Thursday, 31 July 2003


Jacob Levy and Matthew Yglesias have been having a discussion about taking attendance in class.

My general policy is not to take attendance, for a couple of reasons; one, it wastes time (particularly in a large class), and two (if you do the “pass around a sign-up sheet” method), it encourages petty fraud. However, in my intro class I do offer “virtually nobody showed up” extra credit a couple of times per semester (usually worth some small number of points toward the quiz average, generally only when attendance dips below 50%), and occasional announced quizzes. I have heard rumors of universities that have “swipe your ID” attendance systems for large lectures, but I’ve never witnessed one myself. My general philosophy is that if a student really doesn’t want to be sitting in my class, I don’t particularly care if he/she is there either. Call it mutual indifference. There is a strong positive correlation between attendance and grades even without a formal participation score, so I really don’t feel the need to compel attendance through grading policy.

I don’t take attendance at all in upper-level courses. I do keep mental track of the attendance record of students to help decide how lenient I want to be when they come begging for grade bumps, though. (Ole Miss doesn’t give plus or minus grades, except in the law school, so a few points can make a big difference in class grades.)

Making your opponents' points for them

Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry (via Michael J. Totten, where a good discussion continues in comments) notes the attempted war crimes prosecution being brought before the International Criminal Court (not to be confused with the International Court of Justice or the International House of Pancakes) by a group of Greek lawyers over the war in Iraq. The target? Not Saddam Hussein or any of his henchmen (you know, real war criminals). Instead, it’s Tony Blair.

As Michael writes:

Say what you will about the Iraq war. Say it wasn’t worth it if you must. Gripe about proceduralism if that’s what you care about most.

But liberating an enslaved people from a genocidal monster is not a crime against humanity. It put an end to crimes against humanity.

Placing bleeding-heart liberals like Tony Blair in the same moral category as Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot won’t garner a whit of sympathy from the United States for any court that might take such arguments seriously.

Meanwhile, Matthew is concerned that the court is just another forum for lefty whinging against Global Capitalism:

I don’t like the ICC for reasons like the scenario played out in the story above; as it stands now, too many leftists view international courts as just another protest venue. While some of them break storefront windows in Montreal, and others clash with police officers in Genoa, still others make themselves heard by issuing asinine charges of “crimes against humanity” against persons whose primary crime is disagreeing with the left-wing worldview. For them, the ICC is less a criminal court and more an International Illiberal Activities Committee, which begs the question, who are the McCarthyites now?

Now, the ICC statute (for all its faults) does have safeguards against gratuitous prosecutions, including allowing the U.N. Security Council a virtual veto over any prosecution by the ICC. And, as Kevin Drum points out in Michael’s comments, “If the fact that idiots can file lawsuits were enough to discredit a court, we’d be reduced to settling cases in the United States by peering at goat entrails.” (Of course, the fact idiots can file lawsuits has been one of the major arguments for “loser pays” and other tort reform proposals in the U.S.)

But, the safeguards have limits. If the ICC accepted a frivolous prosecution against a signatory state, and a U.N. Security Council member decided to veto a prosecution against one of its own citizens (for example, if Britain vetoed the Blair prosecution, or charges were brought against Jacques Chirac over France’s intervention in Cameroon and France decided to veto), people would legitimately be concerned about a “cover up.” So the bias of the court, and the Security Council, will be to pursue even the most frivolous prosecutions against Security Council members, so the court will retain the appearance of neutrality.

Perhaps the ICC will deny this particular prosecution on the grounds than U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 authorized member states to take decisive action against Iraq. But if it does so, it risks undermining its credibility with its core constituency—the internationalist activists, like those who brought this prosecution, who genuinely believe that International Law (as decided solely by them; democracy be damned) can and will be made to justly govern nations.

PATRIOT and bank accounts

When I went to open a bank account Tuesday here in Ann Arbor, a block of items on the giant contract in which you sign away your firstborn were described by the manager as being required by the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, it asked whether or not each account-holder was a U.S. citizen and for each account-holder to state their occupation (which, in my case, because the manager seemingly didn’t understand the term “teaching assistant,” became “teacher”). No proof of citizenship was required—in fact, they didn’t even ask me to prove that the SSN I gave was mine.

How exactly this procedure will prevent terrorism is something of a mystery to me.

Wednesday, 30 July 2003

Saudi rope-a-dope(?)

The current conventional wisdom on the right side of the blogosphere is that the 28 pages (not to be confused with the 16 words) were classified as a political calculation to undermine the Saudis.

I don’t know what to think about this theory. On the one hand, it ascribes far more intelligence to the administration than its critics usually credit it with (so if this turns out to be the actual strategy, those critics will say it was all Karl Rove’s idea). On the other hand, I can’t think of a good domestic political reason to cover for the Saudis, since their support in the U.S. generally doesn’t extend beyond their bought-and-paid-for segments of the Washington establishment (so if this turns out to be a domestic politics thing, the president’s supporters will say it was all Karl Rove’s idea).

So, I honestly don’t know what’s going on. But regardless it’s fun to watch the Saudis twist in the wind.

Tuesday, 29 July 2003

The Dowdification of Georgy

Georgy Russell (Signifying Nothing’s preferred candidate for governor of California) asks today:

I continue to be misquoted, and to have my quotes taken out of context. What’s up with that?!

Amazingly enough, there is no record of Russell having been interviewed by Maureen Dowd.

In all seriousness, when I ran for Congress three years ago, one report described my beliefs as being pro-prostitution (despite nary a mention of prostitution by me). I guess that’s what I get for having a platform plank calling for the legalization of all forms of consensual sex among adults.

Meanwhile, James (whose site I use as a substitute for blogging about things myself, since he has a comparative advantage in such matters) has a post with info on a number of the non-famous candidates for governor.

If 75,000 people had no electricity, and nobody knew about it...

Last Tuesday morning, high winds knocked out power to over 200,000 customers of Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. As of 10 a.m. today—a week after the storm—around a third of those customers still have no power.

It amazes me that nobody is talking about this in the blogosphere, or in the wider media, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it puts events in Iraq in perspective: if a few minutes of wind can knock out power for an entire county in the industrialized world, with it taking weeks to restore power to some customers, should we be surprised that it’s taking longer to get things sorted out in Iraq?

For another thing, when this happens due to hurricanes, ice storms, or tornados, crews come from utilities that are hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away to help. But not in Memphis for this situation. Where’s the help from Little Rock and Nashville, St. Louis and New Orleans? Seven people have died already, and more will probably die due to heat exhaustion (daytime temperatures uniformly exceed 90 degrees Farenheit, with very high humidity) and combustion-related accidents (carbon monoxide poisoning, fires, etc.).

The Mazda RX-8

Glenn Reynolds reports on his test drive of the Mazda RX-8 sports car. When we were in England, Dad bought an RX-7 (1981 model, I think), which would have been shipped back to the U.S. to be my first car if the entire undercarriage hadn’t rusted out. That was a fun car to ride around in.

Monday, 28 July 2003

Hot pink leisure suits = gay bashing?

James Joyner thinks it’s mildly amusing. Brett Marston thinks it’s gay bashing. What is it? A quote from a speech by House majority leader Tom DeLay:

While everyone else got the memo that big-government, blame-America-first liberalism died with disco, the Howard Dean Democrats still want to party like it’s 1979!

Maybe we should thank the Democrats for shedding their moderate clothing to reveal their true Swinging-Seventies selves.

But frankly, America doesn’t need a president in a hot-pink leisure suit.

I’m just mystified where you get “gay bashing” from here. None of the Democratic presidential candidates are gay or even rumored to be gay. And hot pink leisure suits are probably best associated with pimps and/or lame straight guys (anyone remember the “Leisure Suit Larry” games?), not gay people. Sure disco started out as a gay phenomenon, but plenty of straight people were involved too—otherwise, you’d never have seen movies like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive.” (Whether this is a good or bad thing is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Then again, maybe my decoder for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy’s “code words” got lost in the mail, or they cut me off for not paying my dues…

Brett clarifies:

To me it seemed like a pretty clear reference to Dean's stand on civil unions, and a few other people who heard the comments thought so as well.

I personally don’t see the reference; Howard Dean is about more than just gay civil unions, and IIRC every Democratic candidate has said he or she supports civil unions (if not gay marriage outright). Nor is gay marriage implicated in “big-government, blame-America-first liberalism,” the object of DeLay’s critique of the “Howard Dean Democrats.” So I’m still mystified.

Carpetbagging temptation

Josh Chafetz of OxBlog thinks Georgy Russell is the ideal next governor of California. It doesn’t hurt that her blog is far more interesting than Howard Dean’s. And she owns my book* (by the window)!

I think I’m in love. In a platonic way, of course…

Free advice for the Democrats

A few miscellaneous items:

  1. Lots of talking heads seem to be running around saying that it’s a fait accompli that the Democratic nominee in 2004 will be “pro-war.” Either the fix is in or these commentators are letting their fantasies get in the way of electoral reality, which shows that both Iowa (caucuses = activists) and New Hampshire (almost-favorite son) are in the Dean column.
  2. However, running against the war in Iraq is electoral suicide in the general election. As I already pointed out, the Democratic base (not to be confused with Democratic activists and Naderites) believes Saddam was heavily involved in terrorism against America and our allies, and every day Americans die from fedayeen tactics in the Sunni Triangle will only reinforce this impression.
  3. Contrary to the beliefs of Howard Dean, higher taxes do not stimulate the economy, excepting the housing market in suburban Virginia and Maryland. People may not have been gung ho for tax cuts, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be annoyed when you promise to raise their taxes again, especially if it’s to pay for things they already have (like health insurance).
  4. There are real issues to run on against Bush that won’t alienate the swing voters in the South that Al Gore drove off by the busload in 2000. Play up the Saudi connection. Run against the incompetence of the Justice Department and CIA (and shift the “Bush lied” meme in that direction). And keep abortion and guns out of the campaign.
  5. Corollary: continue to whine about Florida in 2000, and you will lose again. Nobody likes a sore loser. Especially when you’ve got real issues to run on, like the Terrorist Connection That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

Sunday, 27 July 2003

Things I learned this weekend

I pride myself on trying to learn something new every day. This weekend was a particular bonanza of new factual information—some significant, some not. I present it all and let you decide what’s important and what isn’t.

  • Ypsilanti was originally called “Watertown,” but was renamed in honor of a hero of the Greek revolt against the Turks.
  • Talent at volleyball is apparently not genetically-determined.
  • Ypsilanti’s student ghetto is less impressive than Ann Arbor’s—but somewhat more like a real ghetto.
  • Eastern Michigan University’s PhD program in psychology is only three years old.
  • It’s hard to identify words that rhyme with statistical terms.
  • Some peoples’ buttocks are apparently located half-way up their backs.

And, a few unanswered questions:

  • If you redact 28 straight pages from a report, and everyone with half a brain already knows what those 28 pages say, what exactly was the point of the exercise?
  • If Miller High Life is the “Champagne of Beers,” what is the Cold Duck of beers?
  • Why do women travel in pairs?
  • Is Bob Graham really running for president, or is this just an elaborate joke that nobody has let me in on?

Critiquing the proposed EU constitution

James at OTB links to a Washington Post op-ed by George Will that argues that the proposed European Union constitution is fundamentally flawed. Will’s central point:

The more detailed a constitution is in presenting particular political outcomes as elevated beyond the reach of changeable majorities, the more quickly it is sure to seem dated.

The more quickly, too, it is sure to feed extremist sentiment from those effectively disenfranchised by the enshrinement of certain ideological predispositions in the constitution. In other words, this constitution, by placing so many societal choices beyond the realm of regular political debate, is a recipe for the continued growth of the anti-democratic neo-Fascist movement in Europe—no doubt precisely the opposite goal to that of Valery Giscard d‘Estaing and his fellow delegates to the convention.

Saturday, 26 July 2003


I don’t know what’s worse: the fact I can’t sleep, or the fact that the meteorologist currently on The Weather Channel, a reasonably attractive woman named Jen Carfagno, has a fan site. Actually, multiple fan sites. And a Yahoo! discussion group, with no fewer than 319 members, that describes her as “terminally cute.”

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t poke fun, considering I have a website full of photos of pavement. Glass houses and all…

Those of a more serious bent may want to know about the progress MLG&W is making restoring power in Memphis. In addition to Brock, my mom and grandparents are still without power as well; their neighborhood has started a betting pool on when their power will be restored.

More on the Berkeley research

Virginia Postrel points out the real problem with the god-awful Psychological Bulletin piece:

As someone who believes social science can and does discover new truths about how people live and think, I find this sort of idiotic research particularly appalling. It teaches the general public that social science is bullshit. (It also demonstrates that university press offices can be really stupid about what they choose to publicize.)

That hits on the head why I find the research so egregious. It frankly makes me embarrassed to be a social scientist. It gives more ammunition to the people who want to dismiss good social scientific research, not to mention those who allegedly study politics who have neither respect for, nor understanding of, empiricism.* The only good news surrounding this study is that at least nobody thinks these professors were political scientists.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg makes the point that dogmatism and simplicity are hardly the province of conservatives alone.

Friday, 25 July 2003

Stormy weather

It’s been three days now since “Summer Storm 2003”, as the local media have christened it, and like 175,000 other Memphians, I’m still without power. I’m guessing I’ll be among the last to get power back, since my power line is lying in the middle of my back yard, having been downed by a neighbor's falling tree.

I discovered an interesting fact about homeowner’s insurance: if your neighbor’s tree falls and does damage to your property, your neighbor (or his insurance company) is only liable if the tree was damaged or diseased. Falling tree damage is handled by a negligence rule, not a strict liability rule.

I’m wondering whether this is the correct rule, from the perspective of economic efficiency. Generally, a rule that places liability with the party most likely to prevent an economic harm is the more efficient one. The negligence rule for tree damage shifts some of the economic risk from the tree owner, who could easily trim his trees, to potential neighbor, who can at best choose not to buy property next to people with towering trees.

The negligence rule will be more efficicient, economically, only if there are sufficient positive externalities to having towering trees in residential neighborhoods. There are some externalities, of course. I like living in neighborhood with tall trees, and I get to enjoy this even though there aren’t any tall trees on my property. If enough other people enjoy this as well, this will be reflected in the market value of the property. But are these externalities sufficient to overcome the problem of property owners ignoring tree maintenance, and letting trees grow to the point where they could easily damage the property of others?

Manual trackback link added

Thanks to Kevin of WizBang! and a little bit of cleverness on my own part, you can now manually enter a TrackBack to any post here at Signifying Nothing; just click on the TrackBack link on the entry (it looks like « and has a tooltip saying “TrackBack”), then click on the “Register a TrackBack manually” link. The needed manual URL will be filled in for you; all you need to enter is the post’s permalink URL, the title of your post, an excerpt, and the name of your blog. Ideal for those of you still slumming on Blogger or other weblog tools that don’t support TrackBack.

Who thinks Saddam was involved in 9/11?

One of the more bizarre questions revolving around the Iraq war is that there is a large proportion of the American public who believe that Saddam Hussein was involved personally in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the foiled attack on the White House.* This belief persists despite there being no evidence of a direct link, no statements by any credible source that there is a direct link, and repeated refutations of a direct link. (Many leftists want to pin this belief on the Bush administration, but I don’t think the charge sticks without showing that Bush et al. deliberately fostered this belief; there’s simply no evidence of that.)

Being a good empirical social scientist, I was curious about who would believe this assertion. Again, I used the second March 2003 CBS/New York Times poll (conducted March 5-7, 2003). The poll doesn’t have much useful data for testing any psychological theories, but a sociological model seemed to work fairly well. I produced both maximum-likelihood (ML) and MCMC estimates; since the ML estimates were basically identical to the MCMC estimates (the missing data problem was less acute in this model), for ease of interpretation I stuck with them. Here are the probit results (I’m too lazy to build a proper table from the R output; sue me):

            Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)
(Intercept) -0.01797    0.26186  -0.069 0.945277
pid         -0.09596    0.04594  -2.089 0.036699 *
college     -0.27348    0.14702  -1.860 0.062858 .
male        -0.62078    0.14587  -4.256 2.08e-05 ***
black        0.17079    0.17603   0.970 0.331934
catholic     0.05115    0.11446   0.447 0.654921
jewish      -1.18340    0.49424  -2.394 0.016649 *
atheist     -0.41736    0.14938  -2.794 0.005208 **
haskids     -0.04056    0.10507  -0.386 0.699462
agecat       0.01696    0.05475   0.310 0.756710
libcon       0.25993    0.07314   3.554 0.000379 ***
pid:college -0.10990    0.05790  -1.898 0.057699 .
pid:male     0.12066    0.05629   2.144 0.032059 *
Signif. codes:  0 `***' 0.001 `**' 0.01 `*' 0.05 `.' 0.1 ` ' 1
N: 782
Percent correctly classified: 64.83%
Proportional reduction in Error: 27.25%
McKelvey/Zavonia Pseudo-R^2: 0.214

Jewish and atheist voters are significantly less likely than Protestant voters (the omitted reference category) to believe Saddam was personally involved in 9/11, while there is no difference between Catholics and Protestants. Conservatives are significantly more likely to believe in the Saddam-9/11 link than liberals.

The other significant effects are expressed in interactions between multiple variables. I estimated interactions between gender (male) and party identification (pid) and between level of education (college) and party identification. These effects are shown in this graph. The horizontal axis is the respondent’s party identification, where 0 is “strong Republican”, 1 is “independent leaning Republican”, 2 is “true independent”, 3 is “independent leaning Democratic”, and 4 is “strong Democrat.” (Age is set to the mean value; other variables are set to the modal category.)

Males in general, particularly male Republicans, are much less likely than females to believe the Saddam-9/11 link, regardless of education level. However, among Democrats, the primary difference is between the college educated and the less-well educated, with the gender difference being relatively small.

What does this mean? There are a few possibilities. The most compelling one is that people who don’t know are guessing, drawing on some vague association between Saddam Hussein and radical Islam. The demographic variables may be indicators of attentiveness to the media; those who pay more attention to the media may have a more nuanced understanding of Middle Eastern politics. The partisan effects suggest that some voters may be projecting their own belief systems onto the question; strong Republicans may be projecting hawkish attitudes onto questions about Saddam, while strong Democrats may be projecting a belief that Saddam isn’t a threat onto him, at least among the better-educated.

More generally, the results suggest that trying to argue Saddam wasn’t linked to terrorism may be a losing strategy among their own base for Democratic presidential candidates that opposed the war or are having second thoughts now. Strongly Democratic voters without a college education are more likely than not to believe that Saddam was involved in 9/11, and it will be difficult to reeducate them on this point. These findings suggest that however candidates like Bob Graham and Howard Dean try to spin things, many Democratic voters think Saddam Hussein was a legitimate target in the war on terror, and they will cross these voters at their own peril.

Then again, maybe all these people think Saddam was involved in 9/11 because his regime actually was, at least to some degree.

Saddam and 9/11

Sorry, I meant to write up the results from the Saddam-9/11 analysis last night so I could post them here today. In the meantime, though, you can look at the pretty graphs. Not sure if they’ll make much sense without the writeup though…

Thursday, 24 July 2003


Just in case you were wondering, I haven’t driven off Brock. As I’m sure almost nobody outside the city knows (especially if you get your news from the blogosphere), most of Memphis has been without power since early Tuesday morning. Hopefully Brock will be back in the next few days as power there gets restored.

Public opinion is (almost) meaningless

As promised, I went off and played with the data on whether or not voters believed that Iraq's WMD threat justified war. Since it had the most questions on the issue, I used ICPSR Study #3755, better known as the second March 2003 CBS/New York Times telephone poll (1010 total respondents; conducted March 5-7). As I anticipated, no questions directly dealt with whether or not Iraq had been obtaining bits and pieces for nuclear weapons, or even mentioned the word "nuclear" at all; the popular phrase at the time was "Weapons of Mass Destruction," a term left undefined by any of the questions.

I'm extremely reluctant to present results for two main reasons. The first is that there was a huge amount of missing data; many respondents failed to answer a number of the questions, so there is less information available (I worked around this problem by using a Bayesian data augmentation model rather than a typical maximum-likelihood approach). The second reason is that I believe the question wording of most of the items on the survey make a recursive model somewhat inappropriate; many of the questions appear to tap the same underlying dimension, which is basically whether or not the respondent trusts the administration, and the causality is not at all clear. Nevertheless, there are a few interesting findings. So here goes:

Independent Variable Coefficient 95% Credible Interval
UN Handling of Crisis -0.358 -1.063 0.353
US has presented sufficient evidence of WMD 1.335 0.442 2.257
R trusts Bush to handle Iraq issue 1.389 0.558 2.351
R believes Iraq represents a WMD threat to US (3pt) 1.065 0.414 1.771
R believes admin telling all it knows 1.016 -0.097 2.198
R believes Saddam Hussein personally involved in 9/11 0.480 -0.306 1.308
R believes inspectors not making progress (4 pt) 0.511 -0.002 1.033
R party identification (0=Strong Rep; 2=Indep; 4=Strong Dem) 0.026 -0.198 0.262
Male respondent 0.029 -0.361 0.705
Education level of respondent (1-5) -0.066 -0.369 0.226
Age of respondent -0.018 -0.038 0.001
(Intercept - used for model identification) -2.971 -5.322 -0.767

(Coefficients are probit coefficients, as the dependent variable is dichotomous. All variables are yes/no "dummy" variables unless otherwise described.)

A few words for those who aren't accustomed to regression results. The left-hand column is the variable that is believed to have an independent effect on the dependent variable (in this case, support for the U.S. going to war in Iraq). The next column shows the magnitude of the mean effect of that variable. The final columns show the "credible interval" (similar to the "confidence interval" in frequentist interpretations), which basically says that there is a 95% chance that the true coefficient lies within that range of values. If the credible interval doesn't include zero (i.e. both values are positive or both are negative), we can say that at least 19 out of 20 times, the effect in the population at large would be in the direction of the sign (i.e. positive or negative).

What does this model tell us? Generally speaking, people who believed the U.S. had presented sufficient evidence of Iraq's WMD programs, trusted Bush to handle the Iraq issue, and believed Iraq's weapons to the a threat to the U.S. were more likely to support a conflict than those who didn't. (This finding was also robust across all of the various scenarios for war proposed in the survey; the dependent variable here posited no particular configuration of events.) A couple of other effects approach significance: belief that the administration was fully forthcoming, that the UN inspections were ineffective, and the respondent's age (older voters being less likely to support a war).

More interesting is what it doesn't tell us. The effects of education and gender are insignificant; men were no more likely to support the war than women, and more educated people are no less likely than less educated people. Perhaps most interesting, and possibly problematic for anti-war Democrats, especially if the "Bush lied" theme fails to stick, is that there was no independent effect of partisanship; this suggests that "Bush Democrats" (we might call them "WOT Democrats" if we wanted to be cute like Larry Sabato) were just as enthusiastic for war as "Bush Republicans." And, the people who believe Saddam was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks were no more likely to support war than those who didn't.

In my next post, I will present a more interesting model from the same dataset, looking at the question on Saddam and 9/11.

Wednesday, 23 July 2003

Speaking of lack of cognitive integration...

Via Lily Malcolm of The Kitchen Cabinet, who is currently fearing the Virginia bar exam:

“I went to Wal-Mart for the first time. I always thought they sold wallpaper. I didn’t realize it has everything. You can get anything you want there for really, really cheap.” ~ Socialite Paris Hilton.

As Lily put it, “And Target will really blow her mind.” So would Meijer (who I am not, nor have ever been, employed by; alas, I must admit I did work for both Target and Wal-Mart in the past).

Partial defense withdrawn

In this post, I defended the research of four psychologists on the psychological determinants of conservatism. After reading the actual article in question, a response, and their response to the response, I am convinced I was in error in defending their work as not being politically motivated. The authors’ response to the critical response is particularly awful. Anyone who can make the following statement with a straight face is clearly partisan:

Sticking with contemporary American politics, it has been observed that Republicans are far more single-mindedly and unambiguously aggressive in pursuing Democratic scandals (e.g., Whitewater, the Clinton–Lewinsky affair) than Democrats have been in pursuing Republican scandals (e.g., Iran Contra, Bush–Harken Energy, Halliburton). (authors’ response, 391)

Iran-Contra resulted in prison terms for many its participants; with the exception of some peripheral figures (most notably, the self-martyring Susan McDougal and the otherwise-corrupt Jim Guy Tucker), Whitewater and Monicagate combined produced none. The authors also somehow forget about the Watergate scandal, doggedly (and rightly) pursued by Democrats, which brought down Richard Nixon and contributed to the defeat of Gerald Ford in 1976. Furthermore, citing Paul Krugman’s NYT op-eds twice as an authority on whether conservatives are more dogmatic than liberals doesn’t pass the laugh test.

More generally, I return to my previous criticisms based on the press release. They repeatedly use single indicators to represent latent constructs. They aggregate across nations without regard for contextual factors. They present bivariate correlations as evidence of causation (just having a bazillion similar correlations does not demonstrate causation). They dismiss exceptional cases out-of-hand, rather than attempting to explain them in terms of their research design (although they do make a half-hearted effort to do so in their response to the critics). They make no effort to integrate any of the previous hypotheses into a well-specified model.

And, to top it all off, most of the research is based on student populations, who are almost certainly atypical of the public at large in terms of their level of political socialization (an important explanation of conservatism in their half-baked theory). Anyone who thinks conservative extremists are less integratively complex than liberal extremists hasn’t had the dubious pleasure of reading both and (two popular cesspits for extremists on the right and left respectively, in case you haven’t had the pleasure). Coupled with a lack of any serious understanding of any of the research done on ideology outside psychology (Converse barely rates a footnote, while nothing newer than McCloskey and Zaller, a 1984 piece, is cited from the political science literature), this turkey doesn’t fly.

One hopes, not knowing the journal hierarchy in psychology, that the Psychological Bulletin is the intellectual equivalent of toilet paper among the APA’s journals, but somehow I doubt that. The editor and reviewers who allowed this garbage to be published ought to be embarrassed.

John Jay Ray, a well-published political psychologist in his own right, has been savaging the piece at Dissecting Leftism.

Libertarians and the do-not-call list

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has a lengthy response to Tyler Cowan’s (Volokh Conspiracy) libertarian counter-argument against the federal do-not-call list; Will Baude (Crescat Sententia) and Radley Balko (The Agitator) have other, thoughtful libertarian arguments against the do-not-call list.

I don’t have any particular thoughts to add on either side. I do wonder why Mississippi went ahead and created a separate, state-specific do-not-call list this year that covers less types of marketing and fewer numbers (only residential landline telephones) while the FTC action was pending; undoutably the program is solely an election-year boondoggle that a few incumbents can point to to justify their continued occupation of space in the legislature.

However, as a self-interested social scientist, these events may significantly improve the response rates for telephone surveys (which have dropped substantially since the telemarketing industry took off), so at least the part of me that likes getting publications has no problems with the do-not-call list whatsoever.

Agonist Watch returns

The ever-popular Agonist Watch is back with a vengeance, complete with a $500 reward for identifying its author and responding to a backlog of mail and blog posts.

Lott lie?

Wyeth alerted me to this post in which he says:

John Lott—whose survey evidence for More Guns, Less Crime disappeared in a mysterious computer hard drive crash*—is trying to make the case that an armed Iraq is a safe Iraq:
“Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned.”

Let’s forget for a moment whether it is good politics to tell the American people that you want Iraqis to have as many guns as possible at a time when our soldiers are being killed every day by those guns.

Let’s focus on a smaller point—are John Lott’s statistics even accurate? Is the murder rate in Washington DC higher than the murder rate in Baghdad?

Now, it’s possible to know anecdotally what the approximate murder rate is without having detailed statistics available from a central agency. Presumably someone in Baghdad is still making out death certificates, and deaths are being investigated. So, if there are fewer than 262/365 (0.72) murders per day on average (i.e., a murder is only reported every other day, or less often), the murder rate is lower in Baghdad than in Washington.

You can reasonably argue about the causal mechanism; I suspect murder rates could be lower for more complex reasons than “everyone’s armed” (for example, many of the sociopaths who would otherwise be inclined to commit murder were likely Saddam Fedayeen recruits and have been wiped out by the 3ID and others, or maybe it’s just part of the post-war adjustment to a new government by the population). But I’m not sure quoting a statement by a senior administration official is, in and of itself, a lie; at worst, it’s disingenuous support for one’s own position, particularly in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

For example, if I say “Bill Clinton says he did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” that doesn’t make me the liar; it does make Bill a liar, unless you want to quibble over the definition of “sex.” In February 1998, it would have been reasonable for me to take Clinton’s statement at face value. Today, even in the light of compelling evidence to the contrary, unless I say “this proves Bill didn’t have sex with Monica” I’m still not a liar.

So, unless someone has statistics showing that the current murder rate in Baghdad is greater than 0.72 people per day (which translates to just over five murders per week), John Lott isn’t necessarily a liar. It is, however, distinctly possible that Lott is wrong. Now, if Lott is subsequently informed that Rumsfeld is factually incorrect, yet continues to repeat the claim, then it would be reasonable to claim he is lying.

Again, a review for those of you just joining us here at SN: lying requires foreknowledge that you are making a factually incorrect statement. Being wrong just requires that the statement being made (or quoted) is factually incorrect. In other words, lying requires intentional deception on behalf of the speaker in addition to factual incorrectness.

James Joyner (in trackback below) makes an important point:

Of course, univariate analysis is silly. Baghdad and Washington are hardly comparable cities. Indeed, one would expect a lower homicide rate in a police state than in a free society.

Indeed. And, that would be a worthwhile critique of Lott’s analysis, which gets to the whole “causal mechanism” thing I discussed above. The best I can say for Lott (if you accept his claims about the dispensation of the survey data, which I find dubious but not entirely improbable) is that he’s a sloppy social scientist—albeit perhaps not an not extraordinarily sloppy one, given the pure sludge that often is passed off as strong evidence in many peer-reviewed journals.

I must be missing something here

InstaPundit approvingly links to a post by the Angry Clam, who is “pissed off” about a study conducted by psychology professors at Berkeley, Stanford and Maryland that purports to describe the psychological determinants of conservatism.

I’ll admit that the press release linked to by the Clam makes the research seem rather simplistic, and some of the editorializing by assistant (i.e. untenured) professor Jack Glaser seems inappropriate. And, frankly, I think the researchers are really describing what Virginia Postrel calls “staisism” rather than conservatism. Say what you will about the Contract with America and the post-1994 Republican majority, but planning to roll back decades of creeping socialism is hardly a conservative position (in their terms); the neo-liberal policies of Britain’s successive governments since 1979 are not exactly “conservative” either, even though many of them were pioneered by the political right. And, as a political scientist, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that J. Random Psychologist is qualified to do research on political concepts, just as I’d have serious concerns if a political scientist tried to perform psychotherapy. To top it all off, I generally despise meta-analysis as a research technique, but that’s neither here nor there.

At the same time, though, the research itself, rather than the stupid commentary it was dressed up with in the press release, doesn’t seem (from its description) excessively political. I’d rather read the article (which appeared in the May 2003 Psychological Bulletin, according to the table of contents) and draw my own conclusions, thanks.

Tuesday, 22 July 2003


James at OTB reports that Uday and Qusay Hussein are history. Good riddance to the both of them.

Monday, 21 July 2003

Shades of Bull Connor

Will Baude at Crescat Sententia notes a spat between Ward Connerly and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, apparently prompted by this statement of Dingell’s:

The people of Michigan have a simple message to you: go home and stay there. We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists. Michiganders do not take kindly to your ignorant meddling in our affairs.

I seem to remember a lot of Southern politicians complaining about the role of “outside agitators” back in the civil rights movement during the 1960s (a fact I wouldn’t have expected to be lost on anyone who wasn’t completely ignorant of Southern history), as Connerly points out rather dramatically in his response.

As for the substance of Dingell’s statement, I wasn’t checking any driver’s licenses but it sure seemed like a sizeable proportion of the Michiganders at Dean’s place Saturday night were planning on supporting Connerly’s initiative drive.

Not-so-sweet sixteen

Daniel Drezner has a challenge to those have criticized his take on the whole “sixteen words” theme that the left has been trying to make fly for the last week:

The power of the critique against Bush would be strengthened if it could be shown that a significant fraction of the American public—as well as the legislative branch—supported action against Iraq only because of the claim that Hussein’s regime had an active nuclear weapons program.

Ok, since I’m likely to be terribly bored at some point in the next day or two, and considering I’m sitting not-very-far from the computers the data is housed on, I’ll look at the February 2003 CBS/New York Times Poll, along with several others from the period after the State of the Union, and see what I can find. I can’t give any evidence on the behavior of legislators, but I can at least examine whether the public’s opinion was conditional on WMD, and nukes in particular—assuming the right questions were asked.

Warning for the faint of heart: I may present regression results in addition to the marginals.

Sunday, 20 July 2003

Why the American press shouldn't behave like Britain's

One common refrain, particularly from the left of late*, is that our press isn’t adversarial enough when dealing with politicians; they look to the British press, and in particular the BBC (as that is the only example sizeable numbers of Americans have been exposed to), as an exemplar of the adversarial style they want to see emulated.

Those who advocate this style, however, may want to consider Jeff Jarvis’s damning collection of links that suggest that the Beeb’s quest for sensationalism and ratings—if not an ideological bias—led it to claim that the Blair government had “sexed up” reports on Iraq’s weapons capabilities before the war. At the center of the controversy is a dead weapons inspector, David Kelly, and one of the BBC’s wartime correspondents in Baghdad, Andrew Gilligan, whose performance in a pathetic cloak-and-dagger display I belittled during the war. Now, some portions of the American media are hardly better—the reliance on barely-sourced, anonymous information from deep background has become a staple of reporting in “flagship” newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, perhaps due to every reporter thinking he’s going to become a star like Bob Woodward—but outside the most partisan papers (the occasional crusades of the Raines-era NYT, the Washington Times and the New York Post spring to mind), no American outlets have matched the Beeb’s propensity for grinding its ideological axe.

Moreover, as Peter Mandelson (no stranger to the harsh spotlight of Fleet Street and the Beeb) points out, the British media have contributed to a decline in public discourse in that country:

The viciousness that characterises the relationship between the media and politicians is turning people off politics and corroding our democracy. Everything in Britain is conducted in an overly adversarial way, from our courts to our Parliament, our industrial relations and our select committees. It is good theatre, but does it produce good outcomes? In this case, patently not.

The pervasive cynicism of the BBC and its fellow British media almost certainly have an effect on public perceptions of democracy. As a professional cynic myself, I can’t help but believe part of that attitude was formed as a result of my political socialization at the hands of the Beeb and ITN (the only other television news provider in pre-satellite-TV Britain). A healthy skepticism about the veracity of a government’s claims is good for democracy, but the consistent and corrosive cynicism embodied in the reporting on the motives of everyone and anyone in government or the public eye by the British media seems detrimental to that country’s long-term future.

Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry has more on the blame game surrounding Kelly’s death.

Death of a thousand cuts

James Joyner helpfully points out that the U.S. case for war in Iraq, as made in the State of the Union address—including the famous “sixteen words,” which until recently I thought was a mid-eighties Molly Ringwald vehicle—had very little to do with whether Saddam Hussein had obtained fissible materials from Africa.

In other news, the case for American secession from the British Empire really wasn’t about the fact that King George III had imposed a French-style civil code on the people of Upper Canada (the place now known as Québec). Nevertheless, that shocking claim made it into the Declaration of Independence:

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rules into these Colonies:

I guess that means we should start heaping dirt on Thomas Jefferson’s reputation. Oh, wait… never mind.

Safe and sound in Ann Arbor

By some miracle, I’ve made it safe and sound to Ann Arbor. I spent Friday night with my friend Eric Taylor and some other wild and crazy guys in Bloomington, Ind., and most of Saturday night over at Dean’s blog party with all sorts of interesting folks in the western Detroit suburbs. I think I can safely report that a good time was had by all involved in both occassions.

I’m also relieved to see that Brock has been picking up the slack for me while I’ve been away (what timing!). More posting from me will appear in a little while…

By the way, if you are reading this in Ann Arbor, and you have a line on a room that’s available for the next four weeks, drop me an email at And, if you’ve replied to my email about the Bazaar, I’ll try to get back to you in the next day or so.

Good cause ... bad name

There will be a meeting Wednesday of Amber’s Army, a group founded after the June 25 death of Amber Cox-Cody, who was left for eight hours in a day-care van in the Memphis summer. This was the fourth such death in Memphis since 1996.

Now I don’t want to sound callous. There’s a real problem here. But “Amber’s Army”? I can’t think of any less appropriate use of the military metaphor. At least with the “War on Drugs”, there are men with guns out there kicking down doors, so it’s at least it’s something like a war. I’m envisioning armed men in fatigues outside day care centers, inspecting vans to make sure there aren’t any kids left inside.

I don’t have any good ideas for solving the problem of incompetent day care workers letting kids die in hot vehicles in the summer. And don’t know anything about the particulars of any of the cases, of why the kid was going to day care instead of being cared for, at home, by a family member. But the liberal in me suspects that welfare reform is partly to blame. I wonder whether it just might be a little more cost effective to take the money the state is spending on providing day care for poor children, and just pay one parent to stay at home and take care of the kids.

The amateur economist in me recognizes that the incentives need to be done right. For example, it should be the same payment, no matter how many kids you have in your care. And it shouldn’t matter whether it’s the mother or the father who stays home to care for the kids. And maybe you should only get paid to stay home and take care of the first two children. After that, you’re on your own.

I’m not a child welfare expert, but seems to me that pre-school children are almost always better off at home. And any system that provides perverse incentives to take them out of the home is broken.

Now back to sounding callous again. That logo of the crying teddy bear makes me want to retch. And if the Commercial Appeal is going to advertise the URL, they should make sure it works.

Friday, 18 July 2003

Philosophy job market not so bad

I’d been wondering all day how to introduce myself. Fortuitously, Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber gave me the perfect segueway, by reporting that the job market for philosophers is not as bad as I thought.

You see, I’m a philosophy grad school dropout. I have an ABD from the University of Rochester. I was in a PhD program from 1992 to 1997. In May of 1997, faced with a dissertation going nowhere, the loss of my funding, and a bleak outlook on the job market, I left Rochester and returned to Memphis, where I had attended Rhodes College as an undergrad. There, a friend of mine hooked me up with a job at a Mom and Pop ISP doing web page design and tech support.

And now Brian has gone and made me wistful for what might have been. I really can’t complain, I suppose. I really enjoy being an all-purpose computer geek, and I certainly make more money than I would in Academia. But I do miss the intellectual stimulation, the esoteric conversations that lasted late into the night. And I regret that I left just a few weeks before the death of Professor Lewis White Beck. I was one of his last students.

Anyway, check out my philosophy page if you’re into that kind of stuff. All the papers there date from grad school. And if you’re in Memphis, and feel like sitting around, drinking beer, and discussing philosophy, drop me a note.

Co-blogger discovered

In the next few days, Signifying Nothing will be gaining a new co-blogger: Brock Sides. Brock met more than enough of the desired criteria to qualify; I’ll leave it to him to decide whether he wants to specify which ones.

Brock, like me, has led a relatively interesting life; he started out as a philosophy grad student, and is currently working as a computer administrator in Memphis, Tenn. He’s currently the president of GOLUM (pronounced like “Golem” from Lord of the Rings), the Linux user’s group in Memphis. Brock’s somewhat to the left of me ideologically, but he shares my (perhaps-not-always-met) goal of keeping the tone relatively sober.

I hope you’ll give him a warm welcome and I think he’ll be a great addition to the blog!

Thursday, 17 July 2003

Nevada idiocy: it's spreading

Bill Hobbs reports that flouting one’s own constitution is becoming increasingly popular out west; the latest convert to the cause is none other than Gray “My Ass Is Grass” Davis, who is apparently conducting a bizarre experiment to see how much lower he can drive his own poll ratings.

Reunion Blogging

Here’s the photos I took at my 10th high school reunion. I’ll see if I can collect some others from Wayne and maybe some other people too.

Dominick's sangria cloned

Erica, one of those who have RSVP’d for Dean’s blog party on Saturday (hence explaining how I discovered her blog), has apparently produced a reasonable facsimile of the sangria produced at Casa Dominick’s in Ann Arbor. Not only is the sangria there good, they also give change with $2 bills.

Ip Snipped, Leung Flung: Tung = Dung?

Regina Ip, Hong Kong’s odious secretary for security, is gone, and finance minister Antony Leung has been booted as well, according to the Financial Times. The Tung Chee-hwa deathwatch is now officially on. Money quote from the FT:

On Tuesday, a poll by the University of Hong Kong found that Ms Ip and Mr Leung were among the territory’s three least popular ministers. Mr Tung himself was the third member of that trio.

Anyone want to go for the trifecta?

Wednesday, 16 July 2003

Apache wedged

Apologies for the downtime earlier today; I upgraded Apache on the server and it apparently didn’t like something in the configuration files. Things should now be back to normal…

Tuesday, 15 July 2003

Academic freedom in the Palestinian territories

Daniel Drezner has a post on the perils of being a political scientist in Arafatland. If my work annoys someone, at worst I might get blackballed at a journal; in the West Bank, you might get attacked by Fatah’s goons.

Not that this incident will make many of my more liberally-inclined colleagues in The Discipline™ to revise their views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course…

Monday, 14 July 2003

A functional representation malfunction

Conrad is quite gleeful at the latest idiocies of China’s puppet regime in Hong Kong and its cheering section in the business community. Say what you will about the content of his message, but at least this guy has mastered the art of non-verbal communication.

Desperately seeking co-bloggers

Due to time constraints, the “generating new content” side of Signifying Nothing doesn’t seem to be as productive as it used to be. I’m also interested in seeing how capable LSblog is for use by non-techies (or at least users who don’t have the access to tinker with the innards of the database). So, I’m looking for one or two people interested in joining the party here at SN (either exclusively or non-exclusively).

I’m fairly open-minded about political perspectives; my guess is that most of the audience is in the “economic right-socially liberal” quartile of a two-dimensional issue space. I prefer the tone sober (less Atrios or LGF; more CalPundit or Tacitus), and I’m not interested in proselytizing—religious or political. Bonus points if (a) I know you personally, (b) I probably should know you but for some odd reason I don’t, (c) I’ve consumed alcohol in your presence, or (d) you “do” mass political behavior, political psychology, or political sociology. A tolerance for minor teething problems with the software is a must (I haven’t lost a post since this blog started, but there are still a few small quirks here and there). Drop me an email if you’re interested.

I’ll also be seeking contributors for a separate, more serious blog venture I’m planning to launch in the next week or two (again, powered by LSblog). More details on that soon…

First non-negative LaRouche score sighted!

Doug took the presidential candidate selector (fun for the whole family!), and somehow managed to get Lyndon LaRouche to come out as a zero. Either they’ve fixed the algorithm to properly clip the continuum to the 0-100 range, or Doug was just “lucky.” However, I still haven’t given up looking for people who match LaRouche, mainly so I can seek restraining orders against them.

Sunday, 13 July 2003

Reunion Aftermath

The short version: We came, we ate, we drank, we danced, we left.

The long version: A journalistic account of our tenth high school reunion would probably focus on its unrepresentativeness. Even accounting for the otherwise-disposed (due to imprisonment, disability, or death), the attendance was quite skewed. Most attendees appeared to still reside in Ocala or its environs. African-Americans and Latinos made up a goodly portion of our graduating class, but few of either were to be seen. Some cliques were far better represented than others; among the nerds, attendance was sparse, while the former “in-crowd” was abundant. But that account would be incomplete.

Of all the people I knew well and particularly wanted to catch up with, I only saw two. I wish more of those people had come. But I also got to see other people—the vaguely-remembered, the long-since-forgotten, and the wouldn’t-have-known-them-from-Adam—some of whom I got to know better. And I got to demonstrate the all-purpose white guy dance, always a plus for any social occasion.

Now, maybe some of the other attendees were stuck in the past, trying to recapture the glory days when they were the unchallenged Titans of the social pecking order. But for the rest of us, it was an opportunity to restore old connections and make new ones—and who could miss out on a chance like that? So, here’s to hoping I’ll see a few more of us in 2008.

Saturday, 12 July 2003

Signifying a quote of the day

Thanks to Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas for selecting my sidebar quote as his Quote of the Day.

"Decisive proof" of WMD and Al-Qaeda links?

Kate links to news that “decisive proof of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs” has been located, according to The Australian. And it appears that Iraq had an ambassador to Al-Qaeda working out of its embassy in Pakistan (the latter story via Kate as well).

Friday, 11 July 2003

Junking Footnote Four

Alex Knapp links to an excellent Randy Barnett piece at NRO explaining how Justice Kennedy’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas departs from the court’s post-New Deal attitude toward civil liberties. The teaser:

The more one ponders the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the more revolutionary it seems. Not because it recognizes the rights of gays and lesbians to sexual activity free of the stigmatization of the criminal law — though this is of utmost importance. No, the case is revolutionary because Justice Kennedy (and at least four justices who signed on to his opinion without separate concurrences) have finally broken free of the post-New Deal constitutional tension between a “presumption of constitutionality” on the one hand and “fundamental rights” on the other. Contrary to what has been reported repeatedly in the press, the Court in Lawrence did not protect a “right of privacy.” Rather, it protected “liberty” — and without showing that the particular liberty in question is somehow “fundamental.” Appreciation of the significance of this major development in constitutional law requires some historical background.

If you’re as big a fan of the Institute for Justice as I am, you’ll know that this is a Big Deal for liberty—on par with their efforts to get the Court to revive the privileges or immunities clause.

Words? We don't have to look at no steenking words!

Eugene Volokh reports on what may be the most disgusting appellate court decision since Plessy v. Ferguson. Apparently the Nevada state supreme court has decided it can elide parts of the Nevada Constitution it finds inconvenient when promoting its activist agenda. I’ve seen some absolutely contortionist legal reasoning in state supreme court decisions before (most notably, the Tennessee supreme court’s behavior in deciding the so-called “tiny towns” cases in the mid-1990s), but never in modern times have I seen a decision so absolutely horrible I thought impeachment was warranted. Until today.

You can read more on the story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and at Rick Henderson’s blog. Glenn Reynolds is rather unimpressed as well.

Lies by anonymous sources

If there’s a common thread in the various “Bush lied” stories about the war, it is that the initial, wildly overoptimistic reports were generally based on interviews with anonymous sources. For example, in last month’s Washington Post semi-retraction of its reporting on the events that lead to Pfc. Jessica Lynch’s capture, the paper describes its initial reports as follows:

Initial news reports, including those in The Washington Post, which cited unnamed U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports, described Lynch emptying her M-16 into Iraqi soldiers. The intelligence reports from intercepts and Iraqi informants said that Lynch fought fiercely, was stabbed and shot multiple times, and that she killed several of her assailants.

“She was fighting to the death,” one of the officials was quoted as saying. “She did not want to be taken alive.”

Now, assuming the initial reports weren’t written by Jayson Blair or someone seeking to emulate his behavior at the New York Times, these “unnamed U.S. officials” must exist. More importantly, the reporters who quoted them know who they are. A full and honest accounting of events, whether in the Post and elsewhere, ought to identify who these officials are.

The practice of the media taking information on background in important stories has become disturbingly widespread. If newspapers want their reports that rely on anonymous sources to be trusted, there must be some clear sanction for dishonesty by people speaking on background—just as there is when the source is not anonymous (namely, damage to the credibility of the source). A journalist’s responsibility to the truth, and to her readers, must outweigh any obligation of anonymity to a source who has clearly lied or deceived the public.

Wednesday, 9 July 2003

Frontloaders for Dean

The latest Chicago School piece in The New Republic by Daniel Drezner argues that Howard Dean is about as credible as his fellow Democratic candidates on national defense, although Dean does share Dick Gephardt’s isolationist views on trade. (A number of relevant links are at Dan’s blog.)

Meanwhile, James Joyner thinks the combination of frontloading and proportional delegate allocation may lead to a brokered convention. Since nobody’s going to completely run out of money before the primaries are effectively over, there is a fair chance that no candidate will get a majority of the delegates; if any candidates are going to drop out, they’re probably going to do it before Iowa. And given that the presidential primaries often are both standalone (with no other races on the ballot) and open, there’s a reasonable chance there will be significant cross-over voting among Republicans, which may help fringe candidates and those who may be perceived as too liberal to win the general election—Sharpton and Dean could quite possibly pick up a large chunk of delegates in the South with a combination of black votes and Republican crossover voters acting as “spoilers.”

More pretty dissertation graphs

Since the last “mystery graph” was such a success (not), and because I have nothing else to write, here’s another from the “Dutch chapter.” Enjoy!

Actually, I do have another Dean post poking around in the back of my head, but I’ll save that for when I get home.

Wrapping the Dutch chapter

Apologies for the relative silence here at Signifying Nothing; I’m trying to finish the revisions on what I call the “Dutch chapter” (because it uses data from the 1998 elections in the Netherlands; there’s nothing particularly “Dutch” about it beyond that) of my dissertation. I have a few quick calculations to do, and about a page or two to write summarizing the results of two more regression models, and then it can be shipped off to my committee for further review (I may add more pretty graphs later).

Next up on the cavalcade: revisions on the “Nader chapter.” Then we get to go back to revise the “Hillary chapter,” the “sophistication chapter,” and the “heuristics chapter.” And, once that’s all done, I have to write the intro and conclusion. And then it will be done. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, 8 July 2003

Democracy 2, Communism 0

Conrad is starting a pool on when the main leaders of China’s puppet regime in Hong Kong resign. Apparently the people of Hong Kong actually want the puppet masters in Beijing to live up to their promise of “one country, two systems.” Imagine that.

My bets: Regina Ip is out by next Monday (July 14), with chief toady Tung Chee-hwa gone by Labor Day (Monday, September 1).

Meanwhile, I’m sure the people of Taiwan are sitting around saying, “Man, am I glad we didn’t sign up for that deal!”

Opportunities, the Supreme Court, and Sodomy

I haven’t written about the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas until now for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I’m still working on dissertation revisions (which are going fairly well, much to my surprise), but also because I’m in broad agreement with where the Court came out. My general view on matters of individual liberty is that intrusions upon them by government should be subject to the strictest of tests: namely, in court parlance, strict scrutiny all-around. Absent a compelling governmental interest, there’s no good reason to restrict speech, religion, possession of firearms—or what forms of consensual sex people can engage in. Not only did the Court do the right thing for homosexuals, they did the right thing for millions of heterosexuals across the nation.

However, there’s a lesson in Lawrence—and the Supreme Court agenda at large—for my liberal and conservative friends alike, who decry the Court pronouncing against their preferred policies. It’s pretty simple: don’t pass laws that will invite activist behavior by the Supremes. If Texas’ legislature hadn’t been stupid enough a few years back to enact a new law against sodomy, the Court wouldn’t have been in a position to decide the issue. Don’t want affirmative action thrown out? Don’t pass laws that practically beg the Court to overturn it.

I won’t deny there are problems with the Supreme Court as currently constituted. The way the two halves of the court are polarized risks turning the interpretation of the Constitution into a barometer of Sandra Day O‘Connor’s current mood (as we’ve seen before during the absolutely horrid period where Powell was the swing vote—anyone who’s read Buckley v. Valeo, the current controlling precedent for campaign finance law, knows exactly what I mean). And, given the current polarization on Capitol Hill, I don’t see the Court improving anytime soon. But, on the other hand, they are the only branch whose current members at least show some semblance of having read and understood the Constitution, so for now I reluctantly cast my lot with them.

SiteMeter added

Like Joy, I’ve decided to add a SiteMeter visit counter to Signifying Nothing. The morbidly curious can compare its statistics with my locally-produced Analog stats, which are updated hourly and date back to February. I also added generic SiteMeter support to LSblog while I was at it.

I did have to make one small hack to get it to play nicely in the all-CSS layout; for some reason, it decides to comment-out the noscript element in the JavaScript version unless you set a variable (g_leavenoscript) to tell it not to. Look at the HTML source of the page if you want to figure out how I did it.

Monday, 7 July 2003

More on Dean

John Cole thinks Dean’s going to win the Democratic nomination. I guess if I had to put my money on anyone, I’d probably put it on Dean too—even though there are some Democrats who don’t think Dean is credible on national security. But when credibility on national security in the field of candidates is solely differentiated by whether or not you served in a war that half of the Democratic primary voters don’t remember (hi, John Kerry!) and the other half opposed, I don’t believe that’s much of a handicap.

Keeping the republic

Mark Kleiman writes:

If a republic is to maintain itself as a republic, rather than degenerating into an oligarchy or party dictatorship, it must be the case that the party in power can’t reliably maintain itself in power. Imagine, just as a hypothetical, a republic whose campaign finance system gave a big natural advantage to whichever party was most favorable to big personal wealth and corporate interests. Imagine further that the party favorable to those interests managed to get control of both the executive and the legislative branches. Now imagine further that the leadership of that party had no scruples about exploiting to the fullest its powers to help friends and punish enemies, in the interest of making its dominance permanent.

He goes on to claim that this is currently the case. Of course, it was also the case for the Democratic Party between 1961 and 1969; the Democratic Party between 1977 and 1981; and the Democratic Party between 1993 and 1995. In each case, the Democrats had the unqualified financial backing of “big personal wealth and corporate interests,” “control of both the executive and the legislative branches,” and “no scruples about exploiting to the fullest its powers to help friends and punish enemies.” Furthermore, unlike the Republicans today, these Democratic majorities had a Supreme Court that was broadly inclined to promote their social and economic agenda (even during the brief Clinton period). Yet, amazingly, we still have a republic, despite all of these shocking assaults on the separation of powers.

I won’t dispute the fundamental truth of Madison’s insights in Federalist 10. But a few years of unified government isn’t going to undermine the republic today, especially when the party in control of that government is essentially continuing the substantive policies of the previous Democratic administration with some fiddling at the margins of the tax code.

Sunday, 6 July 2003

Hidden necho feed

Following the lead of others (including Sam Ruby and Mark Pilgrim), I’ve added a feed of the new syndication format without a name to Signifying Nothing. This should also give Jeff a new test case for his Straw patch.

For the moment, it’s here (since it’s currently generated by the LSblog RSS module); it will probably move to a separate URL once the format (and name!) have been finalized.

Speaking of RSS, it must be very, very sad to live in the place Dave Winer does.

Hopefully the last word on Colonel Reb

BigJim writes on the Rebel Flag, Colonel Reb, and “From Dixie With Love” (not to be confused with “Dixie” — the mp3 doesn’t do it justice).

Kevin Drum on moderation

CalPundit tries to figure out what it means to be moderate. Money quote:

First, there’s a difference between policy moderation and rhetorical moderation. John Kerry, for example, is probably about as liberal as Howard Dean if you look at his actual policy positions, but Dean uses more fiery rhetoric. Likewise, aside from a regrettable weakness for sarcasm, my writing tends to be pretty sober compared to someone like Atrios. But on actual political positions, we’re fairly close.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I take Kevin seriously but would rather get hit by a bus than visit Atrios again in my lifetime, and hence why Kevin actually has a decent shot at persuading me that he’s right on the issues.

James at OTB has more, including a money quote of his own:

Indeed, the mere fact that we spend a lot of time thinking, let alone writing, about politics and have developed somewhat coherent positions almost by definition puts us into the extremes.

I’d probably elide the “almost.” Having a coherent personal belief system puts you in the tails of the bell curve, at least relative to the public at large. I think moderation is more a function of whether you allow the belief system to dictate how you feel about people who don’t share your beliefs, and not so much what the content of your belief system is. Which, incidentally, gets back to what I was saying about political sophistication and perceived media bias.

Understanding the organization of Open Source projects

Kieran Healy is looking for feedback on a paper he plans to present at the August meeting of the American Sociological Association. The paper’s definitely worth a read, even if you’re not a sociologist or an open source geek.

Dean a flash in the pan?

James at OTB links to a Mark Steyn piece in today’s Washington Times in which Steyn argues that Howard Dean will peak soon. I’m not particularly convinced, mainly due to the lackluster Democratic field and the diminished appeal of potential Dean vote-splitter Ralph Nader to the “progressive” fringe (or, as Dean would put it, “Democratic wing”). And, with the highly compressed primary schedule, there’s a good chance Dean could remake himself into a centrist in time for Labor Day 2004 if the party grandees don’t panic and bring in an outside candidate as the nominee.

Dean Esmay, meanwhile, also ponders (the other) Dean’s prospects (via One Hand Clapping).

Friday, 4 July 2003


My 10th high school reunion is coming up next weekend. Now I need to come up with my brief “what the hell have I been doing the last ten years” speech. I’ve got the two-word version—“not much”—but I feel the need to stretch it out a little. Perhaps I should borrow from the description my fellow classmate Keith just sent me via e-mail: “still alive and as sarcastic as ever.” It has a ring to it, don’t you think?

Thursday, 3 July 2003

Coming Full Circle

Peter W. Davis has a guest post at Electric Venom, giving his perspective on what’s changed—and what’s still the same—in the Democratic Party over the past fifty-odd years. A brief—unedited—excerpt:

Up until the 1948 Presidential election there were two kinds of campaigns run in the Southern Democratic Primaries. One type was a candidate making a speech about how he was going to clean out the County Courthouse and bring paved roads, electricity and honest law enforcement to the rural and small town population of the day. They talked about running water and jobs and opening hospitals. These candidates seldom won. This was the Harry Truman Wing.

The other kind of candidate—of the Strom Thurmond wing—won their elections by shouting “Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!”[*] A memory of George Wallace’s first campaign for an elected office comes to mind. He tried to win the primary by talking about jobs, clean running water and paved roads. After losing the election he swore he’d never be outniggered again. He wasn’t.

I don’t know that I agree with all his conclusions, but it’s definitely worth reading.

[*] Like Peter, I’m not very comfortable with putting that word in this post. However, in this case I think it’s important—precisely because of its shock value. I don’t think you can truly understand how vile the campaigns of men like Maddox, Wallace, and Thurmond were unless you’re confronted with their rhetoric in all its unadorned ugliness.

Wednesday, 2 July 2003

WMD, lies, and videotape

Pejman Yousefzadeh isn’t very impressed with Josh Marshall’s logic in arguing that the administration lied about Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical agents. Now, one could plausibly make the argument that the administration lacked sufficient evidence to reach the conclusion that Iraq had WMD, but that’s not the same thing as lying, which—as Pej points out—requires someone to (a) know A is false and then (b) claim A is true (or vice versa).

So, Josh’s argument basically boils down to: the administration didn’t really think there was WMD in Iraq, but expected to find some WMD when they got there to cover their story that there was WMD in Iraq. This is like saying you don’t honestly expect Wendy’s to be selling hamburgers, but you expect Wendy’s to just happen to have some hamburgers lying around the store when you visit to back up your false claim that Wendy’s does, in fact, sell hamburgers.

Josh may be on firmer ground in questioning the credibility of Judith Miller, the New York Times’ ambassador for all things WMD (and whose very existence has been called into question in this weblog). To her credit, though, at least her stories haven’t described the grand vistas of pyramids and pagodas that we’d expect to be present in a Jayson Blair account. (Although, I must say that I find Josh’s belief that Miller’s reporting has helped the case of the hawks laughable.)

You might be a polisci geek if...

Matthew has the list. My fave:

[Y]ou joke about chasing away “Bruce Bueno de Mosquitos” when spraying on insect repellent.

The whole list is pretty good. However, I make my sacrifices to a statue of Neal Beck. To each his own…

More on Strom's legacy

My friend and former colleague Scott Huffmon, an assistant professor of political science at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., gives his perspective on Strom Thurmond’s legacy:

Couple of brief points about Strom (as an expert on southern politics…):
  1. [Steven] Taylor is wrong, he never actually had to use the bucket that had been placed in the cloak room during his 24 hr 18min filibuster (he had purged his body of all excess water by drinking hardly anything and taking constant steam baths for days prior)
  2. He forgot about the wrestling match with [Ralph] Yarborough about [Leroy] Collins’ appt to the Community Relations [Service] in the wake of the CRA of 1964
  3. Strom DID change…he was the first white southern member of Congress to hire a black staffer (in 1971), he was a supporter of the national MLK Jr. holiday in 1986, and he voted to extend the VRA in 1991
  4. it is correct that he is not known for sponsoring any landmark legislation, but he DID serve his constituents amazingly well…including black constituents…eventually
  5. even as a segregationist governor, he helped SC with a business friendly approach that helped alleviate the pain of being virtually abandoned by the navy and bringing SC kicking and screaming out of an agricultural based economy
  6. his REAL impact on the political landscape came with his prominent switch to the Republican party in 1964 along with his help in developing the “southern strategy” (with aid Harry Dent) ...this paved the way for white conservatives across the South to switch parties and irrevocably changed the state of presidential politics, the nature of the Republican party, and (by default with the exodus of southern conservatives) the Democratic party.

Obviously, I am appalled by 90% of his life and career, but to say that he had limited national impact is a fallacy. For good or ill, this man fundamentally altered politics in America.

(I've added a few links and clarifications in brackets.)

A "bold new look" for Signifying Nothing

B. at ShinySideUp likes the new look here at Signifying Nothing. It’s based on the appearance of Daniel Drezner Part 2, and is only ten CSS directives (736 bytes, including comments and @imports) on top of the old stylesheet. If, by some chance, you liked the old look, feel the need to mix it up a little, or don’t particularly enjoy doing timezone conversions in your head, you can always set your preferences.

Tuesday, 1 July 2003


Nevada Gov. Kerry Guinn (R-Neptune) is worse than fellow Republican outer-solar-system resident Don Sundquist (R-Pluto), according to Bill Hobbs. It’s some mean feat, but Bill has the goods:

A group of legislators is willing to raise taxes, just not enough the would-be dictator of Nevada wishes, so he’s going to court to make them do it, claiming the state constitution requires them to vote for the higher taxes because it requires sufficient taxes to balance the budget.

Somehow, I don’t see all those Democrats who were incensed that the Texas Rangers were sent out to round up legislators who were blowing off quorum calls being all that upset about this development.

Cue the calliope

It’s time for the Carnival of the Vanities XLI at Amish Tech Support. Next week’s stop: the always-insightful Winds of Change.NET.

Road pricing and anonymity

Brian Micklethwait has a discussion of the privacy issues associated with highway tolls up at The White Rose. Congestion pricing and toll finance are goals that libertarians support, but there are some potential drawbacks to these ideas in the modern “surveillance state.”

Empire and the French

The Dissident Frogman reports on his vacation in Normandy, and notes the disappearance of the American flag from le Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie (a place I had the honor to visit about 13 years ago).

Does this bother me? Perhaps a little. But the Americans who died liberating France, like the Americans who died liberating Iraq, died so the French people and their government would be free to make their own choices. That the French don’t always make the decisions we’d like for them to make is a part of that freedom.

So are they being ungrateful? Yes. Spiteful? Undoubtably. But the freedom they were given was a gift from us (and the British, Canadians, and Poles and others who fought along side us)—the greatest gift America can give the world—and we can no more expect them to use that gift the way we’d want than we can expect a friend to not throw a birthday gift in the back of the closet. And I’d much rather have the French—and the Iraqis—free to decide their own fate in the world, and sometimes getting it “wrong,” than continuing to live under totalitarian rule.

Link via Matthew @ A Fearful Symmetry.

Eugene Volokh thinks that this behavior is worse than the whole “Freedom Fries” nonsense that took place on these shores. He’s probably right on that score at least. Meanwhile, judging from the trackbacks, maybe I’m the only one feeling even vaguely charitable.

Megan wonders why the Germans don’t come in for near as much bashing in the blogosphere. My guess is because (a) they didn’t tell everyone who disagreed with them that they were “missing a good opportunity to keep quiet” and (b) they aren’t French. Now, granted, the second reason is far more compelling if you’re English than if you’re American, but I don’t really pretend to understand it either.

The Dissident Frogman has some important amplifications and clarifications (via Amy).

Bring out da funk, bring in da noise

Mark Pilgrim has removed all the namespaced elements from his RSS feeds. Presumably this makes them non-funky, although the funkiness of the now-elided (but valuable) content:encoded seems debatable—which, I guess, is the whole problem with the “funkiness” issue. One man’s duplication is another man’s way of expressing alternative representations of the same data. (Mark, to his credit, does write up separate excerpts, so they are generally more valuable than your run-of-the-mill “chopped off plaintext representation of the HTML” excerpt feed, like mine.)

He explains:

I want to do all sorts of fancy things that RSS doesn’t allow for. Sure, I could shoehorn a bunch of stuff into namespaces and call it RSS, and it would be, technically; I’ve been doing that for months now. But that’s fundamentally the wrong approach; I see that now. I need a format that is geared for power users like me. It will still have a relatively simple core (probably not as simple as RSS, I mean, how could it be?) but it will have a wide array of well-defined extensions, well-documented, well-maintained, well-organized, and (I hope, someday) well-supported.

Now, I’m not sure where the “power user” line is at; I’m not much of a power user in the grand scheme of things, and even I’d like to see straightforward support for things like geographic and hierarchical aggregation, a unified content model (so my syndication feed, posting API, and TrackBack metadata would share the same code), and sensible treatment of multiple content payloads. I’m not even sure RSS works well for much of anything beyond the “My Netscape” design it started out as. But with RSS and “Echo” soon to be available, people can use the latter when they need to go beyond RSS’s capabilities—without accidentally breaking compatibility with apps that can’t grok advanced features like XML namespaces. And that, my friends, is a Good Thing™.

Sensible things said about marriage

Matthew has a stance on marriage—gay or straight—guaranteed to annoy anyone who’s never read Locke (and probably some of them, too). I won’t spoil it; just go RTWT™.

James Joyner likes the idea in principle, but is concerned about some of the implementation of the details. Given the burgenoning industry surrounding pre-nuptial agreements, I’m not sure we’re that far from solving those problems. And, in terms of inheritance, avoiding probate is largely a matter of having a proper will, and with the inheritance tax on the way out the door the potential tax issues are greatly simplified for people in most states.

Overall, it seems to this non-lawyer like most of the practical benefits of marriage (excepting the tax benefits) are largely duplicated in existing contract law; the trick is to create a “civil union” contract that contains those provisions—durable power of attorney, the method of disposal of assets upon dissolution, etc.