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July Linkdump Social/Political 1

Why is it standard operating procedure  for beauty pageant contestants to favor world peace & world leaders to favor war? — Constant Weader

I’ve become a real fan of Constant Weader whose  realitychex blog covers a lot of the usual liberal haunts for commentary and analysis in a succinct & entertaining way. I found out about this woman by seeing the URL on all the great comments she made on NYT articles (which she generally reposts on her blog).

Where  should one  go to read about current events? Reading the NYT headline page is a safe choice. For a while I would go to ThinkProgress/Matt Yglesias site, but I like the idea of checking an offbeat blog for a summary of the good stuff in NYT.

By 2015 75% of American adults will be overweight or obese, and 41% will be obese.

According to recent studies, as many as one in five girls between 10 and 18 years of age are now cutting themselves with razor blades or burning themselves with matches (according to Leonard Sax).

In other words, the girls who are most successful at meeting gender-specific societal expectations appear to be just as likely as other females to be cutting themselves.  Not so for boys.  How come?  That’s one of the questions I try to answer in my book Girls on the Edge.  My bottom line is that these pretty girls are searching for a sense of self that’s not about how they look, but about who they are.  We reward them for how they look but we — i.e. American society — are much less interested in what’s going on inside.  Self-cutting fills that need for some of these girls — just as anorexia does for others, and obsessive perfectionism does in others.

According to a Chronicle report, white children make up less than 8 percent of the Houston ISD enrollment… None of the 181 Texas state lawmakers are Hispanic Republicans.

According to this NPR Article:

"Children of parents who reported having a rule about bedtime scored about 6 percentage points higher on an assessment of their vocabulary compared with children whose parents did not report a rule about bedtime. They scored 7 percent higher on assessments of early math skills."

Health care information site. Good and easy to find things.

Melvin Goodman on how much of the defense department is privatized and lacking in accountability:

Nearly a quarter of the federal budget is devoted to contracts to the private sector, with the new Department of Homeland Security and Office of National Intelligence serving as conduits for this money.

Private contracts are now responsible for 70 percent of the intelligence budget, and private contractors represent more than half of the employees of the new National Counterterrorism Center. The trumpeting of "cyber war" marks the next cash cow for the defense industry.

See 2 other articles by Melvin Goodman here and here.

Steve Benen and commenters debate the soul of the Washington Post. I think the downfall began when Bob Woodward started writing Tell-All books about the Bush Administration.

Realclimate asks whether we can provide different levels of reporting for differing proficiency levels.

Joe Keohane reports on how brain science is finding that people cling to certain political beliefs, regardless if proven wrong.

People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

Other insights: people with wrong ideas are more likely to change when presented with direct contradictory evidence; just showing them an article doesn’t do any good. Self-esteem has something to do with it:

Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.

Alan Bellows talks about how the 1985 New Coke marketing campaign overlooked the tendency of people to develop irrational reactions based on groupthink. The concept is informational conformity, defined as “the human tendency to unconsciously adjust one’s opinions to correlate with the outspoken views of the social group.”

Informational conformity was first formally documented by Dr Muzafer Sherif in 1935, when he placed a group of subjects in a dark room with a single point of light in the distance. He asked them to estimate how much the light moved around, and although each person perceived a different amount of movement, most of them relinquished their own estimates to conform to the predominant guesses within the group. In reality, the light had not been moving at all; it only appeared to move because of the autokinetic effect, a quirk in visual perception where a bright point of light in complete darkness will appear to wander. It is thought that this imagined movement occurs due to the lack of a fixed visual reference point, and it may be the cause of many nighttime UFO sightings.

(Michael Tobis relates this groupthink tendency to climate change).

(I remember that era well, and New Coke was on everybody’s minds, even to the point where during a homily, my parish priest held up a can of New Coke and asked rhetorically whether there were more important things to worry about).

David Corn explains why Politifact sometimes gets things only half-right:

Yet PolitiFact didn’t evaluate Cheney’s remark. So here’s the real problem: Huffington made a charge that was rooted in reality. Cheney responded with a statement that had no basis in reality. Yet PolitiFact zeroed in only on the former and let the real lie escape. True, Huffington had dared PolitiFact to review her remark. But Adair and his intrepid band were free to expand the mission. The greater public service would have been to compare Huffington’s and Cheney’s comments and determine who was closer to the truth. This is where PolitiFact truly fell short.

Matt Thompson talks about how news media drowns you with episodic content when  we yearn for  system content: 

Chances are that most of the information you’ve encountered about this subject has been what I’d call episodic. Over time, you may have heard a lot about budget reconciliation, insurance premium hikes, the public option, the excise tax, the Wyden-Bennett bill, the Stupak amendment, and on and on and on. You know that Democrats are trying to do something to the health care system, but it’s either a government takeover or an insurance industry giveaway. Hard to tell.

This constant torrent of episodic information is how many of us encounter information about current events. This has been true for as long as any of us has been alive, but in the wake of the real-time Web, it’s become ever more constant and ever more torrential.

Hundreds of headlines wash over us every day. And part of why many of us engage in this flow is because we have faith that over time, this torrent of episodic knowledge is going to cohere into something more significant: a framework for genuinely understanding an issue. And we live with it ’cause it sort of works. Eventually you hear enough buzzwords like “single-payer” and “public option” and you start to feel like you can play along.

See also:  Matt Thompson on 3 key parts of news stories you don’t usually get. Later Thompson describes 5 ways journalists can improve the news:

You might have heard about Politico’s notorious goal of “winning the morning,” i.e. finding a scoop that’ll lead each day’s news cycle. That’s great, if you’re content with your stories having about as much impact as a popular tweet. Too many of us follow Politico’s lead.

Instead, try to win the story. Aim to produce a work of journalism so excellent it’ll get passed around for weeks. Put your best storytelling chops to work on this. Try to supplant Wikipedia as the top Google result for your topic. This might not be a single article; it might be a nicely-packaged collection, a wiki, or something else you devise. The key is that it should be long-lasting and distinctive.

Essay on the same topic by  Tristan Harris and Jay Rosen. Also Thompson has 10 questions journalists should ask themselves.  Also, there is a modest amount of discussion on the Future of Context website even though it doesn’t seem to be actively maintained.

10 Mistakes JFK Jr. on the day his plan crashed. Interesting insights into the minds of nonprofessional pilots.

Beijing and Mexico City have the worst traffic congestion. Houston has one of the best.

Robert Sullivan on new ways to use buses in mass transit to improve efficiency:

Flexibility remains the bus’s chief advantage—unrailed, they can go wherever we want them to go—and they’re a relative bargain. But over the last decade, in a few transit-enlightened cities around the world, the bus has received a dramatic makeover. It has been reengineered to load passengers more quickly. It has become much more energy-efficient. And, most important, the bus system—the network of bus lines and its relationship to the city street—has been rethought. Buses that used to share the street with cars and trucks are now driving in lanes reserved exclusively for buses and are speeding through cities like trains in the street. They are becoming more like subways.

For me, this leaves out another obvious issue: decentralized mass transit system protects  against terrorist attacks.

Great list of reasons why using cameras to give traffic tickets is a bad idea. (PDF Alert). I would add:

  • Before these red light cameras, were we facing an outbreak of people running red lights? In my experience, I haven’t seen much redlight running….
  • There are reasons to run red lights on occasion. But the ticketing process makes it impossible for the ticket recipient to have a specific memory about the incident in question (which would be necessary to defend himself). If there were a way for the ticket recipient to be receive immediate feedback about the violation, my opposition would be greatly reduced. But if I receive a ticket and a photo in the mail two weeks later, chances are I will have no memory of this specific incident (and be powerless to oppose it).

Here’s one reason that I could find persuasive: saving police manpower! If police don’t have to handle routine stops, that could free up their time to do more pressing things. But the benefits of that would have to be proven. For example, traffic tickets may be a good excuse to stop cars exhibiting suspicious behavior.

My personal problem with camera tickets is that I don’t know the threshold for ticketing. If i follow a car across when the light is yellow, I don’t know if that would be considered a violation. Are the firms looking for egregious cases? Somehow I feel that if there is revenue involved, the tendency will be to fine all people who meet some minimum threshold.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Steve M 7/14/2010, 1:53 pm

    When they started showing video from the red light cameras here in Houston, I was just a bit surprised how definite it was. After a few years, I got a ticket. It came with a URL and I could go see myself roll through the light. A few months later my son got one, and same thing, it’s pretty clear. It’s definitely not perfect, but from those experiences, I’m sure that there are plenty of correctly written tickets being written.

    On the other hand: when I pull up to a light at 11:00 pm and there’s no other traffic, then why is the light red? I haven’t seen one in a long time, but I remember when many cities would change to blinking red or yellow lights very late at night. It’s a waste of gas and brake pads to come to a dead stop every time.

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