Quick Hits

1) Nice little list from Newsweek of "12 comics who aren't funny."  I'm definitely in agreement.  Interestingly, I actually saw Carrot Top in person– the only stand-up I've ever seen.  Not funny.

2) Why Sarah Palin will not be president— short version: Sarah Palin = Dan Quayle.

3) Really love this one– why the Pledge of Allegiance is, in fact, fundamentally un-American.  Read it.   

Best TV of the 00’s

As ABC's ad campaign was argued, "TV is good."  Many critics (and I agree) argue that we are in a golden age of television and that much of the smartest writing in entertainment is going on in modern television.  The Onion AV club (the serious part of the Onion) put together this nice list of the top 30 shows of the 00's.  I'm certainly a big fan of the top 3 choices (I'd question their credibility if The Wire was not #1).  Interesting list and will certainly affect what shows make it into my DVD queue.  I really need to get around to Mad Men one of these days. 

Who likes Sarah Palin?

So, Sarah Palin has been all over the news and blogosphere with the roll-out of her new book, Going Rogue— sure to be intellectually stimulating reading.  Over at TNR, Michelle Cottle had a nice gender-based explanation on Palin's support:

Scanning the weekend chit-chatter about the ex-gov, I noticed that the Note pulled this observation from PBS's Gwenn Ifill:

"You cannot underestimate the degree that women will be drawn to her story."

Maybe. But, as last year's polls showed, it's not as though chicks much like Palin

Quite the contrary: Palin (as I've noted before) is a national
political phenom in large part because she is a certain type of man's
fantasy of a go-getter gal: Sassy, pretty, and slightly flirtatious,
with a professed love of firearms and sports and a distaste for those
icky ol' traditional chick issues that feminists so tiresomely gripe
about. (You know, reproductive rights, child care, family leave,
comprehensive health care, equal pay, etc.)

I've actually been running models of support for Sarah Palin with the 2008 NES data.  Short version: no gender-based differences at all  in liking for Palin– on a 0-100 scale, males average 51.54, females 51.15.  Remarkably similar and nowhere near statistical significance.  Among Democrats and Independents, there are no gender differences in Palin support.  As much as I like Cottle's theory, though, it seems to be wrong.  Among Republicans, men rate Palin about 69, significantly lower than where Republican women put her at 73.  In an OLS model of Palin support, factors which increase support for Palin at a statistically significant level are: being married, being from the South, being white, having less education, being more religious, and, of course, being Republican.


How to lie with statistics

That's the title of one of my favorite books.  This graph brilliantly illustrates the concept from the Atlantic on-line:


The lesson here is not that Pitchfork's editors should get behind "Drill, baby, drill." The lesson is that US oil
production has fallen steadily for 40 years, and Rolling Stone's
editors are absurdly biased toward songs written between 1965 and

(Thanks to Big Steve for this one)


Mammograms– who needs them?

So, a couple of weeks ago I meant to blog about Mammograms in response to this recent study:

Last month, Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, told The New York Times that the medical profession had exaggerated the benefits of cancer screening, and that if a woman refused mammography, “I would not think badly of her, but I would like her to get it.”…

But the statement also said mammography can “miss cancers that need
treatment, and in some cases finds disease that does not need
treatment.” In other words, the test may lead to some women being
treated, and being exposed to serious side effects, for cancers that
would not have killed them. Some researchers estimate that as many as
one-third of cancers picked up by screening would not be fatal even if
left untreated. But right now, nobody knows which ones.

Interesting, but the articles is from a few weeks ago and I never did anything.  However, now we have news that a federal panel is actual recommending that most women in their 40's no longer have routine mammograms:

 Women in their 40s should stop routinely having annual mammograms and
older women should cut back to one scheduled exam every other year, an
influential federal task force has concluded, challenging the use of
one of the most common medical tests.

"We're not saying women shouldn't get screened. Screening does saves
lives," said Diana B. Petitti, vice chairman of the U.S. Preventive
Services Task Force, which released the recommendations Monday in a
paper being published in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine. "But we
are recommending against routine screening. There are important and
serious negatives or harms that need to be considered carefully." 

Obviously, for an announcement like this, there's been evidence for years that mammograms are not quite the magic bullet they are often portrayed to be.  Clearly, they are important and play a major role in preventing breast cancer, but it seems that this role should be more targeted than current use.  Alas, my mom was well aware of these studies questioning the efficacy of mammograms.  Unfortunately, she drew the conclusion that all such regular testing, e.g., pap smears, was unnecessary.  When she told me she might have uterine cancer and I asked about regular gynecological testing (which she did not have) she specifically mentioned the evidence for the limits of mammograms.  Okay, then, I'm not sure what my broad conclusion should be here.  I think it is good that doctors realize the limits of their screening tests and apply them more appropriately, but I hope too many people don't take these recommendations too far and ignore needed and effective medical tests.

Fuel economy vs. horsepower

I read something about this years ago and always find reason to talk about it in my public policy class, but haven't actually been able to find good data on this, so I was very happy to see this post from Yglesias:

 There are two things you can do with a more efficient automobile
engine. One is build a vehicle that gets more miles per gallon. The
other is build a vehicle that moves more pounds of steel. And
Christopher Knittle points out that we’ve largely been doing the latter:

From 1980 to 2004 the fuel economy of U.S. vehicles has remained stagnant despite apparent technological advances. The
average fuel economy of the U.S. new passenger automobile fleet
increased by less than 6.5 percent, while the average horsepower of new
passenger cars increased by 80 percent, and their average curb weight
increased by 12 percent
. For light duty trucks, average
horsepower has increased by 99 percent and average weight increased by
26 percent over this period. But there’s more to this story: in 1980,
light truck sales were roughly 20 percent of total passenger vehicles
sales — in 2004, they were over 51 percent.

In Automobiles on Steroids: Product Attribute Trade-Offs and
Technological Progress in the Automobile Sector (NBER Working Paper No.
15162), Christopher Knittel analyzes the technological progress that
has occurred since 1980 and the trade-offs that manufacturers and
consumers face when choosing between fuel economy, weight, and engine
power characteristics. His results suggest that if weight,
horsepower, and torque were held at their 1980 levels, fuel economy for
both passenger cars and light trucks could have increased by nearly 50
percent from 1980 to 2006
. Instead, fuel economy actually increased by only 15 percent.

Of course, this is what consumers wanted and that's what they got.  Better policies, whether gas taxes or emissions standards would have seen that improvement in efficiency go towards better mileage.  Speaking of inefficiency, most cars simply have way more power than they need now, and are therefore quite inefficient in the use of fuel.  Maybe its because my first car was a K-Car, but I'm plenty happy with the 116 horses in my Toyota Corolla and rarely feel that I need more.  Of course I do enjoy those extra horses I've experienced in others' cars, but mostly I'm happy with my great mpg.  I also think the amount of people pouring money down the drain on full-sized trucks is ridiculous.  We've got neighbors with a Ford F-250 or 350 and when that thing idles in the driveway it sounds like a UPS truck, but I've never seen them haul anything other than their two kids.  I would say, to each his own, but all of us pay the externalities of them having such an amazingly inefficient vehicle for their needs.

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