Ponyo

So, instead of spending the first two hours of the beach vacation morning watching Animal Planet, as has been the habit this week, I thought we’d give Ponyo a go.  It has the vaunted “Universal Acclaim” at metacritic and a friend at work said he and his kids both loved it (this means you, Tom).  Alas, I would’ve been better off watching “It’s Me or the Dog.”  Evan stopped watching after 30 minutes to play with legos, but David soldiered through with me to conclude, “it wasn’t very good.”  I certainly appreciated the visual style of the movie, but overall, I was more bored than anything (plus, I thought Tina Fey’s voice as the main character’s mom was horrible mis voice casting.  Hard not to think of Liz Lemon).

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Are white lives worth more

When people think of race and the death penalty, a lot of them make the assumption that Black people convicted of murder are more likely to receive capital punishment.  They are, but only because they are more likely to kill Black victims. There’s little evidence that the race of the murderer affects death penalty sentences– its the race of the victim that really matters.  The latest study on the matter looks at almost 3 decades in NC:

Someone accused of killing a white person in North Carolina is nearly three times as likely to get the death penalty than someone accused of killing a black person, according to a study released Thursday by two researchers who looked at death sentences over a 28-year period.

The findings come as many in North Carolina are focusing on the death penalty and race. Death-row inmates have only a few more weeks to file challenges to their sentences under the Racial Justice Act approved by the legislature last year.

For the study, touted as one of the most comprehensive examinations to date of the modern administration of the death penalty in North Carolina, Michael L. Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Glenn L. Pierce, a research scientist in the Northeastern University school of criminology and criminal justice in Boston, examined 15,281 homicides in the state between Jan. 1, 1980, and Dec. 31, 2007. Of those, 368 resulted in death sentences.

The researchers looked at many factors, such as the number of victims and whether other crimes such as burglaries and robberies were committed during the homicide. They also tried to consider similar homicide cases.

Their analysis of the data showed that the odds of receiving a death sentence in cases where the victim was white were 2.96 times as high as the odds in cases with black victims.

I’d really like to check out actual study and see the methodology, but in what strikes me as quite irresponsible, the actual study appears to be nowhere near on-line, despite the news blitz.  Anyway, other issues with the death penalty aside, that 3 to 1 ratio is certainly a worrying statistic.  It really is amazing that so many people (and by people, I mean conservatives) insist that there’s really no more racism.

Spongeworthy

Apparently, a Princeton Econ prof has written a paper providing an economic analysis of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine buys up the renaming supply of contraceptive sponges and has to decide if her suitors are “spongeworthy.”  Great idea to write a paper on this.  Sadly, despite an accessible topic, I find all the economics to be utterly indecipherable.  Would it be asking too much for some more English explanation and fewer Greek letters (no excerpt here, it’s PDF).

The Gingrich Fraud

I think that Newt Gingrich’s greatest strength as a public figure is his ability to get seemingly intelligent people to think that he is much smarter than he actually is.   I had a conversation with my dad– a reasonably well-informed and intelligent fellow– not long ago and he went on and on about how smart Gingrich is.  The man’s intellect is an inch deep, but he succeeds enormously in fooling people that he’s a “big ideas” man.  Now he’s making absolutely absurd comments about a proposed mosque near Ground Zero.  Chait does a great job pointing out his idiocy:

Newt Gingrichwrites:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

In this context, “double standards” means that the United States maintains a more pluralistic attitude toward religious minorities than Saudi Arabia does. Now, you could make the same kind of argument about any repressive policy in a place like Saudi Arabia. If women are not allowed to walk around freely in Saudi Arabia, then men should not be allowed to walk around freely in the United States!

Naturally, Gingrich would say that my proposal does not follow from his. Why? Well, because his argument depends on a parallel identity: Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, and the U.S. is a Christian-Jewish country. Indeed, conservatives assert this so routinely that it’s no longer controversial or newsworthy: The United States is a Judeo-Christian country. (It sometimes attracts notice when they drop the “Judeo.”)

If you want to understand why this is such a toxic premise, just look at Gingrich. Because the premise that we are a Judeo-Christian nation naturally leads to the conclusion that non Judeo-Christians ought to enjoy less religious protection. That can be seen in his formulation of “us,” which excludes Muslims. And at that point there’s no longer any moral basis for differentiating the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. It’s not that they’re a theocracy and we aren’t. It’s that we’re one kind of religious country and they’re another kind.

To be clear, I’m not saying we are a theocracy or are becoming one. I’m saying that the now-dominant right wing view destroys any principled basis for giving equal treatment to religious minorities.

Yglesias is good, too:

Why on earth would we adopt this standard? There are no synagogues in the Vatican City, and yet we have Catholic churches all over the place. That’s because the United States of America isn’t a small city-state run by a religious leader. In Denmark, they have a state-sponsored church, but we don’t have a state-sponsored church because in the United States we have a strong belief in a brand of religious pluralism that’s served both the country and religion well. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its lack of freedom of religion, but we don’t improve anything by mimicking Saudi Arabia’s flaws.

One gets the sense that Gingrich’s reasoning is so weak here because he actually has no idea why it would make sense to prevent mosque-construction in Lower Manhattan. He just knows that this has become a far-right cause celebre and he likes to ride the far-right wave. If the far-right wants anti-Muslim bigotry, then he’ll provide it. But he’s an “ideas guy” so he has to try to think up a reason.

If only more people would realize what a shamefully little man Gingrich actually is.

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