Wednesday, 31 December 2003

Going to the wrong camps(?)

You know, the only thing I ever lost at summer camp was my pocket knife.

Clark, Race and Voting

Steven Taylor of PoliBlog gets to the bottom of the whole Clark/disenfranchisement discussion. Suffice it to say I agree with Taylor’s policy prescriptions; however, I will say that the use of outdated voting technology in poorer counties seems to be more the result of those counties being poor—and thus devoting their limited resources to things that were perceived as more important than voting machines (like economic development, law enforcement, and public education), at least in the minds of most prior to the 2000 ballot controversy—rather than any deliberate action to systematically disenfranchise voters. Outside a very small number of academics, virtually nobody even knew, much less cared, that punch-card ballots had higher error rates than other voting methods until it became an issue in Florida.

The Fountain of Youth

If you are under the age of 70, and—at any point in your life—decide you “feel old,” there’s an easy remedy: come to Ocala, Florida, where you’re virtually guaranteed to be the youngest person in any given establishment.

Update: Matt Stinson may have had more fun in Ocala during a single meal than I had in two years of high school. Sounds about right.

Blog rut

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging rut lately; I think our extended downtime in mid-December somehow got me out of the “blogging groove,” so to speak. That, and being at the semi-proverbial “ass end” of the Internet, along with holiday and no-job stress, is severely cramping my style.

Original thought, maybe, soon.

Can the GOP be integrated from within?

That’s the question D.C. Thornton is contemplating in deciding whether to return to the Republican Party. He writes:

If I want the Republicans to remain true to small government, low taxation, the ability of individuals to govern their own lives and pursue happiness as they see fit, and counter racism, the work has to be done from the inside. Ranting from the outside does nothing to change anything.

I doubt Darmon can do it on his own—but if enough like-minded Americans from diverse backgrounds do the same, libertarian-leaning Republicans can accomplish what the Christian right did in the 1980s—fundamentally remake the Republican Party in their own image. The downside is that the “libertarian right”—perhaps a bit of an oxymoron—doesn’t have anywhere near the level of institutional backing that the Christian right did when it mounted its takeover.

Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Under the watchful eyes

Brian J. Noggle adds more potential subversives for you to be aware of, in addition to those evil Almanac-toting folks.

Master, Commander, and $9.25 for popcorn and a Coke

Dad and I saw Master and Commander today, which was most enjoyable—even if I could have done without the ER/Black Hawk Down at sea bits. Swordfights? OK. Arms being amputated with meat cleavers? Merci, non.


Lots of people—sometimes, even me—have trouble remembering where their keys are. Venomous Kate apparently has problems keeping track of her vibrator. I guess Hawai'i is more exciting than the mainland after all.

On partisanship

Ken Waight’s Lying in Ponds, which combines semi-regular “weblog-style” entries with daily analysis of America’s leading newspaper pundits, is one of the more worthwhile diversions in the blogosphere, even if I don’t share Waight’s apparent antipathy toward partisanship.

Partisanship has numerous functions in democratic society. In the electorate, it creates a psychological attachment between voters and politicians by providing a convenient “brand label” for voters, and a shortcut for voters who don’t have the time or inclination to research the qualifications of down-ballot candidates—even though it’s not immediately clear what meaningful difference there would be between a Republican and Democratic sheriff.

At the elite level, much of the role of partisanship is about communicating a consistent message to the public—the key part of Lazarsfeld and Katz’s “two-step flow” of political information. In essence, the public uses cues from elite figures to help inform and decide their own positions on political issues. Strong partisans, like Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter, are part of this process—as are more conflicted pundits like Tom Friedman. If there’s a risk associated with pundits like Krugman and Coulter, it’s that they give an exaggerated version of their own party line that often borders on caricature. But I don’t believe they are quite as harmful as those like Waight, who are bothered by the most partisan pundits’ apparent singlemindedness, seem to think.

Explanation, not prediction

Dan Drezner, subbing for Andrew Sullivan, discusses problems with forecasting models and the media members who latch onto them. One notable oversight in forecasting: virtually all of the existing models predict the nationwide vote, rather than the outcomes of state elections to the electoral college—a particularly problematic consideration when dealing with close elections, like that in 2000. The ones that do make state-level predictions are rather dated.

More to the point, as Matt Yglesias points out, aggregate-level models are often inherently problematic. The problem that Yglesias calls “specification searching”—or what I’d call atheoretical modelling, with a healthy dose of stepwise regression to boot—is endemic to the whole class of forecasting models, because fundamentally they are inductive exercises, focused on finding the best combination of variables to predict the observed outcome. Most good social science (or science in general, for that matter), by contrast, is deductive: establish a truly explanatory theory, develop specific hypotheses, and operationalize and test them.

That isn’t to say, however, that unemployment doesn’t belong in the model at all; it may, for example, be the best available indicator of a theoretical construct like “voters’ perceptions of the national economy.” But as someone whose research interests are more centered on individual-level explanations of behavior, rather than attempting to explain aggregate outcomes, I sometimes wonder if aggregate-level models trade too much scientific value for their parsimony.

See also James Joyner, who points out that small sample sizes aren’t necessarily problematic when the universe is also small. However, in a small sample the good social scientist will be particularly attentive to the potential issue of outliers—atypical observations that can lead one to make conclusions that aren’t justified on the basis of the data as a whole.

Monday, 29 December 2003

HOT lanes getting hotter

Robert Prather notes the increasing enthusiasm for introducing High Occupancy/Toll lanes for congestion relief in the Washington area.

Signifying Nothing goes mobile

Prompted in part by my new cell phone, which includes a built-in web browser, I’m pleased to announce the debut of Signifying Nothing Mobile. There isn’t a lot of support for navigating between posts yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to add that soon. Any reports of success or failure would be appreciated!

Only Stinson Can Go To China

Matt Stinson finally stops teasing us and announces his big plans for the new year. Très cool.

Julian Sanchez under the microscope

Will Baude has yet another 20 Questions interview, this time with Reason writer/blogger Julian Sanchez. Plenty of good stuff there; go RTWT™.

Soak and poke

While waiting in line at Books-A-Million today here in Ocala (a long wait, since the computers crashed due to a power spike), an elderly woman noticed that I was buying a copy of the latest book on Southern politics by the Black brothers, Merle and Earl, The Rise of Southern Republicans (a real find in a general-interest bookstore). The woman, who I really didn’t want to get into a political conversation with,* informed me that she hoped Bush would be reelected in 2004, and that she considered two Democrats particularly “dangerous”: Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton. I nodded, smiled, and seriously considered backing away slowly.

She didn’t seem quite as interested in the copy of The Economist’s “The World in 2004” I was buying.

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

Separating people from their leaders

I think Michele has the better of the argument in contrasting Lair’s and Meryl’s reaction to the U.S. sending aid to the earthquake victims in Iran with her own. Personally, I think it’s worthwhile even if not a single Iranian mind is changed about America—the point of charity, after all, isn’t to make the beneficiary think better of you for doing it.

Update: Add Glenn Reynolds to the list of people who can’t seem to make the people/leaders distinction—even if I agree that the U.S. efforts to play arbiter are unlikely to be effective.

Dean's lead

While Stephen Green points out that the latest Zogby numbers show Howard Dean in statistical dead heats in both Iowa and South Carolina (but with a commanding lead in New Hampshire), James Joyner retorts that Dean’s lead is more durable than the numbers indicate:

...this is now Dean’s race to lose. While he’s not running away with anything, he’s got a huge lead in New Hampshire and a small one everywhere else. Meanwhile, there is no consistent number two. More importantly, he’s absolutely dominating the money primary.

More to the point, the rules are such that you can effectively discount anyone not named Al Sharpton* unless they get double-digits, because the Democrats’ delegate allocation system works at the congressional district level—and, as I keep pointing out, you have to get 15% in a congressional district to win delegates from it. This effect will massively inflate Dean’s standing at the convention.

Like James, I’m becoming more convinced than ever that South Carolina will be pivotal. And, barring a seismic shift after Iowa, I can’t see any S.C. scenario that Dean can’t spin as a win—realistically, he needs to be blown out by 10% or more by a credible candidate (at this point, either Clark or Gephardt), which just ain’t happening with Edwards still in the race and a lot of Republicans coming out to vote for Sharpton. A narrow ABD victory gives Dean the line that he “polled well in the South,” even if he only gets a third of the primary vote.

You say that like it's a bad thing

Eugene Volokh, in a post defending Strom Thurmond against the charge of child molestation, notes a handy table that lists the age of consent in all fifty states, and comments:

I also suspect that the table is mostly designed for people who like to have sex with teenagers, but it seems to be pretty accurate, and I’ve found it useful even for more academic purposes.

Now, I’m not an expert on such matters, but it seems to me that having sex with teenagers is quite a popular activity, particularly among college students; the only thing I can figure is that law professors—the only academics who, as a group, don’t have much contact with the 17-21 demographic—are unaware just how much sex goes on among undergraduates.

Draft: daft

Dave of dave’s not here thinks the arguments of some in favor of reinstating the draft don’t hold up against scrutiny. Me? I’d be even happier if Congress killed the Selective Service System—and the ridiculous line-item in the budget attached to it—once and for all.

Safe and Sound in SlOcala

I safely arrived at my dad’s house in a secure, undisclosed location in southeastern Marion County, Florida last night. Traffic on both I-10 and I-75 was horrible, albeit fast moving—though I-10 could use an extra lane from Pensacola to I-75, as left-lane traffic was continuously stacked up trying to pass the few stragglers in the right lane.

Anyway, if you’re a regular SN reader within, say, a two-hour radius of Ocala (roughly anywhere north of I-4, south of I-10, east of Tallahassee, and not in the Atlantic Ocean), the first beer’s on me.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the primary

Stephen Green and Matt Stinson note the latest whining from Howard Dean about his fellow candidates picking on him.

Also of note: Dean’s Bushian energy policy coverup. Truth to power indeed.

Update: Steven Taylor points out that DNC head Terry McAuliffe couldn’t do much about the attacks, even if he were inclined to do so. And, the Diktat has the Stalinist perspective, as always.

Sunday, 28 December 2003

Movin' on up

Dan Drezner will be playing the role of guest-blogger for Andrew Sullivan this coming week. I knew there had to be a reason I added Sully to the blogroll…

Saturday, 27 December 2003

That left-lane-hogging moron gets around

Rosemary Esmay apparently is familiar with the same driver I saw today on I-10 between Mobile and Pensacola who apparently thought the left lane was his own personal playground—even when the right lane was clear a mile ahead of his pickup truck.

Also of note: I think I saw more Mississippi state troopers today than I’d seen total in the 5½ years I’ve lived in the state.

Blah, humbug: blame sanctimonious pundits

Steven Taylor links approvingly to a Jonah Goldberg column lamenting the lack of political knowledge in the electorate.

At some point, I’ll have meaningful thoughts about the column (i.e. something to say beyond “Goldberg’s wrong”). Unfortunately, now isn’t that time; for some reason, driving through a landscape of endless conifers in eastern Mississippi and western Alabama has sapped my ability to compose coherent arguments.

Is it still agenda setting when the set-ee doesn't read the paper?

Colby Cosh notes, in the midst of decrying Howie Kurtz’s lack of permalinks, that the people most upset that George W. Bush doesn’t read The New York Times are print journalists. Fancy that.

More Kate for your buck

Kevin Aylward passes on the good news that we can expect increased venom levels in the near future.

Clay Aiken: Not a subjunctive singer

American Idol loser Clay Aiken’s new hit, “Invisible,” features the following chorus:

If I was invisible
Then I could just watch you in your room
If I was invincible
I’d make you mine tonight
If hearts were unbreakable
Then I could just tell you where I stand
I would be the smartest man
If I was invisible
(Wait… I already am)

Yes, it’s a toe-tapping song you just want to sing along to… but, as the founder (and sole member) of the American Society to Revive the Subjunctive Voice, I must point out that the first line should read “If I were invisible,” as it expresses a hypothetical state of being rather than objective reality. (Just call me Don Quixote.)

I also am slightly disturbed by the fact that the loser on American Idol is permitted to have a showbiz career. Fox should seriously consider adding a provision to the rules that permanently blackballs the runner-up from showbiz. Nothing against Clay, but if there’s nothing at stake, and no downside to losing, what’s the point of the contest?

Update: Brian J. Noggle further deconstructs Aiken’s lyrics and is, to put it mildly, disturbed.

Friday, 26 December 2003

The Toast versus the Most

Steven Taylor’s Boxing Day edition of the PoliBlog Toast-O-Meter is now available. And, for those of you living in a hole, it shows Dr. Howard Dean with a commanding lead—but facing a serious uphill struggle in head-to-head polling against George W. Bush.

Also of note: Jeff Quinton has the latest South Carolina primary news, while Robert Prather doesn’t see Anyone But Dean (a.k.a. Dick Gephardt) looking much better than Dean himself.

When all else fails, lower your standards

The Mississippi Board of Education is considering making a change to its math requirements in order to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

It seems that the NCLBA requires states to test students on the highest level of math required by the curriculum. Currently, Mississippi requires geometry, but only gives standardized tests on Algebra I.

So rather than comply with federal law by giving standardized tests on geometry, the Mississippi Board of Education is considering dropping the geometry requirement.

Yet another illustration of the law of unintended consequences.

Dean's newfound faith

The Boston Globe suggests that Howard Dean isn’t really a secularlist after all; instead:

Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South.

Dean, 55, who practices Congregationalism but does not often attend church and whose wife and children are Jewish, explained the move as a desire to share his beliefs with audiences willing to listen. [emphasis mine]

Well, it’s nice to see Dean takes his faith so seriously that he considers it to be a strategic asset in his campaign. Me, I’d rather he be honest with the public than start engaging in calculated pandering to voters—but, then again, I already find Dean loathsome on so many levels that I’m probably not in his target demographic.

I also tend to agree with Jeff Jarvis and Matt Stinson that people of faith will find Dean’s attempts to speak on faith deeply insulting—particularly if they know that it is part of a calculated strategy by Dean. And I don’t think regionalized campaigning can really work in the modern era—Bush probably lost as many votes as he won by visiting Bob Jones University in 2000, for example.

Incidentally, I saw a shorter version of the article in today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal, so it must be getting wide play.

One other thing: like Matt, I don’t think the fact that his wife and kids are Jewish should make any in how Dean’s religiosity is perceived (if anything, the faith of the people I know in families with mixed religions seems stronger than the norm). His other behavior alone is sufficient to make his sincerity about the nature of his faith questionable.

Link via email from Erick Erickson.

Thursday, 25 December 2003

Two words

Merry Christmas.

Medicare reform and MSAs

Robert Prather of Insults Unpunished has reevaluated the MSA component of the Medicare reform/prescription drugs bill, and thinks it goes much further toward introducing more of a market-based approach to health care than he originally thought. However, James Joyner correctly points out that the bill’s other provisions greatly expand the role of the government in health care in ways that won’t be easily rolled back and which may lead to subsequent expansion.

A Ph.D. doesn't make you immune from stupidity

I discovered Christmas Eve that the reason I thought that my mother’s new cell phone—my old cell phone—wasn’t working for the past week, since I added it to my account, is that I put the wrong phone number for her line in my new cell phone’s built-in phone book.

So, the moron scoring goes: Me 1, SprintPCS customer service 0. At least it made the day of the CSR who handled my call.

Dead Pool deadline approaching

If you’re the morbid sort, you can join The Amish Tech Support Dead Pool, coordinated by everyone’s favorite catblogger, Laurence Simon. So far, the pick distribution seems fairly interesting. Now I just need to remember (or dig out) the list of picks I sent Lair…

Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Dave goes to Baghdad

Glenn Reynolds has the scoop on David Letterman’s latest trip into a war zone. In a related story, I hear Jay Leno took a crew down to Camp Pendleton to film a “Jay Walking” segment.

(Yes, it’s the same joke I used last year when Dave went to Afghanistan…)

Boortz and libertarian fissures

Kyle Sing of The Chicago Report posts on Neal Boortz’s scheduled appearance at the 2004 Libertarian Party convention and the fissures in the party that Boortz’s appearance has brought to the forefront. I’m not sure I’d cast the conflict as one between the “anarchist” and “Objectivist” wings—I really don’t subscribe to either philosophy, personally, being more of a pragmatist—but it’s an interesting one nonetheless. And, for what it’s worth, Boortz is something of a cult hero to the Georgia Libertarians, who have put together quite an impressive local organization—the national party could use the backing of someone of his stature.

Rush discovers the right to privacy

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.

Update: Patrick Carver begs to differ with me and Rand Simberg, helpfully pointing out that the Florida state constitution does explicitly recognize a right to privacy. Now, if only Rush would recognize that all people (not just Floridians) have an inherent liberty interest in privacy absent a compelling governmental interest to the contrary—the Lawrence v. Texas standard in a nutshell—I’d be more inclined to be sympathetic.

Tuesday, 23 December 2003

New chances to get CJD

You're Inexplicable (with apologies to The Corrs)

Via Bill Hobbs comes the bizarre tale in The New York Times of Howard Dean’s rather odd claims surrounding his younger brother Charles, who went missing—and was presumed killed—in the Laotian jungle in 1974, and whose remains have now apparently been identified. Quoth the newspaper of record:

Asked by The Quad-City Times, which is based in Davenport, Iowa, to complete the sentence “My closest living relative in the armed services is,” Dr. Dean wrote in August, “My brother is a POW/MIA in Laos, but is almost certainly dead.”

Charles Dean, however, wasn’t a member of the armed forces at all—he was, in fact, by all accounts a civilian tourist and anti-war activist, something Dean the elder claims was common knowledge:

“The way I read the question was that they wanted to know if I knew anything about the armed services from a personal level,” he said. “I don’t think it was inaccurate or misleading if anybody knew what the history was, and I assumed that most people knew what the history was. Anybody who wanted to write about this could have looked through the 23-year history to see that I’ve always acknowledged my brother’s a civilian, was a civilian.“…

Dr. Dean called the editorial, which referred to his brother as a “renegade,” “one of the greatest cheap shots I’ve ever seen in journalism.”

“It’s offensive and insensitive not to understand what the impact of this is,” he said, “writing about this in such a tawdry way.”

Personally, the only thing I consider tawdry is the attempt by Dean to link his brother, who was apparently playing Hanoi Jane on the cheap and—amazingly enough—got mixed up with the wrong people in the process, with the real American POWs and MIAs who suffered at the hands of the Vietnamese and Laotian communists. Sorry, but to me little wayward Charlie’s vanity trip to Southeast Asia doesn’t exactly scream “empathy with American servicemen,” either.

I’m not sure what galls me more: that Dean thought he could get away with this, that he genuinely thinks that all there is to empathy with our armed forces is the experience of having a loved one disappear, or that Dean’s circle is so far removed from the military that he can’t even name so much as a sixth cousin with some genuine connection to America’s armed forces. What a truly loathsome creature.

The Quad-City Times editorial is here.

Update: Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind—whose excellent blog I’d read far more often if he pinged when he made new posts—has thoughts on another concern regarding Howard Dean’s candidacy.

I, Robot coming to the silver screen

Ryan Gabbard of the Audhumlian Conspiracy (whose layout always makes me think I’m reading Crescat Sententia) notes that a film adaptation of Asimov’s I, Robot is going to be on movie screens this summer, starring Will Smith. I saw the trailer at Return of the King and it was moderately amusing—it was produced in the form for an ad for a domestic robot. Hopefully it will turn out well, although I have disturbing thoughts of that awful Robin Williams robot movie from a few years back, Bicentennial Man.

UPDATE: Gabbard also notes that a series of movies based on the Foundation novels is in development. (I only count seven Asimov-written Foundation novels, not eight, though: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation’s Edge, and Foundation and Earth.) Also of note: Alan Tudyk, who played Wash on Firefly, is part of the I, Robot cast.

Public no-linking

Unlearned Hand of En Banc draws my attention to Brian Leiter’s weblog. Leiter is apparently a philosophy professor of some repute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Leiter plans to “start a blogroll for the handful of blogs [he] actually now read[s].” Unlearned Hand observes that Leiter’s selections seem to reflect a belief “that only people with doctoral degrees are qualified to talk about anything publicly,” although political scientists are apparently fail to make the grade under the special proviso that political scientists are mentally inferior to individuals who have earned philosophy degrees (which I guess means Leiter will probably only read Brock’s posts here at Signifying Nothing—although Brock is only ABD, so maybe he doesn’t count in Leiter’s world). I for one wish the best of luck to Leiter in his quest to tame the blogosphere.

And that is the first and last bit of thought I ever plan to devote to Leiter. Next?

Rigging Democracy

James Joyner excerpts at length from a Stuart Taylor National Journal piece on the Supreme Court’s latest entry into the fray of legislative redistricting by state legislatures and the courts, Vieth v. Jubelirer. Much of Taylor’s discussion echos the discussion in the amicus brief of Bernard Grofman and Gary Jacobson, two political scientists who know a thing or two about legislative redistricting.

Also of interest: Erick Erickson’s post on the oral argument in the case.

LSblog 0.8 released

I’ve finally bothered to tar up the latest snapshot of LSblog, everyone’s favorite completely database-driven blogging package, which I’m calling 0.8. New features since 0.7.1:

  • The Atom 0.3 syndication format is now supported.
  • Automatic generation of FOAF data for the weblog.
  • Customizeable post excerpts for syndication and trackbacks.
  • Improved administration interface, including tracking of sent trackback pings (to avoid duplicates) and management of inbound trackbacks.
  • LSblog now serves XHTML 1.0 throughout.

You can download the latest release here. The main requirements are Python 2.2.2 or 2.3; PostgreSQL 7.3 or 7.4; and the psycopg database adaptor.

Dean versus the God Complex

Both Matt Stinson and Robert Garcia Tagorda (via Matt Yglesias, who has substantive comment at TAPped and who in turn links Jon Chait’s Dean-bashing blog at TNR—got all that straight?) note the Franklin Foer cover story in The New Republic on Howard Dean’s secularism and how that will affect his campaign for both the Democratic nod and the White House.

Robert responds to Yglesias’ suggestion that the eventual Democratic nominee at least pretend to have devout religious faith by wondering whether or not Dean has the temperment to pull it off—and I generally agree with Robert that he probably doesn’t. Stinson (who I’d normally call “Matt,” but we’ve got too many Matts running around in this post), on the other hand, asks the interesting question:

The question left unasked in Foer’s piece is whether Dean might seek to balance against his secularism in the general election with an evangelical-friendly VP. Would a Methodist like Edwards suffice?

My guess would be no—it’d have to be someone who wears his religion on his sleeve for it to make a real impact with the public. An interesting finding of the 2000 American National Election Study is that Americans consistently misidentified the religion of both Bush and Gore: Gore was overwhelmingly believed to be a Methodist, while Bush was believed to be a Baptist. In fact, Gore—like Bill Clinton—was an avowed Southern Baptist, while Bush is a Methodist. (No, I’m not just raising this point to show the American public is stupid. Bear with me.)

Now, let’s play political psychologist and explain why people would have this apparently glaring misbelief. Most people see Baptists, and particularly Southern Baptists, as more evangelical than Methodists—because most, in fact, are; they don’t call the United Methodist Church the “Home of the Ten Suggestions” for nothing. But in the persons of Bush and Gore, the typical relationship was reversed: unlike Clinton, Gore never really wore his religion on his sleeve, while Bush often talked about his personal faith. Coupled with the heuristic that says “the Democrats are more secularist than the Republicans,” and the lack of widespread publicity about the specific branch of protestant teaching the candidates followed, the typical voter would be led to conclude that Bush was a member of more evangelical branch of protestantism (like the Southern Baptists), while Gore was part of a more traditionalist strain (like the Methodists).

Now, let’s look at the 2004 Democratic field. The only serious candidate with a clear religious bent is Joe Lieberman, whose Jewish faith is well-known (and was correctly identified by most voters in the 2000 ANES). The rest aren’t really clearly identifiable as men of faith… and religious voters are much more likely to favor candidates with strong faith (like Bush) over secularists like Dean or other, less devout candidates. Even if a candidate like Edwards who can make some claim of religious belief is on the ticket, most voters aren’t going to think of him as more religious than Bush. So it seems unlikely that religious considerations would be effective for Dean (or another Democrat) in assembling the ticket.

Ok, this is very cool

ICPSR has put together the Social Science Variables Database, which has got to be the coolest tool I’ve seen in a long time. It includes 30,000 variables in more than 70 studies. Want to find out what Americans think about Iraq? No problem.

Also cool: easy access to all the data I used in my dissertation.

South Carolina and the Democratic nomination

As Steven Taylor notes, a recent poll shows Howard Dean with a (statistically insignificant) lead in South Carolina, where voters will head to the polls on February 3rd. If Dean can hold the lead over a deeply divided field, it may be the knockout punch he needs to secure the nomination—and may go some way to rehabitating Dean’s image in the South.

Dan Hoover of The Greenville News had a lengthy piece this weekend on what the S.C. primary means to the leading contenders, including quotes from several intelligent political scientists, including legendary Southern politics experts Merle and Earl Black and fellow Ole Miss Ph.D. Scott Huffmon.

UPDATE: Of course, South Carolina blogger Jeff Quinton has more links on the SC primary than you can shake a stick at.

Think, McFly

All You Wanted

Val of Val e-diction thinks the latest unilateral withdrawal proposals by the Sharon government are part of an orchestrated, but clandestine, plan involving the British and U.S. governments as well to force the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table with realistic expectations. I don’t know if I necessarily believe that, but it’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Monday, 22 December 2003

SUV Safety

From a Wall Street Journal article today on federal fuel economy regulations, and the perverse incentives they create for auto makers:

While light trucks represent 36% of all registered vehicles, they are involved in about half of all two-vehicle crashes with passenger cars, highway safety regulators say. In such crashes, over 80% of those killed were in passenger cars.

So if you bought that SUV for “safety,” just keep in mind that you bought that safety at the expense of the safety of others.

And if you bought it just so you would look cool … well, you don’t.

UPDATE: James at OTB correctly points out that the statistics I cite don't make it clear to what degree the 80/20 death ratio in SUV-car crashes is a matter of a higher fatality rate in cars vs. a higher survival rate in SUVs, comparing with car-car crashes.

The source for the WSJ factoid wasn't hard to track down. It's from the Feb. 23 testimony of the Administrator of the NHTSA before a Senate commitee. Here's a better statistic that the WSJ should have used, one which does support my thesis:

When controlling for impact location, and comparing light trucks to passenger cars of comparable weight, we found that light trucks were more than twice as likely as a car to cause a fatality when striking a car.

Why there could be a constitutional amendment

Daniel Drezner has an analysis of the polling numbers on gay marriage that leads him to believe that an effort to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage will fail. He may be right—if that is, indeed, what the actual amendment proposed does. Of course, there is no real movement on an amendment—and the necessity of an amendment, the proviso attached to the president’s support, has yet to be shown.

One thing to be seen is the Massachusetts legisature’s response to the court decision that legalized same-sex marriage—and whether the court will accept a civil unions provision as a substitute. If the state legislature implements Vermont-style civil unions, and the court accepts them, there’s no immediate federal issue—the only states that have to accept civil unions under “full faith and credit” are ones who already have them. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief until the next state court goes “off the reservation,” and no amendment is necessary.

But what if the Massachusetts legislature does implement full-fledged same-sex marriage? Then it becomes a “full faith and credit” question, which asks the Supreme Court whether Congress can decide what things are subject to full faith and credit—in other words, whether the existing federal Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. If the Supremes say yes, again no amendment is immediately necessary—however, some states may still face the question of whether their state constitutions require them to recognize same-sex marriages, the same question faced by the Massachusetts court, which starts another iteration.

Now suppose instead the Supremes decide DOMA is unconstitutional. Then necessity becomes the mother of invention—and the question becomes, what form will the amendment take? An outright ban on same-sex marriage is one possibility; another is a narrower amendment that allows the states to decide what marriages performed outside their own states they will recognize.

The other question, somewhat lost in the debate, is how Congress will demand ratification. Dan’s analysis assumes that Congress will require ratification by state legislatures, as is normally the case; however, the procedure used for ratification of the 21st Amendment (the repeal of prohibition)—ratification by special state conventions in 38 states—is also available, which turns ratification into more of a referendum process. In such a scenario, same-sex marriage opponents have an advantage in elections to these state conventions: not only are the opponents more numerous in most states; they also are more passionate about the issue. And unlike other failed amendments—think of the Balanced Budget Amendment, the flag desecration amendment, or even the Equal Rights Amendment—more people genuinely care about the issue. That could be enough to tip one or two states that Dan enumerates into the “yes” column, particularly for a narrowly-tailored amendment that simply says “my state gets to decide whether or not to recognize a same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.”

That being said, Dan is essentially correct to point out that amending the Constitution is a long, drawn-out process with a lot of veto points along the way. But a relatively large, passionate group can succeed in doing so, and I think the chances of a narrow amendment succeeding are fairly strong.

Homeland Security

As anyone who’s viewed Signifying Nothing’s sidebar can probably guess, I don’t think much of the homeland security threat level thingy—mainly because it’s a bogus five-point scale, since we all know it’ll never fall below yellow nor go higher than orange (making it a dichotomous variable for all practical purposes, a weakness that James Joyner expounds upon here), but also because it’s essentially meaningless to the public at large. That being said, Dean Esmay does have a bit of a point worth considering.

Sunday, 21 December 2003

Anger and the Democrats

Steven Taylor’s latest PoliColumn in the Birmingham News attempts to explain the undercurrent of anger in the Democratic Party. In particular, he notes one factor that many have overlooked: the impotence associated with losing control after decades of dominance, particularly in Congress.

The fourth reason for Democrats’ anger, and perhaps the most abstract—but in many ways the most significant—is their deep abiding frustration that the Democratic Party as a whole is experiencing in its role as the minority. Since the 1994 midterm election, the Democratic Party has not controlled the House of Representatives, and only briefly controlled the Senate (and then only because of the defection from the Republican Party of Jim Jeffords of Vermont).

For a party that convincingly, and often by dramatic margins, controlled the House for four decades, and indeed for 29 of 36 Congresses since the New Deal era (1933) and the Senate for all but eight years of that same period, this lack of control is a devastating fact to which I would argue they have not yet adjusted.

To reiterate: Prior to 1994, the last time the Democrats lost control of the whole Congress was in 1953, and that loss of power lasted a mere two years. Given that many members of Congress were in Congress during the era of Democratic domination, it is hard to forget those halcyon days of power.

Of course, anger has been a driving force in American politics since, well, the Mayflower landed, occasional “eras of good feeling” notwithstanding. To the extent there’s more anger in the political ether these days, it probably reflects the relative parity of the parties more than any clear change in tone.

One other point Steven raises in passing is that Democrats “considered [Bush] something of a dim bulb.” This point should not be minimized. Few things are more frustrating than being outsmarted by someone you regard as mentally inferior—and when it’s been happening for three years on a near-daily basis, it’s got to chafe mightily.* Yet there is no sign that Democrats have given up on the “dim bulb” theory—which must make every defeat seem even more frustrating.

Oopsie at Time

Nothing like scooping yourself. D’oh!

The Commissar visits Middle-Earth

The Commissar has a masterful political analysis of The Return of the King. Laugh-out-loud line:

Did enjoy Robert Fisk’s review, “After movie let out, I fell in with a bunch of Orcs, and they beat me up. And I don’t blame them; I would have beaten myself up, too.”


George Carlin wouldn't approve

The Rove-berry™

Matt Stinson identifies the source of Howard Dean’s foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Principals, Agents, and Gitmo

Will Baude is less impressed than usual with my thoughts on the relative value of legalistic and attitudinal approaches to the law and, by extension, on the whole Guantanamo Bay thing.

First, to clarify, I was making an empirical rather than a normative argument. The nature of the Supreme Court is mixed—when there is a clear, controlling precedent that was ignored by a lower court, the behavior of the Court is usually to reverse and remand the decision without scheduling an oral argument (sometimes known as the “Ninth Circuit Smackdown” manoeuver), and when the lower-court decision was legally correct and consistent with precedent, the Court doesn’t grant certiorari. However, when the Court does grant cert—admittedly something it only does in a small minority of cases—the decisions are much more likely to be based on attitudinal considerations, or what normal people call “politics.” That’s the nature of the beast: work hard enough, and you can find a precedent for anything, or find a reason why Case X is distinct from the precedent that decided Case Y. If we’re going to analyze the Court’s decision-making, it should be viewed through this prism. This is one area—and perhaps the only area—where I think a number of political scientists understand more about the judiciary than lawyers do.

One normative issue, then, is how judges on lower courts should behave. The U.S. judiciary is designed as a principal-agent system: there’s a Supreme Court, and inferior courts. The Supremes decide what The Law is, the inferior courts implement The Law, and the Supremes make sure The Law is implemented correctly. Due to workload, however, the Supremes don’t function as a pure principal—some decisions escape their notice, and sometimes the system is gamed to ensure they don’t actually function as the principal (for example, see Piscataway v. Taxman, where a case was deliberately removed from the system to avoid intervention by the principal). Because of this, politicians want to fill the lower courts with mini-Scalias and Reinhardts, rather than wishy-washy O‘Connors,which politicizes the lower courts to no end. Is this a good thing? Probably not. As much as is possible, the law ought to be based on regular, institutionalized procedures—based on laws passed by the legislature, common law, and precedent. However, at the pinnacle of the system, I’m not sure it can be.

However, the larger normative question in this particular case is whether or not Reinhardt (more properly, the 9th Circuit) is right to intervene. On balance, I’d have to say intervention is right. The cost to the administration to justify its action before the judiciary is minimal compared to the potential cost to human liberty if the judiciary defers to executive judgment. At some level, it’s the Carolene question: nobody to the political right of Dennis Kuchinich is going to stick up for the people at Gitmo. At another level, it’s a question of separation of powers—the executive is essentially asserting the right to do whatever it wants without effective oversight from either Congress or the judiciary, including inventing its own secret judicial system out of whole cloth. Surely this ought to be troublesome, particularly to lawyers like Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh, but their collective response seems to be “eh, it’s just Reinhardt” and micro-analysis of how, since we did the same thing with Germans in 1944, or because the sovereign status of Gitmo is subject to some obscure treaty provision, this is all just peachy.

Now, at some level I could care less about the people at Gitmo. I realize to some extent the foreign bleating about them would just be bleating about some other topic if we’d given them an all-expenses paid vacation at Club Med. As a diplomatic matter, I realize that we’re probably carrying water for the Australians and Brits with their detainees (god knows Tony Blair doesn’t want the headache of dealing with the British collaborators with the Taliban). The rest of the detainees are probably much better off at Gitmo than they would be in the hands of the Afghan, Saudi or Pakistani authorities—which is probably what I’d have done with them. That still doesn’t mean that I have to like it—or approve of the administration’s handling of the issue.

Saturday, 20 December 2003

Is the heat starting to get to Dean?

As Steven Taylor notes in the latest edition of the Toast-O-Meter, Howard Dean is leading the other Democratic contenders in a lot of national and state polls, including in the key early primary state of New Hampshire, even while his rivals—most notably Joe Lieberman—step up their attacks on him.

So far, attacks from the remainder of the pack have had little effect; however, if this AP account from the campaign trail in Iowa is to be believed, Dean may be starting to feel some heat:

Howard Dean appealed to fellow Democratic presidential candidates Saturday to stop the bitter attack politics that have come to dominate the race for the party’s nomination. The race needs “a little character transplant,” he said.

“It’s not necessary to tear down the other opponents,” said Dean, whose front-running campaign has come increasingly under fire from Democratic rivals.

However, it may be too late for his rivals to do anything about Dean’s long march to the nomination. It’s December 20th, only five weeks before the New Hampshire primary, and all the members of the ABD faction are still in the race, which—as I’ve explained before—is deadly to their collective chances of stopping Dean from gaining the nomination. The electoral rules are clear on this point: the more ways the anti-Dean vote is split in a state, the more delegates Dean will receive. Make no mistake: coalescing around a single ABD candidate won’t stop the Deaniacs’ lemming-like procession behind their leader, but it will mean that credible candidates will get more delegates—you need 15% of the vote in a Congressional district to get delegates, and judging by the polling numbers the only candidates who will be able to do that consistently are Dean and Sharpton, the latter due to the effects of majority-minority districts.

The bottom line: Lieberman, Kerry, and Edwards need to step aside today and let Clark and Gephardt have a fighting chance to get enough delegates between them to stop Dean, or it’s going to be a very long year for Democrats.

On references

Henry Farrell discusses an apparent epidemic of ghost-written letters of reference being sent by professors on behalf of students. Thankfully, nobody’s ever asked me to write my own letter of recommendation—which is just as well, I suppose, as I’ve never been very good at self-promotion. Besides, seeing as I’m an only child, I get more than enough of that from my parents…

Santa Cylon

Ok, this has got to be the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long while (the whole thread is pretty funny, though).

Friday, 19 December 2003

Cool gadget

I saw one of these pizza baking machines today at Wal-Mart while doing the grocery shopping. I’m not sure that I could justify spending $50 for an object that does something my oven seems perfectly capable of doing on its own, albeit more slowly, but I can see some value to it for college kids and people with more tempermental ovens than mine.

Also on the topic of pizza: I’m pretty sure pepperoni isn’t supposed to contain chicken, yet the pepperoni on Tombstone pizzas has “chicken” listed as an ingredient. Someone in Italy should sue.

The politics of international aviation

Michael Jennings has a fascinating post at Samizdata that explains, in part, why I’ve been to Stansted and Gatwick more times than I’ve ever been to Heathrow—and also, in part, why I haven’t set foot in any of those airports (or, for that matter, anywhere else outside North America) in 12 years.

To some extent, the practical problems Michael describes have been reduced by code-sharing and mergers; for example, I could now fly to Britain from Memphis—the relative boonies in American aviation, at least when it comes to "hub" airports—in several dozen different ways, the most convenient of which is probably to take the every-other-day Northwest/KLM flight from Memphis to Amsterdam then any of a number of flights to major British airports via KLMuk from Amsterdam.

“Pizza” still leaving me cold

Due to the power of TiVo, and my general laziness clearing out my Season Pass list, I’ve had a Season Pass for ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza” two-hour morning show since it started (set to “Keep At Most: 1” so I only kill two hours of space). That isn’t to say I’ve watched every show, mind you; many days, it goes straight into the digital dustbin. But, I’ve given it a shot, and it’s time to review the “good” and “bad”:

  • Jay Crawford, the male co-host, is moderately competent.
  • Kit Hoover, the female co-host, reminds me of an Ole Miss sorority girl—and a none-too-bright one, at that. (Plus, whatever variant of a southern accent she has is downright painful to listen to.)
  • Leslie Maxey, the newswoman, is stuck with the thankless task of newsdrone. She seems reasonably competent when not reading the equivalent of the “local news digest of the national news” from the teleprompter, though.
  • Thea Andrews, the catch-all person (I think her actual title is “national correspondent”), seems competent enough, plus she has sort of a Lauren Graham thing going on—as Dave Letterman would say, she’s “easy on the eyes”—and (IMHO) did a better job than Hoover when called on to fill in as co-host once.
  • The “guest people do the weather” schtick doesn’t work at any level. Just pay Greg Proops whatever he asks to get him to do the job permanently—or let Andrews do it.
  • Whoever thought this show needed a “sideline reporter” should be thrown in a spider hole in Iraq, along with the guy who does it. Apparently, it’s supposed to be funny to have a Jewish guy as the sideline reporter. Newsflash: it isn’t.
  • Silly question for Disney: if you’re going to do a morning show, wouldn’t it make more sense to have it in ESPN, a.k.a. “The Mothership,” where it’ll get better ratings?
  • Make the frickin’ show more about sports, and less like an obsessively tame version of “The Man Show.”

Frankly, if ESPN wants to do something better in the morning, I think the thing to do is something more like the Saturday and Sunday morning SportsCenter, maybe with a dash of the style of The NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” (ironically, hosted by Rich Eisen, who was originally interested in the “Cold Pizza” gig): something more casual, but clearly a sports show for the morning viewer rather than a morning show that talks about sports. Put Crawford and Andrews in a casual studio, bring in guests, and have an experienced SportsCenter or ESPNews anchor (Michael Kim?) on hand for sports headlines and highlights at the top and bottom of the hour.

The party ain't quite over yet

Steven Taylor finally got around to reading the Ehrlich piece I discussed below (in terms of Mickey Kaus’ reaction to it). Quoth Dr. Taylor:

The second problem [with his argument] is more profound: Erhlich seems not to understand American parties. Parties in the US are primarily three things: the candidates themselves, the officeholders who manage to win election, and, above all else, the voters who are willing to put those candidates into office. The institutional existence of the party (the party committee, and so forth) is really minor by comparison to the other aforementioned elements.

This is a restatement of the classic “tripartite division” of the party in political science: the party in the electorate, the party in government (which subsumes both the “candidates” and “officeholders” from Steven’s description), and the party organization (or institution). While parties are institutionally weak, as I reviewed in my previous post, that’s not the whole reality of the situation—parties still have a strong resonance in the electorate (even in the elite bits of the electorate, like the blogosphere: you’ll find relatively few nonpartisan “warbloggers”), and they still help organize competition both in elections and in government.

Anyway, go read what Steven said, as well was what Professor Bainbridge had to say too. (Bonus points: Prof. Bainbridge talks about one of my favorite topics, heuristics, and the value of those heuristics in political decision-making.*)

Demonstration effects

James Joyner, Dan Drezner and John Cole are among those who note that the United States and United Kingdom have reached an agreement with Libya on dismantling the latter’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. Fancy that.

Of course, we all know it was really just Tony’s doing.

Fig leaves and the legalistic model

I was going to write a long rant about lawyers’ obsessions with such whimsical notions as stare decisis and legalistic reasoning, in connection with the Padilla and Gitmo cases. Thankfully, Will Baude points out a book review by Richard Posner that—while dealing with the seemingly completely different issue of gay marriage—makes a basic point about the judicial construction of rights that seems to escape everyone else who’s ever attended law school:

It should be apparent by now what the problem with Gerstmann’s approach is. Though he is a political scientist as well as a lawyer, his approach to the question of homosexual marriage is legalistic. Find a precedent…, and analogize it to the present case, and use the analogy to put an impossible burden of proof on your opponent, and limit the scope of your rule by rejecting further analogies on however arbitrary a ground, so that the right of a prison inmate to marry is deemed analogous to a right of homosexual marriage but not to a right of polygamous marriage, because the polygamist, unlike the homosexual, is not denied the right to marry the person of his (first) choice.

This is what is called “legal reasoning,” and it is hard to take seriously. For one thing, there is nothing sacrosanct about precedent, especially in the Supreme Court. In Lawrence, the Court overruled a precedent that was not merely analogous to the case at hand, as Turner and Zablocki might be thought analogous to a case involving homosexual marriage, but identical to it. (The case was the notorious Bowers v. Hardwick, which had upheld the validity of criminalizing homosexual sodomy.) For another, it would be child’s play, as a matter of legal casuistry, to limit those two cases to conventional, monogamous, non-incestuous, heterosexual marriage.

Judges like to pretend that their decisions are dictated by “logic,” or by an authoritative text or precedent, because it downplays the element of judicial discretion, which worries people. The pretense wears particularly thin in constitutional cases about marriage and sex, because the Constitution does not say anything about these subjects, and the framers of the Constitution, and of the major amendments, in particular the Fourteenth Amendment, which is the principal source of constitutional rights against the states, were not thinking about marriage, sex, homosexuality, or related topics when they drafted these founding documents. (Neither were the ratifiers.) Decisions such as the four that I have mentioned, together with the Supreme Court’s other well-known sex-related decisions, such as Griswold v. Connecticut (holding that a state cannot forbid married couples to use contraceptives) and Roe v. Wade, are all “political” decisions—not in the narrow Democratic versus Republican sense, but in the sense of being motivated by values not dictated by the orthodox materials of judicial decision-making. Precedent and analogy operate as fig leaves in such cases.

Fundamentally, I don’t think it matters whether or not there’s a legal precedent for Padilla’s detention or the indefinite limbo of detainees at Gitmo. What matters is whether or not they are the right things for the government to be doing, and in my opinion, neither are consistent with American values. Belittle popular punching bag Stephen Reinhardt all you want for saying that—god knows I think he’s an idiot at least half the time—but don’t pretend that your cites are any better than his, because fundamentally they aren’t. It’s all politics, and those who dabble in constitutional law would be well-advised to keep that in mind when discussing the judiciary.

Meanwhile, PG of En Banc gets to the heart of the substance of my uneasiness with Eugene Volokh’s position on the Gitmo detainees. Eugene’s position may (or may not) be legally correct, but it strikes me as morally wrong. Elsewhere: Robert Prather agrees on Padilla and disagrees on Gitmo.

This is my entry in the OTB Beltway Traffic Jam for today.

Return of the King

I broke down and went to see The Return of the King (the third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for those who reside under rocks) last night. It was very good, despite the air of inevitability that hung over the piece—even someone whose Tolkien is half-remembered and based mostly on cultural osmosis can figure out where the story’s going. And I could have done without the 20 minutes of commercials and trailers before the film.

Anyway, for those into such things, Jacob Levy has more, with spoilers.

Thursday, 18 December 2003

Much ado about due process

It’s been a busy day for wanna-be terrorists in the courts; as James Joyner and One Fine Jay note, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the release of alleged dirty bomber José Padilla, a decision both agree with, while the 9th Circuit’s decision that detainees at Guantanamo Bay deserve access to counsel and the normal judiciary, contradicting a decision of the D.C. Circuit, has met with a tepid reaction from Glenn Reynolds and outright disagreement from Professor Bainbridge.

Not being a lawyer—or playing one on TV—myself, my gut instinct is that both decisions are correct, and while there may be some (as yet unclear) value to holding the Guantanamo detainees, I don’t think that value is sufficient to justify the ongoing diplomatic fiasco attached to them—even if countries like Britain and Canada, whose citizens are among the detainees, would probably prefer that the U.S. deal with them at Gitmo rather than dealing with them themselves, even if they won’t say so publically.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003


Jacob Levy says pretty much everything I had to say about the French government’s decision to go ahead with efforts to ban the display of religious symbols by students in public schools.

Russell Fox is none to impressed by the proposal either.

Party with Dean

James Joyner has some thoughts on a Mickey Kaus blog entry exploring the possibility of a third party run by Howard Dean if he doesn’t win the nomination. I honestly don’t think that is likely, or even logistically possible. The two major parties, while at their institutionally weakest state in modern history, still serve an important gatekeeping function in our system; while it’s arguably harder to win a major-party nomination than to gain ballot access on a third-party ticket, the reward of the major-party nomination is the virtually automatic vote of more than 30% of the electorate.

That is not to say that to win the nomination, candidates have to appeal directly to the party base. Registration rules in most states are now weak to nonexistent (part of a 100-year trend started by the “progressive” reforms that reflected a belief in a Tocquevillian ideal of a well-informed rational public rather than the reality of widespread political ignorance) and increased soft money regulations have meant an end to the financial ties between parties and candidates. Instead, the successful candidate in a large field can simply recruit disaffected apartisan ideologues* to his cause and use their support to create an air of inevitability around his campaign to recruit the support of institutional loyalists—the “true partisans,” if you will.

However, Kaus’ belief that we’ll see a breakdown of the two existing parties, at least on the ballot, is at best misguided. There are thousands of Democratic and Republican state legislators who would have to be convinced to remove the existing institutional advantages of their own parties to open the door for a new third party, while the idea of separate parties competing at the presidential level than in other elections seems a tad absurd (I could see separate parties at the state and national levels, but that’s not the same thing, really). There’s enough value attached to the Republican and Democratic labels that it’s likely we’ll see candidates fight over them long after the institutions they represent have been further eviscerated by further campaign finance “reform” and the continued march of the “progressive” legacy.

By the way, I hope some political scientist out there is doing a study of Dean activists, if only so I can steal borrow their data and test some of the hypotheses floating around in my head about them…


Mike of Half-Bakered is soliciting suggestions for a location and date for the first Memphis-area bloggers’ bash. Go forth and comment accordingly.

Belated Galactica thoughts

My (quite possibly now-irrelevant) thoughts on the SciFi Battlestar Galactica mini-series produced by Ron Moore (warning, no spoiler protection):

  • As others have noted, the pacing was a tad too slow in Part One. Part of the problem is that you’ve got to set up this BG universe and let us know how it’s similar to—and different from—the BG universe we vaguely recall Lorne Greene having something to do with. Part Two worked much better.
  • I think making the BG society seem a lot like ours except the higher technology is pretty sound. It certainly beats the “everyone wears lycra” approach of Trek.
  • The “Number Six kills a baby” bit was completely gratuitous. Plus, it was distracting in this scene that the Capricans seemed to have taken over Tollana. The obvious conclusion is that the twelve colonies are populated by Gou‘ald. (Sorry, Stargate SG-1 joke.)
  • It’d have been nice to see some of the colonies other than Caprica. Some of the exposition could have been handled that way, too.
  • I’ve seen the criticism that a society that is spacefaring should have eliminated cancer. The logic of this statement escapes me completely. Curing cancer and traveling faster than the speed of light seem to be rather orthogonal problems to solve.
  • FTL travel in the BG universe is seems similar to how true FTL travel works in Asimov’s Foundation/Empire/Nemesis universe; however, there seems to be some spatial (or temporal?) distortion attached to it, if the camera foreshortening effect is to be believed as a representation of the reality perceived inside the ship.

Now, the open questions file:

  • What happened to Kobol that made humans settle the twelve colonies? There was a (not entirely satisfactory) answer in the original BG universe.
  • Does Earth actually exist? If so, is it really the 13th colony, or something different? (If life began “out there,” perhaps humans from Earth settled Kobol. This gets around the silly “Earth was settled by spacemen” concept. Plus it means that if they find Earth, it might actually be a useful ally against the Cylons.)
  • Are there alien species? The original BG universe said yes, but never showed them: the creators of the Cylons were alien, as were some species the Cylons had killed off—the planet in “Living Legend” was originally home to a non-human species.
  • Interestingly, everyone who is obsessed with sex turns out to be a Cylon, while the people who aren’t getting any are human. Is this deliberate?
  • Is the “Number Six” in Baltar’s head real? Judging from the evidence, I think not; rather, it seems to be an “anti-conscience” of a sort. The real Number Six probably wouldn’t have allowed Baltar to pick out Aaron Doral, the PR guy (who for some reason reminded me of Mollem from SG-1, but isn’t the same actor) who is a Cylon; would have known what the “personal organizer” was; and would have impeded the investigation of the dead Cylon (Leoben Conoy) from the space station more thoroughly. Plus, she probably couldn’t have communicated with Baltar in the storm at Ragnar Anchorage, and on Colonial One she seems to indirectly call Baltar “God,” which makes more sense in terms of Baltar’s ego than Cylon religious beliefs.
  • Are Cylons really reincarnated when they die in new bodies? Number Six and Conoy apparently think so, but if the Number Six in Baltar’s head isn’t real we have zero evidence of this. Is this just a religious belief?
  • Are there really just 12 designs of humanoid Cylon? If so, why? There are obviously more than 12 individual humanoid Cylons. (We’ve seen 4 designs: Six, Leoben, Aaron, and Boomer.) How do they tell each other apart? And does the 12 number only include humanoids, or do the metal ones count too? And why did the Cylons decide to make humanoid models?
  • Did Baltar really figure out Aaron’s complicity in the Cylon attack? He turns out to be right, but why? The “Cylon detector” was apparently bullshit, if we believe Baltar’s mannerisms and “Number Six.” There’s no way Baltar knew that Adama already somewhat distrusted Aaron because of his interest in getting the Galactica outfitted with a computer network.
  • The shielding on the Galactica seems to protect Cylons from the Ragnar radiation; the ship was apparently in the radiation field for hours, yet Boomer showed no ill effects and Aaron only was affected after he got ditched on the station.
  • Who left the “there are only twelve models” note for Adama? Baltar is the only human with the knowledge that we know of. But there might be others. There might also be Cylons working against the Cylon plans. Then again, Baltar may not want to explain how he knows there are only 12 models.

Overall, I think it was a very good outing by Moore. Hopefully he’ll have the chance to make it into a series starting in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Stinson posted his thoughts more contemporaneously.

Photoshopping Saddam

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

That'd be "no" and "yes," respectively

Randy Barnett, in writing of his clients’ victory in Raich v. Ashcroft, clings to hopes of legalistic reasoning by the Supreme Court.

It is supremely ironic that the Ninth Circuit is the court of appeals that is taking the Supreme Court’s new Commerce Clause jurisprudence the most seriously. This case illustrates that Federalism is not just for political conservatives, and is a doctrine that provides benefits across ideological lines. If this case does go to the Supreme Court we will learn whether the conservative justices who developed this doctrine have the courage of their convictions when it applies to activities of which they may disapprove, and whether the liberal justices will put their disdain for Lopez and Morrison above the commitment to stare decisis, which would let them do justice in this case.

Excuse me while I snort derisively at the thought of either of these hypothetical scenarios (liberals supporting stare decisis or conservatives sticking up for the principle behind Lopez) coming to pass.

Link via Unlearned Hand at En Banc, who “would love to see the Fab Four grant cert.” I assume that the Fab Four is either the set of liberal or conservative justices, and does not include the notoriously fickle Sandra Day O‘Connor, but I’m at a loss as to which set (the conservative Scalia/Thomas/Kennedy/Rehnquist or liberal Breyer/Souter/Ginsberg/Stevens) is particularly “fab.”

Why the Nielsens suck

Laurence Simon, in the midst of a rant about a Houston affiliate’s attempts to pump up its ratings, exposes the bad statistics peddled by AC Nielsen:

The samples are ridulously small and unstable, absolutely abysmal when it comes to tracking democraphics other that Yuppie Whitey because of tweeser-sized samples, the numbers are cooked twice, and then the exceptions and loopholes in reporting the results are downright shameful.

The Nielsen sample might be reliable as a national sample, but it’s absolutely hideous once you try to subdivide it for over 300 local markets. Even as a national sample, they should be intellectually honest enough to attach a giant confidence interval (which, based on reports of their sample size, is probably on the order of several ratings points at 95% confidence) to their estimates. It’s a miracle their numbers correspond at all with reality.

While We Were Sleeping II: The Two Towers

Amazing how all the news seems to happen while we’re down. (The appropriate parties have been executed for their roles in our period of downtime, in case you were wondering.)

To review:

  • I got rid of about half the beer in the house at a grad student party on Friday night. Less crap to move. Yipee! (Thanks to Brooke and Lindsey for organizing the gathering.)
  • I turned 28-going-on-60 on Sunday.
  • Someone actually wants to cite part of my dissertation in a book. I’m stunned.
  • Steven Taylor had the latest Toast-O-Meter update, with Howard Dean widening his lead over the pack despite increased attacks from the trailing candidates.
  • The presumptive Democratic nominee made a speech on foreign policy that somehow failed to mention North Korea.
  • Everyone’s favorite Dixiecrat apparently didn’t mind dipping his pen in different-colored ink, so to speak.
  • Signifying Nothing went down to ignominious defeat in the Wizbang 2003 Weblog Awards balloting. I blame the butterfly ballot and the use of a first-past-the-post system.
  • And, last but not least, coalition forces arrested a biker dude near Tikrit and gave him a lovely shave and a fight to Qatar at taxpayers’ expense.

This is today’s entry in the Beltway Traffic Jam, in case you were wondering about such things.

Monday, 8 December 2003

Jousting with strawmen

Keith Burgess-Jackson claims to have refuted consequentialism:

Consider an example: My neighbors are having a pleasant meal. I can easily disrupt it, but choose not to. I am therefore morally responsible for the pleasure of my neighbors. Generalize: I can spend my entire day preventing good deeds from being performed by others. If I choose not to do so, I am morally responsible for all the good that is done. It turns out that I’m morally responsible for a great deal of good, just by sitting in my study!

I agree that Prof. Burgess-Jackson has refuted a certain thesis: the thesis that whether one is “responsible” for an state of affairs is solely dependant on whether one’s action or inaction causally contributed to that state of affairs.

However, that thesis is not consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the thesis that the rightness or wrongness of a possible action, and which of all possible actions at a given time an agent should do, is solely a function of that possible action’s consequences. Consequentialism by itself does not have anything to say about whether an action is praiseworthy or blameworthy, or whether an agent is “responsible” for that action’s outcome.

Let’s look at another example:

Smith and Jones are standing near a swimming pool. Smith is an excellent swimmer, but Jones cannot swim at all. A small child falls into the pool. There is no way for the child to be saved unless Smith jumps in to save him. Smith does just this: jumps in and saves the child. Jones refrains from doing anything that would hinder Smith in her rescue attempt.

In conjunction with an axiology (theory of value) that entails that a drowned child is the worst outcome of all of Smith and Jones possible actions at the time, consequentialism entails that each of their actions, Smith’s rescuing the child, and Jones refraining from hindering Smith, were the right things to do. Consequentialism entails that nothing other than the possible outcomes of their action was relevant. It would not be relevant if the owner of the pool had forbidden Smith to swim in it. It would not be relevant if Jones had promised the owner of the pool to prevent Smith from swimming in it. It would not be relevant if Smith had made a deathbed promise to her mother to never go swimming.

Smith, of course, is a hero. And Jones is not. But consequentialism does not entail this. Nor does it contradict it. All it entails is that Smith and Jones both did the right thing. Consequentialism lays silent on the praiseworthiness of Smith's and Jones's actions.

My vote in 2004

Why bother going through the whole pretense of a campaign? I already know how I’m going to vote in 2004, more or less.

Loose lips sink ships

On Saturday, Eugene Volokh noted a poll conducted by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics that showed that 78% of respondents believe the media would have leaked news of President Bush’s Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad—a belief that is essentially identical among Republicans and Democrats, though perhaps even more strongly held by Independents.

As someone whose research interest is in public opinion, I have to wonder how this opinion came about, and it’d be a fascinating case study. It’s a shame Fox doesn’t contribute polling data to ICPSR like the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS and ABC do…

Endorse this!

Dan Drezner and Steven Taylor are among those to note the reports that my favorite fake Tennessean, Al Gore, is about to endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination.

Is the primary process now effectively over? The part of me that’s been avoiding rereading Larry Bartels’ Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice hopes so (no insult to Prof. Bartels, who’s a smart guy—I just don’t have the time to reread it now), but as Lee Corso says, “not so fast my friend!” Why?

Well, for starters, nobody’s going to drop out until New Hampshire at least, and—more than likely—everyone will last through South Carolina. By March, the process may be effectively over, but there’s three months in which the unexpected can happen.

One potential response is that this will have a catalyzing effect on the “Anybody But Dean” faction. The ABD crowd is going to have to decide whether their mutual differences are sufficient to let them hand the nomination to Dean. Bear in mind that under the PR rules, candidates have to get 15 percent of the vote in a congressional district to get delegates; for example, if all the ABD guys are hovering at 10% in a district, but Dean gets 25%, Dean gets all of the delegates from that district. A promise that any one candidate’s delegates will support the ABD frontrunner at the convention is insufficient—because they won’t have enough delegates between them to make a difference. Plus, the more clearly Dean is the frontrunner, the more support he’s going to get in later primaries—such is the virtuous cycle that insiders call “the big mo.”

Especially with Sharpton likely to capture the support of a majority of the African-American primary voters, the ABD candidates are effectively screwed unless they get whittled down. Some of the candidates will figure this out on their own. The question is whether the credible ABD faction goes down from being five to two. (One alternative that might be effective is if the ABD faction executed a regional strategy: everyone but the best-positioned alternative to Dean stops campaigning in a particular state.)

The primary also still matters because it will largely decide who gets floor time at the convention. The more the ABD faction divides the vote, the more delegates are going to be gained by Dean and Sharpton under the 15% rule. Karl Rove must be salivating at the thought of Sharpton in primetime or seeing a procession of anti-war activists to the podium. Ironically, the better Dean does in the primaries, the less favorable the convention is going to be for his general election campaign—to be effective, he’s going to have to distance himself from the “anger” that brought him to the nomination, most fundamentally because most Americans are a lot angrier at Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein than they are at George Bush.

So, while Dean may be the presumptive nominee, the primary process is going to be an important factor nonetheless—both in how the convention is structured and, ultimately, how effective a bounce Dean can get from it in the general election.

You guessed it; this is my entry in the Beltway Traffic Jam. And, Matt Stinson thinks it’s payback for Gore’s being shafted by being in Clinton’s shadow.

More congrats

Congratulations to Virginia Postrel, whose book The Substance of Style was named one of the New York Times Book Review’s Notable Books of 2003.

One of these decades (actually, hopefully later this week, once I’ve accomplished something on the job application and “sending the stupid impeachment paper out for review again” fronts), I’ll actually get around to writing up my thoughts on TSOS.

Sunday, 7 December 2003

The allegory of the cave

Today’s big exercise—besides watching the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Nashville Carpetbaggers—has been dealing with job applications. I’ve divided the pile of job listings, representing about 30 jobs, into four stacks based on the sort of packet they’ll get (Research/American, Research/Methodology, Teaching, and Post-Doc), updated and polished the vita, and printed out my old teaching evaluations.

One of the more peculiar requirements of many academic job applications, particularly in the “Teaching” stack, is that they require a statement of teaching philosophy—sometimes coupled with a statement of research interests. I have a broad idea of what I’d like to write, but these exercises, like the related need to write cover letters, always seem to call for a degree of introspection that makes me uncomfortable—I’ve never been a huge fan of the “self-marketing” exercise. I’ll get through it, but it still bugs me.

The real scandal: coaches don't pay attention to football

James Joyner is right that, if things play out the way they look, the BCS is in big trouble. However, the hidden story in this is why the BCS is in trouble. Let’s look at the ESPN/USA Today top five (i.e. the Coaches’ poll):

  1. USC: 37 first-place votes, 1542 points.
  2. LSU: 18 first-place votes, 1516 points.
  3. Oklahoma: 8 first-place votes, 1449 points.
  4. Michigan: 0 first-place votes, 1393 points.
  5. Texas: 0 first-place votes, 1272 points.

As I’ve mentioned before, the major polls are compiled using a Borda count. The media poll (AP) has 65 voters, while the coaches’ poll has 63 voters. The Borda count procedure is fairly simplistic: the #1 team on each ballot gets 25 points, #2 gets 24… all the way down to #25, which gets 1 point. (In math terms, the points added for each team are 26 minus the ranking.) The Borda count, incidentally, happens to be a very rotten way of aggregating preferences, but it has the benefit over other methods (like Condorcet voting) of not requiring a lot of thought to apply.

With that aside out of the way, let’s stare at the numbers. The full ballots aren’t released (a glaring oversight in the system), but we do know that 8 people ranked Oklahoma #1. Assume, for the sake of argument, the “objectively correct” ranking of Oklahoma is no higher than #3; in other words, no voter should have ranked OU #1 or #2.* Oklahoma thus recieved 8×2 or 16 more points than it should have, reducing its total to 1433 points.

Let’s also assume that these 8 poll voters all ranked LSU, USC, and Michigan (a fair assumption); we don’t even need to know which team was ranked #2 on these ballots. Bumping Oklahoma to #4 bumps each of these teams up by 8×1 points. This gives USC 1550, LSU 1524, OU 1433 (per above), and Michigan 1393. Now, Michigan is within 40 points of being #3 (down from 56).

Now, let’s return to the original numbers. We know that some voters ranked OU above #3. Why? Well, for starters, they got 8 first-place votes. It also turns out that OU’s total of 1449 is exactly the total that they would have received had they been ranked #3 on all 63 ballots (63×(26-3)=1449). Now we have an interesting problem: reconstructing the position of OU on the ballots.

We know OU was #1 on eight ballots. They received 1249 points from 55 other ballots. Let’s assume the only reasonable rankings for OU on those ballots is 2, 3, 4, and 5. So we have an integer programming problem: (26-2)a+(26-3)b+(26-4)c+(26-5)d=24a+23b+22c+21d=1249, where a–d are all non-negative integers, and a+b+c+d=55.

Solving this problem iteratively, there are two possible ballot configurations: 17 second-place votes, 15 third-place votes, 13 fourth-place votes, and 10 fifth-place votes; or 18 second-place, 14 third-place, 12 fourth-place, and 11 fifth-place. Now, let’s also drop OU to third on these ballots.

Assuming there are 17 second-place votes for OU, dropping them to third will reduce their point total by 17. Assuming Michigan was ranked third or below on all of these ballots (a trivial assumption; we know they never were ranked #1, and we know they couldn’t have been #2 because OU was), OU loses 17 and Michigan gains 17. This makes the point totals: USC 1550, LSU 1524, OU 1416, and Michigan 1410.

If there were 18 second-place votes for OU, the “correct” point totals—if they’d actually ranked OU third—would have been USC 1550, LSU 1524, OU 1415, and Michigan 1411.

Now, we can broaden the analysis a little. Assume that some voters ranked OU as low as 6th. If that is the case, more than 18 voters must have voted OU #2 for them to get 1449 points. If 20 voters ranked OU #2, when they should have been #3, OU and Michigan would have been tied. And it’s possible, although unlikely, that as many as 24 voters ranked OU #2.

The moral of the story: the Borda count sucks. And so do the coaches.

My top five

James Joyner notes the upcoming Charlie-Foxtrot in the BCS standings resulting from Oklahoma’s drubbing by Kansas State in the Big XII title game and the convincing wins by LSU (over Georgia) and USC (over Oregon State). If I had a ballot, here’s how I’d rank the teams:

  1. Southern Cal (11-1). Their only loss was in overtime, which—given the funky OT rules in college—is understandable.
  2. LSU (12-1). Really, only three teams have even given LSU problems this year: Florida, Georgia (in the first game), and Ole Miss. Everyone else, LSU has basically destroyed.
  3. Michigan (10-2). Probably the scariest team in the country today, even if John Navarre isn’t your prototypical great quarterback. Then again, he doesn’t have to be; he’s got Chris Perry in the backfield.
  4. Oklahoma (12-1). The team folded like a cheap kite at the first sign of real adversity this season (the 5-8 Crimson Tide—with losses to NIU and Hawaii, along with practically everyone in the SEC—don’t count as “adversity” in this discussion). They’re lucky I haven’t dropped them below the TCU Horned Frogs or the Blue Turf Warriors of Boise State.
  5. Texas (10-2). Really, just the best of a bunch of two-loss teams lurking below Michigan.

Saturday, 6 December 2003

Discrimination against atheists in the Tennessee Constitution

Mike Hollihan at Half-Bakered has a post on discriminiation against atheists in the Tennessee Constitution. The relevant paragraph is Article IX, Section 2, which reads

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Earlier, however, in Article I, Section 4, the Tennessee Constitution declares

That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, shall never be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this State.

Now how exactly can requiring that someone not deny the existence of God, or “future state of rewards and punishments,” not amount to a religious test? It would seem to even exclude Christian Universalists, who hold that everyone will be saved and no one will go to Hell.

And I wonder how broad the phrase “any office in the civil department of this State” is supposed to be. Are atheists not allowed to be Tennessee State Troopers?

Title game quickie picks

The brain trusts at ABC and CBS have decided to put the Big XII and SEC title games up against each other in prime time. Idiots. Thank God for DirecTV with TiVo.

  • Lousiana State over Georgia (at Atlanta). The trendy pick is Georgia. I think they’re in serious trouble unless David Greene can figure out LSU’s blitz packages—something even Unitas Award winner Eli Manning couldn’t do consistently. LSU by 10.
  • Oklahoma over Kansas State (at Kansas City). Ell Roberson and K-State will probably keep it close for a while, but Oklahoma has a stifling defense and too many receivers to cover. Sooners by 9.

The rampant BCS speculation is that LSU goes to the Sugar Bowl if both USC and LSU win. That, of course, assumes the pollsters don’t play dirty pool with the polls—something I wouldn’t put past the voters, particularly the AP voters who’ve never really signed on to this whole BCS thing (hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned: ask “major league asshole” Adam Clymer). You read it here first: the fix is in, and it’s gonna be Oklahoma–USC in N'Orleans.

It's an honor just to be nominated

For some reason (probably because Matt Stinson nominated us…), Signifying Nothing is nominated in the Wizbang! 2003 Weblog Awards. As the stereotypical “they” say, VEVO—although considering that we’re nominated in the same category as professional writer Roger L. Simon, I think we’re definitely in the #16 seed position at this point.

All the usual caveats about Internet polling apply. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself to try to block out the absolute drubbing we’re receiving…

IP address bans

The following IP addresses will no longer have access to Signifying Nothing; they almost certainly host spam crawlers:


The Management

Just my ten cents

I agree with Ryan of the Dead Parrots that the idea of replacing FDR with Ronald Reagan on the dime is true, unadulterated idiocy, which—given some Republicans’ worship of all that is Reagan—borders on idolatry. Besides, any good libertarian (or political scientist, for that matter) knows that the man whose face should be on the dime is James Madison…

French versus American journalism

Jay Rosen of PressThink has an interesting interview with Rodney Benson, a professor at NYU who is comparing the journalistic practices of American and French elite-oriented newspapers. Particularly interesting (to me, at least) was the discussion of the working theory of journalism’s role in mass politics, as articulated by Rosen:

A self-governing people need reliable, factual information about what’s going on, especially within their government. News provides that. The citizen at home absorbs the news, and maybe an editorial or column, and then forms her opinions. On election day she carries the information she got from the press, plus opinions formed on her own, into the voting booth, where she operates the levers of democracy. And that’s how the system works. Perhaps the most concise statement of this theory is, “get both sides and decide for yourself.” What you decide is your opinion. Later on, you vote based on that. For both activities one needs to be informed.

I’m not entirely sold on that model of opinionation in the mass public, which seems hopelessly idealized given Converse’s evidence of nonattitudes and Zaller’s R-A-S model, but it’s an interesting model nonetheless. I also found this comment by Benson interesting:

Sociologist Herbert Gans, who wrote the classic newsroom organizational study Deciding What’s News, has said that the American press could do more to promote democracy if it were less concerned with objectivity, and more concerned with presenting multiple viewpoints. Well, the French press, both individual media outlets as well as the system as a whole, does seem to me to approach more closely this kind of a “multiperspectival” ideal.

Anyway, if this sort of stuff interests you, go RTWT™.


Russell Fox of Wäldchen vom Philosophenweg (and Arkansas State University) and his wife Melissa are the proud parents of a baby girl. Congratulations and best wishes!

Friday, 5 December 2003

Democratic candidates on steel tariffs

Paul Muller at Heretical Ideas asks for feedback from Democrats on the reactions of Democratic presidential candiates to the President’s dropping the steel tariffs. Here are some quotes from the AP article:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (news – web sites) said that despite Bush’s claims “the steel industry needs additional breathing room to get back on its feet.” Rep. Dick Gephardt (news – web sites), D-Mo., said Bush’s action demonstrated a “callous disregard for the workers and the communities whose jobs and livelihoods have been decimated by unfair competition.” Former Gen. Wesley Clark (news – web sites) said Bush needed to “listen to the 2.6 million manufacturing workers who’ve lost their jobs” while he has been in office.

I for one am extremely dissappointed in these three candidates. Well, Gephardt I expected it from, he’s Mr. Protectionist. But Dean and Clark are both smart enough to know that tariffs are not good for the American economy, and their pandering to the steel industry is just as pathetic as the President’s pandering was. (Although fortunately they can’t back up their pandering with real tariffs. Not yet anyway.)

It’s looking more and more like I’ll be sitting out the Democratic primary, assuming Lieberman drops out before the Tennessee primaries, and then voting Libertarian in the general election.

Here’s a question for the Constitutional Law experts out there. Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution grants to Congress the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises". Article II does not grant the President any such power. How is it that the President has the power to impose tariffs on steel?

I’m guessing that some law passed by Congress granted this power to the President. But why wouldn’t that be an unconstitutional delegation of power? Have the federal courts ruled on this specific issue?

Keith Burgess-Jackson, armchair psychologist

Keith Burgess-Jackson attempts to explain liberal anger from his converative viewpoint. His specific targets are Brian Leiter and Henry Farrell, but he lumps all liberals in with them:

Deep down, liberals know that they have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. They control the media, Hollywood, the courts, and academia, but little else. They sense that all is lost—that what they perceive as rollbacks will be permanent. ... What we are seeing is a grown-up tantrum.

So how do you explain all the angry conservatives, Keith?

My suggestion to everyone out there, left and right, is to quit the armchair psychoanalysis of the political opposition. It’s a load of patronizing bullshit when liberals do it, and it’s a load of patronizing bullshit when conservatives do it.

Toasting the candidates

Fellow Ph.D. (gosh, it feels good to write that) Steven Taylor has the weekly update on the Toast-O-Meter, which now has a new feature—looking at the fortunes of the Nine versus Bush as well. After all, there’s now less than 11 months until Election Day! (Sick of the campaign yet?)

Meanwhile, Martin Devon joins the emerging consensus that Dean is virtually unstoppable at this point. Quoth Martin:

Even if Kerry and Gephardt lose early and withdraw from the race that still leaves four credible Dems spliting the anti-Dean vote. By the time two of the remaining four face reality it may already be too late for the survivors to win.

Sound familiar? I said the same thing three weeks ago.

Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered has some predictions as well; I think he’s lowballing the Democrats and giving too much credit to the Greens (I can’t see the Greens getting 7% of the vote, especially if Howard Dean is the nominee).

I sense disbarment in this man's future

Amanda Butler of Crescat Sententia notes the rather inexplicable case of Michael Ravellette, who was prosecuted for burning an American flag, found guilty, and sentenced to two weeks in jail. There’s one minor problem: the statute is unconstitutional, and has been for fourteen years, per the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. Johnson.

Even more inexplicable, according to the Southern Illinoisian of Carbondale, Ill.:

Ravellette’s defense attorney, McArthur Allen, wouldn’t comment Wednesday.

One suspects Mr. Allen needs to find another line of work if he’s somehow managed to get his client jailed for doing something that is not, and cannot be, illegal.

Drive getting (slightly) longer

On Monday, the drive between my house and civilization will get several hundred feet longer (also see today’s Daily Mississippian), because the university wants to extend the runway at the Oxford airport by 900 feet—right across College Hill Road. They’ve been futzing around with this for almost a year now; I’m glad it’s finally done, even though it’ll be a little out of the way.

Progress and powder-blue helmets

Both Robert Prather (a Mississippi State grad) and Steven Taylor have noted the hiring of Sylvester Croom as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and believe it is a positive step, a position I generally agree with—although, like Steven, I wish the reason why the national media was paying attention to my adopted state was due to something other than race. (Apparently, there’s a law that the only stories about Mississippi are allowed to be about race—directly or tangentially—or WorldCom, neither of which usually reflect well on us. Ex-governor Kirk Fordice’s now-abandoned slogan—“Only Positive Mississippi Spoken Here”—reflects that frustration.)

Of course, the inevitable comparisons between State and Ole Miss had to be trotted out, both by ESPN, as noted by Steven Godfrey in Thursday’s Daily Mississippian, and by others—even relatively local media—as Spencer Bryan notes in today’s DM. ESPN dragged out decades-old footage of Rebel fans waving Confederate battle flags at Ole Miss home games—dating from when Ole Miss was too cheap to paint the helmets that came from the factory—while failing to note the inconvenient fact that purple-and-gold faux Confederate banners adorning LSU fans outnumbered the genuine article at the recent LSU-Ole Miss matchup. On the academic side of the ledger, Ole Miss’ record of hiring and promoting minorities is far better than State’s. And if the Rebels had gone 2–10 instead of 9–3, I think there’s a good chance that Croom would have been introduced at a very similar-looking press conference here in Oxford this week instead.

Other takes are at Outside the Beltway, The American Mind, and StateDOG.

Thursday, 4 December 2003

Blog off!

I find the use of the word “blog” to describe an individual post in a weblog incredibly annoying. It makes no sense. Would you call an individual entry in a logbook a “log“? An item in a diary a “diary“? No and no.

Signifying Nothing is a blog. This posting is an entry, a post, or a diatribe. Got it? Good. End of today’s class.

Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest.

Stephen Karlson at Cold Springs Shops notes that the verb form of “blog” has an accepted precedent (and I don’t disagree—or have a problem with statements like “I so have to blog this conversation); my ire is actually directed at those who use the word “blog” as a noun to describe a single entry in a weblog. Just to clarify…

Failing the rational basis test

California’s idiot regulators have banned a glow-in-the-dark fish because it is the product of genetic engineering. Let’s watch the regulators explain the scientific basis for their decision:

“For me it’s a question of values; it’s not a question of science,‘’ said Sam Schuchat, a member of the state Fish and Game Commission. “I think selling genetically modified fish as pets is wrong.‘’

Now, if only the right to own glow-in-the-dark fish—let’s call that “economic liberty,” just for kicks—was as important in the eyes of our legal betters as the right to have sex with random people, maybe the courts would get involved…

Plame jumps the shark

The whole Valerie Plame business is rapidly approaching Theatre of the Absurd levels; Steven Taylor of PoliBlog and Glenn Reynolds have all the gory details. I’m not quite ready to proclaim the whole business “bogus,” but the bogosity meter is definitely edging toward 11 on the Spinal Tap scale.

From the job trail

Seen at the bottom of this ad for an otherwise normal-looking tenure-track position at Texas A&M University at Texarkana:

This is a security-sensitive position. Criminal background checks will be conducted on finalists.

I’m simultaneously amused, intrigued, and (slightly) disturbed.

Perot versus Nader

Both Jane Galt and Steven Taylor ponder why Ralph Nader and Ross Perot elicit different reactions from “hard-core” partisans.

Interestingly enough, neither Nader nor Perot gained heavy support from self-identified strong partisans; the typical Nader voter wasn’t a hardcore Democrat, but rather a hardcore liberal with weak party identification—an important distinction to bear in mind. In a two-candidate race, the typical Nader voter would have been predisposed to favor Gore over Bush; however, that assumes he or she would have bothered to vote at all, something I’m not sure is the case. One other data point: more self-identified Democrats voted for Bush than for Nader.

The evidence that Perot cost George H.W. Bush the 1992 presidential election is very weak. If anything, Perot’s 1992 and 1996 candidacies hurt Democrats over the long term by costing Clinton the appearance of a mandate—bear in mind that Clinton didn’t receive more than 50% of the popular vote in either 1992 or 1996, thereby weakening his position.

Wednesday, 3 December 2003

For the morbidly curious only

I’ve put a copy of my dissertation up on my personal website; save yourself the bucks it would cost from UMI, of which I’d probably never see a penny anyway. (It’s copyrighted and most definitely not in the public domain; if you care about the particular licensing terms, ask me and I’ll think about it.)


If, hypothetically, you’d asked me in, say, the last two days what else you could get me for my birthday or Christmas, and—hypothetically—you were still looking, I wouldn’t mind this. Hypothetically available everywhere on Tuesday, December 9. Maybe even at Costco.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

A little more on the Ph.D. defense

Now that I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I figure I’ll talk a little more about the defense. I had four professors on my committee, three from our department (my dissertation chair, Harvey Palmer; John Bruce; and Chuck Smith) and one from outside the department (John Bentley, of the Pharmacy Administration department; he’s their resident stats guy). During most of the defense, it was just the five of us, but another professor (Bob Albritton) ducked in toward the end.

Unlike David Hogberg’s defense, my committee didn’t huddle up at the beginning, and I’d been assured going in that I was over the “hump” so-to-speak—the defense wouldn’t have been scheduled if they thought I wasn’t going to pass.* I did have to make a brief (15-20 minute) presentation, in which I focused on fleshing out what I thought the meaning of “political sophistication” was, discussing the key contributions of the dissertation, and broaching some potential future avenues of research in the general area that would build on, and reinforce, the findings of the dissertation.

The question-and-answer session was actually less stressful than the presentation; even though there were plenty of hard questions, I felt like I could confidently answer them and take reasonably strong positions that were grounded in the literature. Toward the end, a bit of a scrap broke out between the “rat choice” and “psychology” camps in the room, which was fun (by the end, I was borderline giddy). Then I shuffled out of the room, talked with Dr. Albritton for a minute or two, and was waved back into the room. Of the three oral defenses I’ve faced (comps, prospectus, and dissertation) it was by far the least stressful.

There are a few more i’s to dot and t’s to cross—some paperwork apparently got lost, and I need to finish up some revisions and run off the final copy of the dissertation (and turn in the photocopies on the legendary 24# cotton bond paper), both of which I can probably accomplish today if I put my mind to it—but otherwise it’s a relief to be done. Now I get to worry about finding a job…

Tuesday, 2 December 2003

They call me *Doctor* Lawrence!

Last-minute paperwork snafus aside (grr), you can now call me Dr. Chris Lawrence, after a dissertation defense that—among other wide-ranging topics—wrestled with the eternal questions of whether or not Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter are politically “sophisticated,” left unanswered who would survive a cage match between John Zaller and Robert Luskin, questioned whether or not Arthur “Skip” Lupia knows any psychologists, and pondered whether or not a heuristic can be perfect.

Completely incapable of original thought here, so go read Matthew

Yes, there’s more pre-defense jitters here in OxVegas. A brainteaser:

Q: How do you make your dissertation ten pages longer without writing a single word?
A: Realize that your page numbers are supposed to be 1″ from the bottom of the page, instead of the body text being 1″ from the bottom of the page. Grrr. (The scary thing: solving that problem in LaTeX took less time than figuring out how to get the right page number to show up on the copyright page in OpenOffice when I put together the signature page, title page, and copyright page. So much for WYSIWYG…)

Anyway, enough about me (12:45 and counting). Matt Stinson is getting medieval on Howard Dean’s latest foreign policy pronouncements. Rather than campaign contributions, I think Democrats should all chip in to make Dr. Dean sit through a few IR seminars, rather than getting his foreign policy advice from Jimmy Carter (whose latest accomplishment seems to have been to lend a hand to efforts to dismantle the state of Israel).

Monday, 1 December 2003

Random thought of the day

Apropos of nothing (except the Long John Silver’s opening soon in Oxford), I have to wonder why I have the irresistable urge to eat ice cream after I’ve eaten fish. I kid you not—every time I eat fish, in any form, I want to go eat ice cream. Last Saturday night, after we lost to LSU: I went to Burger King, bought and ate the sandwich I still fondly remember as the “Whaler” but since renamed as the “BK Big Fish” since people who were whales in past lives were offended, then had the compulsion to go to the new Baskin-Robbins at the Shell on Highway 6—open 24/7 no less, according to the cute girl behind the counter who I couldn’t figure out whether or not was flirting with me by giving me this extra infrormation—and buy two scoops of Oreo Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream (for not much less money than I would have paid to get a half-gallon at Kroger or Wal-Mart and bring it home, but that's a side story on my spendthrift ways). This bothers me to no end.

What I can’t figure out is if this is conditioned behavior—did my family go to Long John Silver’s or Arthur Treacher’s when I was little, and then afterwards go for ice cream on a regular basis—or if it is something inherent in my psychology that has nothing to do with that. I guess theory #3 is that I’m pregnant and have weird cravings, but that would require me to both (a) be female and (b) have a romantic life that is orders of magnitude more interesting than the one I have (which would probably require me to figure out this whole flirting thing, no?).

Any free traders left?

Reading Stephen Green on the president’s 180 on the steel tariffs, I have to ask aloud if there’s actually anyone in Washington who’s a principled proponent of free trade—or even freer trade, like NAFTA or FTAA (I’m not a huge fan of regional free trade blocs myself, but they beat the hell out of the Son of Hawley-Smoot that many on both sides of the aisle seem to want enacted). I mean, there’s Ron Paul, who probably wouldn’t vote for anything except a unilateral cut to 0% on all import tariffs—meaning anything likely to happen during his lifetime is out—but is there anyone else?

More to the point, what idiot thought in the first place that this pandering exercise would actually work? Now Bush has (a) made a bigger ass of himself with the steelworkers than he would have if he’d simply said “not gonna do it” in the first place and (b) probably retarded the economic recovery by god-knows-how-many months. I realize the president’s detractors will attribute this all to Bush, and his fans will attribute it to Rove,* but surely someone on the political side at the White House must have known this was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Final Countdown

I’ve always wanted to use that as a title for a post.*

D-Day is in 37:45 and counting (I’d add a JavaScript counter, but it’d just make me nervous). I just finished yet another “final-but-not-really-final” draft. I still need to find a ream of 24# Cotton Bond paper and figure out the logistics of this whole “the signatures on your signature page can’t be a photocopy, but has to be on the same paper as your dissertation—which has to be a photocopy” thing. And I’ve got to figure out this whole page numbering of the frontmatter business, since I can’t cajole the pdflatex program that’s generating 140+ pages of my dissertation into making the right signature page or the right copyright page.

Yes, I’m totally stressing. Yes, everything will be fine.