The Future of gay marriage

So, presumably you’ve heard that the Obama administration is no longer going to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.  I found Jeffrey Toobin’s explanation of the legal concepts really interesting, but if you’re not into the difference between strict and rational scrutiny, it’s probably not up your alley.   Everybody loves a good chart, though.  To that end, I made a couple based on 2008 National Election Study data on gay marriage.  I simply looked at the percentage of respondents who supported gay marriage or civil unions (because lets be honest, symbolism, etc.,  aside, they are functionally the same thing as a legal matter) by income in quartiles and age group under 30, 30-59, and 60+.  And here’s what we get.  First income:

The richer you are, the more supportive you are of gay marriage and civil unions.  Okay, then, on to age:

And, the younger you are, the more supportive.

Alright then, a couple of things we know.  1) Rich people are more likely to get their policy preferences turned into actual policy than poorer people.  2) Older people are going to die and younger people are going to move into positions of political power.  3) At some point in the not-too-distant future, the facts of #1 and #2 mean that gay marriage/civil unions will be a fact of public policy, and not all that big a deal.


Education is not a business

With Republicans taking over state governments all over the place, prepare for more of the silly “education is a business” argument to be popping up like it is here in NC.   Here’s school privitization advocate, Bob Luddy in a story from our local NPR station:

Luddy: A lot of people say you shouldn’t talk of education as a business, but the reality is, it is a business.

Luddy’s business plan for education is the same as it has been for Captive-Aire: keep overhead low and deliver quality to customers. There are very few support and administrative personnel in his schools. There are no sports. Thales doesn’t take children with special needs, as they are too expensive to educate.

Obviously, that last point really stuck with me.  No, public schools are not a damn business.  Rather, they are a public good designed to serve the public, not just the people people rich enough to attend or sufficiently inexpensive to educate.  I’m sure glad Luddy did not win a seat on the school board when he tried (though, it’s hard to believe he’d be any worse than our current morons on the board).  Are there certain principles from business that make sense to apply to schools?  Sure.  But the last thing I want is people who actually think that schools should be treated as businesses having anything to do with my children’s’ education.

And the Tea Party is…

another name for the Republican base.  Here’s a table of Tea Party sympathizers compared to “Republicans” compared to all voters (via Chait):

Heck, you practically don’t even need separate columns for Republicans and Tea party supporters.  This is a pretty neat trick that Republicans have pulled off– convincing most people that their angry base is some grass-roots based new social movement.   Chait’s comments strike me as spot-on:

The Tea Party is essentially a re-branding campaign for the GOP base. It’s a successful effort, and one that springs largely though not entirely from the grassroots itself. Conservatives like to imagine that the Tea Party is some incarnation of the popular will, asleep for many years and finally awakened under Obama, and bristle at any analysis that diminishes the world-historical import of the phenomenon. So let me be clear. The Tea Party represents a significant minority of Americans. It’s influential. (It allowed conservatives to disown the failures of the Bush administration and to lend them a populist imprimatur.) But it’s not anything more than an organizing rubric for the GOP base.


Test yourself

Meant to post this a while ago, as it’s really useful for many of my readers (i.e., college students), but forgot to.  Now that I’m busy with exams to graded, I was reminded to get to it.  Anyway, the Times had a really nice article on the most effective strategies for preparing for tests.   Short version– the best way to learn material is actually to be tested on it!

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

In the experiments, the students were asked to predict how much they would remember a week after using one of the methods to learn the material. Those who took the test after reading the passage predicted they would remember less than the other students predicted — but the results were just the opposite…

But “when we use our memories by retrieving things, we change our access” to that information, Dr. Bjork said. “What we recall becomes more recallable in the future. In a sense you are practicing what you are going to need to do later.”

It may also be that the struggle involved in recalling something helps reinforce it in our brains.

Maybe that is also why students who took retrieval practice tests were less confident about how they would perform a week later.

“The struggle helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ”

I don’t know if it truly counts as “testing” but back in my days of taking, rather than grading (as much as I hate grading, I’ll still take this side), I would try and test myself on the material as I went along.  Obviously, I was onto a pretty good strategy.  From reading this, though, it sounds like the more one truly does approach preparation in a test-like manner, the more learning will happen.

Sherlock: right and wrong

Watched last year’s Sherlock Holmes movie over a couple of nights earlier this week.  Easily could’ve been so much better.  I loved Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson.  I could’ve watched those two go at it all day.  What I could’ve lived without was absurd chases, extended fight scenes, and explosions galore.  It was like Sherlock Holmes by Michael Bay.

What makes Holmes such an enjoyable character is his heightened powers of deductive reasoning.   This was used to great effect in the BBC/PBS “Sherlock.”  The television production lacked the star power and high-end production values of the movie, but damn was the writing about 1000 times smarter.  If only you could’ve combined the two, then the film would’ve really been onto something.

Unions and deficits

One of the ridiculous claims from supporters of the Wisconsin Governor’s attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers is that somehow giving state workers this right leads to budget deficits.   If only it were so simple.  I’m not expert on state budgets, but I do know we’ve got a massive budget hole here in NC, and one of the most draconian laws in absolutely forbidding any collective bargaining for state employees.  Anyway, the folks over at the Monkey Cage bring the Political Science (and the data) on the matter:

I do not know of readily available data on public-sector collective bargaining or on public-sector union strength, so I used the percent of employed people who are members of unions (from this BLS report).

Here is the graph, with a non-linear fit line estimated via lowess.


There is not much of a systematic relationship. The fit line bumps and wiggles but is essentially flat. The bivariate correlation is 0.19, with a p-value of 0.21. Based on these measures, states with larger unionized workforces do not have larger budget deficits.

Short version: stop lying.

Health care law upheld by federal judge: news not at 11

So, a federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is Constitutional.  I had to dig down the Post and Times websites to find the article on it.  It probably won’t merit more than a 3o second mention on evening newscasts.  That is understable to a degree, it’s certainly much bigger news when major federal laws are held Unconstitutional.  Yet, as Ezra Klein points out, the cumulative effect of reporting on the issue is sure to lead to significant misunderstanding among the American public:

I’m not alleging bias here: A judge upholding the status quo is not as newsworthy as a judge radically altering it. But the reality is that the public is seeing a lot of coverage of the rulings against the Affordable Care Act and almost no coverage of the rulings — which are substantially more numerous, particularly if you include the many cases that have been thrown out of court — in the law’s favor. That’s quite a gift to the opponents of the legislation. A typical consumer of news probably does not realize that the balance of the courts, at this point, have ruled the law constitutional.

What also won’t be reported, is how much smarter and persuasive this ruling is than the two striking it down.  Jon Cohn gives a nice run-down.  First, the judge eviscerates the economic activity/inactivity distinction:

As to the argument, put forward by the plaintiffs, that the mandate is unconstitutional because it purports to regulate “inactivity,” she dismisses that argument as “semantics.”

this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not “acting,” especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.

I think she does an even better job of going after the “if health care is Constitutional, the government can make you buy broccoli non-sense”

If the government can make you pay for health care, the critics say, then why can’t it make you buy broccoli? Or a GM car? Or anything else?

This second aspect of the health care market distinguishes the ACA from Plaintiffs’ hypothetical scenario in which Congress enacts a law requiring individuals to purchase automobiles in an attempt to regulate the transportation market. Even assuming that all individuals require transportation in the same sense that all individuals require medical services, automobile manufacturers are not required by law to give cars to people who show up at their door in need of transportation but without the money to pay for it. Similarly, food and lodging are basic necessities, but the Court is not aware of any law requiring restaurants or hotels to provide either free of charge.

It should be emphasized that this distinction is not merely a useful limiting principle on Congress’s Commerce Clause power. Rather, it is a basic, relevant fact about the operation of the health care market which is critical to understanding the ACA’s efforts to reform the health care system. The requirement placed upon medical providers by federal law to care for the sick and injured without recompense is part of the cost-shifting problem that Congress sought to redress by enacting the ACA. When a supplier is obligated by law to produce goods or services for free, there is bound to be a substantial effect on market prices if consumers’ behavior results in that obligation’s frequent invocation.

Doesn’t to take a law degree to know that that’s good legal reasoning and puts the opinions of Hudson and Vinson to shame. Of course, you’re not actually going to hear about that in any mainstream news articles.  Maybe we can get Sarah Palin to tweet about it.

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