Too much good TV

I don’t write about it all that much here (mostly mentions to the Wire and Mad Men), but I really love good TV.  And we are truly living in a golden age of more high quality TV than ever.  Oh sure, there’s the naysayers out there who still think most television has not evolved from Three’s Company or Dynasty, but much of the very smartest writing for entertainment these days is on television.  I do all I can just to keep up with the very best shows and feel bad knowing some of the very ones I’m missing.  Of course, that’s got to be even worse for a professional TV reviewer.  Really enjoyed this recent piece from Alan Sepinwall:

Because FX keeps track of this, I asked their research department for some hard numbers on how many shows we have now versus then. In 2002 — the year “The Shield” debuted on FX — there were actually 28 original scripted dramas on premium and basic cable (some of it famous stuff like “The Wire” and “Monk,” some of it long-forgotten like “Falcon Beach” and “Breaking News”) and 6 original comedies. In 2007, there were 42 original dramas and 17 comedies. By last year, that number had ballooned to 77 original dramas and 48 comedies. And in the first four months of 2013 alone, there have been 34 dramas and 19 comedies. And that’s on top of everything that ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW are doing. That pace will slow down somewhat as we shift into summer, but I’d still expect 2013 to top the 2012 numbers, and to keep rising. Netflix is making its own original shows now, and releasing all the episodes at once. Amazon has pilots in development. The amount of television expanding, but so is our definition of what counts as “television.” …

I talked about this with James Poniewozik, who suggested the problem isn’t with the top tier, but the tiers below it. Great shows may come and go, but there’s a manageable number of them. I’m not going to miss an episode of “Mad Men” or “Justified” or “Game of Thrones,” and new entries from FX, Showtime, etc., tend to stay at the top of the viewing priority list longer than, say, shows on CBS. And that’s not a knock on the quality of CBS shows so much as it is the idea that crime procedurals (the bulk of their output) don’t lend themselves as well to episode-by-episode dissection as the kinds of shows you find on cable.

But the tiers immediately below the top one are getting more and more populated, and therefore harder and harder to keep up with.

Anyway, time for me to go watch Mad Men on the DVR (which I did not watch at the original airing because I had to watch Game of Thrones on Sunday).


The dumbest argument against gun control

Well, you’ll never stop all the gun violence so you might as well not even try.

I’ve heard versions of this time and time again, especially from my students, so I loved the way Tomasky tears it apart (long excerpt, but very worth it):

As the Senate gets set to show that you can fight the National Rifle Association, let’s consider what has to be the worst reason ever put forward by anyone to oppose anything in the entire history of the human race: that the actions under consideration “won’t prevent” future tragedies or “wouldn’t have prevented” such-and-such sociopath from unloading hundreds of rounds into the bodies of children. Gun nuts invoke this argument as if it’s some kind of clincher, a discussion-ender. It’s anything but. It shows total ignorance about the reasons that we make laws in the first place. It demands that gun legislation meet a standard of performance that laws in no other arena of public policy are ever held to. It keeps gun-control forces constantly on the defensive because the people who cynically spout this nonsense in public know that many well-meaning but naive folks will buy it. It’s stupid, but for these reasons it is surely more evil than stupid, and it must be stopped.

Let’s take my objections one by one. Why do we make laws? Well, of course, there is an element of prevention in all policymaking. We passed clean-air and clean-water laws in the 1970s in no small part to try to prevent selfish corporations and others from befouling the air and water. But did anyone think that the passage of such laws would prevent all pollution? Despite the kind of palaver politicians unload on us when a major bill is passed, obviously no sentient person thought any such thing. People are people, some of them are chiselers and sociopaths, and if giving a few hundred poor children asthma is going to increase their bottom line by 1 percent, they’ll do it.

Still, we made the laws. Why? For two other reasons. One, to have a ready statutory means by which to punish the chiselers and sociopaths. And two, to make a statement as a society about what sort of society we are. As it happens, we passed the Clean Water Act of 1972 in part simply to say: whatever sort of society we are, we aren’t one in which we will watch as our rivers catch fire and not try to do anything about it.

We do try to do something about it. Yet even so, and here is my second point, no one thinks laws against pollution will prevent all pollution. Similarly, no one supposes that laws against armed robbery will prevent all armed robbery. No one expects that laws against tax evasion will stop the selfish and the stingy from hiring their selfish and stingy lawyers to identify for them various selfish and stingy new ways around the laws. We do not presume man’s perfectibility. And yet somehow, gun laws are supposed to meet the standard of being able to prevent all future massacres and are criticized as total failures if they don’t? Absurd…

It’s a natural human urge among well-meaning people to want to prevent the deaths of children. But what the gun lobby does is that it takes this wholly decent desire and twists it into an excuse to permit the carnage to continue. Adam Lanza would have passed a background check, they say; therefore, make no changes in law. And sadly, many of those well-meaning people will buy this. It’s an argument that’s very hard for gun-control forces to win…

And here is the final sick irony. Say Congress actually passes what’s under consideration. Then eight months from now there’s another mass shooting. See, the NRA will sneer? Didn’t prevent it. Yet it’s the NRA that works every day in Washington to make sure Congress can’t even consider things like magazine and ammunition bans that might be more effective. Imagine a doctor who gave a man with cancer a few antibiotics and then sneered, “See, told you; didn’t work.” This is what the NRA does.

Indeed.  And it leads to people needlessly dying.  It’s flat-out evil.

Chart of the day

I really liked this chart and commentary from CBPP and Yglesias:


Well, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has this chart, which they say shows the overall tax system is “only moderately progressive.”

I’d put it differently. The overall tax system is pretty progressive but seems to be built for a different era before the divergence of the 1 percent and the 0.01 percent from the 99 percent and the 99.99 percent. It rightly draws a large distinction between the bottom quintile and the fourth quintile but fails to draw a major distinction for gaps within the top quintile.

So, what we really need to do is add some progressivity at the top.  Of course, preventing any such increase in progressivity at the top is basically the sine qua non of today’s Republican Party, so, so much for that.

Your tax dollars at work

You guys read this blog, so none of this should come as too big a surprise, but I love this  infographic on where our tax dollars go:

Photo of the day

Loved the juxtaposition of both color and scene in this “Daily Life” themed photo from Big Picture:

A girl drinks fruit juice while resting in a hammock on a river bank near an industrial zone in southwestern China’s Chongqing city on March 24. (Associated Press)


The paradox of Republican budgets

Loved this from Chait:

[Louisiana Governor Bobby] Jindal unveiled a sweeping plan to eliminate the state’s income taxes and corporate taxes, replacing the lost revenue with cuts to social programs and higher sales taxes. It sent the hearts of national Republicans (like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Grover Norquist) aflutter but provoked massive opposition within the state.

Benjy Sarlin concludes an excellent rundown of the debacle by suggesting “it may be time to rethink just how popular the whole ‘starve the beast’ approach actually is with voters.” That misses the crucial fact that caused the backlash against Jindal, and that also differentiates him from the national Republican approach.

Jindal’s plan exploded because it was zero sum. It cut taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor. It had to be zero sum because states have to balance their budgets.

And here’s the key…

But the federal budget doesn’t have to balance, and this fact underpins the entire Republican policy strategy over the last three decades. Before Ronald Reagan, Republicans cared a great deal about controlling the budget deficit and very little about cutting taxes for the rich. In an environment where every dollar into one account had to come from another, giving a lot of the dollars to a tiny number of people is almost invariably unpopular.

That’s why the GOP’s makeover into a more plutocratic party occurred simultaneously with its abandonment of old-fashioned fiscal conservatism. Lower taxes for the rich can work politically only if you obscure the fact that eventually the money has to come from somewhere else.

Short version: that’s why the Republican Party learned to love deficits.  Of course, when there’s a Democratic president they pretend otherwise, but it is quite obviously just pretending.  They don’t have a problem with deficits, per se, only when those deficits are caused by something other than low taxes for rich people.

Climate change, science, and media

NC State has a phenomenal resource in Matt Shipman, who works for our news services to publicize the research of NCSU faculty.  He does an amazing job.  Almost any time I’ve linked here to some cool source that has interviewed me, Matt has been behind it.  Anyway, he’s also quite a blogger in his own right on the topic of science communication (working at NCSU, most of the research he publicizes is from the “real” sciences).  Anyway, really liked this post of his on the intersection of climate change, science, and media as it brings up an interesting paradox:

Who do you trust? That question is at the heart of public debate on climate change. If you trust the scientific community, which overwhelmingly acknowledges the reality of climate change, then you likely think climate change is a global problem that requires a global response. If you don’t trust scientists, then you may have no strong feelings about climate change – or you may think that it’s some sort of hoax…

The Poll

The nationally representative poll of 2,017 U.K. adults found that 69 percent of respondents thought scientists are “trustworthy” sources of accurate information on climate change. Only 7 percent of adults thought scientists were “untrustworthy.” …

a more interesting finding is that the BBC was considered trustworthy by only 31 percent of adults and was considered untrustworthy by 25 percent. And the BBC was by far the most trusted news outlet.

The Problem

The public trusts you, science guy. But how will they know what you have to say?I may be underestimating the people of the United Kingdom, but I doubt most of them are perusing the scientific literature on a regular basis to stay abreast of climate science findings. Generally, people learn about new scientific research when it is covered by news media. But these poll findings indicate that people don’t trust the stories that news media are publishing.

Here’s the problem: People may trust scientists, but they rarely interact with them directly. And scientists may work with reporters to broadcast their findings, but the public may not trust the resulting news story. What to do?

One option is for scientists to eliminate the middleman and reach out to the public directly, through a blog. This is increasingly common, but a lot of researchers don’t have the time, inclination or requisite communication skills to maintain a blog. What’s more, even if a scientist launches a blog, how can they let people know about it?

I don’t think there is a clear solution to this problem – yet. But I think it’s worth raising the question of how to connect the public to the scientists they trust, given that the public doesn’t particularly trust the traditional conduit of news media.

Matt goes on to talk about potential solutions (that’s his bailiwick .  Me, I’m more on the “I don’t think there is a clear solution”).   I just love how he points out that no matter how much the public trusts scientists, the public’s knowledge of science is going to be filtered through a media they largely don’t trust.  That’s a problem.

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