Sunday, 29 February 2004

Haven't we seen this before?

Plus ça change…

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, faced with an armed rebellion and pressure from the United States and France, left Haiti this morning, according to numerous reports.

For more, see James Joyner.

Saturday, 28 February 2004

All about the oil

Sunday’s New York Times has the goods on Saddam Hussein’s corruption of the oil-for-food program. Sample highlight:

In the high-flying days after Iraq was allowed to sell its oil after 10 years of United Nations sanctions, the lobby of the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was the place to be to get a piece of the action.

That was where the oil traders would gather whenever a journalist, actor or political figure would arrive in Iraq and openly praise Mr. Hussein. Experience taught them that the visitor usually returned to the hotel with a gift voucher, courtesy of the Iraqi president or one of his aides, representing the right to buy one million barrels or more of Iraqi crude.

The vouchers had considerable value. With the major oil companies monopolizing most Persian Gulf oil, there was fierce competition among smaller traders for the chance to buy Iraqi oil. And as long as Iraq kept its oil prices low enough, traders could make a tidy profit, even after buying the voucher and paying the surcharge.

“We used to joke that if you get one million barrels, you could make $200,000,” Mr. Faraj, of SOMO, added, referring to a period when the vouchers sold for about 20 cents per barrel. “And yet the ones who got it were those people who used to come here and praise Saddam for his stand against imperialism.”

Read the whole, sad, damning thing. (Link via InstaPundit.)

The Laptop Dance

Well, after two days of trying, I finally got someone on the phone at Best Buy… and I will be getting a replacement laptop. Now to work out details; I have my eye on this one.

More toast

Steven Taylor has this week’s edition of the Toast-O-Meter; we’re firmly in the denouement stage here, folks.

There's partisanship... and then there's partisanship

Ken Waight of lying in ponds notes that two political columnists recently worked themselves into contortions to avoid criticizing their favored parties in their columns, while Matt Yglesias thinks Glenn Reynolds doesn’t go out of his way to criticize the right* enough.

Rational choice and tenure

Steven Bainbridge, in the course of congratulating Steven Taylor on his promotion, makes the following observation:

When I was up for tenure (a nerve-wracking time, even worse than sweating out the bar exam), a senior colleague told me that getting tenure didn’t change anything in your life except that you stopped thinking about tenure. I didn’t believe him, but it turned out to be true. If you’re internalized the norms of teaching and scholarship, you don’t change what you do. You just keep teaching and writing.

This seems like an odd analysis; the grant of tenure* doesn’t remove the incentive to publish, teach, and perform service at a high level (in the various department and college-prescribed ratios); while it is true you can no longer be fired for failing to do those things as proficiently, most associate-level professors at least aspire to promotion to full professor and the prestige and monetary rewards associated with that rank, which requires a similar level of effort (as between assistant and associate) to attain. Thus, we would rationally expect that professors would be more likely to slack off after promotion to full professor, rather than after achieving tenure.


I’ll be supporting Branden Robinson’s candidacy for Debian Project Leader for 2004–05; more details on the pending elections will be available sometime over the weekend, including the platforms of Branden and the other two candidates, Gergely Nagy and incumbent DPL Martin Michlmayr.

I’m also considering writing an academic paper on Debian’s use of Condorcet vote counting, although I haven’t quite decided which way to go with it.

Friday, 27 February 2004


Huzzah and kudos to Steven Taylor of PoliBlog, who will be granted tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor on August 1.

It's a great time to be an economics Ph.D.

Tyler Cowen notes that not every Ph.D. program is a gateway into eternal adjuncthood.*

* Nor, really, is political science, my complaints about enriching the U.S. postal service notwithstanding.

Yes logo

Matt Stinson looks at the importance of branding, drawing from his ongoing experiences in China. He also leaves off with this disturbing thought:

In the future, China will be the biggest market for PBR. This scares me more than anything else I’ve seen here.

Hey, it could be worse. It could be Schlitz…

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Designing the perfect remote

From Martin Devon a few days ago: a New York Times article on how TiVo designed their signature “peanut” remote control. I agree with Martin—it’s by far the best remote control I’ve ever used, and the only reason (besides the cost) I haven’t ditched my array of remotes for a universal all-in-one solution.

The only problem I’ve seen: the little plastic thingy on the TiVo button comes off after several years’ use—so far, it’s happened to two of the three TiVo remotes I’ve had. Oh, yeah, and it eats batteries like no remote I’ve ever used—probably because it gets far more use than any remote I’ve ever had before.

Propositioning Californians

Steven Taylor, who is apparently still recovering from some sort of flashback experience, points out that the real ballot-box news next Tuesday is likely to not involve the relative fortunes of 'Nam-John, Hick-John, Al, Dennis, and Lyndon.


These are just random, lack-of-sleep thoughts; I have no particular point, in case you were wondering.

Central tendency

Vance of Begging to Differ takes issue with’s claim that the Bush administration’s claim that the average tax cut is $1,586 is “misleading,” because using the mean instead of the median† is improper. Vance writes:

I can think of a valid justification for either measure. If you’re trying to understand the overall economic effects of the tax cuts, for example, an average is entirely applicable.

In the case where data is “normally distributed”—following the “bell curve” known to statisticians—the mean and the median are essentially the same.* When they differ, the data is said to be skewed, and measures of central tendency and dispersion that assume a normal distribution (like the mean) are generally misleading, as they don’t properly describe the distribution. The income distribution, for example, is skewed right.‡

To cast things in non-mathematical terms, when people think about averages they are thinking in terms of things that are most typical, rather than in terms of distributions. And, in general, the median better reflects this perception of average than the mean. While there may be technical value to the mean for specialists and those who want to engage in further analysis, I think the median does a better job of reflecting the “most typical” observation in most data patterns.

Draft Virginia!

Robert Prather is continuing his semi-quixotic effort to get Virginia Postrel back as editor of Reason; I wholeheartedly support any and all efforts in this regard.

Emotional ties

My daily routine now goes something like this:

  1. Visit the Chronicle jobs web site.
  2. Visit
  3. Fight with APSA’s eJobs system to get it to show me the last few days’ postings—bearing in mind that the “show jobs posted in the last two days” function doesn’t actually work because their website’s database isn’t synced with the actual jobs database, so jobs actually “posted” today may have been entered into the system several days ago. Also bear in mind that the “Full Professor” job at Rockford College (that I didn’t apply for, hence why I’m mentioning it by name) is actually a junior-level position, that jobs that don’t list your field on the main list may actually be looking in your field when you get to reading the actual text of the posting, that the same job at one college is in the database twice. Oh, the “print” version of the page actually takes up more paper than the non-print version. (Did I mention that eJobs sucks?)
  4. Write cover letter(s) as needed.
  5. Make pretty mailing label(s).
  6. Stuff cover letter, vita, and other requested materials in big manila envelope(s).
  7. Weigh and put stamps on envelope(s).
  8. If before 1 pm, stick envelope(s) in mail box. If before 4:30 pm, get in car and go to post office to stick envelopes in mail box.

Writing cover letters at this point is a simultaneously easy and hard process. It’s easy in the sense that after you’ve written 50 of the damn things, one you’ve already written is pretty close to the one you “need” for the particular job. It’s hard in the sense that you have to remember which of those 50 letters is the right one to massage for the particular job in question.

It’s also hard in the sense that you have to show some enthusiasm for the job on paper—which for me entails doing some basic research about the college and putting in some thought as to I’d fit in there, something that makes me a bit more emotionally invested in a process that more closely resembles a meat market than anything a reasonable person would want to be emotionally attached to. It’s hard not to go from “I’d enjoy the opportunity to teach at X because I can contribute in ways A, B, and C” to actually feeling like you’d enjoy going to college X—and thus running the risk of being disappointed if you don’t get to go to college X for whatever reason, even if it’s not the “dream job” you expect to be doing when tenure time rolls around.

Shouldn't this disturb us?

I’m feeling terribly conflicted this morning. The Baseball Crank has a lengthy post on the same-sex marriage issue, in which he makes—and highlights—the following prediction:

Gay marriage will become the law of the land without any state legislature ever having voted it into law, without a majority of either house of Congress ever having voted in favor of gay marriage, without any statewide popular referendum ever having voted in favor of gay marriage, and without any state or federal constitutional provision ever having explicitly authorized it.

I think the first part of the Crank’s premise is incorrect—Massachusetts’ legislature will probably vote it into law later this year, albeit under court duress—but otherwise, there’s not a word there I’d disagree with. And efforts to analogize this “struggle for equality” with those of racial minorities don’t track—those groups were deliberately and systematically excluded from political participation through ordinary legislative channels, against the plain text of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution and numerous federal statutes, and thus their recourse to the judiciary was justified. Tyranny and oppression is being confronted with policemen on horseback, unjustly imprisoned, blasted with fire hoses, and lynching; being deprived of legal recognition of the fact you’ve set up housekeeping with someone of the same gender doesn’t quite fit into that category.

Is the only justification needed for anyone to get a victory in the courts something along the lines of “we couldn’t get the legislature to vote for it“? I find this a profoundly disturbing question. And I say that as one of the tiny minority of people in my state who would support legal recognition of same-sex marriages. What am I supposed to tell my students? “Well, the Supreme Court doesn’t trust your representatives to do what’s right, so they’ve decided to decide on everyone else’s behalf what your laws should be.” I don’t remember seeing that in Federalist 10.

On the other hand, I think Kate Malcolm is probably right that the judgment of history may well see those who oppose same-sex marriage today in much the same light as we (well, most of we at any rate) today see the segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s. So in the end I end up just feeling conflicted about the whole thing.

Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Another PyTextile 2 port

I see someone else is trying to make a Python port of the Textile 2 syntax. My approach so far has been a straight port of the Perl code by Brad Choate, with some minor tweaks (using urlparse and mimetypes, for example), rather than trying to hack Mark’s existing module.

Now that I’ve been hacking away for a week (and am about 700 lines away from being done—I just started on format_table, which looks downright nasty), I’m becoming convinced that the smarter plan would have been to write a lexer from scratch for the Textile markup, rather than trying to use the regex-happy approach Choate used (which works far, far better in Perl than in Python).

Same-sex marriage

I think Brock below is being a bit obtuse in claiming the President’s position on a federal marriage amendment is an endorsement of “enshrining anti-gay bigotry into the United States Constitution”—particularly since that self-same alleged anti-gay bigotry is essentially the law of the land as of February 25, 2004. And I also think it’s absurd to criticize the president for not living up to one’s own fantasies about him, as Andrew Sullivan has done.

Funnily enough, my thoughts on the matter, from a policy perspective, generally coincide with those of Steven Taylor—although I personally do not share Taylor’s “moral objections” to homosexuality. As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I firmly believe the process that has been used to this point by its more overzealous proponents—particularly the extralegal behavior of officers of the City and County of San Francisco—is likely to energize enough additional support for FMA for it to pass, particularly if, as I expect will happen, Congress calls for ratification by special state conventions.* But my emotional reaction to the president’s support for FMA is closer to Tim Sandefur’s—which was perhaps even stronger than Brock’s.

Elsewhere: Dan Drezner is hosting a discussion of the politics of the proposal.

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Today's project

In lieu of accomplishing anything worthwhile today (except more job applications), I replaced the server that Signifying Nothing runs on this morning. The previous server was a discontinued Compaq corporate desktop box (Pentium II 300 MHz) I picked up an eon ago for $400 from with 160 MB of RAM and a noisy* 20 GB hard drive. The current server is a tower-case Pentium III, 450 MHz with 256 MB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive that is basically the reconstituted version of a (then top-of-the-line) PC I paid good money for from Quantex about five years ago—the only newish components are two 10/100 Ethernet cards† and a spare CD burner I had lying around the house. I did a fresh Debian sarge install using the Beta-2 installer from CD-R (which went smoothly after I gave up trying to do a network install instead), then updated to unstable and a 2.6.3 kernel (the last part being the most painful step, since I had trouble with the initrd support until I finally gave up on that).

I was hoping the new box would be less noisy, but to no avail (fan noise has replaced drive whining)... I’ll probably have to clear some space and move the box under the desk to get some noise relief. Actually, what’s more likely is that I’ll get my replacement laptop in a few days then go back to rarely using the computer that is right underneath the SN box, so the noise won’t bother me any more.

Gov. Bredesen says no to casinos in Shelby County

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has said the casino gambling is “not the solution” to Shelby County’s debt problem, and that he will oppose an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to allow gambling in Shelby County.

So what the hell are we supposed to do with this pyramid, now that it's not good enough for the UofM Tigers to play basketball in?

The most unkindest cut of all

It didn’t surprise me that the President today endorsed enshrining anti-gay bigotry into the United States Constitution. What surprised me was that my already low opinion of the President would sink even lower when he did what I knew he would eventually do.

I have no call to feel betrayed. Only insulted that the President has publicly declared that the loving relationships of several of my friends and family members are worthless – loving relationships that are a lot more meaningful than many straight marriages I’ve seen come and go. But Andrew Sullivan does feel betrayed, and he has every right to feel that way.

The President has given the finger to Sullivan and to every gay American. America deserves a better President than this.

Anti-semitism at AdBuster

Eugene Volokh and David Bernstein bring our attention to a bizarre anti-semitic screed in AdBusters magazine.

I admit I’ve been pretty skeptical of claims that “neo-conservative” is just a new code word for “Jew,” but AdBusters has proved to me that, at least for some, it is.

Could anti-semitism become the kind of cultural cancer for the left that racism and anti-gay bigotry are for the right? Liberals, among whose number I count myself, should take the lead in denouncing this. We shouldn’t leave it up to the conservatives and libertarians.

Monday, 23 February 2004

Er, uh, run that one by me again…

The Secretary of Education (thank Dick Nixon for that great idea) talked to some governors today. His speech, er, didn’t go very well:

Education Secretary Rod Paige said Monday that the National Education Association, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, was like “a terrorist organization” because of the way it was resisting many provisions of a school improvement law pushed through Congress by President Bush in 2001.

To his credit, at least Paige isn’t bothering to claim he was “quoted out of context,” or similar such nonsense:

His initial remark was described by four governors and confirmed by the Education Department. “The secretary was responding to a question,” said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for Mr. Paige. “He said he considered the N.E.A. to be a terrorist organization.”

But he did offer a sorta-kinda retraction later:

After his remark had begun circulating, Mr. Paige issued a statement saying he had gone too far in describing the union as a terrorist organization. “It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics that the N.E.A.’s Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind’s historic education reforms,” he said.

“As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks,” said Mr. Paige, who is black and was born in a segregated Mississippi, “I should have chosen my words better.”

Now, in general I’ll be first in line to criticize the NEA, who are among the worst kind of rent-seeking interest group to pollute the waters of the Potomoc basin. Their lobbyists routinely try to delude the public into believing that their members’ best interests (which is what the NEA lobbys for) somehow coincide with the best interests of American children (which, more often than not, is what the NEA lobbys against).

However, the NEA is in no way, shape, or form a “terrorist group.” Al Qaeda is a terrorist group. Hamas is a terrorist group. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a terrorist group. Shining Path is a terrorist group. Terrorists generally blow stuff up, kill and maim people, and the like. The NEA, by contrast, is a group of middle-class workers who peacefully lobby for their preferred public policies through non-violent activity. They don’t even qualify for the mantle of “shakedown artist,” unlike leftist fellow-travellers like Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson. I think it’s time for Mr. Paige to ease himself into a nice, early retirement—not just because he’s the Education Secretary, but because this sort of rhetoric is on the level of the “Bush=Hitler” analogy and should be beyond the pale.

Elsewhere: John Cole agrees, Jonathan Wilde at thinks it’s about time someone told the truth, and David Bernstein misses the point entirely, as my co-blogger would probably expect.

Trackbacks at Volokh

The Volokh Conspiracy has added trackback links, courtesy of Technorati.

It’s about time. No matter how much I dislike some of the individual conspirators (or guest conspirators), the Volokh Conspiracy remains one of my favorite blogs. And trackback links are to me the innovation that sets blogging apart from other media. I frequently find that following trackback links is more enlightening than the forward links that bloggers themselves provide, and it's a great way to find blogs that you didn't know about before. For some reason, I'm much more likely to enjoy a previously unknown Blog B that comments on Blog A, which I already read and enjoy, than I am to enjoy an unknown Blog C that Blog A comments on.

Signifying Nothing gets results from Howard Kurtz!

James Joyner finds Howard Kurtz in today’s Washington Post acknowledging many of the same sins of the pundit class that SN did almost two weeks ago.

Highway bill follies

James Joyner has linked a column by Bob “Endangering National Security Since 2003” Novak on the wrangling between Capitol Hill and the White House over the six-year transportation reauthorization bill, coined SAFETEA. As usual, the debate is mostly about how much money to spend and where to find the cash; many House members from both parties want an increase in the federal fuel excise taxes to fund a larger spending program of $375 billion over six years, while the White House wants to limit spending on highways and mass transit to $256 billion.

Sunday, 22 February 2004

Ralph's run

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but in case you haven’t heard—Ralph Nader will run in 2004 as an independent presidential candidate. What does it mean? Juan Non-Volokh and Glenn Reynolds think it might invigorate efforts to improve ballot access for third parties; some Democrats are apoplectic; Robert Garcia Tagorda thinks it may help Democrats; and Steven Bainbridge, Steven Taylor, and James Joyner used the occasion to dump on third-party candidates in general.

Saturday, 21 February 2004

Toast time

Steven Taylor has posted the most recent iteration of the infamous Toast-O-Meter.

Fundamental truths

Lily Malcolm visited her local Radio Shack and CompUSA stores today, and came back with this nugget of knowledge:

If the CompUSA people really knew much about computers, they wouldn’t be working at CompUSA.

In all seriousness, there are a number of solutions to the problem of getting data from one’s old computer to one’s new computer. If both computers have an Ethernet jack, the preferred option is to either (a) connect both computers to an Ethernet hub or switch using regular Ethernet cables or (b) get a “crossover Ethernet cable.” You can also get something flashy that will walk you through the procedure, like LapLink, but I’m pretty sure the basic software is built into recent versions of Windows… you may need to set up “Home Networking” to do it.

Me? I usually just pull the hard drive out of the old PC, slap it in the new one, and copy the files that way. It’s normally faster, but far more intimidating for the novice.

Rational choice, psychology, economics, and the law

Greg Goelzhauser at Crescat Sententia considers the use and abuse of behavioral economics by legal scholars, jumping off from this interview with Berkeley economist Matthew Rabin. Greg writes:

That humans fall prey to a variety of heuristics is nothing new or extraordinary. What is important for law and economics is if some of these heuristics lead the relevant actors to systematically err in their decisionmaking. Unfortunately, many of those writing in the behavioral law and economics field care little about whether the actors they are concerned with actually rely on the heuristics attributed to them or, if they do so happen to rely, whether reliance actually leads to systematic error. The reason? These are often difficult empirical questions.

I’m not sure that this is an accurate characterization of what a heuristic is; it’s not simply a matter of “falling prey” to them, as many are reasonable shortcuts. You assume that the store with the cheapest price on a product is advertising it, rather than calling every store in town. Instead of digging through the platforms to find the most stridently anti-war presidential candidate, you assume the candidate making the most noise about the war is that candidate.

Now, as Tversky and Kahneman have pointed out, some heuristics do lead to systematic, non-random error. And some of those errors are big enough that the cost associated with the error is larger than the deadweight loss of not using the heuristic (calling every store in the world or spending hours reading the minutae of Lyndon LaRouche’s campaign platform).

Greg’s larger point—that social scientists and legal scholars often assume away the “difficult empirical questions” associated with determining whether systematic error exists—is well-taken, but I think characterizing heuristics as something we “fall prey” to assumes away the more important question of whether the systematic error involved in using heuristics outweighs the costs we avoid by using them.

More blogosphere blocking

It seems the “enterprise web filter software” that Brock tested in September isn’t the only popular censorware product that blocks a large number of weblogs; Eric of Classical Values took SonicWALL’s web filter for a spin and, shall we say, was unimpressed. (Link via Tim Sandefur.)

Friday, 20 February 2004

Dean opposition research fire-sale

The Baseball Crank has all the nasty stuff the Republicans never got to say about Howard Dean neatly collected in a single post. It might come in handy, just in case Dean ever tries to get elected to the city council in your town.

Universities as state self-investments

Brock Sides points out a public policy reason for states to subsidize universities (one that I thought about, but didn’t mention, in my prior post):

State support of higher education may be a rational investment by the state in its own tax base.

There is some merit in this argument, if the marginal increase in tax receipts due to residents’ higher education exceeds the amount of subsidy required—bearing in mind that, ceteris peribus, many of those residents would have gotten a collegiate education anyway. And it’s certainly an empirically-testable proposition, although one that’s difficult to examine in a single blog post.*

Anyway, as a graduate of two state universities and as someone with about a 70% chance of working for a state-supported institution next year (under the completely unreasonable assumption that I have an equal chance of being offered every single job I’ve applied for), self-interest—if nothing else—compels an end to this discussion.

Thursday, 19 February 2004

State universities as an investment

Another thought on state subsidies for higher education: state support of higher education may be a rational investment by the state in it's own tax base. Insofar as students tend to stay in the state where they go to school, and insofar as people with degrees make (and spend) more money, a state university will increase the size of a state's tax base, whether through preventing "brain drain" of its own smart kids, or through "poaching" smart kids from out of state. Just as investing in a child's education may provide returns to the parents when the grateful child helps them financially in their old age, an educated population may be well a "private good" for the state itself.

Colorado controversy

John Cole is right to be disgusted by ex-Colorado coach Gary Barnett’s remarks about former CU player Katie Hnida, who was allegedly raped by one of her former teammates. Barnett said, apparently in response to an inquiry from a reporter as to the reason for Ms. Hnida’s departure from the team (and transfer to New Mexico) in 2000:

It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. ... Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There’s no other way to say it.

Not only does the comment show a lack of seriousness by Barnett, it also makes me question his abilities as a coach and leader. Good coaches don’t speak ill about their players in public; that’s close to the cardinal rule of coaching. What a dipshit, and good riddance.

More on this story in Friday’s New York Times.

Abort, retry, fail

Matt Stinson thinks Julian Sanchez’s argument by analogy on the term “unborn child” fails. Julian argues:

If you don’t share their view about the moral status of the fetus, that’s like calling a pile of bricks an “unbuilt house” or, for that matter, a blank screen an “unwritten blog post.” Let’s not give them this one.

On the other hand, Matt says:

I’m pro-life, though not stridently so, but would a pile of bricks, without human action, begin to form a house over a period of nine months, unless you smashed those bricks down with a sledgehammer, and would a blog post begin to appear on that blank screen unless you pressed the delete key repeatedly?

Luckily enough, however, Smokey the Bear may still call discarded lit cigarettes “potential forest fires.” Or something. Semantics was never my strong suit…

State universities as public goods

Will Baude is the latest to jump into the public universities argument (roughly between Jack Balkin and the Volokh conspirators); Will writes:

I don’t particularly have a problem with government involvement in the private education market—either through direct subsidy (which is probably unnecessary) or through regulating the likely capital market failure. In other words, government-guaranteed student loans are great; a “graduate tax” could accomplish the same thing.

I used to generally agree with Will on this point; however, I’ve come to think that government subsidies—like guaranteed student loans, Pell grants, and student loan interest credits—make public and private universities insensitive to price as a rationing mechanism. This leads to much of the same problem we see in the health care market: most consumers don’t discriminate on the basis of price, because they have no personal stake in the price of service. In the case of higher education, the problem is more subtle, as at least there are direct costs to the consumer—they just aren’t felt until after college, due to in-school deferments of loan interest and principal payments. Regardless, this allows universities to increase tuition and fees at rates well in excess of inflation.

The disconnect between price and demand also allows universities to use price as a “prestige” factor; although virtually nobody actually pays $40,000 a year to go to Harvard, the price premium makes it appear as if you’re getting a better education than you would paying $15,000 to go to Americana State University. (You probably do get a better education at Harvard, but I suspect the premium is not worth $100,000.)

There are good reasons to criticize public subsidies of state universities—particularly in a poor state like Mississippi—but public subsidy of colleges and universities in general bears considerable scrutiny as well.

Update: Will Baude responds:

One thing to think about—

The reason, in general, that American[a] State U has a tuition of 15,000 to Harvard's 40,000 has a lot to do with the subsidies that American State provides to its U. To be sure, some private colleges are cheaper than others, but lots of kids I knew did indeed take price (and their financial aid packages) into account when choosing between them. And the diversity of price in private universities is pretty small—I don't know whether that's due to a universal-ness of costs (I doubt it) or more likely because demand is fairly price-inelastic. While it's true that subsidies (and to a lesser degree, loans) encourage that elasticity, it's not actually clear that's bad. On the one hand, some kids go to Harvard who really should have gone to Miss. But on the other hand, some kids go to Miss who otherwise wouldn't have gone at all.

Just a thought.

My experience as an undergrad (granted, 5+ years ago) was that there was more price differentiation among private universities; I know the tuition at Rose-Hulman was significantly lower than that of Georgetown, and the price differential was more than could be justified on the basis of cost of living differences between D.C. and Indiana (not to mention that Rose-Hulman is a superior academic institution to Georgetown). There may be less differentiation among elite-tier private institutions like Chicago, Stanford, and the Ivys, however (some of that used to be due to now-illegal agreements among the Ivys to limit financial aid awards to exceptional students).

Now it is true that price does matter to some people, even with government subsidies (both to universities and students). On the other hand, I find it difficult to justify subsidizing a flagship public university like Ole Miss on the backs of working class people; that being said, Ole Miss may be something of an aberration in this regard, although I suspect a number of other colleges, like the University of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, are similar “blue blood” state universities (to say nothing of elite-level state universities like UC-Berkeley and Michigan, which are far more selective).

Screw the t distribution

Alex Tabarrok endorses an econometrics text that makes two rather bold simplifying assumptions:

Stock and Watson use a “robust” estimator of standard errors right from the beginning. This means that they can dump an entire chapter on hetereoskedasticity and methods of “correcting” for hetereoskedasticity (these rarely worked in any case.)

They do not waste time discussing the difference between the t-distribution and the normal-distribution. Instead, they assume reasonably large datasets from the get-go and base their theorems on large-sample theory.

I can sort-of-see the value of always using heteroskedasticity-consistent standard errors (although I think it’s better to model the heteroskedasticity if you can), but dispensing with the t distribution seems to be a bridge too far. Large sample theory is nice, but (a) common econometrics software (e.g. Stata, LIMDEP, and R) uses the t distribution even into sample sizes in the 100s, so you need to discuss it anyway, and (b) there are plenty of theorems that can only be tested with small samples due to data limitations. Now, these may be less problematic in the large-n world that economists inhabit, but I’d have real trouble justifying such a text for a graduate seminar in political science methods (undergrads rarely get beyond bivariate regression).

Zippergate redux

Since John Kerry’s alleged “zipper problem” has been debunked, Andrew Sullivan notes that Sid Blumenthal (not to be confused with Atrios) thinks John Kerry should sue the Sun for libel. Funnily enough, Jeffrey Archer had much the same idea under similar circumstances, but it didn’t quite work out the way he planned…

Update: Conrad has thoughts in a similar vein. And thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link!

Politicizing science

CalPundit and Steve Verdon are among those noting a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists over the Bush administration’s use and alleged abuse of science. Steve writes:

Personally I think the notion of impartiality is misleading. All scientists have their own views on the issues and particularly the area they are researching. ... Of course, the fact that scientists and researchers themselves have their own views and biases does not let the Bush Administration off the hook when it comes to possibly distorting science. However, it cannot be ignored that the Union of Concerned Scientists can also be said to have an agenda and that this agenda may be playing a role as well in this report when that agenda diverges from the agenda of the Bush Administration.

There’s not much to disagree with in either post, but something to bear in mind is that science is always politicized when it is used to make political decisions; there’s no way around it. For example, if a hypothetical study shows that tightening emissions standards will save 3000 lives a year, but cost consumers $100 billion per life saved, politics is going to decide which figure gets emphasized.

Update: More at the Dead Parrot Society.

Automatic for the People

Michael Jennings has uncovered a bit of a visual oxymoron over at TransportBlog.

Wednesday, 18 February 2004

Sharing the love

David Pinto has a revenue sharing plan for baseball:

I’ve felt for a long time that what baseball needs is a competitive form of revenue sharing. Teams would be paid for their road games based on how many people they brought in, not just in the stadium, but for the TV and radio audiences as well. This would encourage teams to sign an Alex Rodriguez, since they would make money from the fans he would draw on the road.

Something vaguely similar happens in college football—road teams in non-conference games normally get an appearance fee. Something like that makes sense for baseball as a revenue-sharing mechanism—after all, George Steinbrenner wouldn’t be making much money if the Yankees didn’t play opponents at home. Someone more awake than me will have to figure out the fairest way of implementing such a system; my guess is that, unreliable as they are, tying the “opponent share” to the existing TV and radio ratings is the way to go.

Tuesday, 17 February 2004

More on SUV safety

Following up on a post of mine from December, Gregg Easterbrook has an good article on SUV safety at TNR online. Choice quote:

Georgetown University professor Ted Gayer, writing in the March issue of the technical publication Journal of Risk and Uncertainty—which is edited by W. Kip Viscusi of Harvard, who is one of the nation’s leading academic conservatives—finds that having lots of SUVs and pickup trucks on the road increases total fatalities, by causing more deaths not just in regular cars but more deaths inside the SUVs and pickup trucks, too.

And just in case you don’t trust that scurrilous Gregg Easterbrook, here are a few quotes from the number two result from Google for “auto insurance rates suvs,” at

With larger cars on the road, drivers of small cars are at risk when they’re involved in a side-impact collision with pickups or SUVs. SUVs and pickups are generally heavier and higher riding so their bumpers can be deadly to smaller cars on impact.

Minivans don’t pose as much of a threat because they don’t weigh as much as SUVs. Their bumpers are often the same height as many smaller sized cars.

Since SUVs, minivans, and light trucks can be hard to handle and can cause more damage in the event of an auto insurance claim, auto insurance rates for these vehicles tends to be higher than for smaller cars.

If you want to know whether a vehicle is safe, ask the auto insurance companies. It’s their business to know.

We all know how painful that can be (Wisconsin edition)

Wonkette has the exit poll numbers:

Kerry 38
Edwards 33
Dean 17

Maybe we will have a real contest after all…

Andre 3000: not following manufacturer’s directions

If you’ve been following Outkast’s advice for developing your instant photos, the folks at Polaroid say you may be damaging them. My recommendation: shake it like a 1980’s-vintage Late Night “Viewer Mail” letter instead.*

Also worthwhile: the Peanuts “Hey Ya” video. No, seriously.

The door won’t hit you on the way out, because I’ll be holding it for you

Professor Bainbridge notes a very marked contrast between John Kerry’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and what his aides have been telling lobbyists about Kerry’s bona fides.

Monday, 16 February 2004

The registration virus takes another victim

Apparently this weekend’s theme in the blogosphere is registration required. Apropos of that: our friends at the CA are going to start requiring registration in the near future.

Choose your tyranny

I haven’t waded into the big war between Randy Barnett, Prof. Bainbridge, Brett Marston, and others over the proper role of the courts; that isn’t to say I’m not interested, just that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and really articulate what I think. Then again, anyone who knows of my affinity for Federalist 10 would probably be able to guess that I’m firmly on the Barnett/Marston side of the debate. For another perspective, see Steven Taylor’s latest post.

Does ballot order matter in elections?

An interesting new working paper crossed the POLMETH list today by Daniel Ho (Harvard) and Kosuke Imai (Princeton), entitled “Shaken, Not Stirred: Evidence on Ballot Order Effects from the California Alphabet Lottery, 1978–2002.” Here’s the abstract:

We analyze a natural experiment to answer the longstanding question of whether the name order of candidates on ballots affects election outcomes. Since 1975, California law has mandated randomizing the ballot order with a lottery, where alphabet letters would be “shaken vigorously” and selected from a container. Previous studies, relying overwhelmingly on non-randomized data, have yielded conflicting results about whether ballot order effects even exist. Using improved statistical methods, our analysis of statewide elections from 1978 to 2002 reveals that in general elections ballot order has a significant impact only on minor party candidates and candidates for nonpartisan offices. In primaries, however, being listed first benefits everyone. In fact, ballot order might have changed the winner in roughly nine percent of all primary races examined. These results are largely consistent with a theory of partisan cuing. We propose that all electoral jurisdictions randomize ballot order to minimize ballot effects.

If that seems interesting to you, go read the whole thing.

It also follows the “cute colon” convention previously discussed here at SN.

Lies, Damed Lies, and ... Economics Professors?

Tyler Cowen, whose blogging at Marginal Revolution I generally admire, is apparently trying to prove that economists really are nothing more than shills for the wealthy. He quotes vapid blowhard George F. Will, who really is nothing more than a shill for the weathly, and asks

In 1979 the top 1 percent of earners paid 19.75 percent of income taxes. Today they pay 36.3 percent. How much is enough?

This is supposed to be some sort of appeal to fairness, I suppose. “It’s just so unfair that the top 1% of the income distibution bear 36% of the cost of the federal government.”

Let’s just set aside the fact that Will and Cowen are focusing solely on federal income tax, and ignoring the regressive federal payroll tax and state sales taxes, both of which raise the bottom 99 percent’s share of the overall tax burden.

The important point is this: statistics about the percentage of the tax burden born by a given segment of the income distribution are utterly meaningless in absence of data about what percentage of overall income (or wealth, or whatever you think is fair to tax) that segment controls. Even if we instituted a perfectly flat income tax, the top 1% would pay a greater portion of the tax burden than people at the bottom of the income distribution, for the simple reason that they have more income.

The reason that the top 1% pay a heavier share of the federal income tax burden now than they did in 1979 is not that the federal income tax has become more progressive. On the contrary, federal income tax has become flatter since 1979. The rich pay a higher share now because the rich have seen sharper gains than the rest of the population. By and large, most people have gotten richer in the past two decades, especially during the 90s, but the rich have gotten more richer than the rest of us.

My opinion as a utilitarian: Fairness is a useful concept for dividing splitting the cost of pizza between friends, but worthless when trying to determine what share of the tax burden an individual should bear. Economist can tell us about the effects of various tax schemes on economic efficiency, i.e. the total size of the economic pie as measured in dollars, euros, or what have you. But any gains in efficiency brought about by making the tax system less progressive may be offset by the diminishing marginal utility of money. If we shift $100 dollars of the tax burden from Bill Gates to some pauper, there’s a net loss in utility, because that $100 was worth more to the pauper than to Bill Gates, who could afford to wipe his ass with $100 bills if he wanted to. Somewhere in the middle lies the perfect tax system that maximizes utility, but we’re not going to find it by bloviating about fairness.

My opinion as a snarky blogger: You're supposed to post your insightful stuff at Marginal Revolution, Tyler, and post crap like this over at the Volokh Conspiracy, where it fits in well with crap by Barnett and Bernstein.

UPDATE: Dan Chak makes pretty much the same point I do, and then fills in the missing data.

Bonne anniversaire

Happy first anniversary to PoliBlog!

Time to get ready to vote for Gary Nolan

Brock rather optimistically wrote below:

The presumptive nominee, John Kerry, deserves credit for voting in favor of NAFTA. I hope he has the courage to stick by what he knows is true: that tariffs and other protectionist measures do more harm to the country than good.

Brock apparently missed tonight’s Democratic debate, in which Kerry virtually repudiated NAFTA by advocating wider use of its environmental and labor side-agreements for protectionist ends—even though, in fairness, he was the best of a horrible field on that score. I’ll let Alex Knapp speak for me on Democrats’ commitment to our nation’s international agreements on trade:

You know, for a bunch of people who criticized Bush for being unilateral on military issues, they sure are eager to act unilaterally in rescinding our international obligations on trade issues. Or does international law not mean anything to these candidates?

Of course, since France is also a highly protectionist country, any issue where we agree with France but repudiate agreements with other countries apparently doesn’t meet the Democratic definition of “unilateral”.

Sunday, 15 February 2004

Viewer mail on ideology and knowledge; substantive and statistical significance

Prof. Jim Lindgren of Northwestern dropped me an email responding to this post*. Lindgren writes:

I appreciate your thoughtful comments on Somin's note posted on the Volokh Conspiracy.

As you know but your readers might not, the two leading academic cross-sectional surveys are the American National Election Studies (ANES) from the Univ. of Michigan (which Somin used) and the General Social Survey (GSS) from the University of Chicago (which I used in my note to Instapundit). Political scientists naturally tend to use the ANES, while sociologists tend to use the GSS, with the rest of the social sciences using both to a substantial extent.

Each have their advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, because the ANES is taken around the time of national elections, it is better for understanding elections and voting. Because the GSS is not taken around election time, it is better for understanding how large political groups, including Republicans and conservatives, tend to think at times other than the few months on either side of a national election. For this reason, the GSS trends in political orientation tend to be far more stable than the ANES data on this question, which are unreliable in their high variability from election to election. [Greg Caldeira (political science, Ohio State) and I are doing a paper on this phenomenon.]

Your observation about independent leaners behaving more like party adherents than weak identifiers as a Republican or a Democrat is true of voting as revealed in the ANES. It is not true as a generalization for issues across the board (it varies by issue).

For example, in the 1994–2002 GSS, independents who lean Democratic are like Republicans in their high performance on vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Leaners to either party tend to fall between Republicans and Democrats in their educational level. Independents who do not lean either way usually score down with the Democrats, either below them or between strong and not too strong Democrats.

That is why my analyses usually discuss types of people, rather than treating liberalism/conservatism and party identification as left/right ordinal or interval variables.

First, I’d like to thank Prof. Lindgren for his correspondence.

Second, I’d like to clarify that I advisedly used the word behavior; opinionation (such as issue positions) and attitude-holding are not behavior, and it is true that the relationship Bartels notes between party identification as measured by the “standard” 7-point scale and voting behavior may not apply to opinionation or attitude-holding.

I think the observations about Democrats are interesting, because I suspect they reflect a bifurcation in “strong Democratic” identifiers: on the one hand, you have groups who are identified with the Democrats on the basis of social affiliation, such as the poor, most minority groups, the working class, and organized labor; on the other, you have highly-educated people with “social consciences” who have a more psychological attachment to the Democratic party on the basis of ideology. This certainly doesn’t seem like an original observation, although I’m not sure anyone has shown it empirically rather than impressionistically (citations welcome).

In other viewer mail, another Chicago correspondent—Debian developer/economist Dirk Eddelbuettel—notes an article in a recent week’s Economist ($) on statistical significance versus substantive significance, a distinction social scientists probably need to pay more attention to. (Also see this week’s letters page.)

How to lose my vote

Alex Tabarrok continues his insightful criticism of Democratic rhetoric on free trade.

Let me take this opportunity to say that the one thing likely to make me push the Libertarian button on the Shouptronic machine in November is continued protectionist demagoguery from whoever the Democrats nominate: and all of the remaining candidates are guilty of this to some degree.

(This, of course, assumes that the Libertarians manage to nominate someone who isn’t a total crackpot, which is not guaranteed.)

I’m not a single-issue voter in the usual sense. Free trade vs. protectionism is not the biggest issue facing this country. But it is a good issue for determining whether a candidate is more interested in policy or politics (or, as I suspect of Gephardt, whether he’s totally ignorant of basic economics). Our current president is clearly more interested in politics.

The presumptive nominee, John Kerry, deserves credit for voting in favor of NAFTA. I hope he has the courage to stick by what he knows is true: that tariffs and other protectionist measures do more harm to the country than good.


Len at Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener notes that the Disney theme parks have stopped providing special assistance passes for handicapped guests. Why? The passes were being abused by able-bodied individuals who, for the price of a wheelchair rental, found they could skip to the front of long lines.

There was one family with many kids we kept seeing waiting near us at several rides to get on without standing in the line. We quietly observed that the kid in the wheelchair looked like he was perfectly mobile, but who knows? Perhaps he had a heart problem or more trouble walking than we could detect. Well, our questions were answered as they left a ride and the mother asked, “Who wants to sit in the wheelchair next?”

The generation gap

If I'm a member of Generation X, and today's crop of college students are in Generation Y, are the kids currently in kindergarden members of Generation Z?

And more importantly, what will call the generation after that? Do we roll back around to the beginning of the alphabet, making them Generation A? Or perhaps they'll be Generation Yuzz.

Knowledge, ideology, and party identification

Somehow I missed Eugene Volokh’s post on the whole “conservatives are stupid” kerfuffle. There are a few caveats in order with this use of ANES data:

  1. Partisanship is not ideology. While the two concepts are correlated highly in the United States, a “strong Republican” is not necessarily a conservative. (The correlation has improved over time, however, as the South has dealigned.) The ANES does include an ideology item.
  2. The partisanship scale used by the ANES has a weird inflection point noted by Larry Bartels several years ago: “weak identifiers” are generally more independent in their behavior than “independent leaners.”
  3. Political knowledge is not general knowledge (as Volokh’s correspondent notes). Again, while general knowledge is correlated with political knowledge, the latter is only one component of the former.
  4. There are numerous disputes over whether “quiz-type” political knowledge questions properly tap overall respondent knowledge about politics. Read chapter 2 of my dissertation if you need all the morbid details. Read the appendix of chapter 4 if you want to see how various types of questions performed in a 1998 Dutch election survey that uses a larger battery of questions than the contemporary ANES (I suppose the Dutch are more willing to subject themselves to quizzes than Americans, although Delli Carpini and Keeter disagree).

The GSS data cited in this InstaPundit post is more dispositive, although I am not as familiar with the GSS—and there may well be caveats that Prof. Lindgren does not mention or is unfamiliar with.

Saturday, 14 February 2004

Blegging for Go players

If you live in the Memphis area, and would be willing to teach a beginner (i.e. me) how to play Go, please contact me.

Love Toaster

The latest Toast-O-Meter is up with a special Valentine’s Day theme, courtesy of Steven Taylor. As always, it’s the comprehensive review of everything you tried to tune out about the primary campaign over the last seven days.

I’m off shortly to Memphis to argue with Best Buy for what should be a new laptop, probably something Centrino-based (woo-hoo!).

Update: Well, that went well… not.

Valentine's Day Poem

Here’s a short poem I wrote in grad school.

I gave my love an emerose
Upon a summer day,
While all around us in the grove
The gavagai did play.

“I’ve never seen a hue so green,”
My love did say to me.
“My dear,” I said, “it’s shmolored gred,
Just green until time t.”

Apologies to Nelson Goodman, Joseph Ullian, and W. V. Quine.

Drudge using referral spam?

Seen in my Apache log file just now: – - [14/Feb/2004:01:07:25–0600] “HEAD / HTTP/1.1” 200 – “” “StarProse Referrer Advertising System 2004” – - [14/Feb/2004:01:07:28–0600] “HEAD / HTTP/1.1” 200 – “” “StarProse Referrer Advertising System 2004”

Now it’s possible that someone is doing this to discredit Drudge; the IP resolves back to an AOL dynamic IP address, a Google search turns up several sites where anyone can download this tool, and Drudge has plenty of Google PageRank™ already; he doesn’t need to use a referral spammer to boost it.

In any event, I have reported this incident to AOL’s abuse system. Those with particularly devious minds may want to see if this robot will follow a HTTP redirect (301/302) to a bot honeypot or follow an infinite redirect loop.

Friday, 13 February 2004

Lies, Damned Lies, and Advertising

On page W5 of today's Wall Street Journal there's a full-page adversitement for Suunto, which makes "wristop computers," i.e. geeky watches that tell you the temperature, stock quotes, and your GPS coordinates. From the first paragraph of the ad copy:
Even remotely superstitious people tend to be a little suspicious around Friday the 13th. Actually, studies do show that the number of accidents can increase by, like, 52.4% on this particular date.
Studies also show that, like, 63.7% of all cited statistics are just made up.

More on titles

Steven Taylor has a followup tonight to my post on academic titles from a couple of days ago; James Joyner comments as well.

Going AWOL

The Baseball Crank plays whiffleball with some Bush AWOL critics. In the process, he notes this Jackson Baker piece in the Memphis Flyer, picked up by Kevin Drum of CalPundit.

For the uninitiated: Baker is both the bête noir and inspiration of Memphis blogger Mike Hollihan; the classic quote about the Flyer is that the alt-weekly “has never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I caught Baker redhanded flat-out distorting quotes from politicians back during the Tennessee “tiny towns” debacle in 1997. Baker is the worst kind of political reporter: a man who virtually fellates his sources in print, an unabashed Democratic partisan, and a man who routinely substitutes innuendo for fact. While his work is often amusing, if you’re looking for credible, nonpartisan reportage or commentary without an ideological axe to grind I’d suggest going to Atrios or The 700 Club first.

Update: Dean Esmay has more, indicating that the end may finally be near.


This weekend’s Herculean coding task: port Textile 2.0 syntax to Python. Mark Pilgrim ported the 1.0 syntax, but has since put the project aside due to limited time. The Perl module is 2260 lines, not including the POD-formatted docs (I guess I’ll have to make that a docstring), so my work is cut out for me.

Anyway, it’s a welcome distraction from job applications…

Perceptual screens

The folks at The Dead Parrot Society can now safely run their diff between the new and old versions of the blogroll. I’m not going to name names, but I purged a few people whose blogging had ceased to have any value to me. (I also purged a few blogs that have been dead for several months.) Once the Kerry zippergate and Bush AWOL stories go away, I will consider restoring the removed blogs, if it turns out I start visiting those sites again. Judging from visits today, however, I think I made the right decision.

Thursday, 12 February 2004

Just for the record

Oh, while we’re linking photos of interns: I never had sex with Connie Mack (or any other senator, member of the House, or anyone else in the District of Columbia). Hell, I never even met the guy. Signed his name a lot, though…

Kerry's “pants malfunction”

Well, I’m the last one to pick up on this outside the mainstream media. Random, barely-articulated thoughts:

  • I don’t buy the Republican smear theory. For starters, Wes Clark’s people have been shopping it for a while, and I’m pretty sure Clark isn’t a Republican (or a Democrat, for that matter).
  • I think James Joyner is right: only Republicans can suffer actual career damage from bimbo eruptions.

Anyway, the old aphorism always holds: “where there’s smoke there’s fire… at least, unless someone’s installed a smoke machine.”

Academics and titles

One of the things that came up tonight at the big bloggers’ bash (an event that slipped my mind much of today, mind you) was the whole issue of titles. Brock noted some disparity in how academic titles are used in the north and south. And, recently, a fellow blogger in private correspondence rather strenuously objected to my recent Ph.D.-dropping in the blog and elsewhere.

This issue was rather more problematic in my ABD and pre-ABD teaching days. I wasn’t “Dr. Lawrence” or “Prof. Lawrence,” yet my students insisted on using those titles—even though I routinely told them to just call me Chris. I certainly wasn’t “Mr. Lawrence” either, being only a few years older than my students, while my academic title—instructor—hardly made an appropriate salutation either. Now, of course, I am at least “Dr. Lawrence”—“Prof. Lawrence” will have to wait until the fall, or possibly even longer if I go and play post-doc or end up at one of the one-year appointments that uses the rather Anglophile title “lecturer.”

As far as the north/south thing goes, I think some of it has to do with the difference in being in an undergraduate institution to going to grad school. But it may partially be a southern thing as well; I still have trouble calling some of my now-former professors by their first names. Then again, that could just be a “me” thing.

I’m still somewhat conflicted on the issue my friend raised, however. Part of me says, “I just busted my ass for six years, I earned this title, and I’m damn well going to use it whenever possible.” On the other hand, I can see how it might lead some to think I’m trying to confer false additional legitimacy on my opinions; I didn’t magically become more expert on all matters political the afternoon of my dissertation defense, after all.

Further complicating matters is being on the job trail: since there’s a statistically significant improvement in my hiring prospects based on having the doctorate “in hand” entering a job search, it’s advisable to ensure that hiring departments are aware of that fact—and given the level of attention that is generally given to application packets on a first screening, repetition of that fact as often as possible is worthwhile. So if you correspond with me at my university email address, you’re quite likely to see the “Dr.” appellation, at least until I accept a (now-hypothetical) job offer.

Wednesday, 11 February 2004

Marriage and federalism

Many conservative and libertarian bloggers have positioned themselves

in favor of a constitutional amendment mandating “federalism” with regard to gay marriage. Such an amendment would allow any state to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, but would prohibit courts to force other states to recognize those marriages via the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. There’s some disagreement about whether the proposed “Federal Marriage Amendment” is such an amendment. Ramesh Ponnuru thinks it is. Eugene Volokh thinks it isn’t. But the only person I’ve read so far to propose a concrete alternative to the FMA is Keith Burgess-Jackson, who proposes the following Constitutional amendment:
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that a state recognize or give legal effect to marriages other than those between one man and one woman.
But if one’s sole motive to amend the Constitution is principled federalism, and not vile anti-gay bigotry, why the exception for marriages "between one man and one woman"? Why not the following Constitutional amendment?
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that a state recognize or give legal effect to marriages performed outside that state.
(Anti-miscengenation laws would presumably remain unconstitutional under the 14th amendment, so this amendment would not overturn Loving v. Virginia.)

According to this website, first cousins can legally marry in Massachusetts and seventeen other states (if I’m counting correctly). If the state of Kansas, for example, which does not permit first cousins to marry, is not required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in Massachusetts, why should it have to recognize a cousin-marriage performed in Massachusetts?

And according to this website, people as young as age 14 can marry in several states, including Massachusetts. But in Nebraska, you have to be at least 17. If Nebraska is not required to recognize the marriage of two men from Massachusetts, why should it have to recognize the marriage of two 14-year-olds from Massachusetts?

If the proponents of federalism regarding marriage will endorse an amendment like this, I’ll not question their sincerity. (And if they’ll add a clause to the amendment stating the the Federal government will recognize any marriage performed in any state, overturning the odious "Defense of Marriage Act," I’ll even join them in endorsing it.) Until then, I’ll remain of the opinion that these proposals to amend the Constitution in response to the Goodridge decision have the stink of bigotry about them.


Diverse feelings

Something that’s come up in the past here at SN is the relative dearth of conservatives in academe and its causes. The meme went out in full force today; for a sampling, see Steve at Begging to Differ (who makes a compelling argument that the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Grutter applies equally to viewpoint diversity in the academy—and thus is highly suspect, since the Court would never make such an argument about political views), Andrew Sullivan, Pandagon, Stephen Karlson, Tightly Wound, and Kieran Healy for starters. Not being much of an ideologue myself, I’ll just step away from the fray.

Intelligence failures

A lot of people have egg on their face over this one. Lots of bloggers staked their reputations, in some way, on it, and we utterly failed. The latest, and perhaps the most high-profile, blogger to acknowledge it, is Dan Drezner.

No, I’m not talking about WMD in Iraq. I’m talking about John Kerry’s cakewalk to the Democratic nomination. A month ago, everyone thought that Dean was going to win this thing, even though (as we now know) his poll numbers started eroding about that time.

This is, no doubt, the point where our good buddies the Perestroikans will come out and say this proves, once and for all, that attempts at a science of politics are futile (one suspects they might also think a science of chemistry is futile, but that is neither here nor there). And, if I were someone who believed that the ultimate test of science is prediction rather than explanation, I might agree with them. But in all good science, when our observations don’t conform with our theories it’s a good time to revisit our hypotheses. The hypothetical reasons why Dean should win were sound:

  1. Dean will win the nomination because he’s got the support of the base: This was the clearest argument for Dean’s candidacy. He had a massive fundraising advantage. Dean had captured the energy of the Internet and young people. He captured the anger of many Democratic rank-and-file voters against both Bush and the Iraq war.
  2. Dean has organization: Dean had spent all of 2003 setting up a formidable organization in Iowa; the only candidate who was close was near-native-son Dick Gephardt.
  3. The primary schedule favors Dean: Coming off an anticipated win in Iowa, most observers expected him to surge into New Hampshire and create an air of inevitability around his campaign.
  4. Dean was a governor: Three of the last five Democratic nominees were state governors. In a field where Dean was the only governor, the prediction that Dean would win would be reasonable.
  5. Dean has elite support: Throughout the fall, establishment Democrats jumped on the Dean bandwagon. Elites don’t generally hand out endorsements, particularly in primaries, unless they’re pretty sure they won’t be shown to be incorrect.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to Boston. As we now know, none of these things came to pass. Why?

  1. We overestimated the base: Dean’s base was deep, but not very broad—perhaps 20% of the Democratic electorate. Dean’s gambit to widen his appeal—being the hardcore “anti-war” candidate not named Kucinich—backfired when Saddam Hussein got dragged out of a foxhole in mid-December. Dean correctly recognized that Democrats were anti-war, but not why they were anti-war: much of the Dem base doesn’t really oppose the war on principle; instead, they oppose it mostly because George W. Bush called the shots. I’d call this the “process” critique of the war, and one that John Kerry was able to capitalize on by being downright shifty with his votes and rhetoric.
  2. Organization didn’t matter in Iowa: Somehow a lot of Iowa Democrats got excited about the campaign without getting very excited about the candidates themselves, and when it came time to vote the undecided voters chose Kerry and Edwards—two candidates whose operations in Iowa were weak.
  3. The primary schedule favored a New Englander: Kerry essentially borrowed the Dean playbook—convert a win in Iowa to unstoppable momentum coming out of New Hampshire as a “favorite son.” Kerry also benefitted from the unexpected nature of the Iowa win—a Dean victory in Iowa would have been expected, and the momentum bump would have been far smaller.
  4. Endorsements don’t matter: The big kahuna, Bill Clinton, stayed out, so the endorsements Dean picked up from has-beens like Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and (maybe) Jimmy Carter were devalued.
  5. Dean pissed off the Iowans: Not just in making stuff up when asked about his connection with military veterans, but in old videotapes where Dean had an all-too-candid moment in revealing that the Iowa caucuses are mainly an excuse for presidential candiates to go and kiss farmers’ asses for months on end.
  6. Finally, Democrats recognized that Republicans were teeing up for Dean: Anyone with half a brain knew that Dean was Karl Rove’s dream candidate: an inexperienced opponent, prone to displays of short temper and highly vulnerable on social issues and defense policy. Democratic voters, who are desperate to be rid of Bush, siezed on electability as the one and only issue that matters—and decided a patrician senator from Massachusetts, like party idol/martyr JFK, was preferable to the thumb-shaped Vermont wonder in that department.

I think the bottom-line lesson here is that peoples’ political behavior is both idiosyncratic and hard to predict. Perhaps more importantly, I won’t call for an investigation of my fellow political scientists for blowing the search for the Democratic nominee if you won’t.

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

Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Boobs and barricades

Jeff Jarvis asks:

Why are we not hearing libertarians and conservatives—supposedly all in favor of freedom and less government—screaming about the attempts to interfere with media and the threat to free speech this brings. Do we really need hearings on Janet Jackson’s breast? Do we really want the government to say who can own which press? C’mon. I don’t care if you don’t happen to like the media you now see; do you really want goverment regulation of what you can hear and then what you can say? To the barricades, people….

My answers: 1. No. 2. [Strawman] The government already does. 3. Not really.

The real problem, as I see it: the Super Bowl halftime show should have had a TV-14 rating. The sporting events exception in the broadcast media’s self-imposed guidelines shouldn’t apply to entertainment within sporting events.

As to whether or not I’m going to the barricades? No. Because at the moment, this is all a public masturbation exercise by John McCain and the other usual suspects. Call me back when there’s legislation that makes it out of committee.

The value of college

Dean Esmay, who’s gone (back?) to college to get a degree so he can go back to working in the same job he used to be employed in before the tech bust, wonders if society overvalues the B.A. and B.S. degrees these days. Several bloggers have responded, including Dr. Joyner and Dr. Taylor. Kevin McGehee points to the dumbing down of high school as part of the cause, and certainly that is part of it; I think at some level, the creation of “honors” programs and the like in high school has not so much resulted in a better education for the upper tier of college-bound kids (although I suspect it has to an extent) as it has a lowering of expectations for the rest. And, to some extent, a lot of colleges have brought it on themselves by instituting remedial programs rather than requiring students who don’t have the necessary skills to succed in a four-year institution to attend a community college before coming for their undergraduate education.

On the other hand, while I wasn’t exactly thrilled about some of the classes I took as an undergraduate at the time, particularly in the sciences (I loathed physics with a passion, particularly mechanics), they gave me a lot of the background I’ve needed to succeed later on in life. Granted, until two months ago what I was doing in life was learning more stuff so I could be prepared to teach undergraduates and do cutting-edge research in political science, but I think a lot of that training would have been valuable no matter what I decided to do with my life.

Fantasy (Manhattan) Island

Martin Devon of Patio Pundit catches the New York Times engaging in a bit of fantasy in suggesting that John “I don’t need the South” Kerry can, er, carry Tennessee in November. Said fantasy is based largely on an interview with Kerry campaign co-chair and Congressman-for-life-if-he-wants-it Harold Ford Jr. Quoth the Times:

The state has tended to vote Republican and has two Republican senators. Mr. Gore lost here in 2000 by four percentage points, but some say the issues will be different this time and that Mr. Kerry is a different candidate from Mr. Gore. And last year the state elected Mr. Bredesen, a Democrat, as governor, and he has become enormously popular.

“Some” might also note that Kerry is much further to the left than Gore ever was (until he got Deanentia), and Bredesen largely won because (a) his opponent, Van Hilleary, was an incredibly weak campaigner and (b) his predecessor, Don Sundquist, managed to turn the Republicans’ names into mud in the state by becoming a tax-and-spend liberal in his second term.

Also amusing: the article misspells the name of Vanderbilt University political scientist John Geer.

TN/VA Exit Polls

Since people are Googling… Wonkette! has swiped the results from NRO. The Kerryman is kicking ass.

Bear in mind, however, that at least in Tennessee voters are permitted to vote early up to two weeks before the election; to my knowledge, there was no exit polling done of early voting sites. Not that it’d make much difference in the results, as early voters are only about 1/4 of the electorate, but in a close race it might matter.

Reality intrudes

Poliblogger Steven Taylor responded yesterday to my post on conservatism and the 2004 election. First he examines my argument with regard to divided government:

Chris makes an argument, that I have often heard, that the solution to the problem of insufficient fiscal conservatism is the return of divided government. However, I would note that in the twentieth century divided government has been the norm, and, likewise, deficits and ever-increasing spending has also been the norm, calling into question the idea that divided government results in curtailed spending. The only exception (at least in regards to deficits) was during part of the Clinton years, during which we did, in fact, have divided government. However, as I have argued before, the balanced budgets of those years were primarily a function of unexpected economic growth, not a tremendous feat of fiscal restraint the resulted from divided government. For that matter the Reagan era, one of divided government, is usually considered the hallmark of deficit politics.

Causality is difficult to prove here, but I don’t think that—necessarily—you can argue that the Clinton years were a fluke. Reagan was president with a Democratic House and a Senate that was sometimes under Republican and sometimes under Democratic control. The Democrats of the 1980s were hardly a model of fiscal responsibility—and coupled with Reagan’s fetish for supply-side economics, the two together created a giant deficit between them. As I stated in my earlier post, effective fiscal conservatism rests on control of the House and Senate—something that Reagan didn’t enjoy, but Clinton did. That Clinton also benefitted from a favorable economy that he had little control over doesn’t change the fact that Republicans in Congress were much more willing to say “no” when Clinton wanted to throw money at problems than they are today.

And I do think that in terms of national security one would see a rather substantially different world under a Kerry administration. That alone is sufficient reason to heed my prior advice. And do think that he is serious in his campaign rhetoric regarding foreign policy. Remember: this is the guy who voted against the first Gulf War even though Saddam has invaded Kuwait. I think that he is highly reticent to use force and does not have the temperament needed to fight the war on terror.

This is an argument I acknowledged, albeit somewhat glibly, in my post. But to a large extent I think a Democratic president is now stuck prosecuting the War on Terror forcefully, or he risks going down in history as a miserable failure the likes we haven’t seen since the late 1970s. Not that that’s much comfort if you think Kerry will get us all killed between now and January 2009, mind you. (I think the more likely scenario is that Kerry will simply fail to follow through with al-Qaeda and do the minumum necessary to protect the homeland, leaving us with a mess at the end of his term.)

[On domestic policy:] However, there would still be important differences. For example: the judgeship issue and I don’t just mean in regards to specific social conservative issue (although abortion is important to me), but just the general idea of having judges who at least make an effort to simply judge the law and let legislators legislate. I consider this to be rather significant.

I think the odds of either Kerry or Bush getting the nominees he wants on the bench are rapidly approaching zero at this point; however, Kerry or Bush might be able to accomplish a bit with recess appointments. The open question is whether or not the next president will dare make a recess appointment to the Supreme Court when Stevens keels over.

And a side note the “social conservative” issue: prostitution really isn’t that much of an issue for the DoJ, so that strikes me as a non-starter of an example. And in regards to the drug war (which I oppose on efficacy grounds, btw), a Democratic president is unlikely to function any differently than a Republican one on that one. From Nixon to the present the funding for the drug war has simply grown, and while Carter discussed support for legalizing marijuana, the basic approach to illegal drugs has been be pretty consistent across partisan lines. Indeed, the massive increase in funding to Colombia under “Plan Colombia” was under Clinton.

My example sucked because I actually meant to write “pornography.” Don’t mind me, my brain’s in deep freeze. But I suspect a Kerry administration would not prosecute either the War on Drugs or the War on Porn with the zeal that Ashcroft has shown. Of course, if you’re a SoCon that’s a bug, not a feature.

To be honest, I cannot conceive a situation arising in which the net policy desires of conservatives of any stripe would be furthered by a Kerry win, unless they occurred by sheer serendipity.

Serendipity works. I don’t think Bill Clinton particularly wanted to show fiscal restraint in the 1990s, but a funny thing happened as a result of his perpetual head-butting with Congress. If John Kerry had proposed No Child Left Behind, or the Medicare drugs bill, in the exact same form that Bush had, he’d have been laughed right out of Congress by the Republicans—and deservedly so. It may only be a marginal difference, but the difference between trying to give the president a record to run on and trying to deny the president something to take credit for may just be enough to encourage Congress to keep spending in check.

Now, if you’re someone who wants Roe and Goodridge to go away, this may not be enough to affect your vote. But if you’re someone who’s indifferent, or for that matter realistic, on social issues—let’s face it, Roe and Goodridge aren’t going away, because another two Scalias will never make it onto the Supreme Court—it’s something that might be worth considering. (On the other hand, it’s also worth noting that some people, including my esteemed co-blogger, who want more Breyers on the Court have made much the same argument. So your mileage may vary, as they say.)

Is mathematics a science?

Apparently hackers are also part-time epistemologists. My general feeling on the issue is that any enterprise that generally uses the scientific method to discover capital-T Truth is a “science.” Mathematics does this, ergo it is a science.

Then again, others differ; Rose-Hulman describes itself as “one of the nation’s top undergraduate engineering, science, and mathematics colleges,” implicitly arguing that mathematics is not a science (and neither is engineering—which I suppose is a whole debate of its own).

Fun for the whole family

Apparently blogroll editing has become a spectator sport. Free hint: set your blogroll order preferences to “Alpha” so it’s easier to tell the differences.

Monday, 9 February 2004

Andrew Sullivan, Keith Burgess-Jackson, Eugene Volokh, and the FMA

Andrew Sullivan thinks that the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment would ban even legislatively enacted civil union statutes, such as Vermont’s.

Keith Burgess-Jackson accuses Sullivan of hysteria:

Andrew Sullivan has lost his bloody mind. In today’s blog (see here), he gives a hysterical misreading of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, then chastises The New York Times for not misreading it the same way.

How Sullivan could misread this simply worded amendment boggles my mind. His lack of legal training may explain some of it (does he not have legally trained friends?), but I think there’s more going on. His otherwise sound intellect fails him repeatedly when it comes to homosexual marriage (or homosexuality generally). Please, Andrew, get a grip. You’re embarrassing yourself.

Prof. Burgess-Jackson may want to take note that Eugene Volokh thinks the FMA admits just such a reading:

And if courts do treat the ambiguous phrase “incidents of marriage” as referring to the benefits, burdens, and practices that have traditionally accompanied marriage, then legislative civil union statutes may well become unconstitutional or at least unenforceable: As I said before, government officials would be prohibited from construing the statute according to its literal text, as providing some of the traditional benefits of marriage to unmarried couples. And if someone goes to court to challenge the official’s refusal to provide such benefits, then the court court would likewise be forbidden from construing the statute according to its literal text.

So is Prof. Volokh being "hysterical" as well? Has he too "lost his bloody mind"? Is his "otherwise sound intellect failing him"? Or maybe it’s Prof. Volokh’s "lack of legal training"?

UPDATE: Prof. Burgess-Jackson's Mea Culpa.

ECON 201: Evaluating ECON 101

Greg of En Banc links a short paper on the economics of student evaluation forms. Ole Miss just transitioned from paper “bubble sheet” forms handed out in-class to an opt-in online system somehow tied into our all-knowing but completely-screwed-up SAP campus management system.

Last I heard, compliance with the evaluation procedure was sharply lower—something I think would lead to a non-random error that biases responses downward, as students who disliked a class will probably be more likely to bother filling out the evaluations. On the upside, at least you don’t have to keep the original copies of the evaluations around for the written comments—which is a good thing, since the university managed to shred one semesters’ worth of evaluations a couple of years back, making those written comments lost to history.

The C word

Steven Taylor thinks conservatives need to learn to love the Shrub, since otherwise they may well receive eight more years of Clintonism. On the other hand, if you’re a conservative—not necessarily a Republican, mind you—a spell of divided government might well be desirable.

It seems to me, at the simplest level, that different sorts of conservatism require the control of different branches of government. Fiscal conservatism rests largely on control of Congress; if you keep spending and taxes down, there isn’t much the White House or Supreme Court can do about it. Social conservatism, on the other hand, rests on control of the presidency and the judiciary; the Justice Department effectively decides to what degree morals violations (like prostitution and drug crimes) are prosecuted, while the judiciary effectively sets the limits of what personal behavior Congress and the states can regulate.

There are, of course, other issues to base one’s vote on; the Clinton administration fiddled while North Korea and Iraq burned during the 1990s, instead expending political capital on dubious adventures like Haiti (which is now in more of a mess than when I was a wee intern in D.C. being briefed on this problem 9 years ago) and saving the Europeans’ asses in the Balkans. And, at the moment, it’s hard to tell if Kerry’s campaign-trail pronouncements are simply part of a red-meat distribution effort to keep the Deaniacs on the Democratic bus through November or actually serious foreign policy views—if you believe they’re the latter, you might think twice about jumping on the divided government bandwagon.

But, given that Congress is essentially a lock to remain in Republican hands for the forseeable future,* if you’re not much of a social conservative and you make under $200k it’s hard to see what you’d lose under a Kerry (or Edwards) administration.

This is today’s entry in the BTJ™.

Firefox, Firebird, what's the difference?

Oh, goody, YAFNC. The browser that changes its name every season is now at 0.8. Download it early and often. No word yet on whether Clint Eastwood plans to sue.

Now off to dig through some SQL tables to rename this topic of the blog…

Monday-morning Toast

The Toast-O-Meter for this week has arrived, courtesy of Steven Taylor, although the bread is apparently borderline stale at this point due to Charter Communications’ ineptitude.

In other Campaign ’04-related news: Venomous Kate is perched on the fence for now, for a long list of reasons (via Dan Drezner, who’s doing some fence-sitting of his own).

Nuke it… nuke it real good

Dan Drezner isn’t buying rumors that al-Qaeda has an unspecified supply of tactical nuclear weapons, but recommends vigilence nonetheless; the Belgravia Dispatch has similar thoughts.

I don’t have anything to add to either analysis; it seems rather implausible that the group would have such weapons yet not use them—if not against the United States, then certainly against Israel, which would seem to be an easier target. To paraphrase the Dispatch, terror groups generally aren’t known for their strategic geopolitical wherewithal, and mutually-assured destruction is pretty meaningless as a deterrent when your territory is a few hundred square miles of borderline-uninhabitable territory to begin with and you have a martyr complex to boot.

Sunday, 8 February 2004

Debating libertarianism

Will Baude and Tim Sandefur are engaged in a bit of a running battle with the Curmudgeonly Clerk over whether or not individual libertarians’ having moral positions constitute a betrayal of their commitment to not legislate on the basis of morality.

I tend to agree with Tim that the Clerk is confused on a number of points, and leave the detailed critiques to Tim and Will. My main, and unoriginal, observation would be that “societal acceptance” is something that is relatively independent of legality. (My second observation would be that Reason was a far better arbiter of libertarian thought under Virginia Postrel’s editorship, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Update: Tim Sandefur responds. Actually, after I wrote the above sentence, I realized that the word “arbiter” doesn't quite characterize my thought; I meant something closer to “exemplar.” Indeed, contra Jonah Goldberg (and his bloviation that National Review polices the boundaries of conservatism*), I don’t necessarily think libertarian thought needs an arbiter.

Culling the herd

I’m seriously considering a thorough cleaning of the blogroll in the next few days. Who won’t be going: people who have linked us, and people who have interesting blogs. Who will: people whose blog content I can predict before even clicking through the link.

Then again, I might actually do something vaguely productive like work on the near-mythical impeachment paper instead…

Optimizing Firebird

Buckling up

Today’s CA features an article on the latest effort to make Mississippi’s seatbelt law a “primary offense”, which would permit law enforcement officers to pull over vehicles whose drivers or passengers were not complying with the law. The article notes:

Nationwide, states that switch from secondary to primary seatbelt laws report a 10- to 15-percent increase in seatbelt use, according to the National Safety Council, an Illinois-based advocacy group. In Alabama, seatbelt use climbed from 52 percent in the year before the state passed a primary law to 79 percent two years later.

However, NHTSA data suggests that figure is overstated: their 2003 survey shows an 8% differential between states with primary and secondary laws. And the Alabama figures seem downright implausible—although, given that seatbelt use is trending higher in all states, not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

There are no fewer than six different bills that would make the seatbelt law a primary offense; they mainly differ in (a) whether or not the maximum fine per vehicle would be doubled* and (b) whether or not non-use of seatbelts can be considered contributory or comparative negligence.

Saturday, 7 February 2004


Since your DNS block doesn’t resolve back, and because you apparently have a Python bot that’s out of control downloading every page on this site, you’re now blocked at the IP level. Please email the management if you have a legitimate reason to be unblocked and/or you get your bot under control.

Flying Roadgeeks

The California Yankee notes the revelation from Oxford University researchers that pigeons navigate the same way pilots do under VFR: they just follow the roads.

Which makes one wonder: how did pigeons get around before the Romans?

Feeling “Blue”

Sunday’s New York Times has a long article on the growth of low-fare airlines on the eastern seaboard, a trend that has largely bypassed Memphis, as this Memphis Flyer cover story from several years back documents. Although minor low-fare player America West and sorta-kinda low-fare (I’ve never seen one of their flights be cheaper than Delta) airTran do serve the market, no-frills big daddy Southwest has stayed out of Memphis for reasons generally unknown—although nearby Tunica Airport has hopes to lure Southwest to the Memphis market when it opens its full 8500-foot runway and full terminal in the next two years. There have also been indications that jetBlue will add Memphis to its lineup sometime in the coming year.

Friday, 6 February 2004

Road-blogging at the CA

My neighbor Tom Bailey, a reporter at the Commercial Appeal, is doing some road-blogging on the CA’s web site.

My co-blogger has expressed skepticism about the Commercial Appeal’s in-house blogs in the past, although I can’t find the post. I can’t say anything bad about Tom’s blog, though, because he knows where I live. So let me just say “Prove him wrong, Tom!”

Irrational preferences

In light of the German cannibalism case, Will Baude ponders the public policy implications of irrational preferences, such as the desire to be killed and eaten. Will writes:

Anyway, my own inclination is to say that it’s a bad idea to pretend that such people held preferences other than the ones they actually do have, a bad idea, therefore, to keep them from harming themselves if that’s what they want to do. Even if the preference is irrational, it’s still a preference.
This is probably a topic way to big to be treated effectively in one blog post. I’m sure philosophers have written entire books on the topic. But let me throw out a suggestion. One key to determining whether a preference is irrational, and hence whether there is a legitimate paternalistic interest in suppressing the fullfillment of that preference through public policy, is whether those who have that preference also have a second-order preference not to have that preference. (This is neither a necessary or sufficient condition. At best, it is one disjunct of a sufficient condition.) We can no longer ask the poor, err, victim in the German cannibalism case whether he would prefer not to have a death wish, but he well might have said yes. Similarly, it seems to me from talking to smokers, that many of them not desire to smoke, but they would prefer not to have that desire: hence their usually futile attempts to quit.

It seems to me there are three sorts of reasons that one might have a second-order preference not to have have a given preference.

  1. A person might prefer not to have a desire because she knows the desire will go unfulfilled, and this lack of fulfillment causes mental anguish. One might desire to have sex with some movie star, but knowing this lust is certain to be unrequited, one would prefer not to have this desire. I don’t see much scope for paternalistic public policy in solving the problems created by these sorts of desires. And I wouldn’t call these desires irrational.
  2. A person might prefer not to have a desire merely because of public policy itself, whether formally written into law or as part of informal societal mores. A gay man might prefer not to have the desire to have sex with other men, not because of anything inherently bad about gay sex, but because of the potential for being arrested (pre-Lawrence), or because of widespread bigotry against gays. In this case, public policy is the problem, and so there is no excuse for paternalism. Nor would I call these desires irrational.
  3. A person might prefer not to have a desire because the desired entity is intrisically bad, i.e. it conflicts with other more strongly held prefernces, out of physical necessity. The German cannibalism victim might have desired to have a comfortable retirement sailing about the Mediterranean, but he could not fulfill both this desire and his desire to be killed and eaten. Many smokers wish to have a long life, but their desire to smoke is in conflict with this. It is in this category that we find the truly irrational desires.

Only when the unwanted desires are of the third type is there a prima facie case to be made for paternalistic public policy. In the third case, the public policy might actually be helping the weak-willed person fulfill their second order desire, thus resulting in greater utility (if we define utility in terms of satisfied preferences, or use satisfied preferences as a proxy for utility).

How much did the last round of tax cuts save you?

There’s an excellent factual article over at The Motley Fool on the 2003 tax cuts, much of which is devoted to helping you figure out how much you saved on Federal income tax vs. the year 2002. According to the article, I paid about $450 less this year than I would have given the 2002 tax tables.

Of course, I don’t really count it as a tax cut, given the profligate spending of the Republican Congress and admininistration. I figure I’ll be paying for it one way or another eventually.

From bad to worse

In 11 days, we may no longer have Howard Dean to kick around any more. G33k-turned-law-student Joy has Dean’s numbers from Wisconsin (via dKos), and they don’t look pretty at all, with Dean’s “unfavorable” rating approaching 40%.

Today's self-fisking DM op-ed page

Today’s Daily Mississippian shoots 0-for-4 on op-ed page articles. Let’s review:

  • The editorial contains this whopper of sheer idiocy:
    Though it remains controversial, especially among circles of Christians and other religious groups, evolution is still one of the most widely taught theories about the roots of the world. When origins taught to students, not only in Georgia but also nationwide, it should be maintained that evolution has not been accepted as scientific law.
  • A non-sensical column that proposes that improving the electric grid will, in and of itself, cause a huge economic recovery. Special bonus for the moronic statement that a “dirty bomb” during a power outage could kill 250,000 people.
  • A long screed about how Greeks don’t contribute to the university’s endowment, or something.
  • Last, but not least, a letter to the editor defending rude behavior, so long as the reason for one’s rudeness is proselytization.

Now, generally I don’t read the DM op-ed page for enlightement anyway, but today’s edition may have been the first that actually had the result of making me stupider.

The cases everyone should know

Tim Sandefur is collecting nominations for “the canon” —as he puts it, “the ten Supreme Court decisions every American (not lawyers or law students!) should read.” So far, Scipio’s list seems the most complete:

  1. Marbury v. Madison
  2. Dred Scott
  3. Plessy v. Ferguson
  4. The Slaughter House Cases
  5. Brown v. Board of Education
  6. Erie
  7. Wickard v. Filburn
  8. Texas v. Johnson
  9. Printz v. US
  10. (tie) Mapp v. Ohio and NY Times v. Sullivan

He also lists, as honorable mentions: Korematsu, Roe v. Wade, Flood v. Kuhn, Lopez, Bowers v. Hardwick, and Harper’s Lessee.

Turning first to the Top Ten: my recollection is that I’ve never mentioned Erie, Wickard, and Printz, and I’ve only mentioned Slaughter-House in passing (trying to explain why the privileges or immunities clause is in the 14th Amendment) in intro. From the honorable mentions, Flood and Harper’s Lessee didn’t make it either; nor, I think, does Korematsu (no doubt to the chagrin of Eric Muller) or Lopez, but it’s been two years since I last taught the class (Fall 2001—I taught methods in Spring of 2002) so it may have been mentioned. All of the cases that don’t make it in (except Korematsu and Lopez) are ones I’d have to stop and think about before remembering what they’re about.

Notable omissions from Scipio’s list that do make it into the lecture: Griswold, McCullough v. Maryland, Casey, some of the gerrymandering cases (Baker v. Carr, Shaw v. Reno, Thornburg v. Gingles spring to mind), Washington v. Davis, Bakke, Miller v. Johnson, and Bowers v. Hardwick. Chandra v. INS (the line-item veto case) may or may not get a mention when we talk about the executive branch, as might U.S. v. Nixon. Romer v. Colorado might be in there too. If I were lecturing today, I’d have to add Texas v. Johnson, of course.

This might (or might not) tell you something about the biases of the writers of political science textbooks. Intro, mind you, isn’t a con law class; I have 375 minutes in the semester to talk about civil rights and liberties, and a lot of that time is devoted to things outside the courts. Nor is con law really in my general field of expertise, although I could probably teach it to undergraduates in a pinch if absolutely needed.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

Kroger accused of colluding with itself

No, that isn’t a euphemism for masturbation; Xrlq has the details on the latest twist in the California grocery strike shenanigans.

Audix: the spawn of the devil

The one good thing about being unemployed is I don’t have to deal with this pathetic attempt at a voice mail system any more.

Time to push the veep out the airlock

Judging from the Plame leak investigation news, the idea of keeping Dick Cheney around seems more and more foolish by the day. He’s got no constituency in the base, Halliburton will always be an albatross around the administration’s neck with him around, and you can hang virtually every criticism of the administration on him—the WMD claims, Plame, corporate cronyism, the works—on his way out the door.

Not that I know who to replace him with, mind you…

Update: Robert Prather thinks I was a bit coy above in not naming Condi Rice as my preferred replacement. Certainly she would be preferable to Guiliani, I don’t see any of the “hard right” folks like Ashcroft or Santorum as being worthwhile, and I don’t really see any other credible candidates out there. On the other hand, making such a pick feels like nothing so much as jumping on the Panthers bandwagon last week did—for all I know, the right pick could be someone from left field (Fred Thompson?).

And, the Functional Ambivalent agrees that it’s time for Cheney to find a privately-financed, but still secure, undisclosed location.

On Southern Republicanism

Amanda Butler quotes from an op-ed by George WIll in today’s WaPo that’s mostly about whether Democrats can win without the South, but takes a foray through Republican fortunes as well:

Much academic and journalistic energy has been expended attempting to prove that Republicans became competitive in the South not because of positive change there but because of a negative change in the GOP —pandering to racists. But Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia notes that Eisenhower, like Richard Nixon in 1960, polled badly among whites in the Deep South. Eisenhower ran strongest in the “peripheral South,” the least-polarized part.

States representing more than half the Southern electoral votes have been, Alexander notes, “consistently in play” since 1952. That was before the Goldwater candidacy, before school busing and at a time when congressional Republicans were stronger supporters than Democrats were of civil rights bills. A higher proportion of Republican than Democratic senators voted for the 1964 and 1965 civil rights bills, and in 1968 whites in the Deep South preferred George Wallace to Nixon.

Beginning in the 1950s, millions of Midwesterners and Northeasterners moved to the South. But, Alexander says, instead of voting Democratic, they voted Republican “at higher rates than native whites.” Even today, “identification with the GOP is stronger among the South’s younger rather than older white voters.” Republican strength has been highest among persons young, suburban, middle class, educated, non-Southern in origin and concentrated in the least “Southern” high-growth areas.

Eisenhower was, at best, a reluctant desegregator, as his actions at the time of Little Rock in 1957 demonstrated—and I’m not at all certain Eisenhower could have carried Southern states in 1960, had he been on the ballot, even without considering Harry Byrd’s presence on the ballot in Alabama and Mississippi.

That being said, I think a fair assessment of Republican strategy in the south would recognize that racial issues were an undercurrent, but not the whole story, and that Republicans benefitted from the racial issue only to the extent that southern Democrats conceded their racially conservative positions. By the time of Eisenhower, the New Deal coalition’s papering over of the Democrats’ internal racial divisions was coming apart as the inherent logic of New Dealism, and more boistrous antisegregationists in the North, pushed the national Democratic Party away from segregationism. But southern Republican successes were rare while the Dixiecrats continued to stick with the segregationists, and most of the successes were the result of Democratic defections, not home-grown Republicanism—a division that persists to this day.

Compare, for example, Bill Frist and Trent Lott—Lott is essentially a Dixiecrat, born and raised, who defected to the Republicans mainly for electoral considerations; Frist, on the other hand, is much closer to the traditional national Republican mold, albeit with a southern flavor. And, as the Lott generation leaves politics, the Frist generation is taking over as the face of southern Republicanism—a change that hopefully will lead to the politics of race receding into history.

Diploma day

My diploma showed up in the mail today; thankfully, even though a corner of the envelope was soaked through, the diploma itself was safely tucked away in the cover it came with, so was undamaged. Most exciting.

Partisanship, independence, and voters

Leave it to Michael Totten to write a post I have to respond to right before I feel like losing consciousness for the evening. Hopefully I’ll remember to say something about it tomorrow.

No easy answers

Apropos of the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s latest salvo in the Bay State’s same-sex marriage war, I suppose I should have something to say about the topic.

From a sort of policy-wonkish point of view, I tend to agree with Steven Taylor that it’s probably going to affect the presidential campaign in all sorts of nasty ways—not just because it raises the stakes by virtually ensuring there will be a DOMA challenge sometime during the election season, but also because it makes the ongoing judicial nominations battle even more intense, especially since this natural court* is waaaay overdue for someone to either retire or kick the bucket.

From the point of view of being someone who believes in democratic accountability, the idea of four justices in Massachusetts deciding the issue of same-sex marriage—based on their own state constitution alone, mind you—for the rest of the country is profoundly disturbing. The comparison to Loving v. Virginia (388 US 1; 1967) doesn’t wash, because that case was a decision reached by the U.S. Supreme Court. In practice, of course, much economic regulation is carried out this way—the product liability standards of the most plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction in Mississippi are de facto the product liability standards of the nation. That doesn’t mean I have to particularly care for its extension into other areas of law.

On the other hand, though, there’s a great deal of legislation that is outmoded, overly intrusive, or downright pure garbage on the books—and legislatures full of spineless creatures who are loath to stand up to excise these laws from the statute books. Sure, they could do the right thing and repeal Mississippi’s idiotic law that makes cohabitation by unmarried couples illegal (you can go to jail for six months), but why risk grief from Donald Wildmon and his dwindling band of morals police? These laws may be “uncommonly silly,” to borrow from Justice Thomas’ dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, but that silliness was obviously not evident enough to the Texas legislature for that state’s sodomy statute to be repealed. And, in the meantime, people go to jail or are fined on the basis of a law that most observers would concede is “uncommonly silly.” Ends do not justify means, but neither do means inherently justify ends.

Now, unlike the aforementioned cohabitation statute, or Texas’ sodomy statute, prohibitions against same-sex marriage are not necessarily “uncommonly silly.” They may not even be silly. If you’re someone concerned about the free association and free exercise rights of coreligionists, you might reasonably conclude that legalization of same-sex marriage might soon lead to judicial requirements that a church perform the sacraments of marriage for same-sex couples, even if such sacraments would be contrary to its doctrine. Marriage remains an important institution to millions of Americans; for every Britney Spears or J-Lo who makes a mockery of the institution, there are thousands of responsible, but sometimes imperfect, people who make their best effort to uphold it. It is not an institution to be altered lightly.

Nor do I personally find outcome-based arguments in favor of (or for that matter, in opposition to) same-sex marriage persuasive. As a matter of principle, I believe fundamental liberties should not be subject to cost-benefit analysis. Questions of whether gay marriage will “civilize homosexual men” or lead to higher divorce rates miss the point.

In the end, I don’t have an easy answer. My gut feeling, proponent of individual liberty that I am, is that if two people want to be married and they are consenting adults, that’s just fine with me. But I can see where reasonable people can differ, and I don’t know what I could say to make them think differently.

Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Pork: the other rancid meat

Heather L. Noggle has an open letter to the management of her local Schnuck’s regarding her recent purchase of pork chops, which didn’t quite live up to the “sell by” date that was advertised on the container.

Memphis area blogger confab

Mike of Half-Bakered is doing the coordinating legwork on arranging a first-ever Memphis bloggers’ bash, to be held somewhere in the vaguely-defined “Madison corridor” in Midtown Is Memphis* on next Wednesday evening. So go forth and (a) RSVP, (b) suggest a location, or (c) all of the above.

Update: Attendees will also get to meet a real, live Commercial Appeal columnist in the flesh. If you ask me, Jon should drag Tom and Blake along for the ride.

Bush trading the oval office for the oval table

Apropos of Steven Taylor’s consideration of when President Bush will abandon the “Rose Garden” strategy and take the campaign to the road, it looks like the answer has been given: the president wil appear on Meet The Press this Sunday, according to tonight’s edition of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann (yes, I'm part of his 0.3 share).

Of course, a wag might say he’s planned it to steal the thunder from Howard Dean’s “attempted return from the dead” campaign in Washington state.

Double standard? Try single standard

Professor Bainbridge inquires:

Back during the anthrax scare, a lot of left-liberal commentators and bloggers rushed to the judgment that right-wing domestic terrorists with connections to the Bush administration were behind the anthrax attacks. I wonder what those same folks will say now that somebody has sent ricin to both the Republican President and the Republican Senate majority leader?

I think it’s a safe bet they’ll say the same, semi-mythical “right-wing domestic terrorists” are out to get both Bush and Frist because they’re not “right-wing” enough. Of course, then they’ll go right back to lumping Bush and Frist in with the Michigan Militia crowd.

Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Grad-school dropout

Chris has already commented on Drezner's post about low retention rates at graduate school, but as a bona-fide grad-school dropout myself (ABD in philosophy, 1997, University of Rochester), I just have to put my two cents in.

I dropped because after five years my funding ran out, my dissertation on Kant's Theory of Substance was going nowhere, and the job market was looking awful. Why put myself through it anymore, when the newly-minted PhDs I saw were teaching multiple part-time gigs at Monroe Community College and St. John Fisher, and making less than I was making as a TA? So I ditched it all to become a computer geek, and seven years later, I’m doing better financially than I would have teaching. I’m making an upper middle-class income according to the Calpundit scale, and I’m living in a city that I like where there’s very little snow.

I’m not bitter, and I have no regrets except for not shooting higher in terms of what schools I applied to. I had the chance to study with a brilliant metaphysician, who was also an excellent teacher, and even got two footnotes in his book. (Even if, due to a typo, one of them reads “Sider (1997)” instead of “Sides (1997).” Grrrr.)

I could have spent 1992–1997 working some job I hated, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Grad school was a fun way to kill some time, and it’s better to drop out of grad school with very little debt than graduate from law school with a huge mountain of debt, only to discover you hate practicing law.

So go on and go to grad school. But don’t get your hopes up about a career in academia. Have a back up plan.

Lazy link blogging

Lots of interesting stuff out there today. I’m too lazy to comment on it all, so here are some links:

Tuesday Lyric Blogging

Juan Non-Volokh is doing Sunday Lyric Blogging, and Michael at Countertop Chronicles has followed up with Monday Lyric Blogging. Far be it from me not to jump on the bandwagon, so I hereby stake my claim on Tuesday.

Apropos of something or other, here’s the first verse of David Bowie’s “Savior Machine,” off his album The Man Who Sold the World (1970):

President Joe once had a dream.
The world held his hand, gave their pledge
So he told them his scheme for a Saviour Machine.
They called it the Prayer, its answer was Law.
Its logic stopped war, gave them food,
How they adored till it cried in its boredom:
Please don’t believe in me, please disagree with me.
Life is too easy, a plague seems quite feasible now,
or maybe a war, or I may kill you all.
There's a moral in there somewhere. Or maybe it's just a stand-out track from one of Bowie's best albums.

Sing for the Moment

Somehow, Nickelback’s “Someday” seems oddly appropriate as a eulogy for Howard Dean’s campaign. Don’t believe me? Take a look-see at the lyrics:

How the hell’d we wind up like this
And why weren’t we able
To see the signs that we missed
And try to turn the tables
I wish you’d unclench your fists
And unpack your suitcase
Lately there’s been too much of this
But don’t think it’s too late

Nothing’s wrong
Just as long as you know that someday I will
Someday, somehow
I’m gonna make it alright
But not right now
I know you’re wondering when
You’re the only one who knows that
Someday somehow
I’m gonna make it alright
But not right now
I know you’re wondering when

See, it’s all so obvious when you look back…

I want my 0.5% cash back!

I just ran into this annoyance while getting my groceries today at Wal-Mart. Grrr.

But it's OK to have killers on the basketball team

PG at En Banc notes the case of a gay theology student who lost his scholarship after coming out at Baylor University. In completely unrelated news, Carlton Dotson will stand trial later this year for killing ex-Baylor-teammate Patrick Dennehy.


From Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to do everything possible to pass his Gaza Strip unilateral disengagement plan in the cabinet and Knesset, even if it means forming a national-unity government or going to new elections, officials close to Sharon in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday.

More in Ha’aretz here.

The "dropout crisis" in academia

Dan Drezner has a post looking at a piece in today’s Chicago Tribune on the high dropout rate of Ph.D. students (registration required; use your favorite combo). Dan writes:

So, if there’s to be reforms to ensure a higher yield of graduate school entrants earning their Ph.D.s, there would also have to be a radical change in the culture of most academic departments. Faculty would have to tell their Ph.D.s that it’s OK to get a job in the private sector. That won’t happen soon—for tenured faculty, a key measure of prestige is how well they place their students. The more students that get jobs at top-tier institutions, the better it looks.

I think a higher yield would also require a reduced intake. Certainly at lower-tier schools, programs take in quite a few grad students on “spec,” who eventually wash out because they plainly don’t belong in grad school. That doesn’t happen so much at places like Stanford and Chicago, who have their choice of qualified potential grad students, but out here in the boonies of academia it does.

And, this gives rise to a second question: assuming all these grad students stick around, where are they going to get jobs? It’s a bitch placing the survivors now, even in fields like political science that have good placement rates (on the order of 80% and up for applicants with Ph.D.s in hand). If you think the job market is arbitrary and capricious now, just wait until departments have twice as many applicants per entry-level position—and the burden of that is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of potential professors like me, who have the same (or better) skills as students coming out of “big name” programs but whose degrees come from institutions without that name.

The only realistic solution I can see is to start revoking accreditation from Ph.D. programs to get supply and demand closer to being in check, even though I suspect the results would be monumentally unfair to many potential grad students who have the ability and interest to succeed in grad school. It’s not a solution I particularly like, but if we’re going to encourage students to stick around I think we also have to ensure they have a decent shot at a job at the end of the process.

Update: James Joyner says, “If one doesn’t fit into the academic culture in the comparatively collegial graduate school environment, one is almost certainly not going to be happy as a professional academic. This is a winnowing process that should be hailed, not cause for alarm.” And, Laura McK* thinks Dan underestimates the degree to which grad students are often treated like crap. (Speaking just for myself, I’ve had it much better than the horror stories would have you believe is typical; then again, it’s possible I just have a thick skin.)

Dean getting creamed in exit polls

Taegan Goddard has the exit poll roundup from five states, duplicated below:

South Carolina: Edwards 44, Kerry 30, Sharpton 10
Oklahoma: Edwards 31, Kerry 29, Clark 28
Missouri: Kerry 52, Edwards 23, Dean 10
Delaware: Kerry 47, Dean 14, Lieberman 11, Edwards 11
Arizona: Kerry 46, Clark 24, Dean 13

If these results hold up (a big if, given the poor exit polling performance in New Hampshire), predictions of a delegate-free Tuesday for Howie look strong and—realistically—Edwards is the only candidate who can claim to have a shot at unseating Kerry, although Clark may have an outside chance depending on how he does in the caucus states.

Update: Wonkette! reports that the Columbia Journalism Review is throwing a hissy fit:

Political Wire did the same thing in New Hampshire, though nobody raised a peep. Some readers have written in to suggest that since National Review's The Corner, and Political Wire, are blogs, rather than more traditional news outlets, and since they likely did not have contracts with the poll organizers, they're bound by different rules than, say, The Washington Post. By the standards of contract law, that may be true. But in terms of journalistic ethics, it's a copout. Once the numbers are out there, they're out there, and possibly influencing voters who haven't yet made it to the polls.

And that the culprits are blogs, and not networks, doesn't let them off the hook.

WHO THE FUCK CARES? Ahem. Thank you, I just needed to get that off my chest. (Dan Drezner has the sober response more properly befitting an academic.)

Monday, 2 February 2004

That's gotta be worth at least a quarter

Next time someone tells you “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the Democrats and the Republicans, just tell ’em what Conrad said:

The two major American political parties offer a choice between being murdered and bankrupt. Is that a great country or what?

John Thacker helpfully points out in the comments that for some values of $DEMOCRAT, you can get both, while John Swaine notes that the Liberal Democrats have already provided that option for Britons.

Hosing myself

Remind me never to fiddle with <SCRIPT> tags ever again. That’s all I have to say. Grrr…

Anyway, while I was messing everything up, I did futz with the sidebar location and add a link to the heretofore pretty-much-hidden “mobile edition.” If you prefer the sidebar on the left, click on Set appearance and time zone and choose the appropriate stylesheet. If your sidebar is still on the left, and you want it on the right, ditto.

"Malfunction": 2004's "ironic"

I think the RIAA should kick in to buy every recording artist under contract a dictionary. The latest illiterate is Justin Timberlake, who infamously declared his little stunt at the Super Bowl was a “wardrobe malfunction.” WordNet defines “malfunction” as follows:

malfunction. n : a failure to function normally. v : fail to function or function improperly; “the coffee maker malfunctioned” [syn: {misfunction}] [ant: {function}]

For something to malfunction, it must actually fail to function properly, regardless of whether or not there was intent for it to carry out that function. Janet Jackson’s chestplate/boob-holder was designed to come off if pulled hard enough (there were snaps). Ergo, it did not actually malfunction.

Another example: assume a handgun has a safety. If the safety is off, and the trigger is accidentally pulled, causing the weapon to discharge we don’t say the gun malfunctioned. The gun would only malfunction if the gun went off while the safety is on.

Yet another example: assume your car has its ignition running. If the car is in drive, and you accidentally hit the pedal, ramming your car through the front wall of your garage, it didn’t malfunction. If the car is in park, however, and you still manage to ram your car into your laundry room, then you may claim your car malfunctioned.

And, no, Ms. Morrissette, none of these scenarios constitutes irony (although a genuine malfunction might).

Loyalty Oafs

I think I’ll let Earl Black speak for me on this bit of unmitigated idiocy by South Carolina Democrats:

“It sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve heard in a long time,” said Rice University political scientist Earl Black, formerly of the University of South Carolina. “This makes no sense at all. It just steps on the effort of South Carolina Democrats to create a situation to build the party.”

What idea is so stupid? According to The State:

Voters who appear at their polling places will be asked to sign an oath swearing that “I consider myself to be a Democrat” before casting their ballots.

Hey, why stop there? Take Jonah Goldberg’s advice and reinstate literacy tests. Better yet, set up a nice collection box at the door to collect everyone's poll tax. Good thing the state legislature didn’t take down that Southern Cross from its front lawn, since it seems mighty appropriate about now.

More on this story at Jeff Quinton’s place and suburban blight.

Update: The Dems dropped the loyalty oath today faster than most single women lose Dennis Kucinich’s phone number. And Ryan of the Dead Parrots wonders if the Democrats’ news release somehow got lost in the shuffle, as it was dated Sunday—so the damaging stories never should have run.

"Reform Conservatives": Pragmatic libertarians or unreformed nanny-statists?

Somewhat apropos of Sunday’s discussion of the failure of libertarianism, the Baseball Crank considers a new camp in the conservative big tent, which he describes as “Reform Conseratism”*:

Traditionally, the conservative movement has been driven by small-government conservatism, the idea that government is too big and intrusive and spends and regulates too much. Ever since the Reagan years, the small-government conservatives have been trapped in a sort of limbo: they’ve won the battle of ideas, but lost the political battle, most spectacularly with the failure of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 revolution to eliminate any significant government programs.

Partially in response to this, we’ve seen the growth of what (at the risk of adding another sub-category) I’ve long liked to think of as Reform Conservatism. The central insight of Reform Conservatives has been that the most important problem with government programs is not that that they involve the government, but that they take choices away from individuals. The classic Reform Conservative solution is including privately controlled accounts within the Social Security system; rather than stage a losing battle over trying to scale back or get rid of the program, Reform Conservatives have focused on introducing within it an element of private choice to make the operation of Social Security more like a non-governmental program. The other signature issue of Reform Conservatives, school choice, operates the same way: it’s still redistributing taxpayer money, but the decisionmaking authority over the use of that money is shifted to parents and away from school system bureaucrats.

The Crank contrasts this approach with something he unfortunately calls “neoliberalism”†, who share the conservative critique of government failure but “prefer[] instead to have government enforce standards that demand accountability [for the failure of New Dealesque social policies], rather than depending on individual self-interest” to reform them.

Overall, I think it’s an interesting discussion of a policy area where many small-l libertarians could be encouraged to agree with elements of the conservative platform. But I think the Crank overstates the case that “Reform Conservatives” make for choice: while they attempt to capture the power of the market in their reforms, the “decisionmaking authority” that citizens receive is narrowly circumscribed. You can only use school choice money for educating your children in certain settings (you generally can’t use the cash to send them to live in Africa for a year, for example, even though that’d probably be far more educational than shuttling them back and forth to a nearby charter school). You must set aside the “private account” in social security for your retirement, rather than investing in (say) your own education, a house, or a new car, things that the average 30-year-old needs more than a nest-egg for a far-off retirement (which, given the solvency of social security, he or she’ll be lucky to see before turning 75). In the end, it’s still a government bureaucrat that ultimately decides the scope of what you can do—reform conservatives just make the scope a bit bigger.

Super Bowl 38's dominant narrative: “Nudity”

Well, I predicted the outcome, but I didn’t predict that the things everyone would be talking about would be (a) Janet Jackson’s right breast and (b) a streaker.

Any-hoo, Matt Stinson has the roundup, including Justin Timberlake’s declaration that Ms. Jackson’s exposed “boobage” was a “wardrobe malfunction.” Now, I may only have a doctorate in political science, but even I know that women don’t wear pasties† unless they think they’re going to be baring their chests. I also noticed that both Mr. Timberlake’s and Ms. Jackson’s names were pointedly omitted from the post-halftime promo for next week’s Grammy Awards.

Now, I’m not going to join the inevitable calls for FCC investigations, corporate boycotts, and other silliness that no doubt will ensue from this incident. To do so would further distract from where the attention should be, which is on both the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers for playing 60 minutes of great pro football. Kudos to both teams for giving us one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory.

Sunday, 1 February 2004

Whither the Libertarians (and the libertarians)?

Stephen Green has caused quite a stir with his two posts on the schism between “doctrinaire” and “pragmatic” libertarians over the conflict in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. The schism is really nothing new, and at some levels is analogous to the “anarchist/minarchist” split in the movement; it all basically boils down to a question of “how much of a statist can you be and still call yourself a libertarian?” Martin Devon of Patio Pundit describes it thusly:

I often hear Libertarians lament that the two party systems prevents them from being able to take power and implement their vision. Hogwash. That’s the same thing you hear from the Greens, the Ross Perots and Jesse Venturas. Feh. The Republican and Democrat parties have dominated the political landscape because they’ve done the difficult work of translating a guiding philosophy into votes. In order to that they’ve had to cut some corners and make some unholy alliances. Libertarians could do the same thing.

As many bloggers have commented, there is a segment of the American population who believe in the “leave me alone” school. In order to make them happy you just have to leave them alone—on guns, on gays, on regulation, on religion. These sentiments draw considerable support from both red states and blue states, and therefore Libertarians could amass power by taking over the leadership of either the Democrats or the Republicans.

The truth is that they already have, but when they compromise enough to win power Libertarians are too pure to recognize one of their own. What do you think Arnold the Governator is? He’s a Libertarian who has traded some purity for power.

Now, as someone who himself has left the Libertarian Party for many of the same reasons that Stephen and others are repelled by it, I don’t know that I can offer any constructive advice. In a lot of ways, the party is trapped by the dominant narrative created for it by the media: full of weird people who have turned themselves blue or have strange views on prison rehabilitation and meet with potential voters in pizza parlors. That alone makes the “Ron Paul” strategy a compelling one. In other ways—although Martin discounts it—the party is trapped by electoral rules designed to favor the existing parties and agenda-setting effects by the press that stop libertarians from advancing their message through unpaid media. The LP has spent decades building a grassroots organization, the net impact of which on American politics has been approximately zero—by contrast, the small amount of media attention Ralph Nader garnered for the Greens in 2000 allowed them to build a comparably strong party organization in mere months.

But “Ron Paulism” isn’t all that effective either. Neither major party’s leading presidential contenders come close to sharing libertarian values—the Republicans treat their alleged principles of limited and small government as bargaining chips to be traded for support from the hard right, while the Democrats sit around whining about a PATRIOT Act that virtually all of them voted in favor of for cynical electoral reasons. The desperation associated with being in the “electoral wilderness” has brought Democrats closer to socialism, not libertarianism, and there’s no reason to believe a few years out of the White House will make Republicans genuinely turn to libertarian ideas either—they, like the Democrats, are far too wedded to the concept of The State as a credible moral actor, the only difference being that they’d use it to advance different moral ends. I don’t know what the solution is, but it isn’t going to come from John F. Kerry or George W. Bush.

Update: Gary Farber thinks Eric Raymond’s piece takes the slippery slope argument a tad too far.

Superbowl prediction

Patriots by 3—even though I want the Panthers to win.

Howard's End: Wisconsin?

Both Sean Hackbarth and Matt Ygelsias note new Dean campaign head honcho Roy Neel’s submarine strategy for gaining the nomination:

Our goal for the next two and a half weeks is simple—become the last-standing alternative to John Kerry after the Wisconsin primary on February 17.

Why Wisconsin? First, it is a stand-alone primary where we believe we can run very strong. Second, it kicks off a two-week campaign for over 1,100 delegates on March 2, and the shift of the campaign that month to nearly every big state: California, New York, and Ohio on March 2, Texas and Florida on March 9, Illinois on March 16, and Pennsylvania on April 27.

In the meantime, Howard Dean is traveling to many of the February 3 states, sending surrogates—including Al Gore—to most, and conducting radio interviews in all. We believe that one or more of our major opponents will be eliminated that day, and that the others will fall by the wayside as our strength grows in the following days. As a result we have elected to not buy television advertisements in February 3 states, but instead direct our resources toward the February 7 and 8 contests in Michigan, Washington and Maine. We may not win any February 3 state, but even third place finishes will allow us to move forward, continue to amass delegates in Virginia and Tennessee on February 10, and then strongly challenge Kerry in Wisconsin.

Regardless of who takes first place in these states, we think that after Wisconsin we’ll get Kerry in the open field. Remember one crucial thing about the 2004 calendar—in previous years a front-runner or presumptive nominee would typically emerge after most of the states had voted and most of the delegates had been chosen. The final competitor to that candidate, even if he won late states, as many have done, has not been able to win a majority of delegates under any scenario.

This year is very different. The media and the party insiders will attempt to declare Kerry the winner on February 3 after fewer than 10% of the state delegates have been chosen. At that point Kerry himself will probably have claimed fewer than one third of the delegates he needs to win. They would like the campaign to be over before the voters of California, New York, Texas and nearly every other big state have spoken.

Democrats in Florida, who witnessed a perversion of democracy in November 2000, will not have a choice concerning the nominee if the media and the party insiders have their way.

We intend to make this campaign a choice. We alone of the remaining challengers to John Kerry are geared to the long haul—we’ve raised nearly $2 million in the week after Iowa, over $600,000 in the 48 hours since New Hampshire. No candidate—not even Kerry, who mortgaged his house and tapped his personal fortune to funnel $7 million into his campaign—will have sufficient funds to advertise in all, or even most, of the big states that fall on March 2 and beyond. At that point paid advertising becomes much less of a factor.

The question is whether Dean’s campaign can stop the bleeding long enough, and keep the cash rolling in, while Kerry racks up primary wins in state after state and pulls ahead in the delegate count. February 17th isn’t that far off, but for Dean—who may not pick up a single delegate between today and then, due to the 15% threshold rule†—it could nonetheless be too far off. To be competitive after Wisconsin, Dean will need the cash in hand to run effective ads in “big media” states like California, Florida, and Texas to counter the inevitable publicity and fundraising advantages Kerry will have as the presumptive frontrunner, and to expand his base beyond the core activists and true believers. Presumably Dean will pick up some support from Clark’s base after Clark leaves the field, but I don’t think that’s enough to build a lead over Kerry anywhere.

That isn’t to say it’s a bad strategy to employ, relative to all the others. Dean already knew February 3rd was a lost cause without the expected momentum from New Hampshire and Iowa, and he can probably wait out Clark and Lieberman’s inevitable withdrawals. The race should be a 3-man contest by the time Wisconsin rolls around, assuming Edwards wins South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. I just don’t know that any strategy can save the Dean campaign now, barring a collapse by Kerry.

Update: Colby Cosh notes that Joe Lieberman may win more delegates than Dean on Tuesday, due to the former’s decent showing in the polls in Delaware. However, Steven Jens’s estimates disagree.

Also of note: Eric Lindholm finds promise in the strategy, while Greg of Begging to Differ doesn’t see how it could work.