Political Animal


GOOD SOCIOLOGY….BAD SOCIOLOGY….“Violent Shows Inspire Violence, Study Says.” That’s the headline, anyway, but as Matt Yglesias points out, that’s only one possible explanation:

Under one interpretation, identifying with the characters on violent television shows causes children to grow up into aggressive adults. This seems to be the interpretation they want you to believe. But isn’t it a lot more likely that aggressive kinds just identify with violent TV characters and then grow up to be aggressive adults.

It’s maddening that studies like this don’t take this possibility into account. Actually, let me rephrase that: it would be maddening if the study didn’t take this into account. But it did. Here’s the press release from the American Psychological Association:

Might these results simply be an indication that more aggressive children like to watch violent TV shows? “It is more plausible that exposure to TV violence increases aggression than that aggression increases TV-violence viewing,” said Dr. Huesmann. “For both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression. Also, the study suggests that being aggressive in early childhood has no effect on increasing males’ exposure to media violence as adults and only a small effect for females.”

Now, I’ve still got some problems here, chief among them the small sample size of 329. Once you start breaking that down by “the child’s initial aggression levels, their intellectual capabilities, their social status as measured by their parents’ education or occupation, their parents’ aggressiveness, or the mother’s and father’s parenting style” ? not to mention age and gender ? the subgroups start to look pretty small. There are also questions of methodology (how was “initial aggression” measured?), but without the full article it’s impossible to say anything about that one way or the other.

Bottom line: Huesmann might be wrong, and even at best his results are suggestive, not conclusive. But he did take into account the possibility that this is just a matter of aggressive kids showing a preference for violent TV. Whether he gave it short shrift for reasons of his own I don’t know, but it’s definitely an option he addressed.

UPDATE: The full-text of the study is here. I’m not remotely competent to judge its conclusions or methodology ? plus it looks kind of long and boring ? but anyone else who wants to read it and report back is welcome to try! In fact, since Kieran is the only blogging sociologist I know, I think I’ll assign this as homework to him. He ought to have some free time next week for this kind of stuff. Right, Laurie?


DEMOCRATS AND NATIONAL SECURITY….Digby is worried about the 2004 election:

I hope that the Democrats face up to the reality that national security is going to be the foremost issue in the coming Presidential campaign and find a way to deal with the fact that we are considered to be complete losers on the issue. This is a HUGE problem and it’s not going to magically disappear no matter how badly they manage to fuck up the economy. They are going to keep asserting that the economy is in the ditch because of the “war” on evil and there is nothing to be done but to keep cutting taxes and invading countries that might threaten us someday. They are committed to this and they aren’t going to budge.

And we are going to lose if we don’t find a way to answer the charge that Democrats are pussies.

For reasons both fair and unfair, he’s right. I don’t know if Wesley Clark is the answer, but the problem is real. Like Digby, I hope the Democratic candidates face it squarely.

SENIOR VS. JUNIOR….There’s been a

SENIOR VS. JUNIOR….There’s been a ton of blogospheric attention given to today’s London Times article suggesting that George Bush Sr. is critical of his son’s handling of the Iraq situation. The reason is obvious when you skim through the Times story:

Bush Sr warning over unilateral action
The first President Bush has told his son that hopes of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not backed by international unity….The former President’s comments reflect unease among the Bush family….Although not addressed to his son in person, the message, in a speech at Tufts University in Massachusetts, was unmistakeable.

….He said that the key question of how many weapons of mass destruction Iraq held “could be debated”. The case against Saddam was “less clear” than in 1991, when Mr Bush Sr led an international coalition to expel invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Objectives were “a little fuzzier today”, he added.

….In an ominous warning for his son, Mr Bush Sr said that he would have been able to achieve nothing if he had jeopardised future relations by ignoring the UN….Also drawing on the lessons of 1991, he said that it was imperative to mend fences with allies immediately, rather than waiting until after a war.

This sounds damning indeed, but click the link and read the whole thing carefully. There are an awful lot of unsupported inferences in the story, aren’t there? And no direct quotes critical of Bush Jr. either. Odd, isn’t it? And note that something else is missing: the date of the speech.

The reason is that Bush Sr. gave this speech two weeks ago. I read it then, along with a similar speech he gave in Iowa, and decided not to blog it because, once you read through it, there isn’t really much news there. Compare the Times treatment to this story written in the Boston Globe the day after the speech by someone who was actually there:

At Tufts, elder Bush defends US Iraq policy
In a speech at Tufts University….former President George H.W. Bush supported his son’s present policy toward Iraq.

….Defending his own stewardship of the 1991 conflict, Bush said the coalition that aligned against Iraq then would have crumbled if the US had decided to march into Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

….The former president later drew a distinction between the importance of multilateral action in the Gulf War and today, saying that coalition-building is harder now, when the evidence that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction is ”a little fuzzier” than when Iraq invaded Kuwait. ”Another ingredient we didn’t have [during the Gulf War] was 9/11,” Bush said. ”The United States must do what it can to protect itself and its friends against the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

….The elder Bush said he refrains from giving advice to his son, not wanting to ”complicate his life.” He added that he feels hurt by criticism of his son, who the senior Bush said wants a peaceful resolution of the Iraq crisis as much as anyone. Still, Bush said the United States has more work to do. ”We need to make clear the new world order is not some code for American imperialism, but making freedom and self-determination widely accepted norms,” he said.

The Globe story makes it plainly obvious that Bush Sr.’s speech was extremely supportive of his son. The Times reporter, for some reason, twisted his words about Gulf War I into “unmistakeable” warnings about the current war that seem to be more a product of his imagination than of the speech itself.

Unless there’s some reason to think that the Times reporter based his story on inside knowledge of Bush Sr.’s intentions, it looks like it’s just a case of someone trying a little too hard to spin some news out of nothing. I don’t think there’s much to this story.


TAKING LESSONS FROM REAGAN?….Reader Bill Davisson passes on the following item from Paul Routledge’s column in the lefty British magazine New Statesman:

Belatedly but factually I hear that George Dubya phoned [Tony Blair] on the eve of his State of the Union address. “I’m gonna say: ‘Let’s nuke Saddam!'” he confided. Blair choked down the phone, until Bush roared with laugher at the joke. At least, I think it was a joke.

He’s quite a card, our president is.

(Sorry, no link. As Bill points out, New Statesman has a decidedly non-proletariat-friendly policy of charging for all online content.)