Research to share with your partner

Well, this is interesting:

Despite that episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza has a surge of cognitive function after abstaining from sex, scientists seem to think getting busy is actually what boosts brainpower.

Research shows that people who have lust on the brain perform better when presented with analytical problem solving assignments. What’s more, scientists have also found that sex bolsters brain growth and can reduce depression.

Recently, Dr. Jens Forster of the University of Amsterdam led a study in which participants were presented with a series of critical thinking problems. Forster found that lustfully-minded subjects performed better than participants who didn‘t have sex on the brain.

Now, I’m not sure that there’s scientific evidence that men think about sex more than women do (though, shouldn’t there be?) but that should have some implications right there.  And, I love that this references a brilliant Seinfeld episode.  Here’s the only clip I could find from it where George uses his new cognitive powers to help the Yankees learn how to hit better:

American immigration in two graphs

Via Planet Money, this is rather interesting:

Donut charts: Foreign Born Population

slope graph: Breakdown of Foreign-Born Population

Call me crazy, but I do have to wonder if anti-immigration sentiment would be as strong if the 2010 bar looked more like the 1910 bar.

On a related note, very nice column from James Surowiecki on just how non-sensical our current immigration policy is when it comes to educated, skilled labor:

Since the nineteen-sixties, U.S. immigration policy has been designed to encourage the immigration of family members rather than of skilled workers. In 1990, the number of employment-based permanent visas was capped at a hundred and forty thousand a year. Astonishingly, that number hasn’t changed since, even though the U.S. economy is now sixty-six per cent bigger, and, with the rise of India and China, the supply of global talent has grown sharply. We also cap the visa allocation for each country, regardless of size, at seven per cent of the total number of visas, so only a fraction of the applications from China and India get approved. (The number of temporary work visas is also capped, at eighty-five thousand a year.) As of 2006, according to one study, more than half a million highly skilled immigrants were waiting for permanent visas, and the backlog in some visa categories was decades long. Other countries, meanwhile, have positioned themselves to benefit from the talent we’re turning away. Australia allows in almost as many skilled workers annually as the U.S., despite having a fraction of the population, and Canada has aggressively courted the highly skilled, nearly quadrupling the percentage of permanent visas it grants for employment…

The kicker is, that despite bipartisan agreement on this, nothing is happening:

In theory, fixing the system should not be a tough thing to do, since the immigration of highly skilled workers is one of the few issues on which there is genuine bipartisan support. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, remarkably enough, have called for streamlining the system in similar ways, and John Conyers, a Democrat, and John Chaffetz, a Republican, are sponsoring a recent House bill that would make it easier for small-business owners in the U.S. to get green cards. The catch is that, for all this bipartisan comity, there is no urgency in Washington on the issue, and voter anxiety about the weak economy and the scarcity of jobs gives politicians an excuse for inaction. Tough times have always lent themselves to nativist sentiments and closed-door policies. But in the case of highly skilled immigrants these policies are a recipe for stagnation. The U.S. is excellent at importing cheap products from the rest of the world. Let’s try importing some human capital instead.

This is just a dreadful waste.  Smart, educated, entrepreneurial people who want to work here and we are turning them away.  A national economy is not a zero sum game.  Bringing in more educated and highly skilled immigrants grows the economy and is good for all of us.

Paul Ryan’s low bar

Great Krugman take-down of Paul Ryan today.  Here’s the crux:

So if we add up Mr. Ryan’s specific proposals, we have $4.3 trillion in tax cuts, partially offset by around $1.7 trillion in spending cuts — with the tax cuts, surprise, disproportionately benefiting the top 1 percent, while the spending cuts would primarily come at the expense of low-income families. Over all, the effect would be to increase the deficit by around two and a half trillion dollars.

Yet Mr. Ryan claims to be a deficit hawk. What’s the basis for that claim?

Well, he says that he would offset his tax cuts by “base broadening,” eliminating enough tax deductions to make up the lost revenue. Which deductions would he eliminate? He refuses to say — and realistically, revenue gain on the scale he claims would be virtually impossible.

At the same time, he asserts that he would make huge further cuts in spending. What would he cut? He refuses to say.

What Mr. Ryan actually offers, then, are specific proposals that would sharply increase the deficit, plus an assertion that he has secret tax and spending plans that he refuses to share with us, but which will turn his overall plan into deficit reduction.

If this sounds like a joke, that’s because it is. Yet Mr. Ryan’s “plan” has been treated with great respect in Washington. He even received an award for fiscal responsibility from three of the leading deficit-scold pressure groups. What’s going on?…

So will the choice of Mr. Ryan mean a serious campaign? No, because Mr. Ryan isn’t a serious man — he just plays one on TV.

Truth is, the Republican party these days is so profoundly unserious about policy that Paul Ryan gets huge credit just because he uses actual numbers– even if the numbers don’t add up.  The press’ love for Paul Ryan as a sober-minded and serious policy wonk really just speaks to how incredibly poorly most political journalists understand and cover public policy.

Photo of the day

Very interesting collection of photos of Pussy Riot and protesters, etc.  Here’s an image of what started this all:

(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

I got to say, I still can’t get past an adolescent giggle to hear serious news people talking about Pussy Riot all the time.  And, of course, a good laugh at this image making the rounds on facebook:

Journalistic balance in the post-truth political world

Long post to come, but an important one.  The horrible job so much political does in covering presidential elections is a scandal to our democracy.  On that note, fabulous piece by Jay Rosen quite accurately titled, “Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item.”    Not surprisingly, the item was from “The Fix” the Post’s blog that is their equivalent of Politico (all game, all the time).  Anyway, I think he absolutely perfectly captures what’s wrong with the professional inside-the-beltway press corps:

The Politico has the first newsroom that is built entirely on the savvy worldview. I have written about it many times:

Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in— their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it.

Praising “political acumen” while putting questions of accuracy and context to one side– this is the essence of the savvy outlook.

Damn– spot on!  I’ve not come across Rosen’s writings on this before, but I’m going to follow him now, as that really gets at the ultimately pathology of modern media.  The “liberal bias!” stuff is just a bearded lady who only has a mustache in a tiny little tent next to the big top in comparison.

Rosen also points to Alec McGillis‘ excellent piece on the same matter.  Love this fabulous quote (first quoting from the Fix):

The problem is, the gray area is just too gray. Fact-checkers are great (especially ourGlenn Kessler), but as long as either side has an argument to justify its attacks, the history of politics dictates that it’s all fair game.

Romney’s team is exploiting that fact — to the credit of its political acumen, if not its strict adherence to accuracy.

Ah yes. If only there was someone whose job and calling it was to ferret out the truth of such things, to provide some context for voters. Let me think, there must be someone we can think of, a profession of some kind perhaps, sort of like a researcher but also a communicator…

Nothing like some wicked sarcasm.  Rosen also highlights this terrific response:

reaction to all this at US News by opinion editor Robert Schlesinger.

The Romney campaign’s gambit plays on two things: One is the instinct on the part of the press to treat such disputes as he-said-he-said in the name of objectivity (hence much coverage of the welfare ad as being Team Romney charge followed by Team Obama retort with little discussion of the facts).

But underlying the cynical belief that they can game the press is an even more contemptuous and condescending belief in the basic laziness and stupidity of the American people.

And finally, Rosen leads us to this piece in the Economist blog which has got to be one of my favorite blog posts ever.  This paragraph is absolutely key to understanding the modern political media:

 Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, suggests that political journalists aim to look high-minded by making both sides look bad. I think the motivations are far more trivial. Balance is easy and cheap. In political journalism, a vitriolic quote from each side and a punchy headline is all that is needed to feed the news machine. Who cares if substance and analysis are thrown to the wind? Journalism is a commodity. There is always a need for more “inventory” on which to place ads. Journalism, real journalism—the pursuit of truth—also creates inventory, but not as much, and it is difficult, costly and time-consuming. Far easier to bolt together a few pieces of trivial comment from political pundits and move on.  [emphasis mine]

Combine this explanation with Rosen’s discussion of “savvy” and you are 95% of the way there in understanding the failure of modern political reporting.  There are, fortunately, some great journalists these days who don’t fall for this crap.  Truth is, most of them are bloggers with a strong understanding of policy.  That’s why I learn far more from the blogs I read than the typical story from the Times or Post’s finest.

%d bloggers like this: