Friday, 31 October 2003

Quickie SEC football thoughts (Nov. 1)

Quite a yawner of a weekend ahead in the conference, except the Ole Miss-USC and Florida-Georgia games. Since I went 6-0 last week, I’ll try this format again…

  • OLE MISS over South Carolina. Apparently it’s trendy to pick the Gamecocks for the upset, but I just don’t see it.
  • AUBURN over Louisiana-Monroe. I think…
  • Florida over Georgia (in Jacksonville). It’s the trendy pick, but I think it’s right.
  • TENNESSEE over Duke. The official “duh” pick of the week.
  • Arkansas over KENTUCKY. Not really sure why; the Sagarin ratings at least agree with me.
  • LOUSIANA STATE over Louisiana Tech. Unless the Tech team that beat Michigan State (Nick Saban’s old squad) comes calling, that is…

Next week, things get a little more interesting as the Rebels travel to Auburn and UT takes a trip to Coral Gables to face now-#2 Miami.

Comments, partisanship, and blog tolerability

Robert Garcia Tagorda (Boomshock), in response to Matthew Yglesias, tries to figure out why he prefers InstaPundit to Atrios, in comparison to Matt’s stated reason why he prefers Atrios to Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit):

Quoth Matthew (via Robert):

Now Josh [Chafetz] is right, Atrios isn’t exactly your source for civil discourse. On the other hand, neither is InstaPundit which Josh doesn’t seem to mind so much and which earns a permalink on his sidebar. Let me suggest that the problem Josh has with Atrios has less to do with civility than with the fact that they disagree regarding the main subjects of Josh’s interests. Personally, I like Atrios a great deal, though he’s uncivil, and I like InstaPundit a little, too, though he’s also uncivil. The secret here is that I agree with Atrios about most things, and I agree with Glenn Reynolds about a few things.

Robert argues there’s another reason:

But Matt overlooks one thing: partisanship. Atrios and Glenn both have biases, but the former’s confrontational style comes under the Democratic banner. ...

Partisanship gives things a different twist. It exacerbates ideological biases, because it introduces an element of “us-versus-them.” It’s much harder to debate somebody who fights not simply for a set of principles and ideas but also for a particular team. Partisanship, in and of itself, is not necessarily reprehensible. However, when you fuse it with an in-your-face attitude, as Atrios does, the entire package becomes very hard to consume.

I think there’s a third reason: Glenn doesn’t have comments. A lot of people seem to like comment sections on blogs—and sometimes they do add some value. But if you go to a site like Atrios, CalPundit, Balloon Juice, or LGF, you’ll find that the comments are generally filled with two groups: the trolls and the “amen corner.” And I think comment sections are just naturally polarizing that way; I’ve caught myself trolling at times, even though generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of trolls. Occasionally a comment thread does add a lot of value—indeed, if it weren’t for that occasional value, I’d probably never bother reading the comments at some of these sites (well, CalPundit and Balloon Juice; I don’t read either Atrios or LGF), and I’d probably enjoy the experience of reading them more on balance.

Now, I realize I probably open myself up to a charge of hypocrisy here; after all, I often post in other peoples’ comment sections. 95% of the time, it’s because I just don’t feel like what I have to say is worth a proper post here at SN, or you’d need the context of the original comment thread to understand it anyway.

All this, I suppose, is a long-winded way of saying “don’t expect a comments section here anytime soon.” But, if you have posted something relevant to something I’ve said, feel free to use the TrackBack feature to let SN’s readers—and me—know. If you don’t use a TrackBack-capable blogging tool, you can use the linked manual trackback form; thanks to Kevin of Wizbang for that.

Glenn Reynolds weighs in.

More charts and graphs

For those who are interested in such things, here’s a new graph from my dissertation. More on this topic soon…


David Bernstein is happy Charles Pickering’s nomination went down in flames today; Matthew Stinson isn’t. I said my piece on the topic in June, but I’ll repeat it here:

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

Or, as Matthew puts it:

There’s no principle in opposing Pickering’s nomination, simply partisanship. Democrats invent the Pickering-as-racist bogeyman charge because it’s a much better story than them saying that Pickering is “unfit” to be a judge simply because he’s a Republican.

Now—unlike Matthew—I don’t particularly care if Pickering becomes a judge or not. But if Democrats continue to play games with the filibuster, they’re either going to find the shoe on the other foot (do you honestly see Orrin Hatch rolling over for Howie Dean when he tries to put Stephen Reinhardt on the Supreme Court?) or themselves out their last real weapon against Republican hegemony—because I guarantee you that if the Republicans can scrape together sixty Senate seats, the filibuster as we know it will be gone from the Senate rules faster than you can say “Jim Jeffords’ office is a converted broomcloset.”

Scipio, at The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, blames Trent Lott for the whole debacle. Yeah, that’s about right…

Thursday, 30 October 2003

Speeding and politicians

Brock is stumped by the fact that politicians get a lot of speeding tickets but don’t get in a lot of accidents. I don’t find that entirely confusing, as politicians probably drive a lot more than the average person—going back and forth to the state capital, for example—and do more of that driving on safer roads—like interstates—than the average person does (the highest accident rates are typically on two-lane roads). Since interstates are both safer and more heavily patrolled than other roads, people who use them are likely to both have more speeding tickets and less accidents than the average person.

Politicians and driving

According to this CNNMoney story, politicians as a profession are some of the worst drivers, and some of the best drivers, depending on how you measure driving ability. Politicians rank in the top five professions by number of speeding tickets, but in the bottom five professions by number of accidents.

A few days ago, I came up with plausible explanations for the fact that December is the worst month for falling deaths, and November the worst month for shooting deaths.

But this one has me stumped.

Agenda-setting at Fox News

CalPundit is shocked, simply shocked to learn that the people who run Fox News send out a daily memo on how each day’s stories will be covered. Of course, the print media don’t need similar memos; that’s why they have these mysterious people called “editors” who read and edit everything before it goes into print.

In other shocking news, I hear that some media outlets use “focus groups” to help select news anchors, rather than simply hiring the best-qualified journalists for the job.

What they said

Steven Taylor, here and here, and Matthew Stinson both do me the favor of explaining why I’m not a huge fan of the Stars and Bars Southern Cross. Steven says it far more eloquently than I could:

My question to those who are adamantly in favor of the flag: why? What does it uniquely mean to you about your Southern heritage? And even if it means something dear to your heart, isn’t whatever it is you wish to extol being tainted by what the flag signifies to others?

I think a lot of white Southerners do, deep down, recognize that; hence why I often hear comments like “the blacks are just pretending they’re offended by the flag” or “I know one black guy who isn’t offended, so I really don’t think blacks in general are.” So I think the key to change here is not necessarily to get whites to change their views about the flag, but rather to convince them that blacks’ views on the flag are genuinely-held, rather than a fabrication of the NAACP and the SCLC and professional race-baiters like Al Sharpton.

Meanwhile, if you’re not entirely sick of the gubernatorial campaign, you can read this Emily Wagster Pettus piece on the Rebel flag’s role in the gubernatorial race. And, as a special bonus, Amy Tuck finally signed that affidavit saying she’d never had an abortion (no, don’t ask… I don’t even pretend to understand what that’s all about).

Less portable, more potable

I normally don’t bother with announcing blogroll changes or additions, but I have to make an exception for Matt’s spiffy new Movable Type-powered site®. Très slick.

The downside is that those of you with alpha-blogroll switched on will have to scroll down to visit him in the future, since he’s forfeited his lead positon in the sort order to Michele. (How do you switch on—or off—alpha-blogroll? Simply visit the handy-dandy config page where you can also set your timezone and preferred stylesheet.)

Final gubernatorial thoughts

Mississippi goes to the polls in six days to elect a governor. And, if we’re really lucky, the people—not the House of Representatives—will elect this one.

On the issues I personally care about, the candidates are about indistinguishable. As Sid Salter points out, Ronnie Musgrove is essentially running—at least in white precincts—as a Republican who accidentally got the Democratic nomination. Maybe that’s just as well; for better or worse, there aren’t many Mississippians who share my, dare I say extremist, views on personal and economic liberty. There just aren’t that many Mississippians who are pro-choice (never mind that you can’t get a legal abortion in this state outside of Jackson, making the abortion issue essentially moot), pro-gay marriage, anti-Stars and Bars, and against burdensome economic regulations (like the absurd situation that has essentially shut down the distribution of wine and liquor in the state because our state liquor monopoly can’t make its computers work right). I’d worry if the major parties thought they could run a candidate who would appeal to me.

Ironically, if Ronnie Musgrove lived up to the reputation his detractors pinned on him, I might actually be tempted to vote for him. The truth of the matter, though, is that Musgrove barely lifted a finger to promote the new flag; he endorsed it and then went into virtual hiding until the referendum went down in flames in April 2001. Don’t get me wrong—I think the referendum was doomed to failure no matter how much effort was put into backing it. And I recognize that the referendum was largely engineered to forestall the initiative drive to amend the constitution to make the current flag virtually unalterable—an option still on the table should the legislature decide to mess with the flag again. But make no mistake: Ronnie Musgrove did no more than was absolutely required to keep his ass from getting grief from the Legislative Black Caucus.

Similarly, if Ronnie Musgrove had so much as lifted a finger to help blacks in this state I might be tempted to vote for him. Now, I understand Ronnie’s going to get 90% of the black vote just for having a (D) next to his name on the ballot. What has he done to deserve it? Turning the health department into a racial fiefdom may have helped some well-connected blacks in Jackson, but it’s hard to see how a sharecropper in the Delta benefited from that.

The bottom line is: Ronnie Musgrove isn’t a liberal, in any sense of the word. He’s only a Democrat because that’s what you needed to be to get elected to the state senate in Panola County. His own press is 100% accurate: “conservative, independent.” He makes 1980s-era Al Gore (not to be confused with the Y2K model) look like a McGovernik. Which is a shame, because you could do worse than 80s Al Gore.

Which brings me to what’s behind Door #2: Haley Barbour. If Musgrove is “conservative, independent,” Barbour is “conservative, conservative.” He is what he is. Those who criticize him for BlackHawkGate seem to miss the point; if Ronnie’s schedule had worked out properly, there’d be matching photos up at the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website: one with Haley’s beaming mug, and another with Ronnie’s right next to it. My general assessment of Barbour is that he’s a cipher as far as what he’d do in office. Oddly enough (for those who stereotype such things), Barbour’s Washington experience makes him by far the more worldly of the two candidates.

And, ultimately, I think that’s what this state needs. If only Nixon could go to China, maybe only someone like Barbour can come back to Mississippi. Someone needs to tell my fellow Mississippians that it ain’t 1962 any more, and that message isn’t going to be well-received coming from a Democrat. I don’t know if Haley Barbour is the man to deliver that message, but I sure as hell know that Ronnie Musgrove isn’t. So for governor, Haley Barbour (R) it is.

In other races:

  • In the battle of the barking moonbats, aka the lieutenant governor’s race, I’ll be voting for Barbara Blackmon (D), mainly because I know she won’t win.
  • For secretary of state, Eric Clark (D/I) because he seems competent enough. Wish he’d do something about all the Java on his pages though…
  • For attorney general, I honestly don’t know.
  • Auditor: Phil Bryant (R/I).
  • Treasurer: Gary Anderson (D).
  • Agriculture commissioner: dunno, don’t care; they’re all State graduates anyway…
  • Insurance commissioner: don’t know.
  • Public service commissioner, northern district: we have a public service commission?
  • Transportation commissioner, northern district: Bill Minor (D).
  • District attorney: I don’t even know which district I’m in. Sigh. Guess I have to figure that out.
  • State senator: Gray Tollison (D)—I think former Oxford mayor Pat Lamar’s a twit. Demerits for his brother running my water company into the ground, though.
  • State representative: some jackass who shares my name (the joy of spending the $15 filing fee to run… priceless).
  • Constitutional amendment #1 (deborking the College Board): no, because I’m in a contrarian mood.
  • County offices: no clue.

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Luskin and Atrios

I thought the only dilemma I was going to be faced with this week was figuring out which side I despised more in the Colonel Reb Foundation versus Richard Barrett dispute (it’s Barrett, by a hair, although I have to give mad props to the Foundation for giving Barrett a new excuse to come to Ole Miss in the first place). Now, however, comes word that Donald Luskin is allegedly siccing a lawyer on Atrios; in this one, I think I have to feel sorry for the lawyer.

They’ve apparently kissed and made up. How sweet…

Trolling for traffic

I probably will have next-to-nothing to say for the next 24 hours too, but I can’t pass up a free chance to swipe some of Kate’s traffic Thursday. There’s a not-so-secret project nearing fruition here at the Oxford branch of SN; that’s all I’m going to say (I don’t want to jinx it…).

IDS jettisoned

CalPundit notes the demise of the inept Iain Duncan-Smith as leader of Britain’s Conservative Party. Four or five years ago I would have recommended Chris Patten for the thankless job of replacing him, but I think he’s since caught Mad Bureaucrat Disease (aka Brussels Spongiform Encephalopathy). Ah well, there’s always Lord Jeffrey Archer—as a convicted pathological liar, he’s well-qualified to be a British political leader.


I’m familiar with “run to the left in the primaries, then to the right once you’ve secured the nomination” as a viable campaign strategy for presidential candidates; however, Howard Dean may be going a bit far, n'est-ce que pas? That is, unless the Klan vote really is the swing vote in the South…

I don’t actually share Sharpton’s view that Dean’s agenda is “anti-black”—at least, it is no more (or less) anti-black than the Democratic agenda at large. Still, I found the story moderately amusing…

Meanwhile, Kate notes that Dean is pandering to the “metrosexual” voting block, a demographic apparently defined as straight men who’ve seen at least one episode of “Queer Eye…” or “Playmakers.”

Tuesday, 28 October 2003

Mailing List Mysteries

Dear Fellow Republican,

You are among a select group of Republicans who have been chosen to take part in the official CENSUS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

How did I get on this mailing list? I’m a registered Democrat fer cryin’ out loud! Most of the money-begging letters I get are from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, and I know the GOP isn't buying mailing lists from them. The only conservative publication I subscribe to is the Wall Street Journal.

I wonder if they'll figure it out when I return the survey, in the postage-paid envelope, with a check for one cent and all the wrong answers checked. “Should small businesses be encouraged to grow and hire more workers?” Umm… “No.” Mwahahaha!

I also can’t figure out how I got on the mailing list for 1-800-JACK-OFF. Perhaps the two are related. Could the GOP be buying their mailing lists from phone sex companies?

Death of the Month Club

Tyler Cowen notes some interesting statistics on the months during which one is most likely to die of a given cause. You’re most likely to die an accidental death in August, and most likely to drown in July.

No surprise on the death by drowning statistic. Several children drown every summer in Memphis when it starts getting hot.

On the other hand, you are most likely to fall to your death during December. Tyler wonders whether that statistic is driven by holiday suicides flinging themselves off buildings and bridges, but I suspect there’s a simpler explanation. December is the month in which people climb up on the roof to hang holiday lights and other decorations.

Tyler doesn’t speculate on November, the month during which you are most likely to be shot. At first I thought maybe this has something to with family arguments over Thanksgiving dinner. But then I remembered: deer season!

An endorsement Musgrove probably didn't want

Sunday’s Memphis Commercial Appeal endorsed Ronnie Musgrove for Mississippi governor. I’m sure that’ll help Musgrove big time in DeSoto County—a county full of people who moved there to escape from the establishment, “let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya” mentality the CA fosters north of the border.

Monday, 27 October 2003

Rebranding as yourself

Insult-the-CA-day continues here at Signifying Nothing as we learn that the Commercial Appeal has decided—stop the presses—to rename its website to Whether this is a concession that the overtly boosterish “” was a bad fit for a city with a massive inferiority complex is left unsaid.

Another "success" in the War on Drugs

Gary Farber points out the latest foreign policy coup—literally—of our one-two punch of drug czar John Walters and attorney general John Ashcroft: the toppling of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada of Bolivia. Maybe if we’re really lucky, his replacement won’t turn out to be a Castro or Chávez. But, I’m not holding my breath…

Texas and Colorado redistricting thoughts

Greg Wythe ( notes a Washington Post account looking at the Texas and Colorado redistricting plans; notably, it quotes a lot of political scientists, instead of the legal scholars that generally appear in these accounts.

Notable quote from the article:

Whatever the answers, Thomas E. Mann, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that the Texas and Colorado experiments in multiple redistricting could have profound political consequences.

“If this is sustained, what we will have is a form of arms race where there is no restraint on keeping the game going on throughout a decade,” Mann said. “You ask, who wins in this process? This is a process designed not for citizens or voters but for politicians. It will lead politicians to say there are no limits. I think it threatens the legitimacy of democracy.”

I think this is the natural consequence of the Supreme Court’s muddled post-Baker jurisprudence: insistence on exact population equality between districts, despite the huge known sampling error of the Census making that equality essentially meaningless; a ridiculous level of deference to partisan gerrymanders coupled with the unclear dictates of the Voting Rights Act and vague, O‘Connoresque prohibitions against racial gerrymanders—which, due to bloc voting by African-Americans, are virtually indistinguishable from partisan gerrymanders; widespread abandonment of any conception of geographic compactness or geographic logic as desirable features for districts; naked partisanship by the federal judiciary; and a general failure to incorporate anything that political scientists who do applied and theoretical research in the field contribute. No wonder it’s a giant playground for political opportunists from both parties.

I still think the only viable way to eliminate this mischief is to incorporate an element of proportional representation into the system—even two or three seats in a state the size of Texas, elected by “top up” proportional representation, would be enough to both undermine the possible benefits of partisan gerrymanders and ensure that incumbent-protection gerrymanders don’t lead to a sclerotic delegation.

Robbing Peter to pay Turley and Belz

The Commercial Appeal on Sunday extracted its head out of the buttocks of the Turley-Belz-Lightman Memphis land-speculation elite just long enough to take a look at the city’s abuse of eminent domain as part of the massive, taxpayer-subsidzed Uptown redevelopment project—a project that wouldn’t exist without said land-speculation elite—near St. Jude. Money graf: a quote from Henry Turley, one-third of the prop-spec Axis of Evil, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the early 20th century “slum clearance” movement:

Henry M. Turley Jr., one of the private developer partners in the Uptown project, said there’s a clear public interest in clearing out blighted areas, and it’s imperative that municipalities use the legal tools available to them. He believes that governments aren’t using eminent domain enough in consolidating tracts large enough for redevelopment.

Collaborating in this shameful exercise are everyone’s favorite Memphians, the Memphis Housing Authority (slogan: “Nobody found guilty of corruption in 7 days!”). Quoth MHA executive director Robert Lipscomb:

Lipscomb said the authority is careful to protect individual property rights while at the same time not unduly enriching those who might try to stall and make a windfall.

Damn straight, Robert; the only people allowed to make a “windfall” in this are Turley and Belz. Heaven forbid any poor bastard who actually had to live in Uptown before the city decided to clear the place out benefits from the exercise.

Sunday, 26 October 2003

Gubernatorial poll

The Clarion-Ledger today has polling data showing Barbour ahead of Musgrove, but in a statistical dead heat. Telling stat:

Experts say Musgrove needs to make inroads among white voters, 25 percent of whom said they’re backing the governor.

Bad prediction:

Musgrove holds another advantage. If neither candidate gets a majority, the election would wind up in the Democratically controlled Mississippi Legislature, just as it did in 1999, [Jackson State political science professor Leslie] McLemore said. “If it goes to the House, Musgrove will win it.”

Actually, if it goes to the House, dollars to donuts says either they elect the plurality winner (even if that means quite a few conservative Democrats have to switch parties) or we have a nice, long period of protracted litigation in federal court that ends with the plurality winner ending up in office anyway.

Portals, op-ed pages, and category-based aggregation

Blogospheric navel-gazing is always a pleasant diversion; today, Dan Drezner looks at the dispute over whether or not “portals” are the way to go for budding bloggers. Dan correctly points out that only a few bloggers can sustain the level of traffic needed to make the “portal” approach worthwhile—and this applies as much to the “techbloggers” as it does to the “warbloggers” that the Ecosystem statistics are biased towards.

I, like Dan, think Will Baude’s comment is worth repeating:

Tyler Cowen thinks that there are so many good blogs out there nowadays that the most widely-read blogs will be those that “cream-skim” (that is, taking the most useful posts from a wide variety of blogs).

Pardon, but an RSS feed can do that. The reason I don’tread Instapundit is that I don’t particularly agree with Glenn Reynolds about what’s wheat and what’s chaff. Look at my blogroll, which contains a number of fairly low-circulation blogs, and you could probably guess that.

I think the value of “portal blogs” will be somewhat reduced when people figure out how to do category-based aggregation (or topic-based aggregation) of RSS feeds—ironically, bringing weblogs closer to the early 1980s topic-based discussion format pioneered on Usenet before much of its value was destroyed by trolls, crapflooding, and spam. Where the portal blogs like Instapundit will still win, however, is in the area of editorial control—separating the wheat from the chaff, to borrow Will’s phrase—by not only saying “this post is on a topic you may be interested in” but also “this post is a good post on that topic.” To some extent you can add some of that control by filtering the aggregated RSS material against a trusted OPML list, but it’s still not quite the same thing as having a human editor.

In the end category-based aggregation (CBA) will not only help end-users, it will also make it easier for portal editors to pick and choose from a wider variety of blogs. I don’t know how many blogs Glenn Reynolds reads a day, and I suspect he gets most of his links to less-well-known blogs from reader submissions. A mere mortal can only read so many blogs, even with an RSS reader. CBA should make it easier for the portal editor (and for everyone else) to scour more of the breadth of the blogosphere for good material, which should be a win for everyone involved—more eyeballs for budding bloggers and higher quality material for the portals.

Saturday, 25 October 2003

Quickie SEC football thoughts

No time for detailed predictions, I’ll just cut to the chase…

  • KENTUCKY over Mississippi State. I might give State the edge in Starkville, but fundamentally the Wildcats are playing better football.
  • GEORGIA over Alabama-Birmingham. Duh.
  • Tennessee over ALABAMA. The Tide haven’t been rolling—they’ve been rolling over. Expect that to continue today in Tuscaloosa, even against an overrated UT squad.
  • OLE MISS over Arkansas. Ground-happy attacks have gotten nowhere against the Rebels this year, and unless Matt Jones has become a much better passer in the past seven days it could be a long night at Vaught-Hemingway for Jones and the Razorbacks.
  • LOUISIANA STATE over Auburn. Should be a classic battle, but in the end I think home field—night in Death Valley—gives LSU the edge here, particularly if Auburn thinks they can get away without a passing game.
  • SOUTH CAROLINA over Vanderbilt. There’s nothing quite like a visit from the Commodores to rejuvenate your spirits after being eliminated from the conference title race.

As always, there’s good stuff at the SEC Fanblog as well.

Friday, 24 October 2003

The USS Liberty

Donald Sensing has an interesting post looking at a Washington Times report that Israel may have deliberately attacked an American naval vessel collecting sigint for the NSA in 1967 during the Six Days War. Donald has some fodder for the conspiracy theorists (slightly Dowdified, since I didn’t want to blockquote all of the post):

In fact, why Israel would want to attack Liberty has been explained. Ariel Sharon, now Israel’s prime minister, commanded an Israeli armored division during the war. ... According to researcher and author James Bamford …, Sharon’s division slaughtered a large number of Egyptian soldiers it had captured as prisoners, clear war crimes. ... The killings were reported to Tel Aviv by radio. ... Bamford makes a very strong case that the Israeli government attacked Liberty in order to sink it, thus destroying the evidence of Sharon’s crime.

Definitely a must-read.

National security credibility

One of the sound-bites being paraded around is on whether particular Democratic candidates are “credible” on national security. The latest iteration of this theme was expressed by Joe Biden, who said:

[T]he candidates have to “demonstrate that they have a foreign policy, a security policy, that is coherent and is grown up, that we can handle the bad things out there in the world.”

But what is credibility? In this voter’s mind, it’s not strictly speaking about Iraq: by my standard, you could be credible but have opposed the war in Iraq. To me, I think credibility boils down to whether or not the candidate believes that other countries get to veto the use of American military power to achieve an objective that is in the national interest. Ultimately, this question—not the war question—is where many of the Democratic candidates lose their credibility with me.

This is not, mind you, a call for blanket unilateralism. When other countries share our objectives, and are willing to cooperate with us in achieving those objectives, we can and should work with them to do so. But when other countries clearly have different objectives than those of the United States—as was the case in the Iraq war, where a number of middle-power states wanted to pursue commercial ties with the Saddam regime and were plainly unwilling to commit their own resources to containing that regime’s ambitions for rearmament and obtaining non-conventional weapons—an American president would be deeply unwise to allow them to decide whether and how American military force should be used.

State election roundup

Lauren Landes, guesting at Patrick Carver’s Ole Miss Conservative blog, notes that Haley Barbour has picked up endorsements from 42 state Democrats, angering the state Democratic Party leadership. The list of Barbour endorsers is here. In general, it looks like a list of has-beens and small fry; notably, no current member of the state House or Senate appears on the list.

Meanwhile, Eric Stringfellow continues to blast Haley Barbour from the pages of the Clarion-Ledger.

Cuba libre

Dan Drezner is mildly in favor of lifting the trade embargo on Cuba. While I think he slightly overestimates how totalitarian the Cuban regime is—I think it’s done a very effective job of brainwashing much of its populace, and it is almost as brutally oppressive toward political dissidents as the North Korean (DPRK) regime, but I don’t think it has as effective a repression apparatus as North Korea has or some of the old Soviet client states (most notably Romania) had, and by all accounts there’s a degree of economic freedom at the margins absent in the DPRK—I agree that simply removing the embargo won’t lead to miraculous political change. However, it will deprive Castro and his Hollywood apologists of their one legitimate grievance against the United States government—and, for that reason alone, the sanctions regime should be removed.

More thoughts on this are at YankeeBlog and OxBlog.

Thursday, 23 October 2003

Forde on the Rebel stretch run

Pat Forde has an interesting piece up at that takes a look at how the Rebels’ season may be shaping up this year; like Forde, I’m cautiously optimistic, and I think this Saturday’s game against Arkansas (6:15 Central on ESPN2) will be a bellweather for the rest of the season.

The virus-free fallacy

Joy approvingly points to a Wall Street Journal piece by Walter Mossberg that starts by saying:

Windows is riddled with security flaws, and new ones turn up regularly. It is increasingly susceptible to all kinds of viruses, malicious Trojan horse programs and spyware. As a result, Windows users have been forced to spend more of their time and money supporting their computers.

Almost every week, they are supposed to install patches to the already patchy operating system to plug these security holes. And every few months, it seems, Windows users must quake in fear as some horrible new virus is created by the international criminal class that constantly targets Windows.

But for consumers and small businesses, there’s a simple way out of this endless morass: Buy an Apple Macintosh computer. There are no viruses on the Macintosh’s excellent two-year-old operating system, called OS X. And the Mac is a terrific computer—as good as, or better than, Windows for the typical computing tasks important to mainstream users.

Now, Mossberg does correctly point out that OS X isn’t completely immune from virii, trojan horses, worms, and the like (sometimes collectively referred to as “malware,” although these days pretty much any “malware” will just be called a “virus” even if it isn’t one). But his argument still rests on a few problems:

  1. The “security through obscurity” fallacy: “In addition, Macs constitute such a tiny share of the world’s computers that they just aren’t an attractive target for virus writers and hackers.” True enough; however, that never stopped people from writing malware for earlier versions of the Mac OS, nor did it stop malware on a plethora of relatively obscure platforms in the past (at its peak, the Amiga probably had more virii going around than PC operating systems of the day, despite a much smaller market share).
  2. “OS X doesn’t enable users—or hackers who hijack user accounts—to alter certain core files and features of its Unix underpinnings.” True enough; however, as OS X users get used to typing their password to gain administrator access (as they are prompted to do with every Apple-sponsored update), social engineering hacks—like fake update prompts—will be easy enough for malware authors to incorporate into their tools.
  3. OS X ships with a lot of software that traces its lineage back to the 1970s Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) of Unix; while some of it has been audited, most notably by the OpenBSD project, some of it has not been. Until the past decade, network security was just not a serious concern of Unix programmers, and there could easily be holes lurking in some of the software included, particularly in server-side applications (which, to Apple’s credit, are normally disabled by default).

OS X, and other Unix-based and Unix-like operating systems like Linux, are no panacea for bad security practices in general. As Microsoft improves the lackluster security of its offerings, it is likely that we will see more problems as the proverbial “honeypot” that is Windows becomes less appealing to hackers.

Speaking of OS X, Mark Pilgrim has a lengthy overview of what’s new in OS X 10.3 (aka Panther).

Wednesday, 22 October 2003

That's one question answered, at least

Warning for those offended by “France-bashing”: the extension of this post contains some.

Two months ago, Daniel Drezner noted the split over whether the European Union is an international organization or a supranational authority among IR scholars (my answer, when asked to provide one when I took an International Organizations course in the Spring of 1999, was “Yes and Yes“), and that upcoming events in France and Germany would help settle that question—in particular, whether those countries would be punished for violating E.U. treaty commitments.

Today, Glenn Reynolds notes that France is getting a free pass for violating the “growth and stability pact” that members of the single European currency agreed to; as Pieter Dorsman at Peaktalk noted yesterday, this isn’t exactly popular with smaller countries like the Netherlands who actually abided by their commitments to the pact.

The new electoral math

Colby Cosh plays Excel number-cruncher and takes a look at the likely electoral impact of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Alliance north of the border. The raw math suggests the new party be able might deprive the Liberals of an overall majority in Parliament (though probably not by enough for the Conservatives to form a government), on the basis of the support for its candidates in past elections when they ran as members of separate parties. Of course, there’s still a campaign to be run, which no doubt will affect the numbers substantially.

Trek blogging

Randy Barnett and Jacob Levy get into an admittedly “Cornerish” discussion of Star Trek in its various forms. My general reactions:

  1. As episodic science-fiction, TNG generally surpasses the original series (TOS), particularly in later seasons as Roddenberry’s obsession with T&A and perfect characters recedes in favor of “modern Trek.”
  2. However, as characters, the TOS cast is more well-rounded than TNG, perhaps in part because the roles were less balanced (the Kirk-Spock-McCoy axis was more prominent, whereas in TNG you have Picard and then everyone else at just a half-step below that level). Worf is really the only character other than Picard who you have a good handle on.
  3. As a series, DS9 wins hands-down, particularly in later seasons, because of the continuous storyline.
  4. Voyager works occasionally at some levels as episodic Trek, but the inevitable “reset button” device often detracts from attempts to take risks, and attempts to assemble a coherent narrative over time are lackluster. On the plus side, Jeri Ryan rises above her puerile skin-tight outfit to create a well-defined character as Seven, and some of the supporting cast create a well-defined set of characters (the Doctor, B‘Elanna, and Tom Paris in particular).
  5. Much of the Voyager critique applies equally to the first two seasons of Enterprise. Arguably, Season 3 Enterprise is closer to what Voyager should have been, but even then there are parts that don’t work. The “Xindi arc” does, in its defense, seem to be better constructed so far than other arc attempts on Trek (other than DS9).

So what would I like to see from Trek? Obviously, more attempts at continuous storylines. They work elsewhere in episodic television, so why not in science fiction? Part of that may just simply be the fault of early TV sci-fi in the U.S.: fare like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, which was inherently episodic. Roddenberry’s innovation in the original series was to bolt this episodic format onto use of the same cast and backstory from week to week, and essentially the same formula has persisted in modern Trek (except on DS9).

The obvious counterpoint in American sci-fi is J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which took the “arc” concept to its ultimate end: a planned-out, epic storyline spanning the life of the series (a recent attempt to do something similar, although perhaps less structured, was Joss Whedon’s Firefly). However, I don’t see Trek going in this direction either.

One place where Trek might learn from is Stargate SG-1. Like Trek, it essentially eschews preplanned storylines. Unlike Trek, however, its episodic format often leaves open ends that can be picked up later, that in retrospect create a continuous storyline. The producers and writers can go back in new episodes and continue any of a dozen storylines from older ones, creating stories that both stand alone and stand together. With relatively few exceptions, Trek hasn’t done this, but it’s something that might work well in the context of Enterprise once they deal with the Xindi threat.

Facts 1, Krugman 0 (by forfeit)

Tom Maguire , Robert Musil, and Dan Drezner are not particularly impressed with Paul Krugman’s latest missive to the readers of The New York Times, in which he defends explains blames George W. Bush for Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s anti-Semitic diatribe in front of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s recent summit.

Dan points out that Mahathir has basically made a career of using anti-Semitic rhetoric to bolster his reign as head of Malaysia’s one-party state*, a career that well-precedes George Bush’s presidency, has generally been chummy with the Bush administration (as Mark Kleiman pointed out a few days ago, rather unhelpfully if you’re trying to defend Krugman’s ignorance of contemporary U.S. foreign policy), and has “no domestic flank to protect” seeing as he’s leaving office in November—although it’s unclear whether Mahathir will continue to pull the strings in Malaysia, as his neighbor Lee Kuan Yew continues to do in Singapore.

Tom, on the other hand, engages in full-scale fisking of Krugman, wondering if Krugman actually read the speech in question. Robert Musil does some fisking of his own, suggesting we could find quite a few alternatives to Mahathir as a “forward-looking” Muslim leader, and isn’t all that impressed by Krugman’s attempt to whitewash Malaysia’s brutal policies imposed on its ethnic Chinese minority as some sort of high-minded affirmative action program.

Boeing ending production of the 757

I’m not a huge aviation buff, but growing up around the Air Force it’s hard not to at least have some passing interest in the topic. Apropos of that, Michael Jennings has a long, informative post about the Boeing 757, which will no longer be produced after 2004.

Also at TransportBlog, Patrick Crozier has a post that attempts to compare the safety records of various jet aircraft. As he notes, the figures are “a bit dodgy because there will be quite a few of the more modern planes that haven't crashed yet.” Or, in econometrician-speak, there’s right-censoring of the survival data. Nonetheless the figures suggest aircraft are getting safer over time, as we’d probably expect (due in part to better materials, more rigorous safety inspections, and improved automation of aircraft).

Movie debate

Daniel Drezner and Roger Simon have been mixing it up over their favorite films.

I’ve had a list of 10 movies sitting on my personal home page for a few years; for sake of comparison, here they are (in semi-random order); all of them made in the past 20 years:

  1. Lone Star (John Sayles) – Examining the secrets of a small Texas town on the Rio Grande.
  2. Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh) – Examining the secrets of some really messed up people in London.
  3. Fargo (Coen Brothers) – A kidnapping gone bad with a very pregnant cop investigating it.
  4. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton and John Cleese) – British lawyer gets involved with a band of jewel thieves.
  5. Blood Simple (Coen Brothers) – Woman gets caught cheating on her goofy husband with an almost-equally goofy guy by a psychotic private investigator.
  6. Exotica (Atom Egoyan) – Canadian tax inspector hangs out at a strip club.
  7. Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell) – English guy with eccentric friends falls in love with gorgeous American woman.
  8. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarentino) – Airline stewardess gets busted for running drug money for Samuel L. Jackson with a goofy beard.
  9. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan) – Canadian lawyer investigates the aftermath of a horrific bus accident, while he deals with demons of his own.
  10. Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan) – World’s weirdest detective (with sidekick who does most of the real work) investigates what happened to a CEO’s keys.

Not a lot of overlap (just one movie) with Dan’s list. If I made a “top 20,” though, I’d probably have Say Anything, Courage Under Fire (which Denzel Washington deserved an Oscar for), Groundhog Day, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan on my list too. Rounding out the 20, I’d have to add Pulp Fiction, Hoop Dreams, Insomina (the original version with Stellan Skaarsgard), The Spanish Prisoner, Out of Sight, and Gattaca. And probably 50 other movies too that should have made the cut. And if I took off the 20-year restriction…

Tuesday, 21 October 2003

Banning genetic discrimination

Alex Tabarrok notes that the Senate has passed, 95-0, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to use a person’s genetic information in hiring or firing. That’s good.

But the bill would also make it illegal for insurance companies to use genetic testing to deny coverage or set premiums. As Alex points out, that’s bad. (I can’t tell from the story whether this applies only to health insurance, or if it applies to life insurance as well.) This can only exacerbate the problem of adverse selection, leading to higher insurance rates for everyone, and pricing more and more people out of the insurance market.

Like Alex and Tyler’s guest-blogger, Lloyd Cohen, I’m skeptical about Alex’s optimistic suggestion that the problem can be solved through “genetic insurance“, which one would purchase before taking a genetic test, and which would cover one’s raised premiums in case one had, e.g., a genetic predisposition toward heart disease. How could the genetic insurance provider be sure that the purchaser had not already taken the genetic test ahead of time, to determine whether it would be worthwhile to purchase the genetic insurance? Again, we have the problem of adverse selection.

Advances in genetic research hold out a great deal of promise for improved health care in the long run, but in the short run they will inevitably lead to a collapse of the insurance market (both life and health) for diseases that have a genetic component. Ultimately, I believe this will force us into a single-payer government-run health system, which can pool risk by making insurance mandatory. Unlike many other liberals, I’m not sure this is a good thing. But good or bad, it appears inevitable.

Update: corrected the permalink to Lloyd Cohen's post.

Inequitable metaphors

Sebastian Holsclaw says that many pro-lifers "muddy the waters of the abortion debate". Those on the pro-choice side, on the other hand, "poison the well of the debate".

Now that’s not fair and balanced, is it?

All snarkiness aside, Sebastian’s new blog, written by an articulate and reasonable conservative, is a welcome addition to the blogosphere. Liberals like me need conservatives like Sebastian to keep us honest.

Voting tech

Tom at Crooked Timber has a good piece on Diebold’s shenanigans with its electronic voting machines. Partsanship aside, I inherently distrust any voting machine that doesn’t keep a paper trail—whether we’re talking about those big old lever-based things that Mayor Daley loved so much or modern touchscreens.

Get this woman a book deal!

Venomous Kate: smarter, classier, and better-looking than Ann Coulter.

How Penn and Teller almost ended apartheid

I kid you not (OK, maybe I kid you a little)… Gary Farber has the scoop.

Transportation commission election

Mississippi is unique among the states in retaining an elected transportation commission. The state is divided into three commission districts, and each district elects a commissioner who serves a four-year term. The retirement of incumbent commissioner Zack Stewart has created a heated race in the northern district, with two major-party nominees vying for the post:

  • Bill Minor, a Democrat from Holly Springs (Marshall County) who has served in the state legislature since 1980, most recently as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
  • John Caldwell, a Republican from Nesbit (DeSoto County) who is a two-term county commissioner.

Minor credits himself with leading the struggle for the passage of the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program, which increased the state gasoline tax to 18.4¢/gal. with the increased revenues dedicated to relocating and widening nearly two thousand miles of state highways. (The 2002 reauthorization of the four-lane program, “Vision 21,” added over a thousand more miles to be constructed or widened in the coming two decades.) Minor’s slogan is “Keep Minor working for Mississippi highways“; a wag might say that Minor could easily keep working on them if he’d stayed in his safe Senate seat. (This Bill Minor may or may not be related to the other Bill Minor who’s a political columnist for the Clarion-Ledger.)

Unfortunately, Caldwell’s site seems to be Flash-driven, and none of my browsers are being very cooperative with Flash today. So I can’t really say much about his campaign.

I don’t think this race is going to be about issues; the public statements by both candidates have generally favored the same things: pursuing (and completing) Vision 21, constructing Interstate 69 through the Delta, and supporting the upgrade of U.S. 78 between Memphis and Birmingham to Interstate 22. One concern that neither candidate seems to have addressed is the state’s rural bridge problem, with a large number of rural bridges on county roads—many constructed in the 1920s and 1930s—beyond their lifespan and in dire need of repair. Another potential concern is that—reading between the lines—many people in the southern part of the state apparently thought that Zack Stewart was delaying projects along the Gulf Coast so more money could be spent up north; will a new commissioner ameliorate these tensions, or exacerbate them?

Since the issues don’t distinguish the candidates, what will? Although the Northern District is geographically large (see this map), the only major population centers are the Memphis urbanized area (DeSoto, Tunica, and Marshall counties), Tupelo, and the Columbus-Starkville-West Point “Golden Triangle” region. Minor probably has more name recognition overall due to his service in the legislature, and seems to have been more aggressive in getting billboards and signs; on the other hand, Caldwell is probably better-known in DeSoto County, the most populous county in the district by far.

Overall, I think Minor probably will win the election by a substantial margin on the basis of his better name recognition, if only because a lot of Mississippi voters haven’t been accustomed to voting a straight ticket (I think Barbour will win almost all of the counties in the northern district handily, with the exception of the heavily-black Delta counties; Panola County, the home of Ronnie Musgrove; and possibly Lafayette County, which is home to all six liberals in the state).

Election tea-leaves

Patrick Carver has a set of predictions up for the upcoming Mississippi election. Below the lieutenant governor’s race, most of the down-ballot elections have gotten almost zero publicity, which will probably favor incumbents (Anderson, though, will probably be helped by black turnout, as Patrick notes).

One thing I will say is that if the election does go to the Mississippi House, I think the plurality winner will be chosen by them regardless. If Barbour wins a plurality, there are two many “yellow dog” Democrats who will be absolutely killed in 2007 if they don’t vote for Barbour. And if Musgrove wins the plurality, the 1999 precedent (where Musgrove was the slight plurality winner) suggests that black Democrats aren’t interested in making a deal with the Republicans to cut out the “yellow dogs” and elect a Republican governor. Obviously the Legislature needs to amend the system—frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t been ruled unconstitutional already because of Baker v. Carr—but I’m not holding my breath on that happening.

Stateside IPv6 deployment pilot

Joy has the scoop on plans by various government sponsors and the Internet2 project to try the first wide deployment of IPv6 (once called IPng) in the United States, expanding on efforts like the 6bone to see if IPv6 is ready for widespread use.

For now, tech-savvy users interested in experimenting with deploying IPv6 can obtain IPv6 service via Freenet6; you can even obtain your own public 2**48 address block if you’re so inclined—and, perhaps more importantly, if you’re prepared to deal with the security implications of having globally-routable addresses behind your home router. Freenet6 works by using a IPv6-in-v4 tunnel to get IPv6 traffic to the IPv6 backbone, then routing your packets normally.

As Joy notes, the IP address shortage is somewhat less critical in North America—largely because North American ISPs had huge allocations of IP addresses which they’ve been able to effectively subdivide and pass down using CIDR—but nonetheless we’ll need to make the transition eventually, if only so we can keep talking to the rest of the world.

The not-so-great debate

Mark at Not Quite Tea and Crumpets posts his thoughts on last night’s gubernatorial debate, which is thankfully the last of the campaign season. He was rather underwhelmed by Ronnie Musgrove’s performance. (I missed the debate; hopefully C-SPAN will re-run it in the next day or so, but who knows?) The Jackson Clarion-Ledger also has an account of the debate.

In other gubernatorial news, Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow is unimpressed by Haley Barbour’s response to his picture being used by the Council of Conservative Citizens on their web site.

Monday, 20 October 2003

The Darwin fish and its relatives

David Bernstein likes the Darwin fish. Sasha Volokh doesn’t, and laments that there’s not a separate symbol for creationists, so that we evolutionists could just make fun of them, without casting aspersions on more enlightened Christians.

But there is a separate symbol for creationists: the Truth eats Darwin fish, which I see a lot of here in Memphis, and which qualifies as my least favorite car decoration. (Close second: those decals with Calvin peeing on a Ford logo, or a Chevy logo, or anything else for that matter.)

I used to have a Darwin fish on my car, until I concluded that it was responsible for several instances of vandalism. (This was in Rochester, NY.) That is to say, some person or persons who were offended by it were responsible for several instances of vandalism. The fish itself did not throw a brick through my car window, nor did it bend my antenna and stomp all over the roof of my car.

My personal favorite is the Cthulu Fish. “Cthulhu for President: why vote for the lesser of two evils?”

Xenophobes win Swiss election

Alex Tabarrok says he wants to move to Switzerland to take advantage of the low taxes and the declining marginal income tax rates. (Declining as a function of income, that is.)

He may want to reconsider, after the xenophobic Swiss People’s Party gained 11 seats in the recent Parlimentary elections, making them the largest bloc in the governing coalition.

On the subject of marginal tax rates, could one of the econo-bloggers perhaps explain the argument in this paper that declining marginal rates are a property of “optimal tax systems“? The paper completely lost me, so you’ll need to explain it in short words that a mere philosopher turned computer geek would understand.

I’m willing to reconsider my view that an income tax with increasing marginal rates strikes the best balance between fairness and minimizing economic disincentives.

Democratic campaign futures

Martin Devon has his latest overview of how the nine dwarves are doing in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2004.

HaleyWatch Day 5

Today is the second day with nothing new in the mainstream media about the Haley Barbour/Council of Conservative Citizens flap. (Today’s Clarion-Ledger pieces on the campaign both focus on voters’ lack of interest in the campaigns’ attack ads: see here and here.)

Bloggers like Kevin Drum and Atrios who jumped on the story early no longer seem interested in giving it any traction, probably because “their guy” looks about as bad as Barbour does. I can’t really blame them—after all, since it’s not about a party but rather about a whole state political elite that lends groups like the CofCC credibility, there’s no real “story” any more, if by “story” you mean “something to beat over the head of Republicans.” Moderates indeed.

The message is clear: those Mississippians who care that an avowedly racist organization is actively involved in the campaigns of both major parties in our state will receive no support in trying to get rid of this cancer from other folks—whether in the mainstream media or the blogosphere—unless there’s some partisan “win” involved. Thanks. We appreciate it.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere:

My earlier posts are here.

Sunday, 19 October 2003

The gigglesnort test

Matt Stinson tears into CalPundit for his risible suggestion that he, Paul Krugman, and Atrios are “moderates” (see also John Cole). Allow me to add my two cents.

Newsflash to Kevin (and anyone else in punditry under the misguided impression they are moderate): nobody with a well-developed political ideology is a moderate. By definition, if you are liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, communist, Enviro-wacko, batshit neocon, or whatever the hell Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak are (paleo-pseudo-con?), you cannot be moderate. George Bush isn’t moderate. Nor is Colin Powell, Janet Reno, Howard Dean, Glenn Reynolds, Megan McArdle, or Kevin Drum. Nor am I.

Most Americans—and most people the world over, in fact—don’t have consistent, ideological belief systems. The absence of those belief systems makes them moderate, because they just react to whatever’s going on in the political ether; if you’re lucky, you might be able to pin their beliefs to some overarching fundamental value (“hard work“, “equality“, “liberty“).

There are only two types of true moderate: people who don’t care about politics, and centrist politicians (and this latter class of people generally care less about politics than they care about keeping their jobs—I defy you to explain the behavior of Arlen Specter or Olympia Snowe otherwise). Bloggers and New York Times columnists aren’t. Anyone who cares enough about politics enough to post several essays a day explicating his or her worldview is not a moderate, and neither is anyone who’s taking time away from his academic career to publish two incoherent essays a week in America’s flagship newspaper.

Said people may be swell, wonderful, good fun at parties, open-minded, and paragons of virtue and erudition. It is not a sin to have an ideology; in fact, it is a good thing. So please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending you don’t have one.

In defense of Stallman

My co-blogger has equated Richard Stallman’s proposed abolition of copyright with slavery. Kevin Aylward has equated Stallman’s agenda with Communism.

Both are being unfair to Stallman.

First, let’s look at Aylward’s charge of Communism. Aylward writes:

Stealing the product, regardless of the extreme moral relativism employed by Stallman, is wrong. And he’s not just talking about teenagers downloading copyrighted materials on Kazaa, he wants the remove the rights of the content producers as well. Your output as an artist (or programmer) belongs to EVERYONE. Replace the word EVERYONE with STATE and what do you get?


Who owns the air we breathe? “No one” would be the best answer. “Everyone” might be just as good. But that’s hardly the same as the air being owned by the state, and it does not make the USA a Communist nation.

Next, let’s look at Chris’s charge of slavery. Chris writes:

Taking away that choice by requiring them to give away their work—Stallman’s ultimate utopia—is morally indistinguishable from telling programmers they are slaves. That Stallman would have the state feed and clothe the authors of software and other works makes it no less slavery than if the system were operated by rich white plantation owners.

Let’s just set aside the fact that the vast majority of software development is not creation of software for sale. Part of my job is software development, but the stuff I develop would not be of the slightest interest to anyone but my employer. (As a matter of fact, the software I develop for my employer is in the public domain.)

In most countries, the state claims a monopoly on law enforcement. If you want to be a cop, you have to work for the state, and accept the state’s terms of employment. Cops are fed and clothed by the state. Does this make them slaves? No, because they have the option of getting some other job.

Personally, I would not be in favor of completely abolishing copyright. But Stallman has something interesting and valuable to add to the ongoing dialog about copyright protection. And unfair accusations of Communism and slavery do nothing to further that dialog.

Cutcliffe survival meter midterm review

The David Cutcliffe Season Survival Meter has been a rousing success so far. It’s time to look back at the initial announcement and see how David is doing (and where he needs to go from here).

In the initial post, I outlined some minimum requirements for his survival:

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

So far, Cutcliffe has accomplished #1 and two-thirds of #3. The Rebels [5-2, 3-0 SEC] took care of Florida for the second straight season, blew out Arkansas State, and—this Saturday—thoroughly outplayed Alabama, a long-term nemesis of the program.

Now, though, I wonder if Cutcliffe has raised expectations to the point that these minimum requirements may be insufficient. Rebel fans did not expect the team to win both the Florida and Alabama games. An SEC West title is now almost expected, which means that if the team fails to deliver the faithful may want a new coach—particularly if Mississippi State looks like it might attract a name coach.

So, what do the Rebels have to do to win that title? The easy answer is “win out.” The second-best answer is that the Rebels can afford a loss, as long as it’s not against Auburn, because of the division tiebreaker rule (if both Auburn and Ole Miss are 7-1, the head-to-head winner is division champion); however, they are probably the largest impediment to winning out for the Rebels, as they are the main road test. Third-best is beat everyone except Auburn and hope someone hangs two losses on the Tigers. Auburn will probably lose at Georgia, and their upcoming trip to LSU is going to be a tough challenge for Tommy Tuberville’s squad as well. It is important to bear in mind that LSU is still lurking as well.

So, the DCSSM rests on the Rebels now winning the SEC West—something I’m perversely optimistic will happen. If the Rebels do it, Cutcliffe will be hailed as the reincarnation of both Johnny Vaught and Bear Bryant. If they don’t, expect him to be the sacrificial lamb for an embattled university administration already reeling from their mishandling of the Colonel Reb debacle.

The joys of self-contradiction

I wrote here:

On the other hand, given Musgrove’s own admission of past participation in the rally, I find it hard to fault Barbour for attending it this year. And—barring further revelations—I’m willing to give Barbour the benefit of the doubt.

But, within hours, I also wrote:

Yet despite these ties, many politicians—black, white, Democrat, Republican—continue to attend the rally, as the Magnolia Report correctly notes. As I’ve noted before, however, this is exactly the sort of thing the Council thrives on: the appearance of respectability. Getting its members in positions to glad-hand political candidates is what they want, and the Black Hawk Rally was a prime opportunity. And it’s time that Mississippi’s politicians told the Black Hawk folks once and for all, thanks but no thanks.

A bit of explanation is in order. When I wrote the first post, I was still buying Bill Lord’s allegation that the rally and barbecue were separate events, with the rally sponsored by groups unaffiliated with the Council; I don’t consider this allegation credible any more.

If I were to rewrite my first statement in terms of what I know now, I would have to say that I fault Haley Barbour for attending the rally, as I fault any other candidate for public office who attended it in the past—including Ronnie Musgrove, who’s damn lucky that his smiling face isn’t plastered on the Council’s website right next to Barbour’s. (Barbour does rack up some extra sleaze points for his failure to demand his picture be removed from the site.)

Now, you can make an argument that a principled voter should turn to one of the third-party candidates in the race. However, as a group they’re all fairly unappealing: neither the Green Party nor the Reform Party deserve even the miniscule amount of added credibility that my vote for their candidates would give them, and the other alternative is running under the slogan “Keep the Flag, Change the Governor.”

More to the point, in a close, winner-takes-all election it is irrational for voters to cast a ballot for a candidate with a negligible chance of winning the election if they have transitive preferences among the candidates with non-negligible chances to win—which is political science speak for “vote for a major-party candidate if you prefer him or her over one of the other major-party candidates.” And in this campaign—taking into account my policy preferences and the fact that on most issues of consequence Musgrove’s position is more illiberal* than Barbour’s—at the moment I still have to give a small edge to Barbour, notwithstanding his pathetic handling of this situation and refusal to come out forthrightly against the Council’s use of his picture.

Stallman and Slavery

Kevin Aylward does me the huge favor of explaining my distaste for Richard Stallman’s agenda. Indeed, in my opinion, the key reason why producing free software is morally superior to producing proprietary software is that the author is making the choice to give away the fruits of his labor for the benefit of others.

Taking away that choice by requiring them to give away their work—Stallman’s ultimate utopia—is morally indistinguishable from telling programmers they are slaves. That Stallman would have the state feed and clothe the authors of software and other works makes it no less slavery than if the system were operated by rich white plantation owners.

HaleyWatch Day 4

In the mainstream media today:

  • The DeSoto Times Today carries a writeup of its editorial board’s Friday meeting with Ronnie Musgrove.
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a lengthy article on the state gubernatorial race, which explains where the “Keep the Flag, Change the Governor” signs and bumper stickers came from:
    This year, in addition to [Green Party candidate Sherman Lee] Dillon, there’s a Reform Party candidate, Shawn O‘Hara, and John Thomas Cripps, who’s running on the memory of the 2001 state flag referendum, in which voters resoundingly turned down a design—favored by Musgrove and most of the state’s business community—that would have removed the Confederate battle emblem. His posters urge voters to “Keep the Flag, Change the Governor.”
  • Delta Democrat Times columnist Amy Redwines considers her vote. She writes in part:

    I used to be happy to live here, as did a lot of other young people. But that was before I grew up and began to understand what kind of situation this state is in. I love Mississippi, and it will always be my home.

    We need a person in the governor’s mansion who can make this state do a 360-degree turnaround. If that doesn’t happen, we will continue to slide downhill.

    People already think Mississippi is chock full of backward rednecks and bigots, but there is more to the people here than those superficial perceptions.

  • Jackson’s alt-weekly, the Free Press has an extensive comment thread on the Barbour/CofCC/Blackhawk situation.

In the blogosphere and thereabouts:

This post will be updated throughout Sunday; previous posts can be found here.


I haven’t had much to say about the Gregg Easterbrook situation—Daniel Drezner, as always, does a good job explaining the background while Matt Stinson has a roundup of reactions.

I think the more interesting angle here is ESPN’s pathetic reaction to the flap, and in that I generally agree with Jonah Goldberg (yes, I did a double-take writing that sentence too), who said:

[C]reating a climate where offending Jews automatically results in your termination will do far more to hurt Jews in this country than anything which might have resulted from Easterbrook’s original comments.

Saturday, 18 October 2003

HaleyWatch Day 3

No new mainstream media coverage today of the Haley Barbour/Council of Conservative Citizens flap; the best resource is still Friday’s Associated Press report by Emily Wagster Pettus, who covers the Mississippi political beat for the AP. (Abbreviated versions have appeared elsewhere, including in today’s New York Times, but for the whole context I recommend reading the full version.)

However, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s lead editorial Saturday calls on Barbour, and other Mississippi politicians, to repudiate the Council. They write, in part:

Separatist groups — whether predominantly white or black — have no place in modern Mississippi. Neither do groups that preach hatred and distrust of religious groups.

The CCC is entitled to its views and enjoys all First Amendment rights to publish and display what it pleases on its Web site. But, at some point, Mississippi’s political elite in both parties need to stop winking and nudging over the CCC’s obvious entrenchment at the Black Hawk political gatherings and decide if they want to be identified with white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine carries a lengthy, mostly negative profile of Barbour. It contains something that might be some more grist for the mill:

According to [Gene] Triggs, the once thriving town [Yazoo City] has never recovered from the period of school integration in the 1970’s and 80’s, when many whites, like Haley and Marsha Barbour, packed their children off to the private academies that were opening across the state. “Any parent has the right to send their kids where they can get the best education,” Triggs says, but keeping your kids in public school “was one positive stand a person could take to make the community better. I felt he should have exerted some leadership, and he never did.”

Around the blogosphere, things have also gotten quiet; apparently, some of those who jumped on for partisan advantage are having trouble trying to justify Democrats’ past participation in the rally, including appearances by Ronnie Musgrove and attorney general Mike Moore. However, there are at least some new posts:

My posts on the topic, in reverse chronological order, appear here.

Friday, 17 October 2003

Black Hawk rising

Trying to figure out this whole Black Hawk thing is a bit of a headache. Atrios is understandably confused about the ties between the two events, while Greg Wythe wants to know how Barbour got photographed with a Council of Conservative Citizens officer even though he wasn’t at the CofCC Black Hawk event. First the facts:

  • The Black Hawk (or Blackhawk?) political rally is a regular event, attended by politicians of all stripes. Quoth the Magnolia Report:

    Senator Trent Lott has unwittingly given the Blackhawk Political Rally a lot of negative national media attention. However, in the state, it is still viewed as a credible campaign stop by both Democrats and Republicans, white and black. Several hundred people attended the July rally to hear candidates for local office and a handful of state and district-wide candidates.

  • The rally is sponsored by two groups, the Black Hawk Bus Association and the Carrollton Masonic Lodge, according to Council of Conservative Citizens field director Bill Lord (from the WaPo account). The CofCC sponsors a barbecue at the same location that coincides with the rally.

  • Lord served as the emcee for the rally in 2003.

  • In the past, the rally’s sponsorship is more ambiguous. This 1999 Conservative News Service piece indicates that in 1995, the rally itself was sponsored by the Council. Lord was apparently actively involved in that rally as well:

    Lord described the event as “an old fashioned southern political rally that was completely integrated,” with about half a dozen black political candidates speaking and “maybe three dozen” blacks in attendance as spectators. According to Lord, the C of CC’s sponsorship of the event cost “around three or four thousand dollars. We sold barbecued chicken plates to make up the difference.”

  • By all accounts, the Council is an offshoot of the segregationist Citizens Councils, groups with primarily middle-class support that fought desegregation efforts in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South.

Now to the analysis:

If there’s a firewall between the Council and the rally, it’s a pretty porus one. Lord, arguably the most important member of the CofCC in Mississippi, served as emcee. (Imagine, if you will, if David Duke or Louis Farrakhan served as the moderator of a presidential debate.) The Black Hawk Bus Association, the co-sponsor of the rally, buys buses for segregated private academies—an action not much lower on the moral reprehensibility scale than the Council’s white supremicist dogma. It will come as no surprise to learn that the Citizens Councils—the precursor of the CofCC—established the academies in the first place. And the Council apparently sponsored the rally in the past, even if it’s made some nominal separation from it in 2003 (no doubt in reaction to the Lott fiasco, which—quite rightly—made the group into kryptonite for any politician with ambitions beyond serving as county dogcather). So I think it’s fair to conclude, despite Lord’s protestations to the contrary, that the rally has strong ties to the Council and its agenda.

Yet despite these ties, many politicians—black, white, Democrat, Republican—continue to attend the rally, as the Magnolia Report correctly notes. As I’ve noted before, however, this is exactly the sort of thing the Council thrives on: the appearance of respectability. Getting its members in positions to glad-hand political candidates is what they want, and the Black Hawk Rally was a prime opportunity. And it’s time that Mississippi’s politicians told the Black Hawk folks once and for all, thanks but no thanks.

Adieu, Jackie Sherrill

As expected, Mississippi State football coach Jackie Sherrill announced his plan to retire at the end of this season today. (I might have expected him to wait a few more weeks, but I think in the long term it’s probably better for his reputation that he got it out of the way before 2-4 becomes 2-9.)

This announcement, incidentally, makes it a virtual certainty that the Bulldogs will win the Thanksgiving day match against the Ole Miss Rebels.

Self-interest or ideology?

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution blogs on an Alan Krueger New York Times piece that reports on the latest research by Larry Bartels* on the effects of what he describes as “uninformed preferences” on voters’ decisions. Alex has some interesting thoughts on the substantive meaning of Bartels’ research, as does Robert Garcia Tagorda.

For what it’s worth, Bartels’ most famous piece on the topic (“Uninformed Votes: Information Effects in Presidential Elections,” American Journal of Political Science, February 1996) concluded that low levels of information in the electorate had actually benefitted Democrats in presidential elections over the history of the ANES up to that point (I recall that this advantage gained the party an average of around 2% of the vote); that conclusion, however, may be time-bound.

If in doubt, f*** the Iraqis

John Cole adds his outrage to Matt Stinson’s regarding the Senate’s idiotic decision to require the Iraqis to pay back half of the $20 billion reconstruction aid package. Frankly, the idea is complete lunacy, for reasons both John and Matt ably articulate.

Reforming baseball

James Joyner thinks baseball needs some serious reform, including a shorter regular season or changes in the postseason format to make the difference in regular season record more meaningful.

Of course, my friend Scott would argue that because of the designated hitter rule, the American League isn’t actually playing baseball—a game that, by rule, is played by nine people.* Hence this would be reform of a game with a strong resemblance to baseball…

Black Hawk scandal overblown?

Today’s Associated Press report by Emily Wagster Pettus, coupled with similar reporting by The Washington Post’s political columnist Al Kamen, suggests that our friends at the Council of Conservative Citizens have been overblowing their ties to prominent politicians to puff themselves up. Indeed, the Council admitted as much:

Lord said the CCC does not endorse candidates and the Barbour picture was included on the group’s Internet site because the “Web master was just seeking some publicity for our organization.”

But the group did sponsor the Black Hawk rally, right? Well—not exactly:

Lord said the CCC held a separate barbecue the same day as the Black Hawk rally, which traditionally attracts a broad spectrum of candidates, Democratic and Republican. [emphasis added]

And what of the scandalous nature of the Black Hawk event? Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove is no stranger to it:

Musgrove said Thursday he had attended the Black Hawk rally in the past but didn’t this year because of a scheduling conflict.

Did Barbour make a mistake? Sure; he shouldn’t have let himself get photographed with a prominent member of the Council. That’s Politics 101. And frankly I think he should ask the group, politely, to take his picture off the site, although legally he really can’t stop them from using it if they insist on doing so*.

So, to review, for those who don’t read blockquotes:

  • The CCC doesn’t sponsor the Black Hawk rally. (The photo at their site suggests that the emcee of the rally, however, is the “Field Director” of the CCC.)
  • Haley Barbour apparently wasn’t at the group’s barbecue, which is a separate event.
  • Nonetheless, Barbour was photographed in a group with five other people, one of whom was the emcee of the rally and the “Field Director” of the CCC. (Whether Barbour was aware of his affiliation with the group is an open question.)

How does this affect my opinion of the matter? Obviously, I think Barbour should ask the group to remove the photo from their web site. And I’d like to see Mississippi politicians—Republicans and Democrats alike—stop attending the Black Hawk rally, since at the very least the organizers apparently have no qualms about inviting a person with a leadership position in the CCC to serve as emcee of the event.

On the other hand, given Musgrove’s own admission of past participation in the rally, I find it hard to fault Barbour for attending it this year. And—barring further revelations—I’m willing to give Barbour the benefit of the doubt.

* “Rea” in comments at Ricky West’s place says that Barbour would have legal recourse if the group didn’t remove the picture after he requested it. Since IANAL, I’ll take his/her word for it.

HaleyWatch Day 2

Today’s bullet-point summary of what’s happening in the saga of Haley Barbour’s apparent coziness with the Council of Conservative Citizens, better known as the respectable man’s off-shoot of the Ku Klux Klan (which I’ll update throughout the day as events warrant). All of my posts on this topic can be found here. Scroll down for new material as the day progresses; this post will stay at the top until Day 3.

In the mainstream media:

  • The Clarion-Ledger Thursday morning has an extensive piece on the whole flap. Telling quote for those who want to single out Barbour and Republicans for criticism:
    [Democratic nominee Ronnie] Musgrove said Thursday he had attended the Black Hawk rally in the past but didn't this year because of a scheduling conflict.
  • The Washington Post notes that the Council of Conservative Citizens’ ties to the Black Hawk fundraiser may have been exaggerated by the group:
    But Bill Lord, the council’s Mississippi field director and one of the folks in the picture, told our colleague Tom Edsall that it should be noted Barbour spoke to a rally not sponsored by the council but by the Black Hawk Bus Association and the Carrollton Masonic Lodge. The council sponsored the Black Hawk Barbecue at the same event, but that was a separate thing.
  • An article on Barbour campaigning in DeSoto County in the Memphis Commercial Appeal makes no mention of the controversy. Nice to see the CA on the ball here as always.
  • At least they’re in good company; the New York Times doesn't mention it either in their account of the gubernatorial race.

Around the blogosphere:

  • Greg Wythe finds Barbour’s statement regarding the photo rather weak, to say the least.
  • Atrios can’t “wrap [his] head around” the concept that the rally and barbecue are separate. In fairness, it doesn’t help in trying to understand things that the emcee of the rally was a Council of Conservative Citizens officer, but the rally itself isn’t actually sponsored by the CofCC.
  • Alan at Petrified Truth says Barbour has coupled “stupidity” and “moral obtuseness”, on the basis of Fox’s version of the AP report.
  • Ole Miss Conservative’s Patrick Carver thinks Barbour shouldn’t be “too harshly criticized” in light of the AP/WaPo revelations; however, he thinks Barbour should distance himself more forcefully from the CofCC.
  • Ricky West (North Georgia Dogma) has a followup from his post yesterday arguing that Barbour should forcefully repudiate the Council and its views; he’s got a suggested script:
    Hey, it's easy - Bob Barr did something similar - you go on O'Reilly and Larry King and Chris Matthews and say "hey, I had my picture taken with a bunch of people whose views are repugnant. It was a barbeque for the bus association & the masons and their group was a separate thing. It was a mistake to have my picture taken with them, but there were hundreds of voters there - and I'm sure any politician will tell you that it can be confusing when you're in a large group, as the famous video of Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky during the rope-line gathering will illustrate - and I was shaking hands and getting my picture taken with lots of them. Nonetheless, I demand that such a racist organization remove my picture from the site (even though it's legal to have it there) and I repudiate anything and everything it stands for".

    He also thinks Democrats should consider whether or not Ronnie Musgrove has some questions he should be answering too. Steve Verdon agrees.

  • Mike Hollihan thinks Barbour is now toast.
  • Steve Verdon says “the whole thing simply stinks.” Blog on the Bloch is of similar mind.
  • The Carpetbagger Report (cool blog name, by the way) has a challenge for Barbour.
  • Arthur Silber thinks Republicans should reconsider their party allegiance in light of the situation.

Thursday, 16 October 2003

Agent, meet principal

Glenn Reynolds points to this absolutely hysterical piece by Dahlia Lithwick that recounts one poor respondent’s efforts to alternately defend and avoid the reasoning of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in finding in his favor in a case where the respondent failed to come to the door when police knocked and announced themselves; the respondent wants to suppress the evidence from the search (under that pesky 4th Amendment).

The respondent’s lawyer didn’t exactly get off on a good foot here:

Randall J. Roske represents [Lashawn] Banks. He starts by warning the justices that this case is about whether their doors are sacred. This “next-time-it-could-be-you” tactic never works with the justices since they so rarely deal crack from their homes.

I think this exchange basically sums up how the respondent’s day went (after a long discussion of the fact that Banks was in the shower, and therefore didn’t hear the “knock and announce” by police):

Scalia has had it with the showers. “What does the shower have to do with it? Your constitutional reasonableness is the time it takes someone to complete a shower, dry himself, and grab a towel? Why is the shower relevant?” Roske replies that we have no idea how long Mr. Banks would have continued his shower.

“We don’t know and we don’t care,” retorts Scalia.

Needless to say, I’m not chalking up a win here for Mr. Banks.

Gorby speaks

Steven Taylor has a copy of a column he wrote on seeing Mikhail Gorbachev speak recently at Auburn University. In my youth I found Gorbachev a very interesting figure and read a couple of his books—for some odd reason, they had copies of them at the dinky base library at RAF Fairford. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that the leggy brunette I had a thing for was a fan of Gorby as well. (Ah, my misspent youth…) Anyway, back from the digression… like Steven, I’m stunned by how much things have changed since then. And I think Steven has it more-or-less on the mark when he says:

The ironic thing about this new era, which in many ways is less threatening in absolute terms than the Cold War Era (terrorist are rather unlikely to destroy large parts of the world), it is more threatening to us in specific, personal terms (the odds of being on a plane, or being in a building that might be bombed has increased). And, aside from a perception of enhanced personal risk, the world itself is more unstable.

One thing I would note, however, is that global terrorism was alive and well during the Cold War too; ask the Israelis in Munich, American servicemen in Berlin and Beirut, West German politicians, the people who died on Pan Am 103 (and on the ground at Lockerbie), the people of Latin America, the Quebecois, or the British (both in Ulster and in Britain proper). I think the main difference from then and now is that the global projection capabilities of terror groups have improved, although I don’t think anything has really changed that makes terrorism more feasible—9/11, or its equivalent, could have happened in 1980. The important difference is that now there’s a group that simultaneously has the audacity,* motive, capability, and opportunity to carry out large-scale attacks on U.S. soil.

Babes of the Blogosphere(!?!)

James Joyner is compiling links to photos of bloggers of the fairer sex. One glaring oversight: the omission of the ladies of

The great philosophical questions

Jeff Taylor at Hit and Run finds it odd that the Chinese astronaut didn’t see the Great Wall of China from space.

KlanDay Post #4

I really don’t want to “flood the zone” on this—I have far more interesting things to blog about, and it is a nice day outside—but Patrick Carver’s take is worth reading. He also finds one media account that suggests there’s more to the story—did the Council of Conservative Citizens exaggerate its ties to the rally? And what happened to the black attendees?

The electoral effects of CCC ties

How much do Haley Barbour’s ties to the “white collar Klan” matter? Let’s play a game of Mississippi electoral math (courtesy of the U.S. Census):

Mississippi has just over 2 million people of voting age. 33.0% of the VAP is non-Hispanic black, 64.2% is non-Hispanic white, 1.3% are Hispanic, and 1.5% are “others” of various categories (including 0.5% mixed race). Barring electoral shenanigans, I think we can safely assume the Democrats capture almost all of the 35.8% Hispanic or non-white vote—say 95% of it.* Assuming non-differential turnout, that means about 34% of the vote is locked up already for Musgrove. (If anything, I would expect differential turnout in favor of blacks, as there are two black candidates on the statewide general election ballot.)

So, 66% of the vote is “in play.” Musgrove, who just needs 50% of the total vote to win, needs about another 16%; if you do the math (16%/66%), he only needs about 24.2% white support to win the election. Barbour, on the other hand, needs 75.8% white support, or the votes of just over three-in-four white voters.

Now, where is Barbour going to get those votes? Basically, we can divide white Mississippi into four bits: the Jackson area, the Gulf Coast, DeSoto County, and “everywhere else” (or rural Mississippi). Red meat—waving the Rebel flag, hanging out with the CCC, etc.—works for rural Mississippi; I suspect he gets 80%+ of the white vote in this area (except possibly around Musgrove’s old stomping grounds in north Mississippi), although how much flag-waving he’d need to do is debatable—Musgrove certainly didn’t endear himself with white voters when he limply backed 2001’s flag referendum. Red meat probably also is effective in the Jackson suburbs.

But what about the DeSoto and Gulf Coast regions? Does the CCC strategy cost him votes there? Probably not. The Mississippi press in general don’t spend a lot of time talking about the group, and most people in those parts get their media from neighboring states anyway. Most new voters moving to those areas—the “soccer mom” demographic, if you will—aren’t steeped in Mississippi politics.

Does Barbour absolutely need the CCC to get elected? I doubt it; the group really isn’t that powerful in the grand scheme of things. To the extent they have real political power, it’s because Mississippi politicians treat them as a legitimate organization. On the other hand, as long as Mississippi’s black vote remains largely monolithic (despite the disconnect between the views of rank-and-file black voters and the state’s black elite, particularly on social issues), I’m not sure the state’s Republicans will believe they can afford to lose even a single white vote. And, of course, blacks aren’t going to vote for Republicans in large numbers while the party panders to groups like the CCC.

More on the "white collar Klan"

I was going to compose a long post on the Council of Conservative Citizens, but I realized I said most of what I wanted to say almost a year ago. And, more or less what I said about Trent Lott applies equally to Haley Barbour. One thing I noted at the time:

The group is strongly tied to the whites-only academy system that perpetuates segregation and underinvestment in public education in the state.

The event Barbour was photographed at was a fundraiser for buying new school buses for Mississippi academies. Haley knew why he was there, and he knew who was behind it. If he didn’t, he’s far too stupid to be governor of Mississippi, much less to have chaired the Republican National Committee. (Not that being stupid is a disqualification for office in this state; if so, we’d have to throw out both major-party wackjobs running for lieutenant governor.) And, frankly, even though as a libertarian I’ll defend to the end the right of the segregated academies to exist, and I think that the individuals who send their children to them aren’t necessarily racist (this state is full of horrible public schools, due in no small measure to chronic underinvestment because the state’s elite don’t send their kids to them), I find them to be morally reprehensible institutions that no American of good conscience should support in this day and age.

Coming next: the electoral calculus of pandering to the white collar Klan.

Ricky West isn’t buying the "I didn’t know" defense either. (Link via CalPundit.)

Kobe's beef

Roger L. Simon thinks the Kobe Bryant prosecution is rapidly coming apart in light of the lackluster evidence shown in the preliminary hearing. I don’t know if I’m quite as convinced as Roger that Bryant is being “railroaded,” but a opinion piece that characterizes the case as being “weak with gusts up to pathetic” is pretty synomymous to my reaction.

Did Bryant rape this woman? I honestly don’t know. But unless the prosecution comes up with a smoking gun that isn’t in evidence at this point, there’s enough reasonable doubt here to fill Glenwood Canyon. The only thing I can figure is that the prosecutor thought (thinks?) he was going to get some sort of plea bargain from Bryant.

Score one against the nanny state

Germantown leaders are crying in their beer after learning that they can’t force local restaurants and bars to ban smoking, due to a state law that preempts localities from enacting such bans.

Notable by its absence is any mention in the article that there is no state law requiring bars and restaurants to allow smoking; indeed, many restaurants in Germantown already prohibit smoking by their patrons. But why expect basic honesty in reporting from the Commercial Appeal? One small plus: at least they take a welcome break from their continual suburb-bashing crusade in the article.

Hangin' with da Klan

Via Matthew Stinson, I note that both CalPundit and Andrew Sullivan have discovered that Haley Barbour’s been photographed with members of the organization best known as the white collar Klan.

I guess it’s time for me to move back into the undecided column again, even given my severe reservations about having another term of Ronnie Musgrove.

Alex Knapp isn’t impressed either. Expect more on this topic from me today…

Meanwhile, Jacob Levy is morbidly curious about the Council’s fixation on the Frankfurt School. I was confused because the only major Institute for Social Research I’d heard of is at Michigan; I'm sure they'd love it if they could be ascribed such influence on human society. (For the record, the Institute for Social Research in question is this one.)

Wednesday, 15 October 2003

Guilt by association

The Colonel Reb debacle just took an ugly turn. Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The first officer of the Nationalist Organization plans to be the keynote speaker and leader for a Colonel Reb rally Oct. 30 in the Union Plaza.

The rally “Support Colonel Reb: On the Field or Bust,” may also have an open-mic for student supporters to speak as well, rally organizer Richard Barrett said.

“This is an assault on the traditions of Ole Miss, the heritage of the South and the way of life of America, and yes, that is a big deal,” Barrett said.

And who is the “Nationalist Organization,” you may ask? Apparently, it’s a rebranding of Barrett’s racist white pride group, the Nationalist Movement. Needless to say, our friends at are distancing themselves from Barrett:

“Richard Barrett never went to, or graduated from, Ole Miss,” [Colonel Reb Foundation honcho Brian] Ferguson said. “He is not a part of our family and has no voice in this matter. I’m sure that if the chancellor allowed Colonel Reb to be back on the campus of Ole Miss, that he would smack racists like Richard Barrett with his cane.”

I have a small bit of sympathy for the position Ferguson et al. are in; I’m sure most of the Colonel’s supporters don’t have racist motivations, although I do think that sometimes they forget that the Southern virtue of civility toward their neighbors applies here, as in any other situation. (I genuinely can’t understand the motivation behind people continuining to do something that they know that other people are offended by.) They don’t deserve to get tarred with the same brush as Barrett and his ilk. But just as the principled opponents of the war in Iraq got tarred with the brush of the ANSWER crowd, the Colonel’s supporters are stuck with it now, and how they respond will reflect on their character much more than their actions to date have.

Beware of greeks leaving early, causing blunt-force trauma to the head

Daily Mississippian columnist Steven Godfrey is singling out the Ole Miss fraternities and sororities for their lackluster support of the Rebels at Homecoming. Quoth Godfrey:

For all the commotion (and emotion) being thrown about regarding a simple mascot, the student body has done little to show their strength inside Vaught-Hemingway stadium when it's needed. (When's it needed? All the time.)

Call me crazy, but logic holds that if you're so passionate about your football mascot, you are in turn passionate about your football team.

So who's to blame?

Why, the greeks of course. …

The fact is that the greek community showed up en masse on Saturday only to witness the homecoming court ceremony, a meaningless event saturated by greeks that served to only bestow useless titles upon (you guessed it) greeks.

Then, as soon as the pomp and circumstance subsided, the navy blazer and high heel crowd bolted on the team they claim to love just as much as Tiger fans love their LSU, or Auburn fans theirs, or any other conference school sans Vandy.

Meanwhile, Sigma Chi pledge Reid Waltrip is recovering from a mysterious head injury he sustained last Monday night on Bid Day; by all accounts, Waltrip is lucky to have survived the blow.

Columnist John Wilbert, on the other hand, blames the scheduling of lackluster non-conference opponents for the lack of fan support. (Not that this theory explains why a significant chunk of the stadium left in the third quarter of the Rebels’ eventual loss to Texas Tech, mind you.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Not all publicity is good publicity

Boomshock points out that Saudi Arabia’s $15 million PR blitz intended to rehabilitate its reputation may not have had the intended effects.

Monday, 13 October 2003

The limits of statistics

One sure illustration of the practical limits of statistics is to take a look at the football statistics* compiled by the NCAA, in particular the defensive statistics. For example, take a look at Ole Miss’ season statistics through six games.

The statistic most people have been focusing on is the Rebels’ pass defense, which is giving up 345 yards per game—dead last in the NCAA (117 of 117). Yet in the past two games, the Rebels have only given up 17 points and basically shut down their opponents’ passing games; if they’re the worst pass defense in the country, shouldn’t they have been lit up by Florida and Arkansas State?

There are three forms of selection bias at work here. The first form of selection bias is that opposing teams are passing because their rushing offense is going nowhere (the Rebels are ranked 11th, conceding just 82.5 yards/game on the ground). The second form is that the Rebels have faced two of the country’s most pass-happy offenses: #1 Texas Tech and #13 Memphis, and this hurts their pass defense statistics; the #116 pass defense, North Carolina State, also faced Texas Tech. And the third form is that teams tend to pass when they are behind; the Rebels led both Memphis and Texas Tech by double-digit margins in the second half of both games, so those teams passed even more than usual.

If you just look at the numbers, you’d think the plan to beat Ole Miss would be to pass. But unless your quarterback is as good as B.J. Symons or Danny Wimprine, that may not work; heck, Florida’s Chris Leak, whose passer rating is better than Wimprine’s, threw three picks to the secondary. On the remaining schedule, LSU’s Matt Mauck and MSU’s Kevin Fant are the only QBs known as good passers; Arkansas’ Matt Jones is primarily an option quarterback, as is South Carolina’s Dondrial Pinkins, Auburn’s Jason Campbell is a mediocre passer, and Alabama will be lucky if its third-string QB can suit up with the injuries that plague that team. So exploiting this weakness—if it actually exists—is not something that these teams are likely to be able to accomplish.

Musgrove's trade hypocrisy

Jackson Clarion-Ledger columnist Sid Salter points out that if Ronnie Musgrove had his way on free trade, there’d be no Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

Sunday, 12 October 2003

Conservatism, liberalism and context

Michael Totten thinks Glenn Reynolds is off-base in complaining about the use of the word “conservative” to describe reactionary movements in countries like Russia and Iran. Michael writes:

“Conservative” is a disposition, not an ideology, and so its meaning is always relative to the local context. Conservatives defend the existing political order against change. That is their function.

That is true. However, the meaning of “liberal” is also relative to the local context, but American media don’t describe parties like Germany’s Free Democrats or the Netherlands’ VVD as “liberal,” even though they are (in the classical sense of the term); they’re called things like “economic conservatives” or “free-marketeers,” to translate the term into the American context. And this is appropriate; describing them as “liberal” would be misleading to an American audience.

And, however much the moralizing tone of the hardline elements of the Iranian regime remind us of the fascistic tendencies of the domestic reactionary right’s Two Pats (Buchanan and Robertson), describing this element as “conservative” is similarly misleading. There are plenty of adjectives that properly describe them: five, off the top of my head, are reactionary, theocratic, hard-line, illiberal, and authoritarian. And except possibly the fourth, none of them would mislead an American audience into thinking they share the beliefs of Americans who consider themselves to be conservative.

Saturday, 11 October 2003

Leaster Sunday is reporting that Boston College is likely to become the 12th member of the ACC on Sunday, once an official invitation from the conference is made official. BC was one of the three schools originally expected to leave the Big East for the ACC (along with Syracuse and Miami), but Virginia state politics played a role in getting the BC and Syracuse invites recinded in favor of Virginia Tech. However, since word came down from NCAA honchos that the ACC’s proposal for a title game with only 11 members would not be acceptable, the writing has been on the wall that the ACC would seek another member (as the economics of expansion only made sense with a title game included).

Incidentally, this may cause the Big East to reconsider their haughty rejection of Memphis’ interest in membership. The only problem now is that the Big East may need schools like Memphis, Louisville, and Cincinnati more than they need the Big East.

In other football news, somehow thinks the Rebels scored −7 points in the fourth quarter of their 55-0 rout of the Arkansas State Indians.

It’s now official.

Friday, 10 October 2003

Mary Rosh, meet Benny Smith

Apparently, researching guns makes you adopt alternate personas that defend your work. Or maybe it’s just being an academic fraud that does…

Internal contradictions

One of Karl Marx’s most famous aphorisms is that capitalism would eventually collapse due to its own internal contradictions. While old Karl wasn’t a very good prescriptivist (ask the Russians or the Chinese), he did come up with a useful coinage. And, today, Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk takes up that theme in discussing the future of Canada, on the day that the leaders of Alberta and British Columbia signed an agreement on interprovincial cooperation that might be the precursor of a secessionist movement in the Canadian West. One telling reason why the provinces might cooperate:

Almost one-quarter of Canada’s population lives in the two provinces. In 2002, Alberta and B.C. produced $300-billion worth of goods and services, one-third of the national total.

In other words, the per-capita contribution to national GDP of Alberta and British Columbia is 50 percent higher than that of the rest of Canada. And now, these provinces face serious damage to that economic power in the form of Ottawa’s insistence on ratifying the Kyoto accord, which will undercut their advantages in natural resource production.

One is reminded of the situation of the American South prior to the Civil War. To say it was about slavery is both true and to miss the point; the abolition of slavery would have severely damaged the economies of the Southern states, and the leaders of the southern states saw no alternative for preserving their economies but secession. They gravely miscalculated in thinking that the rest of the country would accept that, and quite clearly were wrong to have adopted slavery as the basis of their economies in the first place, but to them secession was preferable to economic collapse.

Is this analogy perfect? Not really. Canada’s central government doesn’t have the military power to prevent secession, and probably wouldn’t be permitted by its Supreme Court (or, more likely, by the United States) to use it even if it did, and the global warming issue is not as morally unambiguous as slavery. But the fundamental lesson—that preserving a region’s economic strength may be a cause for secession—is still valid.

Rush's drug problem

Brett Cashman, while expressing sympathy for Rush Limbaugh’s addiction to painkillers, has this to say:

But what I will say is this: to the extent that Rush is the target of a criminal probe into the sale and use of illegal drugs? This is an example of chickens coming home to roost. Rush has long been an inveterate drug warrior, and has trash-talked crack addicts and suggested that drug offenders are just like ordinary criminals. Well, Rush, it’s looking like you may be one of those drug offenders, now. Should we treat you like an ordinary criminal?

I’d rather not, personally. But so long as conservatives insist on being at the vanguard of the War on Some Drugs, crap like this is going to continue to happen.

That sounds about right to me. And it’s not just conservatives; after all, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, both drug users in their youth, weren’t exactly unenthusiastic drug warriors either.

(The snarky side of me would attribute Rush’s addiction to all that time he spent hanging out with former cocaine addict Michael Irvin on Sunday NFL Countdown.)

Steven Taylor dislikes Newsweek’s hit piece, Stephen Green (VodkaPundit) is also critical (for slightly different reasons), and Arthur Silber, who wants Rush to go to the Big House (not, mind you, the one in Ann Arbor), engenders an interesting discussion.

Musgrove "sounds like Pat Buchanan"

Mike Hollihan has been repeatedly exposed to Ronnie Musgrove’s ad campaign, and notes that the Musgrove campaign is trying to tap nativist sentiments to keep him in office. Musgrove barely won in 1999 against former congressman Mike Parker, who a number of my friends (more knowledgeable than I about Mississippi politics at the time) considered a closet Klansman. Haley Barbour is going to be a stiff challenge for him.

Overall, I think Musgrove’s been a bit of a mixed bag. He’s let the legislature get away with papering over a huge budget deficit in the coming fiscal year (in no small part due to a huge increase in education spending in the election year budget), and he’s run a number of state departments like a racial spoils system for certain state legislators—most notably, the state’s health bureaucracy. On the other hand, he’s held the line on taxes and mostly behaved sensibly, although his ad campaign is becoming a giant embarassment.

I think the big strike against Barbour is that he’s never held a major office in the state. Both candidates have been spending obscene amounts of effort in this campaign courting the Christian right, so that issue (which normally would dispose me to vote for Democrats) is a wash. On the other hand, the real power’s arguably in the lieutenant governor’s office, where the race is between apparent raving lunatic Amy Tuck (R this week) and Barbara Blackmon (D). And, generally, Barbour has run a less sleazy campaign than Musgrove. So unless something changes in the next month, I’ll probably be voting for Barbour.

Not Quite Tea and Crumpets has some interesting thoughts on this year’s races too. I’d forgotten about the $50 million that Musgrove and his pals in the legislature swiped from the Department of Transportation to balance this year’s budget (so if you want to know why our state’s highway projects are behind schedule, that’s one big reason).

SEC Week 7 prognostications

As always, home team in CAPS, record in brackets.
Auburn [3-2/2-0] 27, ARKANSAS [4-0/1-0] 21 [JP/GamePlan]
Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers roll into Fayetteville trying to keep their recent hot streak alive. Both teams spend most of their time on the ground, so this will probably be a fairly low-scoring affair (particularly due to neither team having a very proficient passing QB). I give Auburn the edge, mainly because they've faced more adversity than the Razorbacks in recent weeks.
VANDERBILT [1-5/0-2] 31, Navy [3-2] 20.
Despite Navy's win over Air Force last week, I have to give the edge to the home team in this one, if only because the Commodores deserve a I-A win this year, and this is their best remaining chance for one.
OLE MISS [3-2/2-0] 51, Arkansas State [3-3] 13.
The Rebels face their final tune-up before starting into the heart of their SEC schedule. Expect the Indians to be held to a couple of field goals against the first team defense, with a late TD against the second team. Sophomore QB Micheal Spurlock should see significant playing time in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Memphis [3-2] 31, MISSISSIPPI STATE [1-4/1-1] 21.
Memphis comes into town with a “revenge game” mindset motivated by Memphis defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, who took the fall for State's 3-8 2002 campaign. While State comes off a win against Vandy-of-the-east Vanderbilt, Memphis is a more complete team all-around (that nonetheless inexplicably lost to UAB last week) than either the Commodores or this year's Bulldogs.
Southern Mississippi [3-2] 24, ALABAMA [2-4/1-2] 17.
The Golden Eagles have a golden opportunity to catch a Crimson Tide team riddled by both injuries and an ineffective offense (and which may be looking ahead to its road date with Ole Miss on October 18). Mike Shula's honeymoon in Tuscaloosa could be over if Alabama can't execute this week.
LOUISIANA STATE [5-0/2-0] 31, Florida [3-3/1-2] 21 [CBS].
One thing's certain: if the Gator team that played in the second half of its game with Ole Miss last week is making the trip to Baton Rouge, they're in serious trouble. The good news for Florida is that if they can execute this week, and Georgia beats UT, they're back in the SEC East race.
Georgia [4-1/2-1] 28, TENNESSEE [4-1/2-1] 21 [ESPN2].
The premiere matchup of the week, this game is likely to crown the SEC East champion (barring a comeback by Florida). Ultimately Georgia has played better in tight games than UT, and aren't afraid of hostile road games, and thus I give the edge to the Bulldogs.

What's wrong with Paul Krugman

Matthew Stinson has the definitive word on the topic in comments at Dan Drezner’s place.

Pejman dissects Krugman’s latest. Apparently Krugman has concluded that it is truly impossible for him to be both honest and polite at the same time, at least when writing for the New York Times. Wow. Simply wow. You’d think that acquiring that skill would be a prerequisite for finishing grad school.

Well, that didn't last long

The search for a replacement mascot for Colonel Reb is over, according to Friday’s Daily Mississippian. His replacement: nothing. Advantage: me.

Thursday, 9 October 2003

Opposing recalls on principle

Russell Fox, a political scientist at near-neighbor Arkansas State University (whose football team is about to be Ole Miss’ sacrificial lamb for Homecoming), has a lengthy post that makes a reasonably strong case why recalls are a bad thing. As I posted before, I think the tenets of representative democracy are compatible with the recall power, but I can see where an unchecked recall power might harm our system of government, and in some ways I can agree with Russell that the California procedure was a “mess.” (Arguably, the state’s bizarre super-open primary system added to the mess by creating a situation where neither party nominated a decent candidate in 2002.)

I guess the big, open question is how to avoid the “mess” while still retaining a credible threat to lame-duck politicians and permitting a fair selection of candidates on the replacement ballot.

Steve Verdon thinks there are some flaws in Russell’s argument.

Thursday night SEC prediction

I’m not thinking clearly enough today to post a full set of predicitions for this weekend’s games, but I will go ahead and pick SOUTH CAROLINA over Kentucky tonight (ESPN), by a score of 31-21. No particular reason, except that Kentucky has underperformed to date, while USC has at least looked respectable in its SEC losses. Neither team is going to Atlanta this year, but USC has a decent shot at a bowl if it can win this one and compile a respectable record.

Excuse me while I channel Herman Edwards

George Will spends his valuable op-ed space in The Washington Post whining about California Republicans abandoning conservative orthodoxy.

You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game.

Now go get your panties in a bunch elsewhere, George. Because—to paraphrase my personal hero Peyton Manning—your idiot orthodox conservative Republican kickers got liquored up and couldn’t win elections to save their lives. You win with what you have that can win. And if that means you’ve got to elect a Dick Riordan, a Rudy Giuliani, or a Arnold Schwarzenegger, since you’re gonna go down in flames with a Bill Simon or a Tom McClintock, then hold your nose, deal with it and stop whinging like a spoiled brat. Because the people of California, and the California Republican Party, are immeasurably better off than they were 24 hours ago while Gray Davis was selling the state off a bit at a time to every single person who stuffed a C-note in his g-string.

And—by the way—this goes too for my idiot friends on the left who are going to nominate George McGovern, I mean Howard Dean, for the presidency because they’re still pissed off about Iraq, instead of actually (gasp) focusing on someone vaguely electable. And we all know how well that choice turned out…

Patrick Carver dissents in part and concurs in part. And Boomshock posts on how he learned to stop worrying and love the recall, or something like that at any rate.

Wednesday, 8 October 2003

Evidence for a theory of perceived media bias

I posted my sketch of a theory of perceived media bias a few months ago; now Gallup has done me a favor and produced a poll that suggests I may be onto something. Take a look-see at the results:








2003 Sep 8-10




2002 Sep 5-8




2001 Sep 7-10





2003 Sep 8-10




2002 Sep 5-8




2001 Sep 7-10





2003 Sep 8-10




2002 Sep 5-8




2001 Sep 7-10




Now, unfortunately, there’s nothing to show the causal mechanism here (i.e. why conservatives and liberals perceive the media’s biases differently). But it’s an interesting look at the question, nonetheless.

Link via Andrew Sullivan (although I think I saw it cited earlier somewhere else).

Colonel Reb replacements

Mike is pretty non-plussed with the replacement mascots being proposed by the administration (and, I for one, basically agree, even though unlike Mike I think the Colonel is embarassing—though I’m more embarassed by the idiots who rally around him than the Colonel image itself). My solution is basically the same one I proposed for the flag mess: replace it with nothing. We don’t need a state flag and we certainly don’t need a mascot. I mean, Auburn’s got six of them but, in the end, they’re still stuck with Tommy Tuberville.

The SEC FanBlog has a post on this as well.

So you want a realignment?

Stephen Green links to this Roger L. Simon post that alleges:

What we are witnessing is the beginning—the early movement—in the death of the two-party system as we know it. This is a revolt of the pragmatic center. And that is a good thing for the American people because those parties and the media that feed on them have indeed become a form of nomenklatura. They depend on each other. They are the mutual gate keepers of an old and sclerotic bureaucracy from which their jobs flow in a system of patronage as elaborate as the Czar’s. No wonder watching CNN tonight I felt as if I were watching a wake. They are threatened by what is going on—as they should be.

I don’t know that I believe that. Any good political scientist will tell you that we’re probably overdue for a realignment—but realignments rotate the societal cleavage lines, finding a new way to split the center; they generally don’t produce “the pragmatic center” versus “everyone else.”

Realignments are fundamentally about changes in the issues that separate voters between the parties. Now, maybe the “war/no-war” issue is a possible realignment pivot; I honestly don’t know. It certainly sees political figures of all stripes squabbling within their own parties more than usual. But that’s not anything to do with the “pragmatic center.”

Yet, arguably, the pragmatic center won in California. That was largely due to the ballot format, and in particular due to the fact that party activists were not the gatekeepers for candidates to receive a major-party label on the replacement ballot. Look at the figures: six of the top seven candidates in the replacement ballot had a party affiliation, and five of the seven were affiliated with a major party; the top five major party candidates received 94.3% of the vote, the Green party candidate received 2.8%, while the highest independent tally (0.6%) was for Huffington, who essentially ran as a Democrat. If primary voters, comprised mostly of Republican and Democratic activists, had been able to be gatekeepers for the ballot—as they are in virtually every other partisan election in the United States—chances are the “pragmatic center” option wouldn’t have even made it on the ballot, even though it’s fairly clear Schwarzenegger was the Pareto winner* of the election.

Unless the pragmatic center can break down these barriers to entry for their preferred candidates, or establish a viable third party label (something Schwarzenegger probably isn’t interested in heading, particularly after the Ventura debacle), chances are that the major parties—and particularly the party activists who control them—will continue to win almost all elections.

Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk has some interesting thoughts on this topic as well, including a cautionary tale about single-party democracy in his adopted homeland. And, I particularly like Matthew’s reaction to something Michael J. Totten said:

This isn't really recall-related, but Michael Totten follows up on Simon's post with a "can't we all just be nonpartisan?" plea, and cites increasing complexity as a reason to move toward a more nuanced politics. That's fine for folks like Michael, but there's a downside to increased complexity—most consumers of political information have little time to think about complexity, and instead receive their information in little bite-sized pieces. It's this famine of depth which encourages hyperpartisanship, as gut reactions predominate over reason. If anything, the trend isn't toward the death of the two-party system as we know it, but toward the creation of an increasingly polarized and anti-intellectual pair of party masses, along with a highly informed politically moderate elite (i.e. folks like Michael and Roger), who occupy the position of “kingmaker” in future elections.

That sounds about—and, dare I say, scarily—right.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds’ semi-blog at MSNBC thinks the recall is an effective way to upset special interest politics-as-usual; I think that, again, goes to the format of the ballot, which allowed a moderate figure to run with a party label without significant initial support from that party’s activists. The other major candidates, however, were in hock to established state interests: Bustamante with the Old Left and racial unity groups, McClintock with the Christian right, and Camejo and Huffington with the Sierra Clubbers. In any event, generally speaking I don’t have a problem with organized interests influencing politics, even if the playing field could be made more level. (And I’d slightly quibble with Mancur Olson’s interpretation of Japan’s interest group structure; by the accounts I’ve read, the post-war kieretsu were not too different from the business cross-holdings prior to the war. Olson’s probably correct when it comes to the bigger picture, however.)

Econometricians win Economics nobel

Tyler Cowen has the scoop on the Economics Nobel prizes, which are being given to the inventors of two time-series econometrics techniques: ARCH and cointegration. As Tyler points out, Granger is more famous (perhaps even infamous) for his contribution of the concept of “Granger causality”; the typical joke is that, by the Granger defintion, summer “Granger-causes” fall (or autumn, if you don’t live in North America).

Anyway, very cool stuff; I’m not a time-series guy myself, mainly because there isn’t all that much great cross-sectional time-series data on mass political behavior at the individual level, but ARCH and cointegration are a big deal for political scientists looking at things like presidential approval and aggregate voting behavior over time, and the Nobel is well-deserved by both.

Recall maps

Via Calblog, I found this neat county-by-county map of the recall results; there’s all sorts of cool tables available here. It’d be nice if our state could put together something similar for this year’s gubernatorial race too.

Tuesday, 7 October 2003

Blasting from the past

Rather than talk about the California recall results directly—a topic I can add little to the existing discussion on anyway—I’ll just point to my August post on how recalls are compatible with representative democracy. And if California Democrats want to try to kickstart a new recall election against Schwarzenegger immediately—something they can probably gather enough signatures for to qualify for the ballot, but will probably have major problems attracting support from the voters (and which probably will be an unneeded distraction in a year when the party will need to focus on getting out the state’s vote for a Democratic nominee)—more power to them.

Kevin Drum also thinks an Arnold recall would be a distraction from the Democrats’ 2004 campaign.

Just speaking for myself, the more whining I hear out of Democrats about “stolen elections” the more likely I am to vote for Bush just to spite them—bearing in mind that now, frankly, I could probably easily be convinced to vote for a sane Democrat like Joe Lieberman or even Serb-warlord-coddler Wes Clark. So, yes, California—and the maturity of Democrats’ response to having an ineffectual, embarassing governor of their own party who was a willing captive of Old Left interest groups quite deservedly tossed from office—will matter for me, and many other fence-straddlers, in 2004.

Is an editorial that fails to take a position really an editorial?

Today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal contains a typical rendition of one of the fundamental problems with the newspaper: it confuses the op-ed page with a forum for writing news pieces that are completely unsourced. Today’s example: its editorial on the selection of a route for Interstate 69 through the city, which somehow in 527 words manages to avoid taking a position on absolutely anything. Let’s start at the beginning:

AN ADVISORY committee’s proposed route for the extension of Interstate 69 through metropolitan Memphis offers a compromise that should provide some satisfaction to the highway’s proponents in Tennessee as well as Mississippi. The recommended route is actually two routes: one through downtown Memphis that would get the I-69 designation and an outer loop to be called I-269.

Indeed it should. Did it occur to anyone at the CA to interview these proponents so we can be sure? Or are we just engaging in wild speculation here?

Officials in Mississippi, backed by the state’s congressional delegation, say they would prefer a horseshoe-shaped loop for I-69 between Millington and Hernando to improve transportation and bring new economic activity to eastern DeSoto and Marshall counties. Memphis officials have not opposed an I-69 bypass, but have lobbied for a downtown route for the new highway, which eventually will link Canada to Mexico through eight U.S. states.

Well, the basic facts, at least, aren’t in question.

Much of the Shelby County portion of the proposed outer loop is built or under construction. The Tenn. 385 loop, which includes Paul Barret Parkway, would become I-269 at Millington, connecting to a new section of Tenn. 385 that is under construction between Arlington and Collierville.

It might have been worthwhile to clarify that part of Tenn. 385—the Nonconnah Parkway—won’t become part of I-269. That, you know, would actually be informative.

South of Collierville, a road would have to be built through the northwest corner of Marshall County and across northeast DeSoto County. The new road would cross I-55 north of Hernando. Work on the highway west of that point is under way, with grading, drainage and bridge work on the stretch that runs from U.S. 61 to Interstate 55 expected to be complete by November 2004.

Good to know our friends at the CA at least read the DeSoto Times, as a reader of the CA wouldn’t actually know this from their previous reporting on the topic. (For the record, we’re four paragraphs in, and there has yet to appear a single opinion.)

Much of its route through Memphis is paved. From Millington, a new stretch of the highway would be built to just below Frayser, following a path west of U.S. 51. From there it would use existing freeways, starting with the connector between U.S. 51 and the I-40/240 loop, merging with I-40/240 and then following I-55 South, picking up I-269 traffic north of Hernando, then heading southwest into the Mississippi Delta.

“Much of its route through Memphis is paved?” And the rest is a cowpath? Are there dirt freeways in Shelby County?

Temporarily, the new highway would be a welcome addition to the regional transportation system for suburban Memphis residents. Local commuters spent an average of 36 hours waiting in traffic in 2001, according to a report released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. That’s about 15 hours less than the average urban commuter wasted, but no doubt more than the typical local commuter would prefer.

As the I-69 project encourages more development on the fringes of the metropolitan area, however, its advantages to the commuting public will wane. Particularly in Marshall and DeSoto counties, where new stretches of roadway would be built, I-269 could exacerbate the urban sprawl that has had considerable impact on the quality of life, culture and economics of Memphis and surrounding communities.

Never mind that Mississippi officials already planned to build a freeway along the I-269 route anyway, starting in 2009. Besides which, I suspect most people in Marshall and DeSoto counties prefer the “urban sprawl” to what was there before, since those counties didn’t really have much of an economy before it.

Interestingly enough, the Commercial Appeal isn’t very upset about a new stretch of roadway between Memphis and Millington, which is likely to be a larger sprawl magnet, seeing as that area will be much more accessible to downtown than southeastern DeSoto County is. One suspects they’re on better terms with Millington City Hall.

And the environmental impact of the highway has not been sufficiently explored. The road’s proponents maintain I-269 could have a positive effect on air quality, by relieving some of the congestion that a single, downtown route would create. Its effects on wetlands and farms could become sources of contention, though, before a final decision is made.

Uh, I call bullshit. The Tennessee and Mississippi departments of transportation have been studying the highway proposal in detail since December 2000. They have produced a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that discusses the “effects on wetlands and farms,” among other topics, which will be (a) very large and comprehensive and (b) available at area libraries later this fall, once it is approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

By late this year, a draft environmental impact statement must go to the Federal Highway Administration. Public hearings early next year could finally provide the information needed to determine what’s best for Memphis and neighboring communities.

Uh, hello? The Technical Advisory Committee has already determined “what’s best for Memphis and neighboring communities.” That’s why they made the decision to go with the “system alternative.” The public hearings are designed to determine whether the public agrees with that choice—there have already been two other sets of public meetings designed to find out what alternatives the public would like to see considered.

By the way, that’s where this “editorial” ends. What does the CA think? Who knows? But if you’re going to be an opinion leader, it probably helps to have an opinion in the first place.

Monday, 6 October 2003

The freedom to make your own, bad decisions

One of the things that critics who accuse America of being an imperial power should consider—repeatedly—is that the United States has not engaged in a war for territorial acquisition since 1898, and has given, or at least offered, independence to every territory captured since the Mexican-American War. The states of Western Europe and Japan were restored to sovereignty, and left free to their own devices, even when those aims contradicted ours; to name just two examples, Japan was left free to erect high barriers to imports from America, while France was allowed to pursue an independent foreign policy that often is at odds with that of the United States. Imperial powers don’t tolerate these sorts of things, as the Hungarians and Czechs could testify about their Russian overseers or Tibetans (and, increasingly, the people of Hong Kong and Macau) could point out about their masters in Beijing.

Another data point, from Glenn Reynolds: Reuters reports that Iraq’s civilian authorities want a GSM-based mobile phone system; GSM technology is generally produced by European manufacturers, while the rival CDMA system has strong backing from American companies. It will be Iraq’s first public mobile phone network, as the Saddam Hussein regime did not permit use of mobile phones by members of the public.

Of course, Reuters never misses a chance to accentuate the negative:

A functioning national phone system, which Iraq has lacked since Saddam Hussein was toppled in April, could also allow guerrillas fighting the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq to organize themselves better on a national level. The U.S. Army says guerrilla groups are only locally organized at present.

For good measure, it also notes:

The choice of Kuwaiti companies to help run the phone network is a controversial one in a country where many Iraqis still resent their small southern neighbor after years of tension following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

No Iraqis, of course, are quoted as finding this decision “controversial.”

Reuters spends much of the report going off on complete tangents that have nothing to do with mobile phones, discussing such disparate topics as unemployment, Vladimir Putin, and a U.N. draft resolution on Iraqi reconstruction.

RCR News has a report with additional details (which, somehow, manages to stay on-topic).

Because ignorance is bliss

From Dissecting Leftism and Marginal Revolution, we learn that Conservatives are happier than Liberals. I like my hypothesis better than Tyler Cowen's.

Comparative advantage

Pete Holiday has written a recap of Week 6 in the SEC, which saves me that chore for this week. Predictions will be forthcoming later.

One thing I will quibble with is that nobody seems to be giving Ole Miss any credit for the win. Perhaps Zook made some questionable calls—I probably would have passed more—but if there’s a rule of coaching, it’s to stick with your game plan, and the way Leak was passing late, he probably would have thrown more picks if Zook went to the air earlier. But, if you look at the stat book, the Gator offense doesn’t look that bad: 376 yards is hardly a sign of offensive weakness, the O-line only conceded one sack, and they went 3 for 4 in the red zone.

Even on defense, the Gators didn’t look that bad. Florida essentially shut down the Rebels’ go-to receiver, Chris Collins, for much of the game (he was held to 5 catches for 72 yards, and didn’t catch a pass until 24 minutes into the game on the drive where UF intercepted the ball). Maybe the defensive line failed to stop a few running plays that they should have, and perhaps the secondary wasn’t prepared for the best passing quarterback they’d seen to date.

But, in the end you have to give some credit to the Rebels, who were down 14-3 early and could have just folded their tents and went home. Instead, they made some adjustments, came out, and played to win the game. Ole Miss may have been mediocre early in the season, but they weren’t mediocre on Saturday when it counted, and now they’re the only team who’s 2-0 in conference road games this season.

Sunday, 5 October 2003

Mumia proposal

Since our European “allies” are such big fans of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Michele suggests, let me make a proposal: free Mumia, strip him of his American citizenship, and exile him permanently to France. If we’re really lucky, he’ll kill Roman Polanski, which will (a) solve the problem of getting Roman back to answer those child molestation charges and (b) prove once and for all that Mumia is just a run-of-the-mill, murdering scumbag who happens to possess a modicum of literacy. What’s not to love?

Matthew points out the inevitable fly in the ointment—that Mumia would be fêted as a great hero. I suspect the more likely outcome is that Mumia would be a short-term fetish object for the hard Euroleft and then fade quickly into oblivion after they moved onto the next cause-of-the-week—at least, until such time as Mumia convinced himself of his inherent badassitude and got himself killed venturing into the slums of Marseilles.

Looking ahead at the rest of the SEC season

After six weeks, things are starting to become a bit clearer in the SEC races, particularly in the East. So it’s time to handicap the teams and try to figure out who’s going to Atlanta, who’s going bowling, and who’s staying home.

In the East, the title race is essentially down to Georgia and Tennessee. Both teams have one loss against a non-division foe. Barring a collapse down the stretch, the winner of Saturday’s contest between these two teams should be the East’s representative in the title game. South Carolina has the talent to win the title, but division losses to both Georgia and Tennessee mean that both must have at least 3 conference losses for the Gamecocks to travel to Atlanta. Florida’s condition is almost as critical, having conceded the tiebreaker to the Volunteers. Lurking in the wings is Kentucky, who at least don’t have division losses to the leaders (yet) but seem unlikely to run the table. Vanderbilt needs to win 5 of 6 to even be eligible to appear in a bowl game, and barring a miracle (victories over all five of their division opponents, coupled with at least one more loss each by the Dawgs and Vols) the Commodores aren’t winning the division. Georgia and Tennessee will almost certainly be going to major bowls (and, if one of these teams wins out, it still has an outside chance at a Sugar Bowl appearance); South Carolina probably will earn a bowl appearance as well. Kentucky and Florida’s bowl prospects are more uncertain.

In the West, things are decidedly more interesting. LSU would appear to have the inside track, with a 2-0 conference mark, being the only undefeated SEC team left, and having some of its most severe conference tests (Florida, Auburn, and final game Arkansas) at home in Death Valley. Arkansas, however, has also looked impressive early in non-conference play, Auburn has apparently turned around their season from a lackluster start, and the offensive line and secondary of Ole Miss finally seem to have figured out how to put the Rebels in a position to win. All of these teams currently are undefeated in conference play, although that won’t last long, with Auburn travelling to Fayetteville on Saturday. Barring disaster, all of these teams should see postseason play, with LSU almost certain to appear in the Sugar Bowl if it runs the table. Alabama remains ineligible for a conference title or a bowl appearance. Mississippi State, despite breaking a nine-game losing streak at home against Vanderbilt this weekend, is unlikely to be bowl-eligible with a 1-5 mark.

Looking ahead, Georgia should have the SEC East title wrapped up after the Florida game November 1st. The West race is likely to come down to the final week, with Arkansas going into Baton Rouge facing LSU for the conference title game berth. Given the reputation of the West for having bruising divisional contests, Auburn or Ole Miss could easily gain an edge—the Rebels have already won two of their four conference road games, never an easy feat in the SEC, while Auburn has the most potent ground game in the division. But for now, I think the most likely outcome is a Georgia-LSU rematch in the Georgia Dome, with Georgia winning the conference for the second straight year.

Valerie Plame and the NOC list

Gary Farber points out a New York Times piece that, while going out of its way to kiss Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet’s ass, indicates Valerie Plame had a ‘non-official cover’, which is CIA-speak for “Plame posed as a civilian expert under her own name while actually working for the CIA.”

Now, assuming this is true, the obvious question is why anyone with Robert Novak’s phone number in their Rolodex would know this. Novak may have some cachet as a columnist, but his shifting politics over the years suggest he should have few friends in this—or any other—administration. It’s even more puzzling why her CIA job would apparently have been common knowledge in Washington circles if Plame did have a non-official cover—or, for that matter, why an undercover operative would draw attention to herself by making donations to political candidates that must be disclosed to the public by law.

Frankly, I think the only way this mess is going to get sorted out is if the FBI and/or Congress follow Glenn Reynolds’ suggestion and start subpeonaing the journalists involved in breaking this story, starting with Novak. And, if they don’t like it, maybe they should put the heat on their sources. And, in the end, I suspect these sources will look a heck of a lot more like David Kelley than Karl Rove—two small fish whose reputations were puffed up to make a story sound more sensational than it really was.

Saturday, 4 October 2003

More of the Plame Blame Game

Dan Drezner, as always, has the latest on the machinations surrounding the Plame/Wilson affair. I don’t have too much to add, since I’m immersed in a fun college football Saturday that has seen the David Cutcliffe Season Survival Meter (current value, as always, in the sidebar) skyrocket by no less than 25 points.

Friday, 3 October 2003

Trying to compete with alt-weeklies

I have become convinced that for blogging to go mainstream, first it must overtake that other pretender to the journalistic throne, the alternative newsweekly (or alt-weekly for short). To do that, we must determine what makes the alt-weekly successful.

Rather than the obvious possibilities—lengthy, one-sided articles on progressive causes, an editorial slant that considers Tom Tomorrow the necessary counterbalance to the opposing ideology espoused by Ted Rall, the gratuitous use of four-letter words, a level of commitment to journalistic ethics that would make Jayson Blair blush, or the savvy copyediting skill that somehow makes every serious news story jump to the page with the ads for the titty bars on it*—I believe alt-weeklies succeed primarily because of the innovation of the “I Saw You” (ISY) personals ad.

So, in order to compete, I present Signifying Nothing’s first ISY ad.

You: cute girl waiting behind me at Papa John’s on Jackson Avenue around 9:50 p.m. while I futzed with the debit card receipt.
Me: well, you got here, so you’ve probably figured it out by now.

Now to get the bugs worked out…

OS X 10.2.8 returns from oblivion

It’s a good thing after all that I stopped back by work this evening, as OS X 10.2.8 has come back from the dead (after being pulled about ten days ago due to some networking problems). Not quite as smooth as typing apt-get upgrade, but then again, what is?

This is the sound of silence

Apologies for the light posting; I’ve been busy working on integrating some changes into the department web site. More posting soon (I think)...

Wednesday, 1 October 2003

SEC Week 6 prognostications (and Week 5 recap)

First, as always, the recap. Call it OT week in the SEC, as 3 of 7 games went to OT.
KENTUCKY [2-2/0-1] 24, Florida [2-2/0-1] 17 [JP].
21-24; Kentucky somehow blows the fourth-quarter lead, extending Florida's streak to 17 games in the series.
ALABAMA [2-2/1-0] 27, Arkansas [3-0/0-0] 14 [CBS].
31-34, double OT. Arkansas pulls off the road win in Tuscaloosa, not the easiest thing to do.
AUBURN [1-2/1-0] 35, Western Kentucky [3-0] 17.
48-3; Auburn has now put together two impressive performances against lower-calibre teams after some early disappointments. We'll see if that lasts this week…
VANDERBILT [1-3/0-1] 17, Georgia Tech [1-3/0-2] 14 [PPV].
17-24, OT. Vandy has come oh-so-far, but not-so-far-enough.
TENNESSEE [3-0/1-0] 31, South Carolina [3-1/0-1] 17 [ESPN].
23-20, OT. The Gamecocks put up a good fight at Rocky Top.
Louisiana State [4-0/1-0] 45, MISSISSIPPI STATE [0-3/0-0] 7 [ESPN2].
41-6. Really nothing to say about this one, folks; it was just sad.
OLE MISS [2-1/1-0] 38, Texas Tech [2-1] 21 [Webcast only].
45-49. As-billed, a big shootout. The Rebel secondary continues to get burned for big plays; however, the killer was the lack of red-zone offense that led to 18 of the Rebels' 45 points coming from field goals.

Where does this put everyone in the standings? UT holds the lead in the SEC East at 2-0, with Florida and Georgia tied at 1-1, while everyone eligible for the conference title in the West (except Mississippi State) is undefeated in SEC play. That, however, won't last long. Realistically, the East is down to UT and Georgia already (with Florida with an outside shot if UT collapses down the stretch), while it's still anyone's ticket to Atlanta in the West.

Only four games this week, all of which are East versus West showdowns, three of which are on TV. Starting at the JP game and working later in the schedule:

FLORIDA [3-2/1-1] 27, Ole Miss [2-2/1-0] 18 [JP/GamePlan]
Unless the Rebels' red zone offense drastically improves or the secondary figures out how to limit big plays, Chris Leak will look like the second coming of Johnny Unitas in the Swamp on Saturday. A must-win for both coaches (and for either team to have a shot at the SEC title game).
Vanderbilt [1-4/0-2] 21, MISSISSIPPI STATE [0-4/0-1] 10
Two SEC losing streaks are on the line here in Starkville. I see absolutely no evidence of life out of the Bulldogs, so I have to favor Vandy by default.
GEORGIA [3-1/1-1] 35, Alabama [2-3/1-1] 14 [CBS].
Bama's been all over the map this season. Georgia hasn't. 'Nuff said.
Tennessee [4-0/2-0] 31, AUBURN [2-2/1-0] 17 [ESPN].
Auburn has yet to prove it can win a game against decent opposition. UT, er, actually has won games against decent opposition.

Till next time…

By the way, Pete Holiday has a preview of the UT-Auburn matchup at the SEC Fanblog as well.

Cellar-dweller battle

Pete Holiday at the SEC Fanblog takes a look at this Saturday’s matchup between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in Starkville. One SEC losing streak has to come to an end in this one, and Pete gives the edge to the Commodores.