The Daily Show calls itself “a fake news show,” but it often does what the “real” news shows won’t. It documents how what people on news shows try to pass off as “spontaneous and unrehearsed” (as the opening of Meet the Press used to put it) is really planned and scripted at Talking Points Central. The Daily Show will give a quick montage of clips in which different people on different shows all use the same unusual word or phrase.

Last night it was “dithering.” A series of right-wingers, culminating in Dick Cheney, all accuse President Obama of “dithering” on Afghanistan.

Slide to 3:37:

It was just like the old days, when The Daily Show would string together clips from Bush Administration figures and right-wing commentators all using the same key words. But then, the statements all came on the same day, so the central direction was obvious. (I mean, it was obvious to Daily Show viewers, not to viewers of “real” news programs.)

The popularity of dithering may be more a case of contagion than planning. Note the dates of the O’Reilly and Cheney clips, more than two weeks apart.

Dithering is not a frequently used word. Lexis-Nexis shows only 27 instances in TV news transcripts for the first nine months of the year. The first use in connection with Afghanistan comes on September 24 – on Australian ABC, but the speaker was from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. So it’s likely that dithering represented one idea of how to attack Obama. That idea took hold.

Over the course of the next month, dithering begins to reverberate. Republican senators use it in hearings in early October, TV news people bounce it back, and right-wing commentators start yodeling it loudly.

They are changing the rationale for why we are in Afghanistan. What’s really going on here is a dither, a big dither, indecisiveness. (William Bennett on CNN, Oct. 18)

And finally the Cheney quote on Oct. 21 that is echoed in every news story about that speech.

The White House must stop dithering while America’s forces are in danger.

Quite possibly, Cheney’s speech was written by someone at the American Enterprise Institute or someone else in that neo-con circle. Still, I don’t see the dithering as a matter of “talking points” distributed by the RNC. Instead, it’s an example of what I mentioned in another post – a word (dithering, issues) that spreads because it just sounds “right,” at least to certain people.

I expect that the dithering life cycle will be mayfly brief. Issues to mean problems was slower to catch on, and it may hang around for a good while.

Something I read in another blog sent me digging into the statistics on homicide between husbands and wives or other “intimates.” I remembered from my days in the crim biz that the US was unique in that wives here killed their husbands almost as frequently as husbands killed wives. This statistic, the “spousal rate of killing” (SROK), was introduced in a now-classic 1992 article by Margo Wilson and Martin Daly. In most countries, that rate is 25-30%. In the US, Wilson and Daly pointed out, it was about 75%.

But something has happened, over the last thirty years or so (data here). And as far as I can tell from a quick search on the Internet, nobody seems to have noticed.

(Click on the graph for a larger view.)

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of women killed by their male partners decreased by about 25%, less than the decrease in all homicides nationwide. But the number of men killed by women dropped dramatically, from 1300 to 330, a 75% decrease (since the population increased in those three decades, the change in rates is probably even greater. The SROK fell from 82% to 28%.

My Internet search for explanations was cursory at best, but it turned up nothing. I have only two ideas:

1. Men Behaving Better. Men have stopped doing those things that made women want to kill them.

I offered this explanation to two women in the Justice Studies department here. They rejected it out of hand and without comment. (Maybe they didn’t like the blaming-the-victim assumption: if women kill men, it’s because of what men do. Or maybe they were using a convenience sample of anecdotal data on men’s behavior.). One of these women, Lisa Anne Zilney, offered a counter-explanation . . .

2. Women Having Options. Women’s shelters and other facilities have given women an alternative. Without these, the only way to escape an intolerable situation at home was to get rid of the cause. Providing abused and desperate women a safe place to go saves lives – and apparently not just the lives of women.

I’m not wild about either of these explanations for the steep decline in the SROK (and as I recall, Wilson and Daly weren’t wild about any of their explanations of why it was so high).

Any ideas?


Thanks Jay!  Read his other guest post: When grown men loved teddy bears.

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In my post a few weeks back about stuff kids bring to college, I had a photo of a teddy bear lying atop a pile of belongings that included pink bed linens. Obviously, it belonged to a girl. (There was a purse in the picture, but even without it. . . .)

A couple of days later, Lisa at Sociological Images had a post reminding us that pink was once the color for boys. She linked to an article by Ben Goldacre in the Guardian.

The Sunday Sentinel in 1914 told American mothers: “If you like the colour note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.”

Goldacre uses this bit of history to debunk the claim recently made by evolutionary psychologists that girls’ preference for pink was an outcome of evolution.

But what about the teddy bear? Isn’t there something feminine, a maternal instinct perhaps, that leads girls to keep these soft, childhood objects? It is only girls, right?

Wait, now I remember seeing NYC sanitation trucks with a teddy bear mounted on the grill like a bowsprit mermaid. And Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited who takes his bear Aloysius with him to Oxford.

Now there’s a DVD* about a Teddy bear snapshot exhibition by Canadian Ydessa Hendeles – thousands of photos from the early twentieth century of people posing with their bears. And it’s not just girls.

*The DVD is of a documentary film by Agnès Varda, who interviews the visitors to the exhibit.

Hat tip to Magda

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.