Post Debate

Obama wins.  But my first question to myself– what would we be saying if Obama had had a decent performance last week instead of such a poor one.  In contrast to last week, he knocked it out of the park.  In an absolute sense, I think it was solid, though certainly not spectacular.  For the most part, though, he did everything right this week that he failed to do last week.  Romney was not bad, in fact he had some really good moments, but I do think that he regressed to the mean somewhat from last week.  The thing is, though, we cannot grade a debate in an absolute sense– only in the existing political context.  And in this context, this was a huge win for Obama.  Tonight was all about his performance and he did about as good– maybe even better– than could have reasonably be expected.  As Ezra tweeted, “Romney won the first debate by a larger margin than I expected. Obama won the second debate by a larger margin than I expected.”  Probably about right– but that first debate was one hell of a margin that truly did shake up the campaign.

From what I saw on twitter, some Dems are really getting ahead of themselves.  Just because Romney got a four point bounce for winning a debate does not mean that Obama does.  For one, last week, Obama was not very good.  Romney was fine tonight; Obama was just better.  I think that as part of a larger tightening of the race, Romney picked up a good chunk of latent supporters in the past week.  Now, a strong Obama performance could have kept that to a 1-2 point swing instead of 4-5, but that alternate reality did not happen.  No doubt this was a very good night for Obama, but I don’t think it gives us reason to expect another fundamental shake-up of the election.  My best guess– this actually results in a swing of the polls back towards Obama for maybe a point or so, maybe a little more.  But this remains a very tight race.


My prediction.  Debate is basically a wash.  Format is not well-suited for direct attacks on your opponent and neither man is Clintonian in relating to the common man.  That said, the real key is how Obama performs, not Romney.  So long as he’s reasonably better than last week–and there’s every reason to believe he should be– that’s a “win.”  Tie goes to the runner here.  So long as Obama does a good job, there will be plenty of headlines about Obama “bouncing back” getting his mojo back, whatever.  It’s almost set up for an Obama win in the media narrative.  It’s just up to him to come through.

Quick hits

1) Obama is not killing the coal industry.  The natural gas industry is.

2) Fox News doesn’t quite get what NC looks like:

Where the hell do you even get a graphic like that?

3) Cool time-lapse video of space shuttle moving through LA (sorry, no embedding for this one).

4) Time to get over our obsession with breasts:

Given prevailing social norms, perhaps this was a nightmare for Duchess Middleton. If so, that would be an understandable reaction. But what does it say about our culture that it’s plausibly a “nightmare” for a physically attractive 30-year-old woman to be seen topless at a private home with her husband? I wouldn’t dream of criticizing any Duchess Middleton reaction to this. In a similar position I might well be very upset at the invasion of privacy. What I couldn’t help but imagine is how awesome it would’ve been had Middleton called a press conference on a nude beach, arrived topless with a thousand women, and told the assembled press, “The photographer who invaded my privacy had no right to capture those images, but I face that nightmare on a daily basis. And no one gives a damn until one of them photographs me topless? Grow up.

5) Love that at least one hospital is taking a stand for not wasting money on expensive cancer treatments that are no more effective than treatments at half the cost.

6) Love this “11 things you know about Canada.”  Though, I’m pretty sure I’ve got several regular readers who do know these things.  Did love this map of population density (in reference to Canada being the world’s 8th least dense country):

7) Heartbreaking story of raising a child with schizophrenia and how the schools and mental health system failed him.

The Romney favorability bounce

Short version: people actually like him now.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone so far as to say debates don’t matter (I think they decided the 2000 election and made 2004 much closer than it might have been), but this is probably the best evidence yet.  And this really strikes me as more the debate itself, rather than just the post-debate media echo chamber.  Via HuffPo Pollster:


We had an election panel yesterday and I said that Mitt Romney went from being an historically bad (based on favorability ratings) GOP candidate to an average one.  And an average candidate should be making this a helluva tight race according to most all the prediction models.  And that’s what we’ve got now.   I do wonder how much of an impact a better Obama debate performance would have had. To a significant degree, this seems to be about Romney performing well and looking “presidential.”  Obviously, Obama could have made that harder for him, but I think it was in large part people responding to the reasonably talented, credible politician, rather than the caricature Romney had become.


Yglesias linked to this piece on the role of the horse in transportation in 19th century America.  I found it utterly fascinating.  It was not a pretty scene.

And what goes in must come out. Experts of the day estimated that each horse produced between fifteen and thirty pounds of manure per day. For New York and Brooklyn, which had a combined horse population of between 150,000 and 175,000 in 1880 (long before the horse population reached its peak), this meant that between three and fourmillion pounds ofmanure were deposited on city streets and in city stables every day…

As a result of this glut (which became particularly severe in summer months when farmers were unable to leave their crops to collect the dung), vacant lots in cities across America became piled high with manure; in  New York these sometimes rose to forty and even sixty feet. Needless to say, these were not particularly beloved by the inhabitants of the nineteenth-century city.

And here’s the conclusion:

Yet, given the environmental problems that the automobile has brought, it is worth asking: was this a Faustian bargain?

In all probability the answer is no. Perhaps in total the negative externalities produced by the automobile are greater than the damage caused by the urban horse, but this is because the numbers of vehicles and the amount of travel have skyrocketed. Per vehicle and per mile, it seems highly likely that the environmental problems caused by the horse were far greater than those of the modern car. Horses even contribute to global warming:manure releases methane, a greenhouse gas eight timesmore potent that CO2 .

Yowza.  Happy to have my Corolla.

Photo of the day

Love that Slate is now doing regular photo features.  I like the focus on creative uses of photography.  The latest is a very cool set of photos by Jay Mark Johnson that try and capture time as sell as space:

The abstract-seeming images here are not the result of some wacky Photoshopping. Jay Mark Johnson’s photos are actually incredibly precise. The reason they look like this is because he uses a slit camera that emphasizes time over space. Whatever remains still is smeared into stripes, while the motion of crashing waves, cars and a Tai Chi master’s hands are registered moment by moment, as they pass his camera by.  Like an EKG showing successive heartbeats, the width of an object corresponds not to distance or size, but the rate of movement. Viewing the left side of the picture is not looking leftward in space but backward in time.

My favorite:


Claudio, Stella e Farfalla. Cetona, Italy.

Jay Mark Johnson.

Environment and the election

So, I’m giving a guest lecture for a class today on Climate, Sustainability and the 2012 election.  In many ways, I would say that environment is the dog that didn’t bark.  Sure, Obama talks about green jobs and Romney gives us his take on “drill, baby, drill” but it’s pretty clear that environmental concerns are way on the back burner this election.  Chris Mooney had a nice piece in MoJo a couple of weeks ago arguing that Democrats have a real advantage here and that they are dropping the ball.  It’s full of cool charts like this:

The really cool finding is from an interesting survey experiment:

Wow– that sure sounds pretty good.  Wouldn’t it be nice if voters actually punished climate deniers.  For this, I’d like to see some real-world evidence.  I went through a lot of public opinion data on climate change last night and I was pretty skeptical of most of it.  Drum’s response to this piece I think largely captures the problem:

The problem is that you don’t always get to talk about political issues the way you want to. Your opponents get to talk about them too. And they won’t be shy about labeling virtually any serious green policy as a price hike for consumers and a regulatory burden for business. What’s more, conservatives have an unusual advantage when they say this: it’s actually true. Things like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade policies really will increase the price of energy for consumers. That’s the whole point. Conversely, if you limit yourself to generally popular issues like CAFE standards and building more solar plants in the desert, voters will support it, but only because the price hike is small enough (and hidden enough) that it has only a modest impact on climate change in the first place.

What really matters, then, is what happens when potential voters are presented with messaging from both sides.

Bingo.  And in the real world, as Drum points out, you get matters such as “Climategate” that end up driving opinion on the issue.  I think this is an area where we need to be particularly skeptical of public opinion because how a policy sounds in a poll is very different from how it is debated in a polarized political environment.

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