Video of the day

Apparently, among the many disservices provided by TV and movies they give us a totally unrealistic account of what drowning actually looks like.  Great article on this in Slate.  With beach/pool season here now, this is very useful information to know.  And here’s what drowning really looks like:

Quote of the day

Via Yglesias, from the governor of the cesspit of American education:

Asked at a recent event to explain how American education became “so mediocre,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said, “I think both parents started working. The mom got in the workplace.”

Ouch, the stupid!  It’s depressing how ignorant you can be and still become a governor.  Anyway, Yglesias makes a nice point out of all of this:

Working moms: Is there anything they can’t be blamed for?

This is especially egregious because there’s a perfectly plausible—and much more obvious—linkage between the rise of feminism and issues in K-12 policy. The issue is that back when my late grandmother was working as a teacher, there were basically no other career opportunities available to college-educated women. That gave public school systems privileged access to the labor of talented women. In the contemporary United States, 23 percent of teachers come from the top third of the college admission test distribution. If we went back to a system in which women largely couldn’t be doctors or lawyers or corporate executives or senators, then that share would rise. In countries with very highly rated K-12 systems, like Finland and South Korea, all teachers come from that top third. Opening up women’s labor market opportunities inadvertently had the consequence of making it harder for public school systems to recruit and retain teachers. That’s the connection.

All true, but I would have liked some pushback from Yglesias on our theoretically growing mediocrity.  Yes, we’ve slipped relative to the rest of the world, but contrary to what everybody seems to believe, there’s not actually any evidence our education is getting worse (Drum posts on this fact about once a month).

Buying votes is hard

Nice piece from Seth Masket summarizing the general ineffectiveness of campaign spending.  Not that it doesn’t work, but surely not as well as most candidates would hope:

Economist Steven Levitt tried to get around this problem two decades ago with an innovative study. He looked solely at congressional re-matches: cases in which the same two candidates ran against each other multiple times. This allows us to factor out aspects of candidate quality and just isolate the impact of spending. He found that spending had detectable, but very small, effects. Each additional $100,000 spent by a candidate correlated with roughly 0.3 additional percentage points of the vote. (That was only for challengers, by the way. He found no effect of spending by incumbents, with whom voters already had some familiarity.) That’s not a huge effect. You could raise an extra $1 million (that was a big number for a congressional race back in the 1990s) and only hope to get about three extra points for that, and the vast majority of congressional races are decided by far larger margins.

John Sides and Lynn Vavreck found similarly-sized effects in their study of advertising in the 2012 presidential race. If one candidate doubled his amount of campaign advertisements, they found, his standing in the polls could go up by about a point. This proved to be a very ephemeral effect, though, disappearing after about a day.

Now, none of this means that campaign spending doesn’t matter at all, of course. Even with very small effects, an absurdly huge expenditure of money could be critical. But there is a saturation point where you just can’t get any more ads in front of people’s eyes. And we really don’t have a sense of whether the ads put together by Super PACs are as effective as those aired by the campaigns themselves…

But the idea that voters can be bought with enough money just doesn’t hold water. And given that recent efforts to make campaign finance more fair just seem to result in more byzantine rules and less transparency, maybe we should stop trying to do that for a while.

I would reiterate, though, that these findings assume a rough symmetry.  If one candidate’s got serious money and the other doesn’t, that’s going to make a big difference.  Though, that is going to be confounded with the fact that there’s probably good reasons why one candidate has little money.

Senate polarization

So, I was talking about party polarization in class today and I failed to produce a sufficiently good visual for my students.  I go back to my office, and oddly enough, my Duke Alumni email had just what I needed.  This is pretty cool.  (Click the link for a version you can zoom).




Photo of the day

How can I resist a gallery (Slate’s Behold) who’s theme is dogs on porches:


Fancy (left), a 3-year-old female Pekingese mix, and Kai, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever/beagle mix, in Leiper’s Fork, Tenn.

Nell Dickerson

A conservative reform agenda

David Frum signs off from blogging (apparently there’s been a number of personal issues which he’s written about which I haven’t seen) with an interesting agenda for conservative reform.  Of course, what’s most interesting to me– as usual with Frum– is that he presents a “conservative” agenda which I can pretty much agree with in the outlines.  Sadly, of course, that’s why as much as I love Frum’s project, for now, it is exceedingly wishful thinking that these reasonable ideas have any place in today’s Republican Party.  To wit:

1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers. If the only policy tool you allow yourself to use is tax credits, your reform agenda will sputter into ineffectuality. Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward.

Oh, how I love that.  So man conservatives just think that no matter the problem, tax cuts are the solution.  A big reason that so few of them are truly serious on policy.  Or, take this:

3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity’s impact on the climate – and how to address that impact – is our world’s largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.

Agreed very much.  I suspect Frum and I would advocate different approaches to dealing with climate change.  But that’s good!  We need an intellectually honest discussion on this that encompasses many viewpoints– not just liberals.  But as long as conservatives are into denying science, liberals are left talking among themselves.

And Frum’s last point:

Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

Yes, yes, yes!  And I would argue that “degenerate” is a poor choice of words, because that suggests an internal decay.  Rather, Republicans are actively working to weaken and create long term harm in the ability of various agencies to carry out important duties of government.  Given that we have government by the people, for the people, this is undoubtedly a bad thing.

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