Movie recommendation

A couple years back I highly recommended Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory the biography of Pat Tillman and the story of the Army cover-up of the actual circumstances of his death.  This week, I watched the excellent documentary, The Tillman Story.  It covers most of the same ground, but it is fascinating and riveting to hear the story directly from Tillman’s parents, widow, and younger brother.  If you’re not familiar with the true Pat Tillman story and how the Army lied about his death for propaganda purposes and the Tillman family fought back, definitely watch this– it’s great stuff.

[And, hey, as long as I’m talking movies, I really enjoyed Limitless– just well done, fun, entertainment.]

Perdue and media bias

Meant to put this in the previous post, but realized I forgot.  Anyway, the Perdue “gaffe” piece I referenced is a classic example of a straightforward negative bias towards politicians that characterizes political journalism.  This takedown had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Bev Perdue is liberal and everything to do with the fact that journalists generally look for opportunities to show politicians in an unflattering and “controversial” light.   I absolutely guarantee you, however, that had a similar piece been written about a conservative politician you would hear howls of “liberal media bias!”

Perdue’s “gaffes”

Yesterday’s lead story in the N&O about NC Governor Bev Perdue’s latest “gaffe” is a case study in what’s wrong with modern journalism.  The lede:

Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has long had a reputation for shoot-from-the-hip remarks that leave her audiences shaking their heads, part of her folksy, I’m-just-a -coal-miner’s-daughter persona.

But none of her previous comments hit a political nerve like her startling suggestion this week that Congress suspend its elections next year to concentrate on fixing the economy. Listen to the governor’s remarks.

Ummm, this is only “startling” if you somehow think she seriously meant this.  If you listen the audio– it’s linked in the story– Perdue doesn’t vary her cadence, tone of voice, etc., to make it sound like she’s aiming for sarcasm, satire, etc.  Nonetheless, we are left with two choices:

1) Democrat Bev Perdue is smart enough to be the governor of North Carolina, but actually dumb enough to think this is a political possibility with greater than a 0.0% chance and that it would be a good thing to lock in a Republican House majority for two more years and that it would be politically smart to suggest this in a serious manner.


2) Bev Perdue is a poor extemporaneous speaker (there’s plenty of evidence for that) who failed to properly convey through tone, cadence, etc., the quite obvious interpretation that she’s using a hyperbolic version along the lines of “just throw them in a room and don’t let them out until they’ve solved this.”

How any half-intelligent political observer could truly believe choice #1 is beyond me.  Yet, apparently this statement has been all the rage in conservative circles, as the article points out.  What the article fails to do, is fully point out just how absurd this interpretation is.  It does, however, nicely undermine itself–especially its prominent placement, with some excellent quotes from Duke Poli Sci professor and 2008 Libertarian candidate for NC Governor, Mike Munger:

Michael Munger, who as the Libertarian candidate ran against Perdue in 2008, said it was clear that Perdue was not serious and that even if her proposal was nonsensical, she had a valid point.

“The reaction proves her point,” said Munger, a Duke University science professor. “Is that what we should all be arguing about? An off-the-cuff remark instead of what we need do to improve the economy and the situation of the country and the state?”…

“She is perfectly bright,” Munger said. “But she is not quick on her feet. George Bush had the same problem. He was a smart guy but he would sometimes come across as: What in the world is that?”

To enter politics today, one has to have “an absence of self-doubt” and both Perdue and Bush have that, Munger said, allowing them to say whatever is on their mind, when other people might hold back.

The article then goes through a tortured history of Perdue’s gaffes.  And why are these gaffes, because it’s got to fit the narrative of the story.  There’s some bizarre story about a bad joke with a sheep, but other than that, neither I, nor my students whom I shared this with yesterday, saw these as gaffes at all.  Leading the list:

For Perdue this was not her first gaffe. In fact, it was not even her first gaffe that day. Earlier on Tuesday, at an appearance in Raleigh, she referred several times to Raleigh Denim co-founder Victor Lytvinenko as “David.”

Seriously?  Just getting someone’s name wrong at a public event is a “gaffe”?  Or this:

Or there was the time, when a television cameraman, offered a lascivious “All Right,” after Perdue said she would “undress” from the TV microphone that was clipped to her jacket. ” I’m an old woman,” Perdue said. “You are a pervert.”

Strikes me as a pretty sharp comeback, not a gaffe.  You get the point.  But, the story is about her “gaffes” so whatever can be construed that way, will be.  Perdue does say a lot of fairly stupid things, but her comments about the current Congress are not among them.  This whole episode speaks poorly of both the conservatives who ginned up a “controversy” over this and the mainstream media that pretended that this controversy was actually based on something real.

More asymmetry

Clearing out my open Chrome tabs and came across this Suzy Khimm post I meant to share:

In an article published in last month’s American Political Science Review, John Bullock evaluates how partisan voters weighed a policy change — a proposed cut to Medicaid benefits — sometimes including the views of party leaders and sometimes not. His main findings:

People rarely possess even a modicum of information about policies; but when they do, their attitudes seem to be affected at least as much by that information as by cues from party elites…Contrary to many accounts, they suggest that party cues do not inhibit such thinking. This is not cause for unbridled optimism about citizens’ ability to make good decisions, but it is reason to be more sanguine about their ability to use information about policy when they have it…Party cues are influential, but partisans in these experiments are generally affected at least as much—and sometimes much more—by exposure to substantial amounts of policy information.

Bullock also noted that non-partisan policy information tended to influence Democrats more than Republicans:

Republicans were less influenced than Democrats by policy considerations, and while need for cognition [“the extent to which people enjoy thinking”] made Democrats more responsive to policy, it made Republicans less responsive. [emphasis mine].  More research is required to determine whether these results reflect basic differences between members of different parties.

Wow– that’s quite interesting and quite an asymmetry.  Got that? The more Republicans have a need for cognition, the more they purposely bury their head in the sand about policy information.  Of course, what I really want to know is what exactly is it about Republicans that makes them less responsive to actual policy information.  That “more research” Bullock refers to is definitely needed.  When I get a chance, I’m going to skim through the actual article and see what it suggests.

Video (link) of the day

Cannot figure out why NPR would be using videos that are not embeddable even when using Vodpod (what I end up doing to embed all non-Youtube videos).  So, just take a second and follow the link about persons names that have become nouns.  Now, I knew about Guillotin and Sandwich, but had no idea that terms such as shrapnel, silhouette, and dunce actually come from real person’s names.  Pretty cool.

The Romney surge?

Not only is the Post writing stories about Romney’s improving fortunes, but even noted Romney skeptic, Jon Chait is coming around:

I have spent more than a year predicting the electoral demise of Mitt Romney. Here is a Mormon, once fervently pro-choice candidate running to lead an electorate whipped into a frenzied belief that Barack Obama’s health-care plan poses the most dire threat to liberty in American history, having imposed virtually the same plan in Massachusetts himself. Indeed, the economist who designed Romneycare also designed the Affordable Care Act. Romney has tried to elide the problem by citing a state-federal distinction that nobody actually cares about in practice, but even that turns out to be false, as Romney once supported the hated individual mandate at the federal level.

And yet here he is, poised to assume the Republican nomination as Rick Perry tries to stave off a total implosion

we may see a man walk into the nomination of a party whose electorate is dying to vote against him, simply because nobody else could stand in his path without keeling over.

Indeed.  As you know, I enjoy tracking the Intrade markets (even if my wife still forbids me from participating– yes, I know I could do it surreptiously, but that’s no way to have a marriage) and it’s quite interesting to see the dramatic movement in both Perry and Romney of late.  These markets aren’t perfect, but I think they are a much better indicator of relative standing and conventional wisdom than are the polls.  Here’s Romney’s latest chart:

Check out that giant jump in the past week or so.  In contrast, Perry:

Pretty clear where all the Romney gains have come from.  There’s a long way to go and I think Perry has too many resources to just disappear, but this is certainly an interesting development.

The wealth gap

Wow– what a great discussion has taken place on my post yesterday on the fertility divide.   One commenter briefly mentioned the differences in wealth and it reminded me of a terrific, recent NPR series on the wealth gap in America.  Not what you earn, but simply accumulated family wealth, and this makes a big difference.  From part 1 of the series:

Here’s a startling figure: The typical white family has 20 times the wealth of the median black family. That’s the largest gap in 25 years. The recession widened the racial wealth gap, but experts say it’s also due to deeply ingrained differences in things such as inheritance, home ownership, taxes and even expectations.

Take the example of two California women, Dametra Williams and Stephanie Upp, who aren’t that different in many ways. Both were raised by single mothers who struggled financially. Both worked hard to get where they are today.

But how they describe basically the same thing about how they got to where they are today differs.

Wealth Gap Grows

Median wealth (1984-2007)

Median Wealth (1984-20007)

Williams is 40, black and a single mother of one. She just started her own business.
“It’s funny, the American dream is sort of steeped in this myth of work hard, be self-sufficient and push yourself forward, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, that kind of thing. But much of the wealth in this country was not built on that, in no way, fashion or form,” Williams says.

Upp, 43, is white, a mother of two and a part-time consultant.

“I think about the little things, like when I went to college. When I graduated, my mom had enough resources to give me her car so that I had a car to get to work so that I could earn money that I could then save to help put me into the next position,” Upp says. “I could then save more money and have opportunities. So it wasn’t like we had a lot, but there was enough. I didn’t do it all by myself.”

And that’s the difference. Study after study shows that white families are more likely than blacks and Hispanics to enjoy certain economic advantages — even when their incomes are similar. Often it’s the subtle things: help from Mom and Dad with a down payment on a home or college tuition, or a tax break on money passed from one generation to the next.

Yep.  It’s really easy to overlook this, but its also really important.    I’ve certainly seen the direct benefits in my life.  Sure, my parents had enough income to live in a neighborhood with great schools, to send me to Duke, and that passed on some excellent genes for motivation, delay of gratification, and cognitive ability (apparently, I’ve failed to pass those first two on to my progeny).  But, the very fact of accumulated wealth in my family has always meant there’s a safety net.  I’m far too cautious by nature to be the entrepreneurial type, but if I was so inclined, I could actually take huge risks– maybe one that would pay off big, precisely because I know I have my family safety net to fall back on.  If I or one of my family had a catastrophic health issue I wouldn’t end up bankrupt and homeless because, again, I know I could fall back on my family.  There’s nothing I have done to earn that.  But, like a typical white person, I am much more likely to benefit from this accumulated wealth than a typical minority.

Self esteem junkies

Here’s some pretty fascinating results (via Sarah Kliff):

The big finding: young adults like and want moments that boost self esteem more than having sex, eating a favorite food, drinking or pretty much any other pleasurable activity the paper studied. [emphasis mine]

Participants in the study were asked to imagine their favorite food, sexual activity and self-esteem building experience, such as getting a good grade or receiving a compliment.Then, participants asked how much they “liked” and “wanted” each of those things. The 130 University of Michigan undergrads “liked” and “wanted” the self-esteem boosts more than either of the other activities. Here’s how they matched up:

Wow!!  I can definitely tell you that I’ll take the first couple choices (pecan pie; not telling) over hearing what a great teacher or father I am (my favorite self esteem boost).  No contest.  But, maybe I’m just jaded from hearing that all the time, :-).  These are college undergrads and Klilff strongly brings up the issue of whether this is a generational phenomenon.  Would be very worthwhile to see similar data on older cohorts.  If this is generational, it certainly suggests that we’ve created a generation of self-esteem junkies we’ve created.   Not my kids– they’re going to hate themselves, damnit.  Just kidding!  But, self esteem– especially unearned– is definitely not the end all and be all.  If you haven’t read Nurtureshock yet– do it.

The key decider for 2012

I honestly don’t know enough about the European mess to say particularly intelligent things about it.  Nonetheless, inchoate ideas have been kicking around my head that Ezra Klein does know enough about to make choate (yes, I know that’s not a word, I always enjoy linguistic backformations).  Ezra:

But here’s the increasingly undeniable truth: the 2012 election is likely to be decided by the actions a handful of European leaders take over the next couple of weeks…

At the moment, Greece is teetering on the edge, and so things could get very bad, very quick. And if they do, our economy is going to get very bad, very quick — and so will President Obama’s reelection chances. If Europe somehow vastly exceeds the market’s expectations and emerges with the strong fiscal union that everyone knows they can form but no one thinks they will create, it could do more to restore global confidence and kickstart an economic recovery than any single piece of legislation we can pass here, and that could do more to secure Obama’s reelection than any message David Plouffe can think up.

Yeah, that.  For Obama supporters this is an, alas, depressing post.  As Ezra also writes, and this may be the key:

Europe has the resources to get through this crisis. But it doesn’t have the governance structures necessary to do so, nor is it clear that it has the political will needed to create them.

If you step back, it really is crazy to think that the results of our next presidential election may very well hinge on the actions of European leaders totally independent of anything President Obama has done.  In no way is that rational.  Presumably, it’s rational to vote out office a president in a bad economy when he’s had four years.  But maybe not.  Or, maybe that President just needs to run against Rick Perry.  We’ll see.

Chart of the day

Found on the FB page of friend-of-the-blog, John F.

Damn, if that doesn’t say it all.  Thanks to this cool chart, I also discovered the Connect the dots folks who are full of similarly effective charts.  I see more of their charts of the day in the future.


So, with Rick Perry suddenly looking all too human, Chris Christie is supposedly the Republican great white hope.  Ummm, only to people who aren’t actually familiar with his record.  Look just a little more closesly, and as you would expect with a Republican governor of NJ, Christie is from the ever-shrinking sanity-based wing of the Republican party.  Nate Silver’s got a really nice post running down the details.  Tim Noah summarizes Silver, so I’ll simply borrow that:

Nate Silver has an interesting post arguing that Chris Christie managed to become a darling of the conservatives without being as conservative as they think he is. He “supported the assault weapons ban and opposed concealed carry laws.” He “stated explicitly that global warming was real and manmade.” He “stated [in 2008] that ‘being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.’” He has “no issue with same-sex couples sharing contractual rights,” i.e., civil unions, though he does oppose abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He’s softon the “ground zero” mosque (which is actually a couple of blocks away). He declined to challenge Obamacare in court. And he actually put out an Obama-friendly ad during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign.

All this really says, Silver points out, is that Christie is about as conservative as you can get away with being when you’re governor of New Jersey.

Does that sound like somebody who can win over a plurality of this year’s Republican primary electorate?  Sure as hell does not to me.  Perhaps even more importantly, it is getting really late to start a presidential campaign.  We are deep into the “preseason primary” (or, invisible primary, if you prefer) season when, in many important ways, the nomination is actually determined.  Here’s the “preseason” analogy I came up with in class…  The rest of the candidates have already determined their rosters and played a few pre-season games.  It’s too late for Christie to even get any decent free agents and his players haven’t even been through training camp.  Hard to see how he can possibly catch up.  I think he knows that.  And I think he knows that he’s simply too moderate.  Thus, I would be really surprised if he decided to give it a go.  Unless, he decides that this would increase his chances for 2016.  If he does run, I say that’s his calculation.

The fertility divide

Short version: more educated women are having ever fewer children; poorer women are having more and more unplanned children.  Longer version:

 Because the American fertility rate is an average, it obscures the fact that our country is actually more like two countries, which are now experiencing two different, serious crises.

You hear about the “haves” versus the “have-nots,” but not so much about the “have-one-or-nones” versus the “have-a-fews.” This, though, is how you might characterize the stark and growing fertility class divide in the United States. Two new studies bring the contrasting reproductive profiles of rich and poor women into sharp relief. One, from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that the rates of unplanned pregnancies and births among poor women now dwarf the fertility rates of wealthier women, and finds that the gap between the two groups has widened significantly over the past five years. The other, by the Center for Work-Life Policy, documents rates of childlessness among corporate professional women that are higher than the childlessness rates of some European countries experiencing fertility crises.

And, this is bad:

If our overall fertility rate is at replacement level—if we have enough young people in the pipeline to do all the jobs that will need doing going forward—does it really matter so much if some women are having more kids than they are ready for and some are having fewer? Unfortunately for women on both ends of the economic spectrum, it does. Poorer women suffer when they have unintended births—as do their children. Research shows that women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely to smoke, drink, and go without prenatal care. Their births are more likely to be premature. Their children are less likely to be breastfed, and more likely to be neglected and to have various physical and mental health effects. Then, reinforcing the cycle, the very fact of having a child increases a woman’s chances of being poor.

Well, then, the Greene family is doing our part to fight back!  Four(!) planned children who’ve been breastfed and not neglected (we think).  Your turn, educated readers.


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