Monday, 29 September 2003

Hiring bias in academe

Henry Farrell, Daniel Drezner, David Adesnik, The Invisible Adjunct, Erin O‘Connor and Jacob Levy (whew—did I get everyone?) are among those discussing David Brooks’ latest NYT op-ed on the alleged liberal bias of the academy, particularly in its hiring practices. (I previously blogged about this topic back when Horowitz was making his splash but can’t be bothered to search for the post. Oh, well.)

I think Jacob Levy is onto something when he writes:

What we do is also: research. It’s always been pretty clear to me that there are people who have the reputation of subordinating their research to an ideological mission, and doing bad research as a result.

I think the danger for a lot of scholars—on the left and the right—is that they will fall into this trap. However, it’s a much more deadly one for rightist scholars than leftist ones; I can recall a particular gathering at which one particular political science faculty member was fawning over Michael Bellesiles’ then-new (and then-undiscredited) Arming America; one suspects my colleagues were not quite so entralled by John Lott’s (also-then-undiscredited) More Guns, Less Crime. In the medium-to-long term, Bellesiles is likely to resurface relatively unscathed somewhere in second-tier academia, while Lott will be most fortunate if he ever sees a room with students in it again in his life. Of course, neither of these men are political scientists (just as well, I suppose, since that means we don’t have to disavow them).

I’ve been relatively fortunate in my career to fall in with faculty who, if they don’t share my political beliefs, can at least accept that they are legitimate and sincerely-held. I think it’s also the case that in more empirically-oriented parts of the social sciences, ideological differences don’t matter as much as what the data can tell us, provided we are honest researchers. After all, Johannes Kepler started out believing—as his mentor, Tycho Brahe did—that the Earth was the center of the universe, but ended up producing the laws of planetary motion for our sun-centered system that astronomers still use today.

The epitome of good science is a willingness to revise—and if necessary, reject—your preconceived notions if the evidence cannot support them. In the end, that is the only ideology that should matter.

America's longest semesters no more

The announcement of a new winter intersession here at the University of Mississippi is coupled with news that the fall and spring semesters will be a week shorter each, starting in Fall 2004. Anyone who’s suffered through our interminable semesters—either teaching or as a student—will be positively thrilled at this news. (Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching. But semesters that start two weeks before Labor Day and don’t end until mid-December are just a tad too long.)

New feature debut

The royal We at Signifying Nothing are proud to introduce a new feature: the David Cutcliffe Season Survival Meter! This is our predicted probability that David Cutcliffe will be the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels for any game in the 2004 regular season.

We predict Cutcliffe’s survival odds at 0% if the Rebels lose six or more games, and 100% if the Rebels appear in the SEC Championship Game. To survive the season, we expect that the minimum requirements for Cutcliffe to last until 2004 are:

  • Defeating homecoming foe Arkansas State.
  • Defeating SEC West cellar-dweller Mississippi State on Thanksgiving.
  • Defeating at least 3 of the 6 other SEC opponents.

We currently predict that Cutcliffe’s chances of pulling off this feat are 50%. The survival meter will appear on the sidebar for the remainder of the regular season, or until Cutcliffe is fired—whichever event occurs sooner.

Plame Blame Game

I really don’t know what to make of this whole Valerie Plame business—I remember reading the original Novak piece God-knows-how-long-ago and found it a bit of a head-scratcher (to say the least). And I’m no more enlightened now, perhaps in part because of the four Tylenol PM’s I took last night that somehow knocked me out for a good eighteen hours. So I’ll just point you to Daniel Drezner’s post, which (a) has a good collection of links and (b) displays an appropriate balance between outrage and confusion.

Saturday, 27 September 2003

Blocking the Blogosphere

I just returned from another enjoyable trip to San Antonio. After the last trip, I blogged about having rather restricted web access at the training center, and I promised a report on what blogs were blocked. Here’s that report.

I’m not going to say what software was doing the blocking, just in case there’s some sort of absurd “Intellectual Property” claim or EULA agreement I might be violating. But do a Google search for “enterprise web filter software”, and you should be able to make an educated guess.

I obviously couldn’t check every blog out there, so I decided to use the best blogroll out there, that of OxBlog. Here are the blogs that appear on the OxBlog blogroll, along with whether they were blocked, and what category they were blocked under.

Fun things to do on a Saturday

I’ve been spending most of my morning trying to free up enough space to install the SimCity 4 Rush Hour Expansion Pack on my Windows 98 partition ($19.66 at Walmart, before the $10 mail-in rebate offer). So far I’ve:

  • Accidentally blown away 50GB of Debian packages when I tried to use parted to resize a partition to free enough space to move my root partition.
  • Faced mysterious crashes when using reiserfs for my new root partition that went away when I reformatted to use xfs instead. (Advantage: SGI.)
  • Sat for two hours while reiserfs tried to reconstruct the tree of my old Debian package mirror disk (which currently won’t mount).
  • Accidentally set the frontside bus speed of my motherboard to 133Mhz (because I forgot what processor I have in the machine… I’ve now concluded it’s a 1.15 GHz Athlon XP, and no I don’t know what PSR it has). That’s because I flashed my BIOS thinking that would fix the mysterious system crashes.
  • Tried to pay my DirecTV bill online (I got a lovely “our systems are down” message).

Needless to say, I’m nowhere close to being able to play the game yet. Grr. And it remains to be seen whether I can actually resize the FAT32 partition my Win98 install lives on without accidentally blowing it away too. Which probably means I’m going to have to either find my original Win98 CD, or break down and install the copy of WinXP Pro I paid $50 for sometime last year I have lying around (which I was really hoping to save for… well, I don’t know what really).

Thursday, 25 September 2003

Adesnik responds; didn't know there was Kool-Aid

David Adesnik has a response to the critiques of his earlier posts at OxBlog and the Volokh Conspiracy. He first notes that he’s just as annoyed by new data sets as by old ones:

Actually, I’m far more frustrated by the new data sets than the rehashing of the old ones. Just three days ago I was at a presentation in which a colleague described the data set she assembled on over 120 civil wars that have taken place since 1945. Since Latin America is the region I know best, I pulled the Latin American cases out of the data to set look at them.

What I found was that a very large proportion of the cases were “coded” in a misleading or flat-out wrong manner. Why? Because no one can study 120 civil wars. But pressure to come up with data sets leads scholars to do this anyway and do it poorly. Of course, since their work is evaluated mostly by other scholars who lack the historical knowledge to criticize their work, they get away with it. And so the academic merry-go-round spins merrily along.

That’s a fair and reasonable critique—of that particular dataset. There’s always a tradeoff between parsimony on the one hand and depth on the other. You can collect data on 120 civil wars, and try to explain with parsimony why—in general—civil wars occur, or you can soak and poke in one civil war and try to figure out all the myriad causes for that particular one. Each has its pitfalls; figuring out why Cambodia had a civil war in 1970 (my years are probably off, me not being an IR scholar) through a “soak and poke” really doesn’t help explain why Pakistan had one in 1973. On the other hand, oversimplifying the causes can be problematic too.

But that strikes me as more of a coding problem in a particular dataset than a problem endemic to social science research; ultimately, you have to simplify the real world to make scientific explanations of it. And this isn’t a problem unique to “soft” sciences like political science: physicists don’t really think light is composed of photons that are both a particle and a wave (for example), but the only way for humans to currently understand light is to model it that way, and chemists don’t think that nuclei are indivisible (but, for their purposes 99.9% of the time, they might as well be).

David does take me to task for my admittedly flip remark that Hamas was comparable to the Sierra Club:

With apologies to Chris, his comment summarizes everything that is wrong with political science. Who but a political scientist could think that ideology is not a good explanation for the differences between the Sierra Club and Hamas?

Both groups have fairly revolutionary ideologies, yet they pursue their ends through different means. The Sierra Club operates in an environment where at least some of its goals can be accomplished from within the existing political system, while Hamas’ goal is the obliteration of the existing political system in Israel and the Palestinian territories. One need not resort to ideology to see that the Sierra Club doesn’t need to engage in violence to pursue its goals while it’s pretty clear that for Hamas to produce revolutionary change in the former Palestinian mandate, it does.

That the goal has something to do with Hamas’ ideology is rather beside the point; they can’t accomplish it without obliterating the Israeli state through violent action. The Sierra Club, on the other hand, has a sympathetic political party, a regulatory agency whose civil service employees (if not its politically-appointed overseers) share its goals, and other sources of active support that mean that they can achieve their goal of reducing pollution and other environmental impacts without resorting to violence. Ideology may define the goal, but the goal itself will be pursued through means that are shaped by the political environment.

Of course, in some cases, ideology may affect the means chosen. But a theory of how Osama Bin Laden operates isn’t very generalizable; it only explains how Bin Laden behaves, without explaining how ETA, the Tamil Tigers, or the Real IRA operate. That’s the tradeoff—you can spend a lot of time trying to explain how one actor will behave, and nail that, or you can spend a lot of time explaining how multiple actors will behave, and maybe get close. Maybe Bin Laden deserves case study attention. But most political actors don’t; they’re frankly not that interesting.

For example, in-depth case study of how my neighbor across the street makes his voting decisions tells me next to nothing about how my next-door neighbors vote, much less how people vote in general. My resources are probably better spent trying to explain how most people vote from large-scale survey data, and getting close, rather than studying one person so I can predict precisely how he’ll vote in 2032.

Around Harvard, all one hears is that incorporating statistics into one’s work significantly increases one’s marketability (and I don’t just mean at the p<.05 level—we’re talking p<.01 on a one-tailed test.)

I will grant that the use of statistics—or more accurately, the demonstrated ability to use statistics—helps the marketability of political scientists. For one thing, this is because of hiring practices in political science—your primary or major field defines the sort of job you will get. Unless you are looking for a job at a small liberal arts college, no school that is hiring in IR will care if your second (minor) field is comparative, theory, or American, since you’ll never teach or do research in those fields. The exception is in political methodology: you can get a job in methods with a substantive major and a minor in methods. The downside (if you don’t like methods) is that you will be expected to teach methods. The upside is that you aren’t tied to a particular substantive field.

More to the point, in some fields it is difficult to do meaningful research without statistics. In mass political behavior and political psychology—my areas of substantive research—at least a modicum of statistical knowledge is de rigeur. Which brings me to Dan’s point:

I’d argue that the greater danger is the proliferation of sophisticated regression analysis software like STATA to people who don’t have the faintest friggin’ clue whether their econometric model corresponds to their theoretical model.

For every political scientist that knows what the hell they’re doing with statistics, there are at least two who think typing logit depvar ind1 ind2 ind3 at a Stata prompt is the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis. Frankly, a lot of the stats you see in top-flight journals are flaming crap—among the sins: misspecified models, attempts to make inferences that aren’t supported by the actual econometric model, acceptance of key hypotheses based on marginally significant p values, use of absurdly small samples, failure to engage in any post-estimation diagnostics. And, of course, “people who don’t have the faintest friggin’ clue whether their econometric model corresponds to their theoretical model.” Several thousand political scientists receive Ph.D.’s a year in the United States, and I doubt 20% of them have more than two graduate courses in quantitative research methods—yet an appreciable percentage of the 80% will pass themselves off as being quantitatively competent, which unless they went to a Top 20 institution, they’re almost certainly not.

David then trots out the flawed “APSR is full of quant shit” study, which conflates empirical quantitative research with positive political theory (game theory and other “rat choice” pursuits), which, as I’ve pointed out here before, are completely different beasts. Of course, the study relies on statistics (apparently, they’re only valid when making inferences about our own discipline), but let’s put that aside for the moment. The result of all this posturing is our new journal, Perspectives on Politics. Just in case our discipline wasn’t generating enough landfill material…

He then turns back to the civil war dataset his colleague is assembling:

Take, for example, the flaws in the civil war data set mentioned above. I’m hardly a Latin America specialist, but even some knowledge of the region’s history made it apparent that the data set was flawed. If political scientists had greater expertise in a given region, they would appreciate just how often in-depth study is necessary to get even the basic facts right. Thus, when putting together a global data set, no political scientist would even consider coding the data before consulting colleagues who are experts in the relevant regional subfields.

Undoubtably, this particular political scientist should have consulted with colleagues. What David seems to fail to understand is that she did: that is why your colleague presented this research to you and your fellow graduate students, to get feedback! Everything political scientists do, outside of job talks and their actual publications, is an effort to get feedback on what they’re doing, so as to improve it. This isn’t undergraduate political science, where you are expected to sit still and soak in the brilliance of your betters while trying not to drool or snore. You’re now a grad student, expected to contribute to the body of knowledge that we’ve been assembling—that’s the entire point of the exercise, even if it gets lost in the shuffle of “publish or perish” and the conference circuit.

And one way to do that is to say, “Yo, I think you have some coding errors here!” If this political scientist is worth her salt, instead of treating you like a snot nosed twit, she’ll say, “Gee, thanks for pointing out that the Colombian civil war had N participants instead of M” or “Cuba’s civil war was a Soviet-supported insurgency, not a indigenous movement? Thanks!” (Again, these are hypotheticals; I’m not an expert on Latin American history.)

As for the lag time in Pape’s piece, well that’s the peril of how the publication process works. If it’s anything like any other academic paper, it’s been through various iterations over several years; you don’t simply wake up one morning, write a journal article, and send it off to Bill Jacoby or Jennifer Hochschild. At least, not if you don’t want them to say nasty things about you to your colleagues. Anyway, you can fault the publication process to a point, but I think it’s a safe bet that Pape’s thesis predates 9/11, and that people were aware of it before his APSR piece hit the presses.

Turf installation video

AstroPlay® vendor SRI Sports has a video of the installation of their artificial turf at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this summer. (Yes, this means I’m getting anxious for Saturday’s game…)

Right Said Dead

James Joyner reports that Edward Said, Palestinian apologist cum Middle Eastern Studies scholar, has passed away at the age of 67. Reports that Said was “too sexy for his coffin” have not been substantiated.

Continuing to get it wrong

Daniel Drezner notes that David Adesnik is digging himself into a hole of rather epic proportions. Quoth Adesnik:

The great flaw of modern political science is its desire to imitate microeconomists (and share in their prestige) by developing theorems that explain and predict the behavior of rational actors. Of course, that is exactly the wrong way to go about things. It is only when political scientists recognize that ideas and values are what drive politicians and voters that they will begin to produce something worthy of the name “science”.

Huh? To begin with, in general political scientists—with very few exceptions—don’t believe all actors are purely rational; in Herbert Simon’s terms, actors are boundedly rational. It isn’t just political scientists who believe this—contemporary psychologists and economists also use Simon’s conception of bounded rationality and satisficing (the idea that people don’t choose among all available options, but rather choose the first one that they encounter that is minimally satisfactory) to explain decison-making, as well as more modern ideas.

For another thing, political scientists recognize that “ideas” and “values” have utility to rational actors. Quantifying these things is hard, and perhaps sometimes it is simpler to retreat to the realm of relative capabilities and force projection ability (to name two favorite variables of my friends that study international relations using data from the Correlates of War project), but to blanket the entire discipline with a critique that perhaps only applies to the most hardcore CoW junkie (and doesn’t even discuss the contributions of the political behavior field to the understanding of how citizens in democratic societies make voting and other political decisions or elite decision-making processes—not all political science goes on in the halls of ISA) seems awfully, and dangerously, simplistic.

Josh Chafetz, one of David’s partners in crime at OxBlog, has some good points (partially in David’s defense and partially critical) and usefully distinguishes between rational choice theorists and empiricists. But, honestly I’m not sure there are that many “universalist” rat choicers out there; I know a few, and they mostly lurk on the edge between political science and economics. Perhaps that perception reflects my training in the behaviorist (Michigan) tradition, though. But in general the ones I’ve met aren’t hostile to empirical testing of their ideas; it’s just not what they personally find interesting.

As for Josh’s snarky aside, “when The Clash of Civilizations is widely mistaken for a good work of political culture analysis, the field is in trouble,” all I can say is: Heh.

SEC Week 5 prognostications (and Week 4 recap)

Time for more shaming! The good news is, I can pick games that don't involve the AP Top 25. The bad news is… nobody cares about games that don't involve the Top 25. First the recap:

FLORIDA [2-1] 31, Tennessee [2-0] 21. [CBS]
Actual score: 10-24. Tennessee came to play, Florida didn't. Hence Tennessee is rewarded with sole possession of the SEC East lead and the first division head-to-head result in the league, putting Florida's SEC East hopes in serious jeopardy barring some self-destructive behavior on the part of the Vols.
Georgia [3-0/1-0] 24, LOUISIANA STATE [3-0] 17. [CBS]
10-17. A close game as expected, but LSU held off Georgia in the first half when Georgia had a good shot at making some scores. The legend of Death Valley lives!
Kentucky [1-2/0-1] 41, INDIANA [1-2] 10.
34-17. Well, Kentucky can win out-of-conference... let's see what happens this week.
ALABAMA [2-1/1-0] 35, Northern Illinois [2-0] 14.
16-19. For one thing, the team NIU beat was not Wisconsin. That was last year, except it wasn't, because Wisconsin won that one somehow. UNLV beat Wisconsin. NIU beat Maryland.

For another thing, Alabama is the Jeckyll and Hyde of the SEC. Actually, Jeckyll and Hyde seem to be operating on other teams as well (take Florida, who've demolished some of their opposition but can't hang with Big Six foes). Shula was supposed to win this one.

Turns out this one was on GamePlan. Woo hoo. (Some people in Alabama allegedly paid $30 to see this. They should demand a refund. For one thing, the clock was unreadable. For another, Tyler Watts was on color. He wasn't bad, but sheesh... you'd think Bama could do better for their home announce team than a 23-year-old kid fresh out of college.)

TEXAS CHRISTIAN [2-0] 35, Vanderbilt [1-2/0-2] 17.
30-14. This one was also on GamePlan. Dan Stricker was not on color. Vandy was again let down by their own miscues. The clock here was at least red, so it was semi-legible. CSS really needs to work on their graphics... the WAC game I saw between LaTech and Fresno had better overlays, and it was produced by an outfit I'd never heard of before.
SOUTH CAROLINA [2-1/0-1] 38, Alabama-Birmingham [1-2] 7.
42-10. They weren't booing, they were shouting "Lou".
HOUSTON [2-1] 38, Mississippi State [0-2] 31.
45-38. Sadly, I was right on this one, although State didn't blow the lead at least. (Yes, I am now feeling sorry for State. Don't worry, the emotion will pass.) Unfortunately, a TD-INT ratio of 3:5 will put you in a hole rather quickly.
NCAA Infractions Committee [∞-0] $12,000/player, AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 0.
No news is usually good news. Except in NCAA investigations.
OLE MISS [2-1/1-0]
No word yet on starting RB.
Texas Tech's game against NC State will be televised Saturday at 11 CDT on ESPN2. As NC State's offense is similar to that of Ole Miss, although perhaps even more pass-oriented, it may be a good preview of how the game in Oxford is likely to turn out.

NC State absolutely dominated Tech, despite an obscene 586 yards of passing by B.J. Symons. No more comments here... gotta wait for the Prognostication for the skinny!

Conference standings: UT's win over UF puts them in the SEC East lead, coupled with Georgia's loss. Everyone in the West is either 1-0 or 0-0 in conference at this point, with the first two divisional matchups coming this Saturday.

Time for the predictions. Thanks to my friends at the SEC office (who put this stuff on the web for anyone to read, including people like me), I have the actual, fact-filled "Week 5 Game Preview" in hand to help me predict the games. We'll see if this helps any. Surely at least I'll actually correctly name past opponents for teams.

As always, starting with JP's "heat death" game and working forward. Home team in CAPS, record [W-L/CW-CL], and TV...

KENTUCKY [2-2/0-1] 24, Florida [2-2/0-1] 17 [JP].
Florida comes into Commonwealth Stadium looking to get back on-track after imploding against UT. UK is 0-16 in the past 16 meetings between these squads, and if they were playing at the Swamp I'd probably give the edge to Zook's crew. But, to paraphrase Janet Jackson, they're not, so I can't. This same Kentucky squad has given Florida serious scares in its last two meetings, and "QB by committee" doesn't quite have the ring of "Rex Grossman." So, without the Swamp mystique, I have to go with the 'Cats.

Since I originally wrote this, Ron Zook has decided to go with Chris Leak as his sole starting QB. However, the prediction stands.

ALABAMA [2-2/1-0] 27, Arkansas [3-0/0-0] 14 [CBS].
You've got to figure CBS thought this game was much more attractive last Monday; now they'd probably want to swap with JP. Arkansas has looked pretty good, particularly in its win over Texas, but Bama probably isn't in the mood to be embarrassed at home for the third time in four games. Look for the Tide to stomp the Razorbacks in this one as they try to prove they are the rightful SEC West champions. [Aside: Am I the only one who finds Verne Lundquist and Todd Blackledge annoying?]
AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 35, Western Kentucky [3-0] 17.
The Tigers catch Western Kentucky looking ahead to their October 4 road date with I-AA powerhouse Western Illinois and pull off the upset.

Ok, maybe not. But I can't think of any other obvious reason why Auburn should win, since WKU has held its last three opponents to three points each and is ranked third in the I-AA rankings, and their kicker scored half of their points last week against EKU. Plus one of their players is obviously a military brat ("Heidelburg, Germany" is not your typical American high school), so I have to give them sentimental props. So what if they play in the "Gateway" conference (is this a new name for the OVC?). I have yet to figure out what Auburn's doing this season, but nonetheless I pick them to win simply because of SEC pride. Or something. But not-so-secretly I want the Hilltoppers to win.

Other interesting note: Tubby is a 1976 graduate of Southern Arkansas. If I didn't read the press release, I -would not know that- (spoken in Phil Hartman channeling Ed McMahon voice). Ok, enough silliness. Back to predictions.

Oh, we're saving that one for last. Never mind.
VANDERBILT [1-3/0-1] 17, Georgia Tech [1-3/0-2] 14 [PPV].
Yes, you read that right... PPV. Anyway, before I choke to death laughing hysterically, I guess I'd better justify why I'm picking Vanderbilt. Yes, Georgia Tech spanked Auburn, who in turn spanked Vanderbilt. And, as a firm believer in the transitive property, I should therefore believe that Georgia Tech will spank Vanderbilt. However, fundamentally I think Vandy is "due" and Ga Tech is probably looking forward to NC State.
TENNESSEE [3-0/1-0] 31, South Carolina [3-1/0-1] 17 [ESPN].
A UT win puts them in a pretty commanding position in the SEC East, all but eliminating USC from contention — in September. Ouch. Lou's done good work in Columbia, but ultimately the Gamecocks are no match for the Vols at home in Knoxcille.
Louisiana State [4-0/1-0] 45, MISSISSIPPI STATE [0-3/0-0] 7 [ESPN2].
Set your VCRs, folks, because this may be the last time you get to see Jackie Sherill on the sidelines of a football game on national television. This one could get ugly, particularly if the artificial noisemakers rule has to be enforced against State fans heckling their own team. And, last but not least…
OLE MISS [2-1/1-0] 38, Texas Tech [2-1] 21 [Webcast only].
The Red Raiders come into Oxford as the first Big XII foe to ever visit Vaught-Hemingway (which tells you something about Ole Miss's typical NonCon schedule). Despite piling up gaudy numbers, Tech's offense was quite ineffective last week against NC State's defense (and probably wasn't helped by absolutely horrible special teams play). On the other hand, Ole Miss's offense has shown signs of figuring out how to get the running game to work, and the defense has been more effective than in years past (despite some weakness in the secondary early on).

I'd definitely expect to see a shootout, perhaps reminicent of the Memphis game, with both Manning and Symons putting up obscene passing numbers. But Tech has a porus defense, giving up nearly 200 yards on the ground per game (and nearly 450 ypg total)--a weakness even the mediocre Ole Miss running backs can exploit, particularly when you consider Cutcliffe's penchant for the short passing game. That, home field, a team with essentially the same personnel motivated by its tough 42-28 loss in Lubbock last year, and the Rebels' quality special teams play (led by reliable PK Johnathan Nichols) should translate into a Rebel win. However, I also expect the Rebels to be lethargic early, which could open the doors for the Red Raiders to open a decent lead.

Wednesday, 24 September 2003

There's donnybrooks... and then there's donnybrooks

Robert Prather links to an opinion piece in the Mississippi State University Reflector by Edward Sanders about news media rivalries. All very interesting, as far as it goes… but try this quote on for size:

All Amanpour’s comments prove is that CNN and Fox News are engaged in a Mississippi State-Ole Miss style donnybrook.

Yes, but at least when Ole Miss and Mississippi State compete, it’s actually worth watching. I’m thinking this one’s more like Mississippi State-Houston, except that one might be a sore subject down in Starkvegas…

Two routes are better than one

According to last Thursday’s DeSoto Times, officials studying the planned route of Interstate 69 through the Memphis area have decided that both the loop route and the through route are needed and will recommend the construction of both routes. More at, of course.

Incidentally, this means the DeSoto Times has scooped the Commercial Appeal by nearly a week. In case you were keeping score at home.

APSA 2004 right 'round the corner

A measure of the APSA’s efforts to make its conference the global center of attention is the fact you can’t even get back from their conference before they start bombarding you with material for the next year’s conference—even though it’s eleven months away. At least it’s in Chicago next year, one of my favorite cities in North America.

Anyway, Dan Drezner is working on a paper on the political impact of blogging with Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber, as part of a roundtable on blogging he is planning to organize at the conference, and is blegging for help with a definition of a “blog” and some good sources.

Considering that I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to propose for the Midwest—the deadline for which is two weeks away, and which will also be held in Chicago (apparently the only city in America that can put up with two gatherings of several thousand political scientists in a year)—I should applaud Dan and Henry’s initiative.

In somewhat related (i.e. completely unrelated) news, I plan to finish my dissertation revisions today. Granted, I’ve been saying that every day since I got back from Philadelphia, but maybe blogging about it will light a fire under my proverbial ass.

Monday, 22 September 2003

Understanding science

David Adesnik apparently has been drinking the Perestroikans’ Kool Aid:

The secret to success in America’s political science departments is to invent statistics. If you can talk about regressions and r-squared and chi-squared and probit and logit, then you can persuade your colleagues that your work is as rigorous as that of a chemist, a physicist, or (at worst) an economist.

Funny, I just came back from spending a month with people who told me that the absolute worst way to get a job in political science is to “invent statistics.” If David means “understand and be able to utilize” by “invent,” that is. If he means something else, I can’t figure it out.

Still, it is absolutely impossible to explain the tactics of Al Qaeda or Hamas without reference to their perverse ideologies.

It is? Actually, it’s pretty easy to explain their tactics—historically, they’ve been quite effective. What’s (slightly) more difficult to explain is why Al Qaeda and Hamas engage in terrorism while the Sierra Club and Libertarian Party don’t.

The real problem is that [Robert] Pape, like so many political scientists, abandons all nuance in deriving policy programs from his work.

Fair enough. But what exactly does that have to do with the fact that Pape uses quantitative methods in his research? Adesnik claims:

As I see it, the cause of this unsubtle approach is political scientists’ obsession with statistics, a pursuit that dulls their sensitivity to the compexity of real-world political events. If numbers are your thing, you’re going to have a hard time explaining why Israelis and Palestinians have spent five decades fighting over narrow tracts of land.

So then, what is to be done? As you might of heard, many political science programs require training in statistics but not foreign languages. That trend has to be sharply reversed.

Great. Now we can have more social scientists who are completely incompetent at quantitative methods, but at least can express that incompetence in multiple languages. Where do I sign on to this initiative?

Look, I’m more than willing to concede that quantitative research doesn’t—and can’t—answer every interesting question in political science. But the rigorous study of politics can, and IMHO should, be scientific: founded on the scientific method, no matter whether the actual methods used are qualitative or quantitative.

And—irony of ironies—the APSR piece that Adesnik vents his wrath at is completely qualitative (at least in terms of its method of inference). Not a p-value, χ², or logit model in sight.

Anyway, you can read the piece yourself courtesy of Dan Drezner, at least until the APSR’s copyright goons come after him.

Expectations management

Why am I getting a weird feeling of dejà vu from reading the New York Times’ alleged sneak preview of Tuesday’s UN speech by George Bush?

According to the officials involved in drafting the speech, for an audience they know will range from the skeptical to the angry, Mr. Bush will acknowledge no mistakes in planning for postwar security and reconstruction in Iraq. ... In the speech, Mr. Bush will repeat his call for nations — including those that opposed the Iraq action — to contribute to rebuilding the country, but he will offer no concessions to French demands that the major authority for running the country be turned over immediately to Iraqis.

Wow. Maybe he’ll also storm out of the room in anger and call people in the audience names.

9/11, Terror, Saddam, ad nauseum

Steven Taylor of PoliBlog notes a Wall Street Journal editorial on Iraq’s al-Qaeda ties and the capture of Abu Abbas on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, my friend Scott Huffmon forwards a collection of quotes from administration officials that juxtapose 9/11 with Iraq (Scott therefore wins the longstanding Signifying Nothing “no-prize” for forwarding evidence of the adminstration linking Saddam and 9/11). Perhaps more interesting is the associated article discussing how the public’s belief in a 9/11-Saddam connection came about. Key graf:

A number of public-opinion experts agreed that the public automatically blamed Iraq, just as they would have blamed Libya if a similar attack had occurred in the 1980s. There is good evidence for this: On Sept. 13, 2001, a Time/CNN poll found that 78 percent suspected Hussein’s involvement—even though the administration had not made a connection. The belief remained consistent even as evidence to the contrary emerged.

Or, as I am fond of saying, when it comes to politics, it’s all heuristics.

Mystery Red Hat upgrade bugs

I’m spending most of this afternoon slowly unravelling whatever went wrong with upgrading one of our boxes from Red Hat 7.3 to Red Hat 9. Main problem: none of Red Hat’s GUI administration tools work—they all die with segmentation faults. Neither did sendmail (which I promptly booted out in favor of postfix.)

In the process of straightening everything out, I installed apt-rpm. We’ll see if that makes the system slightly more administerable (is that a verb noun?).

The mystery deepens. Apparently, somehow the PyGNOME installation is hosed. However, it's only intermittently hosed; most of the Red Hat admin tools segfault, but some don't (they're just oddly buggy, like the Package tool that won't let you select things in the Details view). And Foomatic-GUI runs just fine (once wget is installed—no, don't ask me why). Damn strange.

Sunday, 21 September 2003

Mississippi State: 0-12?

After last night’s loss to Houston (by a score of 42-35), the Mississippi State Bulldogs appear to have blown their best chance for a road win this season, and fall to 0-3 for the season (and 3-13 in their past 16 games). There are some serious problems down in Starkville, made all the more plain by fired defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn’s level of success in Memphis this year with arguably lesser talent.

Working slightly in State’s favor is the fact that their next three games are at home. However, looking at their opponents, things may not be quite so simple:

  • Next Saturday, Louisiana State rolls into Starkville fresh off the heels of a 4-0 start and a hard-fought victory over the defending SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs. The question isn’t whether LSU will win—it’s by how much?
  • October 4, Bobby Johnson’s now 1-3 Vanderbilt squad comes to Starkville in search of its first SEC win during Johnson’s reign in Nashville. (They face Georgia Tech at home this weekend, which this season is a winnable game for the Commodores.)
  • October 11 is Homecoming. More specifically, it’s homecoming for Joe Lee Dunn as Memphis (currently 2-1, and likely to be 4-1 by then) comes to town in search of a season sweep of the SEC.

Then come road tests at Auburn and Kentucky, a bye week, a home date with Alabama, two weeks in a row against current top-25 teams Tennessee and Arkansas on the road, and finally the Thanksgiving Egg Bowl match against Ole Miss. Given the current level of Mississippi State’s play, they’d be hard pressed to beat any of these teams.

Realistically, the home dates against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are probably the most winnable, the former since Vanderbilt hasn’t exactly been tearing up the gridiron either and the latter due to the in-state rivalry. The current Sagarin ratings* only favor Mississippi State in its games against Vandy and Memphis, the latter only because the Bulldogs have home field advantage.

People used to call State the “Vandy of the West.” They’re not any more—State is almost certainly worse.

The political contestation of rights in Canada

Colby Cosh doesn’t quite ask a question worth considering:

It’s clear enough that a majority of the Liberal caucus is opposed, right or wrong, to gay marriage in principle. The same could probably be said of the Opposition; yet we’re to have gay marriage in Canada all the same. It does make you wonder what the point of sending MPs to Ottawa is.

Or, for my non-comparatively-inclined friends, a hypothetical translation into the American political context:

It’s clear enough that a majority of Democrats are opposed, right or wrong, to gay marriage in principle. The same could probably be said of the Republicans; yet we’re to have gay marriage in the United States all the same. It does make you wonder what the point of sending Congressmen to Washington is.

Alec Saunders, on the other hand, doesn’t think gay marriage is a legitimate subject of political debate; the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s equivalent to the U.S. Bill of Rights (plus a healthy dollop of the 14th Amendment, minus those pesky 2nd and 3rd amendments that were at least partially motivated by anti-British sentiment), has spoken—or at least been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada to speak in that way.

What’s interesting to me is that Alec’s a self-identified “traditional conservative” while Colby is generally libertarian in his outlook, yet they take the opposite sides on this issue to those you’d expect Americans with those political leanings to take. (Incidentally, my position is closer to Alec’s, simply because legislative bodies are at their worst when enacting social and economic regulation; the “Do Something” instinct too often prevails over common sense in these cases.)

In Colby’s case, I might explain his preference for legislative involvement as vestigial sentiment for the idea of parliamentary sovereignty—the idea that the final arbiter of the Law is the legislature, as is embodied in Westminster parliamentary tradition. But I find Alec’s position a bit more perplexing, although I can perhaps understand his disinterest in the use of this particular issue by the embryonic Alliance of Progressive Conservatives (or whatever the hell they decide to call themselves). God knows I cringe every time the Republicans pull the same stunts, although in Mississippi the Democrats usually join in the fun too, so here it’s essentially a wash.

Then again, the Smug Canadian reads Colby’s comments differently. So what do I know?

Saturday, 20 September 2003

Kevin Drum's Taxonomy of Wealth

Kevin Drum proposes a taxonomy of “poor”, “middle class”, “rich”, etc., based on income. I was surprised to discover that I’m upper middle class (albeit at the low end of it).

It was so much easier back in the fifties:

If you drove a Chevy, you were lower middle class.
If you drove an Oldsmobile, you were middle class.
If you drove a Buick, you were upper middle class.
And if you drove a Cadillac, you were well off.

American Splendor

I went to see American Splendor this afternoon. I’ve never been a very good review writer, and I doubt a review full of nothing but superlatives would be very interesting, so just go read the review from the Memphis Flyer.

And then go see this movie! With the possible execption of Ghost World, it’s the best movie that’s ever been made from a comic book. If you’re the Memphis area, it’s playing at Malco’s Studio on the Square in Midtown.

Disinterested parties in gun control

Glenn Reynolds throws up his hands at the latest round in the John Lott feud:

What I’d like is to see an authoritative look at this by a disinterested party. I’m not qualified to provide that. I’d like to see someone who is come forward and sort all of this out.

Anyone motivated enough to “come forward and sort all of this out” would, by definition, no longer be disinterested. The only thing I can think of: rename all the variables and give the dataset and the alternate specifications to an econometrician (or six)—preferably one who has lived under a rock the past ten years.

Anyway, rather than volunteering myself—not only because this whole debate is too political for anyone with my political leanings to be considered objective (despite my rather ambivalent personal attitudes towards guns), but also because I don’t personally find “public policy” questions that interesting to study and because, well, I do have a dissertation that I’m supposed to be finishing revisions on this weekend—I’ll just recommend reading this book on the politics of gun control (a research topic I find more interesting than simply the effects of gun ownership), because (a) it’s pretty good and (b) one of the members of my dissertation committee co-edited it.

SEC Week 4 prognostications (and Week 3 recap)

Last week's picks (home in CAPS, TV and record in brackets, in kickoff order):
TEXAS [1-0] 31, Arkansas [1-0] 17
Actual score: 28-38. Arkansas pulls off the major upset in Austin; although Texas is hampered with a one-dimensional offense, it was still quite unexpected. Arkansas could be the team to watch for in the SEC West, especially compared to its performance last season that saw the team basically luck its way into the championship game.
VANDERBILT 17 [1-1/0-1], Auburn [0-2] 16 [JP/GamePlan]
7-45. Vanderbilt reverted to form, and Auburn figured out how to score touchdowns again.
GEORGIA [2-0] 35, South Carolina [2-0] 24
31-7. USC got blown out between the hedges.
FLORIDA [1-1] 62, Florida A&M [1-1] 3
63-3 (ooh, so close!). FAMU did soundly win the halftime, though.
OLE MISS [1-1/1-0] 42, Louisiana-Lafayette [0-2] 7
59-14 (would have been 62-14, but Cutcliffe was feeling merciful). The news of the game was Jamal Pittman's solo 69-yard, 9-play touchdown drive. Oh, and Manning had an obscene QB rating.
ALABAMA [1-1] 31, Kentucky [1-1] 20
27-17, more or less as expected. The Pillsbury Throw Boy was no match for Mike Shula's team in his first Tuscaloosa win.
LOUISIANA STATE [2-0] 65, Western Illinois [2-0] 14 (revised)
35-7. Again, more or less as expected, although you might have expected LSU to put up more points. Maybe they're saving them for Georgia...
TULANE [1-1] 56, Mississippi State [0-1] 54 (6 OT)
31-28. Tulane, as expected, pulls off the "upset". MSU's skid is now at 8 weeks, and counting.

Conference standings: Georgia currently has sole posession of the SEC East lead, while Ole Miss and Auburn are tied for first in the West (with undefeated Alabama ineligible for postseason play). No teams are yet mathematically eliminated from a division title, but Vandy is trying very hard to be the first.

This week's games, highlighted by a CBS double-header. Fans of other teams will have to listen to the radio. You know the drill...

FLORIDA [2-1] 31, Tennessee [2-0] 21. [CBS]
The traditional SEC East powers line up for their first conference games of the season in Gainesville. UT has looked unimpressive in its two wins, so I go with Florida because of (a) home field and (b) playing Miami tough (but demerits for getting outscored 28-0).
Georgia [3-0/1-0] 24, LOUISIANA STATE [3-0] 17. [CBS]
LSU is somehow favored in this contest, mainly due to the legend of "Death Valley." However, they don't call it Death Valley when it's a 2:30 kickoff, and UGA looks unstoppable as of late.
Kentucky [1-2/0-1] 41, INDIANA [1-2] 10.
Kentucky takes out its frustrations on perennial Big Ten punching bag Indiana in Bloomington, where it's a fair bet that Wildcat fans will rule the stands.
ALABAMA [2-1/1-0] 35, Northern Illinois [2-0] 14.
Alabama isn't Wisconsin. Shula now has a winning record in Tuscaloosa.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN [2-0] 35, Vanderbilt [1-2/0-2] 17.
The Vandy team that lost to Auburn last week probably couldn't beat SMU, much less TCU.
SOUTH CAROLINA [2-1/0-1] 38, Alabama-Birmingham [1-2] 7.
Lou Holtz convinces his team they're actually facing Alabama-Tuscaloosa, so they go out and pulverize the opposition. (Lou's mistake last week: the team thought he said they were playing Georgia Tech.)
HOUSTON [2-1] 38, Mississippi State [0-2] 31.
The Bulldogs somehow find a way to blow a fourth-quarter lead for the second game in a row as they work through I-A trying to find a team they can beat. Unfortunately for State, Louisiana-Lafayette isn't on their schedule this year. Or should that be "unfortunately for ULL"?

Two teams have the week off:

NCAA Infractions Committee [∞-0] $12,000/player, AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 0.
Tommy Tuberville's gang spends the off week under a cloud as former coach Terry Bowden is on record saying that boosters paid signing bonuses to Auburn recruits in the 1980s and early 1990s. Apparently that's against the rules... go figure!

OLE MISS [2-1/1-0] spends the week preparing for pass-happy Texas Tech to come to Oxford for the team's second night game in a row, as there will be no TV for the game (ESPN2 is instead opting to show the humiliation of Mississippi State by LSU). Continued noises from the coaching staff suggest that sophomore RB Jamal Pittman, who accounted for a large chunk of Ole Miss's second-half yards against ULM, will be in the starting lineup.

Tech's game against NC State will be televised Saturday at 11 CDT on ESPN2. As NC State's offense is similar to that of Ole Miss, although perhaps even more pass-oriented, it may be a good preview of how the game in Oxford is likely to turn out.

Friday, 19 September 2003

Foomatic-GUI 0.6.3 released

Foomatic 0.6.3 is now available at both Savannah and here; it has also been uploaded to Debian unstable.

The main new feature in this release is the display of information from the printer database when in the printer make/model browser, using a GtkHTML2 widget. A screenshot of the new functionality is here.

Here's an updated screenshot of the current, more OS X-like main interface: Screenshot of Foomatic-GUI 0.6.3

The Southeastern Conference and the Death Penalty

The revelations of five-figure cash payouts to Auburn players (more on the story here) have Pete Holiday at the SEC Fanblog speculating about what sort of penalties Auburn could face from the NCAA:

This, of course, raises an interesting question: If a team commits major violations while on probation, how does the punishment work? Death Penalty? Forfeiture of X seasons from the time of the violation? Bowl Ban / Scholarship cuts for upcoming seasons? My guess is that the NCAA has no idea how they’d handle it and would resort to whatever would be least-consistent with their previous rulings.

In the comments, an discussion has broken out: can the NCAA’s infractions committee impose meaningful sanctions on Auburn? Jeff Quinton of Backcountry Conservative thinks not:

Is the NCAA willing to invoke the death penalty now though? When the last round of Alabama investigations started those rumors it came out that the Death Penalty would be something the NCAA would avoid if at all possible because of the impact on revenue it would have on other schools in the SEC.

Kevin Donahue, however, says:

I don’t think the NCAA would think twice about handing out the death penalty to an SEC team. If they don’t crack the whip in this case, when could they ever?

Assuming the Auburn investigation amounts to something, and bearing in mind the continuing investigation of Alabama and inquiry targeting Mississippi State, it is quite possible that half of the SEC West will be on some form of probation in 2004. Clearly the existing penalties aren’t having sufficient deterrent effect on boosters and programs.

But the “death penalty“—the forced shutdown of the football program for at least two years—isn’t likely to happen. Now that big money has found NCAA football and basketball, college athletics is run like a business, particularly in the SEC, the most profitable league in the country.

Jeff is right that the death penalty would hurt revenue, even at the other SEC schools, due to the sharing of bowl, tournament and television receipts. But that’s not necessarily the NCAA’s motivation—the NCAA doesn’t see a dime of that money.

The NCAA’s fear is that the SEC and its member schools, faced with a “death penalty” situation and losing a significant chunk of their funds, would jump ship and encourage members of the rest of the Big Six conferences to form a new basketball-football semi-pro league beyond the influence of the NCAA. Combined with a number of schools from the Big 12, C-USA, and the ACC, a “super SEC” of 24 or so teams would have a lock on most of the talent with NFL and NBA potential in the southeast and a large market that is underserved by both pro leagues.

So for now the NCAA will try to muddle through. But soon an SEC school is going to be found to have done something so egregious that the NCAA has to impose the death penalty to maintain its credibility. And that day will be the last day of college sports as we know it in the southeast.

Thursday, 18 September 2003

Caple on Colonel Reb Page 2 writer Jim Caple was in Oxford for the ULM game. Shockingly, he had the same reaction to the evocation of Blind Jim Ivy as justification for retaining Colonel Reb that I did:

Plain, old-fashioned college student resentment against an administration making a decision over their heads is a significant part of this. But when [Brian] Ferguson talks about Colonel Reb being a tribute to an old black man named Blind Jim Ivy who sold peanuts around campus during the first half of the century (when blacks weren’t allowed to attend classes), he begins to lose me.

His conclusion:

Colonel Reb is offensive. He has to go.

If his supporters really appreciate the damage Colonel Reb brings to the school and state they love so dearly, they would welcome a new mascot, a mascot that all students can embrace, enjoy and look to with a sense of pride instead of embarrassment.

The state of the art (of polling)

The California Recall has prompted a few questions about various polling techniques. As someone who’s put in his fair share of hours doing telephone survey research, and has heard a version of the “pitch” from Harris Interactive from one of their in-house statisticians*, I thought I’d try to clear up some confusion.

The “traditional” way of doing political polling these days is a system called “random digit dialing.” Basically, to get the number of respondents they need, professional pollsters call several thousand households from a list of residential numbers prepared by companies like Survey Sampling Inc.; if you’re feeling cheap, there are other alternatives that can be used (with a much higher non-response rate). (Before RDD, we did stuff like what Zogby did in Iraq recently; that sort of quasi-random “man on the street” interviewing is common in non-industrialized countries, and essentially the same as contemporary exit polling in the United States.)

RDD worked pretty well for polling until computers arrived on the scene in the mid-80s along with the hardcore telemarketing industry. In the past two decades, response rates have dropped off sharply, requiring more calls to get a valid sample for statistical inference. Coupled with answering machines and caller ID, the effectiveness of RDD for getting a truly random sample has been undermined.

The Internet allows a few new options. Internet survey delivery allows respondents to complete surveys at their own convenience, and also permits the delivery of non-verbal stimuli (like photographs, long blocks of text to be read, and drawings), which is useful for experimental designs. The drawback is that just sticking a survey on the Internet will result in a non-random sample, the most notorious instance of which is the abomination known as the “web poll.” Since respondents to web polls self-select, we have no idea how representative they are of the public at large.

Two groups in the U.S. have tried to tackle the non-random response issue from different directions. Knowledge Networks (KN) solves the representativeness problem by only offering the surveys to a randomly-selected sample of households. Rather than recruiting a new batch of respondents for each survey (like in a traditional phone survey), KN has a rolling panel of several thousand households that participate in studies. They are provided with free WebTV service for the duration of their panel membership, and in exchange must participate in a certain number of surveys. The surveys are delivered via WebTV to the household. (This approach is basically the same as that employed by the Neilsens for television ratings.) As in a traditional phone survey, some weighting is done to adjust the sample to account for stratification and clustering effects. KN’s co-founders are Stanford University professors Norman Nie and Douglas Rivers; Stanford apparently has an arrangement for reduced-cost surveys with KN due to this relationship (at least judging from the number of Stanford professors and graduate students I see at conferences using KN-based experimental and survey data).

The other approach, employed by Harris Interactive, is to do post-hoc adjustments through a technique called “propensity weighting.” Harris has a truly Internet-based panel with a larger membership than KN’s panel (some of the difference in membership size is due to Harris also doing survey work outside the United States; however, they also use bigger samples for each survey for other reasons which I’ll get to shortly). Surveys are administered via the user’s web browser in response to invitations, and participants receive points for participating in surveys and also get entries in regular drawings for cash prizes. Instead of ensuring that participants are representative of the population at large, Harris uses propensity weighting to reweigh respondents based on their demographic and behavioral characteristics and the frequency of those characteristics in the population at large (weighting schemes for other survey techniques are generally based on the design of the sampling procedure). It is important to emphasize that Harris’ technique is not based on random samples. However, propensity weighting is designed to make the sample behave “as if” it was selected randomly.

Which technique is better? All of them have flaws, particularly if trying to reach certain subpopulations like the homeless and indigent (Harris’s technique might find the occasional homeless guy who checks his email at the library; KN and RDD would never catch him). For voting research, however, all of the techniques would probably fare better. Generally speaking participation is correlated with the variables that would be associated with having a telephone, a stable household, and Internet access. To the extent that some population groups are less likely to be online, propensity weighting should adjust for that (in the case of Harris).

Earlier this year, Political Analysis had an article that compared all three techniques, which found that generally RDD, KN, and Harris provided estimates of population parameters within the reported margin of error, with a few notable exceptions. For inferential statistics (trying to figure out the relationships among variables), which is generally what political scientists are interested in, the sampling issues are relatively unimportant, but for the descriptive statistics (trying to figure out what the population-at-large is like) pollsters and the media care about, there may be more important issues that weren’t addressed in the PA piece.

But generally both KN and Harris appear to have credible techniques that have been backed up with actual election results, so their conclusions are as likely to be correct as those of traditional surveys like the Field Poll and L.A. Times.

Idiotic lead graf watch

Today’s winner: the Toronto Star (in fairness, they were only picked on because they were in Google News; I wasn’t planning on continuing the north-of-the-border focus):

WASHINGTON—U.S. President George W. Bush conceded for the first time yesterday that the United States had no evidence indicating Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In related news, I concede for the first time today that I have no evidence that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez plan to get married. Or that they don’t plan to get married. Or that they ever had sex, for that matter.

Vocabulary tip of the day: concession requires the retraction of a previously-held position. For example, Andrew “008” Gilligan conceded that he “sexed up” his own reporting about the alleged “sexing up” of the British government’s mojo-riffic weapons dossier. Bill Clinton conceded that he did have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky (although not in quite so few words, or at least not without employing unusual definitions of “is”, “alone”, and “sex”). The United States conceded its claim to British Columbia. Richard Nixon conceded that the United States was no longer interested in defending South Vietnam.

Show me evidence of George Bush claiming that “Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the Sept. 11 terror attacks,” and then you can use the verb concede. Until then, you can use other language, like “reiterated” and “smacked down Dick Cheney for saying stupid things on Meet the Press.”

Then again, this is the country that gave us Alanis Morissette’s definition of “irony,” loosely translated as “anything that sucks ass.” So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that “concede” is Canadian for “says something that contradicts something we imagined that the speaker said earlier because it would be consistent with our political belief system.”

Substantive blogging

My copy of Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, had shown up in a box on my chair by the time I got to work this morning. I’ve only gotten through the Preface, but it’s been a good read so far. (I would have sat down at one of those nice new tables they have on the rear porch of Weir Hall and read some more, but a half-dozen other people had the same idea I had. They weren’t reading Virginia’s book, though.)

I also watched a bit of the CBC news on Newsworld International this morning—a rerun of last night’s National, with Peter Mansbridge looking appropriately dour, as always. Apparently the Alliance and Progressive Conservatives, Canada’s two main parties of the right, are making another run at a merged organization, tentatively to be named the Conservative Party. I’m not sure that it will fly. The PCs seem to me like warmed over British “one nation” Tories, while the Alliance seem more like the Texas GOP minus the libertarian instincts. More importantly, the Liberals are positioned to capture the median voter in Ontario and Quebec, which is where the votes are anyway under Canada’s system of not-quite-proportional allocation of seats in Parliament. So even if they pull off the grand alliance, I’m not sure it solves much in the long run. (Then again, I’ve been half-expecting Canada to collapse due to its own internal contradictions for the past decade. Of course, states with even less reason to exist, like Belgium, have persisted as well. Blame the Treaty of Westphalia.)

I also learned that a tenth dwarf was added to the presidential race on the Democratic side down here, some guy from Arkansas who apparently is a lot like Howard Dean but spends more time hanging out with war criminals (the latter part I learned from Matthew; Peter didn’t mention that part).

But that story got less play than news that (a) everyone in the media and Parliament is now treating Paul Martin like he’s the prime minister, instead of Jean Chrétien, and (b) Canada’s opening seven more consulates in the United States next year. Amazingly they’ve just gotten around to adding Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. Apparently they’re also opening up in a place called “Raleigh-Durham,” which I was under the impression were actually two distinct cities. Then again, so once were Buda and Pest. Or, for that matter, Toronto and Etobicoke.

Dyersburg hostage crisis coverage

Mike Hollihan had running coverage of the hostage situation at Dyersburg State Community College yesterday. Nice job, Mike!

By the way, the current scoring is: Hollihan 1, GoMemphis Blogs 0 (forfeit, they didn’t show up for the event).

Tuesday, 16 September 2003

Kevin and Krugman

Kevin Drum has posted his interview with Paul Krugman. But the best example of Krugman’s worldview is actually from his new book, the Great Unraveling:

In fact, there’s ample evidence that key elements of the coalition that now runs the country believe that some long-established American political and social institutions should not, in principle, exist….Consider, for example….New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, Great Society programs like Medicare….Or consider foreign policy….separation of church and state….The goal would seem to be something like this: a country that basically has no social safety net at home, which relies mainly on military force to enforce its will abroad, in which schools don’t teach evolution but do teach religion and — possibly — in which elections are only a formality….

Needless to say, the revelation in the interview that he regularly reads Atrios won’t come as much of a shock after that paragraph.

Daniel Drezner has more.

Sunday, 14 September 2003

Manufacturing dissent

Glenn Reynolds unearths some good old-fashioned media manipulation. Of course, is it truly manipulation if the media outnumbers the subject (and manipulator) ten-to-one?

Swedes reject the Euro

Samizdata reports that the people of Sweden have voted 56-41% against joining the single European currency, with turnout in the 80-85% range.

An Ole Miss drive you don't see every day

Try this drive on for size, from the fourth quarter of last night’s Ole Miss-ULM game:

               Kuecker, Tyler kickoff 58 yards to the UM7, Mike Espy return 24 yards to the
               UM31 (Richard, Damien;Payne, Gerard).
      M 1-10 M31   OLE MISS drive start at 09:38 (4th).
      M 1-10 M31   Jamal Pittman rush for 7 yards to the UM38 (Williams, S.).
      M 2-3  M38   Jamal Pittman rush for 16 yards to the ULM46, 1ST DOWN UM
                   (Hardman, T.;Shine, Nico).
      M 1-10 L46   Jamal Pittman rush for 5 yards to the ULM41 (Moore, Travin).
      M 2-5  L41   Jamal Pittman rush for 2 yards to the ULM39 (James, Chad).
      M 3-3  L39   Jamal Pittman rush for 2 yards to the ULM37.
      M 4-1  L37   Jamal Pittman rush for 18 yards to the ULM19, 1ST DOWN UM
                   (Williams, S.).
      M 1-10 L19   Jamal Pittman rush for 11 yards to the ULM8, 1ST DOWN UM
                   (Williams, S.).
      M 1-G  L08   Timeout Louisiana-Monroe, clock 05:50.
      M 1-G  L08   Jamal Pittman rush for 7 yards to the ULM1 (Robinson, L.).
      M 2-G  L01   Jamal Pittman rush for 1 yard to the ULM0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 05:01.
                   J. Nichols kick attempt good.

                                LOUISIANA-MONROE 14, OLE MISS 59

--------------- 9 plays, 69 yards, TOP 04:37 ---------------
That’s right, Ole Miss sustained a 69-yard drive completely on the ground, with one running back. Pittman should be the starter; there’s just no question about it.

Krugman talks sense; news at 11

Paul Krugman, in an apparent effort to rehabilitate his image in the blogosphere prior to the publication of his interview with Kevin Drum, had his research assistants write pens a ten page NYT Magazine article on tax policy. Robert Prather and Matthew Stinson have reactions, while Markus has a roundup of other reactions too. I think Prather is on to something when he writes:

That’s why I’m not bothered by the current “starve the beast” phenomenon; I know we will raise taxes in the future and am not bothered by it as long as it is accompanied by reform. The current system puts a $200 billion burden on the U.S. economy and is itself debilitating.

Matthew’s reaction concentrates on Krugman’s attempt to compare the U.S. tax situation with Alabama’s (a specious comparison at best; by all accounts, Alabama’s tax system is even more regressive than that non-income tax states like Florida and Texas, resembling Mississippi’s in its apparent progressivity coupled with absurdly generous deductions for itemizers), and notes that national conservatives’ meddling in Alabama will be counterproductive in the long run:

National conservatives attacked Riley and his tax referendum hoping this would become another Prop 13 moment of anti-tax consensus. This was wrong-headed and dare-I-say destructive to the Republican cause over the long term in Alabama. Think about it: the middle class people who voted down the tax increase, who, inexplicably, were going to have their taxes lowered by the referendum, are the same people who demand the kinds of government services that the tax increase was designed to pay for—education, law enforcement, and infrastructure. When Gov. Riley has to make cuts in these essential services, the fickle voters (Are there any other kinds?—ed. No.) will turn against Republicans in favor of moderate Democrats who will promise to restore funding.

That being said, one possible reason for Riley’s plan’s failure was that the new tax system proposed in the referendum wasn’t constrained with an effective check on the legislature’s ability to increase taxes at its whim in the future. If the root cause of a lot of middle class discontent with the plan was a (probably well-earned) distrust of the Alabama legislature, the failure to include a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights or some other device to check tax increases was a major oversight in the plan.

Saturday, 13 September 2003

Ole Miss 59, Louisiana-Monroe 14

The game tonight was fun, although an early downpour made things in the stands a bit wet throughout the game—because of the humidity, nothing seemed to dry out. Pretty much as I expected, the Rebels took out their frustrations on ULM, and there were fewer dropped passes. The secondary still gave up some big plays that they shouldn’t have (including two 20+ yard TD passes); however, the run defense continued to impress, holding ULM to 39 yards on 30 carries, including stopping ULM from getting a first down on the ground from both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1.

Jamal Pittman continued to make his mark at RB, seeing action in the 3rd and 4th quarters—while you could credit some of the offense to a somewhat tired ULM D, Pittman put together a string of strong runs from scrimmage unmatched by McClendon, Turner, or Pearson.

Both Micheal Spurlock [sic]* and Ethan Flatt saw time at QB; Spurlock played the end of the third and much of the fourth (and went 3-4, 35 yds passing with one TD, although he mostly handed off to Pittman), but Flatt came in with about 6:00 left in the game (and continued handing off to Pittman). The Manning-Collins connection was on fire as always (2 TDs), but Taye Biddle also caught several long passes (like the one he dropped in the Memphis game), one of which went for a TD. Manning (22-26, 356 yds passing) passed for 3 TDs and scored a rushing TD on a five-yard, third down scramble.

The Rebels [2-1/1-0] now have an off-week before facing Texas Tech in Oxford on September 27. Although gametime is currently listed at 6:00 (same as ULM), campus scuttlebutt has it that kickoff may be pushed back to 8:00 (Central) with the game televised on ESPN2. Anything beats 11:00 am in my book…

Around the rest of the league, Auburn racked up an impressive win over Vandy (helped in no small measure by stupid penalties on the part of the Commodores); Auburn’s defeat of Vandy puts them in a tie for first in the west with Ole Miss. Alabama handled Kentucky at home, giving Mike Shula at least one more week in Tuscaloosa (Alabama and Kentucky are ineligible for postseason play and the conference title, making the game essentially moot in the standings). In the East, Georgia took the early-season conference lead after handing the South Carolina Gamecocks a defeat, moving to 3-0 overall.

In non-conference action: Arkansas defeated ex-SWAC foe Texas in Austin, 38-28, in what may be the upset of the day in college football. LSU took care of I-AA foe Western Illinois while Florida brutalized I-AA Florida A&M. And, in a game that just went final, Tulane edged Mississippi State 31-28 in N’Orleans.

Inspirational Quote of the Day

In a major breaking news story from the Commercial Appeal, former atheist Chuck Davis finds Jesus.

Davis says some of his old friends still don’t understand his conversion and some don’t accept it.

But Davis explained, “Jesus is like a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. People can tell you what it is, but you don’t know what’s it’s like until you try it.”

Amen, brother.

A few design adjustments

I’ve made a few minor changes to the stylesheet and underlying code:

  • Entries are now color-coded by author, comme le Volokh Conspiracy: I’m this color, while this is Brock’s color. No, I’m not identifying the colors by name, since Brock and I may decide to change them around a bit.
  • I’m now using borders for link underlining, like Matthew does at A Fearful Symmetry. I haven’t decided if I like it yet or not; there may be more experiments to come.

A final note: some people seem to find the default font size of Signifying Nothing too big. This is apparently the result of two factors:

  1. Browser default font sizes are too big in general. IE, Mozilla and Mozilla Firebird default to a 16 point font, which is close to reasonable if you are legally blind or your monitor is a JumboTron, but otherwise a tad on the large side (I usually adjust it to the 12–14 point range).
  2. Because of the first item, many people include FONT tags or CSS to reduce your font size to something that’s reasonable (Outside the Beltway does this noticeably, rendering it mostly unreadable using my default font size). Unfortunately that shoots to hell the accessibility advantages of CSS over proprietary tags.

I don’t have any perfect advice here. No browser that I know of lets you do CSS or font size overrides for particular sites, which seems like an odd oversight, since CSS is designed to allow user overrides of settings. However, all major browsers have font size adjustments in their menus you can use on an ad hoc basis to compensate for font drift between sites.

Friday, 12 September 2003

Pushing Colonel Reb out the proverbial airlock: a Fisking in three movements

Frankly, for the longest time I was planning to keep my mouth shut about Colonel Reb. Just let everyone run around complaining about the supposed duplicity of Chancellor Robert Khayat and AD Pete Boone. Scream at the top of their lungs about how heritage was getting kicked to the curb once again in the name of political correctness. Blah blah blah.

Then I visited the improbably named Not SaveColonelReb, mind you, but SaveOleMiss. Let’s start with the front page, shall we?

We are thrilled that you care enough about your input on Mississippi’s flagship university in regard to their totally irrelevant characterization of our beloved mascot Colonel Reb. On behalf of the Colonel, we are glad you want to get involved!

First of all, if that statement is indicative of the literacy level of members of this campaign, the Colonel’s in pretty big trouble. That first sentence doesn’t even parse (try it!). But, nonetheless, we can read on:

After you take the time to read the history of the Colonel, we hope you will take some real action that will have results.

Ok, fair enough. Let me go and read the history of the Colonel:

Noted University of Mississippi historian David Sansing has long pointed out that the model for the original Colonel Rebel emblem was a black man. Blind Jim Ivy was a campus fixture until his death in 1955.

1955, you might note, is seven years prior to James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962. Just in case you were keeping score at home. (Something tells me Sansing wasn’t quite as sympathetic to Colonel Reb as this account suggests, either.)

Jim Ivy became an integral part of the University of Mississippi in 1896. Born in 1870 as the son of African slave Matilda Ivy, he moved from Alabama to Mississippi in 1890.

One hopes Matilda Ivy wasn’t a slave when her son was born, that occurring five years after the Civil War and all. But then again, news travels slow down here.

Ivy was blinded in his early teens when coal tar paint got into his eyes while painting the Tallahatchie River Bridge. Ivy became a peanut vendor in Oxford and was considered the university’s mascot for many years.

Wow. Guy loses sight, sells peanuts, becomes campus mascot. What a lovely rags-to-riches tale. (Incidentally, he would have been 20 when he moved to Mississippi, yet somehow got coal tar paint in his eyes painting the Tallahatchie River Bridge, which is in Mississippi, in his early teens. This story doesn’t exactly track. Moving on…)

Ivy attended most Ole Miss athletic events and was fond of saying, “I’ve never seen Ole Miss lose.”

At least you can’t accuse Jim of being politically correct…

Ivy was very much a part of the Ole Miss scene in 1936 when the editor of the school newspaper proposed a contest to produce a new nickname for Ole Miss teams, then known as The Flood.

“Very much a part of the Ole Miss scene”? Was he hanging out at the Billiard Club with the frat guys on Saturday nights? I’m guessing not, since this was 1936.

According to Sansing, “If you look at the photo of Blind Jim in the three-piece suit, with the hat, there’s a striking resemblance. The original Colonel Rebel emblem is a spitting image of Blind Jim Ivy, except for white skin.”

He should sue! Oh, wait, he’s (a) blind and (b) dead. I guess that isn’t happening.

So they whitewashed Blind Jim and turned him into Colonel Reb. Wow. What a beautiful story. It’s so touching, it almost reminds me of a minstrel show or Amos ‘n’ Andy (which, perhaps not coincidentally, was part of the social mileu at this time).

Colonel Reb soon became an honor all over campus. In the 1940’s the tradition of voting for Colonel Reb and Miss Ole Miss were the highest honors students could bestow on their fellow attendees. Still elected every fall by the student population, many notables of the history of Ole Miss have earned this honor including former NFL standout Ben Williams. “Gentle Ben” was also the first black football player at Ole Miss.

That’s nice, a black man was elected Colonel Reb (or perhaps Miss Ole Miss; the phrasing is rather unclear!). Poetic justice for Blind Jim, I guess.

It was also during this time that one student each year at Ole Miss dressed in a Confederate uniform and paraded down the sidelines exhorting the Rebel faithful to cheer for their winning team.

Well, back before you could buy alcohol in Lafayette County, I guess that was about the only fun thing to do on weekends.

Jim Ivy would be proud we remember him today.

Either that or really pissed off that he hasn’t been earning royalties on the commercial exploitation of his image. Or at least a whiteface version of it.

But it gets better. We find out that taking action has had an effect elsewhere:

This past spring the University of Massachussetts had the same problem as Ole Miss.

What, a mascot that reeks of nostalgia for the days of Jim Crow and resembles a blind man who never would have been allowed to set foot in a classroom on the campus except as a member of the custodial staff? Actually, no; the guy looks more like Paul Revere (to review, he won his war). But I will award 2 points for chutzpah.

Also helpfully provided by the “Colonel Reb Foundation” are directories of home phone numbers for university officials, members of the Athletic Committee, and the members of the IHL board. Just in case the spirit moved site visitors to start harrassing members of the university community over a stupid mascot.

Yep, Jim Ivy would be damn proud. What an embarrassing display of exactly why the mascot needs to be changed in the first place: it’s a rallying point for idiots who care more about symbols than people and long for the past instead of contributing to the future. If this group is representative of the people who want to “Save Ole Miss,” then Colonel Reb—and Ole Miss—isn’t worth saving.

It doesn’t exactly help that the content of their site is plagiarized from at least two other sites.

Patrick Carver posts a thoughtful response. I think “buck-toothed inbred racially-insensitive slack-jawed yokels” is a bit beyond my characterization; most of the people waving around Confederate flags and shouting “Save Colonel Reb” during the game that I noticed were well-dressed, old-money, not-very-sober frat boys and sorority girls. Nary a buck-toothed yokel among them. On the other hand, the people who designed that site seem to have not paid much attention in high school English class; surely the Save Colonel Reb campaign can find someone whose level of literacy would exceed that displayed on Atrios’ comment board, and who might actually understand that a long screed about how Colonel Reb is a whitewashed black man might seem slightly offensive to people who haven’t grown up in the South (where whites having black friends and acquaintances while using racial epithets to describe them in all-white company hasn’t exactly died out).

Now to the substance of Patrick’s comments: Admittedly, I don’t care at all for the way the administration does business in general—not just on Colonel Reb, but also on various other issues: relegating the doctoral hooding ceremony from graduation to a separate event; implementing a "graduation tax"; increasing parking fees by administrative whim; having endless consultations with campus committees and then just deciding things by fiat; et cetera. Frankly, that’s old news as far as the way Pete Boone, Carolyn Staton, and Robert Khayat do business. And, basically, that’s what 99% of campus administrations do, albeit not to the point like here at Ole Miss where one has to be a Kremlinologist and/or a conspiracy theorist to figure out what’s happening next.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that the means make much difference in this case. Khayat could make a huge show about consulting the student body, alumni, what have you, but the fact is that the decision has already been made (and has been made ever since the start); that decision-making style is part of the Ole Miss campus culture under this administration. And, honestly, I don’t see a position for compromise here; either Colonel Reb is on the field or not. If he is, recruiters can use it against us and it’s another chip on the “Ole Miss is stuck in 1961” pile. If he isn’t, alumni get upset (though, I suspect that if Ole Miss winds up in Atlanta playing Georgia in early December, they won’t be that upset).

So, yes, the administration did a horrible job of (a) explaining what it’s doing and why and (b) consulting with people that might disagree with that choice. And, yes, that decision-making style sucks eggs. But since for just this once the Khayat-Staton-Boone group has reached a decision that I agree with on the merits, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the show while (at least some of) the opposition make complete fools of themselves in response.

SEC Week 3 prognostications (and Week 2 recap)

Well, time for me to admit shame... and then promptly go on to produce _more_ bad predictions. On to the self-loathing:
Ole Miss [1-0/1-0] 24, MEMPHIS [1-0] 21
Congrats to Memphis, Danny Wimprine, Tommy West and Joe Lee Dunn for putting it to a Rebel squad that still has to prove it can play four quarters. The Rebels were clicking in the second half, but the failed TD bomb from Eli really sucked all of the life out of the team and the Rebel secondary got burned badly in response.

Blaming Cutcliffe for the loss is probably too simplistic, but after three years of playing like he still has a running threat in the backfield instead of capitalizing on Manning's strengths it's quite appropriate as well.

Virginia [1-0] 35, SOUTH CAROLINA [1-0] 27
SC really showed up for this one, much to my astonishment.
GEORGIA [1-0] 38, Middle Tenn. State [0-1] 17
At least I got something right, although MTSU didn't play as tough as I'd have expected. Distinctly possible that Georgia is underrated.
Auburn [0-1] 21, GEORGIA TECH [0-1] 17
The good news for Tommy Tuberville is that there'll already be an opening at Ole Miss once he gets fired...
Marshall [1-0] 24, TENNESSEE [1-0] 17
Marshall played UT close, but the MAC beat up on other Big Six competition instead.
ARKANSAS [0-0] 42, Tulsa [0-1] 14
VANDERBILT [0-1/0-1] 31, UT-Chattanooga [0-1] 14
Are the 'Dores legit? Maybe if they played in the Sunbelt.
Oklahoma [1-0] 35, ALABAMA [1-0] 17
On the plus side for Bama, they actually played with heart. Not that it mattered in the final outcome...
KENTUCKY [0-1] 35, Murray State [1-0] 10
Well, at least I can predict the games against I-AA opposition...
MIAMI (Fla.) [1-0] 49, Florida [1-0] 21
Florida played much better than I'd have expected, but ex-Gator Brock Berlin led a 28-unanswered-point rally against the Gator defense in the second half. Ouch.
ARIZONA [1-0] 21, Louisiana State [1-0] 17
The Bayou Bengals looked legit out in Tucson. But can they look legit when the Georgia Bulldogs come calling at the end of the Net month?

Net result: nada, since no SEC games were played. Ole Miss still (absurdly) leads the conference on the basis of its 3-point win over Vandy in August. However, now we have some SEC football to shake things up a bit...

This week's picks (home in CAPS, TV and record in brackets, in kickoff order):

TEXAS [1-0] 31, Arkansas [1-0] 17 [ABC]: The old SWAC foes face off in Austin. Arkansas may be competitive in the SEC West, but UT-Austin is likely to wipe the floor with them unless Arkansas can stop UT's offense.

VANDERBILT 17 [1-1/0-1], Auburn [0-2] 16 [JP/GamePlan]: One of the SEC's many Harvards of the South faces off against another Harvard of the South. Vandy has already proved it can win a football game and hang with an SEC foe; Auburn has done neither. Auburn loses as a result of Tuberville going for two; trickeration won't save Tommy now... SEC upset special of the week, except it's probably not really an upset at this point.

GEORGIA [2-0] 35, South Carolina [2-0] 24 [CBS]: The good news for Lou Holtz is that USC has looked very good so far. The bad news is that Georgia has looked even better. The winner gets bragging rights in the SEC East, at least for a week.

FLORIDA [1-1] 62, Florida A&M [1-1] 3: A first meeting between A&M and the Gainesville squad turns out more-or-less like A&M's meetings with FSU turn out... very badly for A&M.

OLE MISS [1-1/1-0] 42, Louisiana-Lafayette [0-2] 7: The Rebels take out their frustrations on one of the many University of Louisiana schools, and in the process prove exactly nothing about how they're likely to play when Texas Tech comes to Oxford on September 27.

ALABAMA [1-1] 31, Kentucky [1-1] 20 [ESPN]: Kentucky isn't Oklahoma, but they do give Bama some problems on the way to Mike Shula's first win in Tuscaloosa.

LOUISIANA STATE [2-0] 65, Western Illinois [2-0] 14: Welcome to Death Valley. (WIU is currently ranked #1 in Division I-AA.)

TULANE [1-1] 56, Mississippi State [0-1] 54 (6 OT): Former SEC member meets ought-to-be-former SEC member in a showdown in front of six people at the Louisiana Superdome.

And that, as they say, is the way it is.

Happy blogiversary, Dan!

Dan Drezner’s blog is a year old today. Congratulations and many, many happy returns!

Thursday, 11 September 2003

More polling

Daniel Drezner has the scoop on a poll of Californians conducted by Knowledge Networks on behalf of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from August 28 through September 8 that finds Arnold Schwarzenegger in a commanding lead and the recall with 62% support, contrary to many polls that show Bustamante in the lead and the recall question in a dead heat. One possible explanation for the difference:

The Stanford/Knowledge Networks survey is the first to ask voters to choose from the same list of 135 candidates that they will see on election day. Previous polls have restricted voters’ choices to the top candidates and have allowed respondents to select “undecided” or similar options.

If this methodological difference alone* makes that large a shift in the results—and there is fairly good reason to believe that it does—then there’s good reason to believe that the existing polling is flawed, since this methodology more accurately reflects the balloting environment.

Meanwhile, SacBee columnist Daniel Weintraub thinks a Schwarzennegger-McClintock detente may be in the offing.

Robert of Boomshock has some thoughts on the meaning of the poll as well. As for Knowledge Networks’ methodology, I recommend this page which explains how their panel works; it's pretty dissimilar from Harris Interactive’s approach. KN in general has some pretty smart people on board (as, for that matter, does HI) who’ve put a lot of thought in how to make Internet-based surveys representative.


I think Michele and Dean have it covered.

Me? I’m going to try to do a bunch of things that would piss Osama off. That is, if he wasn’t worm food already (even those bozos in Lebanon who kidnapped hostages back in the 80s knew how to get newspapers to prove the video was recent). Among them:

  • Go to work.
  • Eat some pork products.
  • Watch some college football.
  • Work on my dissertation.
  • Live.

One thing I won’t be doing: this:

A vigil, sponsored by the UM Activist Coalition, will also be at 6:15 p.m. on the porch of the Croft Institute for International Studies building.

“It will mostly be a silent-type vigil,” Greg Johnson, member of the coalition and blues curator, said. “It's just in honor of all those who died on Sept. 11 and all those who died in resulting policies that have occurred.” [emphasis mine]

Following the vigil, a panel discussion, co-hosted by UMAC and the Croft Institute, will explore “September 11: Two Years Later. What has Changed – where do we go from here?”

Moderated by executive director of the Croft Institute, Michael Metcalf, the panel discussion will include Nirit Ben-Ari, an Israeli peace activist, Omar Bada, a Palestinian peace activist and UM economics professor Katsuaki Terasawa.

(a) What in the fuck do Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have to do with 9/11? I honestly could give so little of a shit about people who celebrated in the streets when they learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. (b) I’m not participating in any vigil in honor of the Taliban and Ba’ath Party (two groups many of whose members who have—most deservedly—died as a result of said “policies”). What an amazing display of questionable taste by Croft to have any involvement in this crapfest.

Wednesday, 10 September 2003

Information gatekeeping

Virginia Postrel points out the absurdity of the FCC’s “equal time” regulations, which apparently extend to forbidding satire of the California governor’s race by Craig Kilborn’s Late Late Show on CBS. No excerpts—just go Read The Whole Thing.

She also reminds us what the War on Terror is actually about:

The fundamental conflict is over whether the systems of limited, non-theocratic, individual-rights-bsed governments that developed over centuries in the West are good or bad.

Just in case Noam Chomsky or Ramsey Clark (or, for that matter, Howard Dean) had confused the issue for you…

Touring SLAC

Christopher Genovese writes about his tour of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center today; it’s definitely worth a read—and not just because the people who pay my salary have experiments running out there.

Lott, liberty, and the pursuit of econometrics

Tim Lambert does a pretty good job demolishing John Lott’s latest evasions; I think the key quote (buried in Lambert’s effort to prove that Lott played games with a table) is here:

Plassmann was kind enough to reply. He conceded that no significant results remain after correcting the coding errors and did not know why Lott had removed the clustering correction [from his Stata .do file]. I also posted my question on the firearmsregprof list (also CC’d to Lott because I am very courteous). No-one there knew of a reason either.

However—accepting that Ayers and Donahue do it right—there’s still the issue of null results. More guns may not mean less crime, but the results clearly show that more guns don’t mean more crime either, and the signs indicate that concluding “more” has less support than concluding “less,” although you’d have to be an idiot to come to either conclusion based on the Ayers and Donahue corrections to Lott’s results (that’s why we call them “not statistically significant”). Then again, “More Guns, No Effect On Crime—Either Way” isn’t a very sexy book title.

More fundamentally, the “null results” return the issue of gun rights back to the realm of philosophy, the area where all rights ought to be debated in the first place. My view is that public policy is, and should be, the subject of empirical debate, while (in general) fundamental rights and liberties should not. An example: even if we proved empirically that 99.9% of coerced confessions were made by people who actually committed crimes, that would not be a valid justification for law enforcement to violate the 4th and 8th amendments to the Constitution.

CalPundit has more. I’ve also clarified that the Ayers and Donahue corrections to Lott’s results are not their results (which I haven’t looked at in any great detail, although I did download their data and stare blankly at the Stata files for a few minutes a few months back when it came out; I do remember them logging everything, which at least proves they learned their stats from economists).

Link via InstaPundit.

In brief

Things that doesn’t merit posts of their own:

  1. Despite my previous complaints about ESPN’s hype machine, I’m finding that Playmakers is actually a pretty good show, despite its obvious handicaps: a completely unsympathetic lead character, a few less-than-stellar performances, and production that at times screams “low budget.” On the plus side, the writing is good, the main storylines are plausible, and there are interesting characters. It ain’t Any Given Sunday or North Dallas Forty by any stretch of the imagination, but as a weekly diversion it isn’t bad.
  2. Yes, the SEC predictions sucked. And, yes, I’ll have more tomorrow, in time for this weekend. A big shout-out to Tommy West and the gang at my undergraduate alma mater for playing their guts out against the Rebels.
  3. In retrospect, I was a bit harsh in my latest Berkeley post. When I get a chance in the coming days, I plan to revisit it.
  4. When thinking of Israel and the Palestinians, one thing that always springs to mind is that old Robert Frost poem: good fences make good neighbors (hardly an original thought, though). My advice, cruel as it may seem, is to put up the security fence, let the Palestinians fight among themselves until they run out of things to kill each other with, and then deal with whoever emerges at the end. The benefit here is that the Israelis don’t have to take the blame for killing Arafat, since he wouldn’t last five minutes in a Palestinian civil war.

Next in this space: I have something to say about Colonel Reb. And it won’t be pretty.

One way to get people to vote

Elections for student body governments are, historically, very low-turnout affairs, for reasons that anyone who’s read the political science literature would predict: it is a low information environment, there are no party labels, and—to top it off—virtually nothing is at stake. With these conditions, it’s a miracle anyone votes in them at all. So the Ole Miss ASB decided to pump up the turnout a bit by adding a non-binding referendum on the future of the school’s mascot, Colonel Reb, to the ballot. And, lo and behold, there was a bump in turnout:

Almost 94 percent of the students who voted Tuesday’s non-binding special opinion poll held by the ASB want to keep Colonel Reb as the school’s athletic mascot.

Of the 1,687 student[s] who participated in the poll only 103 of them favored discarding the mascot, or one in 17 students.

The moral of the story: never underestimate the power of a mascot to get people to vote. But at least two people are taking this election seriously:

Keith Sisson, publisher of The New Standard, and his attorney spent much of Tuesday evening videotaping every move made by the ballot box from the Colonel Reb polling. Sisson also was allowed to place a signed evidence seal over the ballot box to verify to him that the box had not been tampered with.

Mr. Sisson apparently has confused Oxford with Chicago. It’s a common mistake. No word yet on whether the ACLU will be joining a suit on ballot security in this important, nay, crucial election.

Patrick Carver, posting at Southern Conservatives, has a somewhat different take on the poll.

Tuesday, 9 September 2003

Icky PostgreSQL Problems

Well, I spent most of the last two hours diagnosing when this PostgreSQL bug happens, since it just bit us in the butt rather badly. Now hopefully we can get it fixed…

Eugene Volokh on the download tax

Eugene Volokh criticizes a Slate proposal for compulsory licensing of music for sharing on the internet. A tax on recordable media (blank CDs, hard drives, MP3 players, etc.) would be paid to some organization like ASCAP and BMI, which would then distribute the money (minus administrative expenses, of course) to the artists, based on estimated share of downloads.

In return, consumers could freely share music on the internet, without fear of RIAA lawsuits.

Eugene points out how easy it would be to game the system, by any organization able to marshall enough volunteers to download the song over and over. He imagines the NRA recording “Second Amendment Blues”. Loyal NRA members might download the song over and over again in order to increase the NRA’s share of the royalties, with the more technologically sophisticated writing scripts to facilitate this. Other interest groups get in on the game as well. The net result (no pun intended) would be a massive waste of bandwidth, with no real incentive to compose good music.

But as Eugene says, “In the radio context, it’s much harder to play this sort of game—ASCAP and BMI, the royalty collection and distribution bodies, rely on sources of data about sales that aren’t as easy to dramatically throw off.”

So why not use the same sources of data that ASCAP and BMI rely on for distribution of their royalties? As I understand it, ASCAP and BMI rely on the frequency of radio play to determine the share of royalties that an artist will receive, even for those royalties that come from live performance venues and the DAT tax. Why not use frequency of radio play to determine the share of royalties under this new proposed system?

Biting the hand that feeds you

On Monday, the Rebels opened practice to the public, and about 75 people showed up (I would have been among them but got stuck trying to fix a broken Dell Inspiron laptop for a faculty member). One of the “team managers“—a nebulous-sounding title that means nothing to me—wasn’t too pleased about the low turnout:

Team manager Russell Cook was glad that the coaches and staff allowed fans to come watch an open practice. He wasn’t pleased with the turnout.

“I think with a school population of approximately 15,000 students, you think that a few more than 50 or 60 could show up,” Cook said. “A lot of them probably didn’t want to support the team or attend after the loss last week. I think that’s a poor show of support. There are still 10 games left in the season and we still have a great team.

“They come out here every day, hell or high water, and work hard to get better. For people to just give up because of one loss is not the right thing to do.”

Now, maybe there are a few other explanations as to why so few people showed up. For one thing, the only announcement I saw was buried in the back of the Daily Mississippian, and this was a one-off event. And, in general, the football coaches don’t seem to be particularly interested in having students (or anyone else, for that matter) around to watch practice, as is evidenced by the giant opaque screen they put around the practice fields. (Never mind that I can see everything they’re doing from my office window.)

If the Rebel coaches want students to be interested in coming to practice and supporting the team, they should have a regularly-scheduled, free “open practice” session at the stadium, open up the concessions, and maybe even let manageable groups come down to the sidelines or end zone so they can take a look at that fancy new artificial turf we have. They could learn something here from the basketball program, which goes to much greater lengths to drum up fan support.

Sure, fans have to do their part—like showing up for the out-of-conference slate, including this Saturday’s home opener against Louisiana-Monroe. But a more welcoming attitude on the part of the team would be a big help as well.

Monday, 8 September 2003

Tort reform

I got a fax today from a group called Mississippians for Economic Progress (I’d like to meet the Mississippians who oppose economic progress, by the way) who want me to sign a tort reform pledge. The copy of the pledge I got calls for these state law changes (I’ve shortened some of the planks):

  1. Reasonable caps on non-economic damages that may be awarded.
  2. Protection for manufacturers and sellers of products from punitive damages if they have complied with specifically applicable government regulations.
  3. Elimination of joint and several liability.
  4. Additional protections [for retailers and distributors who] sell and distribute products manufactured by others….
  5. Numerous changes… to stop the joining of numerous parties’ claims and forum-shopping.
  6. Prohibition of multiple punitive damage awards for the same conduct.
  7. Greater protection against liability for property owners and businesses for intentional wrongful acts of others on their property.
  8. Enforcement of arbitration agreements.

    I know some libertarians like Radley Balko don’t like tort reform proposals (although often on federalism grounds, which wouldn’t apply to a state-level tort reform bill), but some do. And I’m not generally a huge fan of candidates for public office signing “pledges” (maybe the “Contract with America” turned me off of that idea, back in my more liberal-leaning days). But none of these planks (except possibly #6) seem particularly objectionable. So I guess I’ll have to sit and ponder this one.

    Sunday, 7 September 2003

    Ok, who didn't see this one coming?

    James Joyner links to a WaPo account of just how peachy things are going at the Department of Homeland Security. In short, it’s about as peachy as Antarctica (as opposed to, say, Georgia, which is just crawling with peaches):

    Six months after it was established to protect the nation from terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security is hobbled by money woes, disorganization, turf battles and unsteady support from the White House, and has made only halting progress toward its goals, according to administration officials and independent experts.

    To its (slight) credit, the administration initially resisted calls for this bureaucratic boondoggle to be implemented, which mainly came from Congress’s “Do Something” Party. Who are they? Every politician (Republican, Democrat, or whatever) who, when confronted with a problem, immediately shouts “Do Something” without stopping to think whether or not that Something is actually a good idea. The Do Somethingers brought us every executive branch reorganization since the New Deal, and I’m pretty sure they’re batting an 0-fer in terms of improved bureaucratic effectiveness. (Not that this excuses the administration’s failure to follow through on the reorganization, however.)

    So now the “Do Something” gang has brought us the Transportation Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the PATRIOT Act, which combined have increased national security by exactly bupkiss. I guess that’s why Congress deserves that 4.1% pay raise…

    Taming the blogroll

    Signifying Nothing’s 155-member (and growing) blogroll has simply gotten too long to be manageable. So, rather than cut people, I’ve decided to be fairly meritocratic and just trim the displayed blogroll to the last N hours of updates, where N is currently 36 (and may drop even lower). That cut it down to a slightly-more-manageable 85 entries (as of a few minutes ago).

    The full blogroll can be seen on this version of the page, which looks suspiciously similar to the old front page, and all of the blogs that provide RSS feeds will still appear in the OPML feed. However, this change means that people who don’t ping services like or will just disappear into the ether; Den Beste-land is now off the front page permanently.

    I hope this change will produce a better experience for our readers.

    More Saddam and 9/11

    I know virtually nobody reads my blog, but you saw this AP reporting here six weeks ago. However, something odd struck me in the article:

    President Bush and members of his administration suggested a link between the two [Saddam and 9/11] in the months before the war in Iraq. Claims of possible links have never been proven, however.

    Bush et al. have suggested a direct link between the Hussein regime and al-Qaeda, most famously during Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations earlier in the year. To my knowledge, they have never suggested a direct link between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks (and I’ll gladly link to any credible source that contradicts this statement). Both myths—the mass public’s belief that “Saddam was involved in 9/11” and the leftists’ “Bush said Saddam was involved in 9/11“—seem to persist despite any evidence to support them. The former is explainable as voters using heuristics to fill in the gaps in their knowledge; the latter mostly seems to be a partisan screen connected to the “lefties are smarter than Bush” belief system.

    What’s amazing is that the former belief is widely rejected by political and media elites, but the latter seems to have gained widespread acceptance, to the point the allegation can appear routinely in AP articles without supporting evidence. Yet exactly the same body of evidence underpins both beliefs, and it supports neither conclusion.

    Iraqi rope-a-dope

    This week’s Newsweek has a fairly convincing explanation for why Saddam gravely miscalculated before the war:

    U.S. DEFENSE AND Security sources tell NEWSWEEK that high-ranking former Saddam aides have told U.S. interrogators that Saddam believed the only assault President George W. Bush would ever launch against Iraq was the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used in the former Yugoslavia.

    Or, for that matter, the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used repeatedly against Iraq during the 1990s. Or the same kind of campaign that was waged against al-Qaeda (and unfortunate Sudanese businessmen). Why was he so confident?

    Saddam was also confident that France and Germany would pressure the Americans to retreat from this course, leaving Iraq shaken but Saddam still in power.

    Which, of course, nicely dovetails with Daniel Henninger’s Friday column discussing the Democrats’ foreign policy credibility shortcomings:

    Democrats have been urging “cooperation” and “consultation” for 40 years. Maybe in this election we’ll finally find out what this means. Democrats strongly imply that the mere process of talking with the U.N. or even with an enemy such as North Korea constitutes success. The cardinal Democratic sin in foreign policy is to “alienate our friends.”

    In his announcement address, Sen. Kerry said: “I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations. I believe that was right—but it was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition.” What does this mean? Faced with a real threat to American security, will John Kerry wait, talk and consult, no matter how many months or years it takes until Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are standing with him on the bridge?

    I don’t doubt that a President Kerry or even a President Dean would deploy the U.S. military on relatively modest missions—a Haiti or Liberia, or Somalia. But an Iraq war? A strike and follow-through against North Korea? After Vietnam and no matter that September 11 happened, and no matter what the merits, Mr. Kerry and the others (perhaps excepting Sen. Lieberman), give the impression they would not act, or not act in time. They would consult, specifically with France, Russia, Germany and the U.N. secretary general.

    There is no way to know with certainty whether any of them would act on the scale of the Iraq war on behalf of American security. But Mr. Kerry has usefully raised the issue. It won’t be sufficient to say they would have “done things differently.” The real question is whether they would do it at all.

    No matter how much discussion Washington is willing to engage in with “allies” and “partners,” the fundamental fact remains that Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein are perceived to be less of a threat by most other countries than they are by the United States. Subordinating U.S. security interests to those of less threatened states (or at least countries that think they are less threatened; France and Germany are probably more at risk from attacks by Islamic fundamentalist terror groups than the United States is) is not a sound foreign policy—as the behavior of Saddam Hussein, emboldened by nearly a decade of the U.S. engaging in that sort of foreign policy, clearly demonstrates. In other words, a Saddam that took U.S. threats seriously might actually have been containable.

    OpinionJournal link via Econopundit.

    Virginia and Tony

    Virginia Postrel’s appearance with Tony Snow this afternoon was quite enjoyable. One thing that struck me—in addition to the fact her nail polish matched her blouse again (both were red this time)—was her noticeable (but slight) Southern accent; most Southerners who go on to non-political success in the wider world seem to lose theirs, or perhaps never had them in the first place—an interesting sociological theory worth testing.

    Toilet brushes were discussed, but there were no props on-set.

    Since Dan Drezner has linked to this post (thanks Dan!), perhaps I should post a more extensive reaction. I do think one thing Dan picked up on is that the non-opinion programming on Fox News tends to be more “hard news” oriented than CNN’s; granted, there's considerable fluff on the schedule (hence why it’s wise to switch to Olbermann and the like on MSNBC during primetime), but Brit Hume and Tony Snow more than compensate for it, and there isn’t as much “fairness and balancing” on those shows.

    As for Virginia’s presentation, I think she did a good job, and it seemed like Tony Snow had been well-briefed beforehand, which always helps. I really don’t have too much else to say about it, except that I’m looking forward to reading the book (I have a $20 gift certificate that expires next month, so I’d best order it soon).

    Rationality and taxes

    Steven Taylor of PoliBlog uses rational choice theory as a jumping-off point for a discussion of Tuesday’s tax reform referendum in Alabama. It’s an interesting piece, and it’s a shame that no dead-tree media picked it up for publication.

    Link (now fixed) via James Joyner.

    Connecticut roadgeeks get some love

    The Hartford Courant has an article in today’s edition featuring three Connecticut roadgeeks (Scott Oglesby of Kurumi, Douglas Kerr of, and Owen McCaughey of Nutmeg Roads); if you have some interest in this unusual hobby, it’s probably worth a read (free registration required).

    Bad Headline Day

    The University of Memphis football team beats Ole Miss for the first time since 1994, confounding my co-bloggers prediction, and here’s what the Memphis Commercial Appeal came up with as a headline:

    Great Leap Forward

    Yes, some brilliant headline writer has compared U of M’s 2-0 record (the first time they’ve been 2-0 since 1976!) with Mao Zedong’s disastrous attempt at industrialization from 1958-1960, during which some 30 million people starved to death.

    Is Evanescence a Christian band?

    Ok, this is something that’s been bugging me the past week: someone I ran into at APSA (I forget who) said that Evanescence is a Christian band. I don’t see it. I suppose you could read the lyrics of some of the songs on Fallen that way, but then again you could read “Big Yellow Taxi” as a pro-environmental song too—even though the feeling it engenders in me is to go to the radio station and set fire to all of their copies of the song, which would probably release all sorts of industrial chemicals into the atmosphere. And it hasn’t given me the irresistable urge to go to church or anything. So I’m just very confused.

    Anyway, here’s a Rolling Stone article that didn’t clarify the situation for me in the slightest.

    Saturday, 6 September 2003

    Ranting about Trek

    Mike at Half-Bakered (who I’m glad to see back blogging) has a nice long rant about the current state of Trek, one I’m in general agreement with. However, the casting of Daniel Dae Kim as one of the recurring Marine characters on Enterprise may at least make that storyline salvageable; he’s probably best known in the genre as Lt. Matheson (the first officer who was a telepath) from the underrated Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade.

    "Fiscal conservatism" and the War on Terror

    Today’s flap: Andrew Sullivan said, based on news that federal employment is at its peak since 1990:

    The sheer profligacy of this administration continues to astound. If you’re a fiscal conservative, Howard Dean is beginning to look attractive.

    Matthew Stinson thinks this is hogwash, James Joyner is just bemused, and Alan of Petrified Truth doesn’t think Dean’s record of fiscal conservatism is exactly what it’s cracked up to be (a position I generally agree with). But Matthew’s assertions seem to be a bit clouded by his partisan biases:

    Did Andrew ever stop and think that perhaps the reason why the federal government payroll has gained a million contracted workers is that the government has to pay for the war on terror?

    Either this is a non-sequitor or Matthew is trying to make a giant leap of logic here. The federal government payroll has been swelled by non-contract workers due to the War on Terror—the civilians who used to handle baggage screening, for example, are now federal employees working for the Transportation Security Agency. Surely there are some contract jobs are related to defense spending, but not all of them are; the WaPo account says:

    Instead, much of the surge is attributable to increases in anti-terrorism efforts and defense spending, which accounted for 500,000 of the new jobs, the study found.

    So 50% of the jobs have nothing to do with defense or homeland security. That’s not a very good number if you’re trying to defend the growth of government under Bush 43, and the sort of thing likely to contribute to the general discontent with the administration from Republicans and Republican-leaning libertarians that Dan Drezner noted yesterday in his blog.

    Now, you can certainly quibble with the measurement in the Brookings study: does every professor—and associated research assistants—whose research is supported by a grant from DoE or NSF count as a “federal employee”? Do the contractors who construct federal-aid highways count? How about state and local employees—and private-sector workers—whose jobs are partially paid for by federal money, or whose jobs wouldn’t exist without federal laws (which would drag in hundreds of thousands of private-sector workers who monitor corporate compliance with federal mandates)? And, certainly, the population has risen substantially since 1990, so as a percentage of the total workforce government isn’t as big an employer as it was in 1990, even by the Brookings methodology. But for someone alleging he’s going to cut government, Bush sure has a funny way of doing it.

    Friday, 5 September 2003

    SEC Week 2 prognostications

    I started doing these a couple of seasons ago for a mailing list I subscribe to; now, since I have a blog, I’ll be posting them here too…

    Yes, they’re back… the worst game predictions on earth. (Sorry, last week kinda snuck up on me.) No SEC games this week, so Ole Miss is still in the bizarre position of leading the conference by virtue of its early opener against Vandy. On to the predictions… home team in caps; record and TV in brackets. Listed in order of kickoff.

    • Ole Miss [1-0/1-0] 24, MEMPHIS [1-0] 21 [ESPN2]: Ole Miss travels by bus this week to face a longtime foe on the road that cares more about the rivalry than the Rebels do. The home team is, by all accounts, much improved over last year’s disappointing squad and is beginning to gel under its relatively-new head coach. However, it will be home-away-from-home for the Rebels, as the stadium will be a sea of red. And, in the end, despite the Rebels’ continued lack of a running game, the opponent’s QB will be outmatched by Manning and some creative defense.

      Of course, this exactly the same description I could have written about last week’s Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game in Nashville. Hence, I predict exactly the same outcome, although I don’t expect the need for late heroics by Jonathan Nichols this week. Field conditions in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Oven will no doubt be unpleasant; if you have a line on heatstroke deaths, take the “over.”

    • Virginia [1-0] 35, SOUTH CAROLINA [1-0] 27 [JP]: I know nothing about either of these teams, but this seems as good a guess as any. A seven-point win over Lousiana-Lafayette doesn’t inspire confidence in Carolina’s likely performance against Big Six competition.

    • GEORGIA [1-0] 38, Middle Tenn. State [0-1] 17: Despite a record of competing fairly solidly against SEC competition, MTSU falters down the stretch against Georgia’s ball-control offense.

    • Auburn [0-1] 21, GEORGIA TECH [0-1] 17 [ABC regional]: Two early-season disappointments meet in downtown Atlanta. I back Auburn on a coin-flip, since they lost to better opposition.

    • Marshall [1-0] 24, TENNESSEE [1-0] 17 [ESPN2]: The MAC gets its big chance to prove it can play with the big boys. Against an overrated UT squad, they might actually pull it off. Upset special alert.

    • ARKANSAS [0-0] 42, Tulsa [0-1] 14: It won't be the most exciting game in the universe, but Arkansas cruises in its opener. Ex-SWAC foe Texas next week will be more of a challenge.

    • VANDERBILT [0-1/0-1] 31, UT-Chattanooga [0-1] 14: If Vandy plays like they did against Ole Miss last week, they should pound UTC. However, if Vandy plays like they play against every other team, this one could be close.

    • Oklahoma [1-0] 35, ALABAMA [1-0] 17 [ESPN]: The Sooners come into Tuscaloosa for the Tide’s real home opener. However, this isn’t your father’s Bama team, and Mike Shula isn’t the Bear. Or even Jack Nicklaus, for that matter. The Crimson Tide’s tune-up against USF’s barely-I-A squad isn't much of a leading indicator; this will be the big indicator of whether Alabama is going places or just sulking. My money’s on the latter.

    • KENTUCKY [0-1] 35, Murray State [1-0] 10: I-AA Murray State drives most of the way across the state to get pounded in Lexington for the Wildcats’ home opener, then faces a long drive back. Pretty scenery though.

    • MIAMI (Fla.) [1-0] 49, Florida [1-0] 21 [ABC]:’s hit counter explodes by half-time as Brock Berlin dismantles Ron’s NFL-depleted team, picking up where Ken Dorsey left off. But at least last week Zook put up Spurrier numbers…

    • ARIZONA [1-0] 21, Louisiana State [1-0] 17 [TBS]: A close game that would probably go the other way if it were played under the lights in muggy Red Stick, rather than the dry desert heat.

    • MISSISSIPPI STATE [0-1] 1, MSU Scout Team 0 (by forfeit): Kevin “I can get you a deal on snow tires” Fant and Jackie Sherill lick their wounds down in Starkvegas after losing to Oregon and having their retinas damaged by Oregon's hideous unis. State had better get some wins now before the Bayou Bengals come calling September 27.

    As always: remember, kids, these picks are just for fun. So no wagering!

    Agenda-setting: the power of the Times

    Why do Virginia Postrel and Glenn Reynolds suddenly care about the two-week Memphis blackout in late July and early August? Simple: the New York Times had an op-ed about it.

    (Virginia’s reaction is common. I got stares of disbelief when I told people in Ann Arbor about the Memphis power outage when the Great Northeast Blackout hit the town. “Surely we would have heard about this,” was the common refrain.)

    Of course, Signifying Nothing readers knew about it at the time, even though half of SN (Brock) was offline due to the power outage and the other half (i.e. me) was 750 miles away.

    On the way to losing my vote

    Until today, I was pretty sure who I was planning to vote for in Mississippi’s governor’s race. Now, after last night’s semi-debate here at Ole Miss, I’m not so sure:

    [Musgrove] also said Barbour worked vigorously in his 20 years at the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm he helped found, in support of policies that hurt Mississippi. He said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were “terrible policy” that sent 41,000 Mississippi manufacturing jobs to Mexico. “He wasn’t here to see the devastation brought on by NAFTA and GATT,” Musgrove said.

    Now it’s true that the governor’s office has next to nothing to do with free trade. However, backwards, protectionist thinking on trade is about the last thing Mississippi needs in the governor’s office—especially since, without GATT (which actually predates Haley Barbour by several decades) and the WTO, we probably wouldn’t have the Nissan plant near Canton that Musgrove regularly touts on the campaign trail.

    Granted, I haven’t been very impressed by Barbour either so far, but coupled with both candidates’ absurd posturing over the Ten Commandments monument (apparently, in their world, Montgomery is now in Mississippi)—silliness I would have thought Musgrove would be above—I’m going to have to move firmly back into the “undecided” column.

    What's wrong with the filibuster (and the judiciary)

    Randy Barnett, one of the burgeoning field of Volokh conspirators, links to a Larry Solum post that explains what’s fundamentally wrong with the filibuster as currently constituted:

    The contemporary filibuster is a polite affair. Charles Schumer does not talk through the night, bleary eyed and exhausted. Why not? Couldn’t the filibuster be broken if the Republicans forced the Democrats to go 24/7? No. Because the 24/7 option actually gives an advantage to the minority. Why? In order to force a 24/7 filibuster, the majority must maintain a quorum at all times, but the minority need only have one Senator present to maintain the filibuster. So 24/7 both exhausts and distracts the majority, while allowing the minority the opportunity to rest and carry on their ordinary business. [Emphasis added.] No modern filibuster has been broken by the 24/7 option. For more on this, see my post entitled Update on Filibusters.

    Putting the onus on the filibustering party to sustain the filibuster would be a reasonable, fair reform to the rule, much more so than other proposed reforms (adjusting the number of senators required or reducing the scope of what floor actions can be filibustered). And Larry is not very optimistic about what happens now:

    But is it too late? Have we moved so far down the spiral [of] politicization that it is impossible to turn back? At this stage in the game, it seems unlikely that Democrats would trust a Republican nominee who presented herself as committeed to the rule of law. And given the Republican perception that the Democrats have unfairly escalated the confirmation wars, it seems unlikely that Republicans will forgo the opportunity to attempt to find confirmable candidates for judicial office who are committed to the political agenda of the right. Charles Schumer rang the bell and its peel has been heard far and wide. Both sides now seem committed to a judicial selection process that concieves of the federal judiciary as the third political branch. Not the least dangersous branch, but the most dangerous branch. The branch that carries out a political agenda with the security of life tenure and the power of final decision about Constitutional questions. Can that bell be unrung? I wish that I could say “yes” with confidence, but alas, I cannot.

    Is the politicized judiciary anything new? Scholars have debated that question for the past thirty years, with very mixed results. But certainly the willingness of both parties to use the courts as a vehicle for their partisan agendas has increased in the past two decades. And, ultimately, the electorate (or perhaps a few senators who are more concerned about the institution than their own careers, a dying breed by any measure) will have to settle the argument by giving one side the sixty senators it needs to either fix or abolish the filibuster, as the current situation is likely to get far worse before it gets better.

    Hit trolling for dummies

    Dan Drezner appears to be very desparate to get people to visit his spiffy new* Movable Type-powered site. Case in point? This post about Britney Spears’ apparent unconditional support for the Bush administration. Quoth Britney:

    [Bow-tied geek that fits CNN’s definition of “conservative” Tucker] Carlson then steered the interview to politics, asking Spears if she’d supported the war in Iraq. Spears answered, “Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that.” She declared that she trusts President Bush, but when asked about the president’s political future, Spears told Carlson that she doesn’t know if he’ll get re-elected.

    Then again, in an industry where your level of political sophistication is apparently measured by whether or not you wear a T-shirt that reads F.U.T.K. and how many times you praise Michael Moore’s latest film, I can’t say this attitude is particularly disturbing. At least she didn’t say she was embarassed to be from the same state as Mary Landrieu and Eli Manning. Them’s fighting words.

    LSblog 0.7.1

    Since Brock asked nicely, I’ve wrapped up version 0.7.1 of LSblog in a tarball. As always, if it breaks, both pieces are yours. This version is still Python 2.2-friendly (I think), but works unmodified under Python 2.3 without icky DeprecationWarning messages.

    In addition to Python, it requires PostgreSQL and the PsycoPG database adapter; also, a few bits haven’t been ported to the CGI backend yet (the cookie setting stuff is the main oversight), so Apache 2.x’s mod_python will probably also be nice. Actually, it also needs CGI because I haven’t been bothered to port the trackback script to add mod_python support. And you’ll probably want to set up cron jobs to run and (optionally), just for entertainment value.

    Thursday, 4 September 2003

    Porting to GNOME2

    I’ve been pulling my hair out porting my positively ancient RoutePlanner program from GNOME 1 to GNOME 2 and trying to do it the “right” way—eschewing the old, working (but deprecated), humanly-comprehensible GtkCList widget for GtkTreeView [sic] and its friends. Actually, I would have stuck with GtkCList, but apparently the automated Glade conversion script decided to convert all of my widgets to use GtkTreeView. Damn annoying.

    No doubt all this abstraction (separating the list into column view, overall view, iterator, storage, and selection objects) is a wonderful idea on paper, but in practice it’s a recipe for a giant headache, especially when trying to translate between the mostly-complete C API documentation and the virtually-undocumented Python API.

    ESPN's shameless self-plugging

    I’m starting to wonder whether SportsCenter is a sports highlights show or merely a daily hour-long infomercial for their new drama series, Playmakers. Over the past two weeks, several segments have basically been undisguised promos for Playmakers and its “realism,” to the point that former (and now-deceased) Ole Miss defender Chuckie Mullins, paralyzed on the field like one of the characters in the series, was dragged out of the grave as evidence of the program’s “ripped from the headlines” approach to the game—despite its lengthy disclaimer that alleges that the program isn’t simply a Tim Green book with the ISBN number filed off.

    If the drafting of SportsCenter into the self-promotion campaign wasn’t enough, both Bob “I wish I was as famous as Berman” Ley and Jeremy “Not my dad” Schapp’s “serious” newsmagazine Outside the Lines was dragged into the plug-fest, including a 30-second promo for the show read by Schapp in one of those “I wish I wasn’t here” voices.

    Disney’s use of its airwaves during “news” programming to promote its other properties (starting with ABC, and now increasingly on ESPN) is becoming egregious to the point of resembling the behavior of affiliates desparate for “tie-in” stories on the late news. My advice would be to quit while they still have some news credibility left.

    Tuesday, 2 September 2003

    Election blogging

    One of the things I’ve promised myself to do this fall is to blog a bit about Mississippi’s off-year elections, particularly the down-ballot races that aren’t attracting much attention—in or out of the state.

    However, one of the more fascinating races—and one that promises to have a high profile—is the Lieutenant Governor’s race, featuring Democrat-turned-Republican Amy Tuck and Democrat Barbara Blackmon. Blackmon, if elected, would be the first black woman elected to a statewide office in Mississippi history.

    As for Tuck, she’s quite the polarizing figure. You can tell you’re not a very popular Democrat when the teacher’s union endorses your Republican opponent (as happened in the 1999 race, when then-Democrat Tuck was running against Bill Hawes). And you’re not a very popular Republican when the nicest thing that Scipio, a self-confessed member of the VRWC, writes about you reads as follows:

    This woman is a menace. She should not be in public office, much less free on the streets. She’s a party-jumping hack, a publicity hound and morally bankrupt imbecile, which I suppose makes her no different than most Mississippi politicians, but entirely different from the average Mississippi voter. Why, dear God, do we keep electing the same damn poster children for forced infant exposure year after year?

    Well, when our choice is between Democrats and warmed-over Democrat-leftovers, what can you expect voters to do?

    Link via Patrick Carver.

    Monday, 1 September 2003

    Back(ish) from APSA

    I’m back in Memphis after returning from APSA in Philly yesterday afternoon, and will be heading back to Oxford sometime today. A few odds and ends:

    • Dan Drezner (the only fellow blogger I knowingly ran into at the conference) has some choice quotes from attendees (none of which I can take credit for) and a modest proposal for a new organized section; Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber compares the APSA experience with science fiction conferences; and Laura McK notes that political scientists don’t talk much about politics:
      One truly amazing aspect of the political science conference is the lack of interest in real politics. You would expect political scientists would live and breathe current events. They should sit around arguing whether or not it's time to get out of Iraq, the merits of the Dean campaign, and the state of the deficit, but no, they don't. For academics, politics has to be discussed years after the events and with clinical coldness. They only touch politics with sterile rubber gloves.

      For what it’s worth, I did have a (not-very-sober) discussion about the prospects of the Dean campaign with my roommate and two Oklahoma grad students, reiterating my belief that due to the electoral rules in place and the lack of a consensus candidate backed by the party establishment it’s Dean’s campaign to lose.

    • Five hours is far too long to sit in a single bar. But it was worth it to see Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt, in their typical, lacksadaisical fashion.
    • Somehow I ended up with a pair of my hotel roommate’s pants. I’d keep them except they don’t fit (as a pair, we sort of resemble Laurel and Hardy).
    • Most of the Ole Miss political science department would have been wiped out had our Northwest flight (nonstop from Philly to Memphis) crashed on Sunday.
    • Now that I’ve told half the discipline that my dissertation will be done by the end of the month, I guess that means it’s time for me to start cracking!