Friday book post (Saturday version)

So, I’m off to the beach today.  Hooray!  (Expect slow blogging, but I’m sure some things will annoy me enough that I’ll feel the need to blog while staring at the Atlantic Ocean).  And, hey, any of my loyal readers, you got something good to say and you want me to post it here; this week is the perfect time.

Anyway, on to the beach-themed book post.  I’m taking two books to read with me.  Michael Lewis’ Big Short and Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook.  When you go to the beach (and don’t have a library or bookstore nearby), you want to take books you are confident you’ll like.  Thus, it’s no coincidence I’m going with non-fiction.   I’ve learned in my adult life of reading, that if there’s a non-fiction book I’m interested in and think I’ll like there’s probably a 90% + chance I really will.  It is a rare, rare, non-fiction book I start and then don’t finish.  Yet, with fiction, things are much more hit and miss.  Perhaps as much as 1/3 of novels I begin, I end up deciding are not worth my time.  And this is after the fact that I generally choose all my potential reads with much care.  For me, at least, novels simply have much more risk/reward.  There’s nothing in non-fiction (even Gladwell) that can compare to being totally transported to another time and place and absorbed by a great novel.  But, when non-fiction doesn’t live up to its promise, it’s often still reasonably good.  A failed novel, however, well…

I want to bring along a 3rd book, because these two non-fiction books are relatively short and I really hope to get a lot of reading done, but the problem with taking a novel (and I really don’t want to read 3 non-fiction in a row), is there’s a non-insignificant chance I won’t like it.  I may just bring two– between The Financial Lives of Poets or Year of the Flood, surely I’ll like one.  [I’m also bringing Coaching Soccer for Dummies, but that doesn’t count]


David Brooks seems to be every liberal’s favorite conservative and he seems to have some basic respect for social science.  So it’s especially annoying when he behaves as a complete hack.  On yesterday’s All Things Considered, they had their regular Brooks/EJ Dionne segment.   The host asked Brooks as to the cause of Obama’s unpopularity and he answered: “Liberalism.”  As if.  [EJ Dionne’s basically letting him get away with this (he rebutted, but much too tentatively and politely) is one reason he can often frustrate liberals.  His head is sure in the right place, but he could put a little more heart in it.]  Anyway, because this is a really important point, and Political Scientists have a lot to say on the matter, I’ll go to Ezra, who relies on one of my Political Science heroes, Gary Jacobson (reading Jacobson’s The Politics of Congressional Elections as an undergrad actually helped make me want to be a Political Scientist):

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…Recall my article last Sunday on the determinants of elections. In particular, recall Gary Jacobson’s equation for midterm elections, which uses presidential approval, change in real disposable income and the number of seats the majority holds (political scientists call this “exposure,” because each seat you hold is a seat you can lose)…

If there’s a tension here, it’s in the way that public opinions and the system interact — or, more specifically, the way they don’t. You can look at this and ask why Democrats passed all this legislation that made them unpopular. But if Democrats had sat around and done nothing after the stimulus, does anyone think they’d be more popular? On some level, Democrats understand that if people’s incomes had gone up over the last year, their agenda would be popular enough, but that in the presence of persistent joblessness, they’re going to lose the election. The only thing to do in the meantime is try and pass legislation that’ll make the country better off. That’s what they’ve done, or at least what they think they’ve done.

Enough of the hackery.  Seriously.  Anybody who claims that the majority of dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democrats stems from anything other than the current economic situation is either lying or ignorant.  Period.

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