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What A Difference 2 Percentage Points Makes

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Here’s the Electoral College map we’re going to end up with, assuming that every uncalled state goes to the candidate leading in the vote count there as of 4 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. There’s a sea of red for President-elect Donald Trump. He earned 306 electoral votes and became the first Republican since 1988 to win Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-4-10-26-pm

Just think about all the implications of this:

  • The Democrats’ supposed “blue wall” — always a dubious proposition — has crumbled. Indeed, with Hillary Clinton’s defeat, Democrats may have to rebuild their party from the ground up.
  • But the Republican Party is also forever changed. The GOP has learned that there’s a bigger market for populism, and a far smaller one for movement conservatism, than many of us imagined. The Party of Reagan has been supplanted by the Party of Trump.
  • The divide between cultural “elites” in urban coastal cities and the rest of the country is greater than ever. Clinton improved on President Obama’s performance in portions of the country, such as California, Atlanta and the island of Manhattan. But whereas Obama won Iowa by 10 percentage points in 2008, Clinton lost it by 10 points.
  • America hasn’t put its demons — including racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny — behind it. White people still make up the vast majority of the electorate, particularly when considering their share of the Electoral College, and their votes usually determine the winner.

One fact that doesn’t fit very well into this narrative is that Clinton leads in the popular vote count. She should eventually win the popular vote by 1 to 2 percentage points, and perhaps somewhere on the order of 1.5 million to 2 million votes, once remaining mail-in ballots from California and Washington are counted, along with provisional ballots in other states.

But ignore that for now — elections, after all, are contested in the Electoral College. (Hence the name of this website.) So here’s another question. What would have happened if just 1 out of every 100 voters shifted from Trump to Clinton? That would have produced a net shift of 2 percentage points in Clinton’s direction. And instead of the map you see above, we’d have wound up with this result in the Electoral College instead:

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-4-10-35-pm

Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida flip back to Clinton, giving her a total of 307 electoral votes. And she’d have won the popular vote by 3 to 4 percentage points, right where the final national polls had the race and in line with Obama’s margin of victory in 2012. If this had happened, the interpretation of the outcome would have been very different — something like this, I’d imagine:

  • Republicans simply can’t appeal to enough voters to have a credible chance at the Electoral College. While states like Ohio and Iowa might be slipping away from Democrats, they’ll be more than made up for by the shift of Arizona, North Carolina and Florida into the blue column as demographic changes take hold. Democrats are the coalition of the ascendant.
  • The United States was more than ready for the first woman president. And they elected her immediately after the first African-American president. With further victories for liberals over the past several years on issues ranging from gay rights to the minimum wage, the arc of progress is unmistakable.
  • American political institutions are fairly robust. When a candidate like Trump undermines political norms and violates standards of decency, he’s punished by the voters.

In light of Trump’s narrow victory, these arguments sound extremely unconvincing. But they’re exactly what we would have been hearing if just 1 out of 100 voters had switched from Trump to Clinton. So consider that there might be at least partial truth in some of these points.

Likewise, if Clinton had just that small, additional fraction of the vote, people would be smugly dismissing the arguments in the first set of bullet points — even though they, too, would have been just 2 percentage points away from seeming incredibly prescient.

Interpretation of the polling would also have been very different. If Clinton had done just 2 points better, pollsters would have called the popular-vote margin almost on the nose and correctly identified the winner in all states but North Carolina.

We’ll have more to say about the polling in the coming days. But to a first approximation, people are probably giving the polls a little bit too much blame. National polls will eventually miss the popular vote by about 2 percentage points, which is right in line with the historical average (and, actually, a bit better than national polls did in 2012). State polls had considerably more problems, underestimating Clinton’s complete collapse of support among white voters without college degrees but also underestimating her support in states that have large Hispanic populations, such as New Mexico.

Given how challenging it is to conduct polls nowadays, however, people shouldn’t have been expecting pinpoint accuracy. The question is how robust Clinton’s lead was to even a small polling error. Our finding, consistently, was that it was not very robust because of the challenges Clinton faced in the Electoral College, especially in the Midwest, and therefore our model gave a much better chance to Trump than other forecasts did.

But that’s not very important. What’s important is that Trump was elected president. Just remember that the same country that elected Donald J. Trump is the one that elected Barack Hussein Obama four years ago. In a winner-take-all system, 2 percentage points can make all the difference in the world.











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ncsmith
2016 days ago
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dmeixner
2016 days ago
I still can't believe it
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The June Effect (Watch out!)

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In America, June is the worst month for relationships, at least for adults in the 25-50 range. June is also the worst month for stress and mental health in general.

I’m basing that opinion on observation, not science. But ask yourself how things are going with the adults around you this month. Are they unusually stressed-out and angry with loved ones? I’ll bet many are. I’ll explain why.

Adults in America tend to operate at 100% capacity, filling every minute with either work or family stuff. We’re good at being busy, and we can survive that high level of stimulation and challenge.

Until June.

In America, June is when all hell breaks loose. Kids are off from school. Graduations happen. Marriages happen. Vacations are planned. People exercise frantically to get tanned and into swimsuits. For a variety of reasons, June is a big month for change. And that change is on top of the 100% capacity at which most of us are already operating. Result: Stress. Big-time stress. 

In June, if you and I agree to go to lunch on a certain day, there is a high likelihood you will contact me later to change the date because you forgot about some other thing you had to do that day. You might remember a nephew has a graduation, or it is someone’s birthday, or there is a wedding, or you forgot your kids are out of school, and so on to infinity. When you book something in June, expect an email follow-up asking you to rebook it.

In the past week, about half of my meetings and appointments got rescheduled because of June chaos. Some got rescheduled up to five times. If you haven’t noticed the June effect in the past, it can make you think you are experiencing a weird unlucky spell that is polluting all of your relationships. But it isn’t bad luck. It is the June effect.

I tell you this so you can reframe your June experience. This is a self-persuasion trick. Compare:

1. You are stressed out because you believe life is sending you an overdose of angry loved ones, scheduling conflicts, problems, and stress for no good reason.

or…

2. You realize that the June Effect is both inevitable and temporary. Take a breath, do your best, and wait for the July calm.

If you’re fighting with a spouse or loved one this month, remind yourself of the June Effect. It will help keep things in perspective. You can get through this month. 

Oh, and watch out for December. Same problem.

If you like April more than June, you might like my book.

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ncsmith
2167 days ago
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dmeixner
2165 days ago
I'm the worst
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How Refugees Make It In America

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One of the first things college English majors learn is how to riff (semi-coherently) on the concept of “The Other.” It’s a tidily obfuscating phrase describing someone who doesn’t quite fit into the accepted social schema of things, and if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to the last week of news, you already know something about the fear and anxiety “The Other” can strike in the hearts of men. Particularly, it seems, men running for elected office.

The topic of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Obama promised to resettle in the U.S. has moved front and center in the presidential campaign, in particular the Republican primary. “The Statue of Liberty says bring us your tired and your weary; it didn’t say bring us your terrorists and let them come in here and bomb neighborhoods, cafes and concert halls,” Mike Huckabee said. Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to a rabid dog “running around your neighborhood.” More than half the nation’s governors — almost all Republicans — have announced that they won’t accept additional refugees, and Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have proffered that Christians from the war-torn country should be given favorable preference for refugee status over their Muslim counterparts. The House passed a bill, supported by 47 Democrats, that would require more stringent screening for refugees, who are already required to go through a process that can take years.

The worry underlying this frenzy of statements and legislative actions is, of course, that refugees who enter the country could be Islamic State sleeper cells; one of the Paris attackers was carrying a Syrian passport — likely stolen or fake — giving shape to scenarios by which a terrorist might inflict his harm in this increasingly borderless-seeming conflict. There’s also anxiety that those who are not incorporated into American culture will seek to upend it by violent means. It’s a fear that’s coursed through America’s veins since 9/11, but the attacks in Paris brought the gore to the surface again, like a maliciously precise scalpel dragging across an old scar. That some of the attackers were French nationals who had grown so disillusioned with their home country inspired a helpless kind of dread: What can we know about the minds of those we crowd onto trains with daily, stroll by on the street? Politicians have pointed to a recent poll from Bloomberg that found that 53 percent of Americans don’t want to continue Syrian refugee resettlement, with 11 percent of respondents saying that they favored a program to resettle only Christians.

Why are Christian refugees more palatable? There’s a perception, at least in recent years, that most perpetrators of violent acts are Muslim; the read-between-the-lines notion is that Syrian Christians would “get our values” more than Syrian Muslims would, that they would assimilate — an unfashionable word that’s getting a lot of play lately. The more they fall in with our way of life and the quicker they do it, the less likely they will be to become terrorists.

Belonging is a notoriously slippery concept, though, as any ballet dancing coal miner’s son would tell you. But is there any way to begin to quantify it? Are there metrics that can help one plausibly game out which refugees will adapt to life in America best? And do these same metrics have any predictive value in determining who will or will not become a terrorist?

Well, kinda, yes. But also no. A squinting man once said something about known unknowns — that pretty much sums it all up: Certain characteristics of incoming refugees can hint at how they’ll fare in the U.S., but these don’t have much to do with who’s most likely to become a home-grown terrorist.

Education and income level are among the top indicators of how well a refugee will do in the U.S. “Educational attainment is the most important one, probably,” said Randy Capps, the lead author of a Migration Policy Institute study on refugee integration, which looked at the 10 largest diaspora groups 6 1 arriving in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013. “Generally, people who come to the U.S. with low education levels are going to be very disadvantaged.”

Refugees from Russia, Iran and Ukraine are the best-educated, according to the MPI’s analysis of census data from 2009 to 2011. More than 60 percent of Russian refugees had bachelor’s degrees. By comparison, only about 30 percent of U.S.-born adults did. While there are not yet statistics on the group of about 2,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the U.S. in the past several years, Capps said the Syrian population already in the U.S. falls into the well-educated category. Based on 2014 data that MPI shared, 39 percent of Syrian immigrant adults living stateside had a college degree, compared with 29 percent of all immigrant adults. Of those Syrians with a four-year degree, 47 percent have a graduate or professional degree.

MPI data on literacy — a proxy for educational attainment — of refugees arriving from 2004 to 2013 showed that 88 percent of Iranian refugees were literate in Farsi and 75 percent of Iraqi refugees were literate in Arabic. Capps said he expects that the incoming Syrian refugees would fall somewhere in this range. By comparison, literacy rates for refugees from Somalia were only 25 percent, Bhutanese 38 percent, Burmese 51 percent and Afghans 55 percent.

Capps said income and employment are other gauges of integration to watch. Across the board, refugees in the U.S. are poorer than other immigrants: From 2009 to 2011, their median household income was $42,000 — $3,000 less than what other foreign-born populations were living on and $8,000 less than the median income for those born in the U.S., according to the MPI report. Some do worse than others; 79 percent of Somali refugees lived in low-income households, as did 73 percent of Iraqis despite their relatively high literacy level. But gradually, the MPI report found, refugees’ income levels and rates of public benefit use “approach parity” with those who are U.S. born. “Over time,” Capps said, “people who are better-educated are going to get better jobs.” Middle Eastern refugees roundly find themselves in these ranks.

Even if Syrians can find only low-skills jobs, Capps said, they’re likely to integrate more quickly in the U.S. than in Europe. “Gainful employment, even if it’s just at a survival level, is going to be better than what a lot of Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees have faced in Europe,” he said. “They will be more incorporated in the economy; they will have more hope for the future and be integrating faster.

U.S. refugee resettlement places a particular focus on economic integration: Even before the 1996 welfare reform law was passed, some refugees to the U.S. saw their cash benefits connected to employment status. “It’s not just people arrive and then we provide the health care, we provide the housing, we provide income and food but they don’t have anything to do, they don’t have any attachment to the society,” Capps said. “We attach people to the labor force and therefore to the general society much more quickly.”

So are there any refugees who have become terrorists since finding a home in the U.S.? Yes — three.

That’s out of the 784,000 refugees who have been resettled in the U.S. since 9/11. Kathleen Newland, also of the MPI, pointed this out earlier in the fall, adding that it was “worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.” History doesn’t seem to bear out that refugees are more likely to be disaffected enough by life in the U.S. to lash out through terrorism.

But it’s undeniable that the number of Westerners attempting to join Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has skyrocketed (there’s no data available on whether any of these were refugees). According to Courtney Schuster, co-author of a New America Foundation report, “ISIS in the West,” 83 Americans from 21 different states have attempted to join the group. George Washington University’s Program Project on Extremism reported that a majority had tried to do so in 2015 alone.

The profile of a Western Islamic State fighter doesn’t have much to do with income, educational level, or English language proficiency, though. Around 40 percent of those trying to leave the U.S. to join Islamic State had converted to Islam, a disproportionate number given that only 23 percent of American Muslims are converts, Seamus Hughes, deputy director of GW’s Program Project on Extremism, noted in an e-mail. It’s reasonable to assume that included in this number are those who were — with all the attending Springsteen-ian undertones — born in the USA.

The New America report showed that age, online activity and family ties to jihadist organizations are the commonalities that bind together the Westerners who have looked to join Islamic State. In the European cases, recruiting was more likely to center on around family connections; Schuster said 40 percent of U.K. fighters had familial ties to jihadist organizations. In the U.S., though, the great radicalizer has been the Internet: Only 20 percent of the 83 recruits had family ties to Islamic State, but a whopping 90 percent had active social-media interactions with extremists.

While refugee integration experts can find economic, linguistic and educational trends that will predict how well groups might fit into American life, those working to sort out the profile of a Western Islamic State fighter cannot. How materially comfortable one is doesn’t seem to have much to do with it. There’s no data yet, but many Islamic State sympathizers appear to be solidly middle class. In the American context, Hughes said, it’s fair to say that income and education level are not determining factors for who is interested in joining the group. In other words, by all the indicators we have, nothing says refugees are any more likely to be radicalized.

The bill passed last week by the House would require the director of national intelligence, the head of the FBI, and the homeland security secretary to certify that each refugee applicant from Iraq and Syria poses no threat to the United States — actuaries tasked with predicting extremism. In literature, The Other, no matter how hard she tries, never quite makes it into the fold. Othello cracks up, Hester Prynne must live on the outskirts of town and wear an unflattering broach, and, oh man, the GOP presidential candidates would have a field day with the stuff that unfolds in “Season of Migration to the North” — not just the violent sex bits either. 7 2 That’s not how real life works most of the time, though. Eventually The Other starts wearing baseball hats, pierces her ears at Claire’s and realizes that Thanksgiving is a damn good holiday invention. He fits into our 300 million-person fold as well as anyone else.

But fear, any ghoulish insurance mathematician would tell you, comes when the surety of numbers fails. Terrorism — indicators and screenings aside — is what happens when the known unknowns reveal themselves.

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ncsmith
2367 days ago
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Git

22 Comments and 43 Shares
If that doesn't fix it, git.txt contains the phone number of a friend of mine who understands git. Just wait through a few minutes of 'It's really pretty simple, just think of branches as...' and eventually you'll learn the commands that will fix everything.
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ncsmith
2393 days ago
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This how I feel about git.
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20 public comments
jhudson
2328 days ago
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yup..
Olympia, WA
jsonstein
2388 days ago
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how it really works
43.128462,-77.614463
rhelewka
2390 days ago
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Xkcd on git and nails it:
ÜT: 43.642301,-79.378671
JayM
2391 days ago
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:)
Atlanta, GA
Brstrk
2391 days ago
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Git is really easy, once everything clicks. I'm waiting for it anytime now.
peelman
2392 days ago
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Yeah, this is more or less how it goes.
Seymour, Indiana
npiasecki
2393 days ago
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For us crusty old geezers still clinging to Subversion, this translates to "something didn't work, so 'svn update' and try again, and if that doesn't work, save it somewhere else and download a fresh copy" ... it's like the cirrrrrrcle ... the circle of source control
llucax
2393 days ago
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xkcd did it again...
Berlin
jshap999
2393 days ago
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You just need to appease the evil git elves.
gerweck
2393 days ago
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Git is amazingly productive if you *really* learn how it works and understand it. The problem is that its model is so abstract and sophisticated that it's unreasonable to expect users to all reach that level of understanding. Git's great failing is that it doesn't sufficiently hide its complexity from those users who don't fully understand its Merkle trees and how they compose.
ktgeek
2393 days ago
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I have lived this conversation multiple times.
Bartlett, IL
mrobold
2393 days ago
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Truth.
Orange County, California
jepler
2393 days ago
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how did you get this number? stop calling me
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
jimwise
2393 days ago
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heh
kafka
2393 days ago
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True.
Austin, TX
brianhoch
2393 days ago
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I'm not alone!
Saint Charles, IL
mburch42
2393 days ago
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My life.
GeekyMonkey
2393 days ago
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It's sad, because it's true.

Alt: If that doesn't fix it, git.txt contains the phone number of a friend of mine who understands git. Just wait through a few minutes of 'It's really pretty simple, just think of branches as...' and eventually you'll learn the commands that will fix everything.
Ennis, Ireland
marcrichter
2394 days ago
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Touché!
tbd
alt_text_bot
2394 days ago
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If that doesn't fix it, git.txt contains the phone number of a friend of mine who understands git. Just wait through a few minutes of 'It's really pretty simple, just think of branches as...' and eventually you'll learn the commands that will fix everything.

The Abortion Rate Is Falling Because Fewer Women Are Getting Pregnant

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You might not know it from the political debate, but abortion is becoming increasingly rare in the United States — and activists on both sides are rushing to take credit. A survey released earlier this week by the Associated Press shows that the number of abortions performed each year declined by about 12 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2014, continuing a steady downward trajectory since the early 1990s. 19 1

Anti-abortion activists pointto the hundreds of inventive restrictions on abortion passed in Republican-controlled states across the South and Midwest since 2010, which have closed dozens of clinics, especially in rural areas. These restrictions include mandatory pre-abortion counseling, waiting periods and policies that require women to look at an image of the fetus before undergoing the procedure. Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, one of the groups behind the measures, argues that the laws are forcing women to consider the full implications of the decision to abort. Shetold the AP that the decrease in abortions is a sign that women’s perspectives are changing. “There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture,” she said. “There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.”

Abortion-rights advocates, meanwhile, argue that the abortion rate is declining because contraception is cheaper and more widely available than ever before, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover most types of birth control with no copay.

Although it’s impossible to attribute the decline to a single factor, the data shows that better contraception — combined with a bad economy and a falling teen pregnancy rate — is largely responsible. Abortion rates did fall in many of the states with new restrictions, but they also dropped in others, such as New York and Connecticut, where access to abortion is relatively unobstructed. In fact, some of the states with the biggest declines — Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico — have enacted no new abortion laws in recent years, suggesting that something other than reduced access is spurring the trend.

Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, said the data also contradicts the notion that more women are rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant. “If women’s attitudes were really shifting, we should see the birth rate go up,” she says. “Instead, birth rates are falling, too.” (The birth rate reached a record low in 2013, according to the CDC. It fell by 2 percent between 2010 and 2013, and by 9 percent between 2007 and 2013.) According to Ananat and other experts, the decline in abortions is a symptom of another trend: Fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place.

What’s behind the declining pregnancy rate is more difficult to pinpoint. One clear factor, said Joerg Dreweke, a spokesman for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, is the teenage pregnancy rate, which has been falling steadily since the early 1990s. According to Dreweke, this is partially due to better contraceptive use among teenagers. Other research on teen fertility rates supports this: In a paper published earlier this year, economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney found that other policy changes — such as sex education, whether it was comprehensive or abstinence-only — couldn’t explain the decline. Because the vast majority (82 percent in 2010) of teen pregnancies are unplanned, a reduction in teen pregnancy overall will have an effect on the abortion rate. Since teenagers account for only about 18 percent of abortions, though, their effect is limited.

Another likely explanation of the declining pregnancy rate — and by extension the declining abortion rate — Ananat said, is that the lingering effects of the economic recession are prompting more women to consider whether now is the best time to have a child, especially women in their 20s, who account for 57 percent of all abortions. After climbing in the earlier part of the decade, the U.S. birth rate took a nosedive around 2008 along with the abortion rate, suggesting that hard times were prompting more reproductive caution. “People think of pregnancies as being either planned or unplanned, but there’s sometimes some middle ground there, some ‘let’s see what happens,’” she said. “People’s ambivalence tends to evaporate during a recession, and they’re more careful about birth control use because they’re more certain they don’t want to get pregnant.” This economic uncertainty even trickles down to teenagers. Kearney and Levine found that the jump in unemployment during the Great Recession was associated with a modest reduction in teen pregnancy.

But there’s a final explanation: So many women are able to successfully avoid pregnancy at least partly because of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which took effect in 2012 and minimizes the up-front costs for highly effective, long-lasting forms of birth control such as the intrauterine device (IUD) or hormonal implant. The number of women using the most effective forms of birth control jumped to a high of 12 percent by the end of last year.New research shows that women who live in states with less abortion access are more likely than women who don’t to use a contraceptive like the IUD. “There’s been a push to expand the IUD and implant to women who were using contraception ineffectively in the past because long-acting birth control had big up-front costs, and they couldn’t afford it,” Ananat said. Because women who use contraception incorrectly or inconsistentlyaccount for 41 percent of unintended pregnancies, even a small shift to highly effective methods of contraception could have a disproportionate effect on the abortion rate.

What the data shows, according to Ananat, is a kind of perfect storm. “The teen pregnancy rate has been declining for a while now, and we can’t say that’s the driving force, but it’s contributing,” she said. “And then you have the combination of the recession, which makes people less willing to have children, and the Affordable Care Act, which gives women better access to contraception at a time when they really want it. So you end up with a situation where there’s less of a need for abortion just because fewer women are getting pregnant.”

The question, for her, is whether new abortion laws are affecting when women are getting the procedure. Over the past decade, more and more women have opted for abortions early in their pregnancies, but as states place more barriers in their way, that trend could shift. If women have to jump through more hoops — travel to faraway clinics or encounter waiting periods that require overnight stays — they might delay the procedure until they can raise enough money or take time off work. “We know that restrictive policies don’t deter most women from getting abortions, but it can delay them,” Ananat says. “The idea that women’s attitudes toward abortion are changing, though — we just don’t have evidence for that.”

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ncsmith
2530 days ago
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ProbablyWrong
2533 days ago
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LRCs FTW

Second Son: Meet Carlos Rodon, Chicago’s Other Elite MLB Prospect

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Chicago’s two baseball teams have a bit of a Beatles–Rolling Stones dynamic. The Cubs are the Beatles. They get all of the attention and all of the historical navel-gazing. They have the beloved ballpark, the renowned club president, 6 1 the bright-colored uniforms, and an adorable mascot who doesn’t wear pants, a possible homage to their legendary broadcaster after his ninth old-fashioned of the night. Their most famous player toiled for decades without sniffing the postseason postseason, and most famously said, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two.” Which is what a ballplayer would say if he were haunted by the ghost of Fred Rogers. And then there’s the curse: the goat, the drought, Steve Bartman. The Cubs are the straight-to-DVD Red Sox.

The White Sox are the Stones, the city’s second team, despite being the more successful of the two franchises over the course of history. They play in a not particularly exciting part of town, in a not particularly exciting stadium, in not particularly exciting black-and-white uniforms. Until winning it all in 2005, their World Series drought was nearly as long as the Cubs’, but nobody noticed. And nobody remembers that Harry Caray actually got his start calling Sox games.

There’s something mainstream, almost corporate about the Cubs, right down to their top prospect. I love Kris Bryant, and he’s so beautiful, so perfect, so uncomplicated that he fits right into that G-rated veneer of Cubbiness.

That’s great, and Bryant’s going to be awesome — but I’m a Stones guy.

And so he wasn’t the Chicago super-prospect whose April call-up gave me the sensation of standing in a walk-in freezer on a 100-degree day while wearing a brand-new pair of athletic socks.

Carlos Rodon was. Rodon, whom the Sox promoted on Monday, went third overall in last year’s draft as a 6-foot-3 pillar of muscle out of NC State. Then and now, he looks like he wears his hat pulled low over his eyes and his pants rolled up to his knees because the equipment guys couldn’t find clothes to fit a person his size. Physically, he’s got the thick build and high leg kick of a power pitcher in the mold of Roger Clemens.

Unlike Clemens, Rodon is a left-hander who can throw a 95 mph fastball while sustaining a starter’s workload. That’s rare enough, but because Rodon sometimes has trouble locating his heater, that’s not the pitch that gets people so worked up about him.

Vertebrate life first emerged on this planet about half a billion years ago, and different species have taken different evolutionary tacks since then. Sharks, for instance, are the perfect aquatic predator, honed to precision over the course of time. Rodon is also the end result of half a billion years of evolution, as if some of those early fish of the Cambrian era decided that one day, a scion of their line would throw the perfect 80-grade slider, and so 500 million years went into creating a living being who could do this:

carlos-rodon-slider

(Via FanGraphs)

That’s a magnificent, graceful, sweeping slider. Against left-handed hitters, Rodon throws it to the same effect as a bully taking a smaller child’s hat and holding it out of reach. Against righties, he’ll throw it to the outside corner, and back-dooring a breaking pitch with such extreme horizontal movement is like sending Voyager 1 past Jupiter so that it gets an extra gravitational assist. Failing that, he’ll throw the slider inside, like a guided missile aimed at a right-handed batter’s back foot.

Rodon’s slider is as beautiful as it is destructive, like a hurricane viewed from space, or a pietà made out of guns. It visits his righteous vengeance on the left-handed and the right-handed, the righteous and the wicked, on enemies foreign and domestic.

It is “Gimme Shelter” at 86 mph.

Rodon will employ that slider out of the bullpen to start, a decision that runs counter to the conventional wisdom that, at least after what happened to Joba Chamberlain, says not to put a future starter in a major league relief role. But this is a different case.

Developmentally, the best thing for Rodon is to face major league competition full time, and after his three years against top college and international competition and half a year in the minors, the White Sox know he can turn over a lineup and pace himself for 100 pitches or more. After he took on a heavy burden his sophomore and junior seasons in Raleigh, though, temporarily reducing Rodon’s workload probably isn’t the worst thing for him, and a few weeks of pitching an inning or two at a time will bail the White Sox out of the Strasburgian bind the Nationals got themselves into in 2012.

Plus, whether he’s in the bullpen ’pen or the rotation, Rodon will be under the tutelage of Don Cooper, Chicago’s longtime pitching coach and possibly the most valuable uniformed coach or manager in baseball. Cooper coached the incredible starting rotation that won a World Series in 2005, and since then he’s revitalized the careers of dozens of broken-down or marginal pitchers. Imagine what he’ll be able to do with a talent like Rodon.

Or, if you’re not feeling particularly imaginative, consider what happened the last time the White Sox drafted a slider-happy college lefty, called him up to the majors after less than a year in the minors, and let him learn under Cooper while working out of the bullpen before sending him back to the rotation.

This plan worked out pretty well for Chris Sale.

Ordinarily, it’s not a good idea to get this hyped up over a 22-year-old who hasn’t thrown a major league pitch. But in Rodon’s case, I’ll make an exception. I expect him to stockpile strikeouts, innings, and wins the way a survivalist stockpiles cans of beans, and to be inordinately fun to watch while he does so. And I expect him to do this because I’ve never seen him do anything else.

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ncsmith
2585 days ago
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