Quote of the day

When our formerly Republican-dominated board of education hired Tony Tata to be our school system superintendent there was a lot of concern due to his past as a Sarah-Palin-praising Fox News contributor.  Yikes!  And, yet, in the job, he struck me as generally fair and not really partisan.  I’d also had no complaints from what I’ve seen from his current service as NC Secretary of Transportation.  Alas, apparently, he’s just been keeping it all hidden pretty well.  Due to safety concerns, he had to close a major bridge to the Outer Banks today and there’s delays in a potential replacement (which would have never been ready by now anyway, due to an environmental lawsuit).  Tata was pretty clear whom he blames for needing to close the bridge.  It’s so absurd as to almost be an Onion parody of something a Republican might say:

“These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill,” Tata said. “And they do so with their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.”

Just wow.  A colleague said I needed to deconstruct just how wrong this is at every turn, but I think it’s hate-filled ignorance pretty much speaks for itself.  Meanwhile, also love this quote:

“We’re not dealing with a natural disaster,” Warren Judge, the Dare County commissioners chairman, said Wednesday after Tata spoke in Manteo. “We’re here today because of a man-made disaster. … We need the people to stand with us and tell these special-interest groups that have stalled, delayed and obstructed the replacement of this bridge that they need to stop.”

Damn those special interests!  Always looking to get rich and screw over the public by protecting fragile habitat.  So damn self-centered!

Chart of the day (abortion version)

Really interesting pregnancy and abortion by charts post at Wonkblog.  Pregnancy, teen pregnancy, and abortion have all been in considerable decline in recent decades.  The abortion rate has fallen by a third.  I presume this has more to do with access to contraception and education than trans-vaginal ultrasounds and other such laws.  Anyway, given my academic interest in marriage, I found this chart the most interesting:


Two observations.  You always hear about the high percentage of natural pregnancy losses but it is still pretty amazing to see it in chart form and hard numbers.  Also, seems like more marriage might mean fewer abortions (not that I’m going to imply causality).  But still, maybe that’s where the pro-life crowd should put their efforts.  Of course, I’m still waiting for evidence that they are actually interested in meaningful solutions that would actually reduce the number of abortions (e.g., contraception availability, etc.).

Social-scientifically literate headlines

This great, great collection from HuffPo is entitled “Mathematically literate headlines,” but I think that’s somewhat of a misnomer.  I’m currently reading the excellent Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman on psychological biases and many of these examples could have come right from the book.  Whatever you want to call them, these are awesome and sure to warm the hearts of statisticians, mathematicians, and social scientists everywhere:

Our World: Market Rebounds after Assurances from Fed Chair
Mathematically Literate World: Market Rebounds after Regression to the Mean

Our WorldFirm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Daring Strategy, Bold Leadership
Mathematically Literate WorldFirm’s Meteoric Rise Explained by Good Luck, Selection Bias

Our WorldGas Prices Hit Record High (Unadjusted for Inflation)
Mathematically Literate WorldGas Prices Hit Record High (In a Vacuous, Meaningless Sense)

Our WorldAfter Switch in Standardized Tests, Scores Drop
Mathematically Literate WorldAfter Switch in Standardized Tests, Scores No Longer Directly Comparable

Our WorldPoll Finds 2016 Candidates Neck and Neck
Mathematically Literate WorldPoll Finds 2016 Predictions Futile, Absurd

And plenty more great examples at the link.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the Week gallery:

A Little Gull
A Little Gull, the smallest breeding gull in Europe, swoops down to take a break from hunting for food, making the smallest of ripples as it lands gracefully on a peaceful mountain lake in Kolasen, Jamtland, North Sweden.  Picture: Daniel Pettersson/Solent News

So much for the hammock

Paul Ryan has famously said that government safety net programs function as a hammock luring the poor into a sense of dependency and complacency.  Thus, we need to get rid of this hammock and get poor people off their fat, lazy asses.  In fact, it is pretty much an article of faith on the right that government benefits simply encourage indolence.  I don’t doubt for a second that some people abuse the system and take advantage of benefits with no intention of actually bettering their lives.  Personally, I’m quite willing to accept that as the cost in exchange for the benefit of helping far more persons who are generally deserving and will use the benefits in a positive way.

Paul Rosenberg has a very nice article in Salon.  Turns out there’s been some nice empirical research on the issue (surprised I’ve only heard about it now) that Rosenberg nicely summarizes:

Hilary Hoynes is a University of California at Berkeley economist who wrote a particularly notable paper last year. Instead of increasing dependency, as conservative critics have repeatedly claimed, Hoyen’s paper showed that, for women at least, food stamp use during pregnancy and early childhood has exactly the opposite impact of what conservatives allege: It actually increases economic self-sufficiency when children grow up, in the next generation.

That was just one of two main results reported in “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” which Hoynes co-authored with Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond.  As stated in the paper’s abstract, access to food stamps for women leads to “increases in economic self-sufficiency (increases in educational attainment, earnings, and income, and decreases in welfare participation).”  Hoynes and her colleagues took advantage of the fact that food stamp programs were established county-by-county over a period of years, creating a sort of “natural experiment” beginning half a century in the past…

Hoynes herself said, “This work indicates that there are important benefits of the safety net that to date have been ignored. They predict that a more generous safety net can reduce health disparities. More generally, the emerging evidence points to an important role for investments in early life — and those investments generate important returns in terms of better health and economic outcomes in adulthood.” …

But to really appreciate the significance of this research, one must also appreciate two other aspects of Hoynes’ recent research, which combine to provide a three-pronged counterattack on the right’s “culture of dependency” narrative. First, she has done previous research establishing short-term benefits — not just for food stamps, but also the for the earned income tax credit — specifically, a reduction in low-birthweight babies, a significant indicator of well-being. This research alone is sufficient to show that safety net programs are achieving the goals of bettering people’s lives, adding more weight to the already well-establishedstatistics on poverty reduction.  Second, she has done research into safety net program utilization over the course of economic recession and recovery, research that shows that the current levels of food stamp and other program use are in line with past history, and not a sign of any alleged “explosion” in a “culture of dependency” under Obama, as the right-wing noise machine would have it.

Crazy liberals with their crazy “studies” and “evidence.”  How silly when Fox-News-loving conservatives know that welfare is just throwing money away at undeserving poor people (who probably don’t look lie them).

People kill people. With guns.

Great post from Bill Ayers (the, political scientist, not the “domestic terrorist”– though, maybe any gun-hating, liberal, ivory-tower elite really is a domestic terrorist!) about the ready accessibility of guns and gun violence:

More problematic are the small encounters where the presence of a gun turns a senseless but probably harmful altercation into a deadly conflict. Emblematic of this kind of situation is this tragedy:

Alabama woman charged with killing fellow ‘Bama fan after Iron Bowl loss

There are obviously a lot of factors at play here, and the evidence is admittedly incomplete…

But it is one thing to talk about the sources of a fight between strangers, and another to talk about its outcome. I’ve argued before that the trite “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” bumper sticker is beside the point. The reality is messier: gun’s don’t kill people by themselves, but they make it much, much easier.  [bold mine, italics in original]

The fact that one woman in this case had a gun didn’t cause the conflict between them. It didn’t make the shooter angrier about the football game, or make her dislike a complete stranger any more or less than she would have unarmed. But the presence of the gun changed one essential thing: the outcome. Without the gun, both women would be alive – possibly angry and with minor injuries, maybe even arrested on misdemeanor charges, but alive. With the gun, one woman is dead and the other’s life is now ruined.

This is the reality that gun advocates need to confront, honestly and in public, if they want anyone outside of their tribe to take them seriously. The more guns are in public circulation, and the more ill-founded and even barbaric ideas people have about guns and violence, the more likely it is that minor scuffles that used to end in scrapes and bruised egos will instead end in funerals and murder cases. This is a very real price to pay for a particular form of freedom – and I think we have both the right and the responsibility to ask whether the price is too high.

Yes, it’s too high.  Some of us put a higher value on (already-born) human life (please don’t start on embryos) than on the abstract “right” to carry a gun.

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