Monday, 30 June 2003

Something funky going on

There’s a big brou-ha-ha going on over the future of syndication on the web, (basically) with a lot of sensible people on one side and Dave Winer (and a few other people) on the other. The way I see it, Dave had the chance to make RSS 2.0 a proper specification by fleshing out all of the corner cases and promulgating a complete spec. Instead, he went off on rants about “funkiness” and namespaces, and decided to flip out and spew paranoid FUD after Tim Bray and a few others suggested he wasn’t the easiest person in the universe to work with (in other words, he basically decided to prove their point).

Anyway, whenever the dust settles (which may be fairly soon), LSblog will support the new specification in addition to the multitude of RSS variants already supported—some “funky,” some not-so-funky. More importantly, we’ll have a specification we can point at that more than one person alive can definitively say is being adhered to (or not).

Kate has more:

Note to Dave: Yes, you created an amazing technology. Now shut up before you alienate anyone who might be interested in using it and appreciating your work for what it is.

Sabato, clueless, you know the drill

Steven Jens is the latest to discover the general cluelessness of the man who is “probably the most quoted college professor in the land,” according to his press clippings. (And what’s with “probably”? The Wall Street Journal has Lexis-Nexis; use it!)

Now, he might be right that some states are already locks. Assuming the Republicans don’t nominate Howard Dean, they’ll win Mississippi, and assuming the Democrats don’t nominate Pat Buchanan, they’ll win the District of Columbia. Since neither of those nominations are happening, those are probably safe bets. But, for example, I don’t buy that states like Virginia and Ohio are Bush locks—and adjacent Michigan is a Democrat lock—in a “highly competitive contest.”

More fundamentally, I think the “red state–blue state” dichotomy is highly flawed, although it may be convenient shorthand. Voters are highly heterogeneous in all but the least populous states. To the extent it is meaningful, it only reflects the artifacts of the disproportionality of the “winner-takes-all” nature of the electoral college (in 48 of the 50 states) and the current unwillingness of the national Democratic party to compete for the median voter in the South.

Support your local bookstore (not)

Kieran Healy laments the quantity (and quality) of scholarly works at popular and collegiate bookstores. I completely sympathize; our on-campus bookstore (outside of the textbook section) is rapidly becoming indistinguishable from a mainline Barnes and Noble—except that the selection sucks. And that's despite the competition from Square Books.

Strom's legacy

Steven Taylor, in response to Bryan’s post at Arguing with signposts…, makes some fairly good points about the legacy of the late Strom Thurmond.

I’m not sure that it requires a political scientist’s perspective, although I’m sure that prominent specialists in southern politics like the Black brothers (Merle and Earl) may have more insight than others. He, like any other politician of any longevity, had a fairly good mastery of the nuts and bolts of politics: most notably, securing a “personal vote,” including attending to constituency service and bringing home the pork. Beyond that, though, political science offers no special insight.

I can see why he was a polarizing figure. In many ways, he represented the worst of the Republican Party, both in the casual appeal to racism in his campaigns and in his selective approach to the principles of federalism. In other ways, like George Wallace and others of his era, he eventually built a bridge between the races—even though they weren’t particularly concerned about burning it when they weren’t in the position of needing black votes. Few can argue with the proposition that he stayed in the Senate far longer than he needed to, and far longer than he was of any value to the institution.

On the other hand, as Jeff Quinton argues, Strom-bashing for some is a convenient shortcut to southerner-bashing in general. Racism lurks beneath the surface all over the country and is not the sole province of our part of it (George Wallace got plenty of votes outside the South). Strom may have been a particularly prominent exemplar of those attitudes, but many Americans of his era—whether in Philadelphia, Miss. or Philadelphia, Pa.—had those same attitudes.

I can’t be particularly charitable to Strom, because the fundamental wrongness of the system he and others like him helped perpetuate far outweighs the good he eventually did. Do I think he deserves to rot in hell? No. God has forgiveness for each of us. But I think I—and history—would look far more charitably on him if he had used his power and leadership to promote racial equality at a far earlier date.

Who I should vote for

Via OTB and others, I discovered my best matches for 2004:

  1. Libertarian Candidate (100%)
  2. Bush, George W. – US President (82%)
  3. Sharpton, Reverend Al – Democrat (50%)
  4. Gephardt, Cong. Dick, MO - Democrat (50%)
  5. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (49%)
  6. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (48%)
  7. Lieberman Senator Joe CT - Democrat (47%)
  8. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (43%)
  9. Kucinich, Cong. Dennis, OH - Democrat (42%)
  10. Phillips, Howard – Constitution (39%)
  11. Graham, Senator Bob, FL - Democrat (23%)
  12. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol IL - Democrat (15%)
  13. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. – Democrat (-6%)

Judging from the negative number on LaRouche, I think there are some bugs yet to be worked out…

Inline trackback

As is apparently all the rage these days, I have added inline trackback to Signifying Nothing and LSblog. I’ve also put together a Blogger-esque CSS file, which moves the sidebar to the left if you’re into that sort of thing.

Also, look for an LSblog 0.6 release sometime in the next few days, just as soon as I get done with some dissertation revisions…

Toward a theory of perceived media bias

Why can both liberals think the media is biased toward conservatives and conservatives think the media is biased against them? (Not to mention, why do libertarians like me think the media is biased toward government action?)

Here’s a rough draft of a theory. John Zaller’s The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion makes a case for what he calls the “receive-accept-sample” (RAS) model of opinionation. In simple terms, people receive information (which may or may not be biased; it can be purely factual, or it can be partisan or distorted in some way) from a variety of sources, such as the mass media, friends, family, colleagues, etc. This information is then either accepted or rejected through a process of perceptual screening. Finally, when people are called upon to give their opinion on a particular issue, they sample from the information they have available pertaining to that issue (in Zaller’s terms, the relevant considerations).

Now, if we focus on the accept part of the RAS model, we find something interesting. People who are more politically sophisticated generally only accept the information that is consistent with their preexisting beliefs, while less sophisticated people have less developed screening mechanisms (since they care less about consistency or balance). People who complain about bias are, largely, the politically sophisticated (those who look down on Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly listeners may find this hard to accept, but compared to the average American I suspect those listeners are more politically sophisticated; they may have political beliefs that seem reactionary, but they generally know a lot more about politics and how it works than the average citizen). This probably isn’t a coincidence.

My theory is that citizens are more conscious of rejection than they are of acceptance. People who encounter information consistent with their beliefs will simply accept it and move on, while people who encounter information that is inconsistent will be more aware of that inconsistency. Thus, people who encounter more inconsistency when they encounter information from a particular source will find it to be more biased than those who encounter less inconsistency. And, they will perceive that bias as being in the direction opposite to their preexisting belief system—because, relative to them, the bias is in that direction.

Does that mean (if this theory is correct—I suspect it is, but then again, that’s because it’s my theory) that bias doesn’t exist? No. But it does mean that liberals like Eric Alterman and conservatives like Ann Coulter will only perceive bias in opposition to their own belief system.

Conceivably, one could pick a “belief system axis” and measure the bias of various information sources relative to the origin of that axis. To test this, you’d need to have a number of raters from various positions within that belief system axis (which you could locate using standard measures of ideological belief) and then have them give some measure of the bias of the information sources. Then you could produce an “objective” map of the bias of the sources using multidimensional scaling (which, hopefully, would be fairly easy to interpret).