The upside of a GOP takeover

Jon Cohn has an interesting piece on what might be some upsides of a GOP takeover of Congress.  There’s no way one could see this as a net plus for Democrats (or, at least for liberal policy goals), but that said, there’s not to say some good couldn’t come of it.   Here’s the part I find most compelling:

1. It would flush Republicans out into the open, by forcing them to compose and defend detailed legislation.

One reason that the Democrats are in trouble right now is that it’s largely a referendum on the state of the country and their ideas. A lot of people are voting Republican simply because they are unhappy with the economy. The Republicans represent change–and that’s good enough.

Obviously, some voters really do find the Republican agenda appealing. But that’s easy when the agenda consists largely of slogans like “lower deficits” and “smaller government.” The Pledge they published a few weeks ago was supposed to provide specifics, but it was laughably vague. And it’s not mystery why. The buzzwords are great until you start talking about what they mean in actual policy terms.

Think Progress, which is part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, recently produced a video that illustrates this dilemma nicely. It’s a montage of television interviewers asking Republicans promising smaller government exactly which programs they want to cut. The Republicans have nothing to say. And that’s because the actual answers would amount to a drastic reduction in government services, the kind voters would likely reject.

Republicans can get away with that now because they’re campaigning. But if they gain majority control, they’ll have to govern–or at least make an effort at it. That will mean drafting actual proposals and subjecting them to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, not to mention scrutiny from the media.

Here’s the nice ThinkProgress video:

For what it’s worth: Jonathan Bernstein disagrees.

Duke’s latest sex “scandal”

So, I just came across this story about Duke’s latest “sex scandal.”  Did not seem worth a 7 minute Today (sorry, cannot embed the video) segment (and, in fact, if this was UNC, I really doubt the issue would have made a national infotainment program).   Was the girl foolish for letting this get out onto the internet?  Sure.  But I actually think the whole thing is pretty damn funny.  Mostly, I want to know just what makes this a “scandal.”  Duke students have drunken sex?  Some females pursue sex with athletes?  Or, is anything about people having sex with Duke athletes automatically a “scandal” now?  My friend Tom Birkland said it best on facebook, this seems more like an “Today Now!” story.

Performance pay

I just finished writing a recommendation for a student for Teach for America.  It’s most definitely not based on pay, but TFA only draws in teachers for the short-term, not the long haul we need.  Regardless, it made me think of this recent post from Jon Chait that explains the logic of performance pay (which, sadly, too many people just don’t seem to get):

Opponents of performance pay have been crowing that this shows performance pay doesn’t work — teachers, they say, are already doing their best, so you can’t wring better results out of them by dangling bonuses.

Of course, the point of performance pay isn’t to wring better results out of the same teaching pool. It’s to change the composition of the teaching pool. Teachers tend to come from the lower ranks of college graduates. That’s natural, because the profession pays poorly compared with other jobs requiring college degree and does not offer financial rewards for success. The idea of merit pay is that you lure into the profession people who want to be treated like professionals — they run the risk of being fired if they’re incompetent, but they can also earn recognition and higher pay for exceptional performance. That’s a long-term process. But it also shows some signs of immediate effect:

The Vanderbilt researchers also didn’t investigate performance pay and its effect on recruitment. But many school district leaders believe that the programs attract talented teachers who want to be rewarded for their success with students. In fact, after D.C. public schools announced a new bonus system, which pays teachers for improvements in test scores, teaching applications soared 300 percent.

In the long run, performance pay is going to work if it changes the basic perception of teaching. A program here or there probably won’t change all that much. D.C.’s program probably worked so well because it was so high-profile.

While I’ve had a number of really great students go into Teach for America, the students I have who typically go into teaching our not NCSU’s finest.  It certainly would be great for everybody if more smart and ambitious young people saw teaching as a possible career path.

A blogging dare

I’ve received my first blogging dare.  I got an email from Big Steve the other day entitled “a blogging dare” and included a link.  I knew the article he meant, without even clicking on it.  It’s this William Saletan piece in Slate which examines in some interesting depth the findings from the recent survey of American sexual behavior.  Honestly, blogging about anal sex is generally a step too far even for me, however, when faced with a dare…

Actually, regardless of the subject matter, what Saletan does is a terrific illustration of good social science and how to and how not to draw inference from data.  I’m even going to refrain from any double entendre.  So, what am I talking about:

So what’s with all the buggery? Is it brutality? Coercion? A porn-inspired male fantasy at women’s expense?

Apparently not. Check out the orgasm data. Among women who had vaginal sex in their last encounter, the percentage who said they reached orgasm was 65. Among those who received oral sex, it was 81. But among those who had anal sex, it was 94. Anal sex outscored cunnilingus.

No way, you say.

Way. Read the data. Table 5, Pages 357-8.

What could explain this? Taboo thrill? Clitoral migration? Some new kind of vegetable oil?

Here’s my guess. Look carefully at Table 4, Pages 355-6. Only 6 percent of women who had anal sex in their last encounter did so in isolation. Eighty-six percent also had vaginal sex. Seventy-two percent also received oral sex. Thirty-one percent also had partnered masturbation. And the more sex acts a woman engaged in during the encounter, the more likely she was to report orgasm. These other activities are what gave the women their orgasms. The anal sex just came along for the ride.

So why did the inclusion of anal sex bump the orgasm figure up to 94 percent? It didn’t. The causality runs the other way. Women who were getting what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners’ wishes. It wasn’t the anal sex that caused the orgasms. It was the orgasms that caused the anal sex.

Actually, there’s not really much for me to add.  The naive view would be to look at the data and simply wonder how all these women were having orgasms from anal sex and Saletan shows how foolhardy that is.   Saletan cannot be entirely sure that the causal arrow actually runs in the other direction in exactly the way he suggests, but is is a dramatically more plausible case.  Another way of looking at it would be that women who engage in a variety of sexual acts at a time have a fuller, more open sex life which is likewise much more likely to go along with having an orgasm.

There you go.  Happy Big Steve?

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