Wednesday, 30 April 2003

Defending the legacy of Warren Miller

Jane Galt has a lengthy post in which she makes the following statement:

The humanities simply doesn’t have this rigor. In some cases, such as literature, you really can’t, although you can certainly be more rigorous than many of the programs devoted to exposing the obvious truth that Shakespeare and company did not have the same racial and gender sensibilities as 21st century Americans, yawn. In other cases, such as sociology and political science, it’s possible that you could, but don’t yet. That’s why discussions in those courses tend to revolve around the speakers’ opinions on human nature, interesting and possibly right but very difficult to either prove or falsify.

James Joyner took Jane to task for lumping political science in with the humanities, and in comments there the validity of political science as a science is being piled on by James and Steven Taylor. My comments at Jane’s place were a bit less temperate, but some of the other commenters got under my skin too; here’s what I said:

  1. Yes, there is a giant pissing match in our discipline between the empiricists and the non-empiricists. Coupled with that is an internal war among the empiricists between the quals and the quants and the game theorists. But then again political science has really only existed as a separate discipline from history, sociology, psychology, and economics for about 50 years (despite the 100-year pedigree of the APSA), and it’s still trying to figure out what to do with those disparate heritages.

  2. Not everybody plays with 2×2 contingency tables and single-variable explanations of political phenomena. We have this neat concept called “multiple regression” that can deal with more than one independent variable these days; we use that sometimes.

  3. Explanation is more important than prediction in the long run. I’d rather have a wrong prediction than a wrong explanation. If we just wanted predictions, we’d do what insurance companies do: stick a bazillion independent variables in the model and stepwise-regress it. It’ll predict great to your original dataset but (a) will blow up if you apply it to anything else and (b) won’t make any sense anyway (“hey, it turns out people with purple cars and limps have more accidents than others”; yeah, so?). By contrast, I can tell you why almost 400 members of Congress voted for articles of impeachment and procedural motions leading up to it, and I did it with 9 independent variables—and some of the explanations would be quite surprising even to those who followed the public debate and talking heads.

  4. There is no number 4.

  5. I can build you a very simple probit model today that will predict how most voters will behave in the next congressional election, based on nothing other than their demographics. Heck, I already have; read this paper. It ain’t Galileo dropping stuff off the Tower of Pisa (apocryphal), but it’s pretty good for a then-2nd year grad student playing with a Heckman selection model (ok, not so simple) and 50-year-old theories of voter behavior.

Now, granted, there are a lot of snake-oil salesmen running around pretending to have all the answers. Some of them (Larry Sabato *cough*) are in my discipline. Some of them (John Lott, Paul Krugman) are in more “respectable” ones. But just because some Ivy grad whose only exposure to The American Voter was that it happened to be on a bookshelf in someone’s office in his department can’t tell you who’ll win a local school board election doesn’t mean that nobody can.

For the record, no particular Ivy grad was being singled out above. I love all Ivy and non-Ivy grads.

Foomatic-GUI 0.3

I’ve finished up Foomatic-GUI 0.3; you can download it here. The main new feature in this release is that the XML parsing is now done using xml.sax instead of sgmllib, so it is much faster.

Also, I have uploaded this release to Debian unstable.

Shelby County developers want a local income tax

In a bid to avoid an impact fee on new development in Shelby County, the county’s politically-connected noble property development cum land speculation industry has come up with an alternative, according to Wednesday’s Memphis birdcage liner Commercial Appeal: a local 1% income payroll tax that allegedly would be deductable from property taxes by county residents.

No word in the article on how the county residents who don’t own their own property (a group that’s disproportionately African-American) would be completely screwed over get their income payroll tax back. Tuesday’s CA carried a longer piece that describes the blatantly unconstitutional scam idea in more detail, including the risible provocative assertion that renters will be able to credit their payroll tax against rent (or something, as it’s written in typical CA gobbledygook).

Particularly hard-hit by this monstrosity brilliant plan would be Shelby County residents who work in Mississippi, who not only will have to continue to pay Mississippi income tax but also will likely see their base property tax jacked up to compensate for the shell game redistribution of revenues.

Among the other loathsome brilliant ideas being considered by the scum of the county property developers is a poll tax that Maggie Thatcher would love per household fee for police services for county residents.

Not a lawyer, but I read How Appealing anyway

Why do I read How Appealing? For great paragraphs like this one:

The second case [decided by the Supreme Court on Tuesday] involved the question whether Congress could lawfully require aliens subject to deportation proceedings for having committed a crime to remain imprisoned pending the outcome of their removal proceedings. In the case under review, the Ninth Circuit ruled that it was unconstitutional to hold a lawful permanent resident awaiting the outcome of removal proceedings without the possibility of bail. Recognizing that a Ninth Circuit ruling was under review, the Supreme Court reversed, 5-4, in a decision that generated opinions totaling nearly 75-pages in length. Fortunately for me, those most interested in this ruling are in custody of the Attorney General and therefore won’t require an exhaustive rehearsal of the case here at “How Appealing.” For those readers who are aliens but are not yet in custody, my advice is don’t commit serious crimes. That goes for the rest of this blog’s readers, too. (And while you’re at it, don’t commit minor crimes, either. Why not take up blogging instead?)

Of course, to fully appreciate this paragraph, you have to recognize that the Ninth Circuit is by far the most-overturned appellate court in the nation. They apparently didn’t get the memo (I think it’s called the “Constitution,” by the way) about the Supreme Court being the principal and them being the agent.

Democrat, why I can't be one, redux

Leave it to Jane Galt to explain, far better than I could, why I won’t be voting for any Democrats for federal office any time soon. Not that Mississippi Democrats are any better; they mostly combine the statist impulses of their federal brethren with a social conservatism apparently calculated to out-flank Pat Buchanan for the hearts and minds of voters. (In other words, it’s just like Huey Long, albeit 70 years later.)

Jane may have been inspired by this Daily Kos piece (which laughably describes the Democrats as “the party of personal liberty” — apparently, the only difference between me and Cynthia McKinney in Kos’s mind is that I like the NRA), or perhaps this Samizdata rebuttal, which includes in part this sensible summation of American politics circa 2003 (or, for that matter, circa 1938):

What we have here is a fundamental failure to understand that what separates Republicans and Democrats is mostly a matter of policies within a largely shared meta-context (the framework within which one sees the world)… that is to say the Elephants and Donkeys both pretty much agree on the fact the state exist to 'do stuff' beyond keeping the barbarians from the gate and discouraging riots. The language and emphasis may be slightly different (forms of educational conscription with the tagline "No child left behind"… media control legislation described as "Fairness"… etc.), but the congress exist to do much the same sort of thing for both parties, just that whoever is their favoured group should have their snouts deeper in the trough.

Yet almost everything the Dems or Republicans do, beyond a narrow range of legitimate functions that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, are regarded as grievous abridgements of 'personal liberty issues' by almost all libertarians. That Democrats like Daily Kos cannot see that it is at the level of axioms and meta-context that libertarians disagree with them, not mere policies is astonishing. Sure, the absurdly named 'Patriot Act' is a monstrous abridgement of civil liberty, but the idea that this Republican law should make the Democrats more attractive to libertarians indicates just how little understanding there is of what makes libertarians think the way they do.

Did the Tel Aviv attack deliberately go after Americans?

Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO’s The Corner posts an email that suggests that Mike’s Place, the bar bombed today in Tel Aviv, was a major hangout for both Americans and Israelis.

It seems that some Palestinians want the much-feared neo-con plan to come to fruition after all. My best guess is that Abu Mazen and Arafat have about one week to get serious about terrorism before W calls Ariel Sharon to tell him that the gloves can come off, and when that happens I wouldn’t want to be between the green line and the Jordan.

Tuesday, 29 April 2003

Chapter deadline

I have a (loose) May 15 deadline for writing a chapter of my dissertation; hence, bloggage will probably be limited to procrastination or break periods (i.e. not much more limited than it already is… but still, I’m giving a heads-up).

Monday, 28 April 2003

Alternate careers

Well, if the whole law prof thing doesn’t work out for Eugene Volokh, he can always fall back on the lucrative career of being a local TV station’s consumer reporter. Next time on “Does It Work Blogday,” Eugene tests whether Tide Ultra with Bleach Alternative really gets your clothes whiter.

VodkaPundit on Abu Mazen

I tend to agree with Stephen Green’s take on the meaning of the appointment of Abu Mazen as Palestinian prime minister; on the one hand, there’s the concern that it’s all another Arafat shell game, but on the other it’s fairly clear that the intifada just ain’t working. The presence of over 200,000 U.S. personnel within a 400 mile radius of Ramallah may also have also had a strongly clarifying effect on the minds of the Palestinain Authority higher-ups—it probably doesn’t hurt that a lot of people have the (IMHO wrong) impression that there’s a cabal of bloodthirsty neocons in Washington just waiting for an excuse to wipe the PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas, and PIJ from the face of the earth.

I largely agree as well that the main problem isn’t so much the Palestinians as their enablers in the European Commission, most notably Chris “I used to be for the rule of law, but fuck it” Patten. If the EU can get its own house in order, I suspect the Palestinians, once faced with the full economic consequences of their leaders’ stupidity, will fall into line in short order.

Previously blogged here.

Why haven't they seceded already?

Ottawa’s ignoring one of Canada’s most important provinces, yet there’s not much of a succession movement there, at least not yet. More on Alberta’s perpetual screwing by Her Majesty’s Government is at Colby Cosh’s place, which links to this rather interesting article in The Hill Times (Roll Call à la Canadienne) by a Clinton-era diplomat from the U.S. to Canada. Here’s just a sampling:

From a U.S. perspective, one puzzles over the durability of Canadian unity in the West, and more specifically its attraction for Alberta. A Canadian political maxim has emphasized the patriotic commitment of Western Canadians to Canada, but it appears to be more based in residual sentiment of history than in 21st century logic. Just what is in it for Alberta? What does “Canada” supply that Alberta does not already have or could not supply for itself?

And how do Alberta’s elected leaders get treated by Ottawa?

In Ralph Klein, Ottawa has the most Canada-centric premier Alberta is ever likely to elect. And Ottawa treats him as if he is some inebriated oaf with oil-stained jeans.

The root of the problem?

As long as the Canadian political structure provides only for “rep by pop,” the West would have to have population levels equivalent to Ontario and Quebec to modify the current socio-economic agenda. If, as some Liberals have tongue-in-cheek suggested, Alberta should elect more Liberals, it would still be meaningless. Alberta’s delegation could be 100 per cent Liberals—and still its interests would take a back seat to those of Ontario and Quebec.

I suspect there’s a lesson in here for those Americans who want to abolish the Senate and get rid of the Electoral College. I’ll leave figuring that out as an exercise for the reader.

Good free advice

Jacob Levy at The Volokh Conspiracy has some excellent advice for those who don’t want the Supreme Court expanding the right of privacy. Quoth Jacob:

A note to those whose preferred-policy-position tracks Kurtz’s. If you’re worried about judicial slippery slopes, if you want to head off sweeping court decisions that accomplish too much and push too far, you should get out there and push for legislative repeal of the bad laws that invite such a judicial response. If Texas had repealed its sodomy statute, there’d be no Lawrence v Texas to be arguing about in the first place. Don’t merely passively “favor” such repeal, but do something about it—including arguing with your socially-more-conservative friends and allies about it. Some death penalty supporters have noticed this dynamic and have actively worked for important procedural reforms.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much help to guys like Rick Santorum who want to keep sodomy criminalized (and, despite some peoples’ efforts to wriggle some other meaning from his interview, Santorum fairly clearly stakes out a “sodomy ought to be illegal” position), but this point shouldn’t be lost the “moderates” who are running around defending him—like Kurtz and the other folks at NRO.

From the looks of things, the Alabama legislature doesn’t read The Volokh Conspiracy (link via How Appealing).

Time zone setting

The new configuration page allows you to set the preferred stylesheet for this blog (this option used to be further down the page); you can also set the time zone for the blog’s contents to be displayed in.

A few shortcuts for common time zones: Eastern, Mountain, Pacific, GMT/BST, and Iraq. (Central is deliberately omitted, since it’s the default for this blog; if you’re in Indiana or Arizona, you’ll have to go and find your timezone yourself…)

Indecision 2003: Sabato's take

I’ve already insulted Larry Sabato once in this blog, so why not do it again? Today he handicaps the Mississippi governor’s race for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger; let’s figure out what Larry thinks will happen:

... Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he expects Bush to swing through all three Southern states as he builds a coalition for his re-election bid next year.

Sabato said he expects Bush to rally support for Barbour.

Ok, so Bush is going to help Barbour, right?

But if the president actively campaigns for Barbour, it could also help energize the opposition, [Sabato] said. ... “I can also see Bush campaigning for Barbour generating a large black turnout for Musgrove because of the black community’s dislike of Bush,” Sabato said.

Maybe not. But Sabato doesn’t think this will matter much:

Although the race for governor has barely made it out of the gate, Sabato gives Barbour the edge because of Mississippi voters’ natural inclination to vote Republican and the state budget troubles haunting Musgrove.

Good points all. But…

Still, he doesn’t discount Musgrove. “He’s the incumbent governor. He worked hard to get there, and he’ll work hard to keep it,” Sabato said.

Ok. So how is Barbour’s campaign going to affect down-ticket races (like mine)?

Both [University of South Mississippi political scientist Joseph] Parker and Sabato said Mississippi voters have idiosyncrasies that make it difficult to say with certainty that statewide Republican candidates could ride Bush’s coattails.

Bush carried the state in the 2000 presidential election, but most of the statewide elected officials in Mississippi are Democrats.

So maybe Mississippi voters have split-level partisanship… but maybe they don’t:

“That’s left over from the old days,” Sabato said. “Most Southern states had that kind of schizophrenic voter behavior. They would vote Republican for president because Democrats were liberal. Democratic nominees on the state level were more moderate. That (behavior) is changing over time.”

Front page in the Clarion-Ledger. Absolutely no story. Another article for Sabato’s clippings file… but completely unenlightening otherwise.

I'm voting Slutpublican

Finally, my dream ticket has arrived… screw Bush and $RANDOM_DEMOCRAT.

More U.S. nukes?

Alec Saunders has a roundup of links about a purported effort to increase the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal (based on a story in the Australian).

Far be it from me to speak on administration policy. However, the Los Angeles Times report (that Alec also links to) almost buries another far more plausible explanation:

Energy Department officials vehemently denied that they are actually producing nuclear weapons and said they need the capability of producing plutonium parts to ensure the reliability of the existing stockpile of U.S. weapons, which is aging and may need new components.

By the time the new production facility is online—in 15 years—it is quite possible that considerable portions of the current nuclear deterrent force will be over 60 years old. Unlike Alec, I think it would be irresponsible for the government to have nuclear weapons that simply don’t work (or, worse, could accidentally detonate due to aging components), and I don’t think complete disarmament is a realistic alternative, particularly with both China and North Korea developing their arsenals and the likelihood of more nations going nuclear in the coming decade.

The Nonconnah-bahn

The Memphis Commercial Appeal takes a look at SPR 385, better known as Nonconnah Parkway or Bill Morris Parkway, in southeast Shelby County. Money quote:

“I call it the Bill Morris Super Speedway,” said Lt. Wayne Goudy, traffic commander for the Sheriff’s Department.

“When we go out there to write tickets, it’s not uncommon to get someone going over 100 mph.”

More on the Nonconnah here.


Tim Lambert has a Sunday update that links here. I agree with Tim that there were coding errors; however, as someone who’s worked with large CSTS data sets, it can be hard to get the coding right, particularly when you’re dealing with time-varying covariates (example: event X happened in 1991; do I change the dummy variable in 1991 or 1992?). One’s judgment of the maliciousness will probably depend on one’s overall assessment of Lott; I’m not going to go there.

The larger question: has Lott been discredited? I don’t know. Ayers and Donahue say yes, but the potential problems I identified with the econometrics apply both to them and Lott; without someone doing a proper analysis—dealing properly with missing data, justifying fixed effects (instead of using, for example, random effects or regional or state dummies), etc.—we just don’t know who is right. But again, someone who either (a) has tenure or (b) cares can do that—the topic’s too politicized for someone who doesn’t even have a Ph.D. yet, much less a job. I’ll just go with the default, Calvin Trillin response for now: it’s too soon to tell.

Tim Lambert has another post today arguing that there’s a systematic problem with Lott’s coding that favors his results; since I’ve not read Lott & Mustard (I have a copy of More Guns, Less Crime, but I never got past the first few pages and a skim of the tables due to other time constraints), I can’t speak to that, but it seems suspicious at first glance.

And, regretfully, picking and choosing one’s analyses is endemic to the social sciences; you present the models that work. Of course, if the model doesn’t work (at least in terms of the relationship you care about; who cares if the SOUTH dummy is significant or not), and you can’t fix it without doing fraudulent things with the data or the specification, then you’d better throw out your research or revise your hypotheses...

Saturday, 26 April 2003

Krugman and Lott: Two Snakeoil Salesmen?

At the end of a blistering attack on Paul Krugman’s latest New York Times op-ed (and Krugman’s subsequent defenses of portions thereof), Donald Luskin says:

At the end of the day, what is most striking to me about this whole affair is what it says about the so-called “science” of economics, aside from what it says about Krugman. It shows that highly credentialed (but politically biased) economists can use their reputations as scientists to offer to the public egregious errors-cum-lies. And then they can defend themselves, when caught at it, by twisting the infinitely elastic theories of their “science” into whatever shape is required to justify the lie after the fact. In terms of its long-range impact on human well-being, the “science” of economics may well be the most dangerous fraud ever perpetrated.

John Lott’s critics have said much the same thing about his use of econometrics (via Tim Lambert).

Now, I’m not going to pronounce either way on these issues. But I will say that I’m glad my little corner of academe has absolutely no bearing on the real world, Perestroika movement be damned.

Ok, it’s a slight exaggeration. But nobody’s going to be arguing the merits of a federal tax plan or the Second Amendment or anything else that’s particularly important based on my research, at least until I have tenure. And at least they’re economists… I don’t have to claim them as my own.

Holy Mini-Instalanche, Batman!

A right to privacy amendment

Apparently inspired by CalPundit’s idea to “out” anti-gay Republicans, Matthew Yglesias is speculating on the prospects of a right-to-privacy bill or amendment. Matthew speculates on why such an amendment has not been proposed in the past:

The existence (and scope) of a right to privacy in the constitution is a matter of some controversy, and proposing a constitutional privacy amendment might be seen as an admission on the part of privacy advocates that such a right does not exist in the un-amended constitution.

This argument goes back to the days of the Federalist Papers; one of the reasons why the Constitution didn’t originally include a Bill of Rights was the fear that enumerating rights would imply that those not enumerated did not exist (this is the reason the 9th Amendment was added to the Constitution, as part of the compromise Bill of Rights that the Federalists proposed to get the Constitution ratified—Radley Balko gives the expanded explanation here), based on the understanding that Congress’s enumerated powers were narrowly-drawn. Alexander Hamilton makes this argument in Federalist 84:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.

James Madison, who did support a Bill of Rights in some form, makes a similar point in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, again couching it terms of limited federal powers and a fear that enumerating liberties might encourage them to be curtailed.

Having said all that, in the 215 years since the Constitution was ratified, the interpretation of Congress’s enumerated powers has greatly expanded. Unless you’re a liberal who subscribes to Lopez (a rare liberal indeed!), an enumerated powers argument in support of a right to privacy isn’t going to go anywhere—despite the fact that, at least when discussing the federal government (and state governments whose constitutions also enumerate the powers of their legislatures, a field I am admittedly inexpert on), it’s arguably the most powerful one. So necessarily the protection of unenumerated rights rests solely on the 9th Amendment, which leads to the need to enumerate them to protect them from infringement by judicial or legislative fiat unencumbered by any recognition of limited power.

My view: since both parties have basically abandoned the principle of limited government, as a practical matter a RTP amendment probably wouldn’t be a bad thing in this day and age, as the 9th is a very shaky foundation to found fundamental freedoms, including some conception of a right to personal privacy, on. However, I’m not quite ready to abandon that principle myself, so from a philosophical standpoint a privacy amendment would likely be another nail in the coffin of the 9th.

Edited add a link to Radley’s 9th Amendment discussion, which I read and linked a day or two ago (a similar discussion been a part of my 101 lecture on the Constitution for a few years); Jeremy Scharlack has a good roundup of links on the 9th too. More Santorum discussion in the Santorarium.

A fisking makes print

The phenomenon of “fisking” has obviously reached the mainstream: it’s been employed successfully on page A8 of today’s edition of The Globe and Mail. The fisk-ee? None other than Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, apparently upset about Toronto’s role as the North American SARS capital.

That—in an interview with CNN’s bumbling Aaron Brown, perhaps better known as “ratings poison” or “the poor man’s Charlie Rose,” no less—Lastman came out the lesser is yet another strike against this walking argument against municipal consolidation (and for the Peter Principle).

Via Alec Saunders.

More John Lott

Glenn Reynolds today links to three articles in the Stanford Law Review that argue over John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime thesis. Normally in these disputes it’s hard to say much of anything without having the data at hand; thankfully, Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III have posted their data (warning—ZIP file) at Ayres’ website, so hopefully someone—who has more time on their hands than me and isn’t supposed to be writing a dissertation on a completely different topic at the moment, mind you—can make heads or tails of what’s going on.

My preliminary assessment (as a political scientist who plays an econometrician on TV and spends most of his time running limited dependent variable models): without knowing any of the authors’ statistical training, I’d be very reluctant to draw any conclusions from their writing alone, but Ayres and Donahue appear to be onto something. However, analyzing statistical models with fixed effects can be nasty business, particularly since theoretically the asymptotics that regression analysis relies on aren’t fulfilled (the number of independent variables in a fixed effects model increases as a function of the number of observations, rather than being constant) and throwing lots of atheoretical dummy variables into a model runs the risk of soaking up variance that really ought to be attributed to a substantive effect—but that applies equally to both sides in this debate.

I’m not quite sure why Ayres and Donahue use areg instead of xtreg in Stata to estimate fixed effects, but it shouldn’t make a substantive difference (it just makes the specification a bit harder); more generally, I’d be more comfortable if everyone involved used some sort of vaguely modern time-series analysis (ARIMA, VAR, cointegration—even Box-Jenkins!), but maybe I’m just weird that way. I assume the dependent variables are logged since economists log everything for some odd reason (perhaps just to make the regressions harder to interpret). It’s not entirely clear how any of the authors treat missing data.

Anyway, someone else will have to take over from here… this is far too much thought for a debate I have absolutely nothing invested in.

Julian Sanchez writes on this issue as well; I agree that this problem with his research (if borne out by the evidence) bothers me much more than the basically silly “Mary Rosh” business or other complaints (some of which seem to be based more on his political views on issues other than gun control).

Also, to clarify for the hardcore econometricians in the audience, by “time-series” I meant cross-sectional time-series or panel analysis. (Political scientists don’t get particularly worked up about the CSTS versus panel distinction in general, mainly because we tend to deal with much more of the latter; this data is closer to CSTS but has properties of both—large number of units, but also a fairly large number of time-points.)

Eason Jordan: dead horse beaten

Scott Johnson, whose Feedster is one of my favorite blog resources, has a good essay entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Watch CNN Any More.” It’s about a week old, but I just ran across it now.

Friday, 25 April 2003

Santorum’s Zone Gets Flooded

As I mentioned in the update to my last post on Rick Santorum, Pieter at Peaktalk said Bush could get himself in a lot of trouble by defending Santorum’s statement. Well, Andrew Sullivan links to an AP report from this morning; according to the report, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said:

The president believes the senator is an inclusive man. And that’s what he believes.

A similar report appears on the Reuters newswire. Needless to say, Sullivan isn’t happy. I just think the president’s needlessly carrying water for someone (like Trent Lott) who can’t be bothered to help himself.

Of course, if Bush did cut Santorum loose, Kevin Drum would just see it as another in a long line of Bush betrayals of people who’ve helped him in the past but fell in disfavor. But I could live with that…

Wind Rider at Silent Running (as they say, the blog, not the 1970s Bruce Dern vehicle that’s one of my mother’s favorite movies) thinks Santorum is being unjustly pilloried; my response is over there in his comments. Glenn Reynolds links to another defense, as does Matthew Yglesias; my response is not to even post a direct link.


Jacob Levy and Dan Drezner discuss today the unrealistic portrayal of academics in popular entertainment (in particular, on Friends, where apparently Ross is a paleontologist—not to be confused with a neoconservative, even though he’s Jewish [Ed: groan.]). From Dan’s post:

However, the story line that really frosted me was from a few years ago, when Ross was sleeping with an undergraduate. If the caricature of academia in the Blogosphere is a collection of tenured radicals, the caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male [sic] who inevitably bed one or more of their students.

This is true across mediums. …

There is no fighting it; if a fictional character is a white male professor, nine times out of ten he’s sleeping with the co-ed.

I suppose this portrayal reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of academics. While it is true that many professors do seem to get romantically involved with students, usually they are graduate students (which don’t fit the popular definition of “co-ed“); there just isn’t enough contact between undergraduates and faculty at most schools for such relationships to take root, particularly considering the ethical issues involved with relationships involving a current student. Grad students and faculty, on the other hand, are expected to socialize with each other and collaborate closely on scholarly projects, but relationships among them are not exactly widespread. That’s not to say they don’t happen, but they’re much less frequent than popular entertainment portrayals would make them appear.

For the record, I have seen exactly one episode of Friends in my life, and found it to be a thoroughly unremarkable experience, despite the fact that both David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow are talented actors who have done good work in other settings (Schwimmer had a good, if brief, run on NYPD Blue and Kudrow is a very talented actress, as all six people who have seen The Opposite of Sex know).

Beeb on the defensive

David Carr of Samizdata takes apart the BBC’s director general, Greg Dyke, for his pathetic defense of the tax-funded broadcaster’s “objectivity” and monopolistic practices.

The Laughing Wolf has more, tying Dyke’s comments to Eason Jordan’s perfidity.

I’ll take this as “they got it right”

Carl Bernstein, the lesser half of Woodward and Bernstein, is quite upset that students at UIUC were apparently able to deduce who Deep Throat was. (Link via Glenn Reynolds.)

The Santorum Fury

Dan Drezner has caught up with the Santorum debacle today; as usual, he has good points, pithily stated.

TV punditry, on the other hand, seems rather disconnected from what IMHO is the real issue here. Now, granted, as CalPundit says, “virtually every single paragraph has something to shake your head at.” But it’s odd that much of the head-shaking is still directed at the statement produced with the reporter’s inserted (gay) in the most famous quote in the interview, which reads in the transcript as follows:

We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, [sodomy] undermine[s] the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

(I’ve cleaned up the second sentence because it’s fairly clear he’s talking about the act of sodomy, even though the original quote reads “they undermine”—a less charitable interpretation might read it as “[homosexuals] undermine,” but I don’t think a reading in context supports that interpretation; the word “homosexuals” only appears in the reporter’s question, and isn’t even mentioned in this paragraph of his response. But as Glenn Reynolds points out, the quote’s very incoherent.)

He’s clearly talking about “the right to consensual sex” here, not just between homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, or what-have-you, but everyone. Most Americans—whether the Supreme Court thinks so or not—almost certainly think they have such a right. (Of course, most Americans also think they have the right to choose the members of the Electoral College, despite the plain text of the Constitution indicating the contrary, so maybe we should take this argument with a grain of salt.)

Now some of Santorum’s defenders, including those on Special Report with Brit Hume today, have trotted out Justice White’s 5-4 majority opinion in the unfortunately-named Bowers v. Hardwick (478 U.S. 186, 1986), which is the Supreme Court’s controlling precedent in Lawrence v. Texas (no relation). Justice White writes:

And if respondent’s submission is limited to the voluntary sexual conduct between consenting adults, it would be difficult, except by fiat, to limit the claimed right to homosexual conduct while leaving exposed to prosecution adultery, incest, and other sexual crimes even though they are committed in the home. We are unwilling to start down that road. (195-96)

The statute at issue in Lawrence, unlike that in Bowers, only applies to “deviate sexual intercourse” between individuals of the same gender. It is distinctly possible that the Supreme Court will overturn it on equal protection grounds, as the current justices did in another gay rights case by a 6-3 margin in Romer v. Evans (517 U.S. 620, 1996), without even reaching the “right to consensual sex” question; however, that would not strike down existing state laws like Mississippi’s that do not restrict the statute to a particular gender. But how far-reaching would a “right to consensual sex” be?

  1. Adultery and pre-marital sex would almost certainly have to be legalized. However, statutes against these acts, like those against heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, are basically unenforced, so the practical impact of this right on legislative authority would be minimal.

  2. Incest among sterile adults would probably be protected by the right. However, incest involving minors would almost certainly not be (a law prof would have the citations to cases); the same goes for statutory rape laws. Forbidding incest involving the possibility of procreation among adults would be more problematic with a “right to consensual sex,” but I’d imagine it’s doable as a public health issue.

  3. Polygamy (including bigamy), as distinguished from polyamory, involves more than a “right to consensual sex.”

Of course, the scope of this “right” largely depends on how broadly the Supreme Court decides to draw it and what sort of scrutiny they want to employ. My gut feeling is that the Griswold and Stanley lines will be augmented with Romer to produce a fairly narrowly-drawn decision that focuses on the 4th Amendment interest in personal privacy in one’s home, while arguing that the strict scrutiny standard applies as much to that 4th Amendment interest as it did to the 1st, 14th, and 15th Amendment interests at stake in Romer. It may open the door for challenges against laws like those Santorum cites, but I doubt the Court will go beyond the Texas statute in the case at hand.

Radley Balko has a spirited defense of the 9th Amendment that basically reflects my own views on the matter. And Pieter at Peaktalk points out the sticky position George Bush is in:

The GOP has to maneuver very carefully here in order to ensure that as many people as possible stay under the Republican umbrella and going out to bat for gay Americans just does not make electoral sense at this point in time. Yet, Bush may have lost some valuable voters over this issue and he will need to mend some fences over the next few months otherwise this issue will come back to haunt him during the campaign trail. By not disapproving Santorum’s comments, Bush will open himself to criticism that he believes that the government does have a role to play in people’s private lives and that may cost him more than just a few gay votes.

Thursday, 24 April 2003

Dixie Chicks: Hot or Not?

The Bitch Girls want to know

Blogroll enabled

The blogroll module in LSblog is now up-and-running, at least for display purposes—the table is in the database, and the update awareness (via is now working, but the admin interface stuff is going to take an hour or so more hacking. I’ll probably add the rest of the blogs I track via BlogMatrix in the next day or so, once I don’t have to manually INSERT them into the database from the psql prompt (so if your blog isn’t there yet, it may be coming in a day or so). In keeping with my effort to take advantage of CSS features, the styling for updated entries is done just in CSS—you can disable it in a user stylesheet if it’s particularly annoying to you.

By the way, the polling code will be in the LSblog 0.5 release under an MIT-style license; most of the infrastructure stuff that builds on external standards (TrackBack, the XML-RPC ping code, XML feeds, etc.) will eventually be licensed that way, with the GPL reserved for the frontend code (i.e. the stuff that generates the pages out of the database and the web-based admin code).

The backend code is complete, despite an hour-long power outage (whew!). Also, everyone who has blogrolled me (at least according to Technorati and the TTLB Blog Ecosystem) should be on the blogroll themselves now.

In case you’re curious, the blogroll order is determined by the last update of the blog (with the people who don’t ping at the bottom). It only gets notifications every hour (at 25 after, currently), since otherwise Dave Winer will kill me and/or my Winer number will be incremented.

Today's odyssey

The battery in my car died today (more likely, overnight). Thanks to a neighbor and the helpful folks at Wal-Mart, I’m back on the road again. Pretty amazing that the battery lasted as long as it did—it was the OEM battery, manufactured by Hitachi of all people, so it had to be at least six years old.

Wednesday, 23 April 2003

ONDCP Idiocy

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway kindly dismantles the latest ONDCP waste of taxpayer’s money, which I too witnessed while watching Special Report with Brit Hume (I TiVo it daily, mostly to watch the panel). Now the Drug Czar’s running ads that explicitly lobby for Congress not to change the drug laws using tax money. If a non-profit tried this crap, they’d have their tax exemption revoked faster than their head would spin. Truly disgusting.

Fake Bands

Ken Layne is apparently the frontman for Blögger (whose next album should be called Scourge of the Busted Permalink). Meanwhile, Brian Emmett (in Ken’s comments) suggests that they tour with Batshit Ne0c0n, which presumably is The Corner’s house band.

MSNBC's rightward lurch?

Glenn Reynolds points to a post at WizBang that suggests perennial cable news also-ran MSNBC is moving to the right in a quest for ratings.

As perhaps the only American to have watched MSNBC regularly for the past few weeks (and not just to gaze into the eyes of Chris Jansing, mind you), I have to say that they’ve found a fairly winning formula of late—regular news updates every 15 minutes, coupled with decent analysis and good use of NBC’s newsgathering resources, without all the annoying sound effects that accompany Fox News’s coverage (which are downright comical when listening to the audio feed on XM). This despite the following liabilities:

  1. Neither Buchanan nor Press represent any mainstream political movement in the United States (this also applies to CNN’s Bob Novak fetish).

  2. Matthews is just plain annoying. I find his politics enigmatic at best.

  3. Scarborough is sort of a lame ripoff of O’Reilly (he even does the “talking points” thing O’Reilly does) crossed with Fox’s weekend Kaisch show; the upside is he isn’t as annoying as O’Reilly.

On the other hand, they actually have some ethnic diversity (although my mom took some convincing that Lester Holt is black), unlike Fox’s Aryan Brotherhood approach to newscasting, and you actually get the sense that they take news seriously. (By contrast, Brit Hume and Tony Snow are the only two personalities on FNC that actually seem to act like they’re involved in a newscast. Compare that to John Gibson and Shepard Smith, who behave more like overexcited puppies than newscasters.)

Are they ripping off the Fox formula? To an extent; MSNBC feels like the “kinder, gentler” FNC in a lot of ways. And the news-watching audience is older, wealthier, and skews more male than the population at large—all conservative demographics—so it makes sense to go after that audience, especially if you can attract an audience that might agree with FNC’s ideology but dislike the Fox “attitude” approach to news.


I dreamt this morning that Dave Letterman had set up a blog. Not quite as exciting as Michele’s dream, but equally incomprehensible.

Balko on IJ

Radley Balko’s latest column celebrates a group that will make you shelve your lawyer jokes forever: Washington’s libertarian law firm, the Institute for Justice. If you’re not familiar with them, just think of IJ as our answer to the ACLU. I suspect by the time I’m old and grey, IJ will have done more to expand personal freedom and individual rights than any other organization in American history.

Radley sums it up best: “These guys are right on every issue, and deserve a little sunlight.”

Santorum and Empire

Steven Kruczek, whose blog The Grille I discovered via BlogMatrix, has a very interesting—and IMHO dead-on—take on what ails Republicans when they speak on legislative solutions to moral issues. The money quote:

Conservatives, it seems to me, have the same problem on moral issues as Liberals have on economic issues. Liberals see homelessness, poverty, or other suffering and say “something must be done!” Similarly, Conservatives see homosexuality or other acts they see as deviant and say “something must be done!” … Therefore the right, like Liberals for economic policy, turns to the government for solutions. Unfortunately, in both morality and economic redistribution, governments are no good at affecting [sic] solutions to these problems.

And this is where the right gets itself into trouble.

I can’t really do it justice here… just RTWT™. (And bear in mind that BPAW™.)

Johnny Two-Cents finds Santorum’s connection of the right to privacy to the Boston child molestation scandal the most bizarre part of the interview (and approvingly cites my snarky comment at Matt’s place on the two major parties). Like Kevin Drum points out, this has got to be the Most. Outrageous. Interview. Ever. The whole thing deserves a good Fisking (I wonder if Santorum thinks the right to privacy covers that?).

Spring cleaning

I made a few minor changes behind-the-scenes here at Signifying Nothing:

  1. I’ve added a new “Best of Signifying Nothing” sidebar on the front page; the main criterion for inclusion is that I find the post particularly interesting, although posts that got major linkage will receive consideration as well. It’s heavily biased toward wordy entries, but otherwise should be fairly eclectic in content.

  2. The title of this weblog is now just “Signifying Nothing.”

  3. I’ve fiddled with the stylesheet some more; the most notable change is that blockquotes now have changebars next to them and aren’t red/orange/whatever you’d call this color any more. The underlying markup has also become a bit more semantic again, since it seems like most browsers can style <H3> credibly. (I also took out some commented-out cruft.)

  4. A lot of the backend code has been made more customizable, in preparation for another LSblog release. Before that happens, I’ll probably sit down and write the blogroll code (which means I may present a blogroll while I’m testing things, even though I’m still not sold on having one).

So, to the extent you notice the changes, I hope you like them!

I love the smell of Washington hypocrisy in the morning

James Joyner at Inside the Beltway (and possible closeted roadgeek, judging from his header graphic) links to Bill Quick’s discussion of some recent recess appointments. Bill notes the direction the screaming is coming from has shifted with the partisanship of the head of the executive branch, and James thinks the recess appointment power has outlived its usefulness:

The recess appointment power is one whose purpose has long since passed into history. In the early days of the Republic, Congress adjourned for months at a time. It was inordinately hot in DC in the summertime in the days before AC, for one. For another, the Federal government didn’t have all that much to do. Of course, all that’s changed now.

Now, granted, the Senate is abusing its constitutional authority by filibustering nominees and otherwise stalling the process. So, in that sense, it balances out. But it doesn’t make it right.

I pretty much agree with that assessment. I’d have to check out a copy of Unorthodox Lawmaking by Barbara Sinclair—a must-read if you’re interested in the contemporary legislative process—but I’m pretty sure that the incidence of filibusters is increasing of late; at some point in the not-too-distant future, I’d expect a rule change to either narrow the scope of what can be filibustered or to limit the duration of a filibuster, but that largely depends on the majority leader’s willingness to force the issue by requiring “real” filibusters rather than the costless “virtual” filibusters that take place now. Make the senators sleep on cots in the cloakroom for a few nights—or not sleep at all—and I suspect they’ll decide to sharply curtail the filibuster rule in short order.

By the way (as part of my endless quest to make this blog vaguely pedagogical), the recess appointment power is buried in Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution:

The President shall have the power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions, which shall expire at the end of their next session.

Just in case you were wondering…

Tuesday, 22 April 2003


It’s post-modernist. It’s post-ablogolyptic. It’s post-literacy. It’s… the inimitable Puce. CLICK.

Originally found via Michele.

Now there’s a Puce Watch. Is nothing sacred?

Santorum Sanitarium

As mentioned previously, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been getting a fair amount of defense from the libertarian parts of blogdom. However, the Left Leaner has dug up the transcript of the interview (via a Feedster search that led me to Atrios—I always knew he’d be good for something), and in some ways it’s even more damning. The actual text of what Santorum says:

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

SANTORUM: We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

The italicized part is the commonly-excerpted part. The reporter originally added the word (gay) to the statement, but Santorum is clearly coming out here in opposition to the Supreme Court stating that there’s a “right to consensual sex within your home.” Or, to clarify for those who haven’t had my civil liberties lecture, he thinks it ought to be constitutional (syn: legal, permissible) for a state to outlaw sex between consenting adults—any consenting adults.

But wait—it gets better. Let’s continue on the magical mystery tour of Rick Santorum’s constitutional philosophy:

It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold—Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you—this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

That’s right. Your personal liberty is less important than the government’s compelling interest in creating “strong, healthy families” like Rick’s. (Insert your own joke about social capital and communitarianism here. No offense, Bob Putnam.)

Then it just gets plain weird:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality…

AP: I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about “man on dog” with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.

I’m freaked out, and I’m only reading this sludge.

SANTORUM: And that’s sort of where we are in today’s world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.

Let’s zoom in on this part: “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions.” Chew on that for a while. Now let’s compare and contrast with a different view of what the state’s role should be:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The fundamental purpose of our government is to secure individuals’ God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not to decide what people get healthcare, figure out who’s more worthy of an air-conditioned house, or—for that matter—dictate what two consenting adults are allowed to do in their bedroom. Perhaps Sen. Santorum should think about that for a while.

Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy has more; he’s much less sanguine about Santorum’s comments than Eugene was (although in the latter’s defense, I don’t think Eugene had seen the interview transcript at the time).

Andrew Sullivan makes the same point in the midst of flooding the zone on Santorum. The sad thing is that if Santorum were talking about economic policy in the same terms (hypothetical: the state ought to have the right to limit people’s income to $100,000 per year), the usual suspects on the left would be cheering him on… which nicely dovetails with Eugene Volokh’s point here about why libertarians can’t be Democrats either.

Radley Balko (The Agitator) is equally unimpressed—and by that, of course, I mean thoroughly disgusted with the illiberal bullshit coming out of Santorum’s mouth.

Methodism pegged

In the midst of a serious post from Jane Galt’s Asymmetrical Information on whether Tom Daschle should stop calling himself a Roman Catholic, I found this laugh-out-loud statement (emphasis added):

Think of it like this: if you’re a Methodist, you don’t have to like the wedding service, and you can even tell everyone you don’t like it, even not use it, and you’re still a Methodist. But if you tell everyone the Bible is bunk and that Jesus guy was a real jerk, you may tell people you’re a Methodist, but you’re not one, and it would be reasonable for your clergy to ask you to stop so identifying, except that Methodists are far too polite to ever dream of such a thing.

I think Jane’s identified about the only part of Methodist teaching that might earn one who spoke in opposition to it opprobrium from the church. But I’m not sure that reproach would be much more than a stern talking to (if that). I suppose you can be thrown out of the United Methodist Church, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

Out of curiosity, I looked up what the United Methodist Church says Methodists believe; it was quite an interesting read for this semi-lapsed Methodist who has only taken Communion once in the past decade or so.

(As far as Daschle is concerned, I’m not a Catholic so I could care less what the Roman Church decides to do with him. But if you’re a Catholic and want to be excommunicated for whatever reason, I found this handy guide with a Google search.)

If not Abu (Mazen), who?

(Editor’s note: this post has been stirring around for about six weeks; I put it on the backburner after a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. I was inspired to resurrect and expand on this message by this Volokh Conspiracy entry contributed by Jonathan Zasloff.)

I’ll admit to being nothing more than a mildly interested outside observer of Israeli politics (extended family and friends notwithstanding). So I had to color myself a bit shocked upon reading this Jerusalem Post piece by Michael Freund, decrying a potential Pax Americana—not because of any deleterious effects on global peace and security, or even opposition to American hegemony per se—but because it would impose a two-state solution on Israel:

… George Bush has now positioned himself, and his presidency, on a clear trajectory. He aims to knock Saddam out of the box in the next few weeks, after which his goal will be to fulfill Yasser Arafat’s lifelong dream of establishing an independent Palestine.

Of course, Bush did stress that the new Palestinian state should be “truly democratic,” but given its track record of violence and corruption over the past decade, chances are that the Palestinian entity-in-the-making will be little more than just another old-style dictatorship.

This cannot be allowed to happen. But unless Israel acts now, it most certainly will.

Now, realistically, what are the alternatives to an independent Palestinian state? Clearly the current Israeli semi-occupation isn’t working. A “single state” solution is a non-starter in terms of domestic governability, absent a program of ethnic cleansing that would undercut U.S. support for Israel and likely encourage yet another war with surrounding Arab states—the current demographics just aren’t sustainable for the Jewish community to be comfortable in a single state. (A “greater Israel” with the Palestinians cowed or pushed out seems to have a great deal of vicarious support from the pro-Israel right in the U.S.; Laurence Simon and Charles Johnson seem to be its most vocal proponents in the blogosphere.) The Jordanians don’t want the West Bank back, for good reason, and it’s hard to think of another country to give it to that would be more acceptable than just letting Arafat run it. Perhaps the most workable alternative to Palestinian statehood is Labor’s “complete separation” plan, but in practice it’s about the same as Palestinian independence, albeit without any external recognition.

Is the “Roadmap”—a term that’s beginning to grate as much as Al Gore’s “lockbox,” by the way—the best way forward? I don’t know. You can make a legitimate argument that requiring parallel steps implies a moral equivalency between the two sides that plainly isn’t present; you can complain that Abu Mazen, the nominee for the prime ministership of the Palestinian Authority, is tainted by his association with terror—as, realistically, any credible Palestinian leader would be by this point; the Good Friday accords required Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams at the table to work, despite both mens’ past apologia for terrorism. But it’s telling that nobody has any better idea: it’s either the Roadmap or more of the intifada, apparently, and thus the Roadmap wins by default.

Galloway on Saddam's payroll?

The Daily Telegraph reports in Tuesday’s paper that British anti-war MP George Galloway received over £375,000 ($586,000) per year in diverted oil revenues from the Iraqi government under the former Saddam Hussein regime, according to papers recovered from the Iraqi intelligence service in Baghdad. Galloway, responding to questions from the paper, suggests that the papers were forged.

Editorial comment: whoa.

News via The Command Post.

Monday, 21 April 2003

LSblog 0.4

As promised: here it is. If you break it, both pieces are yours. It requires at least Python 2.2.2, the PsycoPG database adapter, and a recent PostgreSQL; you’ll get the best performance with mod_python, but most everything except the cookie setting can run as a CGI as well (and the administrative stuff only runs as CGI scripts at the moment).

Send any feedback to, and let me know if you deploy the code anywhere.

Content aggregation by topic

One of the vaguely neat things behind the scenes in LSblog is that each post has a topic attached to it, each of which is mapped to an Open Directory topic. Now if you’re just reading the site from the home page, this makes absolutely no difference in your life; the fun part is if you take one of the RSS 2.0 feeds and start aggregating the content into something bigger. The Open Directory topic information in the feed allows you to take my topic namespace and map it into a more universal namespace.

What is the potential upside of this? One thing you could do is create a “virtual group blog” based on full-content RSS feeds. For example, you could build something like the Command Post, but without the administrative overhead of setting up a dedicated Movable Type (or Blogger or LSblog or whatever) installation; just scrape the RSS feeds of the contributors, looking for posts matching Society/Issues/Warfare_and_Conflict/Specific_Conflicts/Iraq. Similarly you could aggregate all the content from a number of blogs that’s under the Open Directory’s Science/Social_Sciences/Political_Science into a political science scholar-blog. (You could also do this at the level of your own RSS aggregator, to create a topic-centered rather than author-centered view of weblog content.)

Another possibility would be to make searches more fine-grained. Feedster has a “war filter”; how about a Mississippi politics filter?

Where to go from here? At some point, integrating the existing framework with ENT seems like it might be necessary; I’m hoping someone else will do the translation from the Open Directory’s XML into OPML so I don’t have to do it myself. I’d also like to build a RSS aggregator backend into LSblog.

More Republican idiocy

I have to wonder if ascending to a leadership post in the Senate requires contracting Tourette’s syndrome. The latest moron: Rick Santorum (R-PA), whose attitude toward homosexuality is (and I quote, believe me I wish I was making this shiz-nit up):

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

The most charitable interpretation of this quote (which apparently refers to the Supreme Court’s upcoming case that might overturn the unfortunately-named Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas—no relation) is… scratch that, there is no charitable interpretation. The dude’s a moron, or high, or something. Compare this made-up quote:

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to drink alcohol within your home, then you have the right to do blow, you have the right to deflower virgin cheerleaders, you have the right to drink bongwater, you have the right to sunbathe naked on your front lawn. You have the right to do anything.

It makes about as much logical sense. Possibly more.

James Joyner has more; he finds a bit more logical consistency in Santorum’s statement than I give him credit for.

You can read a more benign intent into the quote from the more recent article that most have linked from; however, the original wire story (linked above) puts a bit more context around it—and Santorum’s definitely staking out a vehemently anti-gay position. Also: Matthew Yglesias, along with most of the blogospheric left, isn’t particularly surprised.

Eugene Volokh thinks it’s a faux controversy. Just to be clear, my objection isn’t so much to the position Santorum stakes out as it is to the choice of activities he implicitly compares homosexuality to. For example, heterosexual sodomy, premarital cohabitation, and the sale of sex toys are sexual acts whose constitutional protection might follow from overturning Texas’ sodomy statute, yet Santorum doesn’t complain about them—even though those acts are considered morally questionable in some quarters and remain technically illegal in certain states, including Mississippi; see e.g. Mississippi Code 97-29-105 (distribution of sex toys illegal—up to a year in jail, plus fines), 97-29-59 (“unnatural intercourse”—up to ten years at Parchman, where presumably more “unnatural intercourse” would take place) and 97-29-1 (cohabitation illegal—up to six months in jail, plus fines).

Via John Cole. A bit of surfing with Lexis-Nexis failed to turn up the original source for this quote; it apparently came directly from an interview with this reporter.

Universal healthcare (yawn)

Kevin “CalPundit” Drum, at his spiffy new Movable Type digs (this ought to be a new trademark, a correlate to “Blogger Permalinks Aren’t Working” and “Read the Whole Thing”), favorably discusses Dick Gephardt’s almost-but-not-quite-Hillarycare plan. The nicest thing I’ll say about it is that at least it isn’t single-payer.

Universal healthcare is the lefty nirvana that won’t die, for some odd reason, even though it has no natural constituency. The dirty little secret in the health insurance debate is that most people who don’t have it are young, not poor, and healthy, and hence don’t need it. What universal healthcare is fundamentally about is dragging these people into the risk pool to further subsidize the healthcare of the old and chronically ill. Everyone gets to sleep better at night knowing we’ve cut per capita expenses on healthcare while ignoring the fact that we’ve added 30 million new payees who didn’t need to be in the system in the first place. (The more I write about it, the more I realize that this is lefty nirvana: find people to subsidize something you want, and pretend they’re getting something out of it too.)

What would I do instead? Give people access to low-cost catastrophic insurance coverage (with a high deductable) and a dollar-for-dollar AGI deduction for routine medical care and out-of-pocket expenses. Not quite as sexy, but it has the advantages of not creating perverse incentives to get higher tax credits (“we’ll just reincorporate in Delaware to get the full 100% credit”) and placing more pricing pressure in the hands of health care consumers, rather than oligopolistic HMOs and insurance companies.

Kenyan MP to speak at UM

On Wednesday, Koigi wa Wamwere will speak on the “Western Betrayal of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Africa” at the Croft Institute here at the University of Mississippi; a little more information is at the campus newsdesk.

Attention telemarketers

Just FYI, I’ve taken the $7.95/month drain on my finances and complete waste of money that BellSouth calls “Caller ID with Name and Number Delivery” off of my landline. But you’re still going to get my answering machine. And it’s muted. So nyah.

I realize none of the telemarketers who call me read my blog, but I felt the need to vent publicly, since I won’t be speaking to any telemarketers on the phone.

Scholar-blogger taxonomy

Via Jacob Levy, I learn that Henry Farrell has reorganized his directory of scholar-bloggers by discipline. That’s something of a Herculean task, one that can lead to fistfights if one isn’t careful. For example, you won’t catch me discussing whether you can be opposed to empiricism and still be a political scientist—so I’ll refrain from talking about the Perestroika movement, and just direct you to Mr. Pravda’s comments instead.

For the record, I am a political scientist who studies mass political behavior, legislative behavior, political institutions, and political methodology. In a pinch, you can call me an Americanist, but I also study comparative politics—one of the three analytical chapters of my dissertation (The Role of Political Sophistication in the Use of Heuristics by Voters) looks at the role of political sophistication in the voting behavior of the Dutch electorate. My fundamental bias is toward empiricism (qualitative or quantitative, although I do much more of the latter—having data is nice), perhaps due to my undergrad days studying hard science and mathematics.

What I’m not: a normative political theorist. I’m afraid any APSR article with the word “Locke” in the title will fly straight over my head. Nor am I any good at game theory.

Black candidates in Mississippi

Geitner Simmons at Regions of Mind links to an interesting Clarion-Ledger article on a perceived opening for black candidates in statewide races in Mississippi in 2003. (Obligatory Merle Black quotes included.)

My gut feeling since the Lottroversy went down has been that 2003 would be a bad year for Democrats, particularly black Democrats, in the state. It’s early days yet, but if the GOP doesn’t successfully mobilize the latent feeling among many whites in Mississippi that Lott was unjustly pilloried (as they’ve failed to do so far), this election season could turn out to be a bonanza for the Democrats.

Saturday, 19 April 2003

Sabato Exposed

What Bill Hobbs said. Not that I’d expect the Tennessean to know any better…

I guess this means I won’t be getting a job at Virginia. Ah well, I’ll live.

Friday, 18 April 2003

Free fonts!

Bitstream has generously donated a nice set of professionally-designed typefaces to the GNOME project and the larger free software community. The monospace font is particularly nice—I just changed my default PuTTY font to it.

DARPA and de Raadt

Eugene Volokh looks at the possibility that a DARPA contract with OpenBSD was cancelled due to anti-war activism by OpenBSD project leader Theo de Raadt. Another possible explanation is that much of the work was farmed out to non-US citizens, including de Raadt, apparently in violation of the grant’s terms. A third possibility is that another aspect of de Raadt’s notoriously abrasive personality was involved. (More on this story is at Slashdot, of course.)

Yale anti-war student redux

Bitter Bitch is very skeptical about Yale student Katherine Lo’s efforts to extrapolate a widespread stifling of dissent from a single incident; Ms. Lo’s account sounds more like the writings of Michael Moore than those of Mahatma Ghandi.

Lily Malcolm of The Kitchen Cabinet (and Yale Law) has more:

Obviously, if students are really breaking into other students' rooms weilding two-by-fours, they should be dealt with severely. On the other hand, it seems to me that anti-war folks would need to be awfully skittish to sense a general environment of intimidation at Yale.​​​​​ Anti-war people are not what you'd call a tiny minority here.

Another CNN obit

Moxie has found another obituary that the Smoking Gun’s investigation missed. You can almost imagine it including this quote from CNN’s chief news executive, Eason Jordan: “He tried to assassinate our own Brent Sadler, but otherwise he really wasn’t that bad a guy.”

Thursday, 17 April 2003

Vibrator blogging

I’m for it too. But wireless vibrator blogging would be right out. And I just don’t know what to think about penis blogging; however, I think Eason Jordan is somehow blameworthy.

However, I think I’ll just stick to misanthropic ramblings with occassional links to light relationship blogging (and, of course, hot Mox photos) for spice.

Wednesday, 16 April 2003

CNN World Report

The InstaMan links to Bruce Fierstein’s discussion of CNN World Report, a lovely program mostly consisting of English-language propaganda clips from third-world state-run broadcasters. Unlike Fierstein, I distinctly remember it being broadcast on U.S. CNN until fairly recently (well into the 1990s), probably until CNN International was forked off to become a separate network (instead of a jumbled amalgam of CNN’s domestic network and CNN Headline News, which it was in the early 1990s).

CNN International does get some domestic play, running on CNNfn during the overnight hours. The best I can tell of it is that it’s a bad imitation of BBC World, basically redoing CNN with Commonwealth accents and commercials while doing a mid-Atlantic hybrid of American-style and British-style reporting and succeeding at neither.

As for World Report, it always struck me as relatively harmless so long as the viewer was consciously aware that it was basically government propaganda. Unfortunately, CNN never made much of an effort to identify it explicitly as such, only billing it as “uncensored and unedited” but not mentioning that it was CNN who wasn’t doing any of the censoring or editing and that the production choices weren’t CNN’s. In other words, not unlike CNN’s behavior in Baghdad, where you got “uncensored and unedited” reports from the events and places Baghdad Bob wanted you to broadcast; since nobody in Atlanta was leading the reporters around by the nose, it was apparently perfectly legitimate reportage in CNN’s eyes.

Wireless blogging

I’m for it.

Coalition formation and civil liberties

One problem the left has faced in trying to prevent some of the excesses of the Ashcroft-led assault on civil liberties is their inability to get the instinctive libertarians, including libertarian-leaning Republicans, on their side. Part of the issue may be rhetorical: by framing the issue as a problem with Ashcroft, many on the right will instinctively react to it as partisan bickering rather than a serious issue that needs to be addressed; this is hardly helped by the perception that objections to Ashcroft’s policies are played up for fundraising efforts by the ACLU and other left-wing interest groups. Part of the issue may be a failure of many in the left to take seriously libertarian claims that they have a distinctly different view of the role of the state than conservatives, and thus are dismissive of the left’s ability to gain allies.

So it’s somewhat heartening to see the folks at TalkLeft talking about building coalitions with politicans and citizens outside the traditional left to defeat “Son of PATRIOT” and other Ashcroftian idiocies—and, as Glenn Reynolds points out, Ashcroft’s idiocies have plenty of willing allies on the “left” too, including Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. It’s clear that civil liberties are a good fund-raising issue for the left, but Democrats in Congress mostly aren’t sticking their necks out for them—if they were, they’d be filibustering the RAVE act being inserted into the AMBER Alert bill in addition to a couple of relatively minor judicial nominees.

If the policies are going to be fixed, it’s going to require a full-court press, not just from the left but also from the people on the right who are more likely to be listened to by a Republican administration. That means building long-term, cross-party coalitions that care about these issues that transcend the historically “left” and “right” interest groups in Washington and can build a real pro-civil liberties caucus in Congress that isn’t hostage to a particular party.

Charles Murtaugh makes much the same point today (22 April), far more eloquently than I did:

Too often, liberal bloggers dismiss the libertarians as sleeper GOP activists, but I continue to be impressed by how much common ground there is between liberal and libertarian critics of the Bush administration's excesses. It's a shame that so many liberals allow tax cuts and tort reform to separate them from potential allies—conservatives, it's worth noting, don't let disagreements about abortion and drugs deter them from cautiously embracing the libertarians.

The Word of the Day: logrolling. Liberals might want to try it sometime…

More Mark on XHTML 2

Mark Pilgrim links to his latest Dive into XML column on XHTML at I’m still not sold on the value of this spec, and the prospect of a non-user-writable HTML is bothersome to say the least as a html-helper-mode junkie, but at least some of it, including the <l> and <nl> elements, seem to be useful ideas.

However, I’d personally prefer more focus on getting CSS3 finished and implemented—at least Mozilla, Opera and Safari (and by extension Konqueror, since it’s also based on KHTML) are going in the right direction, although I’ve had to back out a few of my CSS hacks because Safari seems to have regressed in its handling of them (since text-transform: lowercase now works while font-variant: small-caps doesn’t, even though the latter can legally be implemented simply by mapping the content back to uppercase—even IE does that much).

That “s” word again

Colby Cosh notes today that secession is the underlying threat being made by leading Alberta politicians as part of an aggressive effort to repatriate more powers from Ottawa, following the lead of on-and-off secessionist Québec. With many in the province upset with the Liberal Chrétien government’s hamfisted approach to, well, virtually everything (including energy policy, a particular concern in Alberta), this is something that people with an interest in Canadian politics should definitely keep an eye on.

Firebird (Phoenix) build updated

Yet another Phoenix build for Linux (Intel 32-bit), although now it’s been renamed Firebird™. Download it here; as with previous builds, it is built with Xft and the Gtk 2.x toolkit and (optional) Xprint support. As always, you’ll probably need Debian unstable or something else very recent for it to run properly.

If you want to build your own copy from CVS, this .mozconfig file may be helpful. If you want to optimize it for your particular system, you’ll probably want to change the -mcpu=athlon to -march=whatever, but that may stop it from running on other CPUs.

Out with the grass, in with the AstroPlay

They’re replacing the grass in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with something called AstroPlay®, which is also used at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium and at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Considering that the field looked like absolute crap at the end of last season (and looked pretty shabby during the Red-Blue Game this spring), I think they’re doing the right thing.

Voting systems

Matthew Yglesias (now back blogging after some nasty problems with Movable Type) has an interesting series of posts on voting systems.

Current federal law requires the use of single-member districts to elect the House of Representatives (per 2 USC 1 § 2c), but nothing in the constitution requires it—as the Supreme Court noted in Branch v. Smith (538 U. S. ?, 2003). Nor does federal law specify the mechanism for elections, although they must comply with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as interpreted by Thornburg v. Gingles (478 U.S. 30, 1986), and related laws, which may rule out the use of majority-runoff elections in some circumstances.

Ceteris paribus, I’d favor some sort of mixed proportional representation/plurality system for House elections, like the “top-up” PR system used for elections to the Scottish and Welsh assemblies (also known as the Additional Member System); however, the best we can do in the House under current federal law is either approval voting or some other single-member district method (Condorcet or instant run-off being the most likely).

Tuesday, 15 April 2003

So near, yet so far

I had a moderately pleasant meeting with my dissertation chair this morning. The good news is that in terms of the data analysis, my dissertation is much closer to done than I normally think it is. The bad news is that I still need to wrap it up in flowery prose and write up a strong section on political sophistication, which I’ve basically been procrastinating on since last spring.

Still, it’s somewhat reassuring to know that at least I’m getting somewhere. It just doesn’t feel that way much of the time…

Monday, 14 April 2003

Atrios and Hesiod unglued

The Baseball Crank pithily sums up what’s wrong with everyone’s favorite members of the left fringe of the Blogosphere. (By the way, I personally recommend Matthew Yglesias or CalPundit if you want to read liberals who aren’t divorced from reality.)

It’s amazing that Meryl Yourish would get Atrios and Hesiod confused, no?

Franklin Foer on CNN

Franklin Foer (author of last October’s expose of CNN’s “propaganda hut” coverage of Iraq in The New Republic) writes in today’s Wall Street Journal on CNN’s record of obsfucation and lies in its Iraq coverage under the Saddam regime. He particularly lays into “Baghdad” Jane Arraf, the network’s longtime Iraq bureau chief:

When Saddam won his most recent “election,” CNN’s Baghdad reporter Jane Arraf treated the event as meaningful: “The point is that this really is a huge show of support” and “a vote of defiance against the United States.” After Saddam granted amnesty to prisoners in October, she reported, this “really does diffuse [sic] one of the strongest criticisms over the past decades of Iraq’s human-rights records.”

For long stretches, Ms. Arraf was American TV’s only Baghdad correspondent. Her work was often filled with such parrotings of the Baathist line. On the Gulf War’s 10th anniversary, she told viewers, “At 63, [Saddam] mocks rumors he is ill. Not just standing tall but building up. As soon as the dust settled from the Gulf War, and the bodies were buried, Iraq began rebuilding.” She said little about human-rights violations, violent oppression, or festering resentment towards Saddam. Scouring her oeuvre, it is nearly impossible to find anything on these defining features of the Baathist epoch.

And Victor David Hanson in NRO is hardly impressed with the rest of the media in Baghdad either (via Trent Telenko).

CalPundit isn’t very impressed with Rupert Murdoch either; nor am I.

Mark's back

Nice to see fellow GOLUM-ite Mark Turnage back blogging again!

I guess this means I should get off my butt and release LSblog, since Mark’s the first person who showed any interest in using it.

Sunday, 13 April 2003

Foomatic-GUI 0.2

I’ve updated Foomatic-GUI to work with the changed autodetection code in the latest Foomatic printer databases, and made some minor additional fixes. Get it here.

I've also prepared debs of Foomatic 3.0.0rc1; you can download them from

Cubin pulls a Lott

Until this weekend, I didn’t know who Barbara Cubin was. Now I do. This is the best they could do in Cheney’s former seat?

More, of course, at your one-stop shop for Republican shoe-eating coverage. There seems to be some debate as to whether she was just making a poorly-thought-out analogy or something worse.

The Battle of Larry, Curly and Moe

Trent Telenko of Winds of Change.NET has an interesting post on the battles on the 3rd Infantry Division’s “Thunder Run” through southern Baghdad last Monday. Not only was it a more ferocious battle than reported last week, it turns out to have been as lopsided as the armored Battle of 73 Easting in Gulf War I. Trent writes:

Let’s put this in perspective. An American service company was ambushed not once, but several times in on a road in close urban combat. It was pinned down in penny packets that were not mutually supported. They were operating under rules of engagement that required warning shots before engagement and the smoke from burning vehicles cut line of sight to 300–400 meters. When the smoke cleared, there were 300 dead Iraqi paramilitaries in front of the support company made up of mechanics, clerk-typists, staff officers & NCOs for two dead Americans.

Compare that to the performance of conscript Russian armored forces in the first battle for Grozney in Chechnya where a Russian Motorized Rifle Regiment was wiped out with 95% of its 150 armored vehicles destroyed.

Or to the results of “Blackhawk Down” in Mogadishu where 18 American Special Forces died at the hands of the Somali Aideed clan.

Wow. Simply wow. RTWT™.

An interesting applied probability problem

As a political methodologist (the part of The Discipline™ that specializes in probability and statistics), I probably ought to be more interested in baseball than I am. After all, baseball is the most stats-intensive sport in the world by far, largely because it consists of a large number of repetitions of people doing basically the same things—hitting, fielding, and pitching—over and over again, and large numbers of repetitions mean you can make good generalizations from the data. Of course, early in the season, your generalizations can be pretty bad.

David Pinto at Baseball Musings looks at the example of the Kansas City Royals, who are the only remaining undefeated team in the majors, with eight wins so far, but who have been predicted to only win 66 of 162 (or 40.74% of their games). It turns out that there’s an 11.1% chance that a team winning 66 games would have an eight-game winning streak during its season, which most statisticians would attribute to being within the realm of random chance (generally we like 5% as a cutoff).

For fun, extending it to a 9-win streak reduces it to 4.65% (below the 5% level), or just about 1 in 22. At that point, I’d be pretty confident that the Royals will win more than 66, since in 21 of 22 seasons a team that would eventually only win 66 would never have a 9-game winning streak.

For R geeks: evaluate either 1-dbinom(0, 155, dbinom(8, 8, 66/162)) or sum(dbinom(1:155, 155, dbinom(8, 8, 66/162))), depending on your mood. You should get 0.1110256. Change the 155 to 154 and the 8s to 9s to evaluate the 9-win streak hypothesis.

The Royals’ winning streak did end at nine games. Also, David Pinto talks some more about confidence levels (and generously links here) in this post; note that if the prediction had been 67 games, the probability of a 9-win streak would edge above the 5% confidence level (to 5.31%), which indicates both the arbitrariness of a chosen confidence level and that the Royals could still stink up the joint.

Jed Roberts correctly points out that David and I make an invalid independence assumption in the streak calculations that potentially overestimates the probability of a given streak occurring during a season. David also carries a lengthy comment from Michael Weddell on the significance of the Royals’ streak.

“Nonfiction Writing in Journalism” an elective?

Need an explanation for the behavior of Robert Fisk and Eason Jordan? Look no further than Bitter Bitch’s interesting catalog discovery. Suddenly, it all makes sense!

CNN: What are they still hiding?

Winds of Change.NET is carrying a guest entry by C. Blake Powers that thinks CNN may have revealed some things about its apparent collaboration with the Saddam regime to try to divert attention from others:

Somebody wants the obvious story pursued. Somebody is willing to live with the howls of outrage and calls for boycotts and such that will be generated. Why? Why are they willing to live with this? What scares them so badly that this is preferable?

Well, in addition to preemptive ass-coverage for when it comes out that CNN has been collaborating for access in other world capitals (and anyone who’s heard a CNN Havana bureau report knows they’re toeing Castro’s line as closely as Jane Arraf toed Saddam’s), it’s possible—and I stress possible—they’ve been complicit in identifying opposition figures within Iraq, thus endangering them, or have provided information streams beyond broadcast information to enemy forces. One possibility: it’s hard to believe that CNN didn’t know where its embedded reporters were located, although that information wasn’t aired, and that information could have been covertly passed to Baghdad, either through Iraqi moles or deliberate acts by CNN employees.

Then again, maybe there isn’t really more to the story (beyond the widespread, and valid, critique of CNN’s so-called “sanctions coverage”). But some enterprising reporter may want to start digging, nonetheless.

Hatemail (Volume 1)

In response to my posting regarding my good friend and fellow graduate student Sean-Paul Kelley, a reader of Signifying Nothing was kind enough to write a response.

Subject: Hey, Asshole!

Well, hey to you too, “Hamilton K. Barton <>”. However, I suppose that since I’m only Cc’d, he’s probably actually calling Sean-Paul an asshole, since that’s whose address appears on the To line. Ah well, I’ll live.

Do you have to actually leave your house to participate in the APSA, ACM, or the SPSA (non card carrying) organizations. When you are dealing with something as actual in fact as war, the events are so in your face, ( look at the cameras on Fox and MSNBC some time and tell them that they are not plagiarizing each other) and true to life, that we all seem to have the same reality of what we see and hear. The events are so intensely real, it is almost impossible to not have the same exact response as the person next to you, or the person 5,000 miles away. When someone is trying to keep us informed as diligently as Mr. Kelly is, you can hear the troops have overtaken Saddam Int. Airport, and quickly type “Troops have overtaken Saddam Int. Airport!” A Blogger is a Blogger. Mr. Kelley has actually put himself in a position to be a contributing member to society positively affecting other peoples financial state in this tumultuous economy and still keep us informed. If he were to give us information based on emotion, (Sean Paul Kelly is a Flaming Asshole, I have butted heads with him before.) I would probably have some complaints.

You’ll notice that those cameras on Fox and MSNBC have text in the corner saying who actually set up the cameras, like “Abu Dhabi TV” for example. You see, it would be plagiarism if they just stole Abu Dhabi’s work and pretended that it was their own. Like Sean-Paul stole Stratfor’s work and pretended it was someone else’s.

And, actually, I called Sean-Paul a “Flaming Jackass.” Sheesh. Get your facts straight before sending hatemail.

Why don’t you spend some more time actually criticizing the crap that you put on your web site instead of the information on others? You remind me of the type of little piss ant pussy that got your ass so constantly kicked in high school that you have nothing else to do besides keep hiding yourself behind degrees and titles which give you a false sense of importance. One of the many reasons that I am sending you this response to your totally off base criticism, is that I am presently listening to an interview with Mr. Kelly on an interview on the Jack Ricarde show on 550 KTSA. You reap what you sow. See me in 15 years when you are still chasing acronyms to put behind your name and Mr. Kelly is affecting the world with legislation and charity.

Hmm. Well, hopefully he’ll actually be doing his own work then, instead of just taking Stratfor’s work and passing it off as developed from his own independent sources.

A blogger passes on information and, and yes, he admitted to using information from others. He is not in Iraq, Dumb Ass! He does not by trade benefit from passing on information. We benefit by his ability to pull together information and interpret this information from his, yes education. Not his meaningless titles.

Yes, it’s always nice to benefit from taking credit for something you didn’t do yourself. For example, I’m so inspired by your defense of Sean-Paul that now I’m planning to just retitle someone else’s dissertation instead of writing my own. After all, as long as I get a job it doesn’t really matter if I stole someone else’s work to get it, no?

I really would like for you to bring your backwoods mississippi (no capitals on purpose, and one of my partners was born in miss., and got out as soon as he could) ass to Texas and see how a real state works without the benefit of having to hide behind the revenues of gambling.

One of your partners? Are you sure you don’t live in Utah?

As for Texas, it’s a fine state, and I’m proud to have it in the union. Where would I be without my good buddy Laurence, for example? (And I love all my friends in Utah too, even the polygamous and polyamorous ones!)

Please just mind your own business, and don’t pull others down to make yourself look more worthy than you really are.

Ok, I promise never to mention any wrongdoing I ever see anyone else engage in ever again in my life.

Humility: def. Knowing exactly who and what you are, coupled with a sincere desire to become what you could be.

Wow. Did you get that from a motivational poster?

Look forward to your response.

You’re reading it, Hamilton. Thanks for writing!

Friday, 11 April 2003

More subhuman garbage

It turns out that my opinion of former U.N. weapons inspector and alleged part-time pedophile Scott Ritter operates according to Zeno’s dichotomy paradox: every time I think I’ve reached the absolute lowest possible opinion of him, it turns out that really there’s still a few more microns to go. From The Command Post today (emphasis mine):

The [youth] prison in question was inspected by my team in Jan. 1998. It appeared to be a prison for children—toddlers up to pre-adolescents—whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene. Actually I’m not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I’m waging peace.

That’s right: according to Scott Ritter, it’s OK to leave kids in squalor and misery, for the greater moral cause of preventing war. If this doesn’t fundamentally discredit the thinking of the radical anti-war movement, I’m not sure what could.

Scalia @ Ole Miss

Patrick Carver was fortunate enough to catch up with Antonin Scalia, and get his autograph, after his speech at Fulton Chapel here at the University of Mississippi Thursday; a somewhat different take is from an anonymous reader at How Appealing.

I’m not entirely sold on “original intent” as a jurisprudential philosophy, nor am I really sold that Scalia practices it (he may believe he practices it, but as a good student of political psychology, and judicial behavior in the attitudinal tradition, I’m unconvinced). But by all accounts Scalia is a smart guy, and possibly next in line to be Chief Justice of the United States, so it’s certainly nice that he dropped by. (I would have been there but I’ve been sicker than a dog for the past three days; I must have caught something in Chicago.)

Pataki, Eves back secure perimeter

In my never-ending quest to confuse readers by blogging about Canadian politics, I present the news (via Pieter) that New York Governor George Pataki and Ontario Premier Ernie Eves have called for a security perimeter encompassing the U.S. and Canada, to streamline border controls between the two countries.

The report comes fresh on the heels of poll results suggesting 65%* of Canadians favor the idea of a security perimeter; in the same poll, 73% also favor tougher immigration policies.

Perhaps the more interesting pattern of this story: Google News finds that both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail in Canada give it play, while among U.S. papers, only the Buffalo News, the Ithaca Journal, and a minor New York-based paper appear to have picked up the news.

* Poll conducted April 4–6, n=500, margin of error ± 4.5% with a 95% confidence level.

Thursday, 10 April 2003

PETA's going to be pissed

The lighter side of liberation? From today's USA Today: apparently, a patrol came upon a private zoo in Baghdad on Thursday, and found some starving animals. But beasts cannot live by MREs alone:

Apparently, the MREs didn’t satisfy the animals. The soldiers ended up pulling live sheep from a nearby pen and pushing the animals into the lion compound. While the soldiers looked on, the young lions pounced on and killed two of the sheep, fending off the cheetahs and the bear for the spoils.

There are some more anecdotes, including a report on a raid on a schoolhouse and a patrol through the “Saddam City” shanty town, named for its ex-slumlord.

CNN after the minders

CNN’s chief news executive, Eason Jordan, reports on 13 years of intimidation, torture, and attempted murder of CNN reporters and photographers on Friday’s New York Times Op/Ed page. A stomach-turning sample (apparently reported at the time; however, I don’t remember reading about it):

Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless still haunt me. A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for “crimes,” one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family’s home.

But remember, kids, since Saddam’s thugs didn’t rip babies from incubators he’s actually not a bad guy.

Andrew Hagen has an excellent post on this story.

I will say (snarky comments on the BBC aside) that I’m not sure what CNN could have done differently; it’s not fair for critics to expect them to hang innocent people out to dry in a totalitarian state. Maybe if Bernie and Peter hadn’t been so enthusiastic about hanging out in Baghdad twelve years ago some of it might have been avoidable, but it’s a big might.

Jeff at Caerdroia calls CNN’s behavior a “betrayal of trust,” and he makes a credible, damning case:

Yet through all of this behavior, for over a decade, CNN would have us believe that they did everything they could to bring us the truth? Shame! Shame on CNN. They cannot now be trusted with any news from any nation willing to brutalize its own people, because they have shown that in such a situation, they will sell out any principle for the opportunity to get stock footage and meaningless interviews. Worse yet, by not reporting these events, CNN encouraged them to continue, and thus became complicit in torture, attempted murder and suppression of the truth.

If they had avoided all local entanglements, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves in this mess in the first place. A policy like that might kill the market for local stringers in totalitarian states, but it would beat the alternative of getting the local stringers killed by a mile.

The more I think about this (including reading the Glassman piece), the more pissed off I am at CNN. I'm with D.C.—they’re coming off the dial at the Lawrence household. By TNR’s account, it appears that CNN reporters were lucky not to be caught on-air fellating Saddam Hussein. If Gulf War I put CNN on the map, Gulf War II should take them off it.

Links via the Command Post. More linkage via Technorati.

A(n) URL

Howard Bashman of How Appealing asks:

By the way, am I the only one who prefers “an URL” to “a URL” (Dixie Chicks excluded)?

The short answer: probably not.

My general rule: use an when the vowel sound is pronounced at the beginning of the subsequent word, and a otherwise. In the case of “H”: an hour, but a hat. “Y” is also potentially problematic, although usually in English it is not pronounced as “i” at the beginning of a word—but one might refer to, or call one’s self, “an Yglesias fan.”

But letters at the beginning of abbreviations could be a bigger issue: “A”, “E”, “I”, and “O” have clear vowel sounds at the beginning, while “U” is pronounced like yew, with the “yuh” sound for y. So “a URL” seems more appropriate to me, if you speak it as a collection of letters—e.g. U-R-L. However, if you pronounce it like the name or title “Earl,” an would work better, and there seems to be a good number of people (techies and non-techies) out there who do.

Incidentally, common British practice would uppercase an abbreviation to be spoken as initials—e.g. USA—and capitalize an abbreviation prounounced like a word—e.g. Nato—but that’s not used west of the pond, so there’s no obvious guide except knowledge of the language. Some also argue that the latter type of abbreviation is the only type that can be called an “acronym,” a position I am agnostic on.

How dare they zoom in!

Kevin Drum is apparently upset because the media had the audacity to actually show the action in TV footage of the Saddam statue toppling, and attributes this to “the duplicitous role of the media” in a U.S. government propoganda effort (apparently influenced by the non-existent U.S. minders brought in by the Marines to replace the Iraqi ones that fled that morning).

Then again, maybe they zoomed in because you can’t see anything worth photographing in a wider shot. But that wouldn’t fit a conspiracy theory, so I’ll just have to be skeptical about that.

Josh Chafetz at OxBlog finds that things may not be as they first appear in Atriosland. Imagine that!

“Not a really good day to be French”

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann (via Jim Treacher):

You would think there would be very few people anywhere who would be upset by today’s news from Baghdad. But, as has become obvious, beyond those who merely and honestly sought peace or greater consensus, there remain groups who were invested in the idea that the Coalition couldn’t, or shouldn’t, succeed.

In other words, not a really good day to be French.

(Unless, of course, you’re The Dissident Frogman or Merde in France.)

Saddam statue emasculated

CNN just ran videophone footage, narrated by Martin Savidge, of Marines attempting to blow up a statue of Saddam Hussein (apparently identical to the one pulled down near the Palestine Hotel; they must have mass-produced them somewhere). After an attempt to pull it down with a tank failed, they tried plan B: C4.

When the smoke cleared, there was a gaping hole in the crotch area of the statue. Savidge couldn’t stop laughing. Somehow, I think the Iraqis will be content to leave it be.

Unsurprisingly, the Command Post is on this too.

Wednesday, 9 April 2003

War tourists? Try “wankers”

Dan Drezner and Donald Sensing note that the Iraqis have a message for the “human shields.” Salam Pax would be proud.

My sole comment on today’s events: I watched the Berlin Wall come down. This is better.

Baghdad Bob

Think Baghdad Bob is gone? Think again.

Via The Command Post (in comments).

Tuesday, 8 April 2003

After the War

Oliver Willis calls on both anti-war and pro-war Americans to hold the administration to its commitment to create a free and democratic Iraq. I wholeheartedly agree.

Later, Stephen Green lays out what the Iraq War means for the region. No blockquotes; Read The Whole Thing™.

(Think of these two posts as two sides of the same coin—for what Stephen suggests to suceed, we must make the commitment that Oliver correctly implores us to.)

Yale anti-war student assaulted

Josh Chafetz of OxBlog reports on a violent incident where apparently several thugs armed with a 2×4 broke into the dorm suite of an anti-war female student at Yale University, apparently in an unsuccessful effort to attack her and remove an upside-down American flag she had placed in her window. Simply despicable.

Speaking of despicable, the examples of subhuman garbage that are making bogus “your kid is dead” phone calls deserve to be dropped from B2s onto one of Saddam’s presidential palaces. Or, since they apparently don't approve of cultural imperialism, we should just send them to Basra with “human shield” tattooed on their foreheads in English and Arabic and watch how long they last. And throw in the aforementioned thuggish sleazebags from Yale too. (Via Ken Layne.)

Why I can't be a Democrat either

Mark Kleiman, rightly taking to task an effort to strengthen the already-draconian federal sentencing “guidelines,” asks:


Ironically, he gives the answer earlier in his own post:

This is truly horrible public policy, but if it can’t be killed quietly in conference I’m not sure I’d want the Democrats to self-immolate over it.

If the Democrats aren’t willing to have the testicular fortitude to stand up for their alleged social liberalism, why should anyone who cares about social liberalism vote for them? We had eight years of Bill Clinton, during which I dare say he advanced the frontiers of personal liberty exactly none; he went along with the War on Drugs, he frequently jumped at the opportunity to portray himself as “tough on crime,” and he acquiesced in the continuing “federalize everything” drive that the alleged states-rights Republicans and freedom-loving Democrats in Congress led. The most generous thing anyone can say about personal freedom during the Clinton administration under Janet Reno is that at least it wasn’t as bad as John Ashcroft, and it’d be a stretch even to say that with a straight face.

In short, Mark thinks Democrats need to choose their battles—but I’m not sure they’ve chosen one yet.

“How Appealing” interviews Kay Cobb

This month’s How Appealing “20 Questions” interview is with Mississippi Supreme Court justice Kay Cobb of Oxford. It’s a fascinating interview, and Howard Bashman, as always, asks some pretty insightful questions.

Monday, 7 April 2003

The Agonist: Thoughtful, global, plagiarized?

Glenn Reynolds reports that Sean-Paul Kelley, a.k.a. The Agonist, has apparently plagiarized some of his war updates from Stratfor’s paid reports. He has since apologized and, according to him, worked out an arrangement with Stratfor that allows him to continue posting some of their proprietary content.

(I’ve butted heads with Kelley in the past, so I’m hardly an objective observer. Suffice it to say that certain aspects of his writing—amply catalogued by Colby Cosh, or in my referenced posts—rub me the wrong way. However, I was charitable in linking him at the beginning of the war, and honestly thought he was providing a valuable service.)

A larger issue is raised by Daniel Drezner in his reaction:

As a graduate student in international relations, Kelley knew (or should have known) he was in the wrong as he was lifting Stratfor’s content, and he was in the wrong again when he initially tried to deny the plagiarism.

The problem Kelley faces now, as he admits in his apology post, is his loss of credibility (which, at least in my judgment, is pretty severe). As a member of the academic community, few things will damage one’s reputation more than presenting someone else’s ideas as your own. The big question is: if Kelley has fabricated and fibbed in his weblog, can the academic community trust him to be an honest researcher? That’s a very tough question, and it’s one that Kelley will need to have a good answer for—not just for his readers, who rightfully will question whether his reporting on the war effort can still be trusted, but also for his professors and potential employers, whether he decides on an academic or professional career.

Meryl Yourish, a Command Post contributor, has more:

Kelley's plagiarism is a blow to the credibility of the blogosphere. And it should be big news in the blogosphere. The Agonist has been a high-profile, high-visibility blogger since the start of the war. The war has caused his popularity surge. His seemingly uncanny line to information (now revealed to have been lifted whole cloth from Stratfor) helped him achieve that high visibility. And he still has it. The blogosphere has barely mentioned this.

Even more coverage is out there via Feedster and ThreadTrack, including takes from Dean Esmay (whose site was later DOSed by an Agonist reader), Andrea Harris (who, like me, recalls the “bloodthirsty warbloggers” incident), Grasshoppa, Amish Tech Support, Acidman, Letter from Gotham, Nicholas Jon, N.Z. Bear, Andrew Hagen, Gregory Harris, The Blogs of War and the Washington Post’s Filter column.

More reaction: Bill Middleton has a lengthy essay on his personal experiences with both Stratfor and Kelley; it doesn’t reflect very well on either. Also, Greg Greene notes that Kelley ought to be happy he’s not at Virginia.

Even more: Donald Sensing reviews the situation. Also, Meryl is planning to watch Kelley’s ecosystem rankings over the next few days; the morbidly curious can also monitor his traffic stats, which appear to be down sharply today (although there remain several hours to go, so take that with a grain of salt; an hourly report from yesterday doesn’t appear to be available for comparison purposes).

Yet more: somehow I forgot to link Ken Layne, and Wylie in Norman explains why people should care. And, The Fat Guy thinks Dean Esmay was being too nice.

Meryl subsequently, and correctly, points out that Tuesdays are often slower than Mondays for blogs; however, a look at his monthly traffic doesn't show as big of a Tuesday dropoff last week, and his week-on-week traffic has dropped substantially. However, there are plenty of other explanations: people could be bored with the war, for example, or they may have switched to getting their news from the better-sourced and more prolific Command Post, or the half-eyewitness, half-unsourced statements accompanied by wild speculation of the Beeb warblog, to name just two. Meryl also links to Mac Diva’s reaction, who raises an important point:

Technocrati [sic] currently lists The Agonist with 547 inbound blogs and 850 inbound links. His numbers dwarf those of all but the most popular blogs. They nudge the hard-working and honest Josh Marshall and DailyKos down in the ratings.


Dean Esmay has more to say; he makes some important points about copyright law (which, if people are going to learn from this mess, might be the one bit of good to come out of this), and he largely echos Mac Diva's reaction, in that a lot of other people’s honest work has been overshadowed by his meteoric rise to fame, much of it on the back of plagiarized material.

Someone has started an Agonist Watch weblog; it has a good roundup of links. In particular, he(?) links to a good discussion at TinyLittleLies. Also of note: RadioFreeBlogistan’s roundup.

Via Agonist Watch: MSNBC’s weblog central picks up the story. Also, Mac Diva is incredibly unimpressed with A Clever Sheep’s defense of Kelley, and notes that USA Today’s web column has picked up the story.

“VodkaPundit” Stephen Green thinks Venomous Kate “has this one exactly wrong.” And Agonist Watch links to Jim Bassett’s take, which makes you wonder if Dean Esmay was so far off the mark. Because, remember kids, it’s OK to take advantage of someone else stealing—just as long as you don’t do it yourself.

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.NET explains why he still links to the Agonist, and the Inscrutable American reacts too.

Yet more, via Agonist Watch: CalPundit weighs in, and Matthew Yglesias has a second post on “Plagiarism in the Age of Google”; meanwhile, Tiny Little Lies has a vicious takedown of the state of liberal thought in the Blogosphere (*cough* Atrios)—which IMHO paints too broad a brush, but one can only read the latest Dem (or GOP, for that matter) talking points so many times without vomiting.

Meryl Yourish still thinks Kelley is ducking the issue. For your edification, compare Kelley’s stats with The Command Post’s; there’s a definite drop-off between the trends that can’t be attributed just to the war.

Via AW: The People’s Republic of Seabrook apparently received an email from Kelley that suggests WaPo media columnist Howard Kurtz is looking into the situation.

Atrios Hesiod is involved now. Happy happy, joy joy. (It’s not really about the plagiarism, you see—it’s really all about the stats.)

(Note Blogger archive breakage on some of the links; hack up the URLs accordingly. Also, I'm limiting my links to those that seem to have a particularly original take; however, Agonist Watch seems to be collecting everything.)

Sunday, 6 April 2003

Blogging in political science

Daniel Drezner has a good post on the relationship between The Discipline™ and blogging. For my part, I can only say that if people I know in the discipline are aware of this blog, they haven’t mentioned it to me, much less had anything to say about it (with the sole exception of one recent Mississippi Ph.D.). Of course, my little corner of the blogosphere is a bit more obscure than Daniel’s, which may account for some of it; my status as a grad student (ABD, mind you), as opposed to a faculty member, may also be a contributing factor. But, the URL is in my .sig, so maybe I’ll get some more traffic from fellow political scientists over time.

I’d also say that, like Dan, I don’t see this blog as a forum for heavily-footnoted discussions of concepts in political science; for example, if I start blathering on about an aspect of the Michigan Model (the “funnel of causality,” anyone?), remember that I’ll likely be glossing over four decades of caveats, revisions, and extensions. But, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll try to make the occasional forays into the murky depths of political science bearable.

Saturday, 5 April 2003

“Regime Change” on the Potomac

David Adesnik at OxBlog notes that Josh Marshall is sticking up for John Kerry’s inane statement calling for “regime change” at home, as well as abroad. (However, Adesnik’s a bit more surprised than he should be at this development, given Marshall’s partisan credentials.) For those who’ve been under a rock or hung over for the last few days, Kerry said:

What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein [sic] and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.

Now, as a political scientist, “regime change” has a fairly specific meaning: the change from one system of governance to another. For example, France had a regime change when the Fourth Republic became the Fifth in 1957, while Alberto Fujimori transmuted Peru’s democracy into a dictatorship after his “self-coup” in 1992. In normal political discourse, the government of a democracy isn’t referred to as a “regime,” although one might refer to a particularly centralized administration as a “regime” to make a political point (e.g. the “Blair regime” might be assailed by critics; however, a neutral observer would call it the “Blair government” or “Blair cabinet” instead). Webster’s Unabridged (1913) defines a regime (which still had its accent at that time, as it was imported from French) as:

Mode or system of rule or management; character of government, or of the prevailing social system.

By most definitions of “regime,” Kerry would be calling not just for the replacement of the executive, but of the entire government—a government in which he serves as a senator, and in which he has a great deal more influence than the man on the street. It’s the sort of rhetoric one would expect from a commenter at a popular lefty blog, a discontented minor foreign politician, or perhaps on a sign at an anti-war protest, rather than from a serious presidential candidate. And while it may be a cute piece of rhetoric for pandering to the Democrat base now in the nomination chase, it won’t be much help if Kerry wins the nomination, because you can bet it’ll be the centerpiece of a Bush-Cheney ad campaign in late 2004.

Chicago Redux

Random, not-very-sober thoughts from the Midwest:

  • I got to meet Dan Drezner for a beer Friday afternoon. He’s definitely cool enough to be blogrolled everywhere.

  • Thursday, I got the chance to see Dirk Eddelbuettel again (we had a nice dinner at Wildfire near my hotel). Always fun to hang out with a fellow Debianista social scientist.

  • The Iowa crowd is a riot.

  • If I ever figure out women, you’ll be the first to know.*

  • And last, but not least: seven drinks is waaaay too many in an evening.

* If you think this applies to you in particular — probably, although it applies to at least four others by my count.

Wednesday, 2 April 2003


Bloggage will be light for the next few days, as I’m in Chicago for a conference. No doubt at some point Dan Drezner and I will commisserate with each other on being dropped from the blogroll at Virginia’s spiffy new digs.

Speaking of Chicago, it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on flying into Meigs Field today…

Dan appears to be back; no sign of lowly me, however. Ah, well. :-). And for all zero people who cared, my panel on Thursday went OK.