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May 12, 2005

Enduring Puzzles

In today's Opinion Journal, James Taranto comments unfavorably (of course) on Timothy Noah's ruminations on the possibility that conservatives might be insane. But Taranto misses a whole lot more that can be criticised. Noah begins his article thusly:

The working class's refusal to synchronize its politics with its economic interests is one of the enduring puzzles of the present age.

Note the breezy assumption that voting Democratic is unarguably in working classmen's economic interests. Their failure to vote this way is only an "enduring puzzle" to those who would present such an assumption as fact.

Noah continues:

Between 1989 and 1997, middle-income families (defined in this instance as the middle 20 percent) saw their share of the nation's wealth fall from 4.8 percent to 4.4 percent.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States was 245,705,000 on January 1, 1989 and 266,574,000 on January 1, 1997. 20% of those numbers are 49,141,000 and 53,314,800, respectively.

And according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Gross Domestic Product (which I feel is a good proxy for "the nation's wealth") in constant 2000 dollars was $6.9814 trillion in 1989 and $8.7035 trillion in 1997.

So, in 1989, the 49,141,000 citizens in the middle of the income pile had, according to Noah, 4.8% of the wealth. That would be $335.1 billion. Or $6819 each.

And (you can see where this is going, can't you?) in 1997, the 53,314,800 citizens in the middle had 4.4% of the wealth. That would be $383.0 billion. Or $7184 each.

In other words, people in the middle 20% did, in real terms, get richer. Not a whole lot richer, and granted, my calculations are a bit back-of-the-envelope, but it certainly contradicts the point that Noah wants to get across when he compares 4.8% and 4.4%.

And I won't even delve into the question of how many people in the middle 20% in 1989 were still in the middle 20% in 1997. Time to go on to Noah's next sentence:

Yet Al Gore lost the white working class by a margin of 17 percentage points, and John Kerry lost it by a margin of 23 percentage points.

I don't agree with Taranto's position that "working class" is an insult (to me, it's as neutral as "blue collar"), but still, Noah seems to be pulling a fast one on us by using the term here. After presenting us with a statistic about middle-income Americans, Noah goes on in the very next sentence to tell us about the voting habits of the "white working class" as if the two sets of people are interchangeable. Are they? The link in the above sentence defines "white working class" as "whites with less than a four year college degree". No mention of how many in the white working class are in the middle 20% of income. For that matter, neither is there any mention of how many middle-income folks are non-white.

In addition to the switch from middle-income to white working class, note the switch in timelines. Noah uses data (incorrectly, as I pointed out) from 1989 and 1997. Then extrapolates to elections in 2000 and 2004. What happened from 1998 through 2004? Noah doesn't say. He just finds it self-evidently inexplicable that white working-class folk would vote against Al Gore (the same Al Gore, it should be said, who was vice-president for half of the time Noah claims the middle-income group was losing ground economically).

Noah's paragraph concludes:

As the GOP drifts further to the right, and becomes more starkly the party of the wealthy, it is gaining support among the working class.

Some possible explanations: The working class is indeed already on the right, towards where the GOP is drifting to. Or the working class doesn't have any animosity towards the wealthy and would like to join their ranks someday. Or the GOP isn't as starkly a party of the wealthy as a party who managed to field a candidate even more wealthy than Bush is. Or maybe even the working class knows condescension when it hears it, and doesn't much like it. That, in the end, is Taranto's analysis:

Every time the Democrats lose an election, they make a big show of asking questions like these. Then, the next time they lose an election, they once again wonder why the "working class" has forsaken them. Maybe it's as simple as: because they were listening.

May 16, 2005

Won't have Paul Krugman to kick around anymore?

No, don't get your hopes up; he hasn't been fired. Rather, the New York Times has decided to hide him from the gentle criticism of the blogosphere. And it's not just him:

The New York Times announced today a new online offering called TimesSelect, which for a modest fee will provide exclusive access to Op-Ed and news columnists on NYTimes.com, easy and in-depth access to The Times's online archives, early access to select articles on the site, as well as other exciting features.

While most of the news, features and multi-media on NYTimes.com will remain free and available to users, the work of Op-Ed columnists and some of the best known voices from the news side of The Times and The International Herald Tribune (IHT) will be available only to TimesSelect subscribers beginning in September.

Hmm. Interesting. As I understand it -- and I'm certainly not an expert on web economics -- advertising dollars on the web are making a big comeback. And yet the Times chooses now to cut off some of its content?

Anyway, I wonder what this means for blogging. The first step in a trend of shutting down our raw material? Probably not. I doubt many media outlets, other than the Times, would be able to justify charging readers for web access. In fact, I'm not sure that the Times will be able to do it, either. I mean, I like bashing Krugman and wondering what the heck Maureen Dowd is babbling about as much as the next guy, but I surely can't justify spending $50/year to do it. (Not that I have to, exactly; as a print subscriber, I apparently will still get access. But it's difficult to blog about something you can't link to. I'm always annoyed when someone blogs a story in the Wall Street Journal, for instance.)

I wonder what the over/under is on how long the Times gives this experiment. A year? Then they realize that readers have noticed that Bob Herbert and Frank Rich don't give you anything you can't read in a million other newspapers, for free.


Newsweek most likely got it wrong, and people are being killed in Afghanistan. And lots of folks are angry - at Newsweek. As for me, I tend to agree with Michael Demmons that such ire is misdirected [emphasis in original]:

You really have to wonder what kind of a barbaric people would react this way to the Newsweek story. Really. Newsweek deserves to be punished. But are they really responsible for deaths here? I mean, if I insulted the schoolyard bully, and he stabbed me for it, is it my own fault? I might have instigated the aggression, but I’m not going to be held responsible for my own death - even if I knew about the bully’s dangerous temper.

Newsweek made an egregious error in reporting. Whether it was intentional or not, they are not the ones who went on a killing spree. It is a people incapable of rational thought that caused the death and destruction over there. It was animals who are so religiously fanatical that they believe it’s worth it to kill, maim, burn and pillage because of a story in a magazine.

Others echo this point. But it seems that everyone has missed another important aspect of the story [emphasis mine]:

Ahmed's comments came a day after Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, both allies of Washington, demanded an investigation and punishment for those behind the reported desecration of the Quran.

Investigation and punishment? In America, destroying a Koran, or a Bible, or an American flag is not illegal. I would hope that someone important explains - politely, diplomatically, and firmly - to Musharraf and others, that punishing someone for flushing a book, no matter how holy some may regard it, is something that is just not done here. And something even *less* likely to happen is our handing anyone over to some religious tribunal:

The [Shoura] council warned against hurting the feelings of the world’s1.5 billion Muslims and emphasized the importance of respecting the religious faiths and beliefs of other people to avoid conflicts. “Islam is a great religion with a large number of followers all over the world and is known for its long history and humane and just teachings,” the statement said. [...]

In Afghanistan, a group of clerics threatened to call for a holy war against the United States in three days unless it handed over military interrogators who are reported to have desecrated the Qur’an.

That's a "humane and just" group of clerics, I'm sure. You know, America is often accused of not understanding and respecting other cultures, but it's clear to me that others often fail to understand and respect us as well.

May 17, 2005

Whine, wine, whine.

I commented on this over on Reason's blog, but I thought it was worth mentioning in its own blog entry.

One of the reasons that fights over judicial confirmations are so nasty is because so many people believe that judges make decisions based on their views rather than the law. It is commonly assumed that a judge is deciding what the law ought to be instead of what the law is -- and with the low quality of reporting we see so often from the media, it's not hard to understand why. For instance, yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the constitution for states to discriminate against out-of-state wineries. The decision was 5-4; Clarence Thomas wrote the primary dissent. The decision turned upon the somewhat esoteric question of whether §2 of the Twenty-First Amendment trumped the so-called "Dormant Commerce Clause" in relation to the interstate sale of wine. The majority reviewed the relevant history and caselaw and found that it did not; Thomas, on the other hand, interpreted the historical record differently in opining that it did.

Unfortunately, here is how the Associated Press (which supplies content for so many print media outlets, of course) characterized this dissent:

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued the ruling needlessly overturns long-established regulations aimed partly at protecting minors. State regulators under the 21st Amendment have clear authority to regulate alcohol as they see fit, he wrote.
Amazingly, that first sentence effectively manages to contain, in just eighteen words, three key errors in it.
  1. Thomas did not argue that the ruling "needlessly" did anything. He said absolutely nothing about "need." He argued that the ruling misinterpreted the relevant statute and the constitution.
  2. The sentence is badly drafted so that it splices together two different ideas: (A) Thomas argued that the ruling needlessly overturned regulations, and (B) the regulations were aimed at protecting children. Thomas, as already noted, did not say the former; he certainly did not say the latter.
  3. That the laws (not "regulations") are "aimed partly at protecting minors" was a claim by the states that were defendants in the cases. It was not a fact agreed to by all sides, not a holding of the court, and not the least bit credible. The laws were certainly aimed at protecting domestic wineries from competition from out-of-state; unless wine can be downloaded from a P2P filesharing network, the idea that minors are going to illegally obtain it from the internet is ludicrous. And even if it were plausible, these laws would do nothing to prevent it, since they allow(ed) minors to order wine, online, from domestic wineries.

Of course, this is simply an isolated throwaway line in a story about a case that is of interest only to winemakers, drunkswine connoisseurs, and constitutional scholars. I'm not claiming any deeper significance. But that's hardly an excuse for this sort of sloppy journalism. Even if purely unintentional, such erroneous reporting still contributes to the belief that judges are making policy -- deciding what alcohol-related policies are "needful" -- rather than interpreting law -- deciding what the constitution requires. That criticism applies to the first two errors; the third seems to me to likely reflect unconscious bias: reporting a claim by one side in the case as if it were fact.

Incidentally, while Steven Bainbridge discusses it extensively, the AP story fails to note the unusual lineup of justices in the majority and minority -- and in particular, ignores the fact that Antonin Scalia and Thomas, so often derided as puppetmaster and puppet, were on opposite sides of the case.

May 18, 2005

The American Way

I don't disagree with The Bull Moose when he supposes thusly:

If Toby [Keith] had opened the '04 Democratic Convention with "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue", old John Kerry would likely occupy the Oval Office. Democrats - say no to Michael Moore and yes to Toby Keith!

Of course, the chances of that song being played at any Democratic politician's rally is about as likely as Michael Moore giving the keynote speech at the next Republican National Convention. Consider a sentence from this review, which Bull Moose exceprts:

[Keith's] 9/11 battle cry, 2002's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," was an ugly blast of jingoism that commenced a feud with left-leaning Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.

That's right, an "ugly blast of jingoism". It's not an uncommon criticism. However, our men and women in uniform don't necessarily see it that way:

This son of an Army veteran connected right away with the Fort Lewis troops, performing numbers including “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”

The latter is a chest-thumping anthem born in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. The soldiers sang along, their voices building to a growl as they got to the most provocative verse: “This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage, and you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”

Keith juiced them even more between songs when he said: “I was telling General Rodgriguez, of all the weapons you have, the baddest-ass weapon you’ve got is the American soldier.”

“Hoo-ahh!” the crowd roared back with one voice.

I'm not much of a country fan; my taste is more alternative rock, so I've heard many playings of angry angry anti-war songs by artists such as Green Day, Sum 41, System Of A Down, Incubus, Eminem, and The Beastie Boys. Not that any of these songs would get played at any political convention either, but neither is their anger blithely described by reviewers as "ugly". Expressing anger at the President is hip and edgy; Keith's apparent sin was to express anger at something trivial like the destruction of the World Trade Center.

And the Democrats' problem is that they were seen as more aligned with the Keith-bashers than the Keith-supporters (such as, you know, our troops). Kerry didn't lose by much; he could have easily won had it seemed like he was less concerned with putting a boot in Bush's ass and more concerned with putting one in al Qaeda's. He'd have been better off heeding Keith's advice: doing the latter is truly "the Amercian Way".

May 23, 2005


Some residents of Greenwich Village are upset over plans to renovate Washington Square Park. As Newsday points out, we in the outer boroughs wish we had problems like that:

Jeanette Herrera wonders if Echo Park, in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx, will ever get a water-hose connection so she can grow grass and flowers.

Members of Friends of Travers Park in Jackson Heights said a Parks Department official told them there's no money to erect gates to keep children from toddling into the street.

In Kew Gardens Hills, people are taking it upon themselves to beautify Freedom Square Park. "We really don't have much of a choice," community activist Patricia Dolan said.

So, while Manhattanites were up in arms last week about the Parks Department's attempts to limit use of Washington Square Park and Central Park, other places in the city were feeling that all-too-familiar Outer Borough angst.


[M]any neighborhood activists and park volunteers would be pleased to see their worn chain-link fences replaced by an iron gate that could be locked at night -- an aspect of Washington Square's planned remodeling that was shelved because of public outcry.

And they'd love to have a fountain to move, like Washington Square's, or a pristine greensward to protect from large-scale events, like Central Park's Great Lawn -- another flashpoint in the long tug-of-war over citizen access to large public spaces.

I'd say screw Washington Square Park and spend the money renovating a park for people who will appreciate it. But then I know there are bitter people who oppose any change to anything all over the city. It's amazing anything ever gets done in this town.

May 26, 2005

Orange And Black

To celebrate Reunions Weekend, I'm stealing the idea of an "Orange and Black Blog Run" from Frances Salas:

Orin Kerr wonders why interviewers wonder what your greatest weakness is. (My greatest weakness is Kryptonite.)

Tigerhawk points out that if you don't understand sarcasm, you must be brain-damaged. (Well geez, any idiot could have told you that.)

Virginia Postrel suggests that a man who hated school should probably not become a teacher. (I used to let a girl cheat off of me in chemistry class all the time because she was hot. She's now a teacher. And still pretty good-looking.)

Classmate and fellow Nude Olympics participant Tom Bevan thinks that Princeton is a real drag these days. (Hey, Hal liked the Band even though we dressed funny and told dirty jokes...)

But Warren Meyer has reason to celebrate Princeton as he heads off to his 21st Reunion (and as I head off to my 14th! Tiger tiger tiger...)

About May 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in May 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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