­sen­sus is that Mr. McAdam will announce the iPhone on Verizon on Tuesday, and that the device will go on sale a few weeks after that. . . . [A]nother ques­tion is whether Apple exec­u­tives will be on stage at the New York event. Don’t count on Steven P. Jobs, the company’s chief exec­u­tive, to be there. Apple typ­i­cally announces new iPhone car­ri­ers through press releases. Then again, Verizon is not any other car­rier. So per­haps another Apple exec­u­tive will make the trip.

The meaning of silence

The Constitution means less than you think it does. Ezra Klein argues that the Constitution “rarely speaks directly to the ques­tions we ask it.” Despite what some con­ser­v­a­tives or lib­er­als think the Constitution “obvi­ously” says, Klein is right. But the point should be taken one step fur­ther: when the Constitution has noth­ing to say about a sub­ject, we should not attempt to read more into it.

Klein raises his point in the con­text of the House Republicans’ new rule requir­ing every piece of leg­is­la­tion to cite to the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion autho­riz­ing it. (Another new rule requires the Constitution to be read aloud at the start of the session.)

My friends on the right don’t like to hear this, but the Constitution is not a clear doc­u­ment. Written more than 200 years ago, when America had 13 states and very dif­fer­ent prob­lems, it rarely speaks directly to the ques­tions we ask it. The Second Amendment, for instance, says noth­ing about keep­ing a gun in the home if you’ve not signed up with a “well-​​regulated mili­tia,” but inter­pret­ing the Second Amendment broadly has been impor­tant to those who want to bear arms. And so they’ve done it.

That’s their right, of course. Liberals pick and choose their moments of tex­tual fidelity as well. But as the seem­ingly end­less series of 54 splits on the Supreme Court shows, even the country’s most expe­ri­enced and dec­o­rated con­sti­tu­tional author­i­ties rou­tinely dis­agree, and sharply, over what the text means when applied to today’s prob­lems. To pre­sume that peo­ple writ­ing what they think the Constitution means — or, in some cases, want to think it means — at the bot­tom of every bill will change how they leg­is­late doesn’t demon­strate a rev­er­ence for the doc­u­ment. It demon­strates a dis­en­gage­ment with it as any­thing more than a sym­bol of what you and your ide­o­log­i­cal allies believe.

In real­ity, the tea party — like most every­one else — is less inter­ested in liv­ing by the Constitution than in decid­ing what it means to live by the Constitution. When the con­sti­tu­tional dis­claimers at the bot­tom of bills suit them, they’ll respect them. When they don’t — as we’ve seen in the case of the indi­vid­ual man­date — they won’t.

There’s a way to solve this prob­lem. When the Constitution has noth­ing to say about a subject—say, abor­tion, gay mar­riage, indi­vid­ual gun ownership—it has noth­ing to say. And when some­one argues that there’s a con­sti­tu­tional rule but there isn’t one, they lose that claim. (My sug­ges­tion isn’t novel, nor is it mine. It’s exactly what Judge Frank Easterbrook pro­posed in Statutes’ Domains ($)). What hap­pens then? The issue remains in the polit­i­cal process, for bet­ter or worse.

Those gay, gay bourgeois bohemians

From Jonah Goldberg: By embrac­ing gay mar­riage and mil­i­tary ser­vice, the bohemian left admits defeat.

[T]he sweep­ing embrace of bour­geois lifestyles by the gay com­mu­nity has been stunning.

Nowhere is this more evident—and per­haps exaggerated—than in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Watch ABC’s Modern Family. The sit­com is sup­posed to be “sub­ver­sive” in part because it fea­tures a gay cou­ple with an adopted daugh­ter from Asia. And you can see why both lib­eral pro­po­nents and con­ser­v­a­tive oppo­nents of gay mar­riage see it that way. But imag­ine you hate the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage and then watch Modern Family’s hard­work­ing bour­geois gay cou­ple through those eyes. What’s being sub­verted? Traditional mar­riage, or some bohemian identity-​​politics fan­tasy of homosexuality?

. . . .

Or look at the deci­sion to let gays openly serve in the mil­i­tary through the eyes of a prin­ci­pled hater of all things mil­i­tary. From that per­spec­tive, gays have just been co-​​opted by The Man. Meanwhile, the folks who used Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as an excuse to keep the mil­i­tary from recruit­ing on cam­puses just saw their argu­ment go up in flames.

It’s Time to Change

Jonathan Rauch explains why gays and les­bians need to be more, well, nice:

[W]e—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the cen­tral argu­ment for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights move­ment has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to exe­cute will be the hard­est maneu­ver the move­ment has ever had to make, because it will require us to delib­er­ately leave room for homo­pho­bia in American soci­ety. We need to allow some dis­crim­i­na­tion and relin­quish the “zero tol­er­ance” mind-​​set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our oppo­nents the time and space they need to let us win.

In other words, while it was wise for gays to argue stren­u­ously and never give their oppo­nents the ben­e­fit of the doubt, gays can now be kind and gra­cious to their opponents—and they should be. If gays can keep the high ground, they will be able to win the argu­ment with their oppo­nents while main­tain­ing influ­ence as a cohe­sive group.

If, on the other hand, gays and their allies shout down their oppo­nents, they may end up win­ning the argument—gay mar­riage is com­ing, like it or not—even as they dis­solve into meaninglessness.

Two ques­tions, though, for Mr. Rauch:

  1. In the end, does it mat­ter whether gays are “nice” to their oppo­nents? After all, as he pointed out, gays are likely to win the argu­ment based on num­bers alone. (The young favor gay rights more than the elderly. The elderly die and the young rise with their views ascen­dant. Ergo, the gays win.)
  2. And if the cen­tral argu­ment of gay rights is to be treated the same—to be allowed to be nor­mal, to be treated as nor­mal middle-​​class citizens—won’t the move­ment have a hard time main­tain­ing cohe­sion anyway?

H/​t Eugene Volokh.