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).

Obama: the best economic president ever?

I doubt it.  For one, I don’t think you can fairly judge this while a president is still in office.  Anyway, that’s the argument of a recent blog post at Forbes.  Before going further, I have to mention that a lot of re-posts have commentary along the lines of “even a business publication like Forbes thinks Obama is the best!”  That’s like saying NYT hates Obama because of what an Op-Ed writer has to say.  I don’t read a lot of Forbes, but it is quite clear that their website has many bloggers/contributors with a diversity of viewpoints.  It’s silly to act like this is extra meaningful because it is at Forbes.com.

Okay, onto substance.  It looks good for Obama:

Unemployment Reagan v Obama

“As this unemployment chart shows, President Obama’s job creation kept unemployment from peaking at as high a level as President Reagan, and promoted people into the workforce faster than President Reagan.

“President Obama has achieved a 6.1% unemployment rate in his sixth year, fully one year faster than President Reagan did.  At this point in his presidency, President Reagan was still struggling with 7.1% unemployment, and he did not reach into the mid-low 6% range for another full year.  So, despite today’s number, the Obama administration has still done considerably better at job creating and reducing unemployment than did the Reagan administration.

The basic argument seems to be an assertion that Reagan is the best economic president and that Obama does better, so…  Hmmm, real life seems a lot more complicated than that.  And the economy is a lot more complicated than the unemployment rate.  Heck, all one has to do is follow Kevin Drum (not exactly a WSJ editorial writer) on the monthly jobs reports to know that these numbers aren’t great.

Anyway, I think the biggest reason the economy under Obama has struggled and way under-performed what it should, is the utter obstructionism and recalcitrance of the Republican Congress.  They have clearly held back the economy by contracting government when it needed to grow (Krugman, of course, has gone on endlessly like this).  It’s hard to read all the liberals like Krugman, Drum, etc., arguing that the GOP has handcuffed Obama and held back the economy and at the same time believe Obama has an unparalleled economic record.  Things may not be gloom and doom, but they’re just not that great.  But I don’t think it is all that fair to blame Obama.  On the other hand, I don’t really see some idealized vision where the economy is great and it is all Obama’s doing.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s week in pictures:

The Milky Way, our home galaxy, photographed over Cathedral Valley

The Milky Way photographed over Cathedral Valley, a scenic backcountry area in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, USAPicture: Dave Lane/Caters

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

Map of the day

Declining cigarette sales (in animated gif form!) via BusinessInsider:

cigarette sales gif map

And a nice chart:

cigarette sales per capita

Interesting that the steep decline seems to be flattening out.  Floor effect?

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s week in pictures:

Lightning strikes over buildings during heavy rainfall in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, China

Lightning strikes over buildings during heavy rainfall in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, ChinaPicture: REUTERS

Photo of the day

There’s a pretty great story behind these (mostly empty interiors) photos of the World Trade Center:

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Konstantin Petrov

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