Don’t hate the game, hate the players

Honestly, the biggest problem with media coverage of politics is not any sort of liberal or conservative bias, it is the fact that reporters treat politics as one big game with embarrassingly little concern  for policy and underlying questions of healthy democracy.  E.g., not “should America torture suspected terrorists?”, but rather “is this a winning issue for Democrats or Republicans?”  Glen Greewald (who writes a great blog I am embarrassingly late in discovering), spotlights an absolute perfect example of this problem with a recent episode of Hardball covering the DOJ “purgegate” scandal.  You can watch the Hardball clip here.  Though I think the clip is quite notable for focusing on the events entirely in the “game schema,” Greenwald strongly emphasizes the clubby, don't-rock-the-boat nature of the inside the beltway Washington Press Corps:

Whatever one thinks of how convincing the available evidence is thus
far, nobody who has an even basic understanding of how our government
functions could dispute that the accusations in this scandal are
extremely serious. Presumably, even those incapable of ingesting the
danger of having U.S. attorneys fired due to their refusal to launch
partisan-motivated prosecutions (or stifle prosecutions for partisan
reasons) at least understand that it is highly disturbing and simply
intolerable for the Attorney General of the U.S. ? the head of our
Justice Department ? to lie repeatedly about what happened, including
to Congress, and to have done so with the obvious assent and (at the
very least) implicit cooperation of the White House. Even the most
vapid media stars should be able to understand that.

And yet so many of them do not. They continue to defend the administration by insisting that even if the accusations are correct,
there was no real wrongdoing here. Add Fred Hiatt to that list, as he
defends the Bush administration's prosecutor firings in his Washington Post Editorial today by insisting that Gonzales appears “to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn't need covering. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president . . . .”

These are not journalists who want to uncover government corruption or
act in an adversarial capacity to check government power. Rather, these
are members of the royal court who are grateful to the King and his
minions for granting them their status. What they want more than
anything is to protect and preserve the system that has so rewarded
them — with status and money and fame and access and comfort. They're
the ludicrous clowns who entertain the public by belittling any facts
which demonstrate pervasive corruption and deceit at the highest levels
of our government, and who completely degrade the public discourse with
their petty, pompous, shallow, vapid chatter that transforms every
important political matter into a stupid gossipy joke.

Anyway, you really should watch as this is just a terrific example with what is so wrong with mainstream political coverage. 

Want aggressive kids with good vocabularies? Daycare is the answer

The results of a major study about daycare were released this week in which the most talked about finding has been the fact that children who were in daycare centers before the age of 5 were found to be more aggressive than their peers and more likely to create behavior problems in class many years later in 6th grade.  The difference was small, but statistically significant.  Those who attended “high quality” centers were also found to have a slight advantage on vocabulary scores in 6th grade.  Though the researchers have confidence in the existence of these effects, they were actually quite modest– that of course does not sell newspapers and create controversy about daycare.  Of course, the question is why should these kids create more trouble in school.  I've got two theories that have nothing to do with the actual daycare experience. 

1) Parents whose children spend large amounts of time in daycare are more likely to feel guilty (see my earlier post on “mommy guilt“) about it and hence over-indulge their children, i.e., let them get away with more bad behavior.  Hence, these kids will grow up not behaving as well. 

2) Parents who do not rely on daycare, largely stay-at-home moms, are more likely to hold traditional values with regards to family and discipline and therefore have kids who are more disciplined, i.e., better behaved, in school.

I was quite intrigued when the MSNBC article I linked to said that the study “controlled for parent quality.”  Really– just how do they measure that?  From my reading of the actual study, their measure of parent quality was “years or maternal education.”  I don't know about that.  On the bright side, this means that my kids benefit from the best parental quality on the block. 

A new Gilded Age?

The political era of the latter portion of the 19th century is often referred to as “The Gilded Age” in reference to the fact that under the gleam of strong and dominant political parties, government was rotten and corrupt.  The extreme corruption from the political parties led to the Progressive movement and a variety of policy changes designed to undercut the extreme influence of partisanship in the operation of government (e.g., secret ballot, primary elections, civil service reform).  Largely, these reforms worked and have led to a much healthier democracy since this time.  When one looks at the hackocracy George W. Bush is trying to create, it really seems he is doing his best to take us back to this gilded age when everything in government was about partisanship.  Here's the latest (Salon's summary of the Washington Post story):

As the House and Senate Judiciary Committees investigate charges
that the Bush administration tried to politicize the Justice
Department's prosecutorial function, Henry Waxman's House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee is looking into whether the administration
has tried to use the General Services Administration to help
Republicans win elections.

The evidence: It did.

As the Washington Post
reports this morning, several witnesses have told committee
investigators that GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and Karl Rove
deputy J. Scott Jennings met with dozens of GSA officials in January to
discuss Republicans' electoral prospects. The witnesses say that
Jennings showed the officials a PowerPoint presentation on post-2006
polling, and then Doan asked the officials how they could “help our
candidates” in the future.

Doan allegedly raised the idea of using “targeted public events, such
as the opening of federal facilities around the country,” to help GOP

It's all part and parcel for anyone who's been paying attention. If
you're willing to fire U.S. attorneys to make way for your friends or
to retaliate for not prosecuting your enemies, why not assemble dozens
of federal officials to orchestrate petty political games around
building openings?

The good news is that this stuff was perfectly okay in the 1800's and now its illegal.  And with the Democrats in control again, Congress will actually do something about this. 

Brain Damage and Murder

In the latest William Saletan (you may need to scroll down a little):

In a small study,
when presented with moral dilemmas (e.g., would you smother a baby to
prevent bad guys from finding and killing people in hiding), people
with damage to a specific part of the brain were two to three times more willing to kill than were normal people.

This recent study reminded me of a great book I read a few years back: Base Insticnts: What Makes Killers Kill.  The author, Jonathan Pincus, argues that frontal lobe brain damage is almost always present in killers.  Another reason to wear motorcycle and bicycle helmets, I suppose.  That, and I once knew a resident who worked in an ER and he said the physicians there referred to motorcycles as donorcycles. 

Mommy guilt

Dads may be catching up to moms (though still lagging far behind) in housework and childcare, but despite spending more time with kids than their own mothers did, it appears that today's mothers are wracked by “mommy guilt.”  The key info from the Post:

According to a University of Maryland study, today's mothers spend
more hours focused on their children than their own mothers did 40
years ago, often imagined as the golden era of June Cleaver,
television's ever-cheerful, cookie-baking mom.

In 1965, mothers
spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children — feeding
them, reading with them or playing games, for example — according to
the study's analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of
Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s
and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.

This is
especially striking because it is at odds with how today's mothers view
their own lives: Roughly half of those interviewed said they did not
have enough time with their children.

“It's almost like it
doesn't matter how much they do, they feel they do not do enough,” said
sociologist Suzanne M. Bianchi, the study's lead author.

So, basically what this tells us is that society is basically telling women to feel guilty for not spending enough time with their children.  I think this is just part of the larger problem of parenthood seeming to be so socially competitive these days: “The Miller's started their kids in soccer and dance at 3!” “My 4 year old can read at the first grade level” etc.  Part of this results in a sense of competition of proving how good a parent you are by how much “quality time” you spend with your kids.  Sounds like mommy guilt is a lot worse than Daddy guilt, but I am not going to feel guilty for just hanging out in the same room with my kids reading the newspaper (how do you think I stay so informed?) instead of always directly engaging with them.  Nobody ever falls down the stairs when I'm reading the paper– though Alex's rate of impishly pushing Evan over does seem to be higher when I am distracted. 

Dads are catching up!

The Washington Post had a very intriguing story about “Mommy Guilt,” which I hope to get to in my next post.  For now, I'll start with the accompanying story on how much better fathers are today than those of the past.  Or, as the sub-headline put it: “Fathers are no longer glued to their recliners.”  In a nutshell:

In what is surely a sign of modern life, recent research shows that
over the past four decades, fathers like Clark have nearly tripled the
hours they spend focused on their children.

They still lag behind
American mothers, who put in about twice as many hours directly
involved with their children and doing housework. But, as researcher
Suzanne M. Bianchi put it, today's fathers “do a lot more than their
fathers did.”

A comprehensive study of “time diaries” by researchers from the
University of Maryland shows that fathers have increased their
child-care work from 2.5 hours a week in 1965 to seven hours a week in
2003. There is a similar trend with housework: Dads did 4.4 hours a
week in 1965 and 9.6 hours a week in 2003.

Perhaps even more
striking, the total workloads of married mothers and fathers — when
paid work is added to child care and housework — is roughly equal, at
65 hours a week for mothers and 64 hours for fathers.

Sure men are laggards when it comes to housework, but 1) we're way better than we used to be, and 2) when you put all work (including household and childcare) men do surprisingly well.  In fact, it seems almost too well.  I wonder if the researchers investigated whether men were more likely to inflate their time totals in their diaries. 

I also found this particular tidbit interesting:

Thinking about the generational change, Stuart Melnick, 44, said
that it starts right at a baby's birth. In his father's era, he said,
men stayed in the hospital waiting room and passed out cigars. Today,
“every man I know” is in the delivery room, part of a child's life from
the beginning.

Melnick, who has one son, said his involvement as
a father is an economic reality, too. He and his wife are lawyers, and
“my wife could not function if I didn't do much,” he said. “You can't
not be involved.”

As my mom always likes to say, “everybody needs a wife.”  And when it comes to a successful two working parent household that clearly means both parents need to pick up the slack around the home.  The increasing workplace success of women is clearly in part attributable to the fact that men are increasingly stepping up at home.  I'll be honest, sometimes I think it must have been nice to be a dad back in the day when you could expect to come home and just relax while your wife continued to take care of the kids.  But as one dad in the article expressed things:

Thinking of generational differences, he recalls that he once
mentioned to his father the joy of having a baby sleep on his chest.

“Did you do that with us?” he asked his father.

“No, I never did,” he recalled his father saying.

I gotta say, moments like that are more than worth all the additional housework and childcare men do today.  (Not in the least to suggest men have it rougher than women– I'm not looking for angry email here). 

Rotten to the core

As I was listening to the NPR coverage on Alberto Gonzales' role in this shameful scandal while driving to this hospital earlier today, the thought that came to me was, “what a miserable partisan hack.”  Then it occurred to me, how often have I thought that about persons throughout the Bush administration?  Lots!  Sure, Gonzales is an embarrassment to the AG's office, but how many embarrassments with no meaningful sense of accountability (“mistakes were made”) has Bush placed throughout the highest level of government.  It is just so clear that Bush has nothing but disdain for a well-functioning bureaucracy and the rule of law and has elevated partisan hackery above all else.  Somebody is choosing all these rotten apples and is therefore rotten himself.  Now that the Democratic Congress is finally able to reveal to the broader public what those of us who hang out in the blogosphere have long known, George Bush will surely go down in history as one of our most damaging (to democracy) and shameful presidents.