Long quote of the day

I don’t ordinary expect particularly insightful political analysis from Mark Halperin, but he’s spot on here (compares OJ coverage to Sherrod coverage:

But the coverage of both sagas — Simpson’s, literally, for years; Sherrod’s for the better part of a week — was insanely overblown. The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

As far as blame goes, I don’t “blame” Fox too much, it’s like the scorpion and the frog, and we know which Fox news is.  The problem is that the mainstream media knows this and plays along anyway.

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Looks matter in politics (like the rest of life)

In an interesting, but not particularly surprising finding, more attractive political candidates fare a lot better than less attractive candidates:

New research from MIT political scientists shows that the appearances of politicians do indeed strongly influence voters — and that people around the world have similar ideas about what a good politician looks like. While few political observers would be surprised to learn that good looks earn votes, the MIT researchers have quantified a phenomenon that is more often assumed to be true than rigorously measured.

And, wow, there’s some shocking news, people from different countries actually seem to have similar ideas on human attractiveness.  Imagine the Miss Universe pageant if we didn’t.

“We were a little shocked that people in the United States and India so easily predicted the outcomes of elections in Mexico and Brazil based only on brief exposure to the candidates’ faces,” says Lenz. “These are all different cultures, with different political traditions and different histories.”

If they’re so shocked, perhaps they should have done a little bit more research on human perceptions of attractiveness before they did their study.   Looks matter.  People prefer good-looking people regardless of the “political traditions and different histories” of their countries.  It’s not rocket science.

I want a new drug

This is one of the funniest clips I’ve heard.  It was on This American Life last week and had to to stop jogging while listening to the podcast because I was laughing so hard:

And, who can forget Huey Lewis’ classic take on a new drug:

The Government that cried secret

I was thinking more about this whole Wikileaks and Afghanistan thing yesterday afternoon while driving home listening to the NPR story about it.  The things is, the government always decries how horrible these leaks are, but what we’ve seen here is that there’s really not so much that seems it should actually be secret.  It seems this is quite often the case.  Other times, the sort of things the government is hiding, e.g., the Pentagon Papers, or Reynolds v. US, is secret because it will embarrass the government, not because it’s any way a real threat to our security if the information comes out.  So, basically, the government has very little credibility when it comes to this whole secrecy thing.  It’s always crying “secret” without a truly compelling reason.  The result is that we increasingly don’t take the government seriously on these matters and that people are presumably ever more ready to leak, because it never seems to cause real harm (and thus, some day it might).  Seems to me much better to save “secret” for stuff that actually is.

Chart of the Day

Paul Waldman has some really interesting thoughts on this chart from Pew.  First, take a moment to digest the chart:

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Waldman:

What’s really interesting here isn’t so much the views about Democrats — that’s pretty much what you’d expect, that voters of the opposing party would find it to be far more extreme than its own partisans, who know where their own party has disappointed them, would place it. What’s odd, though, is the fact that on average there’s so little difference between how Republicans and Democrats see the GOP. There’s obviously some diversity within those groups — some Democrats see the GOP as extreme, while others see it as moderate — but it’s still notable.

So why is this? It’s hard to say, but my nominee would be the differing media systems partisans are drawn to. Conservatives are more likely to seek out highly partisan information sources — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. — than Democrats are. The latter may take in the occasional episode of Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, but they’re getting most of their news from more neutral places like NPR and CNN. What makes the difference is that the idea that the Democratic Party is a bunch of socialists with a radical leftist agenda is a core component of the rhetoric on Fox, Limbaugh, et al. If you get your news from them, you’ll hear that message every day, again and again. And eventually you’ll start to believe it.

To me, the most disturbing thing about this is just the further evidence of Republicans being so removed from the actual real world where the rest of us live.  Many of my students tell me they watch Fox just for “entertainment” etc., but obviously very many Republicans truly, and quite inaccurately, believe the Democratic party is far more liberal than it actually is.

Yglesias also has some interesting speculation (and I definitely think he’s on to something) on how including the Tea Party may affect the results:

Now on to the irresponsible speculation. Looking at this chart, I wonder if Republican politicians are benefitting from a psychological anchor phenomenon around the fact that the media has adopted the conceit that there’s something called the “tea party movement” that’s distinct from the conservative base of the Republican Party. Voters seem to see themselves as about equidistant between Democrats and Tea Parties, which means they’re closer to Republicans than to Democrats. But it’s hard for me to think of important policy disputes between, say, John Boehner & Paul Ryan and tea party leaders.

Economics of happiness

So, Wolfblogs just let me know that it is really going off-line at the end of the month.  I went through and recovered about 20 or so draft ideas for blog posts that I never did and brought them over here (also dumped another 30-40 that were simply no longer relevant).  This one I really liked…

A nice summary in the Post of the economics of happiness and how it relates to government policy.  Here’s the key portions:

Wherever I look, some simple patterns hold: A stable marriage, good health and enough (but not too much) income are good for happiness. Unemployment, divorce and economic instability are terrible for it. On average, happier people are also healthier, with the causal arrows probably pointing in both directions. Finally, age and happiness have a consistent U-shaped relationship, with the turning point in the mid- to late-40s, when happiness begins to increase, as long as health and domestic partnerships stay sound.

All of this seems rather logical, suggesting that if a government wants to get into the business of promoting happiness, it can pursue some straightforward policy goals, such as emphasizing health, jobs and economic stability as much as economic growth.

If I’m getting towards the bottom part of the U (about 10 years or so away), I’m sure doing great.  When we got back from a terrific beach vacation this weekend I posted “Back to reality” as my facebook status update.  Kim pointed out, my reality’s pretty damn good, and she’s right.  Nothing like a great marriage (rewarding, though certainly exasperating kids), good health, good friends, and economic stability.

The article also makes the important point, though, that in many ways this is all relative:

But here’s the complicated part. While there are stable patterns in what leads to happiness, there is also a remarkable human capacity to adapt to both prosperity and adversity. Thus people in Afghanistan — a war-stricken country with poverty like that of sub-Saharan Africa — are as happy as people in Latin America, where typical social and economic indicators are a good deal stronger. Kenyans, meanwhile, are as satisfied with their health care as Americans are with theirs. Being a victim of crime makes people unhappy, but the impact is smaller if crime is a common occurrence in their society; the same goes for corruption and obesity. Freedom and democracy make people happy, but the effect is greater when they’re used to such liberties than when they’re not.

In other words, it’s what your used to and how you fare compared to those you know.  We know from various experiments that most people would be happier living in a $200K house in a $150K neighborhood than a $250K house in a $300K neighborhood.  So, stop being jealous of your neighbors 🙂 and be happy about the good things.

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