I do not understand these people by mattsteinglass
August 31, 2008, 10:52 am
Filed under: President

The NY Times‘ Kate Zernike on supposedly lingering anti-Obama feelings among Hillary supporters:

Karen O’Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, said the convention’s constant repetition about the “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” had left many people depressed. “If 18 million votes is not enough, what does it take in the Democratic Party to get a woman on the ticket?”

Umm…that would be 19 million votes. Right?

A privilege to be alive by mattsteinglass
August 29, 2008, 1:05 pm
Filed under: President

I took Theda Skocpol’s class “Revolutions” 20 years ago at Harvard. Should anyone suspect her of being a weepy bleeding-heart liberal, she was the hard-ass who taught me that the fundamental attribute of a state is the monopoly on legitimate violence. She also taught me that ideology is never a sufficient motivator for successfully overthrowing a government; people act on their interests and class or ethnic-religious allegiances, not on wispy things like charisma or ideas.

This is how Theda Skocpol is talking about this election:

It is time for all of us — professional experts and commentators, too — to cease self-importance (listen up, Carville) or distanced and pallid commentary (that means you Harold Ford and Mark Shields) and join the fight of our lives. This election matters like only a few others in the history of the United States. Our nation will either move forward, or fall down very far — think of what it will mean in and about America if we cannot grasp the bright potential Obama’s candidacy embodies!

You might decide that this signifies how partisanship can lead even the most distanced and flinty hardheaded observers to lose their intellectual rigor. To me it signifies the opposite — the incredible passion that this campaign has inspired even in people who normally take a very cold-eyed view of politics. And I don’t think that passion is misplaced. To say it’s misplaced in this campaign is to say that passion just has no place in politics, because if you don’t think this campaign has earned it, then really, what are you asking for?

Carl Bernstein on CNN: “The war is coming back as an issue” by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2008, 10:48 am
Filed under: President

Think about it for a second: how crazy is this? We’re in a war, and there’s some question as to whether or not it’s a major issue in the presidential campaign.

Every once in a while you notice these things.

Conservative thinking on global family planning issues by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2008, 10:02 am
Filed under: China | Tags:

This article in the new “conservative Slate,” Culture11, appears to be arguing that to avoid a massive global gender imbalance generated by son preference in Asian countries, the United States should ban abortion in China.

Not sure whether the idea is to do this with smart bombs, by all joining hands and surrounding Tiananmen Square (worked for the Falun Gong!), or by really working with the Chinese Communist Party in a collaborative fashion on introducting new legislation in the National Asssembly.

P.S. The really funny part comes where 300 million angry surplus Chinese men descend upon the world and demand we bring out our wimmins.

Watching US political conventions from abroad by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2008, 9:37 am
Filed under: President

I’ve said in the past that an easy contempt for politics leads to the evisceration of democracy. But watching American political conventions from outside the country, you really do get the sense that the democratic political process induces clinical insanity in the people who participate in it. I’m watching the suffocatingly schmaltzy Spielberg doc on the military, and it’s like listening to a weepy self-dramatizing hysteric, the kind of person who makes you nod sympathetically while thinking, “How do I get out of here? Be sure not to give out phone number.”

A season of firsts by mattsteinglass
August 28, 2008, 9:18 am
Filed under: President

John Kerry just gave a better speech than Bill Clinton.

Russia beats NATO in race to create world’s tiniest state by mattsteinglass
August 27, 2008, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Russia

Russia recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Kosovo has about 13 times the population of South Ossetia. If Belgium falls apart, the new state of Flanders will be some 50 times as big as South Ossetia. Clearly, the West must close the tiny-breakaway-ethnic-enclave gap, or face imminent doom.

Thee, me, thee, me, thee, me, ad infinitum by mattsteinglass
August 27, 2008, 1:16 am
Filed under: Economics

Megan McArdle notes Bryan Caplan coming up with a poser for economists who are civil libertarians but believe in regulation of markets:

1. Are markets for ideas/culture less subject to market failure than other markets?

I was under the impression that the answer is “no”, and that this is why we have intellectual property law. Any attempt to get further into the subject to flesh out a better formed analogy between the kinds of interventions one sees in “markets for ideas/culture” and those one sees in markets for goods or financial instruments seems to me to point out pretty quickly just how different those things are from each other and how complex the comparison is.

On bullshit-cutting ultimatums which (perverse alchemy!) themselves turn out to be bullshit by mattsteinglass
August 26, 2008, 2:15 pm
Filed under: President, Russia

Towards the end of Sean Wilentz’s critique of Obama in Newsweek, which has come in for tremendous amounts of flak, he offers this comparison of Obama’s and McCain’s responses to Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

Then, suddenly this summer, Russia attacked Georgia—and Obama’s immediate reaction was to call for reasonableness and good intentions and urge both sides to show restraint and enter into direct talks. Unfortunately his appeal sounded almost like a caricature of liberal wishful thinking. It was left to his opponent, John McCain—whose own past judgments on foreign policy demand scrutiny—to declare right away the sort of thing that might have come naturally to previous generations of liberal Democrats (let alone to a conservative Republican): that “Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”

Who exactly is guilty of “wishful thinking” in this situation? John McCain delivered an ultimatum to the Russians. The only problem was that on the far side of that ultimatum stood the threat of — nothing. There was nothing whatsoever the US could or was prepared to do to get Russia to withdraw from Georgia. Under those circumstances, what purpose is served by blowing hot air? McCain’s statement had all the force of one of those proclamations by Amnesty International that China must immediately and unconditionally free all of its political prisoners. After a while, when you keep saying things like this, people tune you out. You come to seem powerless.

As a POW in Hanoi, John McCain spent years isolated and powerless, dependent on the mercies of often violent camp officials. The POWs confined under those conditions came to fantasize about compensatory orgies of destruction: they proclaimed total resistance to camp authorities, they welcomed every intensification of a bombing campaign, they greeted the B-52s Nixon sent in 1972 with open arms. McCain and many other POWs were convinced that the Christmas bombings in 1972 were a long-awaited display of American might that finally gained them the respect of their contemptuous guards and resulted in the war’s end and the release of the prisoners several months later. That view of the war is undercut by the fact that the US got nothing out of the Paris negotiations; NVA forces remained in South Vietnam, and two years later they swept into Saigon. The problem was that the US in Vietnam by 1972 had nothing left to bargain with. Hanoi knew the US was leaving, one way or another; the rest was details. As in Georgia in 2008, the US had no real options to back up its noisy talk. The question is, under such circumstances, what kinds of statements do you make? Do you bloviate about your red lines and what is and isn’t acceptable? Or do you keep calm and cool, and avoid letting the rest of the world know whether or not you cared?

Early childhood education research for non-poor people by mattsteinglass
August 26, 2008, 8:36 am
Filed under: Education

There’s been a teaching staff switchover at the generally great Dutch-language afterschool program we send our kids to (subsidized and certified by the Dutch Overseas Education Foundation), and the new teachers have established what looks to me like a very dubious schedule: one three-hour lesson per week for each group of kids. It’s pretty hard for me to imagine my four-year-old son concentrating on a lesson plan for three hours straight, or retaining much from one week to the next. My six-year-old daughter has been in the program since she was 4, with 1.5-hour lessons twice a week, and she’s now reading well above grade level in Dutch, so that seems like the more logical schedule to me. And I remember when I was in elementary school, the classes you had irregularly — science class, which would show up unpredictably every week or two, it seemed — just devolved into vague playtime; you could barely remember anything you’d learned there in the previous class.

So I went out looking for scholarly research on the ideal length and frequency of instruction for early childhood education programs. And I can’t find anything. The National Institute of Childhood Health and Development has been producing research since the early ’90s based on a big longitudinal study of child care and preschool programs called SECCYD, but the study and the papers authored around it seem to concentrate overwhelmingly on things like whether child care harms mother-child attachment, whether quality child care can boost cognitive attainment or improve behavior for poor kids, etc. I can find research on early childhood intervention to remediate autism. But nothing so far on how long and how frequent classes should be for cognitive results in 4-year-olds. The research all seems to be oriented towards what Foucault would probably call “deviant” categories, people we find in some way problematic.

I even asked someone who teaches at the famous Banks School for advice, but what she came up with was references to Piaget and Vygotsky. Which is great. But on this particular issue, it shouldn’t be too hard to get some solid quantitative data. There are a lot of issues for which good quantitative data isn’t possible, but cognitive effects of different lengths/frequencies of instruction doesn’t seem like one of those issues.

I was kind of wondering whether this is suggestive of a problem with the early childhood education and care debate in the US, that we tend to discuss it in the context of how to fix all those pesky poor people, or as a possible threat of some kind to “our” (rich people’s) kids’ sanity. At this stage, having your kids in some form of child care and early childhood education from 3 years old seems to me to be the norm for middle-class people and up. Maybe we ought to drop these debates that problematize the whole issue, and start concentrating on ideal methods instead. As for the social justice question, it should just be one of whether it’s fair to poor 3-year-olds to put them at a disadvantage against rich 3-year-olds.


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