Coolest interactive map ever!

The Times has a new feature taking the past five years of Census data to break down the entire country on matters of race, education, income, and housing.  This link is for the high proportion of highly educated persons in my vicinity (I’m in tract 5351, for what it’s worth).  If I didn’t have other things to do, I swear I could play around with the maps all day.  I found the race and ethnicity maps especially fascinating.  In the case of Raleigh, it’s amazing how neighborhoods change from overwhelmingly white to overwhelmingly Black with virtually no transition in between.  Anyway, definitely check this out.  You can put in your own address and check out all the different data for your area.

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Prohibition and Ideological Coherence

So, I just finished the absolutely fabulous, Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.  You should read this book.  Seriously.  Failing that, at least read the excellent review in the Times or the terrific interview with the author on Fresh Air (that’s what turned me onto it).

Anyway, so many great stories from this book.  I’ve been regaling my friends with tales from Prohibition for the past few weeks.  For example, doctors could prescribe “medicinal” whiskey.  Due to an exemption for “sacramental” wine, parish priests and rabbis became huge purveyors of alcohol.  Millions of Americans took to brewing their own beer and making their own wine with legally purchased “malt starter” and special grapes shipped across the country from California. Pierre Dupont led the charge to eliminate Prohibition in the hopes that the restoration of alcohol taxes would eliminate the need for the income tax he so detested.

Among all this, what I, not surprisingly, found the most fascinating was the political aspects in both the rise and fall.  What most intrigued me was the ideological grouping of Prohibition with other issues.  Essentially, Prohibition supporters were liberal/progressive on most other issues.  They supported women’s suffrage, an income tax, and limits on child labor.  (Admittedly, the first two were strategic as they figured that women would support Prohibition and that an income tax was needed to make up for the loss in revenue from alcohol taxes). Those opposed to Prohibition– at least among political elites– were largely old-school, keep the government out of everything libertarian-conservatives.

Thus, it was really interesting reading about all this as I think the Prohibition supporters were totally nuts to think they could change thousands of years of human behavior and cultural tradition by fiat, yet I was quite sympathetic to their overall political outlook.  They really wanted Prohibition to promote the social good and alcohol most definitely creates a disproportionate share of social problems.  Meanwhile, I was rooting for the anti-Prohibition forces whom I generally found reprehensible in much of their other politics.  I honestly am not sure where I found have fallen myself back in the day (I’m not much of a drinker at all, so I would have little problem with the issue personally, but I really don’t like the idea of the government outlawing it).   Anyway, the Political Scientist in me would love to have the equivalent of NES data on the relationships of political attitudes back then.

Literary claptrap

So, I just read this essay by Hillary Kelly criticizing Oprah’s book club (in response to her recent selection of two Dickens novels) over at TNR, and I was so annoyed I felt the need to blog about it.   Sure Oprah’s book club has its failings and she has a history of choosing some pretty mediocre works in addition to the great ones, but I think commentary like this is just wrong:

The most galling of Oprah’s selections, however, aren’t the terrible new ones; they are magna opera of literary history. Indeed, Winfrey has seen fit to dip into the annals of literary history, pull out ringers like Anna Karenina and As I Lay Dying, and tell us why she, Oprah, thinks we should read them.
Her current choices, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, are perfect examples of this phenomenon. Surely both belong to the realm of classics and should, no must be read—and Oprah’s fans will inevitably dive in, not only because Winfrey has told them to but also out of a desire to assuage old guilt about required reading in high school that was left untouched. But what can Oprah really bring to the table with these books? Oprah has said that, together, the novels will “double your reading pleasure.” But is that even true? And do the novels even complement each other? Can you connect Miss Havisham’s treatment of time to Carton’s misuse of his “youthful promise”? Well, don’t ask Oprah herself, as she “shamefully” admits she has “never read Dickens.”

I’m sorry, but anything or anyone that gets people to read more classic literature is a good thing.  Maybe Oprah does not get the same thing– nor encourage her audience to get that same literary aesthetic out of Anna Karenina as Hillary Kelly does, but how can it possibly be a bad thing to have more people reading Tolstoy, Dickens, Faulkner, McCarthy?!  Seriously!  Kelly suggest that Oprah bends all these works to her own will of self-improvement and maybe she does, but these works of literature are great precisely because they resonate and speak to readers on so many levels, regardless of whatever discussion questions Oprah brings to the table.  Kelly essentially suggests that these works should only be read under the guidance of a literature professor or literary type such as herself.  This is just the worst kind of literary elitism.

I’m sure I would have actually gotten much more out of Anna Karenina or The Road had I read them as part of a literature class, but to suggest that my reading was essentially pointless and one-dimensional because I did not is hugely insulting.  I did not read these books because Oprah recommended them, but for those that did, that’s great, because the more people who read great books like this, the better.  Period.

Chart of the Day

Via Ezra:

Thumbnail image for inequalitygraph.jpg
Ezra goes on to speculate about how this may be related to financial crises.  Given that the Washington Wizards are nominally my NBA team (I grew up going to quite a few games back when they were the Bullets), I love his analogy:

If you bet every year that the Wizards wouldn’t win the championship, you’d pretty much always make money. If everyone bet that way every year, everyone would pretty much always make money. If everyone borrowed lots of money so they could make bigger bets on the Wizards losing every year, they’d make even more money. But if the Wizards then won, everyone would then go bust, and they’d go bust all at the same time, losing lots of borrowed money, and wreaking untold havoc on the economy.

Well, not “untold.” That’s pretty much what happened in 2007. In this story, one of the things to watch for when we see very high levels of inequality is whether that money is coming from the financial sector. If it is, it probably means there are a lot of people on the same side of a bet. And if there are a lot of people on the same side of a bet, the prospects for a major financial crash are pretty good. Maybe not this year, or the next year. But eventually, even the Wizards win.

I’ll simply mention that I have a hard time seeing how the trend-line in this chart is anything but a bad thing for our nation.  We really need this to change.

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