Browsing the blog archives for February, 2013.


Good Read

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economy

Michael Lind, “Southern Poverty Pimps.”

Also: Greg Sargent, “GOP “makeover” hits a snag: Unwillingness to change

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Possible Firearm Reform

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firearms, Obama Administration

David Frum despairs that there will be any new firearm legislation in Congress, and he called on President Obama to do a couple of things within in capacity as chief executive —

First: The president can direct the surgeon general to compile a scientific study of the health effect of individual gun ownership. The basis of the whole gun debate in the United States is the belief by millions of Americans that they need a firearm in the home to protect themselves from criminals.

That’s fine, but we already have copious data showing that firearms in the home are far more likely to injure or kill someone in the family than to be needed to repel an intruder. And the Gun People just shout that down with anecdotal evidence and data pulled out of the NRA’s ass. You might as well explain physics to a turnip.

The second step that might be taken — again without the need for any congressional vote — is for the Senate to convene hearings into the practices of the gun industry analogous to those it convened into the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

Frum goes on to call for more safety features on guns, which ought to reduce accidents, but of course accidents are only part of the problem.

However, the New York Times is reporting that there really is support for limiting the size of magazines. IMO this really would be more effective at reducing carnage than an “assault weapons” ban. There is also considerable support for universal background checks. If just those two measures are enacted, it could save a few lives, I believe.

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Why Girls Are Better

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Education

Christina Hoff Sommers and other “conservatives” have been arguing for awhile that public education in America discriminates against boys, because feminists run education and they are mean. And no wonder girls do better in school, they say, because passive little girls are better able to sit still at a desk and learn stuff, while boys need to be allowed to burn off their male energy by terrorizing the first graders and trashing the library, or something.

Admittedly, since the 1960s there has been a lot of focus on how to boost the self-esteem of girls, both in and out of schools. But building self-esteem isn’t zero-sum; there’s no logical reason to think that encouraging girls to do better would cause boys to shrink into the wallpaper. And, anyway, boys have gone through school sitting at desks and learning stuff from women teachers for many generations, and it seems odd that this has only recently become oppressive.

Also, there’s no clear-cut evidence that boys do better in all-male schools than in co-ed schools. You can find a lot of arguments that boys do better in all-male academies, but the data is ambiguous; there are no effects that can’t be accounted for by other factors, such as family affluence. See also “Single-Sex Education Is Assailed in Report.”

I found one study that says that, in absolute terms, boys are actually learning more than they used to. The difference is that girls are learning way more than they used to. I don’t personally think this is a problem that needs to be fixed.

I bring this up because of an article at Salon that women tend to be more cautious and rational at playing odds, while men are more likely to take crazy risks. This is hardly news, of course. Men tend to be overconfident, often foolishly so, and will rush in where angels fear to tread. Women are more likely to hold back until they see they have a strong chance of succeeding.

How does this relate to school? The Salon article says there is a lot of data showing that boys excel at finite games, or competitions that have a clear beginning, middle, end, winners, losers. But school is an infinite game. It goes on for years, and there is no clearly marked ending where the prizes are handed out. For this reason, in a very competitive academic environment, boys are more likely than girls to burn out, especially if they aren’t at the top of the class.

Put another way, girls are more satisfied with approval, from their peers and from adults. They don’t have to “win.” But boys who are consistently not winning, even though they are doing well, are more likely to get discouraged and quit. Data show that, all other things being equal, smart girls thrive in a competitive academic environment, but smart boys learn more in an academic environment that is less competitive.

There is something to be said for risk-taking, of course, and sometimes the damnfool things men do actually pay off. As far as school is concerned, the data suggests the boys may benefit from smaller classes more than girls do.

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Gov. Cuomo Will Be Re-elected Next Year

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abortion

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is introducing legislation that will ease restrictions on abortions after 23 weeks’ gestation in New York. The law would, first of all, go beyond the usual “life and health of the mother” clause and specify that a pregnancy may be terminated late in the pregnancy if the fetus is not viable. (My understanding is that late termination of a non-viable fetus is generally considered legal under the “health of the mother” clause, already, so this really is just a clarification more than a change.) It would allow licensed health care practitioners, not just doctors, to perform some abortions. And it would remove abortion entirely from penal law and instead regulate it through the state’s health laws.

I don’t know who the Republicans might run against Cuomo next year, but if they come up with some homophobic gun-totin’ Fetus Person, ol’ Andy’s got it in the bag. And if the New York legislature fights him on this, and the issue makes a big splash, it’s going to be a big bag. And yes, I realize upstate is more conservative than the New York City area, but it’s also less populated. And I suspect even the most conservative county in New York is liberal compared to, say, Mississippi. Social conservatism in particular doesn’t go very far in this state.

The governor has said that his Reproductive Health Act would be one plank of a 10-part Women’s Equality Act that also would include equal pay and anti-discrimination provisions. Conservative groups, still stinging from the willingness of Republican lawmakers to go along with Mr. Cuomo’s push to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011, are mobilizing against the proposal. Seven thousand New Yorkers who oppose the measure have sent messages to Mr. Cuomo and legislators via the Web site of the New York State Catholic Conference.

This could be fun. Bring it on.

I was not much impressed with Cuomo early in his first term, as he started out as Mr. Austerity — balance the budget without raising taxes, etc. I’d like to see him make a stronger argument for public investment. But I won’t have any problem voting for him next year.

Naturally, the Fetus People are screaming that Gov. Cuomo is introducing “abortion on demand,” but in effect the only effective difference would be that it clarifies non-viability of a fetus as part of “life and health of the mother.” (Clue to Fetus People: That means the fetus is already dead or has no hope of survival, so you can stop hollering about killing babies, thanks much.) Currently New York has a law on the books that leaves out “health,” but that is not in effect because it’s been overruled by federal courts.

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Sen. Warren vs. Bank Regulators

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Obama Administration

Enjoy

I understand Wall Street is pissed. Heh.

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GOP Brand X

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National Security, Republican Party

One of the great marketing success stories of all time is the way that the Republican Party somehow came to own national security issues after the World War II era. If you consider actual history there’s no evidence that they deserved their reputation as THE foreign policy/defense party. But the idea that Republicans are “tough” on security while Democrats are “soft” came to be one of the most solid and enduring truisms of modern American politics.

For decades, Republicans packaged themselves as the party that knew how to stand up to enemies. Further, it was believed Republicans were born with a gene that allowed them to understand All Things Military better than Dems, whether they had any military experience or not.

But the pro-military aura — we might call it the Republican Military Mystique — seems to have worn off, at least among the public. Maybe they finally caught on they were being played for fools by Dubya and his War on Terra. But exit polls taken after the November elections showed that voters trusted the Democratic nominee over the Republican one on national security, for the first time in three decades.

Of course, Mitt Romney gives the impression that the only time he gets tough is when he’s taking bread from orphans. Further, the fact that the GOP just plain forgot to include the traditional Salute to War in their convention last year tells us they’ve lost focus. Well, focus on anything other than how much they hate President Obama.

The “sequestration” included massive cuts to defense spending that, theoretically, Republicans could not countenance. Well, turns out defense spending cuts are being countenanced. John Boehner is saying Republicans will not support a sequestration deal that does not balance the budget in ten years without tax increases.

See also Ezra Klein, “Clint Eastwood and Barney Frank Attack the Pentagon.”

Now that certain Republican senators are done with their male dominance displays regarding Chuck Hagel, word is votes will be switched and the nomination will be approved next week. But it’s all been too much for Fred Kaplan, who says Republicans can’t be trusted on national security.

It’s been clear, at least since the 2012 election, that the Republican Party has abrogated its role—really, abandoned any interest—in shaping or seriously discussing American foreign policy. But only recently has this indifference shifted into toxic territory, and on Tuesday the fumes formed a poisonous cloud, the likes of which hadn’t been witnessed in decades.

Republicans were a bunch of isolationists before World War II, and they’ve finally gone full circle. All that most of them know about foreign policy is Iran Bad, Israel Good. Their idea of an exotic foreign country is Honolulu. Or maybe Manhattan.

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On Rats, Sinking Ships, and the GOP

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Republican Party

Cruising through news stories today, it strikes me that the Republican Party is tripping itself up by being too geezer-ish (couldn’t think of the right word) and too juvenile at the same time.

Robert Draper’s “Can the Republicans be Saved From Obsolescence?” covers the geezerness of the Republican Party. Draper documents that establishment Republicans are not not dealing with change — technical, demograpic, or cultural.

They are light years behind the Dems in technology. They are oblivious to recent cultural shifts. Some of them are still talking about building new coalitions of white people. Even when the Party organizes a committee to find out what it’s doing wrong, the Same Old Farts who have been running the GOP for years are put in charge of it.

Younger (and more tech-savvy) Republicans want the GOP to back off divisive social issues. Ed Kilgore comments, “if you had to choose one theme that underlies the arguments Draper’s hearing from the cool kids of the GOP, it’s that the Christian Right has gotta go.”

Even James Joyner admits that “the Republican Party is still running on a platform designed to solve the problems of the Carter Administration.”

For the juvenile side of movement conservatism, see David Corn’s “FreedomWorks Made Video of Fake Giant Panda Having Sex With Fake Hillary Clinton.” Apparently Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of FreedomWorks, has been running the advocacy group/Super PAC with all the seriousness and gravitas of a frat house jello wrestling party.

Sorta related — Haley Barbour is telling Republican insiders to stop donating money to Club For Growth Make of that what you will.

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Like We Didn’t See This Coming

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Congress

Harry Reid says Senate Republicans have enough votes to filibuster the Chuck Hagel nomination. Way to go Harry.

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SOTU

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Obama Administration

Please comment on the State of the Union if you like. I’m going to be listening.

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Too Crazy to Be Anywhere

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Obama Administration

There’s a distressing story at Mother Jones about a schizophrenic man on death row in Texas. Titled “How Crazy Is Too Crazy to Be Executed?” the story explores how the Texas courts determine whether anyone is too mentally compromised to be executed. But there are a couple of other points that scream out of it.

One is that Texas has nothing that rises to the level of a “system” that identifies psychotic people and at least puts them somewhere where they can’t harm themselves or anyone else. And actual medical treatment would not be a bad thing, of course. The subject, Andre Thomas, had been identified as severely disturbed before the voices in his head compelled him to murder his ex-wife and their children. But, somehow, he remained under no supervision of any sort until he confessed to murder.

This reminded me a of Andrea Yates’s story. You probably remember that Yates was the Texas mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub. It turned out that not only was Yates massively psychotic at the time of the incident; she had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals a couple of times before the drownings. And at the time of the drownings her family had been taking her to see a doctor on a regular basis. But even then, the amount of help and supervision that she really needed just wasn’t available, somehow.

But I don’t want to pick on Texas too much, because the psychiatric “safety net” is pretty much nonexistent everywhere, from what I see. In the past such people might have been warehoused in a state psychiatric hospital, which often were awful places, but the only alternative we seem to have come up with is to just let them stumble around until they kill somebody. Or die on the street somewhere.

And this takes us to the subject of firearm purchasing. The walking crazy are among us. And it’s not always obvious at a glance who they are. The “system” is so porous that certifiably sick people go undiagnosed — or even if diagnosed, untreated — for years. So how does anyone think the “system” would be able to maintain a Crazy People Registry as part of a gun purchase background check? (Even if it were a good idea, which it isn’t.) There is no system.

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