Chamber of Commerce strikes back

Well, the Chamber of Commerce faction of the Republican party has wisely gotten it’s act together and declared no more Sharron Angle’s, Richard Murdouck’s, and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin Tea Party types are going to lose them winnable US Senate seats.  Nice piece on this in 538:

Over the past few years, conservative outsiders, many of whom were members of the tea party, ran over the establishment in a number of key Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate. In 2010, tea-party-aligned candidates won in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Wisconsin and Utah. In doing so, they almost certainly cost Republicans the Senate seat in Delaware, and probably in Colorado and Nevada. Two years later, the process was repeated in Indiana and Missouri.

In choosing less presentable candidates for the general electorate, the GOP may have forfeited Senate control…

But, just as we would expect, the pattern doesn’t seem to be happening. Establishment Republicans look to be in good shape in many states where a more conservative candidate could cost the party a seat.

[bunch of different state analyses]

The races noted above could change, though in most of them, the movement has been toward the establishment or static. It’s also important to mention that being endorsed by the establishment doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate is more moderate, but the two often go hand in hand. It tends to mean that a candidate is considered to be more electable.

The point is, Republican voters don’t appear to be making the same choices they did in 2010. They seem to be following historical precedence and becoming more pragmatic. That suggests that the normal political rules are holding, which might increase the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate in November.

We’re seeing this right here in NC where the Chamber is running adds for Thom Tillis–easily the most electable on November– and the Republican Governor just gave his endorsement:

 — In a highly unusual move for a sitting governor, Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday offered a ringing endorsement of state House Speaker Thom Tillis in next week’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

The governor delivered his endorsement at a campaign event at which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Tillis…

Tillis is backed by GOP strategist Karl Rove and his group American Crossroads, as well as by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But despite their support, he has struggled until recently to break out of a crowded primary field. Seven other GOP candidates are vying for the nomination.

Two recent polls, however, show Tillis reaching the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a primary runoff. National Republicans are hoping to avoid that scenario, fearing it could weaken the eventual winner in the November contest against incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan…

NC State political science professor Steven Greene said McCrory’s move may signal “a new era that reflects the divisions in the Republican Party.”

“After some clearly bad outcomes for them in Senate races in other states,” like Indiana and Missouri, Greene said, “the Chamber of Commerce types in the GOP appear to be increasingly unwilling to leave things to chance and allow a Tea Party candidate with far worse general election prospects to be nominated.”

If I were Kay Hagan’s campaign, I’d put all my money into Greg Brannon, but the best evidence is that, with the help of the business establishment, Tillis is pulling away.


Pass more gas

Nice NPR story on how passing gas is a good sign that your microbiome is doing it’s job.  And that’s a good thing with wide-ranging health benefits:

So all this got us wondering: Could passing gas, in some instances, be a sign that our gut microbes are busy keeping us healthy?

Absolutely, says Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“Eating foods that cause gas is the only way for the microbes in the gut to get nutrients,” he says. “If we didn’t feed them carbohydrates, it would be harder for them to live in our gut.”

And we need to keep these colon-dwelling critters content, Kashyap says. When they gobble up food — and create gas — they also make molecules that boost the immune system, protect the lining of the intestine and prevent infections…  [emphasis mine]

All these microbes are gas-making fools. They eat up unused food in your large intestine, like fiber and other carbohydrates we don’t digest, and churn out a bunch of gases as waste.

But that’s not all they make. They also produce a slew of molecules (called short chain fatty acids) that may promote the growth of other beneficial bacteria and archaea.

And the more fiber you feed these friendly inhabitants, the more types of species appear, studies have found. This bump in microbial diversity has been linked to a slimmer waistline.

“Undigested carbohydrates allow the whole ecosystem to thrive and flourish,” Kashyap says.

As for me, I’m busy passing gas and eagerly awaiting the results of my very own gut microbiome.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of an island in the middle of Tumuch Lake, British Columbia

Island in the Sky

Photograph by Shane Kalyn

“There is an ethereal, otherworldly feeling to this photograph, as this little island in the middle of Tumuch Lake in northern British Columbia appears as if it’s floating in the clouds,” says Shane Kalyn, who submitted this photo to the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. “To bring us back to Earth, a fish has left a ripple in the water on the left-hand side of the shot. The scene was amazing to witness, let alone be lucky enough to photograph—totally the right place at the right time.”

The Democrats’ big electoral college advantage in 2016

Nice post by Ben Highton over at the Monkey Cage looking at the structural advantage the electoral college appears to give the Democrats in 2016.  Short version, a bunch of math/statistics (all based on very defensible assumptions) suggests that in a 50-50 election, the Democratic candidate would have a greater than 83% chance of winning the electoral college.  This also means that even coming somewhat short of 50-50, a Democrat would still have a decent chance.  Here’s some on Highton’s analysis:

To make predictions for 2016, I analyzed how the popular vote margin (the Democratic minus the Republican percentage of the vote) compared to the national vote in every state from 1992 through 2012.  I examined the states individually to detect any long-term trends.  For example, while Oklahoma was already significantly more Republican than the nation in 1992, it steadily became even more Republican over time.

The key to the predictions for 2016 is taking these long-term trends into account…

As suggested above, the key to the Democratic advantage are the trends underway in some key states.  While Oklahoma has moved significantly in the Republican direction, it was already strongly Republican.  But, consider the 10 states whose 2012 presidential margin was within five points of the national margin.  In five of them (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania) the trends are modest in size and hard to separate from random noise.  In Colorado, a more significant trend in the Democrats’ favor appears underway, but it has been uneven, which makes predictions for Colorado in 2016 more uncertain.  In the remaining four states (Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin), the trends are clearer, more substantial, and all favor the Democrats.

Or, another way to think about this is that why red states are getting more red– which of course does nothing in an electoral college context–a number of purple states are moving towards the blue part of the spectrum.

Y’all know I hate the electoral college and I still do.  But heck, if it is going to be biased I’ll take bias towards Democrats.  If a Democrat actually wins the election while a Republican takes a plurality of the vote I’d suggest the Republicans will not longer put up with it and we’d actually see an end to the electoral college.

World’s deadliest

Love this infographic in the Post:


Photo of the day

Sad and compelling gallery of the devastation from recent tornadoes in southern US:

A mattress, stuck in a tree, after a tornado passed through Vilonia, Arkansas, on April 28, 2014.(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Anti-GMO = anti-capitalism?

Interesting blog post at the New Yorker about a debate on GMO foods between Michael Pollan and Pamela Roland– a plant geneticist and advocate of GMO foods.  Here’s Roland’s take, which not suprisingly, I find pretty compelling (and I generally count myself as a Michael Pollan fan):

Ronald strongly disagrees with Pollan’s view that G.M.O. crops, broadly, are failing. She cited examples such as Bt cotton that have cut the amount of chemical insecticides applied to crops globally by millions of pounds a year. “The U.S.D.A. just reported a tenfold reduction in the use of insecticides as a result of the engineered Bt trait,” Ronald said. She also cited an example ofpapayas that were genetically engineered to resist ring-spot virus and helped to save the Hawaiian papaya industry. “It’s a shame to demonize an entire technology because of Roundup Ready,” she told Pollan and Patel when they began a debate after she had given an hourlong PowerPoint presentation.

Ronald’s own experiments in genetic engineering have seen notable success. In 2006, Ronald and her colleagues isolated the gene used by the International Rice Research Institute to produce “scuba rice,” a strain of flood-tolerant rice that can grow in submerged fields; four million subsistence farmers have since grown this rice in Bangladesh and India. Just last month, Ronald and her collaborators published the results of a successful five-year effort to develop genetically engineered bananas resistant to Xanthomonas wilt disease, which has decimated millions of acres of banana crops in East Africa. The world is filling with ever more people, Ronald reasons, and we need ever more food from the same amount of land. She argues that genetic engineering will play a critical role in protecting finite soil and water resources, staving off crop diseases, and responding to the pressures of climate change.

Short version: sure there are some costs and potentially serious ones, but the benefits can be really quite substantial and we shouldn’t forget that in the efforts to demonize Monsanto as the face of all GMO.  But what really caught my attention was this:

One ominous metaphor was by far the most prevalent among the students with whom I spoke after Ronald’s lecture: “G.M.O.s have come to represent the corporate control of our food system,” Mikel Shybut, a twenty-five-year-old Ph.D. student in plant and microbial biology, told me. Shybut stressed that he and his peers had little concern about the human-health impacts of G.M.O.s. He said that he believed in “the promise and power of genetic engineering,” but only insofar as they are “used for people, not for profit.”

Oh, come on now.  It’s called capitalism.  If you want people to innovate they are going to do it for profit.  Sure, its’ great if your invention helps reduce human suffering, but that invention is going to be way more likely if someone has a financial incentive to create it.  Sure, maybe GSK is a profit-hungry big Pharma company.  They also invented Lamictal, the anti-seizure drug that basically keeps my son alive with a high quality of life.  I doubt they would have done so without being motivated by profit.  Or medical device manufacturers.  Or my trusty 1998 Toyota Corolla still going strong.  Or a million other things that we’ve come to expect in our modern world.

Now, just how you regulate that capitalism is a matter of substantial disagreement, and you know I’m on the more regulation side.  But once you argue that new technologies should not  be “used for profit” it’s just a losing battle.

I find this concluding portion about Pollan interesting as well:

Pollan echoed this sentiment, and agreed that the technology itself may not fundamentally pose a greater health threat than other forms of plant breeding. “I haven’t read anything to convince me that there are inherent problems with the technology. I think most of the problems arise from the way we’re choosing to apply it, what we’re using it for, and how we’re framing the problems that it is being used to solve,” he said.

You know he may very well be right.  But I think that means we need to work that much harder to use GMO technology responsibly and to make sure that society is thinking about the issues in sensible ways.  But to me, that means you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and simply oppose GMO food.

Reefer madness

It was has to be about the dumbest NCAA rule (okay, probably not, there are few organizations with more dumb rules than the NCAA), Michigan basketball player has been suspended from his team for a year for testing positive for marijuana use.  Please!!  It’s not like it’s even close to being a performance-enhancing substance.  So, now McGarry is just going to leave college and head for professional basketball.  And who could blame him.  Well, that rule worked so well for student athletes.  Just so stupid.  More here.

Meanwhile, I listened to a Freakonomics podcast last week that looked at the relative harm of alcohol vs marijuana.  In no surprise at all to anybody who is paying attention, a comprehensive UK study found that alcohol causes way more harm than marijuana.  Politics being what it is, sadly, the British “drug czar” was fired for suggesting the government needs to ease up on marijuana.  Here’s the drug and harm chart:


In the end, you know what’s more harmful than illegal drugs?  People (politicians, police, the NCAA, schools, etc.,) being really stupid about illegal drugs.

Photo of the day

I love historic photos and I’m fascinated by WWI, so this In Focus gallery of WWI photos is right in my sweet spot.  So many amazing shots.  Here’s two of my favorites:

A German ammunition column, men and horses equipped with gas masks, pass through woods contaminated by gas in June of 1918.(National Archives/Official German Photograph) 


And this.  Mostly, because of all I’ve read and seen, somehow I’ve never come across “dazzle” camouflage before:

The USS Nebraska, a United States Navy battleship, with dazzle camouflage painted on the hull, in Norfolk, Virginia, on April 20, 1918. Dazzle camouflage, widely used during the war years, was designed to make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the range, heading, or speed of a ship, and make it a harder target. (NARA)

Photo of the day

Well, here’s an interesting project– photos of children with their first (real) gun.  Learn more about it here.


Quick hits

1) How big is the universe?  Very big.

2) I love birds.  I love wind power.  Turns out these two things are not in nearly as much conflict as some have led us to believe.

3) As much as the NC legislature frustrates me, it could be worse.   I could be a professor in South Carolina.

4) Not surprising that athletes need optimum sleep for optimum performance.  Surprising that professional sports organizations with millions of dollars at stake have just figured this out.

5) The science behind various foods preventing cancer is really not so great.

6) Love this George Saunders graduation speech.

7) This is from a while back, but I just came across it.  The problem with much political journalism is “the view from nowhere.”

8) OMG sea otters are truly awful!

9) Ignorance of the law is an excuse if you are an NC Police officer.  Awful.

10) They physics of shooting a basketball.

11) Dahlia Lithwick on this week’s Supreme Court affirmative action decision.

12) Krugman on the anemic conservative response to Piketty.

13) Do the best professors get the worst evaluations?  Maybe.

14) The FCC ruling on net neutrality is awful.  The idea that we can count on the FCC to credibly regulate “commercially reasonable” is absurd on it’s face.  Vox on how this is a symptom of our broken politics (once again, the big powerful moneyed interests get their way and the needs of ordinary Americans are ignored).

Old sperm

Regular readers know how much I love being a parent.  Sometimes so much that the idea of having five kids seriously crosses my mind.  One thing that always pulls me back is the knowledge of the significantly higher risk of genetic abnormalities, etc., for the children of older parents.  One special needs child is enough.   Anyway, we know plenty about the problems that come from older eggs, but recent research suggested that there’s real risks that come with being an older father.  538‘s Emily Oster really digs into the research and finds that it is a lot more complicated/uncertain than upon first appearance:

The evidence on autism and other behavioral disorders appears less reassuring. The authors of a 2011 review article in Molecular Psychiatry combined a number of studies comparing children of older and younger fathers (this is called a “meta-analysis”). They concluded that relative to children born to 20- to 29-years-old fathers, those with fathers aged 30 to 39 were 1.2 times more likely to have autism; those with fathers aged 40 to 49 were 1.8 times more likely; and those with fathers over 50 were 2.5 times more likely. The studies used in the meta-analysis were all pretty consistent. They did not all find the same size effect, but virtually all pointed to increased risk of autism with increased paternal age.

To properly statistically control for possible confounds leads to an interesting design:

We would clearly prefer to have a study that compared children born to the same man at different times in his life. This fixes a few problems. First, since the father’s genetics stay the same among children, there is no longer a concern that, say, men who are autistic themselves have children later. Second, we avoid any concern that some kinds of dads are more likely to have their kids evaluated for autism or other disorders.

An analysis like this is referred to as a “sibling fixed effects” regression, a comparison between or among siblings. It’s been used to good effect in ananalysis of breastfeeding, for example…

Because mothers often age along with fathers within a family, if we analyzed sibling pairs with the same mother and the same father, it would be impossible to separate the effects of maternal and paternal age.

This paper does claim to separate these effects. How? The data includes half-siblings — children who share a father but not a mother.1 The authors can infer the effects of the father’s age separately from the mother’s age by looking within groups of siblings who share a father but not a mother.

That means the huge positive effect seen in the chart above essentially tells us that a later-born child of a father who has multiple kids with multiple partners is more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.[emphasis mine] In the paper, this difference is attributed to paternal age.

Why push so deeply into the statistics here? Seeing what the data is really saying lets us think a little more about what else might be happening. Now that we know the effects are driven by differences across half-siblings, we can start asking what else — beyond paternal age — might be driving the difference. Most obviously, we may wonder whether being a child in a fluid family situation could itself have an impact on ADHD risk (as other studies have found).

Interesting!  I hope I excerpted in a way that made this reasonably clear, but you should probably read the whole post if you are interested.  Anyway, stable family situation or not, I’m still stopping at four.

%d bloggers like this: