Mega quick hits (part II)

1) The case for delayed adulthood.  Given what we now know about brain maturation, there’s something to be said for this.

2) Joe Nocera on the absurdity of how cavalier credit card companies and retailers are with our data.  And a great example of why we often need government to get involved:

For years, the banks and the retail industry have spent more time accusing each other of causing the problem than seeking a solution. By October 2015, the United States is supposed to move to a more secure card system, using a chip and P.I.N. instead of a magnetic stripe, as Europe did years ago. But even that won’t put an end to data breaches. It will make it harder and more expensive for criminals to crack, but not impossible.

Which is why the federal government needs to get involved. With the banks and retailers at loggerheads, only the government has the ability to force a solution — or at least make it painful enough for companies with lax security to improve.

3) People without kids fare better on all sorts of measures, except one.

4) Arizona voters passed a referendum to take the politics out of redistricting.  Sadly, the Arizona Republican Party is suing to put politics back in.

5) Fun facts about the original Star Trek.

6) Nice essay from a science-oriented mom of a child with autism on the vaccine-autism non-link.

7) Didn’t know anything about Arkansas Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton before reading this profile.  Found it utterly fascinating.  And scary.

8) Cool experiment showing your brain actually making decisions while you sleep.

9) There’s not really any good reason at all for conservatives to oppose federal loans for students at community colleges.  Of course, they oppose this anyway.

10) We need to publish more replication research and studies with null results.

11) Thanks to Derek for sharing this thought-provoking piece on visiting a cattle feedlot written by a vegan nutritionist:

And, I have to say it.  If my experience at Magnum is representative of other cattle farms, all those accounts of the dismal, depressing, disastrous cattle conditions seem to be exaggerated.

No, I’m not going to start eating meat again.

However, if I did eat meat, my visit to Magnum would have made me feel great about eating non-organic, non-grass-fed beef.   Seriously.  I can’t imagine the quality of meat would be substantially better with organic and grass-fed.  Nor can I imagine the living conditions would be substantially better for the cattle.

12) Perhaps the best piece I’ve read on the current Ebola crisis.   And Vox points out that pretty much no disease ever has gone from body-fluid transmission to airborne so there’s really no reason to think Ebola will.

13) Enjoyed this Wonkblog piece on how restaurants are cutting back the size of their menus, but it didn’t quite have me convinced on the reasons why.  Drum, convinved me, though:

Hmmm. Let me say, based on precisely no evidence, that I find this unlikely. Have American tastes really gotten more refined since 2008? Color me skeptical. And even if American palates are more discriminating, are we seriously suggesting that this has affected the menu length at IHOP, Tony Roma’s, and Olive Garden—the three examples cited in the article? I hope this isn’t just my inner elitist showing, but I don’t normally associate those fine establishments with a “growing appetite for exotic foods and a willingness to seek out specialized cuisines.”

So, anyway, put me down firmly in the cost-cutting camp. Long menus got too expensive to support, and when the Great Recession hit, casual dining chains needed to cut costs. They did this by lopping off dishes that were either expensive to prep or not very popular or both. Occam’s Razor, my friends, Occam’s Razor.

Yeah, Occam’s Razor!  Which, I actually explaned to my 8-year old yesterday.

14) There’s been a bit of a “nerdwar” of late with election prediction.  Wonderful rejoinder to the whole thing from Hans Noel:

So we can’t learn very much about the models from Election Day. We learn a little, but only as much as we learn from any one election, which is not much. But I guarantee you someone will claim otherwise. Which is why I’m not interested in predicting the future. It leads people to say the least interesting things.

15) A number of high profile reports this week on the fact that Chimpanzees regularly murder their own species.  This is not news!  I remember learning about this in college 20+ years ago.  Yes, there has been some scientific debate about the issue, but based on the headlines I’ve seen this week you would think scientists had somehow just discovered this behavior.

16) The latest college arms race?  Who can build a better water park for their students.  Seriously.  The winner?  Texas Tech.  This place makes me wish I was still there!

17) So, this is really cool.  One of my good friends from middle and high school was permanently disabled (paraplegic) in a car accident when we were 16.  His wife is a writer and just had her essay about their life together in the NYT (the main point is that she’s the more disabled one–oh, and she really likes writing about sex).

Mega Quick hits (part I)

Lots and lots this week.  Two big parts coming at you.

1) Really liked this from Kristof on the way to beat poverty.  Low-hanging policy fruit that it’s just crazy we’re not investing in:

The visits [to poor families from home nurses] have been studied extensively through randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of evidence — and are stunningly effective. Children randomly assigned to nurse visits suffer 79 percent fewer cases of state-verified abuse or neglect than similar children randomly assigned to other programs. Even though the program ends at age 2, the children at age 15 have fewer than half as many arrests on average. At the 15-year follow-up, the mothers themselves have one-third fewer subsequent births and have spent 30 fewer months on welfare than the controls. A RAND Corporation study found that each dollar invested in nurse visits to low-income unmarried mothers produced $5.70 in benefits.

This also featured prominently in the terrific How Children Succeed.  Which you really, really should read.  Yes, you.

2) Fall color map of North Carolina foliage.

3) Stop taking vertical photos, says this post.  Actually, now that I pay attention to composition I always think about whether to compose horizontally or vertically and many a photo should be vertical.  That said, people really need to stop with the vertical videos.  So obvious with all the bucket challenge videos.

4) It’s not easy accusing someone of sexual assault in Florida.

5) We should be like Germany.  At least when it comes to renewable energy.

6) Nice set of tips to help kids learn.  

7) The power of random noise in biology and why identical twins are not identical.

8) How a species of porpoise is going extinct before our eyes.

9) Once many addicts kick their drug of choice, they end up addicted to sugar.  Mmmm, donuts.

10) I really liked this Kevin Drum post on how images rule our world.  If you have any doubt, just think of how the news would be different the past couple weeks without A) the Isis beheading videos; and B) the Ray Rice video.

11) The political tables have turned and now Democrats are the ones using “cultural issues” i.e., gay marriage and birth control, as a political weapon.

12) Stupid people are quite convinced of their own intelligence.  Than again, so am I.  Uh oh.

13) If you’ve heard of the Food Babe, you know she’s an ascientific idiot.

14) Medieval style longsword fighting is making a comeback. So much cooler than fencing. I love how the subjects of this video have bruises on their faces.

15) About that politics of smell piece, here’s a really nice takedown from Andrew Gelman.  Also love this short critique from Seth Masket from when he shared my earlier post on FB:

Would it be nuts to say that spouses tend to come from similar communities, racial groups, socio-economic levels, etc., and that those groups tend to have not only ideological similarities but also dietary similarities, and that diet can influence body odor?

16) Sit less; live longer.  (It’s the telomeres, JD!)

17) Thomas Frank (of Wht’s the Matter with Kansas fame) wrote a horrible column attacking political scientists.  Great takedown from Chait.  And an even better one from Ezra.

18) David Brooks says friendships are good.  Uhhh, yeah.  Seriously, though, the decline of adult friendships is a problem.  I wish I had more good ones.

Gender gap in the NC Senate race

A couple weeks ago I talked to a reporter about the gender gap in the NC Senate race.  Before the interview I mentioned the upcoming interview to my Campaigns & Elections class and my students confirmed that the gender gap in the Hagan vs. Tillis race was uncommonly large– even compared to several other races with a Democratic woman running against a Republican man.   Today, I had a similar such request and while jogging (always do my best thinking then) I came up with what I think is a reasonable hypothesis for what’s going on here.  But first, behold the NC gender gap and be amazed (via the latest Elon poll):

Differences also arise by sex and race. Women offer higher levels of support (52%-33%) favoring Hagan, notably among the single and divorced, while men support Tillis (50%-38%) with the greatest level of support among those who are married.

So, these group differences do fit with what we typically find, but they are atypically large.  Anyway, the one big feature of this Senate race is how focused it is on education.  That’s just not an issue in most Senate races.  And it’s an issue where there is a clear gender gap.  Though I’ve not found any good data in a brief search, I strongly suspect that not only are women more liberal on education spending than are men (this we do know), but that women place more importance on the issue.  It is certainly possible that the unusual and intense focus on education in the NC Senate campaign could be a substantial driver of the unusually large gender gap.

This actually got me to thinking that it was perhaps a significant strategic error for the Republicans to nominate Tillis– the face of the General Assembly.  Had a member of the US House run (a very common stepping-stone for Senate candidates), it would have been much harder for Hagan to focus her campaign running against the unpopular policies of the NC GA.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Patrick McHenry would have probably been a much stronger candidate than Tillis (or anybody from the GA).  Anyway, I do think it has worked out to Hagan’s benefit.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Trying to fight against illegal logging in the Amazon can be a deadly vocation.

2) Another great example of bureaucrats run amok: a 12-year old piano prodigy who misses school for international piano competitions is treated as an every day truant.  Frustrating that people so short-sighted and stupid are in a position to be making these decisions.

3) Probably not a good idea to pose with a statue of Jesus fellating you.  That said, the idea that somebody should go to prison for this is beyond absurd.

4) How failing tests helps you learn.

5) Really nice Vox piece on Obama and the (expanding) nature of presidential power.

6) During all the US Open coverage I kept hearing about the “Big Four” of men’s tennis and couldn’t’ help but think Andy Murray isn’t really in the same league as the top 3.  Turns out I’m right, but then again nobody else is close to Murrary.

7) Making the best use of NC’s current early voting laws.

8) Nearly a quarter of Americans have less education than their parents.  The OECD average in only 16%.  That’s not good.

9) It’s tough times for cereal manufacturers.  Personally, I never ate breakfast till after college and then I started having cereal every morning.  I was all about Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes, etc., and then after a few years I switched over to only whole grain cereals.  For many years I was all about Frosted Mini-wheats.  I still like to snack on them, but like to start my day with more protein so Kashi Go Lean mixed with the much more flavorful Go Lean Crunch starts off most days.

10) Fred Kaplan says that Obama has about the best plan you could expect for Isis.  But there’s still a good chance it will fail.

11) America’s higher education stagnation.

12) Latest polls looking good for Kay Hagan in NC and this is good news for Democrats and the Senate.

13) Dahlia Lithwick on how Voter ID laws may actually worsen voter fraud.



Quick hits (part I)

1) An interesting critique of the recent low-carb vs. low-fat study.

2) A Wake County, NC evangelical Christian teacher compares working in her godless, secular, high school to being in a concentration camp.  My favorite part… it’s been known to turn sweet, Christian girls into lesbians!

3) Was not expecting to find great commentary on the leaked celebrity nude photos in Playboy (I’m there just for the cultural commentary!)

4) Research shows the benefits of exercise especially for kids with ADHD.  I’ve got to get my son to read this and actually move around during his free time at school instead of playing on the computer.

5) Nice profile of competitive races (including my friend and former student, Sarah Crawford) in Wake County, NC.

6) Assessing teachers with student surveys.  With the right survey questions I think this can be a useful tool.  Ideally, this will be used not primarily for assessment, but as useful data to help teachers improve.  Elizabeth Green argues that we need to focus far more effort on ways to help teachers improve their skills and it sounds like their is some real potential if intelligently using the student survey data.

7) Robert Reich says college is a “ludicrous” waste of money.  He’s wrong.  But he is right that we need to invest way more in community colleges.

8) More on the NC prosecutor responsible for the conviction of the two NC men recently exonerated from a 30+ year old murder convictions.  He still insists he was right and that the men are guilty.  Scary to think of the power this man has had over people’s lives.

9) Really enjoyed this essay from a mom who has identical twins with TSC (the disease my son, Alex, has).   On a scientific level, I found it quite interesting how differently this genetic disease manifested in her two identical twins.

10) Love this libertarian deconstruction of how the Chancellor of UC-Berkely doesn’t really get free speech at all.

11) Auto-pilot is dangerous because it lulls humans into complacency.

12) Really bothered by this story of a Pennsylvania mom who has been sent to prison for providing her daughter an abortion pill.  No way that should be the proper punishment under the circumstances described.

13) I didn’t actually make it all the way through this AO Scott essay on the death of adulthood in American culture, but I really did enjoy the parts I read (I enjoy most anything that discusses Don Draper, Tony Soprano, and Walter White under a single theme).

Can Bill Maher bring Clay Aiken to victory?

Very unlikely.  I really enjoy Bill Maher, but I had not heard of his “flip a district”  campaign (nice story in the Post about Maher’s political efforts, including this flip a district initiative) to choose a single GOP House district to flip to blue until earlier this week when I received an email about writing a piece in a series about the potentially-targeted districts.  I talked to the series editor at Huffington Post and was assured that there would not have to be any agenda to my analysis and it would be quite alright to tell Maher and his viewers to find a better district to flip.  I did.  This is also at HuffPo, but I’m going to put the whole thing here, too.


The race in North Carolina’s second district pitting incumbent second-term Republican, Renee Ellmers against former American Idol star and political neophyte, Clay Aiken, has made it into Bill Maher’s “flip a district” final four. The hope is that by bringing in large amounts of media attention and a cash infusion, the chosen district can be flipped from red to blue. While this may be a viable plan against certain Republican incumbents, the view from here says that the efforts (and money) of Maher and his fans would be better spent elsewhere. While Ellmers is not overwhelmingly popular and has made her share of mis-steps (i.e., Congress may need to dumb things down to speak “on a woman’s level;” “I need my paycheck“), there is little reason at this point to believe Aiken will be able to claim this seat.

Back when Aiken declared his candidacy in February, I wrote,

“Aiken will make a strong challenger, but absent significant mistakes by Ellmers, I have a tough time seeing him win this district. I can’t help but wonder if he sees this as an opportunity to prove himself a capable politician before going for something more winnable (my colleague Mike Cobb suggests this seat is very winnable in a presidential year) in 2016.”

 Well, we haven’t seen any substantial mistakes or problems for Ellmers. The other feature which could have potentially put Aiken over the top would be a Democratic wave. I did not even mention that in February as there was no reason to see that coming and at this point we can say with near certainty there will be no such wave.

In 2010, riding the Republican Tea Party wave, Ellmers eked out a surprise and super-narrow victory over Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge (who likely did himself in with his infamous “who are you?!” response to an ambush video). This was great timing for Ellmers. Normally, she would have been a top Democratic target in the next election for what had been a true swing district. Instead, the North Carolina legislature re-drew her district in 2011 to make it reliably Republican. In 2012, not surprisingly, Ellmers cruised to an easy victory.

Clay Aiken’s decision to enter the race early this year threw an interesting curve into matters. Generally speaking, a major reason that safe incumbents (of which Ellmers is generally considered) stay safe is because they do not attract strong challengers. Though Aiken has no previous political experience, his extensive name recognition, the fundraising ability that goes along with that, and natural telegenic appeal make him an unusually strong challenger for a basically scandal-free incumbent in a safe district. That said, his campaign has largely dropped off the radar from local media and his fundraising has been adequate, but not particularly impressive.

In recent years, the Democratic party has become more dependent upon young voters and non-white voters while the Republican party has become more dependent upon older voters and white voters. While this works out well for Democrats in presidential election years, in mid-term years young and minority voters disproportionately drop out from the electorate. Democrats across the country are fighting mightily against this dynamic, but it is pretty well-established and their best hope is to keep the drop-off from being as bad as it was in 2010.

For Clay Aiken, or most any Democratic challenger, to win in a Republican district, a not-too-bad Democratic year is simply not good enough. Aiken needs a really good Democratic year to overcome Ellmer’s advantages in a distinctly Republican district that has voted 10 points more Republican in presidential elections than the average district. However the November midterms end up being characterized, “a really good Democratic year” does not seem at all in the cards.

Publicly-released polling in this race has been virtually non-existent, but the Rothenberg and Cook political reports both seem to have enough information to consider the seat safely in Ellmers’ hands. The large infusion of media attention and, presumably, cash, that would come with being the final target chosen by Bill Maher’s Flip a District campaign could very likely make a difference in certain, reasonably close, Congressional races. Given the current state of the race in NC-2, however, it seems that this presumed windfall of cash and media would be substantially more likely to actually affect the result in a more competitive district. I’m not going to write off Clay Aiken’s political career by any means, but he will likely have a much better chance of flipping this district in 2016 when the demographic composition of the electorate is likely to be much more favorable to Democrats.

This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post

The real-world impact of NC’s voter ID law

Democracy Now in NC did a study to see how many votes went uncounted under the new rules adopted this year that would have counted in previous elections.  From WRAL:

With the voter registration deadline for the November elections one month away, a voting watchdog group said Wednesday that it’s already found hundreds of cases in which last year’s changes to state election laws have prevented otherwise qualified voters from casting ballots.

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said an analysis of rejected provisional ballots in the May primary found 454 that would have been counted under the same circumstances in 2012…

Others were voters who cast provisional ballots in precincts other than their own. In 2012, those were counted as partial ballots if the voter was in his or her home county. Now, out-of-precinct ballots are not allowed in most cases…

Lawmakers who backed the election law changes say they’re needed to make voting more efficient and prevent voter fraud.

But the groups suing to stop the Republican-penned changes argue they’re intended to make it harder for low-income, minority, student and elderly voters – groups that traditionally vote Democratic – to cast ballots.

Hall said his analysis of the rejected provisional ballots bears that out. While black voters make up just 22 percent of the state’s electorate, they accounted for 39 percent of the rejected ballots. Fifty-seven percent of the ballots were cast by registered Democrats, who make up only 42 percent of North Carolina voters.

“It proves, really, what has been said about the discriminatory nature of the new law,” Hall said, noting that the people affected include a veteran, students and even a precinct judge.

If you think the intent of the law was to make voting more efficient and prevent fraud, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.  Sure, this is a relatively small number of disenfranchised voter, but this analysis was based on a very low turnout election.  So, when people talk about preventing those unicorn-like cases of in-person voter fraud, here’s the cost– real voters, not unicorns, are being disenfranchised.

And dare I say any party/ideology which thinks a key to its success is shrinking the electorate is neither a confident nor healthy party.


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