P.S. Guilty

So, when posting about gender and the hygeine hypothesis, I couldn’t resist the title “dirty girls.”  I speculated:

sorry, couldn’t resist the post title.  I do suppose this may bring some traffic to my blog of people who are not exactly looking for political and social commentary.

And now, I can report back, yes, I am getting a decent bit of traffic driven by that search term.  I don’t suppose too many of them are sticking around for my trenchant political commentary, though.

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What’s not being reported

Great post from Yglesias on the issues that are not being reported in the news.  I did a fun group activity in my Media & Public Opinion class yesterday in which students were supposed to come up with a research design to assess media bias.  One group came up with the idea of trying to assess bias in what’s not getting published.  That’s hugely important, but far as we could figure out, pretty much impossible to determine in any close-to-objective fashion.  But, as Yglesias points out there are very powerful, systematic journalistic conventions (that have nothing to do with liberal or conservative bias) that determine what becomes news and what doesn’t:

Jon Bernstein had a good op-ed earlier this week about the Obama administration’s strange neglect of judicial appointments. Brendan Nyhan observes that you could say the same about the Fed. John Sides wonders why we don’t see any reporting on this from the oodles of journalists who cover the White House.

It’s an interesting question that in some ways cuts to the heart of everything that’s wrong with reporting. Nobody reports on Obama not prioritizing judicial nominations because people only report on the things that are happening. “Liberal Judicial Groups Slam Obama For Neglecting Judiciary” is a story you write, whereas “Obama Neglecting Judiciary” isn’t. In the real world the fact that Obama is neglecting the judiciary is a bigger deal than the extent to which groups are or are not slamming him over it, but that’s not how it looks to the conventions of journalism.

Basically, journalists look to elite discourse to determine news.  If there’s no major politicians or interest groups making hay with the issue, it just won’t be “news” no matter how newsworthy it actually is.  Maybe the journalists should start looking to bloggers :-).

Headlines I thought I’d never see

Chait:

Grover Norquist Is Making Sense

And Chait’s right, he actually is:

Anti-tax maven Grover Norquist has a manifesto today:

When it comes to education, pensions, health care, Social Security, and hundreds of other government functions, conservatives are a beacon for fiscal responsibility, accountability, and limited government — the very principles that have made this country great. However, when it comes to criminal-justice spending, the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality forces conservatives to ignore these fundamental principles.

With nearly every state budget strained by the economic crisis, it is critical that conservatives begin to stand up for criminal-justice policies that ensure the public’s safety in a cost-effective manner.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if conservatives were so obsessed with saving money that they actually supported smarter, more efficient, more cost-effective policies on crime?  I’m not holding my breath.  Mostly, because overwhelming evidence indicates that conservatives are much more interested in low taxes for rich people than with actually having efficient government.

Gender and Parking

I am certainly not one of those male triumphalists who insist that men are better drivers.  In fact, I think not as men are far more likely to be too risky (and to not ask directions when they need it).  Thus, I was quite intrigued to read this little bit in an interesting Tom Vanderbilt piece in Slate about why you should back in when parking:

If the logic of back-in parking is so clear, why doesn’t everyone do it? Difficulty, or perceived difficulty, seems to be the reigning explanation. Casual sexism (of the sortsummed up by this video) holds that women struggle with back-in parking, although commenters of both genders termed it difficult on my blog. More troubling are studies that claim to find a measurable, if slight, parking “performance gap” between male and female drivers. One NHTSA study, “Field Measurement of Naturalistic Backing Behavior” (conducted to help design backup warning systems), found that “the male driver’s mean maximum backing speed was generally faster than the female’s and reached statistical significance on two of the tasks,” one of those tasks being “backing into a perpendicular parking slot.” A similar study, by Claudia C. Wolf and colleagues at Germany’s Ruhr University-Bochum, asked male and female drivers of varying experience levels to park an Audi A6 in various ways (back in, parallel, etc.) in a closed-off multistory car park. They found that women took longer to park the car than men. This might be seen as a result of the general tendency for men to take more risks in driving than women (e.g., men drive faster, closer to other vehicles, more often without seatbelts, more often under the influence of alcohol), but there was another interesting result: Even though men parked more quickly, they also parked more accurately, as measured by distance to neighboring cars. Of course, measuring these differences is easier than explaining them. Are there biological differences that give men an edge in handling a car, or do the results just reflect a wider societal belief that men should be better at handling a car? Some psychologists suggest that this belief itself affects the actual performance of drivers, in a phenomenon called “stereotype threat.” In a study in Australia, women drivers in a driving simulator who were confronted with negative stereotypes about women drivers were twice as likely to collide with a jaywalking pedestrian as women drivers not presented with the stereotype.

In case you didn’t feel like reading that whole paragraph, basically men are better at backing into spaces than women– faster and more accurate.  Also, that stereotype threat is powerful stuff.  Lastly, I’m going to stick with pulling in.  Okay, lastly for real, Vanderbilt’s book Traffic is one of my favorite non-fiction books in recent years.  Read it.  Seriously.

Chart of the Day

I think like most people, liberals included, I used to be in the mainstream of thought by believing that it simply made sense to raise the retirement age for social security as life expectancies have increased.  One of the reasons I love the blogosphere so much, is that I have since learned the folly of this from people like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias– not from reading the Times or the Post.   But alas, the burden of raising the retirement age falls disproportionately on poorer Americans because of the correlation between socio-economic status and life expectancy.  Here’s the deal in chart form (via Yglesias):

Actually, his text is even better:

If I said, “how about a modest cut in Social Security benefits for rich people paired with a much larger cut in benefits for the poor” almost nobody would find that tempting. But life expectancy is correlated with income and this is getting truer over time:

In percentage terms, raising the retirement age from 68 to 70 would have a small impact on the expected Social Security benefits of a rich person and a large impact on the expected Social Security benefits of a poor person. It’s very regressive and a healthy share of the fiscal benefit will be lost on the back end in terms of increased disability claims.

Certainly, we need to do some things with social security (though it’s far from a crisis), and still maybe even raise the retirement age a bit.  But I do think to reflexively do so without examining these issues raised here would be a big mistake.

 

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