Video of the day

Thanks to Felix Baumgartner I got to try and explain sonic booms to my kids today.  One of the awesome things about being a dad in 2012 is that instead of desperately trying to explain, or to draw some lame diagram, I could just go right to youtube.  This compilation of sonic booms is pretty awesome:

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Jobs and Higher Ed

My friend and colleague Mark Nance had this nice piece in the N&O today:

A university’s most visible role is to produce high-skilled workers. And therein lies the challenge: The businesses that employ our students do not control the content of their employees’ education. So should that change?

If we compare the U.S. economy with other major capitalist economies, such as Germany or Sweden, we see stark differences in the link between education and the economy. Put simply, many European economies are characterized by higher degrees of coordination among the stakeholders than our economy is. This manifests itself in many ways, including the larger role that labor unions play in companies’ decision-making.

It also shows up in the educational system, where the focus often is on training people from an early age for a specific career. The very good public education systems ensure that salespeople, artists, mechanics, managers, engineers and secretaries are well-trained in the specific set of skills required in their specific jobs.

In the U.S., the educational system has always given at least a nod to a broader education. We require students to take courses in fields very different from their own: engineering and design students sit alongside business and French majors in my international political economy and European politics classes. While we rightly provide outstanding technical training, we also strive to produce students with a more generalized set of skills, which employers can hone through on-the-job experience.

The implications of those different educational systems – specificity versus creativity – are substantial. The well-known social safety nets of Europe exist in part because workers’ training leaves them less mobile across jobs. Workers agree to a specific training that limits mobility in exchange for greater support when the specific job for which they are qualified isn’t available. The more general education of American students, on the other hand, allows them to apply their skills in a broader number of jobs, making them more mobile.

On a broader scale, the specific expertise of European workers makes their economies good at incremental improvements to existing technology, while the U.S. tends to generate greater creativity and innovation as critical thinkers move from job to job and across fields.

Interesting stuff.

Photo of the day

Yesterday’s photo of the day from National Geographic.  Now that’s what I call an amazing juxtaposition:

Picture of a stone gate in Germany dating from the Roman Empire

Porta Nigra, Germany

Photograph by Robert Clark, National Geographic

TRIER, GERMANY 

The Porta Nigra, or “black gate,” still dominates Trier, Germany. A hundred feet tall, it was built in the second century as part of four miles of walls. Trier was a major city in the late Roman Empire, even serving as a regional capital under several emperors.

On the tightening polls

Honestly, I really didn’t expect there to be this much movement in the polls, but less than two weeks ago, I did write:

1) The polls are going to tighten up.  It’s just political gravity.  Many polls have Obama performing just as well as his 2008 results right now.  That’s really not a particularly likely outcome given how different the political context is.  I really don’t see how he gets to 53% of the vote.  I predict his final tally in the 50.5 to 52.0 range.

2) When the polls tighten the media will most definitely find some campaign-related event, gaffe, etc., to explain it.  It was the debates, Romney’s attacks on foreign policy, Obama’s statement xxxx, or whatever.  But damn it, if the polls tighten (which they probably will) it’s going to be a campaign story instead of one about the larger electoral context.

Look at that, I didn’t even anticipate the possibility of Obama totally tanking in the debate.  Honestly, I think what we’ve got is the natural tightening we should have expected, compounded by the fact that Romney really did gain some ground directly from the debate.

Drum has an excellent post pointing out that Romney actually really began a surge well before the debate:

What’s going on with the polls? I wrote something about this a few days ago,but I think it might have gotten buried, so I want to repeat it. According to both Pollster and Real Clear Politics, Mitt Romney began his big surge well before last week’s 

debate. In the ten days before the debate, Pollster shows Romney gaining 2.4 points and RCP shows Romney gaining 1.8 points

Romney has continued gaining since then, and Obama has continued falling, but this isn’t solely a reaction to Obama’s lousy debate performance. It started in late September.

So, what now?  Pure regression to the mean suggests Obama will be better in the next two debates and Romney will be worse.  The Political Scientist in me expects us to end up in a couple weeks with Obama with a very narrow national lead, rather than the very narrow national lead Romney now has.  Of course, the Political Scientist in me never expected to see such a post-debate surge for Romney.  Short version, I think my current prediction makes the most sense given what we know, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.

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