Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moral crimes

"Sixteen-year-old Sabera, with a pretty yellow head scarf, frets that she is missing school. 'I was about to get engaged, and the boy came to ask me himself, before sending his parents. A lady in our neighbourhood saw us, and called the police,' she explains. She was sentenced to three years but, in an act of mercy, it was shortened to 18 months . . ."

The BBC reports from an Afghan women's prison.

According to Afghanistan's Ministry for Women's Affairs, "about half of Afghanistan's 476 women prisoners were detained for 'moral crimes'" -- a broad category that includes "running away from home" (often fleeing domestic violence), "refusing to marry," and "marrying against their family's wishes."

Reporting on a different Afghan prison in 2008, The Independent noted that most of the women there were in prison for being raped.

More: Al Jazeera video from 2007.

(Cross-posted on Metafilter. First link via my mom, Ann Althouse.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Is this the grim future of the declining news media?

Inexplicably dull Politico articles about random details in the lives of congressional staffers?

(Via Matthew Yglesias, who calls it "[t]he most pointless article ever written.")

It's too uninteresting to be a human-interest story, but it's not ridiculous enough to be a joke. It's not even boring enough to be deadpan comedy in the vein of I Went to College and It Was OK.

I'll copy one of the comments on the Politico article here, since Politico requires free registration to view the comments for some reason:

Last night, I made a chorizo chili with some peppers and beans and spices and boy was it good. I didn't prepare rice along with it though I plan to do so as I eat the leftovers, both because it thickens the chili and is more economical since the leftovers will last longer.

Didn't feel like cooking this afternoon so I just heated up some vegetarian spring rolls--nothing too exciting but they are pretty good.

Tomorrow I'm thinking of throwing together a salad with cucumbers, carrots, tom....Oh, I'm sorry, are you bored out of your mind? Now you know how the rest of us felt reading this nonsense.

Senator Robert Byrd dies at 92.

Senator Byrd died today. He was the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history: 51 years. Over half a century.

I don't have much to say about him. I do like this quip, highlighted by my mom from the New York Times obituary (the first link):

In 2007, at the unveiling of a portrait of Mr. Byrd in the Old Senate Chamber, former Senator Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, a colleague of 30 years, recalled that Mr. Byrd had taught him how to answer when a constituent asked, “How many presidents have you served under?”

“None,” was Mr. Byrd’s reply, Mr. Sarbanes said. “I have served with presidents, not under them.”
People will go back and forth about how much to hold his youthful membership and leadership in the Ku Klux Klan against him, given that he thoroughly renounced the episode. He said in 2005 (via):
"I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times . . . and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened."
Someone in this Metafilter thread skewers Byrd with merciless sarcasm:
Haven't we all done something in our past that we are embarrassed by? Haven't we all, in our mid-20s, in the folly of our youth, joined a racist terrorist militia?
I love this response:
With all due respect to my esteemed colleague from Minneapolis . . . , I imagine that you (and the rest of us), should we have the opportunity to examine our actions today in 70 years, would be taken aback at some of the things we did and believed, things that appeared to us at the time to be obviously, manifestly right. And here's the kicker: we don't know what those things will be.

We may not want to admit it, but on some issue we are all Robert Byrd. Let's just hope we have the grace, as did Byrd, to realize what that issue is when the time comes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My 10 favorite Michael Jackson songs

Michael Jackson died exactly one year ago today. Over here, the Washington Post's critics and commenters are making lists of their 10 favorite Michael Jackson songs. The main surprise is that many people (including all the critics) include "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," which to me is one of the low points of the Thriller album.

Here are mine (I'm following WaPo's rule: no Jackson 5, only solo songs):

1. Billie Jean

I'm not generally putting this list in any particular order, but this is his best.



2. Leave Me Alone

The message of the song is ridiculous, but I wish he had done more music in this style.



3. The Way You Make Me Feel



4. The Man in the Mirror (see "The Way You Make Me Feel" video)

This is unbelievably maudlin and self-aggrandizing, but it does exactly what it's trying to do.

5. Black or White

Like "Leave Me Alone," the message of this song is impossible to take seriously given the messenger, but it's good music.



6. Don't Stop Till You Get Enough

The Off the Wall album has a cult status that his others don't have, but it's actually weaker than Thriller, Bad, or Dangerous. This song is the exception.



7. Remember the Time



8. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

9. Smooth Criminal



10. Thriller


This has been viewed "76,575,284" times on YouTube. That's surely a very small fraction of the number of times the video itself has been viewed online, since the number doesn't include embeds or any other copy of the video. It's hard to fathom how wildly popular he's been, for over 30 years.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How to write bipartisan political ad pablum

Someone asked AskMetafilter for help coming up with things to say in a fictional ad where she'll be running for some unspecified office. She wanted deliberately bland language that could fade into the background and wouldn't suggest any political party or controversial stance.

The thread has a lot of good examples and analysis of meaningless political rhetoric. Here's my contribution:

You have to use this phrase:

"helping working families"

They can also be "hard-working." They "work hard and play by the rules."

Meanwhile, the candidate will "fight for you."

The only groups of constituents that can be specifically mentioned are "seniors" and "our children." Everyone else is "families." (There are no lone individuals!)
Someone else links to the Wikipedia entry on "glittering generalities" -- an apt phrase. It's been around since 1859, when it was used by Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"7 things Mario games have in common with the Bible"

Pretty uncanny.

To #5, I would add that the main hero in both has a trade that causes buildings to function.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Covers

The Onion's A.V. Club got a bunch of bands to cover songs from the '60s through the '90s (via). A lot of them are from the '80s. Some of the covers haven't been posted yet, but the song titles have been announced. (I'm looking forward to seeing what's done with Nirvana's "Sliver" and Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two-Headed Boy.")

Unfortunately, each one starts with a minute or more of ads for beer and coffee. Also, the announcer has an oddly unenthusiastic delivery that seems to be popular on the web. For some reason, people announcing things on TV go completely over the top, but this would seem inappropriate on a website. Does sitting closer to a screen somehow make an audience more conscious of people overexerting their voices?

Anyway, as far as the music, here's a good one (although you might want to mute the volume on your computer till the band starts): Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, covering . . .




. . . Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can we close the gender gap in some sciences? Should we?

I've been critical of the New York Times in the past for its gender bias (I even have a tag for it), but I found this NYT article on the gender gap in the "math-oriented sciences" by John Tierney to be admirably balanced and well-reasoned (via).

This explanation for the gap strikes me as very plausible:

[M]en are more interested in working with things, while women are more interested in working with people. There's ample evidence — most recently in an analysis of surveys of more than 500,000 people — that boys and men, on average, are more interested in inanimate objects and "inorganic" subjects like math and physics and engineering, while girls and women are more drawn to life sciences, social sciences and other "organic" careers that involve people and seem to have direct social usefulness.

You can argue how much of this difference is due to biology and how much to society, but could you really affect it by sending scientists and engineers off to the workshops mandated by the bill now in Congress?
(The article has more info on the pending bill, if you're interested.)

In addition to those studies on male vs. female preferences, there's also evidence in the form of gender percentages in other scientific fields:
Aided by . . . continuing federal grants, researchers and advocates have developed theories that women are being held back from pursuing careers in engineering and physics by “stereotype threat,” by “implicit bias” and by a shortage of female role models and mentors. Yet none of these theorized barriers prevented girls and women from dominating the fields that most interested them.

The life sciences and social sciences were once male bastions, yet today women make up a majority of working biological scientists, and they earn nearly three-quarters of the doctorates in psychology. Now that women are earning a majority of all undergraduate and graduate degrees, it’s odd to assume they’re the gender that needs special help on campus. If more women prefer to study psychology and medicine than physics and engineering, why is that a problem for Washington to fix?
As I've said, quoting William Hazlitt, "It is essential for the triumph of reform that it shall never succeed."
I’d love to see more girls pursuing careers in science (and more women reading science columns), but I wish we’d encourage their individual aspirations instead of obsessing about group disparities. I can’t see how we’re helping them with scare stories about the awful discrimination they’ll face.
That last point is a very sensible one but also one that's sure to be ignored. There's a certain mindset that thrives on exposing discrimination, and this naturally leads to plenty of false positives. There are innumerable disparities in the world; some of them result from discrimination, but the mere existence of a disparity doesn't prove there's discrimination. But leaping to the discrimination conclusion can feel so energizingly righteous that you can be blinded to the downsides of false positives. Pointing out real discrimination is a noble thing, of course, but I think it's wrong (in the moral and factual sense of the word) to tell a group of people that they're being discriminated against to a greater extent than they are. I don't see how this is any less wrong than telling an individual that he or she is despised or being conspired against by people around him or her, unless this is actually true.

Getting back to Tierney's point about the "things"/"people" gender difference, does anyone really believe it should be off limits to posit that men and women are simply, ineradicably different in some ways? I hope not. We have to be open to this possibility in order to have an intellectually honest discussion of any kind of gender gap. A gender gap isn't necessarily a problem that needs to be solved; it could be just life.

(I've focused on only some of the article's data about, and possible explanations for, the gap, so I recommend reading the whole thing.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama's prime-time address on his oil spill strategy

We'll be able to watch it here live, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. (Thanks to the White House for the "blogger-friendly" embed code.)



Here's the text.

President Obama said:

The families I met with last week who lost their loved ones in the explosion -- these families deserve to know why. And so I've established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place. Already, I've issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue. And while I urge the Commission to complete its work as quickly as possible, I expect them to do that work thoroughly and impartially.
Jason (the commenter) says on Twitter:
Obama sure does like starting commissions. His campaign slogan should have been "hope, change, and commissions (mainly commissions)".
Amba says:
I got to clean up sh*t while listening to the president's speech; that seems appropriate on so many levels.
Jason responds:
You should set up a commission to figure out how it happened, another to advise you how to do it, and a third to make sure it never happens again.
RELATED: "Give Obama a Break: Presidents Don't Have Magic Powers That Clean up Oil Spills."

UPDATE: The New York Times has a run-down of commentators on Obama's address, which concludes with a long quote from my mom, Ann Althouse. She says, channeling the president:
We need to "jump start" the "clean energy" future. There's "the potential" to create "millions of jobs" but "only" if we "act together." We need to do something big at the national level to make this happen. Some people say we can't afford this, but he's saying we can't afford not to do it. He's vague about what this will be. The only thing he won't accept is doing nothing. He won't accept the "paltry limits of conventional wisdom." So even though we don't "precisely know" what we need to do, we will do it. Like we did in WWII and in going to the moon. We'll do something. And it will have to be big, but we don't know what it is. Then he drops from that scarily high level of abstraction and the unknown to... shrimpers. Something about shrimp people. We must think BIG and... shrimpy.

Rwanda has nearly universal health care.

The New York Times reports. The program has existed for 11 years and covers 92% of the population.

The annual premium is only $2, but the system is propped up by foreign charities.

Of course, Americans will pay attention to this story less out of an inherent concern for Rwanda than because of how it reflects on us.

And each of us will see in the story what we want to see.

Liberals will point to it as evidence that the US has been maddeningly slow, relative to the rest of the world, to recognize health care as a basic human right.

Conservatives will gloat that this illustrates how hollow the concept of "universal health care" is. Just look at how paltry the services are in Rwanda, even though the system can be touted as "universal." Rwandan hospitals typically don't have running water. "[M]any things that are routine in the United States, like M.R.I. scans and dialysis, are generally unavailable."

But liberals can make their point without committing themselves to some implausible notion that health care is actually better in Rwanda. As the articles says:

Sunny Ntayomba, an editorial writer for The New Times, a newspaper based in the capital, Kigali, is aware of the paradox: his nation, one of the world’s poorest, insures more of its citizens than the world’s richest does.

He met an American college student passing through last year, and found it "absurd, ridiculous, that I have health insurance and she didn't," he said, adding: "And if she got sick, her parents might go bankrupt. The saddest thing was the way she shrugged her shoulders and just hoped not to fall sick."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New York Times not using "tweet"

Back when I was weighing the pros and cons of Twitter, I said:

One of the things that's most kept me from using Twitter is the word "tweets." Anytime the topic of Twitter comes up, the word "tweets" isn't far behind. It sounds like a word you might come up with if you wanted to make a website appealing to 10-year-olds. But I just feel embarrassed when I hear adults talking about their "tweets." So while I might keep using Twitter, I'm not going to talk about "tweets."
The New York Times apparently agrees with me, having just made this an unofficial editorial policy. The Times' "standards editor" sent this memo to staff (via Metafilter):
Some social-media fans may disagree, but outside of ornithological contexts, “tweet” has not yet achieved the status of standard English. And standard English is what we should use in news articles.

Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon. And “tweet” — as a noun or a verb, referring to messages on Twitter — is all three. Yet it has appeared 18 times in articles in the past month, in a range of sections.

Of course, new technology terms sprout and spread faster than ever. And we don’t want to seem paleolithic. But we favor established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords. . . .

Someday, “tweet” may be as common as “e-mail.” Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and “tweet” may fade into oblivion. (Of course, it doesn’t help that the word itself seems so inherently silly.)

“Tweet” may be acceptable occasionally for special effect. But let’s look for deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update. Or, once you’ve established that Twitter is the medium, simply use “say” or “write.”
I agree with all that.

So, is it OK for the NYT to include "K thx bye" in a headline? (Again, credit goes to Metafilter for that catch.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Men's magazines from back in the day when men were attacked by small animals

A blog called The Art of Manliness (!) has lots of front covers of men's magazines from the early to mid 20th century. (They're from this art book published by Taschen -- how manly is that?)

The names of the magazines are as un-subtle as possible:

Man's Life
ALL MAN
MAN'S magazine
FOR MEN ONLY
MALE
TRUE MEN stories
man's CONQUEST
Fury -- exciting true adventures for men
Real -- the exciting magazine FOR MEN
As I said in the heading, small animals were a theme. As you can see from the top of that blog post, one magazine cover proclaims: "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." This was apparently quite popular -- not only did it inspire a Frank Zappa album, but one can detect traces of it on another magazine cover: "Flying Rodents Ripped My Flesh." Other covers have snakes, otters, and turtles.

Matthew Yglesias has a good catch on Twitter (which is how I found out about this whole thing). He calls it the "Best magazine cover-line ever":
"Sex Can Be Fun!"
The Art of Manliness argues that they were a bygone era's equivalent of pornography:
The popularity of men’s adventure magazines peaked in the late 1950s, when fifty different titles were published and hundreds of thousands of men picked up the magazines at the local drugstore or read them at barbershops. But as Playboy and then Penthouse came on the scene, and the courts loosened their restrictions on what was deemed obscene material, “the sweats” began to seem quite tame and outdated in comparison and couldn’t compete. They quietly disappeared in the 1970’s.
The link to the Art of Manliness post comes from the excellent blog Sociological Images, which observes:
They are a window into a time when being a man was clearly a very distinct achievement, but much less related to consumption than it is today.

Today’s men’s magazines emphasize control over oneself and the conquest of women, as do these vintage magazines, but instead of tests of strength, cunning, and fighting ability, they emphasize conquest through consumption. The message is to consume the right exercise, the right products (usually hygiene or tech-related), the right advice on picking up women and, well, the right women. In contrast, these old magazines pit man against nature or other men; consumption has not yet colonized the idea of masculinity.
Maybe the old view was more purely masculine: adventurous, heroic. But that's nothing against the new view. It's not inherently bad to consume things -- consumption is a part of life. You're already consuming a magazine. I'd rather the magazine try to cajole men into buying the right cologne than try to implant in their heads that life is -- ideally! -- a series of a vicious attacks.

If you were just basing your opinion on those magazine covers, I think you'd have to say: being a man looks pretty horrible.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How we see poverty in Africa

An engineer who's working on a water sanitation team in Malawai felt a disconnect between his real-life experiences and the images we see of Africa, so he decided to start a project, which is still ongoing:

I am taking two photos of the same person; one photo with the typical symbols of poverty (dejected look, ripped clothes, etc.), and another of this person looking their very finest, to show how an image can be carefully constructed to present the same person in very different ways. I want to bring to light some of the different assumptions we make about a person, especially when we see an image of “poverty” from rural Africa.
Here's the beginning of the experiment (via).

How to eat

I noticed these directions, in big bold letters, on a huge bag of frozen peas I got from the supermarket:

USE ONLY AS MUCH AS DESIRED
Why is it necessary to be told this?

Maybe the people who wrote that message had been watching Andre talk to Wally in My Dinner With Andre:
Roc used to practice certain exercises, like for instance, if he were right-handed, all today he would do everything with his left hand, all day, eating, writing, everything: opening doors, in order to break the habits of living. Because the great danger he felt for him was to fall into a trance, out of habit. He had a whole series of very simple exercises that he had invented, just to keep seeing, feeling, remembering. Because you have to learn now. It didn't use to be necessary, but today you have to learn something like: are you really hungry, or are you just stuffing your face because because that's what you do, out of habit? I mean, you can afford to do it, so you do it, whether you're hungry or not.
(Transcript from here.)

By the way, in addition to being extremely useful for cooking (throw some into a dish at literally the last minute), frozen peas make a surprisingly good snack eaten straight out of the freezer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran."

So says Golnaz Esfandiari in Foreign Policy (via). More:

[T]he 'Twitter Revolution' was an irresistible meme during the post-election protests, a story that wrote itself. . . . Western journalists who couldn't reach -- or didn't bother reaching? -- people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets posted with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi. . . .

[A]n honest accounting of Twitter's role in Iran would also note its pernicious complicity in allowing rumors to spread. . . .

It's not that Twitter publicists of the Iranian protests haven't played a role in the events of the past year. They have. It's just not been the outsized role it's often been made out to be. And ultimately, that's been a terrible injustice to the Iranians who have made real, not remote or virtual, sacrifices in pursuit of justice.
The whole article is worth reading, especially for its vivid account of how Twitter "can serve the purposes of Iran's regime as easily as it can aid the country's activists."

Mickey Kaus gets 5%, ends his California Senate campaign, and concedes.

"I congratulate Senator Boxer on her primary victory. But the results send more than one message.

"I'm a blogger. I spent about $40,000. I had one part-time aide, a recent college grad who was prepping for his LSATs. We had no headquarters, no pollsters, no highly paid strategists and consultants. We had a couple of laptops and an old Volvo. And we still ripped off more than 100,000 votes from a three term incumbent because there is a large group of voters who are dissatisfied with the prevailing dogma of the Democratic party . . . "

UPDATE: Kaus and TNR's Jon Chait have dueling interpretations of the percentages.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Filler: articles on higher education, Jews, "public service," etc.

I might not be posting much this week. For one thing, I have an unusually heavy workload between my job and job applications. And I haven't been feeling very inspired to blog lately. I'll write something up, planning to post it, but then stop and think it's not ready to be posted for one reason or another. In fact, I've been seriously toying (isn't that an oxymoron?) with the idea of going on a longer hiatus. If and when I need to move to a new city and start a new job -- which I hope will be by the end of this summer, though it's impossible to say -- I expect that I'd go on hiatus for who-knows-how-long.

But for the sake of having something current on top, here are several articles and blog posts that are worth thinking about:

1. "Where I'm coming from." — Mickey Kaus (of particular interest to readers in California, as Kaus is on the ballot today, running for the Senate against Barbara Boxer)

2. "Higher education's bubble is about to burst." — Glenn Reynolds

3. Jews aren't particularly smarter than the human race as a whole. — Michael Chabon in the New York Times

4. Why the Jews couldn't "go home" to Europe after World War II. — Richard Cohen

5. Why going into "public service" is a better description of working in the private sector than in the public sector. — Thomas Sowell

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mickey Kaus takes the expectations game to the extreme.

"'To win I just need to get more votes than I'm expected to get. And since I'm expected to get zero, the threshold for success is low.'"

"They outdo us in the amount of effort they put into environmental health and social welfare."

That's from this interview, which also talks about their agriculture, including their use of pesticides.

But the interview isn't all positive about them: they also engage in "slavery" and "warfare." They've expansively claimed a number of territories, each with "a common identity, their own nationality."

"[A]s individuals, it's a rough life. As a society, it isn't so bad."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm fine with The New Republic restricting some of its articles to subscribers, but . . .

. . . this article is exactly the wrong one to hide from public view.

It's the top article on TNR's website today, and here's the homepage teaser:

Give Obama a Break: Presidents Don't Have Magic Powers That Clean up Oil Spills
Yet when you click through, you'll see only the first two paragraphs, which just introduce the idea that people expect Obama to be (as an article in the libertarian Reason magazine put it) "'a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise.'"

There's no substantive pay-off, as the actual point of the article is hidden from the public. I have access to the following text (by Jonathan Chait) only because I subscribe to TNR:
In reality, the federal government has no agency tasked with capping undersea oil leaks. All the necessary equipment, along with the expertise for operating it, resides with the private sector. Moreover, since BP will likely bear the full cost of the spill, it has every incentive to deploy its equipment as aggressively as possible. I have seen nobody even attempt to argue, in either practical or theoretical terms, that the government could do a better job of plugging the leak. The demand that Obama solve the problem is not an argument but an emotional state. To accept that Obama is not the man who will plug the hole or fail to do so would be like plunking down ten dollars to see Superman at the Cineplex only to watch Jimmy Olsen save the world. . . .

Conservative critics have leapt upon the image of a hamstrung Obama to discredit the president and activist government. . . .

Of course, neither Obama nor liberals in general believe that government has limitless powers or responsibilities. . . . The intellectual task of liberalism is not to make government responsible for everything. It is to rationally determine which things cannot be handled by the private sector. No less than the dogmatic anti-statism of the right, the cult of the presidency is an enemy of that task.
That's the kind of well-reasoned, empirically grounded argument that I read The New Republic for. And it's clearly meant to drive public opinion in the relatively short term. It's the kind of piece that TNR should really want as many people as possible to read.

Of course, they want all their pieces read by a lot of people. But an article on Obama's responsibility for the oil spill one has an urgency that's not present in, say, this other article that's currently featured on TNR's homepage, which is free to the public:
Will I Miss the Feel of Books? Yes. Will I Get Over It? Yes.
Here's my message to TNR, as a loyal subscriber: If you have to put some articles behind a pay wall out of economic necessity, I understand and respect this. But please, try to put the articles that are most in need of being read by large numbers of people in full public view.

Why are red states' workforces more dominated by public workers than blue states?

Here's a chart of state and local public employees as a percentage of the population in each state.

It's not surprising that Washington, DC, as the seat of the federal government, has a lower percentage than any of the 50 states, since we're not counting federal employees.

What is surprising is that the states with the largest such percentages are overwhelmingly Republican-leaning. The 10 states whose workforces are most dominated by state/local public employees have 8 solidly Republican states, with only 1 swing state (New Mexico) and 1 Democratic state (New York, whose percentage is still far from the highest).

The 10 states with the proportionately smallest state/local public workforces are a mixed bag of red, blue, and purple states, including the deep-blue Massachusetts.

Catherine Rampell, the author of that New York Times blog post, crunches the numbers and finds that, indeed, "the more dominated a state is by [state/local] public-sector workers, the less likely that state was to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate."

The state with the highest percentage is Wyoming. You might think this is an anomaly because it has the smallest population; therefore, basic services and infrastructure require a higher percentage of its workers. Similarly, a commenter on the Times post says:

The results are largely explained by geography and demographics. With respect to geography, for example, most state and local employees are employed in the educational sector. States that are not densely populated, such as Wyoming, tend to have a lower teacher-to-student ratio (Wyoming has an average ratio of 1 teacher to 13.1 students and the average national ratio is about 1 to 24 as reported here on Economix). Also, low population states such as Wyoming and Alaska require relatively higher ratio of employee to general population to deal with basic governmental functions (each state has the same number of governors, etc)[.] Econom[ies] of scale play[] a role here.
That wouldn't seem to gibe with Rhode Island, which has one of the smallest populations and the 6th-lowest percentage of state/local public workers. But that commenter has an explanation: the states with the highest percentages have a large area, so they need lots of government for things like highway maintenance.

Rampell observes:
[I]t is not such a big contradiction for states to be hostile to candidates perceived to be expanding the size of the federal government, and to still employ lots of workers at the state and local levels.
Maybe we should stop equating "red states" with opposition to "government." They merely tend to be against the federal government having a major role in their lives. And isn't that natural? They have relatively little need for it -- they already enjoy so much help from state and local government.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Amazing animals

1. A dolphin learns to use an iPad.

2. A dog ... well, just watch. (Via.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A hole the size of a large intersection opened up in the street and swallowed two buildings!

Hard to believe this isn't a special effect. (You can see a much larger version of the photo by clicking on it.)

But of course, it isn't. It's real and tragic.