Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster

The Web site LegiStorm reports that Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank of Newton has logged more trips paid for by private sponsors (84) than any other member of Congress so far this decade. But his itinerary is strikingly different from the others on the Top 10 list, such as Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio (who last year made trips to Barbados and Jamaica, the latter costing more than $6,000 and paid for by the Inter-American Economic Council).

Only two of Frank’s trips since 2000 have been out of the country—to the International Management and Development Institute, in Brussels, and to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead, most of Frank’s jet-setting involved speaking engagements in East Coast cities, often to gay rights groups (Equality Virginia shelled out all of $172 this spring for Frank’s travel expenses to Richmond), or drop-ins to Los Angeles to appear on political satirist Bill Maher’s TV series.

A well-worn seat of government

This summer Michael Bloomberg, the former resident of Medford and current mayor of New York City, ruffled some feathers by declaring his workplace “the oldest and longest-serving City Hall in the nation.” Residents of Perth Amboy, N.J., took offense, pointing out that their city’s main offices have been in the same building since 1767—or 44 years before Gotham’s City Hall was constructed. But the tiny Bay State town of Pelham has an even more impressive historical claim: Its municipal affairs have been conducted in the Old Meeting House, just a couple of miles west of what is now the Quabbin Reservoir, since 1743. Are there any hamlets in New Jersey that can boast an older seat of government?

For the record, the oldest city hall in Massachusetts is in Salem, which has been using the same Greek Revival building since 1837.

Eat your peas, know your politics

Adolescents who discuss current events with their parents are more civically engaged and more eager to vote than their peers, say three researchers in the July issue of PS: Political Science and Politics. That may seem obvious, but the more surprising result of their regression-analysis study is how little socioeconomic factors matter. “The effect size of the youth-discussion variable,” write Hugh McIntosh, Daniel Hart, and James Youniss, “is three times larger than any other parent or youth predictor” in determining whether a high schooler regularly follows the news. The study showed no significant correlation between “news monitoring” and whether one’s parents were homeowners, were steadily employed, or even whether they had voted themselves during the previous five years. “Who parents are” is less important than “what parents do with their children,” the authors conclude.

Exercise makes us thirsty

Bay Staters claim to both drink more and exercise more than the typical American, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest “risk factor” survey. Sixty-three percent of adults questioned in Massachusetts last year said they had imbibed alcohol in the previous 30 days, compared with 55 percent nationwide. We tied with New Hampshire to rank fifth in the nation by this measure, behind Wisconsin (69 percent), Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut.

But even more of us claimed to have worked our muscles over the previous month: 79 percent, a bit above the national average of 77 percent and good for 15th place overall. Minnesota was first with 86 percent; Mississippi brought up the rear at 69 percent.

Clean energy outstrips clothing

Renewable energy is “poised” to become the Bay State’s 10th largest source of employment, outstripping the clothing industry, according to an August report by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The MTC said there are currently 14,400 jobs related to the production of renewable energy (including solar or wind power) or to the more efficient use of all forms of energy, and it predicts an annual increase of 20 percent in this number over the next few years—as opposed to the 5 percent drop in jobs related to textiles and apparel from 2004 to 2005 (the last year for which data are available).

Hard work makes us less helpful

According to the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey, released this summer, Americans over 15 years old are devoting more time to work (an average 3.40 hours every day in 2006, up from 3.33 hours three years before) and sleep (an average 8.63 hours, up from 8.57 hours). So what activities are getting less attention? The steepest slide was in “caring for and helping nonhousehold members”—accounting for 0.21 hours per day, down from 0.28 in 2003.

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The survey also noted that time spent on “organizational, civic, and religious activities” was highest among men over 75 (who logged an average 0.44 hours a day) and lowest among men between 25 and 35 (only 0.15 hours); age differences were less significant among women.

Short term representation

As of early September, 17 percent of the state’s electorate had lost legislators in Washington and on Beacon Hill who were sworn into office only eight months before. The biggest vacancy came when US Rep. Marty Meehan gave up his seat in the Fifth District, where 217,000 people voted last fall, in order to become chancellor of UMass–Lowell. But the departures of state senators Jarrett Barrios, now president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts; Robert Havern, who joined the consulting firm ML Strategies; and Robert Travaglini, who left to set up his own consulting practice, affected another 135,000 people who participated in the last election (not counting the overlap with Meehan’s district).

Add state representatives Robert Coughlin, who resigned his seat to take a job in the Patrick administration (then left that job to become head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council); and James Leary, who became Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s chief of staff, and you’ve got almost one-fifth of the state without the representation they thought they were getting last fall. (Note: As CommonWealth went to press, Rep. Michael Festa of Melrose announced that he would also vacate his seat, to become Patrick’s elder affairs chief.)