Archive

  • Contraception, News Coverage, and Identifying Fringe Groups

    The story of the day comes from The New York Times , which reports on this study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the results of a project that provided long-term contraception to teenagers. The results were both stunning and completely predictable (we'll get to that in a second), but I want to raise a small objection to something in the Times story. It concerns how groups should be identified, and when it's necessary to alert readers to the fact that you're quoting somebody on the fringe. But first, the news: it turns out that if you offer long-term contraception (mostly IUDs and implants) to teenagers, they don't get pregnant. Take a look at this graph, which compares teens in the program (called CHOICE) to national data on young women of the same age: As I said, these results are remarkable in that the reductions in pregnancy are so dramatic, but also predictable—birth control works well at controlling birth! If you have a teenage daughter, you should probably think...
  • Listen Up, Ladies: Republicans Understand You

    A lady-type expressing her disgust with the idea of voting Democratic.
    Political ads, as a rule, are terrible in every way. Lacking in anything approaching subtlety, creativity or production values, they usually achieve their impact through numbing repetition—you may be skeptical upon hearing that "Candidate Smith doesn't share our values," but once you've heard it 50 or 60 times, the theory goes, it should sink in. But every once in a while, one stands out, as is the case with this little gem trying to tell ladies to vote for Governor Rick Scott of Florida. It's actually one in a cookie-cutter series , with the names of other Republican governors and Democratic candidates substituted in.) The thinking behind it seems to be that if you want to relate to ladies, what you've got to do is talk about wedding dresses. Take a look: It's a takeoff on the reality show Say Yes to the Dress , which I haven't actually seen, but I gather involves wedding dresses, and saying yes to them. While pop culture references are always a good way to grab attention, the...
  • The War With No Name

    Every president, along with the people who work for him, will tell you that they barely ever think about politics and public relations. "Good policy is good politics," they'll say, or "We believe that if we do the right thing, the politics will take care of themselves." Of course, it'll all baloney. Even in the most serious matters, like making war, appearances are never far from their minds. Which is why, every time we get ready to bomb or invade somebody, the military comes up with a super-cool name for the operation. Not only does it give the enterprise the proper triumphal air, it gives the media something to call it, so they can make their jazzy graphics and pick out the right musical accompaniment. So why doesn't our new quasi-war have a name yet? The idea of naming military operations began in World War I, but initially they were secret code names, intended to conceal rather than to boast. Winston Churchill was very concerned with the code names of military operations in World...
  • Mitt Romney Explains the Politician's Art

    Flickr/Austen Hufford
    Back when he was running for president, I used to joke that Mitt Romney was a political version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2—if he got close enough, he could morph himself into a copy of you, adopting your likes, your fears, your ideals and your beliefs. Except instead of doing it to kill you off, he was trying to win your vote. Ungenerous on my part? Sure. Nevertheless true? Pretty much. And now comes an interesting admission from Mitt, in a new interview with Mark Leibovich . The topic is the infamous "47 percent" remark that caused him so much grief. While Romney has gone through many explanations for what he said, none of them particularly convincing, this may be the most candid yet: "I was talking to one of my political advisers," Romney continued, "and I said: 'If I had to do this again, I'd insist that you literally had a camera on me at all times" — essentially employing his own tracker, as opposition researchers call them. "I want to be reminded that this is not off the...
  • Separating the Presidential Wheat from the Chaff

    Flickr/Gage Skidmore
    Just what does it mean for someone to be qualified to be, or even run for, president? I thought of that question when watching this interview on Fox News Sunday with Ben Carson, who is preparing to be the first member of what we might call the nutball caucus of the 2016 Republican primaries, occupied last time around by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and to a lesser extent (since he was actually briefly competitive) Rick Santorum. I've always found Carson to be a puzzlement. On one hand, he was a highly successful neurosurgeon, and you can't become that without being a relatively smart person. On the other hand, when he talks about politics and policy, it quickly becomes clear that the man is a complete lunatic. In this interview, Wallace asks him, "You said recently that you thought that there might not actually be elections in 2016 because of widespread anarchy. Do you really believe that?" Carson responds, "I hope that that's not going to be the case, but certainly there is that...
  • When the Next Terrorist Attack Comes, Will We Be Capable of Keeping Our Heads?

    (Yui Mok/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
    (Yui Mok/PA Wire -Press Association via AP Images) I magine it's six months from now. A 19-year-old man—whom we'll later learn was in communication with members of ISIL in the Middle East—walks on to the Mall in Washington on a weekend afternoon. Groups of tourists are walking about from one monument to another. He takes his backpack off his shoulders, reaches in, and removes the semiautomatic rifle he bought a month before at a gun show in Virginia, where he didn't have to submit to a background check (though it wouldn't have mattered, because his record is clean). He opens fire on the crowd, and before U.S. Park Police are able to reach him and put him down, he has killed six people and wounded eleven others. In his pocket is a note announcing his devotion ISIL, and that he is striking at the United States in retaliation for its illegal war on the true Muslims building a caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Now that we have begun a new military engagement in the Middle East, this event or...
  • Chart of the Day

    Flickr/Rob Chandanais
    Our chart of the day comes from this article in Politico Magazine by Doug McAdam and Karina Kloos, about how the contemporary Republican party has its roots in the racial struggles of the 1960s. It's a good overview of that history, even if you may not find any shocking revelations there. But this chart they use is particularly striking, showing the racial makeup of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's voters in 2012: I've written a lot about how some people within the Republican Party, and the conservative movement more generally, find political value in fostering white resentment. Sometimes that resentment is directed at specific figures like Barack Obama, and at those times it usually reaches back to the 1960s to prey on white fears of angry black people coming to do you financial and physical harm (the best comment about Eric Holder's resignation yesterday undoubtedly came from Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, who said of Holder, "He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That...
  • Might We Have Mitt Romney to Kick Around Some More?

    I've got a secret... (Flickr/davelawrence8)
    I often find it hard to get inside the heads of politicians, since the idea of running for office—particularly all that fundraising, glad-handing, and ass-kissing—has about as much appeal for me as spending a year or two eating nothing but live maggots every day. But I can appreciate that running for president, getting your party's nomination, and then losing must be positively tortuous, particularly if you spent your whole life thinking you'd be president one day. By the time you get to the end of the campaign, you've spent untold hours thinking about how your destiny is about to be realized, you will remake the world, people will carve statues of you, plus Air Force One is really cool and you can do stuff like say, "Hey, let's have Stevie Wonder come sing at our house this weekend." Then not only are all those dreams dashed, but a guy you've come to despise takes your place. What's surprising is that the likes of John McCain, John Kerry, and Al Gore don't suffer complete breakdowns...
  • Why the Culture War Will Never Die

    Official Democratic party vehicle. (Flickr/Brett Morrison)
    Depending on how you define it, the American culture war between liberals and conservatives can stretch back all the way to the nineteenth century. But I prefer to date its current iteration to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares gazed across a high school football field at one another and said, "Man, I hate those guys." However the actual 1960s played out, in our memories, the hippies were definitely the good guys, and the winners in the end. (This is in no small part because liberals created all the novels, TV shows, and movies that chronicled the period.) They may have been a little silly, but there's one thing that's undeniably true: They had all the fun. While the squares were getting buzz cuts, convincing themselves that the Vietnam War was a great idea, and nodding along with Richard Nixon's encomiums to the Silent Majority, the hippies were getting high, dancing to cool music, and above all, getting laid . And the squares are still mad about it, even the ones who weren...
  • Why Are We Afraid of the Returning Expat Terrorist?

    This is not the training you get from ISIL. (Flickr/Andres Alvarez Iglesias)
    One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of. It isn't that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their "newfound terrorist skills" against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don't have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There's this thing called "the internet" where it can be found much easier. The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only...

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