Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

November 21, 2013

The Immortality of Presidents

By David K. Shipler

            History is supposed to have an unerring eye for ultimate accuracy. From the distance of time, historians are expected to act as the final judges, to cut ruthlessly through to the truth. It is fitting to reflect on this now, during a week of renewed mourning for President John F. Kennedy, who was felled in Dallas by an assassin half a century ago.
He and Jackie were dazzling. They tapped Americans’ vestigial yearning for royalty, the excitement of stylish celebrity, and the deep need for optimistic commitment to high purpose. Yet as popular as Kennedy was—his Gallup approval rating averaged 70.1 percent—he was never so widely admired as he became after his death. Indeed, Gallup’s graph of his rating shows a gradual, yearlong downward slope to 58 percent the week before he was killed—still higher than President Obama has enjoyed since the first six months of taking office, but a significant decline nonetheless. It followed a sharp bump up 13 months earlier after JFK faced down the Soviet Union in the Cuban missile crisis. (Presidents’ percentages typically rise after a national security crisis, as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s did after Pearl Harbor and George W. Bush’s following 9/11.)
One is tempted to wonder what course the line on that graph would have taken had JFK lived and had been able to win a second term.

November 1, 2013

Food Stamps: The Chain Reaction

By David K. Shipler

            Let’s give the Republicans in Congress the benefit of the doubt. (Yes, I hear the groans, boos, and catcalls.) But let’s be charitable for a moment and assume that they had no idea, when they allowed severe cuts in food stamps to take effect today, that they were damaging the brain development, lifelong cognitive capacity, and therefore the future earning power of untold numbers of American children. If they had known, surely the legislators would not have done what they did.
            That may sound like an overstatement until you look at the science or, more broadly, the interaction between economics and biology.
            The chain reaction between early malnutrition and various intellectual and behavioral deficits has been well established by neuroscience. Extensive documentation, in readable form, can be found in a thick digest of studies published in 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences, with the provocative title From Neurons to Neighborhoods. The research has been updated since in scholarly papers and conferences.
            Inadequate iron and other nutrients during the critical periods of brain development—especially the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and the first two years after birth—damages the complex, overlapping processes of growth.