Monthly Archives: February 2011

Self-control and life success

This was an interesting report on NPR a little while ago. A team of psychologists tracked a group of 1,000 people from birth through age 32. Their main finding is: 

Three factors appear to be key to a person’s success in life: intelligence, family’s socioeconomic status and self-control. Moffitt’s study found that self-control predicted adult success, even after accounting for the participants’ differences in social status and IQ. IQ and social status are hard to change. But Moffitt says there is evidence that self-control can be learned. “Identical twins are not identical on self-control,” she says. “That tells us that it is something they have learned, not something they have inherited.”

Of course, this isn’t an entirely surprising finding. It makes intuitive sense that self-discipline and self-control are correlated with overall life success (as measured by not having a criminal record, financial stability, stable family relationships, etc.), but it’s nice to have it backed up with empirical evidence.

And that provides me with yet another reason to try to resist the second helping of dessert after dinner…

They’re finally listening!

Looks like someone in the news world finally paid attention to something that a political scientist said about a relevant current event. Granted, it’s a biased cable news network. But it’s something. :-)

Review of “Centre College: Scholars, Gentlemen, and Christians”

Last night I finished reading Centre College: Scholars, Gentlemen, and Christians by sociology professor Beau Weston. For a first year Centre professor like myself, this was an excellent introduction to the history and traditions of my employing institution.

Professor Weston explains “how a college made for scholars, gentlemen, and Christians developed into a college for learning, leadership, and service.” This book traces how each of these three core missions of training: scholars/learning, gentlemen/leadership, and Christians/service has developed, changed, and competed for dominance over the nearly 200-year history of this small liberal arts college.

I especially liked learning more about several of Centre’s famous alumni:

  • John C. Breckinridge – Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1860.
  • Adlai E. Stevenson – Vice President of the United States under Grover Cleveland and great-grandfather of the Adlai Stevenson who was governor of Illinois and who ran against Eisenhower in the elections of 1952 and 1956. (I actually persuaded my wife to make a short side-trip on a 2007 drive through Illinois to go visit the cemetery where they’re both buried in Bloomington.)
  • John Marshall Harlan – served on the Supreme Court and cast the only dissenting vote on 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson (he argued against racial segregation).
  • Fred Vinson – served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1946-1953)

In addition, Centre has also produced 13 U.S. senators, 43 congressmen, 11 governors, and countless other individuals who have made a positive impact on the world in one form or another.

The book is available for $15 from the Centre Bookstore in Danville, Kentucky. I can recommend it for Centre faculty, students, and anyone with a connection to the College or Danville.

The non-serious debate over the deficit

I will admit I have a hard time disagreeing with Paul Krugman’s recent argument about the debate over the deficit:

His basic point is that the vast majority of the federal budget is devoted to entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.) and yet no one is seriously discussing ways to rein in entitlement spending. Instead, the fuss is over comparatively smaller things like foreign aid, nutrition programs, and heating and housing subsidies for low-income families, which collectively account for a mere sliver of the overall budget. He concludes:

The bottom line, then, is that while the budget is all over the news, we’re not having a real debate; it’s all sound, fury, and posturing, telling us a lot about the cynicism of politicians but signifying nothing in terms of actual deficit reduction. And we shouldn’t indulge those politicians by pretending otherwise.

Voting patterns in Danville’s city council

Last Thursday (February 10th), the Danville city commission rejected a proposal to expand the Architectural Review Board district to include a small number of historic downtown residential neighborhoods. The vote was 3-2: Mayor Hunstad and Commissioners Montgomery and Gail Louis voted to reject the expansion while Commissioners Atkins and Caudill voted in favor of the measure:,0,3711158.story

Danville’s city commission, like many small-town local governments, is a non-partisan commission, and many issues related to running a small town are of a non-partisan nature. However, it’s often the case that voting blocs tend to form, even on non-partisan city councils.

In the case of the Danville’s commission, Atkins and Caudill are perceived to be more ideologically “progressive” than Hunstad, Montgomery, and Gail Louis, who campaigned last fall on their fiscally conservative “small government” credentials. This is reflected in the 3-2 vote, where Atkins and Caudill both supported a measure that would increase the bureaucratic jurisdiction of the Architectural Review Board and modestly increase restrictions on property owners in these districts. The three deciding dissenters, however, explained that they were not opposed to the measure in principle but requested that the proponents come back with a more detailed proposal.

I’m interested to see if this 3-2 vote is indicative of future similar ideological voting patterns by our new city commission.

Classical conservatism and “Fiddler and the Roof”

My wife and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Lexington Opera House last night. It’s my wife’s favorite musical and I got her tickets for Christmas back in December.

I use the song “Tradition” to teach my GOV 110 students about classical conservatism as a political ideology (distinct from, but related to, modern political conservatism). We watch a video clip of the song in class, and toward the end of the song, Tevye explains:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. … And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition. Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. … Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do. … Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!

This is an excellent illustration of many of the core aspects of classical conservatism, one of which is the idea of the “organic evolution of society”. The concept was that radical societal changes were very risky, even if they might seem like a good idea, because change is better brought about slowly and deliberately. Classical conservatives viewed the combined wisdom of the ages as superior to the wisdom of any one single generation, and thus deference should be given to existing traditions as a preferred means of providing stability and order.

As an aside, we also ate dinner at the Nicaraguan Latin Grill on Versailles Road and it was superb. We can give it our enthusiastic recommendation if you’re in the mood for Nicaraguan or Cuban food.

American knowledge of government social programs

The Monkey Cage blog recently posted on an article by Suzanne Mettler which, in part, reports the percentage of the American public estimated to benefit from a particular government social program but say that they “have not used a government social program”. The table, in part, is reproduced here:

Home mortgage interest deduction 60.0%
Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit 59.6%
Student Loans 53.3%
Child and Dependent Tax Credit 51.7%
Earned income tax credit 47.1%
Social Security – Retirement and Survivors 44.1%
Pell Grants 43.1%
Unemployment Insurance 43.0%
Medicare 39.8%
Head Start 37.2%
Medicaid 27.8%
Welfare/Public Assistance 27.4%
Food Stamps 25.4%

In other words, 60% of the American public 1) takes advantage of the mortgage interest deduction on their taxes and 2) either isn’t aware that it’s a kind of “government social program” or does not want to admit taking advantage of such a program.

Food for thought…

Ethnic context and immigration policy preferencess

I recently co-authored a research article that has just been published in Social Science Quarterly. It examines the effect of ethnic context on immigration policy attitudes. The bottom-line finding is that living around lots of other Latino-Americans tends to lead other Latinos to adopt more immigrant-friendly policy preferences, where it leads whites to adopt more punitive, “hard-line” policy preferences. How you feel about immigration politics depends in part upon where you happen to live.

The abstract is available here:

N.B. I was invited to work on this project my second year in graduate school, and the manuscript is just barely seeing the light of day. Life moves at a snail’s pace in academia, which is why we have 5-6 years to build up a tenure portfolio!

The “Army of Princesses”

This is an NPR report where author Peggy Orenstein reads excerpts from her new book: Cinderella Ate my Daughter. My CentreTerm class did a short unit on feminism and Disney princesses. I also happen to have a two-year-old daughter who is obsessed with The Little Mermaid and Snow White and asks for an “Ariel” story every night before going to bed. Like Orenstein, I sometimes question the merit of the Disney Princess culture. Thus, I found this story fascinating.

Review of “Decision Points”, Part 2

Over the Christmas break I read Decision Points, the recently-released memoirs of President George W. Bush. I posted some impressions and reactions earlier; here are some more:

His relationships with other world leaders were a lot fun to read about. He and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were great friends, while it was evident that no love was lost between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac.

While he is willing to admit mistakes at times, he also speaks on some issues through rose-colored glasses. For example, reading this book would leave you with the impression that No Child Left Behind has been an outstanding success.

Interestingly, he spends very little time talking about the 2000 presidential election, and he has only kind words to say about Al Gore. Bush speaks at length about the 2004 presidential election, however, and has rather harsh words reserved for John Kerry and John Edwards. I am curious as to this choice, as I perceived the 2000 election to be of more historical interest and more contentious than the 2004 election.

All in all, I would recommend Decision Points to anyone. It’s a fascinating read and I feel that I have a much better understanding of the Bush administration, as well as George W. Bush as an individual.