Tuesday, 23 December 2003

New chances to get CJD

You're Inexplicable (with apologies to The Corrs)

Via Bill Hobbs comes the bizarre tale in The New York Times of Howard Dean’s rather odd claims surrounding his younger brother Charles, who went missing—and was presumed killed—in the Laotian jungle in 1974, and whose remains have now apparently been identified. Quoth the newspaper of record:

Asked by The Quad-City Times, which is based in Davenport, Iowa, to complete the sentence “My closest living relative in the armed services is,” Dr. Dean wrote in August, “My brother is a POW/MIA in Laos, but is almost certainly dead.”

Charles Dean, however, wasn’t a member of the armed forces at all—he was, in fact, by all accounts a civilian tourist and anti-war activist, something Dean the elder claims was common knowledge:

“The way I read the question was that they wanted to know if I knew anything about the armed services from a personal level,” he said. “I don’t think it was inaccurate or misleading if anybody knew what the history was, and I assumed that most people knew what the history was. Anybody who wanted to write about this could have looked through the 23-year history to see that I’ve always acknowledged my brother’s a civilian, was a civilian.“…

Dr. Dean called the editorial, which referred to his brother as a “renegade,” “one of the greatest cheap shots I’ve ever seen in journalism.”

“It’s offensive and insensitive not to understand what the impact of this is,” he said, “writing about this in such a tawdry way.”

Personally, the only thing I consider tawdry is the attempt by Dean to link his brother, who was apparently playing Hanoi Jane on the cheap and—amazingly enough—got mixed up with the wrong people in the process, with the real American POWs and MIAs who suffered at the hands of the Vietnamese and Laotian communists. Sorry, but to me little wayward Charlie’s vanity trip to Southeast Asia doesn’t exactly scream “empathy with American servicemen,” either.

I’m not sure what galls me more: that Dean thought he could get away with this, that he genuinely thinks that all there is to empathy with our armed forces is the experience of having a loved one disappear, or that Dean’s circle is so far removed from the military that he can’t even name so much as a sixth cousin with some genuine connection to America’s armed forces. What a truly loathsome creature.

The Quad-City Times editorial is here.

Update: Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind—whose excellent blog I’d read far more often if he pinged weblogs.com when he made new posts—has thoughts on another concern regarding Howard Dean’s candidacy.

I, Robot coming to the silver screen

Ryan Gabbard of the Audhumlian Conspiracy (whose layout always makes me think I’m reading Crescat Sententia) notes that a film adaptation of Asimov’s I, Robot is going to be on movie screens this summer, starring Will Smith. I saw the trailer at Return of the King and it was moderately amusing—it was produced in the form for an ad for a domestic robot. Hopefully it will turn out well, although I have disturbing thoughts of that awful Robin Williams robot movie from a few years back, Bicentennial Man.

UPDATE: Gabbard also notes that a series of movies based on the Foundation novels is in development. (I only count seven Asimov-written Foundation novels, not eight, though: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation’s Edge, and Foundation and Earth.) Also of note: Alan Tudyk, who played Wash on Firefly, is part of the I, Robot cast.

Public no-linking

Unlearned Hand of En Banc draws my attention to Brian Leiter’s weblog. Leiter is apparently a philosophy professor of some repute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Leiter plans to “start a blogroll for the handful of blogs [he] actually now read[s].” Unlearned Hand observes that Leiter’s selections seem to reflect a belief “that only people with doctoral degrees are qualified to talk about anything publicly,” although political scientists are apparently fail to make the grade under the special proviso that political scientists are mentally inferior to individuals who have earned philosophy degrees (which I guess means Leiter will probably only read Brock’s posts here at Signifying Nothing—although Brock is only ABD, so maybe he doesn’t count in Leiter’s world). I for one wish the best of luck to Leiter in his quest to tame the blogosphere.

And that is the first and last bit of thought I ever plan to devote to Leiter. Next?

Rigging Democracy

James Joyner excerpts at length from a Stuart Taylor National Journal piece on the Supreme Court’s latest entry into the fray of legislative redistricting by state legislatures and the courts, Vieth v. Jubelirer. Much of Taylor’s discussion echos the discussion in the amicus brief of Bernard Grofman and Gary Jacobson, two political scientists who know a thing or two about legislative redistricting.

Also of interest: Erick Erickson’s post on the oral argument in the case.

LSblog 0.8 released

I’ve finally bothered to tar up the latest snapshot of LSblog, everyone’s favorite completely database-driven blogging package, which I’m calling 0.8. New features since 0.7.1:

  • The Atom 0.3 syndication format is now supported.
  • Automatic generation of FOAF data for the weblog.
  • Customizeable post excerpts for syndication and trackbacks.
  • Improved administration interface, including tracking of sent trackback pings (to avoid duplicates) and management of inbound trackbacks.
  • LSblog now serves XHTML 1.0 throughout.

You can download the latest release here. The main requirements are Python 2.2.2 or 2.3; PostgreSQL 7.3 or 7.4; and the psycopg database adaptor.

Dean versus the God Complex

Both Matt Stinson and Robert Garcia Tagorda (via Matt Yglesias, who has substantive comment at TAPped and who in turn links Jon Chait’s Dean-bashing blog at TNR—got all that straight?) note the Franklin Foer cover story in The New Republic on Howard Dean’s secularism and how that will affect his campaign for both the Democratic nod and the White House.

Robert responds to Yglesias’ suggestion that the eventual Democratic nominee at least pretend to have devout religious faith by wondering whether or not Dean has the temperment to pull it off—and I generally agree with Robert that he probably doesn’t. Stinson (who I’d normally call “Matt,” but we’ve got too many Matts running around in this post), on the other hand, asks the interesting question:

The question left unasked in Foer’s piece is whether Dean might seek to balance against his secularism in the general election with an evangelical-friendly VP. Would a Methodist like Edwards suffice?

My guess would be no—it’d have to be someone who wears his religion on his sleeve for it to make a real impact with the public. An interesting finding of the 2000 American National Election Study is that Americans consistently misidentified the religion of both Bush and Gore: Gore was overwhelmingly believed to be a Methodist, while Bush was believed to be a Baptist. In fact, Gore—like Bill Clinton—was an avowed Southern Baptist, while Bush is a Methodist. (No, I’m not just raising this point to show the American public is stupid. Bear with me.)

Now, let’s play political psychologist and explain why people would have this apparently glaring misbelief. Most people see Baptists, and particularly Southern Baptists, as more evangelical than Methodists—because most, in fact, are; they don’t call the United Methodist Church the “Home of the Ten Suggestions” for nothing. But in the persons of Bush and Gore, the typical relationship was reversed: unlike Clinton, Gore never really wore his religion on his sleeve, while Bush often talked about his personal faith. Coupled with the heuristic that says “the Democrats are more secularist than the Republicans,” and the lack of widespread publicity about the specific branch of protestant teaching the candidates followed, the typical voter would be led to conclude that Bush was a member of more evangelical branch of protestantism (like the Southern Baptists), while Gore was part of a more traditionalist strain (like the Methodists).

Now, let’s look at the 2004 Democratic field. The only serious candidate with a clear religious bent is Joe Lieberman, whose Jewish faith is well-known (and was correctly identified by most voters in the 2000 ANES). The rest aren’t really clearly identifiable as men of faith… and religious voters are much more likely to favor candidates with strong faith (like Bush) over secularists like Dean or other, less devout candidates. Even if a candidate like Edwards who can make some claim of religious belief is on the ticket, most voters aren’t going to think of him as more religious than Bush. So it seems unlikely that religious considerations would be effective for Dean (or another Democrat) in assembling the ticket.

Ok, this is very cool

ICPSR has put together the Social Science Variables Database, which has got to be the coolest tool I’ve seen in a long time. It includes 30,000 variables in more than 70 studies. Want to find out what Americans think about Iraq? No problem.

Also cool: easy access to all the data I used in my dissertation.

South Carolina and the Democratic nomination

As Steven Taylor notes, a recent poll shows Howard Dean with a (statistically insignificant) lead in South Carolina, where voters will head to the polls on February 3rd. If Dean can hold the lead over a deeply divided field, it may be the knockout punch he needs to secure the nomination—and may go some way to rehabitating Dean’s image in the South.

Dan Hoover of The Greenville News had a lengthy piece this weekend on what the S.C. primary means to the leading contenders, including quotes from several intelligent political scientists, including legendary Southern politics experts Merle and Earl Black and fellow Ole Miss Ph.D. Scott Huffmon.

UPDATE: Of course, South Carolina blogger Jeff Quinton has more links on the SC primary than you can shake a stick at.

Think, McFly

All You Wanted

Val of Val e-diction thinks the latest unilateral withdrawal proposals by the Sharon government are part of an orchestrated, but clandestine, plan involving the British and U.S. governments as well to force the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table with realistic expectations. I don’t know if I necessarily believe that, but it’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.