Tag Archives: presidential debate

Will Today’s ‘Stupid’ Become Tomorrow’s ‘Smart’?

Back in November, both presidential candidates acknowledged that we had to reform our education system. Like most everything else, Obama and McCain naturally disagreed on how to solve this issue. Perhaps we need to pay teachers more and get the best-qualified educators to head our classrooms. Perhaps we need to have more vouchers and charter schools to foster competition. Perhaps we just need parents to get more involved in building shoebox dioramas and helping their kids with algebra problems.

Or, perhaps we’re just getting dumber. (After all, we elected George W. Bush twice. Enough said).

Now that Obama’s education team is in place, here is my billion-dollar proposal: tell smart people to start making babies. Seriously. Set up some mood music in grad school dorms, dim the lighting in the labs, and arrange for some conjugal visits at the space station. Let’s do everything we can to encourage reading and breeding amongst the nation’s intellectual elite.

Why? Consider this: over the past few decades, we have seen significant declines in the birth rates across the country. As more and more young people started going to college, and women became more prevalent in the workplace, births in the U.S. have naturally declined. With that, the composition of mothers has also changed:

“Fertility tends to decline as education level increases. Women may put off marriage and children to further their education, then to get established in the labor force. Women age 40 to 44 with no high school education had about 2.5 children in 2004, compared with 1.6 children among women with a graduate or professional degree.” – Mary Kent, Population Reference Bureau

So keeping this in mind, let’s look at the following charts from the National Center for Health Statistics, which show the birth rates by state in 2002.

In this graphic, the blue states are the most fertile, while the green states are the most sterile (somewhat ironic).  We can see that the states with the highest birth rates are typically in the Midwest and South, whereas East Coasters and Californians are apparently too busy to procreate.  The state with the highest birth rate was Utah (20.9 for every 1,000 people), which may not be all that surprising. (Go to full report)

Now here is a graph from a U.S. Census report, on the percentage of college graduates by state:

So it looks like the states with the most college grads are also the states which tend to have the lowest birth rates.

Hmm…

Consider if this trend continues: the least-educated areas of the country are popping out babies like hotcakes, while the sterile Ivy Leaguers in the Northeast are busy trading mortgage-backed securities on Wall Street. Thus, the composition of the American population is skewed towards those with parents who are less educated. One may argue about the degree to which parents’ educational attainment affects their children’s test scores, but there is undoubtedly a correlation between the two. And while Texans and Idahoans may rightly argue that causality cannot be determined by a few colorful graphs, the data is in line with what we know: women who attain less education have more babies. There is a greater likelihood then that their kids will get less education than children born to snooty PhD candidates in Washington. And their kids will have more kids and more kids, while the slice of snooty intellectuals gets smaller and smaller.

So what can turn this around? In the end, we need to build a universal culture that values learning, instead of a dumb-is-cool culture that values a self-righteous idiocracy. We need to get students excited about education, and close the achievement gap that too often divides along racial and socioeconomic lines. We may need to rehaul our schools, implement student incentive programs, or pay our teachers more…

And we could also start encouraging smart people to make some babies, too.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Random

Pretty Soon, Today’s ‘Stupid’ Will Be Tomorrow’s ‘Smart’

Last week, both presidential candidates acknowledged that we had to reform our education system. Like most everything else, Obama and McCain naturally disagreed on how to solve this issue. Perhaps we need to pay teachers more and get the best-qualified educators to head our classrooms. Perhaps we need to have more vouchers/charter schools to foster competition. Maybe we just need parents to get more involved in building shoebox dioramas and helping their kids with algebra problems.

Or, perhaps we’re just getting dumber. (After all, we elected George W. Bush twice. Enough said).

Consider this theory: over the past few decades, we have seen significant declines in the birth rates across the country. As more and more young people started going to college, and women became more prevalent in the workplace, births in the U.S. have naturally declined:

“Fertility tends to decline as education level increases. Women may put off marriage and children to further their education, then to get established in the labor force. Women age 40 to 44 with no high school education had about 2.5 children in 2004, compared with 1.6 children among women with a graduate or professional degree.” – Mary Kent, Population Reference Bureau

So keeping this in mind, let’s look at the following charts from the National Center for Health Statistics, which show the birth rates by state in 1990. The chart on the top shows the birth rate, while the chart on the bottom shows the growth in births from 1990 to 2002. The state with the highest birth rate was Utah (20.9 for every 1,000 people), far surpassing Texas as the place where the most babies are made (or at least birthed). (Go to full report)

The states with the highest birth rates are typically in the Midwest and South, whereas East Coasters and Californians are apparently too busy to procreate. Unsurprisingly, these are the same areas where birth rates have declined the most in the past ten years, whereas states like Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina have stepped up their baby-making game.

Now here is a graph from a U.S. Census report, on the percentage of college graduates by state:

So, the states with the most college grads are also the states which tend to have the lowest birth rates.

Hmm…

Consider if this trend continues: the least-educated areas of the country are popping out babies like hotcakes, while the sterile Ivy Leaguers in the Northeast are busy trading mortgage-backed securities on Wall Street. Thus, the composition of the American population is skewed towards those with parents who are less educated. One may argue about the degree to which parents’ educational attainment affects their children’s test scores, but there is undoubtedly a correlation between the two. And while Texans and Idahoans may rightly argue that causality cannot be determined by a few colorful graphs, the data is in line with what we know: women who attain less education have more babies. There is a greater likelihood then that their kids will get less education than children born to snooty PhD candidates in Washington. And their kids will have more kids and more kids, while the slice of snooty intellectuals gets smaller and smaller.

So what can turn this around? In the end, we need to build a universal culture that values learning, instead of a culture that values moose huntin’ and a self-righteous idiocracy. We need to get students excited about education, and close the achievement gap that too often divides along racial and socioeconomic lines. We may need to rehaul our schools, implement student incentive programs, or pay our teachers more…

And we could also start encouraging smart people to make some babies, too.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, Politics

Thoughts on the Final Presidential Debate

Some thoughts on last night’s debate:

On Taxes: John McCain definitely had a clear mandate for this debate: make Barack Obama seem like a tax-crazy, big-government socialist.  Invoking Joe Six Pack’s cousin, Joe the Plumber, McCain tried to portray an Obama administration as one that would force “Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream of owning their own business.”  In the following exchange, Obama admitted that he disliked paying taxes.  McCain’s response?

Senator Obama: Look, nobody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay taxes, including myself. But ultimately, we’ve got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong and somebody’s got to do it.

Senator McCain: Nobody likes taxes. Let’s not raise anybody’s taxes, OK?

Instead of offering that cheeky response, McCain could have said, “True, nobody likes taxes, and true, some taxes are necessary for the infrastructure of America.  BUT, the fundamental difference is that you believe the government can best grow the economy, and you have to pay for your big government through raising taxes.  On the other hand, I believe that the American people and the free market can best make those core investments and rebuild our economy.  By taking money away from the people, and putting it into the hands of the government, you’re sacrificing efficiency and growth, and that is not what we need.”  That would’ve been a better response for a conservative Republican than, “Well, no one likes taxes, so I don’t want to raise them.”

On Negative Ads: McCain started out strong, even with his frequent references to Joe the Plumber.  But he really got sidetracked with Bob Schieffer’s question about negative ads: it was pretty clear that this question favored Obama.  After all, Obama’s references to McCain (“erratic,” “out of touch,” “lie,” “angry,” “losing his bearings”) were softballs compared to the extremely negative stuff that the McCain campagin was hurling at Obama: “disrespectful,” “dangerous,” “dishonorable,” “he lied,” “palled around with terrorists.”  McCain did himself no favors by bringing up the subject of his highly-publicized rallies, where crowds were calling Obama a terrorist, yelling “kill him”, and shouting racial slurs.  Obama, to his credit, mostly deflected attention off the negative: 

Senator Obama: The important point here is, though, the American people have become so cynical about our politics, because all they see is a tit- for-tat and back-and-forth. And what they want is the ability to just focus on some really big challenges that we face right now, and that’s what I have been trying to focus on this entire campaign.  We can have serious differences about our health care policy, for example, John, because we do have a difference on health care policy, but we… (gets interrupted)  But when people suggest that I pal around with terrorists, then we’re not talking about issues.

…So, naturally McCain brings up Bill Ayers. 

If you were watching on CNN, viewer reaction from the focus group in Ohio was immediately negative.  McCain would have done better had he delivered this criticism via rap with Flo Rida: “Oh hot damn / This is my jam / Keep my campaign going til the AM / Y’all don’t understand / Make me think all day / About Bill Ayers, Ay-Ay-Ayers.”

On Their Behaviors: Much was said about Gore’s performance in the debates in 2004–sometimes the way people look leave more of an impression than what they say.  During last night’s debate, Obama appeared calm and respectful.  Even though he had the chance to blast Palin, he exercised full restraint and just praised her skills as a “politician”.  John McCain, on the other hand, could not stop blinking, released a couple of audible sighs (perhaps remorse over missing bingo night), gave some awkwardly smug smiles, and looked almost like he was going to throw in a wink á la his running mate.  Some of the split screen shots showed McCain’s evident distaste for what Obama was saying.   

 

In  the end?  McCain did better than he did before, but we saw the biggest margin of victory for Barack Obama in a sampling of national polls.  In CNN’s poll, 58% said Obama won, versus 31% for McCain, the largest margin of victory in the CNN poll for any debate (it was 51% Obama/38% in the first debate, and 54% Obama/30% in the second).  Similarly, in the CBS poll of uncommitted viewers, 53% said Obama won, while only 22% said McCain won. 

This was McCain’s last stand to either make himself stand out, or goad Obama into doing something stupid.  Neither happened.   And so in the words of “Lolli Lolli” by Three 6 Mafia: “Like Barack Obama said / Yeah it’s time for a change.”

Leave a comment

Filed under News, Politics

The Presidential Debate Redux, With Michael Scott

TOM BROKAW: Good evening from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.  I am Tom Brokaw of NBC News.  Welcome to the second presidential debate of this campaign season, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, AIG, and Dick Fuld’s compensation package.  As you have noticed, this is the first ever debate to feature not only the two presidential candidates, but also a representative of middle America, Michael Scott of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.  Welcome, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, and Mr. Scott. (polite applause)

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, I would prefer that you address me as Senator Scott.

TOM BROKAW: (long pause)…Uh, okay, let’s get started.  The first question is to Senator Obama.  This from Oliver Clark.  Oliver asks: Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time.  How is this bailout package actually going to help these people out?

SENATOR OBAMA: Thanks Tom.  Oliver, first, let me tell you what’s in the rescue package for you. Right now, the credit markets are frozen up and what that means, as a practical matter, is that small businesses and some large businesses just can’t get loans.  If they can’t get a loan, that means that they can’t make payroll. If they can’t make payroll, then they may end up having to shut their doors and lay people off.  And if you imagine just one company trying to deal with that, now imagine a million companies all across the country.  So it could end up having an adverse effect on everybody, and that’s why we had to take action. But we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

SENATOR McCAIN: I’d like to jump in here.  My friends, Oliver’s question is a good one.  You know, the match that lit this fire was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’ll bet you, people like Allen and Mr. Scott here probably never even heard of them before this crisis.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (perplexed)Who’s Allen?

SENATOR McCAIN: See?  So, Fannie and Freddie were the match that started this forest fire.  Some of us stood up against it. There were others who took a hike.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Senator McCain.  Mr. Scott, do you have anything to add?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Tom, again I would prefer it if you addressed me as Senator.  And yes, yes I do have something to add.  You know, I run a paper business out in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  While Fannie and Freddie are out there lighting fires, guess who, or more importantly, what–is getting burned?  That’s right: paper.  And you know what will happen if these forest fires don’t get extinguished?  No more paper. (McCain nodding somberly) Now, I’ve taken a hike before, don’t get me wrong.  There are many beautiful trails outside of Scranton.  But if we keep having these fires, what’s going to happen to these trees that overlook the trails?  Whoa, big fire, (simulates fire with hands) Smokey the Bear can’t save us, ahhh–there goes the paper!  There go the trees!  There go the trails!  Now I’m out of both a job and an enjoyable weekend hobby.

TOM BROKAW: …Right.  OK, next question.  Senator McCain, in all candor, do you think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, we can fix our economy. Americans’ workers are the best in the world. They’re the fundamental aspect of America’s economy.  They’re the most innovative. They’re the best–they’re most–have best–we’re the best exporters. We’re the best importers. They’re most effective. They are the best workers in the world.

TOM BROKAW: (confused) OK… Senator Obama?

SENATOR OBAMA: Part of the problem here is that for many of you, wages and incomes have flat-lined. For many of you, it is getting harder

MICHAEL SCOTT: That’s what she said!

SENATOR OBAMA: (looking pissed) Excuse me?

MICHAEL SCOTT: Sorry, that’s just a thing I do, I–you know, OK, so seriously–the economy.  I mean, I live a pretty good life.  I don’t own 8 cars or anything, but I do own my own condo, I run my own branch of Dunder Mifflin, AND (pointing to stomach) I am a soon-to-be father.

TOM BROKAW: Congratulations, but we really need to get on–

MICHAEL SCOTT: (continuing) Now, do I want to raise my child in a country where America is #2?  Where we’re sitting at home, looking up as Madagascar laps us in the recyclable paper business?  No, no–that is not what I want for my child.

TOM BROKAW: Thank you Mr. Scott.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (wagging finger) Tom???

TOM BROKAW: (reluctantly)…Senator Scott.  Let’s move on.  Next question, Senator Obama: There are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once.  Health care, energy, and entitlement reform–give us your list of priorities.

SENATOR OBAMA: Terrific question, Tom.  We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now–

SENATOR McCAIN: (interrupting) Hey look, we’re not–we’re not–we’re not rifle shots here.  We are Americans. And I think you can do all three at once.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (whispering) That’s what…

TOM BROKAW: That’s enough.  We’re moving on.  Our last question is from a hippie in New Hampshire.  She asks: As president, how will you know what you don’t know and what will you do when you figure out that which you don’t know?  Senator Obama, I’ll start with you.

SENATOR OBAMA: Tom, one of the things that we know about the presidency is that it’s never the challenges that you expect. Here’s what I do know: I know that if the economy continues to struggle, Mr. Scott over here is going to have a tough time keeping up with the mortgage payments on the condo he’s got.  His firm may soon be facing the real possibility of having to let some people go.

We can’t expect that if we do the same things that we’ve been doing over the last eight years, that somehow we are going to have a different outcome.  We need fundamental change. That’s what’s at stake in this election.

MICHAEL SCOTT: (looking fearful) Will there still be enough money for a Christmas party?

SENATOR McCAIN: My friends, there are challenges around the world that are new and different and there will be different–we will be talking about countries sometime in the future that we hardly know where they are on the map, some Americans. (Michael Scott nods emphatically)

When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller and the great honor of my life was to always put my country first. And–and–you know who is going to raise our taxes and take away Christmas?  That one.  (points at Senator Obama)

MICHAEL SCOTT: (running from stage) Noooooooooooooo!!

TOM BROKAW: And that concludes tonight’s debate from here in Nashville.  We want to thank Belmont University, the Commission, and the traffic light operator for tonight’s debate.  There is one more opportunity for the talking heads to give their stump speeches: next Wednesday, October 15, with host Ryan Seacrest and musical guest Akon.  Good night everyone.

(NOTE: All text in black is what was actually said, taken from the CNN transcript of Tuesday night’s debate.)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Arts and Entertainment, News, Politics