Monday, 30 June 2003

Something funky going on

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

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

Kate has more:

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

Sabato, clueless, you know the drill

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

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

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

Support your local bookstore (not)

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

Strom's legacy

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

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

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

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

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

Who I should vote for

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

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

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

Inline trackback

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

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

Toward a theory of perceived media bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 29 June 2003

More on the Colonel

Today’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger runs quite a bit of material on the fallout from the University of Mississippi’s decision to dump Colonel Reb (nobody calls him “Colonel Rebel,” at least nobody I’ve ever met). Of everything I’ve read, I think Ronnie Agnew’s column probably sums up the case best:

Ole Miss is no longer an institution stuck in the old South. It is one of the most culturally enlightened and culturally diverse schools in the Southeast. It deserves a mascot that outwardly demonstrates the progress that has been made.

Now, I fully agree with those who think the administration has handled this with their standard level of ham-handedness, not to mention their penchant for failing to consult with anyone else before acting. On the other hand, it’s hard to see that even an “inclusive” process would have led to a different decision; if they’d gone through the charade of soliciting opinion, most of the same people complaining now about an underinclusive process would now be complaining about Khayat et al. having made up their minds beforehand.

More fundamentally, I think they’re also doing what’s in the best interest of the university and its alumni. Where many southerners—black and white—see an inoffensive, cartoonish mascot and nothing more, I suspect many outside the region see the Colonel as something more sinister: a symbol of nostalgia for Jim Crow and the thankfully-dead Mississippi of Barnett, Bilbo, and Eastland. Mississippi is a state with plenty of accomplishments to its credit—lifting the Delta out of poverty, attracting major new industries, and bolstering education. We should be able to focus on those achievements without needing to be sidetracked into debates over the meaning of symbols that no longer represent who we are today.

Dixie Leigh Barron’s column in Monday’s DeSoto Appeal is worth a read, too.

The singular of "data" is not "anecdote"

David Pinto quite properly eviscerates a local sports columnist who longs for the days when baseball scouting wasn’t burdened by such trivial matters as empiricism and illustrates his point by citing exactly one mediocre ex-major-leaguer who was apparently located at the high end of the distribution of the error term.

Thursday, 26 June 2003

Less than Least?

Joy passes along word that the ACC plan is now to just take Miami and, in a bizarre reversal, just Virginia Tech, to create an eleven-team conference. Presumably they’re still looking for a twelfth so they can have a championship game, although maybe they’re just hoping that some of that “11-team cachet” will accrue to them from the Grande Onze (a.k.a. Big Ten), which seems most unlikely. (It’s also a possiblity that the Virginia Tech offer is being made for show, so Virginia’s A.D. can save face with the local politicos, but with no expectation that Tech will accept it.)

If they’re still looking for a #12, my guess is that the contenders are: Central Florida, South Carolina (highly unlikely to leave the SEC), Southern Florida, and East Carolina—schools that fit geographically with either legit second-tier football credibility (as is the case for all but USF) or a good shot at credibility due to recruiting ties in talent-rich Florida (UCF and USF—not every high school standout can go to one of the Big Three). With Virginia Tech in the mix, they don’t have to worry about getting anyone else at the top tier, so a later invite for B.C. or Syracuse seems highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, losing both VT and Miami would effectively strip the rump Big East of what few shreds of BCS credibility it would have had with Tech still on-board; they’ll be lucky if they get to keep the guaranteed slot long enough to lure anyone else into the conference with it—and, in any event, the only top-tier team that the rump Big East could attract is Notre Dame, and it doesn’t need the slot (having made its own sweetheart deal with the four BCS bowls). While the Big East may survive in some form, Big East football will almost certainly be history.

Item-response theory and public opinion

One of the things I’m wrestling with in my dissertation is how best to measure political sophistication or political expertise: roughly speaking, the degree to which a citizen is capable of making informed voting decisions. To do that, I’ve been using (in some places) an item-response theory model, borrowed from the psychometric and educational testing literature. These models assume that there’s a latent trait (or “ability“) that we can’t directly observe, but we can get at that ability by looking at how people answer a bunch of questions. Political expertise is a fairly straightforward application of this approach, but others have applied it to other political problems, most notably the “ideal-point estimation” problem (the most famous example of this is Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal’s work on Congress using NOMINATE, but Simon Jackman and others have been doing important work in this area too), and the much of the field of structural equation models (or LISREL models) works on generalized versions of this problem.

What does this have to do with public opinion, per se? Well, I was thinking about the abortion issue, where each side wants to coopt as many “reasonable” people into its coalition as possible. The pro-life crowd uses slogans like “choose life” (surely nobody would “choose death,” as a recent correspondent suggested) while the pro-choice crowd tries to promote itself as “supporting family planning” (again, who would oppose that?).

Now, let’s transform this into a public opinion example. If we ask people whether or not they agree with just one of these statements, we’ll get very uninformative results; a few “die-hard” pro-choicers will recognize “choose life” as a pro-life codephrase and disagree, while a few “hardcore” pro-lifers would see “family planning” as a euphemism for abortion rights and oppose that. But most people (including myself) would agree with either statement, which would make them appear to be simultaneously “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Is the public really this schizophrenic? Probably not; the question wording creates bias (systematic error).

Now, assume we solicit agreement or disagreement with both statements. That gives us two data points, which reflect—to some degree—the underlying attitude of the voter on abortion rights (our “latent trait” of interest). Every additional question (so long as it’s reflecting the same attitude!) gives us more leverage on the latent trait; we might, for example, ask voters whether or not they agree with abortion under particular sets of circumstances (e.g. if the mother’s life is in danger; if the child will have a birth defect; if the conception was due to rape; if the conception was incestuous; if the conception was due to the failure of other birth control; if the parent is a minor; etc.). But even using those two, very biased, questions together will give us a much better picture of the latent attitude toward abortion than just taking one of them alone. And even if the questions aren’t that biased, multiple questions beat a single question any day.

So, the moral of the story is: don’t rely on the marginals from a single survey question unless you just can’t possibly avoid it. And by “can’t possibly avoid it,” I mean “you’re stuck using data collected by people who didn’t (or couldn’t, if it was done before the 1970s) read Converse.”

If this part of public opinion is of interest to you, I strongly recommend reading The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, which is probably the definitive modern work in the field.

Tuesday, 24 June 2003

Blogroll policy

Considering that not too long ago I said I wasn’t going to post a blogroll, and now I have one, I guess I should post my formal blogrolling policy. There are two ways to get a slot:

  1. Link me. If I visit your site and don’t projectile vomit after reading it, you’ll probably get a link, and if you have an RSS feed, I’ll probably subscribe to it.

  2. I randomly stumble across your blog and feel like I’d probably read it on a semi-regular basis. (I’ll read your content more often if you have a full-content RSS feed. Movable Type should be able to produce one of those.)

Also, you will percolate up to the top of the blogroll when you update your weblog if you do friendly things like pinging or (preferably both, because I query them and hourly at different offsets from the hour). I don’t use Blogrolling; it’s all homegrown code (the semi-mythical LSblog). And since things like Technorati use those pings to do their special magic behind the scenes, I’ll probably only find out if you link me if you ping somewhat regularly. Check out Laurence Simon’s guide to pinging for all the details you’d ever want. Otherwise, you’ll permanently hang out in Den Beste Land at the bottom.

Finally, if for some reason you think my blogroll is useful, you can grab its contents as an OPML file for your favorite RSS aggregator. And if you read this blog often, and don’t like how it looks or the timezone, set your prefs to change the settings to your liking.

Channeling your inner Jacksonian

It is perhaps ironic that presidential candidates Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kuchinich decided to celebrate the 200th anniversary year of Marbury v. Madison by endorsing the idea of a presidential override of Supreme Court decisions by executive order. Not only is this a constitutionally stupid idea, anyone with even an inkling of the concept of “separation of powers” (much less anyone who’s read Federalist 10) would recognize that it’s a recipe for demagoguery and disaster.

Such an incredibly stupid policy is not entirely unprecedented. Andrew Jackson, institutionalizer (if not founder) of the modern Democratic Party, infamously overrode the Marshall court when it sided with the Cherokee Nation over the federal government, leading to the Trail of Tears. Of course, Jackson also had some redeeming qualities, which does not appear to be the case for either Gephardt or Kuchinich, particularly the latter (who combines populism with sheer idiocy in one convenient package).

Now, I’m not going to pretend that the Supreme Court has a great deal of democratic legitimacy. It is, by its nature, a political institution, by the very definition of politics: they decide, at least in the cases brought before them, how resources (money, liberty, legal protections, etc.) are allocated in our society. But I’m pretty sure I’d rather have nine people who are don’t have to appeal to popular passions to make sure they get their next paycheck deciding those things than some two-bit politician (or, more likely, his political appointees) whose every decision is a result of focus groups, opinion polls, and political calculations in the pure, Mayhewian sense—in other words, because presidents (at least in their first terms), like members of Congress, are “single-minded seekers of reelection.”

An AA-free zone

I haven’t digested either of the Michigan decisions yet, and probably won’t have time to think about either in any detail soon. So rather than spout off an opinion based on the clear-as-mud descriptions of the decision I read in today’s Daily Mississippian, I’ll just say “go elsewhere for insight.”

The only interesting thing I noted was a quote from Sandra Day O‘Connor that indicated that she thought AA would outlive its usefulness within the next 25 years. I guess I’ll be around to determine empirically whether or not she was right…

Sunday, 22 June 2003

Boring me with the summary statistics

Orin Kerr brings my attention to a survey that shows that most Americans don’t know the names of any members of the Supreme Court. Of the 35% who could name one or more, Sandra Day O‘Connor and Clarence Thomas are the most well-known. Here’s the money quote from the press release:

“The results of the survey are disappointing, but not surprising,” said Professor Stephen Presser of Northwestern University School of Law. “I suspect that the American public generally believes that it doesn’t really matter much who serves on the Supreme Court, because they believe the Court is objectively applying the Constitution and laws when it makes a decision.

“The truth of the matter is,” said Presser, “it makes an enormous amount of difference who serves on the Court. Our political parties are very much divided over whether judges should passively follow the law or legislate from the bench, with President Bush committed to appointing judges who will promise not to legislate from the bench, and Senate Democrats committed to opposing his nominees. This is an issue that ought to be of great concern to the public, but really hasn’t attracted much attention.”

Let me get this straight. You’ve got the money to do a good probability sample of the U.S. population, and you ask them a trivia question. How about finding out empirically whether or not the “American public generally believes that it doesn’t really matter much who serves on the Supreme Court”—that seems like a pretty important public policy question, no? How about telling me if there are any systematic variations in who knows which members of the Court—do blacks disproportionately know Clarence Thomas is? Do women know the female members at a higher rate? Do they know anything about particular cases? Do they know some important precedents, even in impressionistic terms? (I suspect more people know they have the “right to remain silent” than the fact the warning was established in Miranda v. Arizona. But both show some familiarity with the work of the Court.)

Ah well, at least the law professor concedes the validity of the attitudinal model. It turns out that the entire judicial behavior field isn’t excreting into a headwind after all…

Whiteness studies

I think that Jeff Licquia has hit the nail on the head about the “whiteness studies” story that’s been going around the web the last couple of days. No excerpts, go RTWT™.

More $2 bills

Via Quare, I learn that the Federal Reserve may be planning to produce new $2 bills for the first time since 1996. For some odd reason, Ann Arbor (Mich.) seems to be awash in the bills. Like the dollar coin, they’re one of the useful things that seem to have dropped through the cracks.

Saturday, 21 June 2003

Saddam = worm food?

Tim Blair links to an Observer article that claims Saddam and either Uday or Qusay was killed in an airstrike on a convoy in western Iraq. Here’s to hoping, but I’d like to see confirmation from a U.S. newspaper not based on 43rd Street in Manhattan.

Drezner, the sequel

Scholar, blogger, and all-around great guy (see what a beer and some good career advice will buy you in praise) Dan Drezner has moved to due to certain unspecified Blog*Spot problems at the old site, as an interim move before ditching Blogger completely. Update your blogrolls accordingly.

Bizarrely enough, “new” posts seem to be appearing on a somewhat random basis at the old site. There’s a ghost in the machine somewhere, methinks.

Now he's back at the original site…

Honorary OxBlogger?

Thanks to the folks at OxBlog for their shout out! Hopefully, however, my days as a graduate student are drawing fairly rapidly toward a close…

Federalist 10

James Joyner at OTB indulges in a little POL 101 lecture on what James Madison was talking about in Federalist 10. I’ll have to remember to pilfer some of it when I next update my Federalist handout.

Thursday, 19 June 2003

"Choose life" disingenuity

Bill Hobbs argues that Tennessee’s “Choose Life” license plate isn’t a political statement in and of itself, but rather that “pro-abortion” politicians are “racing to politicize it anyway.” Bill argues:

Of course, the lawsuit would fail—as it has in other states—because the two-word phrase “Choose Life” is neither political nor religious. In fact, the phrase is objectively pro-choice: it acknowledges that people have a choice and simply urges them to choose life over death. Courts across the nation have already shot down the kind of legal arguments the Tennessee ACLU is threatening to make.

Bill may be right about the legalities (although in the comments at, Wyeth points out that South Carolina’s courts have accepted the ACLU’s argument), but he’s being highly disingenous here—at least at the level of Glenn Reynolds’ “objectively pro-Saddam,” and James Taranto’s “Y is raising questions about X’s patriotism.”

Furthermore, the “Choose Life” plate places the state in the position of advocating a particular choice by its citizens, and, worse than the activities of the odious Office of National Drug Control Policy (but on a par with the CDC’s anti-tobacco efforts), it advocates that choice over other legal choices. Just because the message is on a individual license plate rather than a billboard doesn’t make it less offensive.

More Col. Reb blowback

As expected, today’s Daily Mississippian was full of the controversy: the editorial (laying on the “the administration lied” meme very thick, as is the wont of DM editorials), the cartoon, two staff columns (proish and conish), a reactions piece, and two letters (one picking up the “they lied” meme and the other, er, picking up the “they lied” meme).

Also, from the blogosphere (via Feedster): Mason Wilson at Unlearned Hand, an Ole Miss alum, approves of the plan, while Big Jim doesn’t.

Wednesday, 18 June 2003

Blogroll module now catching Blog*Spot updates

Thanks to the fine folks at, the LSblog blogroll module now is monitoring their updates list as well. Since they receive an hourly feed of updates from Blogger, this means that a bunch of Blog*Spot-hosted blogs are now showing up as being updated regularly, and so they’ll also percolate up to the top of the blogroll (unless you’ve chosen the alphabetical sort in your preferences).

Shit, fan on intercept course

Can I just hide for the next few months while the furor over this proceeds without my involvement? Please?

More details are in this Daily Mississippian story. And if you think this was done without the “high sign” from U of M Chancellor Robert Khayat, you haven't been paying much attention to how Ole Miss works.

Patrick Carver is displeased (along with the rest of the Alumni Association, no doubt). For the record, I've always thought the Colonel was a pretty dumb mascot, but in a league where Auburn can’t even figure out what its mascot is, Vanderbilt has a “commodore,” Georgia has a succession of ugly-ass dogs, and Alabama has the inexplicable “crimson tide,” it’s pretty clear that Ole Miss isn't exactly out-of-place in that regard.

Tuesday, 17 June 2003

More Big East fun

Apparently, the Big East isn’t content with whining about the ACC raiding its membership; they’re planning to raid Conference USA and the A-10 in an impressive show of hypocrisy apparently calculated to undermine their teams’ lawsuit against the ACC, Miami and Boston College. Meanwhile, perennial Big East also-ran (and g33k alma mater) The State University of New Jersey (perhaps better known as Rutgers) is now officially on NCAA probation, so at least they’re doing their part to show the conference is still upholding the fine competitive traditions of top-tier college football, even without Miami’s efforts in that area.

Perestroikans and political science

Dan Drezner links to a University of Chicago Magazine piece that does as good a job as any I’ve seen in trying to explain the fracture in The Discipline™ spearheaded by the Perestroika movement. One thing it points out rather well is that many of them don’t have any clue what the term “rational choice” means, since surely they’d call me at a “rat choicer” yet my entire dissertation is an assault on the idea of rationality under limited information. Not to mention that I enjoy formal models about as much as I like receiving a sharp kick to the groin.

However, I will agree with their point that the APSR was rapidly becoming a wasteland; Lee Sigelman has his work cut out for him to bring its standards back up to where the AJPS and JOP are at today.

Monday, 16 June 2003

Retrocession or Statehood

James Joyner (Outside the Beltway) has a good discussion going about the politics and mechanisms for sorting out the D.C. voting mess. The possibilities, in ascending order of seriousness:

  1. A buyout. Bribe every single citizen of the District to leave, bulldoze the privately-held land, and move the rest of the federal government in. Fill up the rest with parkland (if there’s any rest left once you’ve moved half of West Virginia into the District). Oh, and finish I-95 while you’re at it.

  2. Put it on eBay. Like the buyout plan, but more fun. Whoever wins has to finish I-95.

  3. Trade it to Canada for Alberta. As a sweetener, we’ll give them any part of the Lower 48 where 50% or more of the population uses the word “eh” as a comma.

  4. Give ‘em the “Puerto Rico” deal: no federal taxes if they (a) stop taking federal money and (b) shut up about the “no taxation without representation” thing. If they want to vote, they can declare residency in a state of their choice, pay their state and federal taxes, and vote absentee. Oh, and they’re getting I-95 like it or not.

  5. Give the damn place back to Maryland. Except they don’t want another Baltimore. Especially one without either Camden Yards or a nice aquarium. And they’re not gonna like having to build the missing part of I-95. (Detecting a pattern here?)

  6. Give the damn place back to Maryland, and guarantee them an extra representative or two for being kind enough to take D.C. off the rest of our hands. (Screw Baker v. Carr.) We’ll even pay for I-95.

Ok, so none of them are serious. Ah, well.

The newspaper of the future

OxBlog’s Patrick Belton links to an interesting Weekly Standard piece on how the newspaper of the future should be designed—primarily, that it should be online, and take advantage of the medium.

It’s a somewhat novel approach, but I think people are always going to want tactile feedback when reading large amounts of text. “Digital paper” will probably be the closest we ever get to being truly paperless. This is one thing I think Babylon 5 got right about the future; even in the 23rd century, people will still want a newspaper: it may be custom-built for them, but otherwise it won’t look much different from the newspaper of 2001 or 1801.

Saturday, 14 June 2003

Big (L)East Hypocrisy

James Joyner has a link to an article that basically sums up my position on the whole Big East/ACC thing.

By the way, my guess is that the Big East schools that are suing Miami and B.C. will settle for token monetary damages and a conditional guarantee the rump Big East won’t lose their guaranteed BCS slot. That would be an excellent carrot for the rump league to dangle in front of potential C-USA defectors like Louisville and Southern Miss. Who knows—we might actually get a sane I-A conference alignment and the end of the whining from the “mid majors” out of this. (Not that I’m holding my breath.)

Quiz Answer

The graph illustrates how Dutch voters interviewed in 1998 with varying levels of political sophistication used their attitudes toward the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) to evaluate the performance of Wim Kok’s 1994-98 coalition government, which included three other parties: PvdA (Labour), VVD (the Liberals, in the European sense of the word), and Democrats 66 (who maybe Pieter can explain, since I haven’t figured them out yet), but not the CDA.

The least sophisticated members of the electorate show a positive relationship, which indicates that they evaluated the performance of the coalition based in part on their attitudes toward a political party that hadn’t been in office in four years. In American terms, it would be essentially the same thing as a voter thinking George W. Bush was doing a good job because he likes Democrats (which, before you laugh, I’m sure I could find evidence of among a fair portion of the U.S. electorate). You can also see an exaggerated negative relationship among the most sophisticated voters, suggesting that there’s some sort of cognitive balancing going on (“I dislike the CDA so I must like the coalition’s performance”) independent of the feelings toward the other three parties, which are also controlled for in the model (and held constant in the graphs).

The point isn’t so much that they’re wrong, but rather that they’re relying on an outdated view of how Dutch politics works to make voting decisions. In terms of my dissertation topic, their heuristic (cognitive shortcut) for evaluating coalition performance is flawed—and this leads them to make incorrect decisions compared to their “fully-informed preferences” (how they’d behave if they knew everything that a highly sophisticated voter did about Dutch politics).

Honorable mention to Dad, who guessed it had something to do with magnets. I think he’s been watching too much Stargate SG-1

Thursday, 12 June 2003

The Eli for Heisman hype is on

The AP reports (via that Archie Manning has softened his stance against an “Eli for Heisman” campaign. Now let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be the colossal flop that “Deuce for Heisman” was.

Monday, 9 June 2003

The Privileges or Immunities Clause

Neo-conspirator Randy Barnett has a couple of interesting posts on the privileges or immunities clause of the 14th Amendment, probably my favorite dusty corner of the Constitution (ahead of the contracts clause). One of the small perks of teaching is that you get to do a little bit of agenda setting, and so I typically spend a few minutes on it in my POL 101 lecture.

I promise to get back to vaguely substantive posts later this week, now that I’m out of the woods on this dissertation stuff for a few days. But my brain’s kinda mushy at the moment, so no good posts today. Instead, you can look at a pretty Trellis graph produced in GNU R. Bonus points if you can figure out what it demonstrates.

Dissertation update

89 final-format pages including front and back matter, not including the rather skeletal introductory chapter and a couple of weird graduate-school-required pages I haven’t decided how to generate in LaTeX yet. Unlikely to increase short-term since one chapter needs some substantial revisions and I’m still waiting on comments on another one.

Saturday, 7 June 2003

Academic writing should be coherent

Kate Malcolm makes a great point about academic legal writing (and, consequently, about academic writing in general):

Many scholars get away with loads of stuff that makes little to no sense simply because the reader’s [sic] have been conditioned to believe that such incoherence is a sign of higher-level thinking. WRONG. If it doesn’t make sense, it sucks.

A common failing of academic writing in general—and I say this as someone who’s been up to his neck in political science journal articles for the past five years, which often manage to combine the excessive verbosity of a Faulkner novel with the impenetrability of an economics paper—is that people confuse saying a lot with saying something worthwhile. This is particularly pronounced in political science, where the norm seems to call for repeating one’s points ad nauseum in a discipline where journal space is at a premium.

That being said, one of the virtues of the dissertation process is that since you normally have to explain what you’re doing to someone who doesn’t study your discipline (the outside reader) is that the opposite temptation—to assume your reader knows what you know about the discipline as a whole and where your work fits into it—is tempered considerably, which helps in coming up with a coherent explanation of why your research matters (the “rodent sphincter test,” as an ex-colleague colorfully described it).

Count the number of on-the-record quotes in this story

This New York Times op-ed news story alleges that some analysts think the mobile bio-weapons labs aren’t mobile bio-weapons labs; instead, they think Saddam Hussein used them to produce hydrogen gas for use weather balloons. This apparently because you need clandestine mobile facilities to make hydrogen for weather balloons, stationary factories being unsuitable for the task.

Only two people are quoted by name, neither of whom have anything to do with the investigation. So, until proven otherwise, any rational observer should consider the rest of the quotes to have been made up by Jayson Blair—er, “Judith Miller and William J. Broad.” By the way, “Miller” allegedly was in two places at the same time (“Iraq” and “Kuwait”) while writing the story, while “Broad” was supposedly reporting from “New York.” To top it all off, the article also reads the minds of unnamed “critics” instead of bothering to find any to quote (on background or otherwise). It’s all typical, Pulitzer-quality (or at least Sulzburger-quality) Times journalism. Sign me up for a subscription!

Uniting against the "Axis of Autocrats"

Dan Drezner thinks the way to repairing the rift between the U.S. and the “International Community” (that’s France to those not who don’t have their international relations decoder rings handy) is for the U.S. and Europe to take “concerted action against any authoritarian government that thinks it can exploit divisions within the West to crack down on their own populations.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, as far as it goes, but I’m not sure it’ll work in practice. Take Dan’s three examples of prominent problem children in the international community:

  1. Cuba: The country that the Europeans and Canadians have been propping up ever since the Russians withdrew their support in the early 1990s, and one of the few remaining dictatorships in the western hemisphere. The new EU sanctions hardly compensate for decades of the international community thumbing its nose in Washington’s direction by fêting Castro.

  2. Zimbabwe: The country whose serial-human-rights-abuser-slash-dictator Jacques Chirac invited to Paris to take part in his “Africa united against America” summit on the eve of the Iraq war.

  3. Burma: The country whose leaders have been spending most of the last decade courting European companies, and where French-Belgian oil giant TotalFinaElf (remember them?) has allegedly been involved in laundering the dictatorship’s drug money.

So, forgive me for not being all that optimistic about the prospects for Euro-American cooperation on democratization, even though I agree with Dan that this is one area in which U.S. and European (noncommercial) interests clearly coincide.

Friday, 6 June 2003

Looking back at the Agonist scandal

Greg Greene of the Green[e]house Effect takes a look back from two months away at the fallout from the Sean-Paul Kelley plagiarism mini-scandal. In the comments the debate is shaping up as: was Sean-Paul a Jayson Blair, a Rick Bragg, or something completely different? And, can (or should) the blogosphere adequately police itself to make sure others don’t repeat The Agonist’s mistake?

Thursday, 5 June 2003

Fair weather federalists

Via Glenn, it’s nice to see my good Republican friends in Congress haven’t been reading Article I of the Constitution lately. Not that the Democrats have either, but at least they’ve been consistent since they rejected the doctrine of enumerated powers around the time of FDR.

Also, Jacob Levy points to a rare worthwhile Corner post that debunks more conservative arguments for federal regulation of abortion.

All's well that ends Howell

As I predicted, Howell Raines is out the door, along with Times managing editor Gerald Boyd, who I actually expected to stay on. It was more than the ten days that I estimated in that earlier post (as Joy helpfully points out), so I can’t claim any real prescience on the issue. That’s why I’m a political scientist, not a media studies guy.

Now back to explaining how Dutch voters with varying levels of political sophistication attribute responsibility for coalition performance… at least I can do that.

Social science without social scientists?

Via Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy, I learn of the Social Science Research Network, which sounds really neat except for the fact that, erm, they don’t actually seem to have much to do with social science: the category that springs to mind when describing the eight groupings of disciplines is “business administration,” not social science.

Maybe this reflects my own personal biases, but at a minimum I’d expect a site for social science to include at least one of sociology, psychology or political science, which I suspect most laypeople (except maybe Jane) would identify as social sciences before such fields as marketing (which, I’ll grant, is closely related to psychology and not-so-tenuously related to political science, even though there’s little direct cross-over), legal studies (which stands more-or-less on its own), and maybe even economics (which cross-pollinates with Chicago/Rochester-school rat-choice political science and through econometrics into political science).

Wednesday, 4 June 2003

Why you shouldn't go to grad school

The Invisible Adjunct has a fascinating discussion ongoing about an article that shows 1 of 5 entering history grad students come out with a tenure-track job (just the sort of article, by the way, that will have my parents throwing themselves in front of trucks, even though the odds of someone who’s been through grad school and has Ph.D.-in-hand getting one are much, much better).

Do grad students get properly warned of this at the outset? I don’t know. Certainly one of my more vivid memories of my first seminar was a professor telling us to look at the person to our left and the person to our right and ourselves, and realize that only one of us was going to last. In the case of my incoming class, the attrition was even more pronounced; of the dozen or so students in my 1998 incoming class, one colleague and I are ABD and one other colleague was attending another institution, last I heard; the rest have disappeared, without even an M.A. between them.

Tuesday, 3 June 2003

LSblog 0.5 release

Here’s the much-promised 0.5 release of LSblog. I can’t remember exactly what’s new, beyond the blogroll support, so you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. Get it here. It’s all free software under the GPL, except the stuff that says it isn’t (which is generally old-style Python licensed stuff grabbed from various places on the net).

Once I’m at a stopping point on the dissertation, I’ll probably get back to hacking on LSblog some more. In the meantime, if you have patches, suggestions, or comments, send ’em my way.

Monday, 2 June 2003

Viewer mail (of a sort)

Via Technorati, I found that J. at Silver Rights (who may or may not be the same person as “Mac Diva”) apparently thinks I’m being an apologist for Charles Pickering, on the basis of a Washington Post article that reveals absolutely nothing new about the controversial 1994 case in which Pickering quite rightly objected to giving the (arguably) least responsible perpetrator of an admittedly vile act the harshest sentence of the three young men involved.

I stand by my position that Pickering is being unjustly pilloried. If the Democrats dislike him for his politics or his overall jurisprudence, that is a fair objection; however, I don’t think this particular case is in any way emblematic of either, but instead has been blown out of proportion because screaming “racist” is easier than articulating philosophical objections to the appointment of a sitting district judge to a higher court.

If Democrats (and “J.”) genuinely believe he is a bad judge and the racist they claim him to be, they should be calling for his impeachment and removal from office, not pretending he’d be objectionable if sitting on an appeals court in New Orleans but O.K. to keep in office so long as he can only affect peoples’ lives as a trial court judge in Mississippi.

Victor at “Balasubramania’s Mania” somehow interprets this post as me “stand[ing] behind Pickering.” To the extent I agree with Pickering’s position that the sentencing “guidelines” (and anything that’s mandatory fails to meet any reasonable definition of the word guideline) are idiotic and lead to perverse outcomes, including in the particular case that these dustups are over, I suppose I am.

But I also think there are valid objections that can be made to Pickering’s appointment, and I stand by my position that if Pickering is as bad a judge as the Democrats think he is, then they should be arguing that he has no business sitting on a district court either, where he is in a position much more likely to harm minorities on a day-to-day basis (in sentencing and in the conduct of trials, for example) than on an appellate court. That they haven’t suggests that they don’t really take the racism charges against Pickering seriously, but instead find them a convenient way to object to his nomination without making the same objections they would have to make against every other Bush nominee and pretending that there is a substantive difference between Pickering and the others on those grounds alone. In short, I’d like to see more intellectual consistency here. (And surely if Pickering were a racist, there would be more than one case out of the thousands he’s presided over that would provide evidence of that.)

So, my message to Democrats remains the same: if you believe he’s unfit to serve on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, by definition he’s also unfit to serve as a district court judge. Be consistent, call for his impeachment and removal from office, and find some additional evidence, and then I might take your objections seriously. Until then, the whole situation reeks of inside-the-beltway politics and “easy,” gratuitous Mississippi bashing.


It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it… not that I’m entirely sure what I’ve done is very good, but I have a lit review chapter where before I had nothing, and I’ve spent most of the weekend struggling with the analysis chapter I’d done the least amount work on—which will have a lengthy lit review of its own that I think I’m close to being able to write.

It turns out nothing concentrates the mind like a quiet corner of the second floor stacks in the John D. Williams Library—just me, an ethernet cable, a waist-high stack of photocopied articles and books, and my laptop. I’m beginning to really believe I can get this thing done. Would that everything else in life were so simple…

In other news, I’ll be TAing a four-week course in July and August at ICPSR. So it would be nice to finish this stuff before I have to head to Michigan, because I know I’ll never accomplish any dissertation stuff there.