“Wasteful” spending

I don’t know why I’ve chosen to torture myself with the daily Gallup poll updates.  Mabye I can write a program that automatically generates an outraged blog post from them.  Yesterday’s:

April 2011: Which do you think is more to blame for the federal budget deficit -- spending too much money on federal programs that are either not needed or wasteful, or not raising enough money in taxes to pay for needed federal programs?

Yeah, that’s the problem,  “not needed” and “wasteful” programs.  Like Medicare.  Or the EPA.  Or national defense.  Got to give it ton Chait’s “one fact” on this one.

The mysteries of Google

So, I understand google improved their search algorithm to cut down on “content farms” and such, but somehow they are over-rating my blog.  Not that I should complain.  Still, surprising to see that a post I off-handedly did last night about Kate not being a princess brought in a surprising amount of traffic.  Search for: why Kate is not a princess, and my post is somehow the #2 hit.  No sign of Yglesias, from whom I took all the material.  It’s also well ahead of the Post’s royal wedding blog.  Just weird.

Why Kate is not a princess, but will be someday

Found this post from Yglesias much more interesting than Kim thought I should:

The crux of the matter is that “prince” and “princess” aren’t real titles of nobility. A real title goes with an “of Someplace” after it. If you’re the Duke of Something then your wife is also Duchess of Something. “Prince” and “princess,” by contrast, specifically denote that you’re the direct descendent of the Queen. Thus Prince Charles is a “prince” as are his sons, and his brother Prince Andrew and his daughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Eugenie. But Kate’s not descended from The Queen so she’s no princess. William was made Duke of Cambridge in part specifically to address this, since as the wife of the Duke of Cambridge she now has a title befitting her position as an important member of the Royal Family.

But there’s an exception here! The Heir Apparent to the throne isn’t just any old prince, he’s the Prince of Wales. Consequently, his wife (if applicable) is the Princess of Wales. So if the Queen dies, Prince Charles will become King, Will will become Prince of Wales and then Kate will be Princess of Wales. Long story short, it’s hard to become a princess (sorry ladies) since at any given times there’s at most one Prince of Wales and the proliferation of other princesses doesn’t help you.

And even cooler, this handy princess flow chart:

Tastes like chicken

I’ve been meaning to blog about this interesting piece about how our taste buds are just a small part of how we perceive flavors, but I haven’t.  It’s short and interesting (hopefully you’ve learned to trust me in my recommendations by now), so just read it.

One fact

Jon Chait wrote earlier this week:

If you only learn one fact about American politics, it ought to be that Americans hate government in the abstract and favor it in the specific. That basic truth determines the shape of political debates over and over.

Indeed!  Yet, if only learning one fact, is that really the most important?  Maybe, but I started thinking about what I would suggest.  I thought about things such a: rules matter, institutions matter, incentives matter, history matters– and I think these are all quite important.  They all also apply to politics quite broadly.  Still, I was thinking about the major themes of my Intro class, and I think for me it comes down to: “we’re dealing with humans, here.”   I.e., to understand politics it really helps to understand political figures as rational actors– whether a candidate making a presidential primary strategy, a bureaucratic trying to increase his budget, a lobbyist trying to gain influence, or a voter deciding whether to support a third party.  But I’m no rational choice guy–  humans are also supremely irrational actors.  Humans are easily frightened into irrationality, they’ll answer polling questions with no idea what they are talking about, they will support completely contradictory policies, they’ll make important decisions based far too much on transient factors, etc.  So, for me, I think it comes down to embracing both what rational choice (the rational) and social-psychology (the irrational) can helps us understand about political actors.  A lot more complicated that Chait’s suggestion, but, perhaps also more broadly applicable as a result.  What would be your “one fact” about American politics?

Chart of the day

This week in my American Government class I wrapped things up with the myths and realities of American Public Policy lecture.  Not surprisingly, I spent the most time on health care.  For the most part, I let the simple hard facts about America’s broken health care system to the work (here’s my lecture, if you are curious).  I used a number of nice charts from KFF, but (via Ezra, I think), I realize there’s a great one I missed:

Exhibit 10

I made the point verbally, but charts are more convincing.  Every country that way out-efficiencies us on health care does so by having dramatically more of the health spending come from the public sector.  People hate to accept that government is more efficient in some things than the private sector, but when it comes to health care, the evidence is pretty damn near overwhelming.

Cognitive complexity and ideology

Chait brings the political science today in discussing the differences between liberals and conservatives.  Though I’ve never followed it particularly closely, I’ve always enjoyed the cognitive(/integrative) complexity literature as a way for understanding political thinking.  Here’s Chait:

Liberalism is forever in search of a philosophy that can fit on a bumper sticker. It’s always failing, because a philosophy of leaving the free market to work except in cases of market failure, and then attempting to determine which intervention best passes the cost-benefit test is never going to be simple…

Tetlock’s quote shows that the problem is endemic to center-left politicians in the contemporary American political spectrum, not necessarily Obama as a personality. Liberalism is a more complex ideology. That certainly dovetails with my sense. There’s a psychological equivalence between the certainty of left and right, but the midpoint of the mirror image does not happen to run right between the split between two parties. American politics today is a kind of one-and-a-half ideology system, with a Republican Party acting as the arm of a coherent conservative movement staunchly opposed to government, and a Democratic Party acting as a kind of catch-all for everybody who doesn’t accept the conservative agenda. It’s no coincidence that one party keeps producing leaders who think in simple ways, while the other keeps producing leaders who think in complicated ways.

Actually, there’s also a big excerpt from Dana Milbank I skipped, who once again shows he can actually be a really good journalist when he’s serious.

Republicans still working to save me from Sharia

Looks like the efforts by Republicans in the NC House to take the all-important steps of protecting me and other North Carolinians from Sharia law are proceeding.   Really nice story on the matter in the N&O.  Rather than just giving a bunch of he said, she said quotes from interested political parties, the reporter did some actual research on how this law would be preposterously stupid:

Mark Weisburd, a professor at the UNC School of Law who teaches international law, agreed that the law as drafted would offer little additional legal protections to U.S. citizens while potentially causing big headaches for businesses.

“Say a North Carolina firm wanted to do business with a British firm and for whatever reason they agreed that any litigation should occur in the United Kingdom,” Weisburd explained. “The North Carolina firm could later seek to void the contract by saying they wouldn’t get a jury trial in a civil case in the U.K. That would make the British firm, if they had any sense, reluctant to contract with the North Carolina firm in the first place.”…

There are also routinely instances in family court where state judges weigh foreign laws when making decisions, such as when a marriage, divorce or adoption might have occurred in a foreign country. Religious codes also sometimes find their way into the courtroom, such as domestic cases involving marriage and divorce with Orthodox Jews, Weisburd said.

“I can see all sorts of ways this might have unexpected consequences,” he said…

Muslims make up less than 1 percent of North Carolina’s population, according to a recent government survey.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol succinctly sums this up:

Gene Nichol, a UNC professor who teaches constitutional law, called the bill “an embarrassment.” “It’s remarkable to me that any sentient being could think that the imposition of Shariah law is the largest issue facing the people of North Carolina.”

This is simply not what the citizens of NC voted for when they put Republicans in charge of the legislature.  If Republicans keep this up, it will be a very short-lived majority.

Something you didn’t know about me

I love Cave Art.

I cannot wait to see this movie:

(Here’s a very positive review in Slate.  I actually learned of the film via Fresh Air).

And, as long as I’m mentioning Werner Herzog films, Grizzly Man is one of my favorite documentaries ever.

It is not easy to change minds

From SurveyUSA:

Of those who have seen the newly public birth certificate:

57% say they knew all along that the President was born in the USA.

14% say they had doubts, but now are satisfied that the President was born in the USA.
18% say they still have doubts about where the President was born (including 40% of Tea Party, 33% of Republicans, 27% of Conservatives.)
10% say they are sure the document released 04/27/11 is a forgery (including 17% of Tea Party , 18% of Republicans, 16% of Conservatives).

Not at all surprised that only 14% admit to having their minds changed.  As for why this story has so much play, half the damn Republican party continues to embarrass themselves on this issue.  And if you think this would still be an issue of Obama was white, you are deluding yourself.

National anthems

So, I was listening to a BBC World Service story (cannot find the link at their website) on how new countries come up with national anthems.  They started talking about what makes a great anthem, and I started humming the Soviet/Russian anthem to myself.  A moment later, the expert in the segment suggested that this anthem was the finest example and had inspired him to become an expert on the subject.  It is damn good:

I’m also a sucker for O Canada.  Star Spangled Banner– eh, it’s okay.

The pointlessness of Public Opinion polls, part MDCVII

It wouldn’t be so bad to have so many pointless public opinion polls if the mainstream media didn’t take them so seriously.  Take the latest example from Gallup:

Preferred Long-Term Deficit Reduction Plan, by Age, April 2011

Seriously?  86% of respondents game an opinion.  I’d say at least 80% of respondents were essentially lying.  Seriously, how many Americans do you think could actually tell you anything meaningful about the Ryan budget plan.  Much less Obama’s plan.   A better question: “do you generally support Democrats or Republicans on economic issues?”  Which might as well be: “are you a Democrat or a Republican?”  Of course, that doesn’t actually get you a news story.

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