Monday, 10 May 2010

Being Nick Clegg

The Liberal Democrats’ two choices:

Door #1 (aka Nick-and-Dave, kissing-in-a-tree): at least two years in government, at worst a referendum on the alternative vote, most of your fiscal agenda (where you and the Tories agree) enacted into law, and probably some of the blame for the next year or so, followed by some of the credit for the recovery after that.

Door #2 (aka life with Ed Balls): a government that surely won’t last out the year, a referendum on STV (that probably won’t actually go into effect even if it passes until after the next election, since the government won’t last out the year—heck, the government may not even last long enough to pass an STV bill), some of the blame for the next year or so (but none of the credit for the recovery, because your government won’t last that long), and you get to have a big ugly fight on all the fiscal policy stuff with Labour, who campaigned on essentially the opposite platform from the LDP.

If only there weren’t that sticky issue called “ideology” in the way this one would be a no-brainer. But if the LibDems are serious about PR, they’re going to have to recognize that as kingmaker under a more proportional system they can’t be seen as simply the more respectable version of one of the two major parties—and that eventually they’ll have to work with both of them. Better for the rank-and-file who wistfully recall singing the Internationale in their youth before they sobered up to learn this lesson now than later, methinks.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

STV is high-threshold PR

Contra Simon Jackman, the single transferable vote is a form of proportional representation, albeit one with a very high effective electoral threshold (the share of the vote a party needs to gain representation)—in the worst case, something on the order of (but not quite) 100 percent divided by the average district magnitude + 1 (number of seats per STV constituency).

Of course, the motivation for this discussion is the British election and the Liberal Democrats’ demand for a more proportional electoral system, specifically STV. Labour seem rather more enthused about electoral reform than the Tories at present, but one suspects Labour’s newfound sponsorship of the idea had more to do with pre-election positioning than a genuine interest in reform—Labour certainly didn’t complain with the 2005 election awarded them a healthy Commons majority on essentially the same share of the vote the Tories got this week.

Labour’s pre-election offer was the alternative vote, better known in the United States as instant runoff voting, or IRV. IRV effectively is a simplified form of STV in single-member districts, e.g. STV with a district magnitude of 1. I doubt the LibDems would be willing to settle for IRV, as it probably wouldn’t net them many additional seats, even if their supporters would have fewer wasted votes under IRV (as their second preferences would be allocated rather than discarded). IRV and other similar SMD systems (like the French two-round arrangement) are generally regarded as majoritarian rather than proportional.

In the British context at least, STV makes a lot of sense as a preferred electoral reform. Any proportional system will somewhat disadvantage the two leading parties (the Conservatives and Labour) compared to plurality (first-past-the-post/winner takes all) voting, but STV is less proportional at sane district magnitudes (3–6 seats per district) than virtually all PR systems, so the damage to leading parties is smaller. The major beneficiaries are the regional parties, regionally-weak parties (such as the Scottish Tories), and of course the Liberal Democrats; it should also have the salutary effect of somewhat depoliticizing the constituency boundary-drawing process in Northern Ireland in particular.

Fringe parties and those whose platforms can easily be co-opted by larger parties don’t come out ahead under STV, but that would seem to be a feature, rather than a bug—Parliament doesn’t need the BNP around, UKIP is a party without a purpose in a world with the Tories still in it, and the Greens are effectively Liberal Democrats who just don’t want to call themselves LibDems. Denying these groups 25 or so seats in the Commons between them doesn’t seem like any great loss for British democracy.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Once more into the cesspool

P.J. O’Rourke once said that giving money and power to politicians was akin to “giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” But that pales in comparison to the effects of giving an anonymous forum to mentally-teenaged political science graduate students and their hangers-on.

There was a point a few years ago—perhaps even a few months ago—when I believed having a job rumors forum was a necessary corrective to the fundamentally broken hiring process in our discipline. I firmly believe that if we are going to share a discipline of a few thousand people, and if we’re going to work with these people for decades in the future as peers, we ought to treat those starting out on the tenure track with the basic standards of decency we would expect from our own colleagues—and that requires honest, up-front information about the job market and search process as it happens, rather than a few summary statistics a year or two down the road from the hiring season. It is a principle I tried to uphold when we successfully searched for a colleague last year—and given that I still have a job, it was a pretty costless one. Although not one that many of my fellow political scientists have decided to follow, alas.

But whatever the hell is going on over at the rumor site has very little to do with fostering collegiality and openness today. Instead, the site seems to have been captured by an element of jealous, petty individuals who resent the success—or, seemingly more often, revel in the apparent lack thereof—of a small number of graduate students from leading political science programs. Perhaps these students are, to borrow a phrase from a former American president, major-league assholes. Maybe they pick on little kids at playgrounds. I suspect not, but I really don’t know these people (with the exception of Facebook inexplicably offering some of them as suggested friends to me on a regular basis—even though I’ve never met them); it’s rather beside the point regardless.

I freely concede that I am a minnow. I am a threat to no one in the discipline. I get interviews when there’s 13 applicants for a job, not 130. I don’t neatly fit any of the little boxes that define political science as a discipline either—being an “applied methodologist” who studies political behavior seems about as popular as being an H1N1 carrier. On paper, my position is probably just one or two steps above a community college job in the political science hierarchy; in practice, some days it feels like one (albeit without the fun paintball fights). I aspire to jobs that many of these snot-nosed brats wouldn’t even deign to apply for. So maybe I just don’t get why some graduate student’s success at an Ivy would be so personally threatening to anyone else.

I don’t know what the solution is here. Required registration drove down traffic, but it also drove up the level of discourse substantially. Perhaps the only solution is an economic recovery that lessens the perception of the market as being a totally zero-sum game. All I’m certain of is that a website like PSJR as currently constituted that makes me feel the need to shower after every visit isn’t one that’s doing our discipline—or anyone else, for that matter—any good.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Your guide to today's UK election

This morning I unleash my inner comparativist and take to the pages of OTB to discuss today’s British elections in excruciating detail for an American audience.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Tweet-length thoughts (or thereabouts)

I’m not particularly inclined to do any long-form blogging at the moment (here or at OTB), but here are a few random thoughts on issues of the day:

  • I can’t think of any good reason to object to a merger between United and Continental; it’s probably a long shot, but maybe the combined airline will see fit to introduce a flight from here that’s further afield than Houston.

  • I don’t have any better tea leaves than anyone else when it comes to the British election. I watched all three debates (which is three more than I watched during the 2008 U.S. presidential contest) and generally think that LibDem leader Nick Clegg simultaneously came off as the best presence and the most politically naïve, which is just as well since Clegg (unlike, say, David Cameron) will never be a British prime minister. Putting the LibDems in charge of the Home Office would probably be a good idea though. Realistically it seems there’s no way Gordon Brown comes out of this as a real (as opposed to caretaker) PM. Your current Nate Silver guesstimate is here.

  • Predicted constitutional crisis of the week: the Conservatives take a majority of the seats in England but few in Scotland and Wales, and try to muddle through with an overall minority, on the (not unreasonable assertion) that on devolved matters at least the party that won the vote in England should govern, at least on matters of domestic policy where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can go their own way. See also: the West Lothian question. As discussed before, this problem is an icky mess to solve.

  • I probably could extend the discussion above into a lengthy post on electoral reform in Britain and the prospects thereof, but… nah. Complicating matters: each plausible reform is essentially rigged in favor of the party proposing it (IRV/AV favors Labour, STV or “top-up” PR favors the LibDems [and UKIP and the Greens and probably the BNP, Pliad Cymru, and the SNP too, although the latter three are radioactive as potential coalition partners for anyone, and UKIP is borderline], and the current plurality arrangement favors the Tories [and whichever unionist and nationalist faction is on top at the given moment in Northern Ireland, similarly radioactive]), making consensus unlikely.

  • On the one hand, Arizona’s tough new immigration law (as amended) probably still treats illegal immigrants better than they would be in most other countries in the world, including Mexico itself and most Western European societies. On the other hand, I think we probably ought to aspire to higher standards than those countries, even putting aside my crazily-anarcho-libertarian-open-bordernik principles.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Conference paper done for now

You can now download a copy of my upcoming conference paper with Scott Huffmon and Adolphus Belk, “The Truth is Never Black and White: An Examination of Race-Related Interviewer Effects in the Contemporary South,” at the usual place. Both Scott’s and Adolphus’ contributions immensely improved this version over the previous iteration; of course, any remaining problems are clearly my fault alone, since I’m the only untenured co-author!

Monday, 12 April 2010

epcp for R

I finally have packaged up a very rough port of my epcp routine from Stata to R as part of a package unimaginatively called cnlmisc; you can download it here. In addition to the diagnostics that the Stata routine provides, the glm method includes a bunch of R-square-like measures from various sources (including Greene and Long).

The only part I’m sure works at the moment is the epcp for glm objects (including survey’s and Zelig’s wrappers thereof); the others that are coded (for polr and VGAM) are probably half-working or totally broken, and some wrappers aren’t there yet at all. The error bounds suggested by Herron aren’t there either. The print routines need a lot of work too; eventually it will have a nice toLatex() wrapper as well. But it beats having it sit on my hard drive gathering dust; plus I may eventually get motivated to write a JSS piece or something based on it.

epcp for Stata is still available at my site. For more information on the measure, see Michael C. Herron (1999), “Postestimation Uncertainty in Limited Dependent Variable Models” Political Analysis 8(1): 83–98 or Moshe Ben-Akiva and Steven Lerman (1985), Discrete Choice Analysis, MIT Press.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

QotD, taking-research-seriously edition

Dr. Crazy on research at regional state universities:

[T]he way in which that often plays out at my institution (and I suspect at many other institutions) is that research is this unspeakable thing which is nevertheless “required.” And since it is unspeakable – i.e., that professors even within the same department don’t really talk about it seriously with their colleagues, that we look at research as a thing we get done in spite of the “real” demands of our jobs – research becomes something that we think of as a distraction or as something that doesn’t demand a high level of achievement. Instead, we see the research “requirement” much in the way that students see “requirements” that aren’t meaningful – and we just do the bare minimum to pass. Further, we pass this way of thinking about research on to our students, who see a research paper as something to be “gotten through” as opposed to something that can be personally and intellectually rewarding. We perpetuate a culture of mediocrity.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Old wine in new bottles

In a rare appearance at OTB, I discuss the recycled Schumer-Graham immigration bill. It’s like a Hot Tub Time Machine back to 2006, when another president was heading into midterm elections facing an overseas military quagmire, own-party lawmakers in marginal districts who were distancing themselves from his policies, and deteriorating poll numbers!

Doin' it wrong

A mildly bemusing job ad that came across the wire today:

The Department of Government and Sociology invites applications as Course Redesign Coordinator. This is a non-tenure track, limited term, faculty position with the rank of Lecturer. The term is for a period of two years subject to re-approval and budget in year two. The successful applicant will lead a pilot study to redesign the introductory course in Political Science which is a required course in the university’s core curriculum. The position is responsible for producing an initial design for offering the course to larger sections while remaining consistent with the university’s public liberal arts mission; teaching one large (150 minimum) section of POLS 1150, Politics and Society, each semester; collecting and analyzing comparative data on student satisfaction and performance in larger course settings; supervising a graduate assistant and undergraduate student mentors ; preparing recommendation s for final redesign and implementation; conducting a required Freshman Seminar for departmental majors.

To review: this institution prides itself on its “public liberal arts mission” and excellent classroom instruction. So it is going to hire a non-tenure-eligible faculty member (who may not even have a doctorate) to come in to figure out some way to cram 150 students into an introductory course without any loss of quality. And once they’ve done this favor for the existing faculty, since they aren’t on the tenure track, they will be summarily kicked to the curb.

Somehow I do not expect this experiment to end in a rousing success.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Lords reform back on the agenda

Fresh on the heels of promises to adopt changes to elections to the Commons, Labour is now promising to finish its reforms to the House of Lords with some concrete proposals coming “shortly.” The outline of Labour’s proposal suggest:

  • A third of the members would be elected at each general election for the Commons; since a general election must be called every five years, this pattern would give members of the upper chamber a potential term of up to 15 years.
  • The chamber would have 300 members elected via some form of proportional representation; what exact form is left unspecified, although it is likely to be a “pure” PR system (possibly using the same constituencies used for European Parliament elections) instead of the alternative member system used in the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies.
  • Members would be subject to some sort of “recall” process and would have to pay taxes in the U.K., excluding nonresident citizens.

All three of the major parties in Britain are now on-record as favoring a mostly- or fully-elected upper chamber, so presumably an “elected Lords” in some form is coming sooner rather than later. The Liberal Democrats in particular have suggested in the past that parliamentary reforms are a condition of their participation in any coalition, and given the growing chances of a hung parliament after the next election, they may finally be in a position to insist on reform in both chambers.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Discussing discussants

Mike Allison and Greg Weeks are discussing the value (or lack thereof) of discussants on panels. Given that one of my major problems with the rising challenge to panels in our discipline, the similarly-poorly-attended poster session, is the lack of discussants, I can’t really concur in whole with Greg’s position that discussants aren’t helpful. I do mostly concur with his advice for discussants, however:

1. Do not try to tie the papers together artificially. There is no point.

2. Keep your comments as brief and focused as possible. No preambles or tangents. The audience did not come to listen to you, unless you are very clearly an expert on the panel’s topic.

3. Don’t whine about how long it took someone to get their paper to you. We’re all busy.

4. If time is short after the last presentation, give it up to the audience Q&A and give the authors your comments privately. Interested audience members very often have better insights.

That said, when I have discussed papers I usually try to see if I can identify common themes and ways the papers speak to each other, in part because I think scholars at the pre-publication stage can often strengthen their papers by looking beyond the literature they’ve embedded themselves in during the drafting process. Sometimes, though, that is futile on “potpourri” panels that often get titles like “New Directions in Research on X.”

Once upon a time (I can’t remember where; possibly at one of the iterations of the job rumors site) I saw a suggestion that took things to the opposite extreme—that panels might be better organized by having the discussant briefly present all of the papers, followed by feedback and discussion from the authors and the audience. It might be an interesting experiment to try, and I think it would certainly be a good test of whether or not the papers communicate their ideas clearly enough to their readers, although I think for it to work effectively you’d need to organize the conference in a way that completed papers would be due much sooner than is the norm in political science—where usually the “deadline” is enforced about as rigidly as most undergraduates would like their assignments’ deadlines to be.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tony Tony Tony has done it again!

The brain trust that runs ESPN into the ground has decided to suspend Tony Kornheiser for two weeks from his PTI co-hosting duties for his criticism of ESPN SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm’s recent attempts to up her MILF factor with age-inappropriate wardrobe choices.

The irony that they are punishing their viewers with two weeks of Dan LeBatard and Bob Ryan far more than they are punishing Mr. Tony (who I am sure is just heartbroken that he gets to spend an extra hour a day in the Barcalounger) appears to be totally lost on the suits.

Update: Deadspin claims that the real reason TK was suspended is due to different comments he made in the same rant about Chris Berman’s shilling for NutriSystem and ESPN’s acceptance of said advertising.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Enkindle this (aka your Mass Effect 2 mini-review)

The sequel to Mass Effect has arrived and after about 10 days with the game I can honestly say that on virtually every dimension, ME2 is superior to its predecessor. Combat has been made a lot better; the decryption and electronics “mini-games” are much more engaging than playing Simon with the A-B-Y-Z buttons on the controller; and the voice acting and animation is a step up from the original. Overall the game definitely is more polished than its predecessor and feels more complete. After a short adjustment to the “new” rules of the ME universe, I found I really didn’t miss the elements of gameplay that were reduced or simplified.

Comparing two play-throughs of the game based on different saves from ME1, I could definitely feel a more ominous sense of Things To Come based on the differences in my actions in the two “pasts”; the consequences of past actions do not affect the main plot of ME2 drastically, but I have the sense that some of Shepard’s actions in the fight against Saren and Sovereign in ME1 will have major consequences in the third installment, as well as Shepard’s actions in ME2 of course.

ME2 definitely reflects its creators’ intentions to have a “darker” middle section of the trilogy; in particular, the lines of morality are blurred much more than in ME1 (where the only arguably morally-dubious “Paragon” choice was the decision to free the last of the rachni), and certainly what might be good for the galaxy doesn’t always align with what is right for Shepard. In the various missions you have to wrestle with the morality of taking actions to rectify past morally-dubious actions by others. If one faction seeks to impose its vision of Truth on another, is it morally acceptable to turn the tables on them and impose a different vision? Should a species that was mistakenly “elevated” without its consent be hobbled until that species’ people can mature sufficiently to deal with the technological advances that fell in their laps? Should a major piece of enemy technology be left intact for one particular race’s ethically-challenged black ops organization to discover its secrets, perhaps to be used not against the civilized galaxy’s common foe but for more immediate political advantage?

I would be remiss if I didn’t also discuss the humor that Bioware stuck in the game, including (but not limited to) self-deprecation about the excruciating elevator rides in ME1, a 22nd century take on Dirty Harry, an alien scientist who performs Gilbert and Sullivan, and ads for probably the worst production of Hamlet in recorded history. I laughed myself silly several times during the game; sometimes, it was because of something Shepard did (or a squadmate’s response to it), while other times it was just something bizarre overheard in the background—random banter between bystanders, for example.

My only quibbles thus far would be with the planet scanning part of the game (I don’t mind having to gather resources, but you’d think your multi-billion credit starship’s AI could scan for minerals on its own much faster than I could), the inability to revisit some of the interesting locations from ME1 (leading to some rather improbable coincidental encounters with important folks from those locations at other ports-of-call), and a sense that some locations just needed to be grander in scope—even some of the interesting places you visit are sealed once you complete missions in those areas, so you can’t really go and see what difference your actions made. I also miss a bit of the “party banter” from the previous game; given the much larger combination of squadmates possible for missions (and the lack of elevator rides for banter to take place), however, it’s understandable.

But the quibbles are more than offset by the positives of the game. ME2 was definitely top value for my entertainment dollar.

Friday, 5 February 2010

QotD, there-are-five-lights edition

Why show trials always have ludicrous charges against the defendants in totalitarian states:

[F]orcing someone to admit to something he might have done does not send a strong signal of power. Forcing someone to confess to a crime that everyone knows he could not possibly have committed, on the other hand, is terrifying.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

QotD, the insidious nature of Noam Chomsky edition

Oliver Kamm on his frequent nemesis:

I don’t, as it happens, regard Chomsky as an apologist for the Khmer Rouge or for other appalling regimes. I regard him as a sophist possessed of reflexive anti-Americanism. It’s because his position is an article of faith that he’s so unreliable when it comes to describing the actual sins of omission and commission in American foreign policy. In his position, factual accuracy is secondary (his writings on the Balkans, for example, are an intellectual disgrace). His method is, as I’ve referred to, sarcasm and insinuation. He is different from his associate Edward Herman, who is best known these days as a crude denier of Serb war crimes, notably the genocide at Srebrenica.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Life imitates comedy

Back in my misspent college years, one of my few student activities was working on the student newspaper at Rose-Hulman, the Rose Thorn. Out of boredom—and frankly a frequent lack of real advertising, since we typically gave a local pizza chain a quarter-page ad in exchange for sustenance for the staff, accounting for a sizable chunk of our income—the various people involved in production would frequently insert fake classified ads into the publication. One creation I was personally proud of was a bogus ad for an emerging spring break destination—the various and sundry republics of the former Soviet Union, complete with a fake telephone number (1–8xx-FUN-IN-CIS) to obtain further details. Presumably—hopefully!—the IQs of our readers were sufficiently high that nobody was actually being bothered by obnoxious phone calls looking for information on these exciting tour packages.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may be getting in on the act for real. Frankly I think my fake ads may have turned out to have been more effective in drumming up interest in unorthodox Spring Break destinations. And whatever you do, don”t stay at the Ryugyong even if the doctored pictures in the brochure look nice.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

QotD, deadweight loss of dead trees edition

John Sides on open access in political science:

Every political scientist should have a webpage where ungated copies of their papers and articles are available. Period.

(Alas, mine needs work in this regard, as most of my pubs aren't there in final form, but it will be better soon.)

Friday, 8 January 2010

From the department of bad statistics

I’m glad to see that some things never change; in this case, it’s the low quality of local news reporting in Laredo. Pro8News breathlessly reports that Mexican drivers are ‘less likely to be ticketed’ since less than 25% of parking tickets in Laredo are issued to Mexican-licensed vehicles.

This story just begs to be placed on a research methods final as one of those “identify all of the problems with this analysis” questions. Bonus points for invoking Bayes’ theorem.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Like SPSA, but cheaper and less snowy

The slides for tomorrow’s presentation of my paper with Frequent Commenter Scott are now available online—not that they will make much sense without my allegedly-engaging patter attached.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Hope and change

Via TigerHawk comes a useful reminder that the alleged “grownups” now in charge of American foreign policy still haven’t made any substantive change in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Working syllabi for spring 2010

Preliminary syllabi are now posted at the usual place, although there’s a good chance the assignments may change—requirements that seemed appropriate for a 30-student senior-level class no longer appear quite so reasonable with 45 students and counting.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Lee Sigelman, RIP

Political scientist Lee Sigelman, probably best known as the past editor of one of the flagship journals of the discipline, passed away last evening. I never met Lee myself (the closest I got was hearing him speak at an SPSA luncheon keynote about a decade ago in Atlanta) but I was well aware of his contributions to our field and to helping to legitimize blogging among political scientists by helping launch The Monkey Cage with several of his GWU colleagues. His contributions to our discipline will surely be missed.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Yet another conference paper

My paper with Frequent Commenter Scott™ entitled “Can We Really Have a Conversation about Race? Investigating Race-of-Interviewer Effects in the Contemporary South” is now online for your perusal at the usual place.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Where the books aren't

The Associated Press visits the community which soon is to be the largest city in America without a bookstore, quotes a colleague, and gets the name of my employer wrong.

But at least we’re getting a snow park!