Sunday, 30 November 2003

What I want for Christmas

An ancient Roman 20-sided die (circa 2nd century), with astrological symbols on each face, is being auctioned off at Christie’s.

Estimated going price, $4000-6000.

Now that would be an impressive die to pull out of the obligatory Crown Royal bag at MidSouthCon 22.

PoliBlogger: poly-columnist

Steven Taylor has two print columns today: one on the Democratic nomination horse-race in the Birmingham News, and another on gay marriage in the Mobile Register.

Hillary as lead balloon

Both James Joyner and Dean Esmay note Deeds’ account of Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity with the troops in Baghdad (as noted here at Signifying Nothing on Saturday morning); James and Dean find Hillary’s snubbing justifiable, both due to her (and her husband’s) record in supporting the military and her party’s position on the conflict, while Howard Owens and Glenn Reynolds think she deserved better treatment from the troops, as she has been a relatively consistent supporter of the war in Iraq.

However, I think it’s instructive to look to what Deeds wrote:

Given Hillary’s constant trashing of the Administration’s policies and the work being done in Iraq, her advance people get a flunking grade on setting up a lunch to be with the “troops” and other Americans in the CPA mess hall. That was not the right thing for Hillary do to.

While Sen. Clinton may have supported the war, let’s take a look at what press accounts said about her visit to Baghdad. From Sunday’s Boston Globe:

Clinton and Reed arrived in Iraq on Friday, a day after President Bush made a surprise trip to Baghdad. Clinton, who represents New York, and Reed, of Rhode Island, spent Friday with military brass and troops, occupation officials, and aid workers.

They said Friday that the costs of rebuilding Iraq should be spread among more nations.

“I’m a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration’s thinking,” Clinton said. “I don’t see that it’s forthcoming.”

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Clinton and Reed said the expense and political burden in administering Iraq would be made easier with the U.N.’s stamp of legitimacy and help in transferring power to Iraqis.

From the BBC:

Both the senators said the governance of Iraq would be made easier with greater UN involvement.

In other words, the senator was in Iraq, criticizing the performance—and competence—of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and saying the UN would do a better job. No wonder her visit was as popular among CPA staffers as Deeds indicates.

One Fine Jay, in his trackback below, has some interesting thoughts on the larger meaning of Sen. Clinton’s visit for the Democrats. I still stand by my original belief that her visits to Afghanistan and Iraq are good things; however, I think she shouldn’t be surprised to get a cold shoulder from people working for the CPA after criticizing their competence from afar. That being said, she probably deserved a little better response than that documented at Deeds. Then again, senatorial visits have rarely met with great appreciation from the military; when former senator Jim Sasser, then the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, visited RAF Fairford in Britain once, I don’t recall anyone being particularly excited he was there. (If it sounds like I’m equivocating, it’s because I am; I really don’t know what to make of the Clinton visit at this point.)

Signifying Nothing now (literally) on the map

Huzzah and kudos to The Commissar for adding Signifying Nothing to the blogosphere map. We’re lurking somewhere in the region of Chechnya, in southern Russia.

Lies, damn lies, and cheaters

The Commissar of The Politburo Diktat has uncovered praised mass perfidity by members of the “League of Liberals” blog alliance that has resulted in inflating their traffic statistics measured by SiteMeter; N.Z. Bear is, shall we say, not amused. Don’t you just love this silly “alliance” business?

Saturday, 29 November 2003

Your I-22 update

Upcoming in Monday’s Memphis Business Journal is this piece by Jane Aldinger on the current state of plans to designate the U.S. 78 corridor from Memphis to Birmingham as “Interstate 22.” My (slightly out-of-date) pages on the topic are here.

There is one minor mistake in the article: the Transportation/Treasury appropriations have been rolled into the planned “Omnibus” bill for final passage, due to some post-conference quibbling over some provisions relating to outsourcing provisions that were in the original conference report.

Hillary in Baghdad

John Galt of Deeds ran into another VIP in Baghdad on Friday. Let’s just say that her visit didn’t quite go over as well as the president’s.

Gay Par-ee

Kevin Aylward of Wizbang is still getting serious traffic from his three-week-old post with links to a clip from the now-notorious Paris Hilton sex tape—which, so I’ve been told, is sort of a cross between the Jessica Lynch rescue footage and the Pamela/Tommy Lee tape, and about as, er, effective as you would expect it to be given that lineage.

The Watcher of Weasels has more thoughts on the video; a sampling:

When you take her disgustingly thin “heroin chic” look combined with the poor quality of recording… it almost looks like Calvin Klein tried to remake Village of the Damned as some kind of porno.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn how to drive traffic to your blog in a respectable fashion, I recommend the Commissar’s advice on the topic.

Friday, 28 November 2003


I’ve updated this post on the basis of some commentary received from Perseus, who conducted the survey cited by John Dvorak in his “blogging is destined to be a miserable failure” piece.

The morality of monopoly

Laura McK continues to ponder academic career patterns. In drawing the comparison between Ph.D.s and M.D.s, she notes:

The AMA has done a far better job protecting doctors from flooding the markets. Paul Starr’s book [The] Social Transformation of American Medicine relates how the AMA purposely regulates the numbers entering medical school in order to keep the demand for doctors high and thus guarenteeing them higher salaries. Academics should learn from their example.

Arguably, the bar exam has similar (but weaker) effects on the legal profession. However, I wonder about the morality of turning away someone who wants to earn a Ph.D. in the name of “protecting academics from flooding the markets.” Unlike law and medicine, an academic degree isn’t solely a gateway to a profession, and unlike those fields, there’s no overarching body that can be an effective gateway to discourage free riding. (Good luck trying to get accrediting boards to decertify Ph.D. programs that don’t limit intake.)

The central drawback is more that a lot of people earn Ph.D.s who’d probably be happy doing something else, but they’re 22 and not ready for the “real world,” for whatever reason. But the incentive structure is such that academic departments want to have students around—they help with recruiting and retaining faculty by improving departmental prestige, provide cheap labor for teaching and research, and attract resources from the university administration. On the other hand, it’s hard to make a case for turning away—or worse, failing out—students who are qualified, and I think good programs do, in fact, warn students coming in that they may not get a job. (One former faculty member at Ole Miss is famous for his “Bull Durham” speech, which has struck fear in the heart of many a grad student—including this one.) And that is laying aside the tenure issue, which I’ve seen chew up a number of promising scholars at varying institutions—due to the vagaries of publishing, departmental and administration politics, and other issues.

I don’t know that I have any good or easy answers here. After all, I’m just starting out (heck, I still have to defend on Tuesday—and I’ve got work to do before and after that). Maybe there’s something to be said for adding more value to the terminal master’s, reserving the Ph.D. for those who want to pursue a research-track career. I honestly don’t know.

Your weekly update on toast

Steven Taylor has the latest update on the Toast-O-Meter, with Howard Dean firmly in the lead. Says Steven:

Dean continues to race ahead, with none of the Other Eight seemingly able to catch up. As pollster Frank Luntz noted on Hardball this week, his status is so well established that when the Other Eight attack him, they are seen in a negative light, rather than the attacks bringing Dean back to earth.

I might also add a separate classification to the Toast-O-Meter: whether the candidate is achieving his or her goals—perhaps how “buttery” the toast is. For example, we all know that Al Sharpton doesn’t really want the nomination: he just wants to hog the spotlight at the convention. So being 2nd in South Carolina actually serves his interests, because he’ll rack up delegates. This, however, may only apply to the novelty candidates.

Mark of Southern Appeal links to the latest predictions by CQ analyst Craig Crawford, which correlate highly with those of the Toast-O-Meter.


Ole Miss goes 7-1 in the SEC for the first time in, well, forever (and the first time with only one loss since 1963), yet some morons still want to fire the coach because we lost by 3 points—a field goal—to what may be the best team in the country not named “Oklahoma.” What a bunch of Grade A, no account nitwits.

Thursday, 27 November 2003

I didn't know Clayton Cramer was a Canadian MP

Alec Saunders notes that the Canadian Alliance has had a bit of a bigot eruption, courtesy of one of its members of Parliament, Larry Spencer, who wants to make homosexuality illegal. Priceless quote from the National Post account:

But Mr. Spencer said any MP, and especially someone from his party, risks being labelled “a redneck or a hate-monger or homophobic” if they even mention such views in Parliament.

Let me see: you want to make homosexuality illegal. That sounds, I dunno, pretty “homophobic” to me. But then we get to the Globe and Mail’s story on the aftermath, which contains this gem of a juxtaposition, discussing the implications on the merger between the Alliance and Progressive Conservatives:

One of [the Progressive Conservative] MPs, Scott Brison, is gay, and has expressed interest in running for the leadership of the new party.

Mr. Brison said Mr. Harper has a responsibility to remove Mr. Spencer outright from the party for his “outrageous” remarks. …

“… It is absolutely essential that we actually be inclusive by not tolerating bigotry, prejudice and hatred,” the MP said.

Left unsaid is exactly how “removing Mr. Spencer,” and presumably those who share his views, makes the party more inclusive. Wouldn’t that actually make it, by definition, less inclusive?

David Janes has the latest go-round on this story, featuring debate between Colby Cosh (also in the National Post) and Mark Wickens; David’s reaction seems spot-on:

Larry Spencer isn't some ol' codger holding court at the red-and-white pole barber shop, he's a member of Parliament. And whatever the mode of his internal dialogue, whether it be based the 1970's or the 1870's, he correspondingly should consider exercising his internal censor occasionally too. Everyone has nasty thoughts, but most realize that there are levels of frankness aren't particularly refreshing.

Alec Saunders sides with Janes and Wickens over Cosh, too. And, there's more from Damian Penny, who notes that the National Post has apparently unearthed the source of Spencer’s anti-gay rhetoric.

The meaning of the Iraq visit

As many in the blogosphere have noted, George Bush visited Baghdad today, while Hillary Clinton was in Afghanistan. Both visits were admirable—our troops deserve the recognition—but let me focus on Bush’s visit to Iraq, and the political implications of it.

The “obvious” political implication is that it’s an example of using the office to look presidential, something none of the Democratic presidential candidates can accomplish. But there’s a second political implication: Bush is now committed. He’s gone to Baghdad, and said (paraphrasing) “we’re not going anywhere until the job is done.” It’s free ammunition for Democratic candidates who do want to stick it out with American troops in Iraq—admittedly, not all of the field—if Bush decides to cut and run. This makes it that much harder for the administration to give up in Iraq—which, to those of us who think Bush should stay the course and follow through on our commitment to a democratic Iraq, is a good thing.

Dean Esmay has the text of the President’s remarks in Baghdad. In related news, John Cole is keeping an eye on the reaction from the less sane quarters of the left.

Quickie SEC predictions (11/27-11/29)

Well, last week could have gone better. Nonetheless, I soldier on…

  • 11/27: OLE MISS over Mississippi State. It’s the 100th edition of Ole Miss-Mississippi State, this year being held in the Friendly Confines of Scott Field in Starkville. Yes, it’s Jackie Sherill’s last game. Yes, State can be dangerous at times. Yes, the Rebels are coming off a heartbreaking loss. No, none of this matters. Key stat: “MSU has put up little fight since Sherrill announced on Oct. 17 he’d be stepping down at season’s end. State has been outscored 236-57 in the five games since that announcement, all lopsided SEC losses.” (From Thursday’s Clarion-Ledger.) Rebs win by 20+ in an offensive showcase.
  • 11/28: LOUISIANA STATE over Arkansas. Arkansas has been impressive of late, against weak opposition, while LSU has pretty much cruised over its opposition, with only three competitive games all season (the loss against Florida, and wins over Georgia and Ole Miss). LSU should win easily, but, then again, that’s what people said last year, too. LSU by 3 in a slugfest.
  • 11/29: Tennessee over KENTUCKY. UT just outmatches Kentucky in every phase of the game.
  • Georgia over GEORGIA TECH. Despite their injury issues, Georgia should roll over Tech.
  • FLORIDA over Florida State. As always, should be a very competitive game. Florida should win a close game.
  • HAWAI'I over Alabama. The key question is whether Alabama will show up ready to play. They nearly lost last year to a Hawai'i team that was inferior to this one. I have to give Hawai'i the edge here.

George Soros: coup plotter

Matthew Stinson observes that financier and newfound lefty darling George Soros only seems to have a problem with regime change when he isn’t instigating it personally, at least according to Wednesday’s edition of Canada’s Globe and Mail.

On the other hand, Mark A.R. Kleiman believes Putin orchestrated the whole business in Georgia, with an assist from Washington.

Wednesday, 26 November 2003

FedEx and Ford

Memphis state senator John Ford is up to his usual shenanigans, this time billing taxpayers for $2200 of personal FedEx charges; Mike Hollihan has all the juicy details (permalink bloggered; scroll down).

Ph.D. advice

Steven Taylor has some pretty comprehensive advice on whether or not to pursue the Ph.D. There’s some other advice I’d add:

  • Pick up a copy of Getting What You Came For, by Robert L. Peters.
  • Research grad schools before you apply. Make sure they offer what you want beforehand; there’s no point in coming to Ole Miss or FSU if you want to study political theory, for example.
  • If you’re still an undergrad, try to bum your way into a conference or two. It will give you a flavor of what you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing; better to find out if you like it at 22, when you can still get a J.D. or M.D. instead, rather than once you’ve accumulated sunk costs.
  • Don’t just go somewhere just because it’s close to home, or because they’re making you the best assistantship offer. It can be a consideration, but that shouldn’t be the determining one.
  • The rankings (particularly in US News) are often outdated, as changes in reputation take time to filter through disciplines. Especially when you consider that #20-25 will be completely different when you’re done, which is when the reputation will really matter.
  • Look for schools with faculty—particularly tenured faculty—who publish regularly. That’s a leading indicator of reputation improvement.
  • Unless you’re going to a top-tier program, you probably won’t get the “ideal Research I job” straight out of grad school. On the other hand, it may be easier to get a liberal-arts (teaching-focused) job out of a less prominent institution, as they’re less likely to think you’ll jump ship once you have two or three years under your belt.
  • If you do want to be in the “Research I” rat-race, look for a postdoc at a top-tier institution to help close the gap between you and the applicants with top-tier Ph.Ds when it comes time to get the “real job.”

All that being said, you can’t beat the job of an academic. Where else can you get paid for doing pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want?

Analyzing the sabre rattling

Conrad sees ominous signs in the latest sabre-rattling exercise by the Chinese government toward Taiwan (also noted by InstaPundit). Quoth Conrad:

I do, however, sense a significant change in tone recently in China’s comments regarding Taiwan. China’s bungling of the one country, two systems policy in Hong Kong have virtually eliminated whatever slim chance there was of a peaceful reunification while the CCP remains in power. Taiwan is now taking steps it believes will ensure its permanant independance and Beijing, having deceided to prop up its corrupt and despotic rule with juvenile patriotic appeals, realizes that the loss of Taiwan means the fall of the government.

A year ago, I’d have said that the chances of armed conflict between Taiwan and China were negligable. All the parties have too much to lose. Today, I’d rate the likelyhood at something approaching 50-50. If that happens, US involvement is all but a certainty. The US needs to make that final point crystal clear to Beijing.

Thursday’s China Post has the latest news on the story.

NYT suggests great pickup line

“Hey baby, would you like to help me commit spiritual suicide?”

Just think of it: if she gets it, she’s probably a New York Times reader. Smart and liberal.

Inspired by David Adesnik of OxBlog.

Greeting my peeps

African-American culture has provided a way to greet my black friends: “fo’ shizzle, my nizzle!” But what if I want to get down with my white homeys? Kelley of suburban blight suggests fo’ shizzle, my crizzle!, while Michele recommends alrighty, my whitey!

In related news, Snoop Dogg has a blog (not work-safe). Maybe Dvorak is right?

You say Nevada, I say Nevada

Both PoliBlog and Xrlq take note of this bizarre AP story that alleges that Bush mispronounced the name of the state of Nevada:

Bush, in Las Vegas on Tuesday, repeatedly said Ne-vah-da. To properly pronounce Nevada, the middle syllable should rhyme with gamble.

There’s only one minor problem with this theory: Merriam-Webster says both pronunciations are acceptable.

I know absolutely no-one who pronounces “Nevada” the way these native Nevadans claim it should be pronounced; it’s like claiming I should pronounce “Mexico” as “Mehico” because that’s how Mexicans say it. This is sheer idiocy masquerading as a critique.

John Cole isn’t impressed either; neither are Nevada residents D.C. Thornton and Sin City Cynic. Xrlq also notes, shall we say, some minor grammatical difficulties with the account as presented in the Las Vegas Sun.

Tuesday, 25 November 2003

Medicare musings

Matt Stinson has a roundup of reactions to HR 1, the Medicare prescription drug benefit bill, which has a lot of the right’s underwear in rather uncomfortable positions. But then there’s John Cole’s reaction:

The only problem is that nothing in my experience, and in particular the rhetoric of the Democrats during the Drug Benefit debate, even gives me the slightest impression Democrats would be any better.

Mauvais ou plus mauvais. Doesn’t it always boil down to that?

Jay Rosen on the NYT Public Editor

PressThink’s Jay Rosen has a lengthy and insightful take on Daniel Okrent’s appointment as the New York Times ombudsman public editor. Rosen thinks that Okrent could use blogs and other outside commentary to help police the Times; the question is whether the newspaper’s apparent antipathy toward blogs will make it possible for Okrent to pursue that model of criticism.

Republican strategery

Both Tavares Karol and Michael Van Winkle have posts at The Chicago Report trying to figure out the current strategy of the Republicans. Karol implies—although he doesn’t explicitly argue—that Republicans have borrowed Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy and taken it to a new level. On the other hand, what Karol sees as good strategy, Van Winkle sees as being to the long-term detriment of the party:

Clinton left office without giving the Democrats any direction. The party under Clinton existed to serve his presidency, to defend his antics and get him reelected. All the while, Clinton’s policies were creating fissures in the party, fissures he had no intention of smoothing over with his leadership. When a party is split between two possible futures it’s up to the leader to pick one and raise the sails. Otherwise, the party is left aimlessly afloat and burdened with resolving the structural cracks itself. This is a very difficult process and we’re seeing it played out in the Democratic Primaries. The Democrats aren’t sure what their party is and where it’s going.

Bush is doing the same number on the Republicans. Sure, he is working toward reelection and will probably be successful, but what about that other role, Republican Party leader? Well, he doesn’t seem to take that role very seriously. He isn’t leading the GOP toward any coherent destiny beyond his own presidency. This is the primary difference between Bush and Reagan. They both cut taxes, but the latter did it with a vision for the future. The former has done it, primarily for political expediency (not that I am complaining). The Republicans have to ask themselves, “what happens after Bush is gone?” “Do we like the direction the party is moving?”

If the current course (or nonexistent course) is maintained, when Bush leaves office (whether 2004 or 2008) the GOP will undoubtedly witness the same kind of infighting that the Democrats are currently working through. The Dems’ problems may be exacerbated by their being the party out of power, but if the GOP is left adrift then they (the Democrats) won’t be out of power for long.

Perhaps it is the lot of parties in this media-centric age to regress to being personalistic in nature; many political scientists (myself included) have assumed that the personalistic nature of parties in developing countries (think of Mahathir in Malaysia, or Lee in Singapore) is a phase that will be outgrown as parties become more institutionalized. But maybe that’s a more widespread—and reemerging—phenomenon, particularly within ruling parties; can we think of Labour quite the same way without Tony Blair, the RPR without Jacques Chirac, the SPD without Gerhard Schröder, the Canadian Liberals without Jean Chrétien, Forza Italia without Silvio Berlusconi, or the Republicans without George W. Bush?

With the institutional power of American parties in rapid decline relative to both candidates and interest groups (witness George Soros’ large donation to, rather than the Democrats), thanks to the incumbency advantage, widespread adoption of open primaries, and McCain-Feingold, it seems likely that the United States will see more of these fights for the heart and soul of the party, as candidates and interest groups try to gain control of the remaining institutional advantages of the major parties—their automatic access to the ballot and their “brand recognition.” Why build a third party from scratch when you can just hijack the Republicans or Democrats?

This is today’s entry in the Beltway Traffic Jam.

Paleocon canned

MSNBC has canned Buchanan and Press, according to the Associated Press (via the Miami Herald). Unfortunately, though, it’s just the silly Crossfire knockoff—they’ll still be on the GE/Microsoft payroll:

Both men will continue to be contributors to MSNBC, said Erik Sorenson, the network’s president.

Just when you thought it was safe to watch MSNBC again…

Unruly fans

LSU über-fan TigerEducated notes an LSU Reveille column by Bryan Wideman that focuses on Friday night’s near-brawl between drunk LSU and Ole Miss supporters near the Oxford Square. You can also read the Oxford Eagle’s account of the incident.

While I don’t think Wideman’s experience was typical of that of most visiting fans, I think his account of being roughed up by an Oxford police officer ought to be properly investigated; that’s simply unacceptable conduct.

Monday, 24 November 2003

Preachin' and teachin'

Robert Prather of Insults Unpunished links to a WaPo piece on a list, compiled by conservative stuents, of ten UT-Austin professors who allegedly use their classrooms as a forum for proselytization instead of teaching.

I do think it’s sometimes a professor’s job to challenge the views held by their students, to ensure that they are actually considered viewpoints; however, there’s a difference between that and becoming an advocate. Particularly in large lectures, where there is often little time for discussion, and where there may be an incentive for students to try to curry favor with the professor by claiming to share the professor’s views, I think it’s best to avoid advocacy.

My cardinal rule in the classroom is to keep my students guessing; the highest compliment I’ve received was from a student who indicated that she and some of her friends couldn’t figure out what my politics were—which, I think, means I was doing my job just fine.

A good weekend for the Hasselbeck family

First, Washington Redskins backup QB Tim Hasselbeck (not to be confused with Matt Hasselbeck, his brother), with three NFL passes to his credit, puts on a passing clinic against the Miami Dolphins despite losing the game, then his new wife Elisabeth, fresh off Survivor, lands a gig on The View replacing Lisa Ling.

Odd turns

As Brock notes below, the gay marriage debate has spawned some odd threads, including a discussion of the constitutionality of non-procreative marriage by Jacob Levy. While, in general, I’m not particularly interested in this debate*, I think there are a couple of plausible interpretations of the constitutionality of marriage:

  • A textualist argument would say the Constitution has nothing to say on the issue, either way; marriage is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Pure strict constructionalism would argue that this gives Congress no right to legislate on marriage, as that is not an enumerated power of Congress. An expansive reading of the “necessary and proper” clause would argue that Congress can regulate marriage, at least between residents of different states (under the interstate commerce clause), or in all circumstances, as marriage may be part of the “general welfare.” Neither interpretation seems to suggest that marriage would be a constitutional right, though.
  • An originalist argument would say that the Constitution is only construed to protect marriages that were permitted under English common law at the time of independence (under the meaning of “liberty” at the time). This would probably limit constitutionally protected marriage to marriages involving one man and one woman, within a single race, and instituted by a religious ceremony of some form. Clearly, an originalist argument would no longer be supported by precedent, as interracial marriage is constitutionally protected (see Loving v. Virginia) and so, presumably, are civil marriages.
  • An argument based on the majority holding in Lawrence v. Texas would probably consider marriage as a constitutionally protected “liberty interest” absent a compelling state interest to the contrary. This would place the burden on the state to show there is an overwhelming interest that isn’t based on prejudice against gay marriage, something that I think would be very hard to show.

There’s also a second argument surrounding gay marriage: whether the “full faith and credit” clause requires states where certain marriages are not constitutionally protected to acknowledge those marriages if they were conducted under the laws of another state (say, Massachussetts). Absent a clear textual command to the contrary, I, like Matt Stinson, suspect you could find at least some state or federal courts that would say “yes,” although I don’t think the U.S. Supreme Court would eventually concur. However, some state supreme courts probably would.

What worries me is that, like abortion, this will become one of those interminable debates that paralyzes the judiciary—and by extension, politics at large—because the Supreme Court takes sides too soon in the wider political debate. The last thing this country needs is another “culture war” where the Supreme Court has essentially placed a highly controversial issue beyond ordinary politics. It’s the sort of thing that leads to both parties taking absurdly extreme positions and is ripe fodder for demagoguery by the likes of Roy Moore and the Buchananites.


Jacob Levy continues to sift through his email box, looking at rationalizations for anti-gay discrimination in marriage laws.

The most popular rationalization is that a gay or lesbian couple is incapable of biological reproduction. But, of course, so are many straight couples, voluntarily or involuntarily. And many couples, although physically capable of reproducing, have chosen not to reproduce. [Obligatory disclosure: my wife and I are among the latter group.] We do not deny marriage licenses to these couples.

Several of Jacob’s readers have espoused the position that we should, indeed, deny non-procreative couples the right to marry. An unnamed, “conservative, married” correspondent writes to Jacob:

I’d suggest that only marriages WITH children get extraordinary “protection”. You can call you partner and your arrangement whatever you want but the state should only recognize existing FAMILIES and partners who have reared children as state blessed “marriages” with accompaning rights and benefits.

So, if you’re sterile and marry and don’t have kids…no bene’s. If you adopt, fine, you got a “marriage” in the states eyes and get benes. Until then, call your arrangement whatever you’d like but make all of your legal issues explicit (wills, visitation, powers of attorney) cause the state doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care about helping two, unburdened, free, adults square away their respective responsibilities to each other.

Jacob is mainly interested in the legal question of whether a right to marry would be guaranteed for these couples by the U.S. Constitution (presumably by the Ninth Amendment and the “Privileges and Immunities” clause of the fourteenth). But the public policy position, or the philosophical position, that marriage ought to be reserved for (potential or actual) biological parents is independant of that, and, barring an actual court case, seems more interesting to a non-lawyer such as me.

This political/philosophical position needs a name. Since the position could be summed up succinctly as “Marriage is for breeders”, I propose calling this position “breederism.”

Sunday, 23 November 2003

Dean beds down with Ted Rall

Eugene Volokh notes that Howard Dean’s campaign blog is trumpeting an endorsement from Ted Rall from Rall’s latest Universal Press Syndicate column. For those unfamiliar with Rall, he’s the unthinking man’s Tom Tomorrow. I guess Howard’s still not done tacking left…

Having said that, I agree with Rall* that Dean is the Democrats’ best chance for beating Bush, because (a) he has the plurality support of the party’s base and (b) those plurality supporters won’t stand for anyone else in the field, no matter how much they try to tack to the left. The way I see it, the Dems can get 45% of the national popular vote with Dean, or 35–40% with anyone else, with the remainder either defecting to the Greens or just staying home.

Glenn Reynolds has the reaction from the right, including posts from Eye on the Left, Tim Blair, and Blogs for Bush.

Colonial legacies

Conrad and Pieter at PeakTalk both make their readers aware of the Indonesian practice of gijzeling, which is apparently often used by Indonesian officials to shake down foreigners. As Pieter points out, not only is gijzeling a Dutch term (which literally means “hostage taking”); it also has its roots in Dutch law. As Pieter writes:

Had this practice not been part of the legal infrastructure that the Dutch left behind in Indonesia, I have little doubt that somehow Indonesian authorities would at some point have discovered this technique of generating additional revenue. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that if ever the country comes under serious international criticism over this practice it will happily point to the old colonial master that introduced the practice in the first place.

It is not just Indonesia that has found this practice, of borrowing from past colonial laws, effective; the neighboring Malaysian government’s notorious Internal Security Act is a direct decendent of British anti-sedition laws enacted under colonial rule to combat communist insurgencies, as are Singapore’s similar internal security laws. In response to criticism, both governments have regularly pointed out that Britain had imposed equally draconian legislation in the past; they have also noted laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act that were enacted by Britain to combat the IRA and “loyalist” terrorist groups in Northern Ireland.

I don’t know if there’s an obvious lesson to be drawn from this pattern. To echo Pieter, authoritarian regimes generally don’t need any help figuring out ways cracking down on disfavored groups. But to the extent vague and open-ended laws are used in democracies to crack down on terrorist groups, authoritarian states can point to those laws to justify similar provisions—even if, in practice, they are targeted at their nonviolent political opponents rather than terrorists.

Saturday, 22 November 2003

Am I Ready?

Hell Yeah, Damn Right
Hotty Toddy, Gosh A-Mighty,
Who The Hell Are We?
Hey! Flim-Flam, Bim Bam,
Ole Miss, By Damn.

See you later…

I may or may not have more to say on the game tomorrow. I’m currently dog tired and not particularly sober. In the meantime, you can read Robert Prather’s thoughts on the game, which I generally agree with, and my comments at his place, which I definitely agree with. And Conrad isn’t particularly thrilled with the outcome either.

Nature 1, Kate 0 (with an assist from the state of Hawaii)

Venomous Kate has a link to a Honolulu Advertiser piece in which she is interviewed about the continuing disappearance of her back yard at the hands of the Pacific Ocean and the rather callous attitude of the state authorities toward the situation.

At least down in these parts, we’re allowed to do something about the kudzu. Not that you can do much about kudzu over the long term, mind you, but still…

Quickie SEC football thoughts (Nov. 22)

A little earlier than I’d meant, but I imagine I’ll be in a hurry in the morning tomorrow. On to the picks (as always, straight up):

  • GEORGIA over Kentucky. The good news for Kentucky: win out and they go to a bowl. The bad news: if the Wildcats can’t beat Vanderbilt in Nashville in front of a half-dozen fans, they certainly can’t win inside the hedges in Athens.
  • TENNESSEE over Vanderbilt. Then again, the Commodores are on a one-game conference winning streak…
  • ARKANSAS over Mississippi State. Time is running out on the Jackie Sherill farewell tour, and I don’t think the parting gifts will be nice from Fayetteville, particularly with Arkansas trying to sneak into the Cotton Bowl with a late surge.
  • Clemson over SOUTH CAROLINA. If Tommy Bowden’s team can stay focused, they should beat their in-state rival. But SC is a dangerous football team nonetheless; ask Florida, who by all rights should have lost to the Gamecocks last week.
  • Alabama over AUBURN. Yes, “on paper” Auburn outclasses Alabama in almost every phase of the game. But with Alabama having nothing to play for except punching Auburn’s ticket to the Houston Bowl, all the pressure is on Tommy Tuberville, Jason Campbell, and Carnell Williams, who were supposed to be wrapping up the regular season on their way to the Sugar Bowl at this point. Look for Tubby’s squad to find another way to lose.

And, last but not least:

  • OLE MISS over Louisiana State. Forget about Eli Manning; the real story is that the 21 other starters around him have battled through adversity, injury, and early-season embarassments. Nobody gave the Rebels a chance to be where they are today at the beginning of the season. Eight weeks ago, most fans thought the best thing that might happen in this season was another trip to Shreveport. At that time, sophomore receiver Taye Biddle, who dropped sure TDs against Memphis and Texas Tech, was less popular in Oxford than Osama Bin Laden. Now I don’t know if the Rebels are a team of destiny. But I do know that this game is for all the marbles. And every time since September 27 when it’s been put-up-or-shut-up time, someone has stepped up and made the key play, whether it’s Eli making a key QB sneak to run out the clock on South Carolina, Lorenzo Townsend—the fullback—catching a 49 yard pass on 3rd and long against Auburn deep in the 4th quarter, or Eric Oliver picking off Chris Leak to stop a late drive by Florida. The Rebels haven’t always won pretty. They haven’t kept the proverbial boot on the neck at times. They’ve been burned on freak plays. But still, somehow, they keep finding a way to win. And I think they’ll do it again Saturday. Not because Ole Miss outmatches LSU in any phase of the game—frankly, they don’t—but because the Rebels are on a mission that they’re not quite done with yet. And they’ll have the largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in the state of Mississippi on hand to help carry them over the goal line.

What, you were expecting X’s and O’s?

Also of interest: a New York Times profile of Manning.

Friday, 21 November 2003

Doctor Dean dodged draft, declares Drudge

James Joyner of OTB notes that Matt Drudge is reporting that Howard Dean may have exaggerated a medical condition to avoid serving in Vietnam. Like James, I don’t expect it to have much impact on the election; however, if Dean wins the nomination, it will make it more difficult for relatively scrupulous Democrats to trot out the “Bush went AWOL” rumors.

In general, though, I don’t think people care all that much any more; witness the failure of both John F. “I Served in Vietnam” Kerry and Wes Clark to gain much traction with their military histories. Past military service (or the lack thereof) hasn’t really been a meaningful issue in a presidential contest since 1960.*

John Cole thinks the news is a hit piece orchestrated by Kerry and/or Clark; apparently, Drudge’s scoop is based on this New York Times piece by Rick Lyman and Christopher Drew.

Other reactions: Kevin at Wizbang! thinks it was planted by Kerry, while Steve at Tiny Little Lies thinks Dean is screwed regardless of who planted it (or if, in the immortal words of Andy Sipowicz, Dean’s camp launched “preemptive stink”). And Matt Stinson agrees with James and I that the attack probably won't work, while Poliblogger Steven Taylor makes the point that Dean is well-positioned even if the charge does stick with some voters:

[S]ince he is running as essentially the anti-war candidate, in some ways this simply adds to that position in its own kind of way. In other words, the hard-core Democrats who are currently gung-ho for Dean are hardly going to fault him for not wanting to go to Viet Nam, now are they?

One step forward, two steps back

Daniel Drezner, fresh off his 300-comment-inducing disagreement with blogosphere folk hero James Lileks, notes both progress and regress on the trade front by the administration, with regress apparently beating out progress quite handily.

No! No! Make that cat go away!

Over at Crescat Sententia, Peter Northup has an excellent summary of a colloquium at NYU featuring Lawrence Lessig. The quote that struck me:

There was another interesting exchange concerning an alternate, “conservative” justification for intellectual property rights: the desire to protect the integrity of certain culturally significant works from debasement (this included the first of many references to Disney pornography, and set the stage for a most unexpected digression on Smallville slash, and the public’s interest, or lack thereof, in its production). If we’re willing to prevent someone from painting his historic townhouse chartreuse, can’t we say “no” to Mickey Mouse pornography?

Indeed, as Lessig reminded the audience, the Dr. Seuss estate made just this very argument in support of the Copyright Term Extension Act.

Meanwhile, the mostly negative reviews of the new movie version of The Cat in the Hat are piling on. A few choice quotes:

  • “... one of the most repulsive kiddie movies ever made.” – David Edelstein in Slate
  • “... the producers may as well have skipped the hassle of securing licensing rights and simply called this mess Mike Myers: Asshole in Fur.” – Gregory Weinkauf in the Dallas Observer
  • “If the producers had dug up Ted Geisel’s body and hung it from a tree, they couldn’t have desecrated the man more.” – Ty Burr in the Boston Globe.
  • “A vulgar, uninspired lump of poisoned eye candy.” – A. O. Scott in the New York Times

Artistic integrity, my ass.

A side benefit of gay marriage

Thanks to Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy (here and here) for pointing out that legalization of gay marriage might lead to a small increase in sham marriages for immigration purposes.

As an advocate of open immigration, I regard this as a positive benefit.

More on Regulation

Megan McArdle writes on Howard Dean and his penchant for regulation in her latest piece at TechCentralStation. All I want to know is: when can I get on the VRWC gravy train?

Pejmanesque has more, including links to negative reactions to Dean’s remarks by Tyler Cowen and Stuart Buck.

I prefer the keyboard, personally

One Fine Jay administers a brutal fisking to John C. Dvorak, professional crumudgeon/columnist, for his PC Magazine article predicting the demise of blogging.

Let me focus on Dvorak’s stats backing this up:

Let’s start with abandoned blogs. In a white paper released by Perseus Development Corp., the company reveals details of the blogging phenomenon that indicate its foothold in popular culture may already be slipping ( According to the survey of bloggers, over half of them are not updating any more. And more than 25 percent of all new blogs are what the researchers call “one-day wonders.” Meanwhile, the abandonment rate appears to be eating into well-established blogs: Over 132,000 blogs are abandoned after a year of constant updating.

Perseus thinks it had a statistical handle on over 4 million blogs, in a universe of perhaps 5 million. Luckily for the blogging community, there is still evidence that the growth rate is faster than the abandonment rate. But growth eventually stops.

The most obvious reason for abandonment is simple boredom. Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a blog mystifies a lot of professional writers. This is compounded by a lack of feedback, positive or otherwise. Perseus thinks that most blogs have an audience of about 12 readers. Leaflets posted on the corkboard at Albertsons attract a larger readership than many blogs. Some people must feel the futility.

Now, there are plenty of reasons why people may be abandoning blogs. Some people may, in fact, be abandoning blogging altogether. Some have decided to take their thoughts private, so they move. Some may join group blogs. Many migrate from Blog*Spot to hosting providers. Many move from one Blog*Spot address to another—heck, Blogger even advocates the practice. Some bloggers have backup blogs hosted elsewhere. Some people—Matt Stinson, Dan Drezner—have done more than one of these. All of these “failure modes” are lumped together, because it’s simply too hard to track what’s going on.

Pronouncing blogging a failure on the basis of these weak statistics would be like noting that DirecTV loses 570,000 customers a year, and arguing this means satellite television is doomed. “Churn”—what business calls the continual cycle of losing customers—is a natural aspect of any phenomenon in which collective preferences are aggregated. Companies lose customers, but they also gain new ones. Citizens move in and out of the voting population. And some people decide blogging isn’t for them—but a lot of others do. If there are really 5 million blogs—that is, one blog for every thousand human beings alive today, and perhaps one for every hundred with Internet access—that’s a truly staggering statistic. But I guess Dvorak’s just the latest in the long line of media dinosaurs that doesn’t “get” that.

Perseus' blog has a response to my post (and, by extension, the Dvorak piece). They note that only 1.6% of abandoned blogs include any forwarding information, and go on to write:

Pronouncing blogging a failure on the basis of these weak statistics…
Better to say its a weak argument to declare blogging a failure in a study that showed the number of hosted blogs growing from 135,000 at the end of 2000 to over five million at the end of 2003.
They’re right, of course; what I meant was what Perseus wrote: that Dvorak’s conclusions had weak support from the statistics. Sorry for the confusion.

Via Matthew Stinson.

Of toast and crystal balls

Larry Sabato has his hokey “crystal ball” schtick, while Steven Taylor again consults his toaster. For what it’s worth, my microwave says Dean has the lead, but the floodlights on my house still think Gephardt and Clark have a chance.

In all seriousness, Steven gets the edge by far, since (a) he’s never injured anyone that got between him and a reporter and (b) he has adopted a metaphor that doesn’t reflect negatively on the discipline.

Salam, the Bleat, his wife, and her lover

I’ve already said my piece on this blogospheric navel-gazing exercise in the comments at Dan’s place (in short, I think all the participants are talking past each other); however, Matt Stinson, Robert Garcia Tagorda, James Joyner, and Anticipatory Retaliation have the cream of the reactions—from my POV, at least.

Robert Prather also responds, noting that Salam Pax in particular owes his livelihood to the U.S. forces who liberated Iraq.

Crocodile continues to elude Hong Kong authorities

Conrad of The Gweilo Diaries notes the latest events in the bizarre Hong Kong Crocodile saga. In Florida, they send out a dude in a truck to wrangle the reptile in question (usually an alligator, mind you), and the problem is solved, at least until another one wanders into the neighborhood. They most certainly don’t dick around for two weeks in the process. Simply amazing.

Oh yeah, it's big

How big is Ole Miss-LSU?

But at least TigerEducated has his yellow and purple blinders on. Phew; I thought hell had frozen over…

In more game news: Ole Miss had the most pathetic pep rally I’ve ever seen tonight in the square. It lasted all of ten minutes. I’ve been to high school pep rallies that lasted longer. Still, you could have heard the Hotty Toddy that went up from Batesville. Oh, if you’re thinking of coming to Oxford on Saturday—we’re all full up. Sorry. (This is just my lame attempt to avoid having to get out of bed at o-dark-thirty to be able to park closer than my house.)

Elsewhere in college football, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles snuffed out TCU’s BCS hopes. I still think it’d be cool to have the in-state series with all three I-A programs; who knows, it might be a fun new-to-me rivalry. Maybe it’d even raise enough money to get Mississippi State a decent-looking stadium, instead of that butt-ugly monstrosity that makes the entire MSU campus look like a pit.

Thursday, 20 November 2003

Choose rationally

Mike van Winkle of The Chicago Report is hosting a discussion on the rationality of voting. As I note in the comments, I don’t think Downs’ conception of rational voting is quite inclusive enough to explain why most people vote in the United States and other democracies where voting isn’t compulsory.

Less is Moore

Steven Taylor notes the latest setbacks for Bilbo wannabe Roy Moore, late of the Alabama Supreme Court. First the Alabama convention of the Southern Baptist Church distanced itself from Moore, then the perennially irrelevant Constitution Party invited Moore to be its 2004 presidential nominee. Now all that’s left is for Moore to get an MSNBC talk show with Phil Donahue to complete his deserved slide into pathetic obscurity.

Laypeople discover the two-step flow of political information

James Joyner discovered that he’s an “influential” according to the authors of a new book entitled—you guessed it—The Influentials. Never mind that any first-year grad student in sociology or political science already knew this, because Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld wrote a book on it called Personal Influence, oh, way back in 1955 (yes, kids, 48 years ago). Now just wait until someone cribs Zaller for the biz-exec audience…


Happy first-year blogiversary to fellow political scientist Brett Marston of Marstonalia (via PoliBlog and OTB).

Kennedy Compounding

James Joyner links to a John Fund OpinionJournal piece looking at whether or not John F. Kennedy technically received a minority of the popular vote; in 1960, Alabama’s voters decided between Nixon and a slate of 11 Democratic electors, 6 of whom were unpledged—and voted for Harry Byrd—and 5 of whom pledged votes for Kennedy.

In the same election, Mississippi also elected a slate of unpledged electors who voted for Byrd; however, unlike in Alabama, they beat a slate of electors pledged to Kennedy by 7886 votes, according to Presidential Elections: 1789–1996, published by Congressional Quarterly—which still attributes all of Alabama’s votes to Kennedy, despite CQ’s own reallocation of the votes between Byrd and Kennedy based on the behavior of the Alabama electors.

K is for kickoff; or, your gratuitous cleavage shot of the day

Matthew Stinson has a photograph of a young Dutch woman eagerly awaiting the kickoff of a soccer match between Scotland and the Netherlands.

The letter of the day is, of course, K for Kate.

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

Language peeves

Ryan of the Dead Parrots posts an “irregardless considered harmful” memo. My personal all-time language peeve is people who seemingly can’t tell the difference between “it’s” (the contraction for “it is”) and “its” (the possessive form of “it”); the deeply annoying thing is that the rule is incredibly simple: if you can replace the word with the two words “it is,” and the sentence still makes sense, the right word is “it’s“; otherwise, “its.” No sentence diagram neeeded—just a little bit of English any first grader should know.

Command (Economy) in Chief

Virginia Postrel comments on a WaPo interview with Howard Dean that gives her the impression that Dean is “the thinking man’s Cruz Bustamante” (which may actually be an oxymoron). It’s fairly clear that Dean’s still tacking left; quoth Virginia:

Dean is running as a guy who wants to control the economy from Washington and who sees business as fundamentally bad. “Any business that offers stock options” covers a lot of companies, including some of the economy’s most promising and dynamic.

Regulation tends to be relatively invisible to the general public, in part because it’s mind-numbingly technical. That makes it much more difficult to reverse, much easier for interest groups to manipulate, and much more dangerous to the general health of the economy than the taxing and spending that attract attention from pundits.

She also has a challenge for the so-called “libertarians for Dean.” Ultimately (assuming Dean gets the nod) they’re going to have to decide whether being pissed off because Bush knocked off Saddam Hussein is sufficient reason to hand the keys of the economy—namely the federal regulatory apparatus—over to a man who barely pays lip service to capitalism.

One of the classic quotes of politics comes from French neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Asked, after losing in the first round of a French presidential contest (in 1988, I believe) to Jacques Chirac and François Mitterand, who he would back in the second round, he described the choice as one between “bad or worse”*; in 2004, hardcore libertarians are going to have to decide which is worse, but for now that honor seems squarely to belong to Dean.

Jacob Levy approvingly notes Joe Lieberman’s response to this nonsense. Like Jacob, I’d hate to see the Democrats return to their bad old protectionist ways, but outside a few DLCers like Clinton, Lieberman, and 1990s-Gore I don’t think the party ever really shed its protectionist bent; when Clinton spearheaded expansion of NAFTA to include Mexico in 1994, he did it with mostly Republican backing on the Hill.

Daniel Drezner comments as well, as does Andrew Sullivan; this is my entry in James’ inaugural Beltway Traffic Jam.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Shake it on down

Jeff Taylor and Joy have the latest on our friends at the Santa Cruz Operation; Jeff* characterizes SCO’s business model as “consist[ing] of filing suit against Linux users.” I think he’s being charitable; it’s more like “trying to sell for $200/seat technology written two decades ago by a bunch of kids at Berkeley that’s today worth about 10 cents.”

You know, in 1999 or so, that could have been the basis for a decent IPO. Hell, nobody else back then had a viable business model either…

Arrow's Impossibility Theorem and IIA

Steve Verdon explains Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, one of the most important theorems of economics and “rat choice” political science. Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain one of the key assumptions—the independence of irrelevant alternatives or IIA assumption—in much detail, which is a shame because I’ve never found a good explanation of it that doesn’t talk about the colors of buses. (It’s often called the “red bus, blue bus” problem for that very reason—that’s the classic example used to explain IIA, which leads most people to correctly ask, “but what if my problem has nothing to do with buses?”) Despite that (very insignificant) shortcoming, it’s an interesting post.

Privatizing marriage

Following today’s Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, there’s been some predictable noise in the libertarian blogosphere in favor of “privatizing marriage“. Normally, I’m pretty sympathetc toward libertarian utopianism, but I’d like to throw a bit of cold water on this idea.

As Michael Kinsley observes in this pro-privatization article, government sanctions of marriage serves as a “bright-line rule” in legal and employment matters. It generates the right answer in the vast majority of cases, while minimizing economically inefficient negotiations.

If I decide to get a new job, I can ask one simple question regarding benefits: Do you offer health insurance for the spouses of employees? If they say no, I can walk out of the interview right then, since this is a benefit I will not negotiate away. And the employer is free to say “yes” without prying into my spouse’s medical history, because it knows that I’m not just trying to get insurance for some relative or casual friend who has a medical problem. (That is, government sanctioned marriage staves off the problem of adverse selection for the health insurance market.)

If I die from an aortic dissection tomorrow, there will be no costly legal wrangling over who inherits my vast fortune. My wife will. This is exactly what I want, as do most married people. And I didn’t have to hire an attorney to draft a will.

In other words, a universally recognized standard for who is “married” is economically efficient.

Now maybe the question of employer-subsidized health benefits could be solved by an oligopoly of private marriage companies. But the legal questions cannot be. The legislature will have to decide which marriage companies to recognize as legitimate, and then we’re right back to government-sanctioned marriage. Homophobic bigots will try to pass laws saying that their state, or the federal government, will not recognize any marriage sanctioned by a company that sanctions marriages between two individuals of the same sex.

In short, privatizing marriage is not going to work unless we privatize the rule of law itself.

And even if I’m wrong here, and privatized marriage might work in theory, it’s never going to happen. What are you going to tell the millions of couples who are already married? “Sorry, you’ve got to go pay $75 to a company to have your marriage recognized by your employer and by courts of law. And since we don’t know how this business is going to pan out, you should register with all three of the major marriage companies, until the natural monopoly kicks in and picks a winner.” Sorry, libertarians, but you’ll have a much easier time abolishing Social Security and Medicare.

So here’s my challenge to the libertarian proponents of privatized marriage. As Will Baude so eloquently put it, you’re in a second-best world. The lines have been drawn in this particular battle of the culture war, and you didn’t get to draw them. But you have to pick a side.

Will you be with the bigots, or against them?

Update: Lower taxes? What are you talking about, Chris? I'm pretty sure that the marriage penalty is one aspect of marriage that gays are not clambering for.

Gay marriage's latest

I won’t try to round up all of the posts on Massachussetts’ decision today (a sampler: Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Virginia Postrel, One Fine Jay, and James Joyner), but I think Brett Cashman’s post is about the most sensible I’ve seen, in terms of the whole “what happens next” question. However, I can’t see conservatives’ innate desire to use the state as a vehicle for social engineering waning as Cashman (rightly) suggests it should.

Instead, realistically I think we could see a draconian form of the Defense of Marriage Act Federal Marriage Amendment sooner rather than later, because the Democrats in Washington are far too spineless to oppose it, and I reckon you could round up 38 state legislatures—bodies full of people looking for ways to avoid giving voters a good reason to vote them out—to ratify the thing in a big hurry. The bottom line is that conservatives aren’t going to let Roe happen twice, because exactly what Matt Stinson predicted here is just around the corner.

Matthew Stinson has a must-read new post on the topic as well. I think many social moderates would share his viewpoint, expressed here:

For what it's worth, I would be more inclined to support gay marriage nationally (rather than locally) if I believed gays desired marriage for more than just its economic and legal benefits. Yes, one's sense of dignity is benefited by having the right to marry, but what's lost on many gay marriage advocates is that marriage is about fidelity as much as it is sharing resources. Andrew Sullivan, to his credit, has argued that the option of marriage will have a civilizing effect on gay men. But gay men aren't children, and they can choose fidelity now if they want. That the vast majority do not do so suggests to me that gay male marriages, but not necessarily lesbian marriages, will be open marriages.

I’m personally not a big fan of outcome-based arguments for (or against) gay marriage, but this is an argument that will resonate with many fence-sitters. The more it sounds like gay people want marriage for the “free stuff,” like lower taxes* and cheaper healthcare, the more people are going to be turned off by it.

(Nor do I really buy the “civilizing effects” argument articulated by Sullivan; I suspect the number of straight men who’ve actually said, “I’d cheat on my wife with Lulu from the temp pool, but I can’t since I’m married” is within ε of zero. They might say “I’d cheat…, but I can’t since I’m in a committed monogomous relationship,” but you can have one of those without being married. It’s a function of character, not institutions.)

Also, you may enjoy this non-work safe post by Mr. Green, which refers to perennial SN foil Ricky Santorum. (Link via the Wizbang! post trackbacked below.)

Wallet-check time

Glenn Reynolds has the latest from our friends at the International Society of Political Psychology. He notes this email received from the group’s president by anti-left gadfly John Ray. Both are probably correct that no scholar with a right-wing bias would have written such an email; however, I’d attribute it more to a failed attempt at humor than to ideology per se.

I will note two empirical datapoints: my dissertation, which straddles the boundary of political psychology and mass political behavior, doesn’t have a single citation to a piece that appeared in Political Psychology, the society’s journal, despite citing nearly 250 distinct works—by comparison, the similarly obscure journal Political Behavior, which has significant overlap in scope, received 8 citations. A colleague, whose dissertation was even more explicitly in the political psychology tradition, also had zero citations of Political Psychology.* Since most people who join groups like the ISPP do it to receive the journal, if the society can’t publish a single journal article that would be even tangentially relevant to our dissertation topics (which, basically, is the criterion for a citation), it speaks volumes about the relevance of the ISPP to research in the subfield.

* There is a possible source of bias here: the University of Mississippi library doesn’t subscribe to Political Psychology—which may also speak volumes about the relevance of the journal to the subfield…

Database upgrade

The PostgreSQL database that runs Signifying Nothing behind-the-scenes was just upgraded (from 7.3.4 to 7.4). Hopefully the dump-and-restore step went smoothly, and none of the old content should have vanished into thin air.

Allegedly this release of PostgreSQL is faster, although how much improvement will filter through all the junk between your browser and the database (namely the LSblog code, which is hardly a model of efficient coding) is something of an open question.

Monday, 17 November 2003

What I'd do to the BCS

As it’s Monday, it’s time for the weekly howls of outrage to erupt at the latest BCS standings. Unfortunately for fans of college football, however, the outrage is largely manufactured and misplaced. Why?

  • Controversy sells. Getting people to watch the 6 EST SportsCenter is pulling teeth; hence why ESPN has pulled Dan Patrick back into full-time duty in Bristol, and why the BCS standings are a prominent part of the Monday show—to the point that they receive nearly 48 hours of pre-hype from “College GameDay Final” on.
  • The controversy is manufactured by the entities that have the most to lose from an independent evaluation of college football: the media. 65 of America’s leading college football writers and broadcasters have a vested interest in their ratings being the sole indicators of quality in college football. The regional and other biases of both the writers and the coaches are notorious. Nothing like some diversionary controversy to deflect attention away from the gorilla sitting in the corner.

There are legitimate reasons to critique the BCS standings. The fundamental problem is that they’re an ad hoc amalgamation of polls, an arbitrary selection of computer rankings, and fudge factors, necessitated by the false legitimacy that the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls have among college football fans. From an econometric standpoint, there are serious problems with the BCS.

A fundamental problem is that truly ordinal data is treated as metric in the formula. Your age, height, and weight are metric data: differences in age have real meaning. If I’m 27 and my cousin is 3, the difference in our ages—24 years—is a meaningful quantity. By contrast, poll rankings aren’t metric. LSU is #3 in the AP poll, and Ole Miss is #15. 15-3=12. Twelve doesn’t tell us much of anything about the difference between LSU and Ole Miss; it just tells us that there’s a difference. Missouri is #27. 27-15=12. Treating this difference as metric makes an invalid assertion: that the difference in quality between LSU and Ole Miss is the same as the difference between Ole Miss and Missouri.

This problem repeats itself throughout the BCS formula. Means of rankings in polls and computer rankings are taken. These means are added together. The strength of schedule component—which is a key component of many computer rankings—starts as metric data, then is converted to a ranking and arbitrarily scaled… then added to the means. Losses—which are metric—are then subtracted. Finally, an ad hoc adjustment is made for so-called “quality wins”—an adjustment one would hope that is incorporated in the polls and computer rankings anyway. Then the rankings are reported with these bizarre totals attached, apparently because totals look cool (I guess they got the idea from the AP and ESPN polls, who report the sorta-kinda metric Borda count in addition to the rankings).

Nonetheless, the fundamental idea of the BCS rankings is sound, even if there are too many compromises and too many ad hoc adjustments. So what would I do?

  • Include more computer rankings.
  • Use averaging methods appropriate for ordinal data. Or at least, recognize that taking the mean of a bunch of ordinal data doesn’t make it metric… so make it properly ordinal again.
  • Eliminate the silly restriction that computer rankings cannot incorporate margin-of-victory as a factor in their formulas. (I’ll explain why this restriction is silly in another post.)
  • Eliminate the ad hoc adjustments.

Next time (which I intended to be this time—sigh), I’ll talk about “computer rankings” in more detail. It turns out that they can be thought of as an application of the oft-maligned statistical technique known as factor analysis.


Mark your calendars… December 2nd is the day, at a secure, undisclosed combined conference room/classroom somewhere in Deupree Hall on the University of Mississippi campus. Of course, that’s not exactly the end of the tunnel, but pretty darn close.

Radical Interpretation of Matthew Yglesias

Up until today, if I had been asked to name the blogger that I most agree with (not necessarily my favorite blogger), it would have been Matthew Yglesias. This shouldn’t be surprising: we both have a background in analytic philosophy, both fans of David Lewis, we’re both consequentialists, we’re both liberals, and we’re both proponents of free trade.

But today he’s said something so outrageously false that, like Donald Davidson’s hypothetical man who says “There is a hippopotamus in the refrigerator” (from "On Saying That"), I have to wonder whether I’ve misinterpreted him.

Blogging about this list of the top ten albums of all time from Rolling Stone magazine, Matthew writes:

I would suggest that if you come to the conclusion that The Beatles are responsible for four of the top ten albums of all time, then your methodology is probably a bit off (they’re not, after all, the best band by whole orders of magnitude).

At first glance, he would seem to be saying here that not only are the Beatles not the best band of all time, they’re not even in the top ten.

But since this is self-evidently false, I must excercise Davidson’s "principle of charity". Like Davidson’s man who says “Look at that hansome yawl” while pointing at a ketch ("On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme"), I must conclude that Matthew uses the term “Beatles” to refer to some group other than John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Perhaps he’s confusing them with the Monkees.

I must, however, agree with Matthew that Rolling Stone’s methodology must be a bit off. Not for the reason that he cites, but because Abbey Road is not one the four Beatles albums they put in the top ten.

Update: Brian Weatherson, resident philosopher at Crooked Timber, weighs in with his top ten list. His methodogy is a bit off too, since he also leaves out Abbey Road.

Broker THIS!

Steven Taylor throws cold water on the idea that the Democrats will have a so-called “brokered convention”—i.e. that the plurality winner of the primary process won’t be the ultimate nominee. This isn’t the 1960s, and the Democratic base—particularly the Deanites—isn’t going to accept such meddling from party elites, and no amount of wishful thinking from either the media or anti-Dean forces in the party is going to affect that.

To get someone—anyone—other than Howard Dean as the nominee is going to require a lot of anti-Dean Democrats to swallow their pride and put the party ahead of their own interests before the end of the year (maybe even the end of November), so the designated “anti-Dean” candidate—Dick Gephardt seems like the only alternative with enough Old Left street cred, regional ties in the midwest swing states, and establishment support—can gain sufficient traction against both Dean and the novelty candidates. And if you see John Kerry, John Edwards, or Wes Clark stepping aside to back Gephardt, you’re truly kidding yourself.

My current theory on how the nomination battle will play out is explicated here.

James Joyner essentially agrees.

Sunday, 16 November 2003


Both Matt Stinson and Robert Garcia Tagorda note George Will’s Sunday WaPo column on the politics of the steel tariffs—and of the European Union response to them. Like Robert, I hope this development gives the administration the final push it needs to abandon the tariffs, before this escalates to a trade war which neither the U.S. nor foreign states can win.

Saturday, 15 November 2003

First Blogiversary

It’s hard to believe, but Signifying Nothing turned a year old yesterday. From its humble roots, before it even had a real name of its own, through the Lottroversy and Little Ricky Santorum’s problems, and beyond, we’ve been carving out our own little niche of inanity and commentary on the web since November 14, 2002.

As always, the old posts we’re particularly proud of—a small sample from our 874 posts over the past year—are linked in the left sidebar from the front page under the “Best of Signifying Nothing” label. But the most interesting posts, I think, are yet to come—or else Brock and I would have given up on this enterprise a long time ago.

Special thanks to my partner in crime, Brock Sides, for his added insight, and to our readers and fellow bloggers who keep us on our toes and—for some inexplicable reason—keep coming back for more. We can only hope that the next year will be even better than this one has been!

Quickie SEC football thoughts (Nov. 15)

My first losing record—heck, my first loss—on these picks was last Saturday. But, instead of quitting while I’m ahead, here are some more picks:

  • TENNESSEE over Mississippi State (JP split). “Duh” pick of the week.
  • Florida over SOUTH CAROLINA (JP split). Florida just has too much talent for the Gamecocks to handle.
  • ARKANSAS over New Mexico State. A bit late for an out-of-conference game, n‘est-ce que pas?
  • VANDERBILT over Kentucky. Coin-flip.
  • GEORGIA over Auburn. Yes, Auburn’s won five straight in Athens, but it won’t be six, even against a depleted Georgia team.
  • Louisiana State over ALABAMA. Some peoples’ upset special; I do expect a fairly close game for a while, but ultimately LSU is a superior team to the Crimson Tide.

The Rebels have a week off to prepare for the biggest football game ever from Oxford, one week from today at 2:30 pm on CBS.

Friday, 14 November 2003

Deanfest hits Oxford

The local Deanies are congregating tonight in Oxford, according to today’s Daily Mississippian. I pass this along in case you want a warning notice to flee across state lines lest you come into contact with any of these individuals.

Incidentally, the fact that one of Dean’s aides is named—and I truly wish I was kidding—“Zephyr Teachout” will explain everything you need to know about this presidential campaign.

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Good news, everyone

According to Professor John Folts at the University of Wisconsin, Guinness beer reduces the risk of blood clots that cause heart attacks. Apparently, though, this effect is confined to darker beers. Heineken did not have the same effect.

I for one will have no trouble incoporating this new medical breakthrough into my daily health regimen.

I would, however, like to correct one piece of misinformation in the Independent's article:

Light-coloured beers, such as lagers, lacked the same health-giving punch.

There are many dark lagers, such as the delicious Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager, which I unfortunately cannot seem to find in Memphis anymore.

Godfrey’s latest

One of the few good reasons to pick up the Daily Mississippian this year, if you don’t happen to have a pet bird, is that it often contains Steven Godfrey’s “The Tight End” column. This week’s edition fails to disappoint, with riffs on Miami ’roid-rager Kellen Winslow, “SEC on CBS” sideline reporter Jill Arrington, and ESPN2’s insipid “Cold Pizza” morning show. Money quote on Winslow:

Kellen also let out the big secret about us writers: We make a ton of money from football player quotes. Why, just the other day when I was counting quarters for gas and realized I was short, I just used football player quotes in trade.

It’s better than foldin’ money.

For more on Kellen’s latest troubles, see the Big East Fanblog.

Dipshits comment at Daily Kos; news at 11

Amanda Butler and Will Baude note some idiocy going on in the comments at The Daily Kos. In fairness to Kos, it looks like the message in question is a comment and not an actual post made by a bona fide Kos article poster, so it’s hard for me to get too upset about it (except to repeat my regular complaint about blog comment sections in general).

That being said, both Amanda and Will have excellent rebuttals to this full-fledged display of ignorance. I won’t pretend that Mississippi doesn’t have its quota of bigots—I’ve had the dubious pleasure of teaching at least a couple of them—but I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in America, “southern” or not, that lacked a few unreconstructed racists running around.

Links via Pejmanesque.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

The far left versus Sorority Row

Matthew Stinson, a fellow member of the patriarchy who is similarly burdended with false consciousness, has an entertaining and informative post about on-campus politics at FSU. For some odd reason, far-left identity politics hasn’t gained much of a foothold here at Ole Miss, so it’s nice to see that it’s alive and well elsewhere in the South.

That silly marriage amendment again

It seems that discussion of the proposed “Defense of Marriage” amendment makes Andrew Sullivan take leave of his senses. He spends a lot of time ranting about “celibacy,” a term that appears nowhere in the amendment’s text. Here’s the text, as presented by Sullivan:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.

Now, let’s deconstruct that paragraph. Sentence one is plain English, so that’s easy. Let’s take a looksee at #2:

Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. [emphasis mine]

Note the “shall” clause. This, in a nutshell, means that anything that doesn’t explicitly say “gay people may marry each other” cannot be construed to mean, well, “gay people may marry each other.” Sounds simple enough. Now onto #3:

Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.

This is apparently where Sullivan goes off on his bizarro rant about celibacy. To put it crudely, this sentence—in English—means, “you aren’t entitled to anything just because you’re fucking someone else.” How on earth Sullivan makes the leap to this sentence creating the precedent for some sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” police force just boggles the mind; if anything, it would seem to preclude it, because having a sexual relationship cannot have any effect on your “benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities.” This sentence says, whether Sully’s fucking his boyfriend or sleeping down the hall in the spare bedroom, it makes absolutely no difference.

Frankly, I agree that this amendment is fundamentally silly, although, unlike Sullivan, I’d rather have the state out of the business of marriage as completely as possible, leaving it to contract law and civil society—hence why he’s a conservative, while I’m a libertarian. And if Sullivan wants to marry his boyfriend, or the hypothetical lesbian commune down the street wants to organize a group marital arrangement, it’s nothing that’s going to cause the end of the universe; even if God cares, I suspect He has more important things to worry about. But I’d expect someone who, you know, writes for a living might actually be capable of reading what’s in front of his face. And, in this case, I think Sullivan’s dislike for the proposal has blinded him to what the actual text says.

And Sullivan’s still obsessing; apparently, what’s important to him aren’t the benefits of marriage; it’s the societal imprimateur that government recognition of gay marriage would convey. The conservative’s complete, and misguided, faith in government as a qualified social engineer emerges yet again.

Lawrence gets results from OTB, VodkaPundit

I don’t have a hokey website like perennial SN foil Larry Sabato, but I do make slightly better predictions than James Joyner and Stephen Green. Quoth James:

I always thought that the race was going to come down to electable candidates because of the dampening effects of the early Southern primaries. I figured Dean could do well in the “retail” contests in Iowa and New Hampshire—although perhaps losing both of them to favorite sons Gephardt and Kerry—by energizing the base. But I thought, and indeed continue to think, that he’s not going to be very appealing in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states.

... With so many of the primaries stacked at the beginning of the year, fundraising is even more crucial than ever. Right now, the only candidates I can see able to sustain a serious race against Dean are Gephardt—who pretty much HAS to win Iowa or he moves up three shades on the Toast-O-Meter—and Wes Clark, who has a pretty good team thanks to the Clinton Machine. But I don’t know who Clark’s base is at this point and Lieberman’s presumed base, organized labor, seems to be split between him and Dean. So the key is to survive the early primaries and hope there’s an “anybody but Howard Dean” movement. [emphasis mine]

Fundraising, organization, and exciting the base are going to hand this nomination to Howard Dean, and I’ve been saying that to anyone who’d listen to my drunken political ramblings in bars and on rooftops since mid-July. The key to both Iowa and New Hampshire is getting the base on board the campaign, and that’s something that Dean has mastered.

The problem for the anti-Dean forces isn’t that Iowa and New Hampshire will lock the nomination up; instead, the problem is that the post-New Hampshire winnowing process doesn’t effectively winnow candidates—it’s far too time-compressed. Anyone who has enough money in the bank now to last until Iowa can survive until mid-March, on the basis of the money they’re going to get from today until Iowa alone. Fundraising simply won’t dry up fast enough to stop candidates who lose in South Carolina from persisting through Super Tuesday and beyond.

The other problem for the serious anti-Dean candidates is that the weighted PR system adopted by the party for this round—you qualify for delegates if you get 15% of the vote in any congressional district—benefits candidates who can draw clear distinctions between themselves and the other candidates. There’s no clear substitute for Dean in the field. On the other hand, Kerry is essentially interchangeable with half-a-dozen other white guys in suits in the field; the “I like an establishment Democrat” voter has no clear favorite, so they’ll just spread their votes around four or five different ways. The other likely beneficiary from the allocation rules is Al Sharpton, who will get a lot of his delegates from states that are unwinnable by the Democrats in the general election—particularly since the delegates aren’t allocated equally by congressional district, instead extra delegates are allocated to congressional districts that vote for Democratic presidential candidates.

Unless most of the “establishment Democrats” like Clark, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards can come to an agreement—and soon—that essentially has everyone except one of them drop out to maximize the “anybody but Howard Dean” vote, I don’t see any way for anyone but Dean to capture an overwhelming majority of the elected delegates. And even if Dean fails to capture an outright majority (including the superdelegates), I find it exceptionally unlikely that the Democrats would be able to get away with brokering the convention to nominate either a “white knight” candidate or a candidate who lost head-to-head with Dean in the primary process—frankly, I think the Dean base would abandon the party if it came to that. So, for now, it’s essentially Dean’s nomination to lose.

And Matthew Stinson points out the second half of the Dean Catch-22: his complete and utter unelectability.

Trade and jobs

Daniel Drezner is displeased at the news that the administration may try to evade the WTO ruling against the steel tariffs. The adminstration plans to maintain these protectionist barriers despite evidence that the steel tariffs cost many more American jobs—in many industries that use steel—than they saved.

The open political question is whether the tariffs are causing enough damage to the overall economy, including the economic recovery, that their marginal benefit in states like West Virginia is offset. The trouble here is that the marginal benefit from the tariffs is easy to quantify, because it is concentrated, while the damage is diffuse—thousands of jobs spread across perhaps two dozen states. And that damage could get far worse if it leads to a trade war with the European Union, who—in this case, at least—are clearly in the right.

Like Dan, I hope the administration will come to its senses. But I can’t be optimistic, especially since the dynamics of the Democratic campaign preclude almost any criticism of Bush from that quarter for not being enough of a free trader.

Monday, 10 November 2003

Disliking the Compass

Colby Cosh vents his spleen over the latest blogospheric fad, the “Political Compass” test, while Jacob Levy finds it weird and potentially unreliable.

Sunday, 9 November 2003

Dean and the South

Matthew Stinson links to a Jonathan Chait TNR piece that takes Howard Dean to task for his vague Southern strategy. As Chait points out, it’s Southern Politics 101 all over again:

So Dean’s plan is to get poor Southern whites to vote their economic interests rather than their cultural predilections. How simple! Why hasn’t somebody else thought of that idea? Oh wait, that’s right: Everybody has thought of that idea.

The notion that the Southern economic elite try to divide the populace along racial rather than economic lines goes back around 400 years. Even though most southern whites didn’t own slaves, a majority of them supported the institution. ...

As it turns out, forging that economic coalition is a good deal more difficult than it sounds. The only success liberals have enjoyed has come when they’ve found candidates like Bill Clinton, who distanced himself from cultural liberalism (on issues like crime and welfare, for instance) to convince Southern whites that he was more conservative than the national Democratic Party.

Actually, before the 1960s maybe-realignment, southern Democrats regularly ran on economic issues—and won. The most infamous example is Huey Long, but national Democrats running for the presidency were winning electoral college votes across the South into the 1960s. What’s changed?

  1. Since the Great Society programs of LBJ, and their consolidation under Nixon, there’s a sufficient national “safety net” that Republicans are not going to dismantle—no matter what rhetoric you hear from the far left. This has diminished the economic interest of poor whites in supporting Democratic candidates.
  2. The national Democratic party has moved away from the conservative values shared by southern whites, most infamously in its blanket support for Roe v. Wade. This makes Republicans relatively more appealing.

Can national Democrats recapture the South? Unless they can neutralize Republicans’ natural advantage on “race, guns, God and gays,” or can come up with an economic program that is overwhelmingly appealing to both poor whites and blacks (perhaps like Dean’s idea of “affirmitive action” on the basis of economic status, rather than race), that seems exceedingly unlikely.

Saturday, 8 November 2003

Hell yeah, damn right

Ole Miss 24–Auburn 20. I’ve just got one thing to say:

Bring on LSU 11/22


Is it just me, or are these sorts of editorials only written when Republicans win elections?

Stupidity 202—and I approve this post!

Steven Taylor points out yet another idiotic provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act—just in case all of the other idiotic provisions of the Incumbency Protection Act of 2002 were insufficient to raise your ire.

Sacreligious snarkiness

I couldn’t come up with anything better than this “on the fly”…

Just say no to Cori Dauber -

Matthew has a few more, all more inspired than mine, guaranteed to tick off all wings of the Blogosphere. And Ryan at The Dead Parrot Society apparently isn’t a big Dauber fan either.

Built with the Church Sign Generator via Michele.

Friday, 7 November 2003

Goldie Busted

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that Rebel running back Ronald “Goldie” McLendon is being investigated for possible rules violations in connection with the purchase of an SUV last month. (Link via the SEC Fanblog.)

Thursday, 6 November 2003

Quickie SEC football predictions (Nov 6/8)

Last week, I was also perfect; so I’ll be continuing the “quickie picks” format.

  • South Carolina over ARKANSAS (at Fayetteville, Thursday). [Ok, that one didn’t work out so well…]
  • MIAMI over Tennessee. Now that the SEC East tiebreaker has changed, this game means even more than it did a few days ago.
  • MISSISSIPPI STATE over Alabama. Just a gut feeling here; it’s probably State’s best remaining chance for a win.
  • FLORIDA over Vanderbilt. The “Duh” pick of the week.
  • Ole Miss over AUBURN. See my post on this game for the skinny.

I’ve updated this post a bit to elaborate on some points, but none of the predictions were changed.

Same-sex marriage and the judiciary

Andrew Sullivan suggests that two decisions by judges in two different states refute the predictions of the “far right” that America will see a “wave of judge-imposed [gay] marriages.” (The states are Arizona and New Jersey.)

Unfortunately, Sullivan doesn’t give us any evidence to decide whether or not this behavior is typical of the judiciary as a whole. Both decisions were apparently made by state, not federal, courts, where most judges are directly elected by the people, or at least face retention elections. Now, if a federal judge sitting in the Northern District of California—or even a state judge sitting in New York City—had made one of these rulings, I’d see it as (perhaps weak) support for his thesis. But counterexamples from states like Arizona and New Jersey that lean moderate-to-conservative on social issues, and where judges are in genuine fear for their jobs if they adopt strongly countermajoritarian positions (at least on issues outside nonpartisan judicial norms like the treatment of criminal suspects), aren’t going to convince anyone that the “wave of judge-imposed marriages” that many conservatives fear hasn’t started.

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

Every time you go to a strip club, you go with Bin Laden

John Cole of Balloon Juice is, shall we say, rather unimpressed with the latest application of the PATRIOT Act: gathering evidence against the owner of a Las Vegas titty bar in a political corruption probe, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Read their oped too, while you’re at it. There’s more at Rick Henderson’s blog.

Kate isn’t happy either.

Corso headscratcher

Lee Corso writes the following at in his “Lee-mail” column about the Rebels’ upcoming game with Auburn:

How do you see this weekend’s SEC West matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss?—Mike, Phoenix, Ari.

The biggest question is whether Mississippi can stop the Auburn running game. The Rebels are near the bottom of the SEC in rushing defense while the Tigers have shown they can run against anyone when they’re hot. Throw in quarterback Jason Campbell hitting some play action and Auburn can be dangerous. But Eli Manning and the Ole Miss offense can put up some numbers, too, but this will be the toughest test Mississippi encounters for the remainder of the year. [emphasis added]

Only one problem with this statement: the Rebels are #13 in the country and #3 in the SEC in rushing defense, conceding just 90.1 ypg on the ground. (Auburn is #14/#4, giving up 92.0 ypg rushing.) They can stop the run. The area where the Rebels are inconsistent—and vulnerable—is in pass defense (#115 nationally and dead last in the SEC, with 307.9 ypg), particularly against the “deep ball,” which Texas Tech and Memphis successfully exploited in their wins and which helped South Carolina back into the game this past weekend.

I agree that if Campbell can pull off the play action pass, Auburn probably has a good shot. But Campbell is a woefully inconsistent passer (4 TDs and 8 INTs on the season) who could easily get burned if he tries to go with the deep ball—ask Chris Leak, who threw 3 INTs to the Rebel secondary in Gainesville; this will require Carnell Williams and Auburn’s Brandon Jacobs (not to be confused with Ole Miss’ Brandon Jacobs, who plays the same position) to both be effective on the run and to catch short passes from Campbell. I’d expect them to have some success on the ground—I’ll be surprised if the Rebels can keep Auburn under 150 yards rushing, excluding sacks—but I don’t see Campbell passing for big numbers (the numbers he will put up will be largely due to yards after the catch) and I expect him to take at least a couple of sacks and to throw a costly pick.

On the other side of the ball, though, the only people who can beat the Rebels’ offense are themselves. The South Carolina game could—and should—have been 44-14 at halftime, if not for two silly turnovers in the red zone, and the Rebels have essentially been able to execute at-will against every defense they’ve faced this year except in the season opener at Vanderbilt and at Florida.

I also think that, overall, LSU is a tougher test for the Rebels: they have a more effective passer, better balance overall, and a smarter coach. However, the Rebs will be at home facing LSU and coming off an off-week, so arguably the difficulty level of the challenges balances out.

My sketch of a prediction for Saturday is that Ole Miss wins a nailbiter, probably with a score in the 27-21 range.

Also on Corso’s page, I’m inclined to agree that if Florida beats FSU, they should probably get the SEC East bid (if there’s a tiebreaker). My guess though is that the ADs will vote for the team with the highest poll ranking, unless there’s a convoluted scenario that permits the conference to secure a second bid to a BCS bowl.

Playing with the Compass

I’m not a huge fan these days of the Nolan chart and similar quiz-based ideology measures; however, Tim Lambert has been compiling bloggers’ results on the Political Compass test. As he points out, it’s hardly a scientific sample of bloggers, so take it with a grain of salt.

An interesting outstanding question is whether the Compass is a particularly valid measure of ideology. Their FAQ seems to preclude any independent test of this proposition, as they claim copyright on the items—and I believe that such a copyight is valid, given the widespread use of copyrighted scale questions in psychometry.

Cite dump

I wonder if my committee will accept this Jay Manifold post in lieu of the conclusions chapter of my dissertation. After all, it basically says what I want to say, although far more succinctly and without the obligatory citations to seventeen billion political scientists. Quoth Jay:

The Scrappleface material aside, I rise to the defense of my fellow citizens on this one. Like many other polls, it can be made to look very bad. The lessons we should be drawing, however, are not the usual people-are-stupid, everybody-should-have-to-know-this-stuff sort of thing, but are more related to simple common sense:

  1. Suppose the poll had instead taken the form of a true/false test with a list of, say, 40 possible names of Cabinet departments. How different would the results have been? I’m sure that only a small percentage would have gotten them all correct; but I surmise that most respondents would have gotten most of them right, a far different result than the one presented.
  2. Also, I like to apply the body-count test. Are we stepping over bodies in the streets every morning as a result of [insert failing of American public here]? No? Then maybe, just maybe, it’s not a big deal.
  3. According to the poll, if you can name more than 11 Cabinet departments, you are in a minority of 1%; if you can name them all, you’re probably a solid 3σ away from the statistical mean. In other words, you are a weirdo.
  4. In fact, if you’re complaining about public ignorance about almost any political data, while demonstrating your familiarity with such data, you’re not only a weirdo, you’re a control freak whose idea of a healthier polity is one with a whole bunch of weird little copies of you in it.

Needless to say, the above describes almost all current-events bloggers.

Or, as I put it in the current iteration of my draft conclusions chapter:

It is also possible that what matters isn’t what voters know about politics, but rather what they understand about politics. Knowledge may simply be a byproduct of understanding among those citizens most exposed to political information; in other words, knowledge is only important to the extent that higher levels of knowledge about politics—as measured by, for example, answers to the notorious “trivia questions” about politics that are regularly used as evidence that the public has insufficient levels of civic education—generally reflect greater understanding of politics. If that is the case, civic education efforts may improve voters’ reasoning processes even if they don’t lead to greater retention of the minutiae of politics by citizens over the long term.

I resisted the urge, however, to accuse Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter of wanting to build clone armies of themselves.

Ernie, Haley win; Bobby next?

As Steven Taylor notes, GOP candidate Ernie Fletcher has won Kentucky’s open gubernatorial seat, and Haley Barbour has a fairly robust lead in Mississippi—so robust, in fact, that Barbour made a victory speech just after midnight, despite the slim remaining chance that he will not receive the absolute majority of the vote required to avoid the legislature deciding the election (as they did in Ronnie Musgrove’s victory over Mike Parker in 1999).

John Cole credits the successes of Fletcher and Barbour to DNC head Terry MacAuliffe. However, I’d probably chalk it up to something more fundamental: in the mass media and Internet age, the Democratic and Republican parties have become increasingly nationalized, with little scope for state parties to tack too far from the national party’s position. Even in Mississippi, a state where “yellow dog Democrats” have had a lot of sway, that’s slowly fading as Democrats retire or change parties. Take, for example, one political scientist’s observations on the election*:

John Bruce, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, said though Musgrove and Barbour ran a tough campaign with ads criticizing each other, the two candidates took similar positions on many issues.

Bruce said he took statements about gun ownership, abortion and other issues off campaign Web sites and quizzed his students about which candidate had made the statements. He said many thought the statements came from Barbour — but all the positions came from Musgrove.

“They’re both conservative,” Bruce said. “They’re almost identical on a lot of issues.”

And “almost identical” southern Democrats are increasingly finding that southern voters will choose the real thing—Republicans—over conservative Democrats who increasingly have to rely on the support of groups—like African-Americans, state employees, and transplanted Northern liberals—who aren’t conservative at all.

That isn’t to say that parties can’t field successful candidates in states where their national ideology isn’t competitive—the most obvious case in point would be the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. But they’re going to be in an uphill struggle, without the ability to bring in “name” fellow partisans to support them, and they’re going to need to work much harder than they’d have had to in the past to convince local voters that they are truly “independent” of the national party. Ronnie Musgrove couldn’t do either, and ultimately that is what cost him this election.

PhotoDude has more on this theme, tying it into the whole Dean flag flap (via InstaPundit), and Stephen Green notes the GOP surge, but encourages Republicans not to get cocky.

Tuesday, 4 November 2003

More recommended reading

Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel, telling the story of a rebellious teenage girl growing up during the 1979 Iranian revolution and subsequent Iran-Iraq war. Marjane Satrapi is the great-granddaughter of Ahmad Mirza, the last Persian emperor of the Qajar dynasty, who was overthrown by Reza Shah in 1925. Her parents, however, along with her uncles, were Marxist revolutionaries, who got more than they bargained for after the Shah was overthrown.

The stark black and white art is reminiscent of Maus, and, like Maus, the story alternates between comedy, such as the fourteen-year Marjane telling a “Guardian of the Revolution” that the picture on her Michael Jackson button is Malcolm X, and tragedy, such as a sequence on the propaganda told to the boys destined to die in the bloody war with Iraq.

If you’re my age, you probably don’t remember much about the Iranian revolution apart from the American hostages, and Ayatollah Khomeini’s face on the cover of Time magazine. Read Persepolis for an insider’s perspective on the making of an Islamic theocracy.

Cori Dauber roundup

It seems that Cori Dauber has rapidly become everyone’s least favorite Volokh Conspirator. In addition to my criticism of her excessive use of rhetorical questions, here’s what other bloggers are saying about her:

Okay, that last quote is taken out of context. But why let context get in the way of a good snark?

And damning with faint praise, Will Baude agrees with Chris that Cori Dauber is not as bad as Clayton Cramer was. Will has also done us the favor of adding a link to the Dauber-free version of the Volokh Conspiracy to the Crescat blogroll, listed as "Purer Volokh".

I should make that "almost everyone's least favorite Volokh Conspirator." Lest it seem like everyone hates Prof. Dauber’s blogging, I note that Glenn Reynolds likes her. Heh.

And just to clear up a bit of confusion on the part and Will Baude and me, this picture indicates that Prof. Dauber is in fact a woman.

[Chris here: I’d add “Purer Volokh” to the blogroll, but it would end up off in Den Beste-land along with the people who don’t do pings. So our readers will just have to deal with Cori, or bookmark the link above.]

Election results

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal has an election results page up on its website covering northeast Mississippi, including Oxford and Lafayette County. So far, it’s all zeros; polls closed about 45 minutes ago, so some results should start trickling out soon.

More on the CPI study

Dan Drezner has been blogging up a storm (also here) on the Center for Public Integrity study and the Iraq reconstruction contracts issue. I’ve added what little I can in his comments, so just go forth and read the posts.

Monday, 3 November 2003

On the Southern Strategy

Howie Dean’s latest gaffe has sparked a substantial discussion in the blogosphere about the so-called “Southern Strategy”; Steven Taylor has something close to the post I’d write if I had more time.

From the scholarly perspective, I think most political scientists have attributed the maybe-realignment of the 1960s to racial issues (see, for example, the book-length treatments by Carmines and Stimson and Huckfeldt and Sprague), but Abramowitz (1992 AJPS, I think; might have been JOP) makes a strong case that those issues weren’t driving Republican success in the 1980s—although he leaves the question of the 1960s aside, and I don’t think people in political science were particularly enamoured with his use of exploratory factor analysis to demonstrate his point. However, I think there’s a paper to be written either trying to apply Abramowitz’s methodology to the 1960s-era data or looking at it over the history of the ANES using the Cumulative file; unfortunately, from a publication standpoint, I think realignment is no longer the sexy topic it was in the late 80s and early 90s.

(Almost) Done

I wrapped up* the final substantive chapter of my dissertation Saturday evening, then spent a few hours down at the Square downing a few $1 PBRs. Once I’ve given a copy to my committee chair sometime today, I’ll probably post a link to a PDF of it here in the blog.

For the morbidly curious, it currently weighs in at 123 printed pages, not including about 10 pages of front matter—the title page, acknowledgements, dedication, abstract, table of contents, and lists of figures and tables—and the yet-to-be-written conclusions chapter. It is typeset entirely using the gatech-thesis class in pdflatex in 12-point Palatino, with the included Trellis graphs generated by R’s pdf graphics driver.

Sunday, 2 November 2003

More repositioning by Dean

More evidence that Howie Dean is moving right after securing the support of the Atrios fringe: he’s daring to say that just maybe all Southerners who fly the Confederate battle flag aren’t necessarily racists—an article of common sense that nonetheless escapes most national Democrats, who apparently don’t bother talking to their fellow partisans—except the ones who wear the Quixotic “I’m a progressive” label like some sort of pathetic badge of honor—in states like Mississippi and Georgia.

Oh yes, Dean’s now flirting with the DLC wing of the party:

Yesterday, Dean said he wants to create a biracial coalition in the South. “For my fellow Democratic opponents to sink to this level is really tragic,” he said. “The only way we’re going to beat George Bush is if southern white working families and African American working families come together under the Democratic tent.”

I still think the “Dean is a moderate” meme is a load of flaming crap, and his idea of national security policy is worse than a joke. I think he’d roll over for the gun controllers in Congress in a heartbeat (not that I’m hugely invested in that issue). And I generally believe that anyone who can excite large numbers of college undergrads about his campaign is prima facie unsuitable for high office. But if he keeps saying sensible things like this I might actually have to reconsider my overall assessment of the guy.

Mind you, I’m still voting for Sharpton in the primary, because I’d love nothing more than to see the Democratic Party have to deal with the consequences of spending years coddling this race-baiting fool.

Rick Henderson is puzzled by the “Libertarians for Dean” phenomenon, including its backing by some of his former colleagues at Reason.

Cori, Clayton, and Fisk

Brock noted Cori Dauber’s inauspicious start at the Conspiracy yesterday, and I agree that her blogging has been a bit uneven. However, her critique of the San Francisco Chronicle’s fawning piece on Robert Fisk is spot-on. But I think the key paragraph in the article is on Fisk’s attitude toward objective reporting:

Fisk doesn’t believe in the concept, calling it a specious idea that, as practiced by American reporters, produces dull and predictable writing weighed down by obfuscating comments from official government sources.

Of course, a lot of critics of the American media—on both the left and right—would argue that American reporters don’t practice “objective reporting” either.

This month's recommended reading

My recommended reading for this month, The Adventures of Amos and Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, holds a special place in my heart—it’s the first real scholarly book I ever read, at the tender age of 15, while I was otherwise bored out of my mind at a family reunion in Richmond. It was written by Melvin Patrick Ely, a cousin of mine (first cousin, once removed, to be precise). I think that book, more than anything else, is what set me on the path to an academic career. The least I can do in return is hopefully steer a few bucks in royalties his way…

Saturday, 1 November 2003

Rhetorical questions

Someone needs to tell Cori Dauber, current guest blogger over at the Volokh Conspiracy, to take it easy on the rhetorical questions.

This seven sentence post contains five rhetorical questions. And this twelve sentence post contains seven rhetorical questions.

I’m not saying there’s never a place for rhetorical questions, but, like exclamation points and all-caps they should be used very sparingly.

Overall, Cori’s blogging style gives me the impression that he’s about to blow an artery. So it doesn’t surprise me that he links to Little Green Footballs here, in a post that consists of four rhetorical questions out of eight sentences.

Sorry Eugene, this guy is your worst guest blogger since Clayton Cramer.

More on selection bias

Glenn Reynolds links to a Lynxx Pherrett dissection of the alleged ‘pay-for-play’ nature of Iraqi reconstruction contracts. The key graf, I think, is:

How do I know CPI is dealing from a stacked-deck? As Marshall Brodien said, "It's easy, once you know the secret!" CPI only looked at companies that were awarded contracts, then examined the companies' political contribution history and any connections to current or former government officials. What CPI never looked at, and according to their methodology never attempted to look at, was the political contribution and governmental connection histories of the losing submitters. In other words, there is nothing against which their results can be compared. Businesses make political contributions — we know that. People leave government service and go to work in the private sector — we know that. Thus, no matter what major company wins a contract, it is likely that they have 1) made political donations in the past—CPI researched contributions all the way back to 1990—and 2) employ some former government officials. Unless CPI can show that the contract winners made larger political contributions and employed more or higher-level ex-government officials, their report cannot support Lewis' charge of "a stench of political favoritism and cronyism."

In other words, CPI selected on the dependent variable. Quality social science here, folks…

Dan Drezner has more.