Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Don’t Eat Anything With A Face”

That was the proposition being debated on the Intelligence Squared podcast.

Moderated by ABC News’ John Donvan, the debate featured Dr. Neal Barnard (Clinical Researcher & Author, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart) and Gene Baur (President and Co-Founder, Farm Sanctuary) who argued for the motion; and Chris Masterjohn (Nutritional Sciences Researcher & Blogger, The Daily Lipid) Joel Salatin (Farmer & Author), who argued against the motion.

Here is description of the debate:

According to a 2009 poll, around 1% of American adults reported being vegan. In 2011 that number rose to 2.5%–more than double, but still dwarfed by the 48% who reported eating meat, fish or poultry at all of their meals. In this country, most of us are blessed with an abundance of food and food choices. So taking into account our health, the environment and ethical concerns, which diet is best? Do vegans have the right idea, or are we meant to be carnivores?

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January 30, 2014 · 1:01 pm

Our Broken Mental Health System and How Hurts Our Youth

60 Minutes began Sunday night with a segment on the mental health system in the US and how it is failing our youth.  I listened to the 60 Minutes podcast and did not see the video of the segment.  Even still, it is very powerful and recommend all readers to check it out.

Here is how the story began:

Last November 19th, Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was slashed and stabbed repeatedly by his own son. Gus Deeds was 24 years old and had been struggling with mental illness. He and his father had been in an emergency room just hours before the attack but didn’t get the help that they needed. The story of what went wrong with his medical care exposes a problem in the way that America handles mental health. It’s a failure that came to the fore with the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The vast majority of mental patients are not violent. But this is a story about the fraction who are a danger to themselves or others. Parents of mentally ill children in crisis often find, as Sen. Deeds did, that they have nowhere to go. Creigh Deeds bears the scars of this failure on his face, his body and his soul.

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January 28, 2014 · 1:50 pm

Grammy’s, Gay Marriage, “Same Love”

During the Grammy Awards last night, hip-hop artist and marriage equality advocate Macklemore performed the hit song “Same Love” with Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert. During the performance, Queen Latifah legally presided over the marriages of thirty-three couples, gay and straight alike. The song then resumed with Madonna transitioning to her song “Open Your Heart.”

As someone who cares deeply and has written academically about marriage equality, I found the performance to be quite moving. It reminded how art can capture dimensions of ongoing public policy debates in ways politicians, lawyers and even advocates often cannot. What struck me is just how apt “Same Love” is in encapsulating the essence of the marriage equality movement. Despite all of the legal arguments and political propaganda surrounding gay marriage, the debate, at bottom, boils down to a simple proposition:

  1. The reason the state, not only permits but, promotes marriage is to encourage love and loving relationships.
  2. Gay couples and straight couples share the “same love” and can enter into the same types of loving relationship.
  3. Therefore, the state should permit and promote same-sex marriage just as it does opposite sex ones.

Although the performance was a strong message of marriage equality, I question whether it was the best medium by which to purvey it. Initially, I was inspired by the performance, but my second thought was “And, the entire state of Kansas just changed the channel.” Making matters worse, the entire first verse of the song calls out “right wing conservatives” being naïve, fear mongering and “paraphrasing” the Bible. However, the marriage equality movement is currently turning its attention to more conservative populations. In the coming months and years, the movement will be attempting to overturn state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in more conservative party of the country (than say Los Angeles, where the Grammy’s were held).

If the marriage equality movement is to continue to be successful, it must adapt its message in such a way as to appeal to a potentially skeptical audience. Once way in which the music community could assist in this re-branding there was a country version of “Same Love.” In past years, songs such as Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” have been successfully remixed by adding a hip hop element for broader consumption. In this case, the reverse would be appropriate. “Same Love” could be adapted by a country artist (excluding the first verse) for a more targeted audience.

In sum, while this year’s performance of “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards made an important statement (one that could not have been made just a few years ago); what will matter next year, and the years to come, is whether a pro-gay rights song can gain traction in the Country Music Awards. For it will be those who listen to country music and live in more conservative areas that will decide the future marriage equality movement.

This post was originally published on the SLACE Archive. For more public policy related video/audio, be sure to check out the SLACE Archive for daily podcast recommendations.

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January 27, 2014 · 5:59 pm

Sunday Funday: The Social Role of Gossip

The topic of this week’s edition of Sunday Funday–gossip.  To most, gossip is simply idle praddle, but the Freakonomics Radio podcast explains that gossip serves a social function.  

Here is a description of the podcast: 

In the show, Stephen Dubner talks about what gossip is, or isn’t; about the characteristics of the people who produce and consume gossip; and about the functions of gossip, good and bad. You’ll hear from our usual assortment of professors and theorists but also from TV/movie star Adrian Grenier(talking about what it’s like to be the subject of gossip) and Nick Denton, the publisher ofGawker (whose tagline is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”).

The episode begins with Tom Corley, a CPA and the author of Rich Habits. Corley spent five years surveying rich and poor people about their daily habits. Here’s what he claims to have found about gossip: 

CORLEY: Six percent of the wealthy gossip, compare that to 79 percent of the poor who gossip. This is one of those habits that really sticks out like that Grand Canyon of differences that I saw. This is one that really sends that message home that wealthy people and poor people do certain things differently on a daily basis. 

Next, Dubner visits Gawker Media headquarters, where we find that Denton, unsurprisingly, is staunchly pro-gossip. But he thinks Corley’s premise is entirely wrong: 

DENTON: [This] is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that [poor people] talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives; it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, and money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class. 

You’ll also hear from Adrian Chen and Caity Weaver. Chen used to write for Gawker; Weaver still does. Weaver tells us about one of the more salacious gossip posts she wrote about a certain TV star’s anatomy. It got almost 1 million page views. 

Jenny Cole, a psychology lecturer at Staffordshire University, tells us how gossip makes the gossiper feel. And Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton (and an author) talks about why he gossips.  

GRANT: But beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device. 

Rounding out the episode: Steve Levitt on the juiciest economics gossip he can come up with; Nicholas DiFonzo, a professor of psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who studies rumor; Stephanie Kelley, on gossip in wartime; and, rounding out the show, Adrian Grenier, currently shooting a film version of Entourage, tells us how gossip can be valuable if you’re willing to listen to it.

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January 26, 2014 · 1:00 pm

“The Grapes of Wrath” and Poverty Today

It appears likely that poverty and inequality will be major political topics for 2014. No novel captures the suffering associated with poverty better than John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” Recently, The Diane Rehm Show discussed “The Grapes of Wrath,” its enduring legacy and an upcoming film remake.

Here is a description of the program:
For our January Readers’ Review: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Published almost 75 years ago, Steinbeck’s story of the Joad family’s migration from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California holds important lessons for today. Diane and her guests discuss Steinbeck’s classic novel.

Leslie Maitland former reporter, The New York Times and author, “Crossing the Borders of Time.”
Joseph McCartin history professor, Georgetown University and director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. He is an expert on U.S. labor, social and political history.
Susan Shillinglaw English professor, San Jose State University (SJSU) and scholar in residence, National Steinbeck Center. For 18 years, she was director of the Center for Steinbeck Studies at SJSU.

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January 25, 2014 · 1:40 pm

Is Obamacare “Now Beyond Rescue?”

That was the proposition being debated on the Intelligence Squared squared podcast.

Moderated by ABC News’ John Donvan, the debate featured Dr. Scott Gottlieb (Practicing Physician & Former Deputy Commissioner, FDA) and Megan McArdle (Writer and Columnist, Bloomberg View) who argued for the motion; and Jonathan Chait (Political Commentator and Columnist, New York Magazine) Dr. Douglas Kamerow (Family Physician & Former Assistant Surgeon General), who argued against the motion.

Here is description of the debate:

With the disastrous launch of the website, critics of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” were given more fuel for the fire. Is this political hot potato’s inevitability once again at stake? And is the medical community really on board with the law, or resisting (rewriting?) it from the sidelines?

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January 23, 2014 · 9:12 pm

Economics of Demographics

Too often in recent years,  economic debates in the United States have focused on (often self-created) short-term crises rather than the big picture.  One such big picture issue is the economics of demographics.  According to conventional wisdom, an aging population is a recipe for financial shortfall. However, Fareed Zakaria GPS recently discussed a study that found that Japan’s aging population may be beneficial for its fiscal health.  

Here is how this “What In The World?” segment began: 

We were struck by some startling data this past week. Last year saw Japan’s population fall by 244,000 people – the largest natural decline in that country’s history. It’s a trend that’s getting worse. By 2060, Japan projects that its population will have fallen by a third; 40 percent of Japanese will be retirees. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Imagine a United States where half the population is over the age of 65: Social Security would collapse, health care costs will explode.

So, we were surprised to see a headline in the latest edition of The New Scientis claiming “Japan’s aging population could actually be good news.”

How on earth is that possible? After all, China relaxed its “one-child” policy last month precisely so it could avoid the fate of Japan. And that fate, if you go by conventional wisdom, seems to be slowing growth, and leading to unsustainable debt. Why? Because our entire system is based on having enough young workers to pay for pensions and government services.

Well, according to The New Scientist, perhaps we’ve been looking at the wrong data. . . . 

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January 22, 2014 · 10:09 pm