Saturday, 30 August 2003

Are you ready for some football?

The long off-season is over today as Ole Miss takes on Vanderbilt today in both teams’ SEC openers in Nashville at 12:30 Eastern/11:30 local time. I’ll be looking for a place with the game on TV in downtown Philly (it’s on regional TV in the southeast, but on satellite elsewhere).

Friday, 29 August 2003

The Times: descending into pr0n

Bill Keller, instead of revoking Paul Krugman’s op-ed privileges (my preferred strategy for fixing the New York Times), has instead apparently decided to “sex up” the newspaper. At least, that’s what Eric Muller, guesting at The Volokh Conspiracy, thinks.

However, there is no evidence of Andrew Gilligan’s involvement in the move.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stinson is quite unimpressed with the behavior of Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina “Xtina” Aguilera at the VMA, describing Madonna as having “reached the grungy anti-MILF stage of her life-cycle.” Ouch.

Puncturing the conference bubble

Dan Drezner (who I saw just to wave at yesterday) reminds us that things are happening outside APSA (and, more specifically, the Independence Brew Pub).

Thursday, 28 August 2003

Not a good morning

My shower this morning had water pressure that would be inadequate for drip irrigation, much less for shampooing one’s hair. Several times, the water inexplicibly stopped flowing altogether. Coupled with my discovery of several long hairs in the bathtub (indicating that the room hadn’t been very well cleaned) and the plug in the bathroom that makes everything I plug into it come crashing to the floor after a few seconds, color me less than impressed.

The going rate: $135/night. I’ve stayed at better places for a fifth the rate. But at least the lobby’s fancy…

The Berkeley B.S.: back from the dead!

Stephen Green points out that two of the authors of the dopey Berkeley piece (you know, the one that basically resurrected a discredited fifty-year-old theory by selectively mining the literature for bivariate correlations) have decided to take to the pages of the Washington Post in defense of their pathetic excuse for a journal article. Except their defense is basically impenetrable garbage that lacks even the minor benefit of the nicely-formatted tables with pretty stars that adorned their original piece. Try this paragraph on for size:

It’s wrong to conclude that our results provide only bad news for conservatives. True, we find some support for the traditional “rigidity-of-the-right” hypothesis, but it is also true that liberals could be characterized on the basis of our overall profile as relatively disorganized, indecisive and perhaps overly drawn to ambiguity—all of which may be liabilities in mass politics and other public and professional domains. Because we assume that all beliefs (ideological, scientific and otherwise) are partially (but never completely) determined by one’s needs, fears and desires, we see nothing pathological about this process. It is simply part of what it means to be human. Our “trade-off” model of human psychology assumes that any trait or motivation has potential advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. A heightened sensitivity to threat and uncertainty is by no means maladaptive in all contexts. Even closed-mindedness may be useful, provided one tends to have a closed mind about appropriate values and accurate opinions; a reluctance to abandon one’s prior convictions in favor of new fads can be a good thing. The important task for social scientists is to identify the conditions under which each of these cognitive and motivational styles is beneficial, rather than touting one or the other as inherently and invariably superior.

If you actually understand this paragraph or can figure out what the hell these blithering idiots are talking about, feel free to explain it to me. Bonus points if you can actually relate this assertion to the actual contents of the article, which lacked such a noncommittal attitude toward conservatism.

And, in my humble opinion, the important task for these social scientists is to learn how to do proper research (or—better yet—original research!) instead of cherry-picking results from papers that agree with their research hypothesis and apparently discarding the rest. It might also help if they figured out that correlation is not causation, since they have presented absolutely no evidence that (for example) either “fear of death” or “lower cognitive complexity” is causally prior to “conservatism.” They uncritically accept that the articles they cite in favor of their arguments measured the things they purport to measure accurately. Nor do they explain how they concluded that Paul Krugman—a man not known for having either nuance or psychological training—was an authority on the relative cognitive abilities sophistication of conservatives and liberals.

But the note at the end is priceless:

Arie W. Kruglanski is distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. John T. Jost is an associate professor in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. This article was written in collaboration with Jack Glaser and Frank J. Sulloway, both of the University of California at Berkeley.

I guess that answers the age-old question of how many professors it takes to fuck up a journal article or a WaPo op-ed.

Wednesday, 27 August 2003

APSA Day 1 in Philly: "Please mug me!"

The flight to Philly wasn’t entirely horrible, although at times I felt like I was on the screaming baby express. That and I had a nice aisle seat at the rear of the plane where I got to hear the engine up close and personal. I did meet someone else coming to APSA across the aisle from me (who flew from L.A.; I’m not sure how Memphis ended up on her itinerary), but I didn’t catch her name because of the aforementioned engine. Then when we arrived there was a nice scene where an irate man with an English accent decided to wig out because the shuttle van couldn’t carry all 324 pieces of luggage he and his wife/mistress/daughter had with him. Good times. Have I mentioned how much I despise flying?

After I checked in, being the good political scientist that I am, I wandered over to the convention center to pick up all my APSA goodies—and so I’d know where the hell I was going tomorrow. However, even though registration was open today, the free shuttle doesn’t start until tomorrow—and (for a change, not by choice) I’m at the hotel that’s furthest from the convention center.

So I had a nice pleasant 7pm stroll through downtown Philadelphia. Anyone who alleges that downtowns are the hub of life in America should try wandering the streets of a city after working hours. From what I can tell, Oxford’s a more happenin’ town than downtown Philly after 6 p.m. (This pattern is repeated in virtually every major downtown I’ve ever visited. New York may be an extreme outlier in this regard.)

To make an incredibly boring story short, I got my APSA stuff, including my name tag and lovely canvas bag and my irreplacable but inaccurate program (apparently APSA thinks that controling the distribution of programs will reduce free-riding; I think lowering the registration fee and junking the progressive taxation tiered membership dues structure would be more effective). So now I have to wander back to my hotel with a giant canvas bag that virtually announces to the world, “Hi, I’m a tourist! Please mug me!”*

In other news, my friend Sara (who got a hotel within non-mugging distance of the convention center) and I have been running up our cell phone bills with conversations that half the time include her ancient Sprint PCS phone going dead for no apparent reason. And I found out that if I’d signed up for the hotel’s frequent guest program before I left Oxford I could have saved myself the $10 I’m paying for this Internet connection tonight.

Conference advice

Apropos of this weekend, Daniel Drezner and Kieran Healy have some advice for first-time attendees of academic conferences, while Kevin Drum just wonders what all the fuss is about.

Tuesday, 26 August 2003

Something disturbing to ponder while I'm away

Yes, this is me singing “The Boys of Summer” (the Don Henley song, now famous once again in the form of the cover version by the Ataris) at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor earlier this month. See you on the flip side!


Jacob Levy continues presenting abstracts of APSA papers at The Volokh Conspiracy. I’ll probably be spending most of my time in Philly being poked and prodded by potential employers (no word yet on whether or not the Wonderlic test is involved), but I’ll try to blog about anything interesting I see in my fields of interest (which seem to be largely non-overlapping with the rest of the blogosphere).

Monday, 25 August 2003

Quiz time!

Whose credibility is damaged more by the revelation that the National Organization for Women is endorsing Carol Mosely-Braun’s presidential campaign?

Via Bitter.

The L.A. Times poll and oversampling

Dan Weintraub notes that the Los Angeles Times poll of California voters—the first to show a lead for Bustamante outside the margin of error—included a special sample of 125 Latino voters. Dan hasn’t get clarification yet as to how the Latinos were counted in the overall poll, which interviewed 1,351 (self-declared?) registered voters, 801 of whom were deemed “likely” voters.

The key question is whether the 125 Latinos were all “likely” voters or just registered. In terms of registration numbers, the count seems reasonable in terms of a sample of Californians; however, if all 125 were “likely” there was an oversampling of Latinos which should have been corrected. (* For more on this, follow the Read More link.)

So the big question is whether or not the oversampling was an issue in the main poll, and if so whether it was compensated for. If it wasn’t, the Times poll is giving us a very biased estimate of the population parameter (in this case, the percentage of likely voters who are planning to vote for Bustamante or leaning that way).

Another possible source of the high Bustamante number is that the Times poll included “leaners” in addition to voters who initially declared a preference for a particular candidate. (Generally in surveys on vote choice, if you say “I don’t know” to the first question, a followup question will ask if there’s a candidate you are leaning towards.) If other polls aren’t combining the two categories, this could explain a big part of the difference. It might also be of substantive interest; if Bustamante’s support includes a disproportionate share of leaners, they would be easier for other candidates to sway than voters who are committed to Bustamante.

Gilligan's Suspended

InstaPundit passes on word from The Guardian that Andrew “008” Gilligan, the reporter at the center of the David Kelly scandal in Britain, has been removed from his day-to-day reporting duties to prepare for his likely grilling by the inquiry investigating Kelly’s death. Quoth The Guardian:

BBC executives denied that Gilligan’s departure from day-to-day reporting on the Radio 4 Today programme was linked to revelations last week that he sent emails to two MPs on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee suggesting questions they could ask Kelly that would be ‘devastating’ for the Government. ...

Gilligan sent his emails to a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative on the committee. The messages came to light when the Liberal Democrats forwarded their copy to the inquiry.

In related news, I have a very nice bridge over the Thames I’d be willing to sell you.

Nevertheless, government ministers have apparently decided to start making nice with the BBC by planning to continue to exempt it from government oversight:

Critics have long urged the Government to bring the BBC under the ambit of the new communications watchdog, Ofcom, which is to regulate all other broadcasters.

But following extensive lobbying from the commercial sector, the Government rejected this suggestion on the grounds that the BBC needs to remain independent of any government.

Of course, if Ofcom is going to regulate the behavior of other broadcasters, doesn’t it seem rather silly that the tax-financed BBC will be less regulated—and hence less subject to political meddling—than broadcasters who don’t receive their funds via the government treasury?

What we have here is a failure to pay attention

Venomous Kate links to the claim of responsibility for the bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad. Whodunnit? Al-Qaeda. Why, you ask?

“So why the United Nations? Number one, the United Nations (is against Islam), it is a branch of the American State Department and it wears the robes of an international organization.

“The double standard policies of the United Nations are against Arabs and Muslims. This issue does not need to be proved. It is clear like the light of the sun at midday,” the statement said.

The statement called U.N. envoy to Iraq, Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, “America’s number one man.”

Do they not get CNN (or even al-Jazeera) in al-Qaeda-land? Anyone with the slightest clue in the universe would reject this statement as being completely devoid of sense (common or otherwise).

Blogging about wireless

Virginia Postrel is apparently going all Wi-Fi.

I’m not sure I have too many thoughts to add on the issue. My Wi-Fi (wireless Ethernet) travels have been somewhat crippled by a laptop that currently refuses to recognize any PCMCIA card that requires an interrupt when running under Linux (and is generally becoming downright hostile to Linux in its old, semi-broken age—but that’s a story for another day). More to the point, short of war-driving, to my knowledge there isn’t much of a way to know where you can go and grab something to munch on while you take care of business via Wi-Fi. A few coffee shops in Ann Arbor advertised free Wi-Fi in the window, and the downtown Borders advertised T-Mobile’s service, but I only know that because I was walking around on foot and saw the signs. Not to mention that the one day I tried to use Wi-Fi in one of these establishments, the Internet access was out due to the after-effects of the Northeast power failure (the hot chocolate was good, but I wouldn’t have paid three bucks for it if I wasn’t getting some Wi-Fi too).

I do like the idea of malls installing wireless access, although I suspect the operators of most declining malls are so generally clueless that they won’t take advantage of it. And perhaps there is something to having Wi-Fi in the “fast casual” restaurant sector—restaurants like Fazoli’s and Steak ‘n Shake. But for now, here in the technological boonies such innovations seem very remote.

Steven at PoliBlog mentioned the wireless order-taking technology this morning too; that seems like the most promising direct business use of Wi-Fi at the moment, although similar (but less advanced) technology is already in widespread use by big retailers for inventory management, and has been for some time.

Joining the cult of TiVo

Justene Adamec, guesting at Dean’s World, has just been introduced into the glory that is TiVo. I’ll tell you, the month I spent without my TiVo in Michigan drove me positively batty, although it did have the slight benefit of making me watch a little bit less TV than I otherwise would have.

Sunday, 24 August 2003

Why Windows is so insecure

Kevin Drum has a lengthy post about his nightmare updating his Windows XP home system to fix the vulnerability exploited by the Blaster worm. At the end of the post, he writes:

POSTSCRIPT: Feel free to do all the Microsoft bashing you want in comments, but please don’t turn it into yet another tiresome Windows vs. Mac thread. Most of us Windows users actually have excellent reasons for our choice of operating system, and hearing about the alleged superiority of Macs for the thousandth time won’t change that. So please please please: just don’t do it. OK?

POSTSCRIPT 2: That goes for Windows vs. Linux too.

This is exactly why Microsoft operating systems and applications have so many security problems. No matter how bad it gets, Kevin is not going to switch to a competitor. You can bitch and moan all you want, Kevin, but as long as you’re giving your money to MS, they have no financial incentive to improve their software.

Obligatory disclosure: I’m president of the Memphis Linux user group, GOLUM. And before I became a Linux geek, I was a Mac geek.

The Carolene Media

Walter Cronkite’s first column has been online for two weeks, but apparently it took this Eric Burns piece for for it to garner much publicity. The “bombshell”: Cronkite concedes most journalists are liberals. Why?

I believe that most of us reporters are liberal, but not because we consciously have chosen that particular color in the political spectrum. More likely it is because most of us served our journalistic apprenticeships as reporters covering the seamier side of our cities – the crimes, the tenement fires, the homeless and the hungry, the underclothed and undereducated.

We reached our intellectual adulthood with daily close-ups of the inequality in a nation that was founded on the commitment to equality for all. So we are inclined to side with the powerless rather than the powerful.

Perhaps we should just call it the Footnote Four justification for media bias.

Speaking of media bias, if you want to see some testable, positivist political theory, try this blog post on for size. Ah, if only I had a research grant…

Open source FUD

Kevin Aylward at Wizbang! blames Sendmail, and by extension the Open Source movement, in part for the spread of viruses on the Internet. Specifically he claims:

Here’s the kicker – Sendmail had no capability to drop messages that contain viruses.

Sorry, Kevin, but I call bullshit.

  • Sendmail can scan for viruses using the “milter” (mail filter) facility, which has been present for several years. Get up to date on the technology before you start spreading crap.
  • There are numerous alternative mail transport agents (MTAs) to Sendmail that also have hooks for virus scanning, including Postfix, Exim, and (if you can stand DJB-ware) qmail.
  • Virus scanners can also be hooked into procmail, if you don’t actually want to futz with your MTA configuration.
  • Specifically, Debian and other Linux distributions include a complete, free anti-virus scanning suite that integrates with almost any mail server (specifically, clamav and amavisd); it also includes hooks for spam trapping. I had it set up and running within an hour on the box I administer at work. It’s catching all of our Sobig.F messages, and not even spamming unrelated parties with bogus “you sent me a virus” messages like certain commercial systems I could mention.

Yes, I freely admit that sendmail is a piece of bloated, outdated shit that I won’t run on any server I administer. But blaming sendmail, when you should blame lazy admins and ISPs who can’t be bothered to avail themselves of the available free virus scanners (not to mention the ample commercial offerings), is just silly, and exactly the sort of crap you’re complaining about in the behavior of some open source advocates.

Brock has more on this theme here.

Perestroikans and the obsession with "rational choice"

Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry notes trouble brewing at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government between “rational-choice theorists” and “more traditional political scientists,” according to NYT Magazine writer James Traub.

This description belies a lack of understanding about political science. We can generally break the history of political science into two eras: the pre-behavioral period and the post-behavioral period. During the pre-behavioral period, political scientists basically did two things: descriptive analysis of political institutions and what I’d term “normative political theory,” a nebuolous field that generally involves the study of political phiolosophy, with a nice dash of prescriptivism thrown in just for entertainment value. Woodrow Wilson did a bit of the former, when he wasn’t being a prescriptivist or a racist (the three occupations kept him fairly busy).

Then came World War II, James Gallup, and the sample survey. A bunch of folks at Columbia and Michigan (among other places) decided that it might be a good idea to test whether all these theories people had come up with about the behavior of voters during the “pre-behavioralist” period were valid (and it turns out that they basically were wrong). Thus was born the behavioral revolution in political science—and, arguably, the entire idea of the study of politics using the scientific method (or empiricism).

Note that this account has not used the words “rational choice.” That’s because rat choice really has almost nothing to do with behavioralism. The roots of rat choice come from economics (notably the work of Anthony Downs and Mancur Olson), and in particular the idea of “utility maximization”; rational choice theory generally argues that people behave in a way that has the maximum possible benefit to themselves (“utility”). Utility has proved rather annoying to quantify in political science (in economics, utility maps rather nicely to monetary units; in political science, about the best we’ve done is OxPoints).

However, there are plenty of other ways to explain behavior in political science other than rational choice. Many behaviorists today—including myself—incorporate rationalist explanations with sociological and psychological explanations to formulate their theories of political behavior, which they then test empirically using either experimental or survey-based data with statistical techniques (usually, although not always, borrowed from other fields, including mathematical statistics, economics, psychology, and biostatistics).

More importantly, this ignores other techniques used in other subfields of political science. In international relations (and some other parts of the discipline), many theories are formulated using game theory, which has some links to rational choice (mostly in terms of the institutions the procedures were developed at, most notably the University of Chicago and University of Rochester), or more advanced mathematical modelling techniques; sometimes these techniques are linked with rational choice under the rubric of “formal theory.” Some of these techniques (ironically, like normative political theory) have not historically been subjected to any real-world testing; however, now there is some interest in doing this through the NSF’s promotion of a series of EITM (Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models) workshops and works like that of Rebecca Morton.

So describing what I do as “rational choice” is something of a misnomer. It would be like describing all normative political theorists as “Plato scholars,” or all economists as Keynesians. The truth is that there’s room for many different perspectives on the study of politics in our discipline.

The problem is that I’m not sure most Perestroikans are aware that there are multiple empirically-based perspectives. For example, the book the Perestroikans hold up as validating their point of view comes from two political scientists grounded in the empiricist, Michigan school tradition. Now, I’ll agree that some leading journals often mistake sexy methodology with substantive importance; like in specifying any theory, simpler methods are preferable to complex ones—given similar explanatory power. (This also goes for theoretical articles; if the APSR is to be a journal that everyone with a graduate education can read, surely we should expect prose that is penetrable to non-specialists.) But to reject empiricism outright in a discipline that has science as part of its name is, in my view, a bridge too far.

Daniel Drezner has more on the Summers piece this morning, which will no doubt spark an interesting discussion, while this post (inexplicably) makes John Jenkins is glad he’s a theorist. He writes:

While I'm certain that good work can, has, and will continue to be done this way in political science, more often than not we end up with analysis so blatant in its biases that it's entirely useless. I am reminded of a study that we looked at in one of my methods classes that determined that, on the whole, those who were of [M]exican descent were paid far less than those who weren’t in some city in Texas. It failed utterly to account for how long the people had been in America (i.e. first-generation immigrants tend to work in low-paying jobs because of lack of training and lack of facility with English) and resolutely concluded that the disparity was due exclusively to racism. Anyone think there was a foreordained conclusion there?

Can you say omitted variable bias? Bad research is bad research, whether it’s empirical or not…

More to the point, I don’t think empirically-oriented political scientists claim to be able to make predictions on a par with those made by sciences solely governed by physical laws. In any event, that’s fundamentally not the point of science, which seeks explanations rather than predictions. Just because, as John puts it, “people will do stupid shit sometimes” doesn’t necessarily mean that their behavior isn’t at least somewhat explainable.

What can political science tell us about the recall?

At first glance, the nation’s first statewide recall election in modern history seems like a fairly bad testing ground for past theories of political behavior. Yet there are a few things worth considering from the body of knowledge we already have from over 50 years of behavioral research (starting with Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee’s famous Elmira studies and the National Election Studies conducted at the University of Michigan):

  1. The psychological effect of Duverger’s Law should be strong. As we’ve seen with the dropout of Bill Simon, it affects not only voters but also contributors and candidates themselves. Seemingly paradoxically, this effect will be stronger among the “non-gadfly” candidates: someone who wants to vote for Arianna Huffington, Larry Flynt, or (my personal fave) Georgy Russell may find Cruz Bustamante or Arnold Schwarzenegger a poor substitute for their preferred candidate, but a Ubberoth or McClintock voter may find the “mainstream” candidates more appealing. The longer the polls indicate a close election, the more likely this election is to shape up essentially as a two-candidate race. (This even holds in situations like Democratic presidential primaries, where the proportional nature of delegate selection is a fairly well-kept secret from the electorate.)
  2. One interesting question is how the voting on the two-stage ballot will shape up. There are two groups of voters who are likely to vote no on the recall: those who want Davis to remain in office (probably around a quarter of the electorate, judging from his approval ratings) and those who believe that the second-stage winner will be a worse governor than Davis. Polls leading up to the election may determine how people vote on this question; if there is a sizeable contingent of hardcore Republicans who think Bustamante will win the second ballot, they may vote no on the recall, to retain the lame-duck Davis in office. Similarly, a Bustamante lead may encourage Democrats to vote yes on the recall, so a (potentially) strong incumbent can be on the ballot for the Democrats in 2006. The “no, Bustamante” strategy only makes sense for Democrats (at least, Democrats not named Gray Davis) in the context of a Republican (Schwarzenegger) lead; how long will they stick with it?
  3. How much can Bustamante divorce himself from Davis’ coattails without alienating Democratic voters? In 2000, Gore ran to the left, thinking he really needed to stop Democratic voters from defecting to Nader (which he actually didn’t need to do), and generally didn’t run on the Clinton record. On the other hand, Clinton’s approval rating was much higher than Davis‘, and the economy was doing significantly better too. Assuming it’s in Bustamante’s personal interest to win the election, it’s probably in his best interest to run away from Davis’ record. More importantly, in the absence of any credible challenger from the left, he can run to the right—which makes his announced tax hike package seem like a rather boneheaded move, suggesting more is at work in his campaign than a simple desire to win the recall election.

The one thing political science can’t do is forecast this election; there’s simply no precedent for it. The big question remaining is whether or not the “no” strategy on the part of the Democrats persists much into September; if it does, the election isn’t effectively Bustamante vs. Schwarzenegger; it becomes Gray vs. Arnold. My belief is that the former election is probably much more winnable for the Democrats than the latter.

Saturday, 23 August 2003

Rush and the recall

James Joyner at OTB* is getting rather tired of Rush Limbaugh’s anti-Ahnold schtick. As James points out, the state is mostly left-of-center these days (certainly relative to the rest of the country); at best, all the Republicans can hope for is someone who combines some semblance of fiscal conservatism with moderate social views. Someone channeling Roy Moore isn’t going to fly. Hence James concludes:

So, the question for California Republicans (aside from whether the recall was a good idea to begin with) is which of two plausible alternatives they prefer: Bustamonte or Schwarzenegger.

California isn’t Alabama. For some odd reason, a number of people in the state don’t seem to be capable of recognizing that.

In more recall news, Bill Simon has quit the race, essentially turning the contest into a three-way race between Davis Lite (Cruz Bustamante), Schwarzenegger, and right-wing darling Tom McClintock, as the left-wing gadflies like Arianna Huffington and Larry Flynt have failed to make any dent in the polls.

More on "Amber's Army"

Last month, I made some snarky remarks about Amber’s Army, an activist group started by the Commercial Appeal after the tragic death of Amber Cox-Cody, who was left in a day care van in the blazing heat of the Memphis summer.

Veronica Coleman-Davis, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennnessee, has written an excellent editorial on Amber’s Army. Coleman-Davis questions whether it is appropriate for the media to be engaged in this kind of activist organization. She writes, "Calling for community action under the heading of Amber’s Army is a risky entrance into the realm of shaping, not reporting, the news."

In other news, the day care workers whose negligence resulted in Amber Cox-Cody’s death, have been charged with first-degree murder. This surprised a lot of people in the community, including me, who thought that first-degree murder required premeditation. But according to Tennessee State Code 39-15-202 (2), first-degree murder includes any “the killing of another committed in the perpetration of … any first-degree murder, act of terrorism, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect or aircraft piracy.” (Note the interesting recursion in the definition. The recursion bottoms out in paragraph (1), which gives the usual “premeditated or intentional” definition.)

When you look at the definitions of “child abuse” and “aggravated child abuse” in 39-13-401 and 39-13-402, however, it seems that almost any action that results in the death of a minor may well fall under the classification of first-degree murder. Shouldn’t we be drawing some distinctions?

Back from San Antonio

I’m back from a trip to San Antonio, where I spent a week with hightly-filtered net access where I was training. I quickly discovered that of my two favorite blogs (the Volokh Conspiracy and Calpundit), one of them, Calpundit, was blocked, as it was considered a “personal site” by the filtering software.

I saw no evidence of any systematic bias against “liberal” or “conservative” blogs. But the decisions about which blogs were “personal sites” seemed so arbitrary. When I go back in September for more training, I'll try a more systematic study of what blogs are blocked.

Oh, and I couldn’t get to my email either, since “external email sites” were blocked as well. When I returned, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only had 29 copies of the Sobig worm waiting in my mailbox.

Downtown San Antonio itself is quite lovely. If you’re ever there, I highly recommend dropping by Jim Cullum’s Landing for half-price margaritas and live jazz.

I would, however, like to strangle whoever came up with the stupid marketing slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas”, which appeared plastered all over T-shirts and shot glasses in every souvenir boutique I saw.

Friday, 22 August 2003

John Lottapalooza

Kevin Drum basically sums up my reaction to the latest John Lott go-around. Since being an arbiter of whose econometrics is less shoddy is not (yet) my job, I’ll just say I’m not convinced by either Lott or Ayers & Donahue. So far, the case Ayers & Donahue have made is that using the corrected Lott data and Lott’s (quite possibly flawed) econometrics, there is no statistically-significant evidence of there being any effect.

What this means substantively largely depends on how much stock you put in the so-called precautionary principle (and thus is a political question). I’m one of those people who thinks human liberty is more important than fretting about what people might do with that liberty, so my inclination (even aside from constitutional guarantees) is to reject any regulation that does not show a significant positive effect.

Anyway, this is probably the last I’ll say about Lott until either (a) someone who actually knows what the hell they’re doing with econometrics analyzes the data (something I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence of thus far, since even the statisticians involved in the debate apparently refuse to dirty their hands with real-world data) or (b) I analyze it myself after sitting down with my copy of Greene for a nice long while and realizing I’m probably kissing my academic career goodbye by even getting involved.

Thursday, 21 August 2003

Vita envy

Dan Drezner has expanded his site. Meanwhile, since I’ve publicized it for the eJobs placement service anyway, you can read my vita too. (Any emailed recommendations for beefing up or otherwise enhancing my vita would be greatly appreciated.)

Discrimination in the academy

John Lemon has sparked an interesting discussion at Kevin Drum’s site about whether or not conservatives are discriminated against in academia. My two cents, from my end of the universe:

  1. I’ve seen surveys of political scientists, and their political beliefs as a whole are decidedly left-wing. (One such survey was made available at the 2003 MPSA convention, but I can’t seem to find a copy online.)
  2. There are relatively few self-identified conservatives in political science. I know one self-identified Republican, and he considers himself a liberal Republican—and he’s a Ph.D. student. There are probably a larger pool of either independent or libertarian-leaners in the academy, including my dissertation chair, but to my knowledge none of them have described themselves as Republicans either. I do know a few other students who have expressed sympathies that are consistent with conservatism.
  3. Conservatives and Republicans routinely receive abuse that, if directed at women or racial or ethnic minorities would be grounds for an EEOC lawsuit on the basis of a “hostile work environment.” For example, I have never heard a positive word about George Bush from anyone in a tenure-track job. In general the same goes for people with strong religious beliefs.
  4. There are probably subfields in which this matters more than others. I suspect—but have no evidence—that more empirically-oriented research programs are more accepting of conservatives, since there is less scope for personal political beliefs in such scholarship. (Speaking for myself, in general what I study is fairly divorced from left-right debates, although there are implications in terms of what we can expect from democracy.)
  5. I also suspect that this discrimination is less widespread the higher up the “prestige ladder” one goes in the discipline. I would be surprised if Ohio State, Rochester or Michigan denied someone tenure on the basis of their political beliefs, but I wouldn’t put it past Podunk State University.

What does this add up to? I’m not sure. But I’d be inclined to believe Lemon’s account.

Serendipity: Matthew Stinson at A Fearful Symmetry has some observations from a Florida State (not to be confused with Podunk State) perspective. And, the MinuteMan has more too…

Glass houses

Acidman thinks the design of Signifying Nothing is too busy. But at least I don’t have any photos of me—or Brock—shirtless on the front page…

Why nobody takes our discipline seriously, part 325

Pejman passes on news that one of the Ivys (specifically, Cornell University) has offered professional race-baiter and ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney a guest lecturer’s position. $20 says it’s teaching “political science” courses.

Southern Appeal has dug up the press release, with the additionally-exciting news that none other than John “I idolize Robert Fisk” Pilger will also be receiving a guest professorship at Cornell. Ah well, at least I don’t have to disown that university.

Recalls as votes of no confidence

A number of people, including a healthy chunk on the right (most notably political commentator and Washington Post columnist George Will), don’t particularly care for the California recall election, considering it (variously) anti-democratic, unfair, or inconsistent with the will of the Founders. (Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry has rescinded his previous opposition in this particular instance due to Gray Davis’ general pissiness.)

The last point is fairly easily dealt with; unlike in gubernatorial elections, the president is indirectly elected via the Electoral College. The Electoral College was originally designed as sort of a half-way house between parliamentary democracy and direct election: like in a parliamentary system, the executive (in the parliamentary case, usually the prime minister) would be indirectly elected by the electorate. However, the Electoral College only does two things—electing the president and vice president—and then they go home; in a parliamentary system, the same body remains in office to approve, amend, or reject legislation proposed by the executive, and possibly—eventually—to remove the executive from office if it no longer reflects the preferences of the legislature. This removal, common to all parliamentary systems, is known as a vote of no confidence; if it succeeds, the executive must resign and be replaced, or new elections for a new legislature (and thence a new executive) are called.

The vote of no confidence is one way in which proponents of parliamentary democracy believe it leads to more stable government (the mirror image of no confidence is the power of the executive to dissolve parliament and call for new elections). So, how would we bring this benefit into a presidential system* without undermining the separation of powers? Obviously, a traditional vote of no confidence is out, as it would allow the legislature to remove the executive at will, and allowing the executive to dissolve the legislature would have similar problems.

The obvious solution is to allow the people who elected the executive and the legislature a “vote of no confidence” of their own. And, essentially, this is what the recall is: it allows the electorate to remove an executive or member of the legislature who is no longer acting consistently with their preferences. Since there is no continuous assembly of the electorate, and we don’t schedule election days on a regular basis with no expectation of some election taking place, the recall petition procedure allows the electorate to schedule a recall election if one is needed. And, since presidential systems don’t work well when there is no executive, there is a simultaneous election of a replacement executive (in parliamentary terms, it is a constructive vote of no-confidence). This system allows the electorate to work around deadlock between the legislature and executive, while at the same time not hurting the formal separation of powers between the executive and legislature (which would be a problem if we gave similar powers to either branch).

Perhaps most importantly, though, the recall provision substantially mitigates the problem of “lame duck” politicians who are subject to term limits. While the empirical evidence of “shirking” is decidedly mixed, the threat of a recall election may motivate term-limited single-minded seekers of reelection to behave more consistently with the preferences of the people who elected them, which is surely an outcome favored by proponents of the “delegate” model of representative democracy (as opposed to the Burkean “trustee” model).

To be sure, there is some fiddling at the margins that may be worthwhile. Some have suggested that the signature requirement for both setting a recall election and qualification for the ballot is too low, although at least in the former case it seems like getting a million registered voters to actually sign a petition is a rather daunting task to begin with; few, if any, organized interests in the state can claim that many members. And it might be reasonable to require some sort of run-off if the plurality winner doesn’t have a clear margin above the second-placed challenger (majority runoff is one possibility, but a threshold of 45% has also been suggested in the political science literature, and Shugart and Carey suggest the use of what they describe as the “double-complement rule” in Presidents and Assemblies), or to use an alternate balloting system like approval or Condorcet voting. But generally speaking, the recall provision is sound and there is no good reason why it should not be adopted elsewhere—it’s one of the few “progressivist” reforms that actually is good for democracy.

Wednesday, 20 August 2003

Virus outbreak

Want to know how bad SoBig.F is? Check out the mail statistics for our department’s web server (relativity)—if you can get through, that is. We’re averaging about one SoBig message every five minutes, on a system with around 30 active user accounts. By contrast, the campus email server (sunset) has about 10,000 user accounts—you do the math. The net result: a swamped commercial link.

Thankfully it looks like the university has managed to cut off the on-campus offenders, but off-campus is a whole other story…

Tuesday, 19 August 2003

Carnival #48: with more Bill Parcells action!

James at OTB lets it rip, with some extra-special goodness for fans of America’s Team.

World Series of Poker

The final showdown of the 2003 World Series of Poker is going to be shown tonight next Tuesday (August 26) on ESPN (9 Eastern/6 Pacific); although the WSOP is already over—I saw the winner on Letterman several months ago—it’s still fascinating to watch, to the point I actually scheduled my social calendar in Ann Arbor around the weekly airings of a day’s action consolidated into an hour. I haven’t played poker in years, and when I did it was five-card draw, rather than Texas Hold‘Em (a seven-card variant with five community cards and two hole cards).

James at The Dead Parrot Society is also fascinated by the competition in high-stakes poker. And unlike James, I think letting the viewers in on the hole cards gives an added dimension to viewing and understanding the game—not to mention realizing just how often bluffing is an effective strategy, as many players don’t reveal that they were bluffing when they win.

Monday, 18 August 2003

Recalling Math

Dan Weintraub at California Insider has an interesting post breaking down the numbers in the California recall race. If the polling holds up, the plurality winner may get at least 40% of the vote—not bad for a ballot with 134 other names on it.

In somewhat related news that doesn’t justify its own post, in the library today I picked up some light reading: Sampling of Populations: Methods and Applications by Paul S. Levy and Stanley Lemeshow. Disturbingly, it has (almost) nothing to do with my dissertation. I think that just proves I’m a total geek.

We is back

I’m back in Oxford after putting 830 more miles on the car, and the blog’s back online. The culprit: a power outage that led to a reboot into an apparently-broken kernel. So much for complaining about BellSouth FastAccess…

While we were sleeping:

  • Daniel Drezner got himself a spiffy new Movable Type blog.
  • Matthew revealed his surname to the world.
  • Joy Larkin got Slashdotted and demonstrated all the cute women aren’t taken (at least, not yet; no word on how many marriage proposals she received).
  • A bunch of Windows machines got smacked-down by a nasty virus. (What else is new?)
  • A nice big chunk of the country and the most populous parts of Ontario got to enjoy a power outage due to grid failure. Everyone’s traditional enemy of choice (in Ann Arbor, it was fairly evenly split between the Canadians and Ohioans) was blamed repeatedly.

Coming soon from me: why recalls are A-OK by me (despite my general distaste for the initiative power), who has replaced political parties in translating aggregate preferences into policy (and why Madison would like it), and probably a rant or two once my held mail shows up. I’m sure Brock will have plenty to say too. I’m glad we’re back and glad you’re back reading us!

Saturday, 2 August 2003

Anti-Americanism as a religion

Matthew eviscerates a George Monibot piece this morning that decries “Americanism” as a religion. And he supplies a necessary corrective to those on the American left who believe the anti-American EuroLeft shares their pathological hatred of George W. Bush, but otherwise likes America:

Now I realize that it is par for the course for American liberals, and Democrats in general, to assume that the international left only hates America because of George W. Bush, but Mr. Monbiot is refreshingly honest in his admission, through this and other writings, that he loathes not merely Bush and that “warmonger” Reagan but all American presidents. You see, the “cult of America” he desires to destroy began with George Washington.

Go Read The Whole Thing.

One minor quibble. To an extent they tolerated Clinton, mainly because he “knew the language” of the European anti-American elite due to all that time he was at Oxford not-inhaling, and thus told them what they wanted to hear (“Sure, we’ll sign Kyoto”; “Sure, we’ll support the ICC”; “Sure, we’ll do your dirty work for you in Bosnia/Kosovo/Macedonia”; “Sure, we’ll continue to pay a disproportionate share of the U.N. budget, and even pay some back-dues, just to be chummy”) even when he had absolutely no intention of following through on those commitments when he returned to the U.S. (see Kyoto and the ICC, both of which Clinton put exactly zero effort into promoting at home). After all, that’s what they expect from their own politicians (see Chirac, Jacques and Schröder, Gerhard, neither of whom have been particularly fastidious in adhering to their countries’ commitments to the EU under the Treaty of Amsterdam). And they became more sympathetic to Clinton after he got his 1998 high-tech lynching for being an uppity black (wait, I’m confusing him with Clarence Thomas), even though he started bombing different foreign countries on a near-daily basis during that period (not that I’m implying causality here). But Slick Willie was by far the exception to the rule in this regard.

Gephardt and trade politics

Jacob Levy needs only 232 words to eviscerate Dick Gephardt, the Bush adminstration, and (by extension) the Teamsters, on the basis of their shared, idiotic trade policies.

However, I don’t share Jacob’s guarded optimism that the Gephardt endorsement will stop Bush from proposing yet more protectionist policies; not only are union voters often non-observant of the union endorsement (and thereby able to be wooed separately), there are also plenty of other interests in swing states that want additional protectionist measures: catfish farmers in Louisiana, timber workers in the Pacific Northwest, and midwestern agribusiness.

The seeming last gasp of Gephardt and his New Deal Democratic philosophy is overall a great thing for American politics, but the confluence of pork barrelling, nativism, isolationism, and protectionism at the heart of trade politics on both sides of the aisle remains.

Administration ratcheting up/scaling back WMD expectations in Iraq

Today’s game of compare and contrast for Signifying Nothing readers: compare this post at CalPundit with this post at Pejmanesque, which arrive at completely opposite conclusions based on the same day’s reports of administration actions vis à vis Iraq’s WMD programs.

Perceptual screens—they’re catching on!

Friday, 1 August 2003

Open primaries + Duverger's law = Fun

Steven Taylor explains in plain English why America’s party system has essentially stayed a true two-party system, even though other countries with similar electoral systems (notably Britain and Canada) have accreted semi-successful minor parties as well. The secret: open primaries.

The basic goal in the primary is to convince voters not party elites, that you ought to be the party’s nominee. If there is sufficient support for your candidacy, you will get on the ballot. What could be more democratic (as in rule by the people) than that?

Works for me…

The Saudi Connection

It’s Friday. I know you want to go out tonight and have some fun. Before you do that, take 10 minutes and read this, now. Key phrase to whet your appetite: “We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.”

Link via Josh Chafetz at OxBlog.

Matthew Yglesias has more, including news that at least one prominent Democrat has finally figured out that this whole Saudi thing might *gasp* be a real issue. (You know, unlike the “Bush lied because I disagree with his thought process” and the “Bush lied because he told us that the Iraq war would be hard in the SOTU but nobody was paying attention to those passages, so no fair” issues.)

Not your father's GOP

My friend Scott Huffmon passed along by email a link to an article in the Middletown, N.Y. Times Herald-Record: Young Republican’s party plan crashes:

An aide to Orange County Executive Edward Diana is under fire after he and his friends invited some of the nation’s brightest Young Republicans to what was advertised as a booze-soaked sex bash in Boston.

The controversy surrounding Diana’s 24-year-old staff assistant, Karl Brabenec, started at the Young Republicans national convention July 11, when his friends distributed fliers “for lots of beer, liquor and sex” at a party dubbed, “Karlpalooza ‘03.”

Since then, copies of the incriminating invites have surfaced in Orange County, prompting cries of disgust from women’s groups, county legislators and fellow Republicans.

I guess I can see how a flier that called on young women to “wear as little clothing as possible” might be construed as offensive by some. Meanwhile, Brabanec supporter Laura Vance has come out swinging against Brabanec’s assailants:

A few, like Orange County Young Republican Treasurer Laura Vance, who called the Times Herald-Record and a WTBQ talk show yesterday, came to Brabenec’s defense. Vance said most of the criticism had come from political rivals, and she brushed off the Republican Women’s comments.

“They’re a bunch of old hags, and I’ll tell them that to their face,” Vance said. “I’m a woman, and I don’t feel offended. The party never even went on. It’s unfair to make a big deal of something back home that happened on someone’s vacation.”

By that logic, I guess Chrisapalooza ‘03 in Ann Arbor is on (woo-hoo!). It’s not like anyone back in Oxford could be offended by an evening of drunken debauchery taking place 700 miles away, right?

Then again, maybe in light of the Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign, maybe Vance isn’t too far off the mark.

The Constitution, gay marriage, the flag, abortion, and other issues of the day

As I noted here, placing issues of fundamental political debate in a society beyond the realm of ordinary politics is a monumentally stupid idea. That goes for economic and social rights like those proposed in the EU constitution, and it goes too for gay marriage, as Michael J. Totten points out.

(Michael is probably wrong about the political support for gay marriage in the public; CNN reported today steep declines in support for all sorts of “gay agenda” items in recent polls, perhaps as part of a post-Lawrence backlash. I suspect it will be 20-30 years before most Americans come to accept the idea of gay marriage, due to generational effects.)

I know why conservatives want to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, just as they wanted to amend the Constitution to permit Congress to ban flag desecration, and want to use an amendment to ban abortion. Fundamentally, conservatives don’t trust the Supreme Court to leave politically contested issues to the people’s representatives, and perhaps they are right in that regard. But tying the hands of future generations is not the right approach.

Instead, let me offer a simple statement as an amendment: “Nothing in this Constitution shall compel the United States or any state to recognize a marriage formed contrary to federal statutes, nor shall this Constitution require the recognition of any marriage not between one man and one woman.” If Congress decides in 2040 (or 2005, for that matter) that they want to do the right thing and repeal Bill Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act, such an amendment would permit that while stripping the Court of any means to legislate an alternative definition of marriage in the meantime.


Bobby A-G, subbing for Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas, tries to defuse the complaints about President Bush’s use of the word sin in reference to homosexuality.

One thing that has stuck with me since our family reunion in May was what one of my relatives-by-marriage* said about sin: in God’s eyes, all sin is equal, whether it’s murder, taking His name in vain, or telling a lie. (In some ways this resembles Orthodox Judiasm’s approach to Torah law; it’s all or nothing.)

One can legitimately debate whether or not homosexuality is objectively a sin, or whether it ought to be one. But in the belief systems of most Christian sects, it is considered one, the opinions of non-believers notwithstanding. I think Bush’s point was that the severity of the sin doesn’t matter, again because God doesn’t care about the severity (or even acknowledge it)—He only cares about the sin. And everyone sins. So those who would condemn gays for being sinful without condemning themselves too for their own sins would be hypocritical.

Of course, since Bush allegedly doesn’t nuance [sic], I may be reading far too much into this.

My friend Scott emails to note that there is one unpardonable sin: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, if your denomination swings that way).

Mark 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation (King James Version)

Matthew 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. (King James Version)

This lapsed Methodist learns something new every day…

Ethanol boondoggle?

The AP reports that the proposed Senate energy bill includes provisions that double the use of ethanol in gasoline.

Advocates, like the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, claim that blended gasoline does not lower fuel efficiency in practice. Quoth the CRFA:

Studies with 10% ethanol-blended gasoline show that actual fuel efficiency is essentially identical to that of regular (ethanol free) gasoline. Yet ethanol contains less caloric energy than gasoline, which should, theoretically, result in poorer fuel efficiency. The discrepancy results from the greater efficiency with which ethanol-blended gasoline is burned during engine operation.

This advocacy site claims a 2% reduction in efficiency, but that it is “a small price to pay for a cleaner environment.”

On the other hand, some auto enthusiasts believe that ethanol lowers the fuel efficiency by ten percent or more (negating the savings on gasoline, and effectively increasing the cost to operate the vehicle per mile), although it does increase the octane rating of the gasoline. And anything that feeds more money to ArcherDanielsMidland (motto: “We keep the Sunday shows on the air.”) and our obscenely over-subsidized farming industry leaves me somewhat skeptical.