Preschool Halloween and Inequality in America

So, yesterday was the Halloween at Evan’s preschool: St. Andrew’s Catholic Church Early Childhood Center in Apex, NC.  He made a great Yoda.

Anyway, Kim pointed out to me the incredibly high number of fathers attending this event, at about 10am.  Probably about 2/3 to 3/4 of the kids had their dads as well as moms there.  Basically, this struck me as quite a symbol of the amazing advantages all these kids will have in life.  First, as if living in Apex alone didn’t tell you, that fact that all these dads were there means that they were likely upper-middle class professionals in control of their own schedule.  They don’t let you leave your job at the factory for your kid’s Halloween parade.  Secondly, it shows that these are involved dads.  That’s a couple of very important legs up on life for these kids.  Personally, I appreciate this fact, which is one of the reasons I’m a liberal.  I was thinking cynically about how many of these kids some day will go on to graduate from a good college land a good job, credit it all to their own ingenuity and hard work, and get angry at all those poor, lazy people wasting all of their hard-earned and well-deserved tax dollars.

So, the same day I’m thinking all of this, Matt Yglesias had a nice post on inequality.  We have nowhere near the social mobility in this country that most people think we do:

Pete Davis mentions a new book that sounds interesting. He observes that we like to think of the United States as a land of opportunity, “but a new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the Brookings Institution proves otherwise.”

That’s what we like to think, but a new book, Creating
an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the
Brookings Institution proves otherwise. They took a close look at
intergenerational mobility and found that 42% of American men
with fathers in the bottom income quintile remain there as compared to:
Denmark, 25%; Sweden, 26%; Finland, 28%; Norway, 28%; and the United
Kingdom, 30%
. They present a wealth of new and old research
evidence to support the conclusion that if you’re born poor in America,
you’re likely to remain poor.

In fact, non college graduates of the richest fifth of Americans end up doing better than college graduates whose families come from the poorest fifth.  How’s that for a meritocracy.  I’m lucky and so are my kids for having huge advantages early in life.  I’m also lucky because I appreciate that fact.


About a month ago, I blogged about perhaps my favorite book I have read this year, Nurtureshock (which I sadly typo-d in the original post).  Anyway, how exciting for me to discover there’s a Nurtureshock blog now.  Definitely added to my bookmarks.  The first post I came across was one about Disney refunding millions of dollars to the Baby Einstein customers (suckers?) who actually believed watching these videos would make their children smarter.  I believe PT Barnum would have something to say about this.  Anyway, Disney has tacitly (though not explicitly, it turns out) admitted defeat by this refund.

There was a lot of hoopla about Baby Einstein over the weekend. To understand it, you need a brief backstory – and then some deeper backstory, too.

A month and a half ago, Disney announced in a press release that it was going to begin issuing refunds for its Baby Einstein videos: buyers of the DVDs can return them to Disney for $15.99 or exchange them for other products.

However, nobody noticed – not until this past Friday, when the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCCF) issued its own press release. In that statement, the CCCF claimed that the refund offer was a victory for the organization, borne out of its ongoing campaign against Baby Einstein and the makers of other baby DVDs.

Within hours, the New York Times suggested that CCCF had won a major concession, and Disney’s refund offer “appear[s] to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect,” an assessment soon repeated by the Wall Street Journal and in other publications.

You can read more about the subject at the blog.  The book, which you really should read, has a nice explanation on how the videos are little more than a cheap babysitter.  There is value in that, but nobody should think it’s making their children smarter.

Big Pharma

Meant to get to this last week, but Time had a great article on how Big Pharma totally got their way in health care reform.  There's a reason they are willing to spend millions of dollars in ads in support of reform.  The details– well worth reading– are largely about how they won (bought) the rights to keep new biologics (drugs made from organic material) from facing generic competition for a dozen years.  My favorite part, though, is simply this litany of awe-inspiring statistics on their lobbying efforts:

It's understandable the drugmakers would want a roll-call accounting of
who their friends and enemies are, considering the size of the
investment they are making on Capitol Hill: in the first six months of
this year alone, drug and biotech companies and their trade
associations spent more than $110 million — that's about $609,000 a day
— to influence lawmakers, according to figures compiled by the
nonpartisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics. The drug
industry's legion of registered lobbyists numbers 1,228, or 2.3 for
every member of Congress. And its campaign contributions to current
members of Waxman's committee have totaled $2.6 million over the past
three years.

Is it any wonder they ended up getting the legislation they wanted regardless of whether it will be best for American consumers or our health care system as a whole? (Which, by the way, is worth your 3 minutes to read since I'm not going to summarize it).

Eat more veal!

Bet you didn't expect that from me.  Either did I.  Fascinating story in today's Post:

This is not that veal: the mostly flavorless meat from calves
raised in crates so small they can't turn around. Humanely raised veal
— sometimes called pasture-raised, sometimes called rose veal because
of its color — comes from calves that drank their mother's milk and
ate pasture grass. Its producers argue that if male calves, an
otherwise useless byproduct of the dairy industry, are not ethically
raised for meat, they are sold to less-humane veal producers or

And this paragraph really got to me:

Most important, dairy cows must give birth to provide milk. Their male
calves are unsuitable for beef production and too costly to keep on the
farm. "It's a resource that needs to be utilized," said Nancy
Pritchard, who raises calves at Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville, Va.
Or to put it more bluntly, as producer Sandy Miller of Painted Hand
Farm in Newburg, Pa., does: If you consume dairy, you should eat veal.

I've never knowingly had any veal, but I think I'm going to have to try and find the humane variety.

My health care company wants to limit my options

What a treat to get the following piece of mail from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina:



(image courtesy TPM)


Who wants that?  I sure do.  I'm supposed to join with BCBS and send this to Kay Hagan, why?  Because I support BCBS NC's monopoly on the individual market for health insurance in North Carolina?  Because I support them as the only health insurance option for the thousands of teachers and public employees in this state?  Because next time I get in a fight with them over whether they want to cover Alex's therapy I should be glad I have no other options?  Right.

Even more maddening, BCBS is actually a non-profit.  Apparently, though, they can use up to 25% of their non-profit profits to spend on grassroots lobbying like this.  So glad to know that my premiums can be higher and that this year's copays for specialists doubled so that BCBS NC has the money to send out these mailers to everybody.

The “level playing field” public option

If you've been following the health care reform debate, you may have heard a lot about the "level playing field" public option.  This is basically the idea of instituting rules to try and ensure that a government insurance program does not have any competitive advantages over private insurance plans.  Why would you want this "level playing field"?  To protect private insurance companies, of course?  Any other good reasons?  Not that I know of.  Here's the thing, the whole point of a government insurance plan is that it is actually more cost effective than private plans.  A government plan only needs to break even, won't spend a ton on marketing, and probably constructed would be able to keep prices down through the bargaining power that comes with big size (think Wal-Mart).  That's all good.  A government insurance plan has inherent advantages which would serve to save all of us money whether we use it or not (much like Wal-Mart drives down prices at other stores as well).  The truth is, that government is not naturally on this "level playing field" and it is just stupid to take away the natural advantages that come with a government plan to protect insurance industry profits and keep all of us paying more for health care.  It's like asking the Yankees to keep A-Rod and Jeter out of the line-up so we can have a level playing field World Series.  You don't give up what actually works.

Voting and testosterone

I don't actually have anything interesting to say about this, but a couple people have brought it up to me.  Actually seems pretty straightforward:

Republican men nationwide may have experienced a drop in testosterone
levels the night Barack Obama was elected president, according to the
results of a small study that found another link between testosterone
and men's moods.

By taking multiple saliva samples from 183 young men and women on election night, researchers found that the testosterone levels of men who voted for John McCain or Robert Barr dropped sharply 40 minutes after Obama was announced the winner.

The testosterone levels of men who voted for Obama stayed the same throughout the evening…

The lowered testosterone levels the study found in Republican men after
the election matches what other researchers have found when men are
involved in face-to-face competition. Scientists have shown that more
often than not in showdowns such as sports competitions or physical
fights the loser ends up with a drop in testosterone.


Ideological Purity in the GOP

Should've linked this last week, but had a good class discussion on the matter today.  I'll let EJ Dionne take care of the summary:

 Is there room in the Republican Party for genuine moderates? Truth to
tell, the GOP can't decide. More precisely, it's deeply divided over
whether it should allow any divisions in the party at all.

That's why the brawl in a single congressional district in far Upstate
New York is drawing the eyes of the nation. Conservatives are
determined to use the race to prove that there is no place in the party
for heretics, dissidents or independents. 

When local Republicans picked a moderate, Assemblywoman Dede
Scozzafava, as their candidate for the Nov. 3 contest, many on the
right rebelled. They are backing a third-party conservative, Doug
Hoffman, and he may well drive Scozzafava into third place. For the
moment, at least, polls show that Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate,
has jumped into first place on the split.

 It demonstrates just how right-wing some Republicans have become that
former House speaker Newt Gingrich is on the moderate side of this
civil war against his old nemesis Dick Armey, who served under Gingrich
as majority leader.

Gingrich, who backs Scozzafava,
always understood that he would never have become speaker without help
from Republican moderates. Armey prefers ideological purity and, like
fellow members of the Tea Party movement, is supporting Hoffman.

The GOP's battle of Plattsburgh and Oswego underscores the fact that
while the Democrats are a coalition party uniting moderates and
liberals, Republicans threaten to become a party of the right, and only
of the right. That means (as we are seeing on health care) that many of
the big arguments take place almost entirely inside the Democratic

Not much of a "threat" about it.  The Republicans are pretty much there as a party of the right and only of the right.  This is most definitely not the path to a returned majority, but to permanent minority status.  Back to EJ:

Democrats won their majority in Congress by uniting and firing up their
base (George W. Bush helped a lot) and by winning over moderates and
independents, often by running moderate candidates in conservative
districts. These candidates were typically to the left of the
Republicans on economic issues but to the right of, say, Berkeley and

In the meantime, middle-of-the-road voters who had populated the
moderate Republican heartland, notably in suburban areas of the
Northeast and Midwest, shifted steadily Democratic, turned off by the
increasing dominance of Southern conservatives in the party of Lincoln.

Such voters threw solid Republican moderates out of office — among
them Connie Morella in Maryland, Jim Leach in Iowa and Chris Shays in
Connecticut — not because they disliked these champions of the middle
way but because all three came to be seen as enablers of a right-wing
congressional majority.

The political parties scholar in me is fascinated by the Republican party's rush off an ideological cliff.  Ideological purity simply does not make for majorities in a two-party system.  The Democrat in me says, keep on going.


Boys club

It seems that Obama has been taking some heat lately for the fact that his White House basketball games don't include women.  A-ha, he's a sexist!!  Salon's Tracy Clarke-Flory has the right take on this, I think:


There is a tremendous difference between doing business at a topless
bar and organizing a pickup game with co-workers, though. And, as a
woman who has always tried to play ball, literally and figuratively,
with the boys, I couldn't help rolling my eyes at the critique of
Obama's supposedly sexist sporting habits. As a feminist, I find it
embarrassing, frankly. I'm all for political and workplace parity, but
surely the president should be allowed to bond with his colleagues in a
number of different ways, right? We don't really want to require that
he only hold official events with 50-50 sexual representation, do we?
Or that he form a knitting circle, or some other stereotypically
female-friendly club, as a means of connecting with congresswomen?

is, if there's a dominant male culture in the White House it's more
reasonably blamed on the gender divide that is already deeply
entrenched in politics. Changing that isn't an issue of holding a
basketball game with both male and female Congress members (although,
hey, that would be great); it's an issue of balancing power in
Washington and, to his credit, Obama has selected more women for his
Cabinet than any other president. Clearly, there's still plenty more
work to be done and I'm holding out hope the president's performance on
that front will be as impressive as his jump shot. In the meantime, I
sincerely hope he takes up Kathleen Sebelius on her one-on-one

What she said.

Can you be indecently exposed in your own home?

Apparently, the story of a Springfield, VA (my hometown!) man so charged gained "international attention" last week, but missed my attention till 5 minutes ago:

The way Eric Williamson tells it, he might have been making coffee or
flipping eggs or taking a picture down from the wall when a woman and
her 7-year-old son walked by his Springfield house and saw him, through
the window, naked. 

He says he never saw them and never knew they'd seen him — until the police showed up.

In a case that gained international attention last week, hitting a
nerve for anyone who has ever dashed from the bedroom to the laundry
room in the buff, Williamson was charged with indecent exposure.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened Monday morning, but
everyone agrees on this: The 29-year-old was naked and home alone, and
he could face up to a year in jail.

I actually know the neighborhood where it happened– I had lots of friends right around there.  Anyway, in addition to being a matter of he said, she said, there's quite a number of interesting legal issues at stake.  The crux:

Washington area lawyers say the case, like others before it, will
probably boil down to a crucial question: Did Williamson intend to be
seen? Virginia law defines indecent exposure as the intentionally
obscene display of private parts in a public place or "any place where
others are present."

Today, the Post hosted an interesting chat with an attorney to really bore into the legal issues.   Now, that I think about it, I better be a little more careful when I dash through the house looking for some clean boxers.  Or better, yet, just yell for Kim to go find me some.

The irrational fear of H1N1 vaccine

Much to my dismay, I've not been able to get H1N1 vaccine for my kids yet (I figure as a healthy 37-year old, I'm low in the queue and should have to wait a while).  Unfortunately, a lot of Americans are irrationally afraid of this vaccine (thanks Bill Maher, Glenn Beck and other Morons):

At the same time, however, many Americans are hesitant about being
vaccinated or having their children inoculated. More than six in 10 say
they will not get vaccinated, and only 52 percent of parents say they
plan to have their children vaccinated, even though parents tend to be
more worried about the flu.

This is bad because far and away the best method for stopping the flu is vaccinating children.  Kids are the major vector of the flu.  People will die from this flu and it will be largely spread by un-vaccinated children.  An older adult without a vaccination living in a community where a healthy majority of the children are vaccinated is much safer than a older adult who is vaccinated but is in a community where most children have not been.  Here's a great article from several years back in Slate about the importance of "herd immunity."  Getting vaccinated is not just about yourself, but the herd, e.g., your community. 

Anyway, what's missing from the Post data, that I'd really like to know, is how the data of fear of the H1N1 vaccine compares to what people think about the seasonal flu vaccine.  That's critical to analyze just how bad this response is.  Maybe all sorts of people are scared of the regular flu vaccine, too– inquiring minds want to know.

And just for fun, here's Jon Stewart on the matter:

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Stupid conservative columnist tricks

I decided a long time ago that I was generally going to refrain from blogging about idiocy coming from conservative columnists– that's easily a full-time occupation in its own right.  But, I cannot resist the dual foolishness of Kathleen Parker and George Will in today's Post.

What always amuses me and disturbs me is the number of people who are so easily duped into thinking George Will is some sort of fair-minded intellectual who happens to be conservative.  Sure, he breaks with Republican orthodoxy more than most, but wearing a bow time and using a lot of big words does not actually make you smart.  Today he absolutely phones it in with his pathetic celebration of Minnesota Rep (R- crazyville) Michelle Bachman.  That woman borders on insane.  (If you doubt me, just watch some random clips of her on Youtube).   Will blames one set of her indefensible comments on the interviewer, Chris Matthews, and on another not-so-bad set of comments, he says she's right on the merits.  There.  Case solved–she's a great politician unfairly slandered.  That was easy.  So simple when you ignore all the dozens of other instances where she's proven her tenuous grip of reality.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Parker defends the 30 white male Senators who voted against Al Franken's amendment to prevent the DoD from contracting with contractors who make their employees sign contracts which do not allow them to use the US justice system in cases of sexual harrassment.  Parker makes a really poor case against this amendment.  Apparently it may be hard to enforce.  So is interstate wire fraud– should we make that legal?  Then argues, based on a complete absence of a rational basis "Though it appears that there are plenty of bad guys in this story — may they get their due — the 30 Republican senators have been unfairly smeared for doing the harder thing, for the right reasons."  I love this response in the on-line comments: "What makes you think that the 30 GOP Senators were doing "the harder thing for the right reasons" rather than doing the usual thing for large campaign contributors?"  That sounds about right to me.


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