Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Inequitable metaphors, repost

Since Sebastian Holsclaw is reposting some of his early stuff at from his own blog at Obsidian Wings, I’ll take the opportunity to repost my response to his post. I wrote:

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

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

But anyway, Sebastian is a good addition to Obsidian Wings, which has of late become one of my three favorite blogs (pushing out the Volokh Conspiracy).

Blogging etiquette question

Question for other bloggers out there: how do you prefer to be referred to in other blogs? First name and last name? First name only? Last name only? Title with name?

I’ve been using the following convention. I use first and last name the first time I refer to another blogger in a blog post. I use just the first name on subsequent references, unless the person has a high-status title, such as “Professor” or “Doctor,” in which case I use title and last name.

For some reason the blogosphere seems more familiar than the world of print. I’d never, for example, refer to David Brooks as “David,” but I find it difficult to refer to Will Baude as “Baude.”

Just for reference, I’m fine with being called “Brock.”

Peabody ducks

Will Baude today heard of the Peabody ducks for the first time.

I’ll count this as the tie-breaker for the Memphis Schelling point. I had two votes for the gates of Graceland, and two votes for the lobby of the Peabody.

You have heard of Graceland, right, Will?

Taking its toll

Today’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that a bill authorizing toll roads in Mississippi is working its way through the legislature, and seems to have a pretty good chance of passage this year—it has the support of the entire (separately elected) Transportation Commission, and it’s already passed the full Senate and the House Transportation Committee.

So far, the only two projects singled out for tolling are a seven-mile connector between the state port at Gulfport and I-10 on the coast and the proposed airport connector between downtown Jackson and the metro airport in Rankin County. However, the bill opens the door for other projects to be tolled as well, provided there is a nearby free alternative, which means Mississippi’s part of the Memphis Outer Beltway, new Highway 304 between Collierville and Hernando, is a serious candidate, as the tolls would enable construction to begin years sooner than otherwise planned.

Hot Air America

James Joyner of OTB notes the debut of the apparently sincerely-named “Air America Network,” the much vaunted left-wing alternative to right-wing talk radio, featuring such noted radio personalities as Al Franken and Janeane Garafalo (no sarcastic comments about “faces made for radio,” please!).

The good news is, if you’re a lefty excluded from the Air America commercial broadcast footprint (for example, in such minor broadcasting markets as Washington, D.C.), is that this fine programming is also available nationwide on XM Radio Channel 167, under the slightly less stupid (and more honest) name “XM America Left.” I may or may not tune in (I generally despise talk radio as a format, so bet on “may not”; plus, you’d have to pry me away from XM’s great music offerings, not to mention ESPN Radio), but if I do I’ll probably post a review. At least the morning lineup looks like it has some potential…

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Election reform

Russell Arben Fox has a lengthy summary of an article from February’s American Political Science Review, “Election Time: Normative Implications of Temporal Properties of the Electoral Process in the United States,” by Dennis F. Thompson.

Unlike my usual practice when it comes to the APSR (which is to scan the table of contents, find nothing of immediate interest to my research agenda, and then dump it onto the stack of journals—yes, I’m a bad political scientist when it comes to journal-reading), I actually read the article, and while I’m not quite as enthusiastic about Thompson’s conclusions as Russell is (particularly because I don’t at all buy the argument that campaign finance regulations, no matter how strict, will put an end to the “permanent campaign”), I agree that Thompson does make some worthwhile contributions to the debate, including a strong argument that partisan gerrymandering is fundamentally antidemocratic.

I do wonder, however, where one buys a single copy of the APSR, as Russell implores his readers to do. My advice: go to your local college’s library and read it for free.

Citizen Smash: Lobbyist

Dean Esmay points out this interesting post by Citizen Smash, in which he talks to his local congresswoman, Susan Davis, about requiring government contractors to obey the law on the treatment of guardsmen and reservists when they return from active duty, or risk losing their government contracts.

There’s more at Phil Carter’s Intel Dump website:

In an ideal world, we’d have nothing but good corporate citizens, and there’d be no need for this kind of law. Indeed, I believe that most American corporations do the right thing when it comes to their reservist-employees. Yet, there are companies out there that don’t do the right thing, and it adds insult to injury when we allow those companies to profit from taxpayer money.

I concur with Phil: write your representative and your senators and tell them you want them to support this proposal. Better yet: call either their Washington office or local field office.

Keeping up with the Johnses

The Commercial Appeal (reg. required) yesterday took the admirable, if belated, stand that tossing a ton of public money at yet another publicly-funded sports facility wouldn’t be a great idea (at least, not for now). At issue is the deteriorating 1965 Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (which dates from prior to my parents’ attendance at then-Memphis State University). The editorial says:

A major overhaul could cost 125 million or more. …

Councilman Rickey Peete suggested spending 5 million for minimal repairs if the work would buy a few more years of use.

The CA endorses the third option. But let’s go look at the benchmark for comparison:

It should be noted that the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, one of the largest stadiums in the country, has seen 16 renovations since 1921, according to the school’s web site. Renovations apparently have served UT well, since there are enough seats for 104,079 fans.

By comparison, the 62,380-seat Liberty Bowl has been twice renovated since it was built, according to the university.

To the best of my recollection, Neyland’s renovations were financed with money from boosters… and UT, which attracts 100,000 fans per game, needs the space—heck, they could probably sell another 20,000 seats if they had the space to install them. The Liberty Bowl, however, is lucky to attract 30,000 fans per Memphis home game in a typical season: last year, the team set a record by attracting an average of 40,262, a figure skewed by both the presence of the Ole Miss home game on the schedule (which attracted 51,914 fans, many of whom weren’t big Tigers supporters) and the Tigers’ atypically good performance in 2003. Don’t count on more than 35,000 per this year. (Stats from here.)

More to the point, the editorial doesn’t mention the real driving force behind a new stadium for the Tigers: keeping up with the Joneses. Or, in their case, keeping up with the Louisville Cardinals and their privately-financed Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which manages to seat 42,000 fans in comfort (i.e. still above the realistic attendance level the Tigers can expect regularly) at the bargain price of $65 million—half the estimated cost the CA cites for an all-new stadium. (Louisville’s stadium is actually a “horseshoe” that can eventually be expanded with additional end-zone seating, similar to the current configuration of Ole Miss’ larger 60,580-seat Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, also paid for by private donations.)

Unlike Louisville’s boosters, however, the Highland Hundred want to dig into their fellow citizens’ pockets to pay for their new deluxe stadium. Why shouldn’t they? Michael Heisley, a man with no ties to Memphis at all, was able to schmooze and finagle his way into getting taxpayers to pony up for the FedExForum, leaving the Pyramid (which, admittedly, is a horribly designed basketball arena building) to do nothing except blind passing airline pilots with the reflection from its roof. Now all the Hundred have to figure out is how to shoehorn a football stadium west of Danny Thomas Blvd. and they’ll be all set!

Idiots on parade

Robert Garcia Tagorda helpfully notes the geographic illiteracy of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, who somehow managed to include the Philippines and Thailand among a list of countries aiding and abetting terrorists in one of those stupid “fundraising polls” that are included in letters soliciting donors.

Robert’s right: the only fitting word is “idiotic.” Especially when you consider that, as Conrad of The Gweilo Diaries points out, the Philippine government just broke up a major terrorist plot involving Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda affiliate group.

Two Dicks

Dan Drezner assesses Richard Clarke’s book thusly:

Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it’s clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

Dan also provides more ammunition for those of us who think Dick Cheney should get the boot—not just because he’s deadweight on the ticket, but also because he “ha[s] inserted himself into the National Security Council process in a way that deliberately or accidentally sabotaged the decision-making process.”

As Glenn Reynolds might say: double-ouch.

Update: Hei Lun of Begging to Differ has more on Clarke’s alleged Republican credentials (frankly, mine are better). Special bonus: yet another takedown of Josh Marshall’s risible assertion that “I have no stake in Richard Clarke.”

Monday, 29 March 2004

Who's the Tory, morning glory?

Colby Cosh ponders whether or not the new Conservative Party north of the border is properly thought of as “Tory.” Colby notes the key problem:

The problem is that by equating “Conservative” with “Tory” we basically discard the useful 20th-century concept of a “Tory” as someone who is Anglophile, monarchist, elitist, ceremony-loving, truly conservative about certain institutions, and committed to property and the existing class order.

Canadian Conservatives, he argues, haven’t really been “Tories” since John Diefenbaker’s rule in the 1950s, and, indeed, the new “Conservative Party” is even further from the Tory ideal. Of course, arguably, it’s not even conservative any more, at least in the sense of defending the established Trudeauian order. Neither are the Liberals very liberal, for that matter, except when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money on boondoggles like the $1 billlion CDN national gun registry.

Ford for Senate

Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered links a pretty good Nashville Scene bio/interview of Memphis’ Harold Ford, Jr., a likely candidate for U.S. senator in 2006.

Sunday, 28 March 2004

BlogMatrix Jäger

I finally got David Janes’ new feedreader working under Windows XP (the previous 0.4.something release just seemed to hang, but 0.5.01 works fine). It’s a pretty slick tool, although there are a few minor quibbles I’d make:

  • It doesn’t seem to discover Atom feeds, which seems odd. (I’m not sure if it supports Atom or not—that may explain why it doesn’t discover Atom feeds.)
  • The “Political Righties” blogroll (InstaPundit, Lileks, Marginal Revolution, Samizdata, Volokh) seems, well, not to have any real righties in it, at least when compared with the “Lefties” blogroll (Calpundit, Crooked Timber, Eschaton/Atrios, Matt Welch, TalkLeft, and This Modern World/Tom Tomorrow). Maybe that’s a Canuck thing.
  • Signifying Nothing isn’t included in the default blogroll anywhere. (Just kidding on that one.)

Anyway, I probably won’t be using it myself, at least not until the promised Linux port happens (and, even then, I think Straw has it beat in the features department, although Jäger does have some neat built-in heuristics for dealing with blogs that don’t have syndication feeds), but if you live in Windows it’s probably worth taking for a spin.


Will Baude has “mixed feelings” about the illegality of dueling, and asks:

How did the introduction of the pistol change dueling culture? When did "pistols or swords?" first become a choice, and how did this new choice on the part of the challenged man change the game theory of duelling? Did this deter duels (as it logically should, since now the challenger knew that his opponent would get to pick the weapon with which he was relatively stronger)? Did those who regularly felt offended make a point to practice both shooting and stabbing?

I can’t imagine what positive aspects of dueling would prompt Baude to have mixed feelings about the barbaric practice, and I don’t have any particular answers to his questions. But Baude may want to find a copy of the March 2004 issue of Smithsonian magazine, in which there is an article on dueling.

Two interesting tidbits from the article:

Perhaps as a way of relieving ennui, the French weren't averse to pushing the pushing the envelope in matters of form. In 1808, two Frenchman fought in balloons over Paris; one was shot down and killed with his second. Thirty-five years later, two others tried to settle their differences by skulling each other with billiard balls.
Even in dueling's heyday, reluctant warriors were known to express reservations about their involvement by shooting into the air or, after receiving fire, not returning it. Occasionally they chose their weapons -- howitzers, sledgehammers, forkfuls of pig dung -- for their very absurdity, as a way of making a duel seem ridiculous.

Nerf guns at twenty paces!

USM Update

Sunday’s Clarion-Ledger has three articles on the ongoing Southern Miss saga:

  • USM director of resource and risk management Jack Hanbury gives slightly more detail on the background of the investigation of suspended professors Glamser and Stringer; key quote:
    Hanbury said Thames asked him to investigate the professors only after Hanbury received information that indicated “very serious misconduct.”

    The information came from Kentucky and arrived after the issue went public, Thames has said.

  • USM’s Angie Dvorak sits down with the Clarion-Ledger to clarify her curriculum vitae.
  • Ole Miss journalism professor Joe Atkins has an op-ed on the regional antipathy to unions that ties in Thames’ bogus allegation that the AAUP is a labor union.

In other USM news, the school hired disgraced former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy as its new basketball coach on Thursday, replacing fired coach James Green.

More updates at Liberty & Power and the Fire Shelby Thames! website.

Friday, 26 March 2004

Crank Yanks Clarke

The Baseball Crank has a pretty good analysis of the Clinton-Bush response to terror prior to 9/11. Key graf:

Bottom line: yes, in hindsight, both the Bush and Clinton Administrations, with more foresight, could have done more on both counts [Iraq and al-Qaeda]. Yes, they should have done more. Yes, I hand Clinton the larger share of the blame, at least as far as the failure to develop a long-range offensive strategy is concerned – whereas it appears that Bush was at least thinking in that direction. On the defensive question (i.e., having the homeland on alert), there’s less to fault Clinton and a bit to question about Bush, but I regard the failings as mostly institutional – the problem was the inability to pursue evidentiary leads and get urgent warnings up the ladder, rather than a failure of leadership.

Elsewhere: The Belgravia Dispatch finds The New Republic in November 2001 saying much different things about Richard Clarke than it is today (scroll down to “Interesting Update” – link via Glenn Reynolds), while Steven Taylor and Dan Drezner, as always, have interesting things to say.

TSA screeners may go bye-bye

Sean Hackbarth notes that widespread dissatisfaction with the efficiency of the government’s airline screening may lead to over 100 (of 429) commercial airports ditching TSA screeners once the government screening monopoly ends in mid-November.

Good and bad news

The bad news first: two more Φ letters today. Neither, however, had the audacity to take the opportunity to tell me how great the person they hired is; for that, I am happy.

The good news: it looks like I’ll be spending about a week in France this summer at the Libre Software Meeting in Bordeaux, working on printing stuff for free software, like the semi-stalled Foomatic-GUI and the Debian Foomatic packages, thanks to the meeting’s sponsors (as I couldn’t afford the trip myself, that elusive tenure-track job still not having shown up at my door). It’s hard to believe I haven’t been to France in 14 years; I probably should brush up on my French, n’est-ce que pas?

Huzzah and kudos

Congratulations to Roberto Antonio Ferreira De Almeida on finishing his port of Textile 2 syntax to Python. I’ll be shunting it in “behind the scenes” here at Signifying Nothing shortly.

The pedagogy of blogging

Eugene Volokh points out a law professor who’s integrating a blog into the classroom experience. I’ve personally wondered whether that would be appropriate for an undergraduate course; presumably, the privacy issue isn’t problematic (or, at least, no more problematic than requiring students to give oral presentations). I guess the main issue is whether a professor can expect students to be technically competent enough to use a blog properly—though I suspect the undergraduate who can’t use a word processor, a harder task than blogging, is few and far between.

Of course, before a practical implementation for LSblog, I’d have to add all the security code I’ve been meaning to add behind the scenes (to make a distinction between users and administrators—at the moment, anyone with a login can hose the blog). Projects, projects…

My more immediate concern, however, is writing a paper for the Midwest conference. I figure if Dan Drezner can spin his blog posts into an article in Foreign Affairs, I can spin this into a conference paper. I’ll post more about it when I actually accomplish something on it…

TV Nation

Over at Freespace, guest blogger Erik Peterson writes:

If you’ve seen Roger and Me, you know its about Moore’s attempts to get an audience with General Motors CEO Roger Smith. This was supposed to show how aloof and uncaring and inaccessible corporate dictators can be.

Moore has met with Smith a couple of times since then, including once on his short-lived show TV Nation, where Smith came down and changed the oil in a truck to demonstrate CEOs can do what their employees do.

I don’t know whether Roger Smith has ever met with Moore or not, but it was not Roger Smith who won the “CEO challenge” on TV Nation. I remember watching that episode, and it was the CEO of Ford.

More on the Pledge

Jacob Levy sums up precisely why I don't like the Pledge of Allegiance, with or without "under God":
every schoolchild in America, every one who doesn't make a spectacle of him or herself by conscientiously objecting, is expected every schoolday to
pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America And to the Republic for which it stands One nation under God, indivisivible, with liberty and justice for all
which is, really, an awful lot like an oath of loyalty and citizenship.
Voluntary or involuntary, religious or secular, children should not be encouraged to take oaths. That includes the Pledge of Allegiance, promises never to use drugs, and promises never to have pre-marital sex.

Alex Tabarrok, however, goes a bit over the top in opposing the pledge for similar reasons. You've heard of Godwin's Law, haven't you, Prof. Tabarrok?

Thursday, 25 March 2004

Fault line

Tyler Cowen points out new research that indicates no-fault divorce laws have led to lower levels of domestic violence and suicide among women.

More Newdow

Jacob Levy has a very good post on the Pledge of Allegiance and its contemporary meaning. I tend to agree with Levy that “[i]f the words are not serious—and they’re not, anymore—if they’re just mindless blather, then they demean something that shouldn’t be demeaned.” When something is said by rote rather than with conviction—as the Pledge is, daily, in public schools—I think it is inherently devalued.

Not that this has much to do with the constitutionality of including “under God” in the pledge, mind you, as Jacob acknowledges. And I’m not sure what exactly to make of Jacob’s suggestion of “a one-time citizenship oath sworn at age 18” as an alternative to the Pledge. But I do think that people who take God seriously ought to wonder whether His name ought to be included as a footnote of something that our society treats as nothing more than a ritual incantation.

Wednesday, 24 March 2004

TMI about FGM

Kelley is shocked to learn that the Georgia legislature is proposing a law that will ban not only the barbaric practice known as “female genital mutilation” or FGM (which I’ll spare you the details of), but also female genital piercings.

Dick Clarke's Rockin' March 24th

I think the general reaction to today’s Richard Clarke testimony can be summed up as something of a redux of the David Kay testimony a few months back: everyone was able to take away something to reinforce their preexisting views, and a few blowhard politicos got to spend a lot of time listening to themselves talk.

What’s pretty obvious is that Clarke is saying significantly different things today than he was in 2002. And, as Steven Taylor and Stephen Green note, Clarke wasn’t exactly winning friends and influencing people up on the Hill during either the Clinton or Bush administrations; the normally mild-mannered Chris Shays had this, in part, to say about Clarke’s help to his subcommittee on national security:

Before September 11, 2001, we held twenty hearings and two formal briefings on terrorism issues. Mr. Clarke was of little help in our oversight. When he briefed the Subcommittee, his answers were both evasive and derisive.

Shays, as Taylor notes, is no Republican firebrand—he was one of the few GOP congressmen to not support Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, and has been somewhat marginalized in the caucus for that stand.

The substance of Clarke’s criticisms seems to actually be refuted by the evidence (not to mention his own words from 2002 and earlier)—the administration was formulating an aggressive policy to go after Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda even prior to 9/11, administration officials Clarke criticizes (most notably, Condoleeza Rice) were well versed in the threat that al-Qaeda posed to the United States,* and the administration kept Iraq on the “back burner” for over a year after the Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan.

Always look on the bright side of life

Monty Python’s Life of Brian is being re-released to theaters.

Perhaps as a double-feature with Passion of the Christ?


Is it just me, or is David Bernstein striving to single-handedly turn the Volokh Conspiracy into Little Green Footballs?

Script Kiddies = Linux?

Dowingba has a rather ridiculous viewpoint on the SCO/Linux dispute:

Now, I haven’t been following the SCO vs Linux debate very closely, but the MyDoom DDOS attack automatically made me lose sympathy for the Linux argument. Only children and terrorists act that way when they have run out of arguments. Admit you’re wrong, make a new OS, or shut up.

As I pointed out in his comment section, MyDoom (and its variants) was almost certainly the product of a few immature “script kiddies,” and while a few morons at Slashdot cheered it on, they don’t represent the Linux community at all. I recommend reading the background on the SCO/Linux dispute, rather than casting aspersions based on the behavior of idiots who have little, if anything, to do with Linux.

Update: Dowingba has updated his post, explaining his position a bit better. For my part, I think the statement that Linux advocates should “admit you’re wrong, make a new OS, or shut up” is what really set me off: SCO is clearly in the wrong and is grasping at straws because its own efforts to promote Linux under its former name “Caldera” foundered—so now it’s shaking down everyone and anyone who actually had a decent business plan.

Schelling points, revisited

Last week I asked readers to submit Schelling points for Memphis: places that you would go to meet somebody if you had prearranged the meeting time but not the place, and you just had to guess where that person would be (knowing that the other person would be guessing where you would be). I also asked about Schelling points for the U.S. and the world.

I myself would choose the gates of Graceland for Memphis, the steps of the Capitol for the U.S., and the top of the Eiffel Tower for the world.

In Memphis, Scott Hayes and Mike Hollihan would meet me at the gates of Graceland.

Randal Woodland would miss me, because he would be in the lobby of the Peabody, “even though I’m resigned to the fact that the person I’m meeting will probably be at Graceland.” Alexander Ignatiev and Chip Taylor will be there as well.

For the U.S., there will be no successful meeting. Scott Hayes will at least be in the same city as I will, but at the Washington Monument. Alexander Ignatiev will be in New York at Madison Square Garden. Chip Taylor and Scott Hayes will also be in New York, at the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, respectively.

In the world, Skip Perry will meet me at the Eiffel Tower. Alexander Ignatiev will be at Trafalgar Square, and Scott Hayes will be at the Taj Mahal.

Thanks to everyone who submitted answers!

The end of Cerebus

Brian Doherty, in the American Spectator, writes a eulogy for Dave Sim’s comic book epic Cerebus, which ended this month with the 300th issue.

Digging back through my comic boxes, I see that I stopped reading Cerebus at issue 206, at which point the mysogyny and general pretentiousness became too much for me. Doherty’s article makes me think I didn’t really miss anything in the last 94 issues.

But I highly recommend picking up a copy of High Society.

Hat tip to Hit and Run.

Harold Ford, Jr., at Moonie event

Via John Gorenfeld, I learned that my Congressman, Harold Ford, Jr., was present at last night’s “Crown of Peace” awards dinner, hosted by none other than the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Moon himself received an award for “lifelong public service.”

Harold Ford, Jr., as Chris has noted before is “Congressman-for-life-if-he-wants-it,” and I doubt his Republican opponent for the Senate in 2008 will be able to make much of this, given the closeness of Moon to certain prominent Republicans. But Ford is rumored to have even higher ambitions, and an association with the loathsome Moon would not be something I would want on my resume if I were running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 or 2020.

Hat tip to Wonkette.


Amanda Butler has a first-hand report on the oral argument of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (a.k.a. the Pledge of Allegiance case). Like Amanda, I think Newdow has the better argument here; however, I doubt that will be enough to sway 5 justices to strip “under God” from the pledge.

Deliberation Day returns

The idea of “Deliberation Day” is back in the press, and Steven Taylor—a former student of James Fishkin at UT-Austin—finds the whole idea rather wanting:

There is also the problem of what will be told to the citizens-for-hire during that 24 hour period. I know for a fact that both Ackerman and Fishkin are both rather focused on the issue of distrbutive justice (read: economic distribution) in the context of the liberal state (and not, specifically a classical liberal state but the liberal-welfare state that emerges as a strain of liberalism in the twentieth century). For example, Ackerman’s Social Justice in the Liberal State (1980) while well-written, highly readable, and fun to discuss in class, is a remarkably impractical (and, to me, utterly unpersuasive) attempt to justify economic egalitarianism (at least at the start of each generation).

As for civic competence in general:

Further, if we want better citizens, how about just providing better and more complete American Government classes in High School? How about having someone other than the basketball coach teach government and history? These seem more auspicious places to start.

You can read Brendan Conway’s critique of Ackerman and Fishkin at OpinionJournal (or, quite possibly, in the actual Wall Street Journal), which contains this rather devastating passage:

To test things out, Messrs. Ackerman and Fishkin conducted experimental “deliberative polls” to simulate DDay. To be sure, the weekend-long events seemed to make participants know more. But they also ended up as more vocal advocates of government activism. Perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence.

Foreign aid, energy-conservation schemes, the United Nations and revenue-sharing all became more popular over the course of the polls. Is this because smarter, more informed citizens arrive at activist, liberal positions? It is impossible to avoid the impression that the authors think so. “Participants entered the Deliberative Poll as citizens of the United States and left, to some measurable degree, as citizens of the world,” they write approvingly. Maybe the briefing materials had something to do with this transformation. They were “typically supervised for balance and accuracy by an advisory board of relevant experts and stakeholders.”

This claim raises an interesting question: Just who decides who it is who decides what is balanced and accurate? Maybe Messrs. Ackerman and Fishkin do, or experts they trust. But isn’t that in itself a problem? Indeed, the whole notion of DDay is, in its essence, nondeliberative. Its rules and forms and structures—not to mention those briefing materials and the advisers who supervise them—are handed down from on high rather than arrived at through democratic, um, deliberation. This is a rich irony of which the authors are seemingly unaware.

I previously took issue with Ackerman and Fishkin’s idea here and here.

Update: Robert Musil has more.

Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Invisible Departure

As James Joyner notes, the Invisible Adjunct is leaving the building: both the halls of academe and the world of blogging. As someone who’s seriously considered departing the academy himself (although for financial rather than career-related reasons—though, if I don’t have a job lined up for the fall by the end of next month, it could very well be for both), I wish IA all the best in whatever she finds to do post-academe.

The economics of "bundled" anti-virus software

Michael Jennings ponders who pays who to include the trial versions of Norton AntiVirus on laptops. My guess is Norton supplies the software either gratis or at a low, lump-sum price.

I’m most unlikely to pay for an anti-virus subscription on my new laptop, as I have a virus scanner that processes all my mail anyway, and I really don’t download much software for Windows (except essential stuff like Adobe Reader and the like); I do most of my real work in Linux, and have done for going on a decade. If I see a Norton Utilities 2004 bundle (which includes an annual Norton Anti-Virus subscription) especially cheap at Costco, however, I might reconsider.

Smart move

I was sort-of thinking in the back of my mind that if incoming Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wanted to prove he was serious about terrorism, he’d reassign those troops he’s talking about removing from Iraq to Afghanistan. As Edward of Obsidian Wings notes, that’s pretty much what he plans to do. Good for him.

Now, if he’d actually been smart enough to announce this proposal at the time he was talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq, he might have been spared the blistering treatment he got from this side of the pond.

More Clarke

David Adesnik writes:

But when it comes down to getting votes, I think there are only two questions that really matter: Did Bush ignore (and then withhold) compelling evidence that Al Qaeda was preparing a major attack? And did Bush knowingly lie about Iraq’s possession of chemical and biological (not nuclear) weapons? Unless Clarke can answer one or both of those questions in the affirmative, his revelations won’t amount to much more than a very loud footnote.

I think that’s just about right.

Update: Dan Drezner has a roundup and a more expert reaction.

One thing I will say: the sum total of my international relations training is four graduate courses, and my scholarship focuses on mass political behavior (public opinion, voting behavior, political parties, things like that) and legislative behavior, not IR theory or practice. I’ll defer to Dan and James Joyner on the substance of IR policy—though, to the extent the discussion has an impact on electoral politics or public opinion, I’m probably a decent judge.

Monday, 22 March 2004

Firefox Redux

Both Chelle and Steven Taylor have come to know the bliss that is Mozilla Firefox.

Wrong headline

Shouldn’t the real story in this account be that Aggie football player Geoff Hangartner was charged with driving while intoxicated—a criminal offense that endangers the lives of others, I might mention—and not whether or not he used “racial slurs”—a form of vile and offensive behavior that might have endangered his own life but doesn’t lead to physical danger to others?

Celebrate Malaysia?

Eric Lindholm and Wind Rider think the results of Malaysia’s latest election are cause for celebration and a repudiation of fundamentalist Islam by that country’s voters. While undoubtably the incoming National Front coalition government (led by the UMNO) of Abdullah Badawi will continue to pay lip service to western governments’ fight against Islamic terror, I would be most cautious in characterizing any electoral outcome in Malaysia as reflecting popular opinion—graft, patronage, corruption, gerrymandering, and other undemocratic ills are rife in Malaysian politics, and while the departure of Badawi’s predecessor, the vile Mahathir Mohammed, from the public scene is welcome, it is unlikely that his hands are very far from the levers of power in Kuala Lampur.

For more background on Malaysia’s electoral process, I strongly recommend The Economist’s coverage ($). According to the piece, the UMNO wasn’t exactly shy about its religious credentials during the campaign:

At campaign rallies around the state [of Kedah, which borders Thailand in the northwest part of the country], leaders from both parties [UMNO and the Islamic PAS] harp on about the Koran and utter incantations in Arabic. Mr Badawi's father was a respected religious scholar, and he himself studied Islam at university. Compared to his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, who took it upon himself to interpret the true meaning of the faith despite a relatively secular upbringing, Mr Badawi is the very image of learned and measured piety.

And, the election was essentially rigged from the get go:

The electoral rules are also heavily stacked in the National Front's favour. Malaysia's first-past-the-post system translates small margins of victory into big parliamentary majorities. The eight-day campaign period has left the opposition with almost no time to raise its profile with the electorate. The media is unashamedly biased, with adulation of the ruling party interrupted only by dismissive digs at the opposition. The Election Commission, too, has redrawn districts in a manner that favours UMNO. In Kedah, for example, it helpfully moved an area that UMNO had won by over 5,000 votes in 1999 into a constituency that PAS had won by 3,000 votes. Of 26 new parliamentary seats, not one was awarded to Kedah, Kelantan or Terengganu, the states where PAS is strongest. The government, it seems, has more influence than god, even in a god-fearing state like Kedah.

Of course, if your primary concern isn’t democracy but global government “support” for the War on Terror, I guess you could see this as good news.

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

Update: Glenn Reynolds is also (unjustly) enthused about the results.


Much blogospheric virtual ink has been spilled over Richard Clarke’s new book revelations about internal administration discussions about the response to 9/11. I am generally compelled to agree with Steven Taylor and James Joyner, who generally characterize the revelations as “old wine in new bottles,” to borrow a phrase.

Nevertheless, the political risk to the Bush administration is substantial. Not just because of the flood-the-zone coverage that Kevin Drum has applied or the widespread optimism that this scandal will stick to the Teflon Shrub, but also because it dovetails nicely with the Lisa Myers spin on the reactions of the Bush and Clinton administrations to Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11: Clinton was “too weakened by scandal” to attack Osama (in the two years after impeachment, mind you), so the blame necessarily falls to Bush—who, you might recall, didn’t exactly have the strongest of mandates from the electorate—in the eight months of his administration prior to 9/11.

Nonetheless I think the political argument for using Dick Cheney as the fall guy is stronger than ever—not right away, but a mid-June announcement that Mr. Cheney’s ticker isn’t 100% seems increasingly likely (particularly if Cheney v. U.S.D.C. District of Columbia looks like it went badly).

Update: Dan Darling points out Clarke’s role in the decision to attack the Sudanese al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in 1998, which was based on allegations that Osama bin Laden was working with Iraq to produce VX nerve gas precursors at the facility.

B5 fandom in the oddest places

Heidi Bond feels as if she is “being nibbled to death by cats.” Somehow that seems oddly appropriate given her running battle with Will Baude over the merits and demerits of ducks.

Sunday, 21 March 2004


Well, it’s not quite as exciting as the demise of Osama—or even al-Zawahiri—but if you’re a friend of Israel (or just an enemy of terror), the departure of Hamas ringleader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from this earth will be quite delightful news.

If you haven’t had your quota of hysterical laughter today, I recommend perusing the reaction of Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority:

This is a crazy and very dangerous act. It opens the door wide to chaos. Yassin is known for his moderation and he was controlling Hamas and therefore this is a dangerous, cowardly act. [emphasis added]

Of course, this is a perfectly understandable reaction once you realize that Yassin’s death puts Mr. Qureia’s boss at the head of the Israelis’ list.

Fubar brackets

Steven Taylor’s bracket is hosed. So is my entry in The Kitchen Cabinet’s annual tourney, as I picked Kentucky to win it all. Damn that siren Ashley Judd!

In other NCAA news, the Ole Miss Lady Rebels got beat by Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Womens’ Tournament tonight. The good news: the Rebel baseball team swept Vandy in this weekend’s three-game series, improving their record to 17–1 on the season. Oh, and I heard that Starkville A&M Mississippi State got their asses kicked by Xavier too.

Here’s the bracket update.

Bill Bryson

Kelley of suburban blight is suitably excited about her discovery of the assorted writings of Bill Bryson. I think my favorite Bryson book is Notes from a Small Island (perhaps, in part, because I shared the experience of being an American who lived in Britain), but they’re all excellent.

Trolley boondoggle

Mike Hollihan pretty much sums up my feelings about the Madison Avenue trolley light rail line, a taxpayers’ boondoggle to end all boondoggles and a classic example of GNDN. Of course, the worst—a $400 million extension to the airport, with $100 million to come from both state and local government (and $200 million from Uncle Sam via your federal 18.4¢/gal gasoline tax)—is yet to come.

There is one bit, though, that I disagree with Mike on: he says the project is “a windfall for road builders.” Considering that the $100 million the state could kick in would match $400 million of federal money for a highway project (rather than $200 million for light rail), any sensible roadbuilder would favor building a highway. At $10 million per mile, the going rate for a rural Interstate highway, $500 million would build most of I-69 between Memphis and Dyersburg—and leave Memphis and Shelby County with $100 million in capital improvement funds for something else, like pretty much every road project on the Memphis/Shelby County long-range transportation plan. And, of course, the road-builders are getting their cash either way.

Blame Howard!

Remember John Kerry’s flip-flop on the Iraq-Afghanistan reconstruction bill? As Steven Taylor notes today, it apparently came about due to Kerry trying to counter Howard Dean’s strident anti-war rhetoric. Not that this absolves Kerry, of course, as Steven aptly points out:

Of course, in reality, it is really Kerry’s own fault for seeking political advantage when he should have been voting his own conscience. And, indeed, this is one of Kerry’s main political liabilities: it is difficult to ascertain exactly what his political conscience is.

As I pointed out in a comment at Half the Sins of Mankind, Kerry was in a bit of a bad position—which, of course, was the point of the roll-call; he could vote aye and catch hell from Dean then, or vote no and possibly catch hell from Bush later on (assuming he survived long enough to gain the nomination—which, at the time, seemed quite unlikely). He chose the latter option—better to live to fight another day, I suppose.

Saturday, 20 March 2004

Schelling points

Just a reminder: Brock is still soliciting your list of “Schelling points” for Memphis, the United States, and the world. To review: where would you expect to meet someone if you arranged to meet them on a certain day at noon, but didn’t know where exactly to go?

So far, we’ve gotten four answers (2 votes for 2 different locations) for Memphis* and two for both the whole U.S. and the world. Keep your suggestions coming at!

Having a ball

I just got back from the second game of this weekend’s three game series against Vanderbilt; like last night’s game, the Rebels trailed 5–3 coming into the ninth (and were down 5–0 entering the 7th), but pulled out the 6–5 win with an effective 9th inning from the bottom of the order, including pinch hitter Charlie Babineaux, to improve their record to 16–1 on the season. Vanderbilt closer Ryan Rote was hung with his second loss in as many days (despite coming into the series 1–0 with 8 saves). And, as an added bonus, it was a beautiful day at the ballpark.

Update: Here’s the full account of the game.


PoliBlog‘s Steven Taylor has posted the latest edition of the Toast-O-Meter, with a preview of this week’s key Guam primary.

Friday, 19 March 2004


[Jack is having his mind rewritten by the repository of the Ancients, and in the meantime is filling out a crossword puzzle.]

Daniel: “Praclarush Taonas.” I think you wrote the name of the planet where we’ll find the Lost City in the crossword!
Jack (skeptical): Bit of a jump.
Daniel: Why else would you do that?
Sam: The clue for 7 down is “celestial body,” and he wrote “Uma Thurman.”
Jack: Yes.

Supreme Dildos

Happily, Mississippi—like Texas—remains safe from the scourge on society known as the sex toy, thanks to our beloved state Supreme Court.

Amusing passage from the story:

Presiding Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing Thursday for the court, said state law provides that physicians and psychologists may prescribe sexual devices for their patients, and the patients may buy them from the physicians and psychologists.

I dare anyone in Mississippi to go to their doctor and ask to be prescribed a vibrator. Hell, if I had insurance that would cover such a frivolous use of the health care system, I’d go do it myself just for the sheer entertainment value.

The whole ruling is here, and almost certainly is fisk-worthy.

Update: Conrad reacts strongly:

Having met Bill Waller, all I can say is that, if dildos are illegal, Waller ought to have himself impounded immediately.

Trouble brewing in Oxford?

You kind of have to read between the lines here, but it doesn’t look like the faculty think much of Ole Miss Provost Carolyn Staton. David Steele of the DM leads with:

In a debate lasting more than three hours, the Faculty Senate decided to not release the results of Provost Carolyn Staton’s quadrennial performance evaluation for the moment, citing privacy concerns.

A bit of background: this whole thing started when the quadrennial review of the Provost was scheduled; originally, Chancellor Khayat only solicited evaluations from certain deans and department heads; the Faculty Senate then decided to circulate separate evaluation forms to the faculty and then tabulate the results, stripping identifying information. The results of this evaluation are apparently what the Senate has decided not to release for now.

The whole article feels like it was cut-and-pasted out of order; one paragraph, we’re talking about the USM situation, the next, we’re talking about Staton, and never is it clear how much of the debate appeared in public. Interesting tidbit:

Khayat addressed the Senate on the [Staton?] issue in an executive session.

After that part of the meeting, it seems a little flip-flop happened:

According to Acevedo, some of the information in the provost’s review was good and some bad.

He said people might misinterpret the data, although he stated earlier that he thought the numbers spoke for themselves.

You are invited to try to make heads or tails of this at your leisure. I’m at a loss.

Another "foreign leader" steps up to the mic

Conrad reports that the latest foreign leader to publicize his desire for John F. Kerry to be president of the United States has stepped forward: none other than “Asian values” proponent and noted anti-Semite Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, no longer the titular ruler of Malaysia—although he doubtless is using the current occupant as his personal puppet (mind you, the literal variety of this act got his former deputy thrown in jail; sodomy remains quite illegal in Malaysia). More leaders? Foreign leaders? It makes no difference, as Mahathir fits both! The next Bush-Cheney TV ad is starting to write itself at this point.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the man who the media would like to be president—John “Keating Five” McCain—can’t quite decide whether or not he’s actually on board with Bush-Cheney. He and partner-in-crime Russ Feingold are also shocked, shocked to find independent expenditures by 527 organizations in this establishment.

Thursday, 18 March 2004

Schelling points: Memphis, the U.S., and the World

Back in February, Will Baude asked

If you had to meet somebody you’d never met before someplace in Chicago, but you hadn’t agreed on a time or a place, and you couldn’t talk to them in advance, where and when would you go, hoping that the other person would pick the same time and place?

Last week he answered, pulling together suggestions from readers. Will decided that noon on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute was the best answer, although the Sears Tower (the observation deck, I suppose?) was chosen by just as many readers.

I wish to pose the same question for Memphis. I’ll take it that the time answer is settled: you’ll meet at noon. If you had to meet somebody you’d never met before someplace in Memphis, but you hadn’t agreed on a place, and you couldn’t talk to them in advance, where would you go, hoping that the other person would pick the same place?

And lets suppose we extend the geographical area a bit. If you had agreed to meet someplace in the U.S., but had not agreed on a place, where would you go?

And finally, removing all geographical constraints: if you had agreed to meet somebody from a different country (but you don’t know which one), and you hadn’t agreed on a place, where would you go?

Send your answers to

Men may well be from Mars, but his degree's from a Cracker Jacks box

Neither James Joyner nor Kevin Drum are particularly impressed that “Dr.” John Gray is siccing lawyers on people who question the legitimacy of “Dr.” Gray’s academic credentials, a Ph.D. from “Columbia Pacific University” and both a B.A. and an M.A. from “Maharishi European Research University.” The latter organization is affiliated with the Transcendental Meditationists, a movement best known due to perennial Natural Law Party presidential candidate John Hagelin; however, his academic credentials (including a Ph.D. in Physics) are from decidedly more mainstream universities.

Reset button

Lily Malcolm asks:

Why do they call it a “game reset?” What is being reset?

My guess is that, theoretically, during the timeout the players are supposed to “reset” themselves into their designated positions on the court; thus, the “set offense” that Jim Woods refers to in this piece requires a “reset” to establish. However, since basketball—particularly pro basketball—is much more of a free-form game these days, I’m not sure the term retains much meaning.

Of course, I could be wrong; maybe they used to reset the shot clock on a timeout, and the term just stuck after the practice was abolished. A Google search found little besides hints on how to cheat in various basketball games for videogame consoles.

Noggle Cheesecake

I have to say, that Brian J. Noggle comes up with some pretty good ideas every once in a while.

Of course, sometimes he doesn’t. Such is life.


Is it just me, or does it seem odd that someone is far more exercised about the First Amendment rights of a potty-mouth than the odious McCain-Feingold bill? The First Amendment was intended, first and foremost, to protect the rights of citizens to freely debate politics—that its interpretation has (correctly, in my opinion) been broadened, over the years, to protect my right to say “fuck,” is nice, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that McCain-Feingold was purposely designed to further protect incumbent legislators from fair and open debate of their actions. Compared to that, making Howard Stern’s bosses open their checkbooks for Stern’s misdeeds is chump change. (And I say that as something of a fan of Howard, although I tend to agree with my mom’s assessment* that “a little Howard goes a long way.” And, for that matter, as a fan of Jeff.)

Libertarians versus public policy

Liberals sometimes see libertarians as stingy—and thus in league with conservatives—because of a rather curious phenomenon: libertarians don’t believe in public policy. Sure, there are the cute kids over at Cato and RPPI who try to pretend they believe in public policy, so as to curry favor with the political establishment, but any respectable libertarian won’t start with the premise that “problems” are matters to be solved by public policy. (Politics is classically defined as the science of “who gets what, when, and how”; libertarians inherently reject non-market allocation of resources, and thus don’t believe in politics at all in the “resource allocation” sense of the term.)

But, to the extent libertarians do advocate public policy, they tend to agree with fiscal conservatives, for the simple reason that the practical effect of most conservative initiatives is to minimize the amount of resource allocation done by the government, and they tend to agree with social liberals, because the practical effect of social liberalism is to reduce the amount of stuff the government does. Still, libertarians reject public policy—so “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger are not really any more libertarian than Nancy Pelosi or Rick Santorum; Arnie just agrees with libertarians more often than Pelosi or Santorum do.

Case in point: health care. Matt Yglesias says universal healthcare (presumably a single-payer scheme) would be a good thing. Libertarians, of course, would reject single-payer, and thus side with conservatives. On the other hand, if conservatives proposed some other universal coverage scheme—say employer-mandated coverage—libertarians would probably side with liberals. For a libertarian, the absence of public policy is preferable to the presence of public policy.

Now, the question is: assume we’re going to have a public policy, and that’s a given. Libertarianism stops giving useful answers at that point, except possibly to say “less interference is better.” In 20 years, we are going to have universal health care—like it or not. And, in a lot of ways, society would be better off if the funding mechanism were government single-payer than employer-sponsored: single-payer eliminates perverse incentives for employers to hire as many young people as they can, and it is less likely to be regressive in its effects (if Wal-Mart has to buy health insurance for all its employees, Wal-Mart customers are going to be paying for that—and Wal-Mart customers don’t include folks like John Kerry and George Bush). The downside of single-payer is that ensuring cost-containment without rationing is a lot harder (or, at least, a lot harder to get right—you don’t want patients waiting 6 months for MRIs, but you don’t want people getting 30 doses of Viagra for free each day either).

Of course, the beauty of being a libertarian is that you don’t have to worry about such things; you can just sit back, point, laugh, and say “see, I told you so” while the lines for CT scans circle around the block (which is the most likely outcome regardless). Because you didn’t believe in the public policy in the first place.

Spurlock at the reins

Today’s Clarion-Ledger has an interesting piece on Eli Manning’s heir apparent, Micheal Spurlock, and the competitors for his throne—much-heralded Louisiana prospect Robert Lane and 2003 third-stringer Ethan Flatt. Saturdays in Oxford this fall are going to be just a wee bit different than they have in the past few years (both under Manning and his eminently forgettable predecessor, who’s currently a CFL backup) with the athletic Spurlock running the offense.

College board discusses “potential litigation” involving USM

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the IHL board is meeting behind closed doors today, one day after IHL university presidents met in a closed-door session with USM president Shelby Thames:

Citing “potential litigation at USM,” Mississippi College Board members today went into closed-door session at about 8:50 a.m. as dozens of faculty and students from the University of Southern Mississippi campus milled about the board’s offices off Ridgewood Road.

Both supporters and detractors of USM President Shelby Thames made the trip to Jackson as the board that oversees the state’s universities discussed Thames’ decision to oust tenured professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer and the resulting campus uproar.

More from Ralph Luker, who continues his browbeating of OxBlogger David Adesnik (whose ignorance of Mississippi geography is forgiveable, coming from someone who’s studying in the fens of East Anglia on the banks of the River Cam*) for his inattention to matters that might be of concern of a future Ph.D., even one coming from such high stations as Yale and Oxford and who might not deign to accept a job in the primitive backcountry that is 21st century Mississippi.

More USM

Scott has a roundup of Tuesday’s developments at his blog, including an extended discussion of the C.V. of Angie Dvorak, one of the peripheral issues in the situation.

Also of note: Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow thinks Shelby Thames is in over his head as USM president, and the Hattiesburg American wants an open hearing for Glamser and Stringer, rather than the closed hearing their attorney has requested.

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Crispy Tofu Cubes

Via Will Baude, I see that PG is doing a bit of tofu bashing. Well I'll have none of that. Tofu is delicious and easy to prepare. In its defense, I present the following recipe for Crispy Tofu Cubes.
  • 3/4 lb. firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 1/4 cups peanut oil
  • 1 oz. roasted peanuts
  • 3 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. chili oil
  • Sriracha chili sauce
Heat oil in wok until it almose smokes. Deep fry tofu cubes in 2 batches until lightly browned, drain well on paper towel. Combine sauce ingredients, except sriracha sauce, in food processor. Put a teaspoon of sriracha sauce on top of the peanut sauce, and serve with tofu cubes. Eat with chopsticks.

Mississippi justice

Kate Malcolm (to whom I owe a NCAA tourney bracket) wonders if I have any perspective on the ongoing legal machinations surrounding Justice Oliver Diaz of the Mississippi Supreme Court. What’s perhaps most interesting is the necessary footnoting that NYT reporter Adam Liptak omits from the article. For example:

In court on March 5, Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Mr. Minor, said the government’s theory made routine conduct by lawyers and judges in Mississippi into a federal felony.

Fun fact: Lowell served as Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton.

[Paul] Minor, a former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, contends that the United States attorney here, Dunn Lampton, a Republican, singled him out for prosecution for political reasons, because he is a big contributor to Democratic candidates and a vocal opponent of efforts to limit injury awards.

Minor’s father—whose libel case was at issue in the prosecution—is a political columnist for Mississippi newspapers; his politics are just slightly to the right of those of Paul Krugman.

His papers focus on what he says is similar conduct by Richard Scruggs, another prominent plaintiffs’ lawyer in the state, though one with ties to the Republican Party. Mr. Scruggs and Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, are married to sisters.

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs was the main beneficiary of the state’s separate settlement agreement that his college roommate, former Democratic attorney general Mike Moore, negotiated with Big Tobacco. Scruggs raked in hundreds of millions of dollars of contigency fees, while Moore got to oversee a parallel shadow government under the aegis of the settlement trust fund that, to this day, remains unaccountable to the state legislature (and which spends millions of dollars per year on an anti-tobacco campaign for Mississippi youth that has been shown to be almost completely ineffective, rather than contributing to the better-known and more reputable “Truth” campaign funded by the MSA with Big Tobacco that most of the states arrived at later).

Mr. Minor is also accused of guaranteeing loans and making payments to two former lower-court judges, John H. Whitfield and Walter W. Teel.

Lawyers in Mississippi routinely appear before judges to whose campaigns they have made financial contributions.

Don’t you just love institutionalized corruption? Still, that’s an interesting juxtaposition—essentially equating personal gifts and loans (i.e. possible bribes) with campaign contributions.

I’ll leave the detailed legal analysis to Scipio. As Liptak notes, the case is somewhat tied into the ongoing mess over tort reform and “jackpot justice” (absurd non-economic damage awards) in the state, which has been a battleground between Mississippi Democrats and Republicans—and arguably is the only substantive issue in the state that white politicos disagree on, given the roughly tripartite division of the legislature into black (Democrat), white Democrat, and (white) Republican voting blocs.

The art of the Phi letter

I’m now starting to accumulate rejection letters at a not unreasonable pace.

The endorsement of death

Mark Kleiman wondered a few days ago why countries don’t try to muck around with internal politics to pursue their preferred policies (except, of course, when they do—most notably, during the steel tarriffs flap, the European Union was on the verge of imposing sanctions against the U.S. that were conveniently targeted at “battleground” states that George Bush needs for reelection).

The ongoing kerfuffle over John Kerry’s backdoor endorsements by foreign leaders suggests a reason why: if public, such endorsements are often counterproductive. I trust that the news that incoming Spanish prime minister Zapatero favors the election of Kerry won’t be prominently featured in Kerry’s advertising for that very reason. Even if you presume that Zapatero’s comments were made purely for domestic consumption by the Bush-hating European masses, he might have done well to consider that Bush—unlike Bill Clinton—is into the “personal loyalty” approach and doesn’t stand for the traditional left-wing European game of trying to have it both ways in a relationship with the United States (something that Tony Blair rather wisely figured out on his own, yet somehow this lesson is lost on Blair’s continental counterparts.)

Sincerity and symbolism in legislator behavior

Both Steven Taylor and Eric Lindholm note that John Kerry was on both sides of the supplemental appropriations bill for Iraqi and Afghan reconstruction. In particular, Eric notes this rather curious position by Kerry:

Mr. Kerry has indicated that he might have voted [in favor of final passage of the bill] had his vote been decisive.

Now, it is arguably rational for voters to behave differently when their vote is decisive (or pivotal) than when it isn’t; voting is both a symbolic act and part of a decision-making process. The normative question is: given that most votes are not inherently pivotal, should citizens nonetheless expect sincere voting behavior from their representatives, rather than the symbolic behavior that Kerry essentially admits he demonstrated? Given that representatives are supposed to be accountable for their votes—hence the use of non-secret ballots—my gut feeling is that citizens should expect sincere voting by the legislators they are represented by, whether we’re discussing procedural motions or votes on final passage.

Real Medicare Fraud

Vance of Begging to Differ points out evidence that Bush administration officials deliberately hid the full cost of the recent Medicare bill from Congress until after the bill’s passage.

Two doors down

I just walked out to put something in the mail, and saw fire trucks down the street; the house two doors down is on fire (or, was on fire; it’s out now, as best as I can tell). It looks like the house was pretty well gutted, considering I can see inside the rafters where the flames burned through.

Amazingly, I wouldn’t have known this had I not gone outside to put something else in the mailbox (I didn’t hear the fire truck siren, though I did hear it when it pulled up). An hour ago, when I put a couple of other things in the mail, all was perfectly tranquil.


I thought I’d make myself useful today by filling out the paperwork to move the contributions I made was forced to make to Mississippi’s state retirement plan to my personal IRA. This is not an easy task:

  • One form (Form 5) needs to be witnessed by two different people, in addition to me, then approved by the University of Mississippi HR department, then shipped off to Jackson for paperwork pushing.
  • A separate form (Form 5C) does not require witnesses; however, I have to get the custodians of my existing IRA to approve the rollover, then have the form shipped off to Jackson for additional paperwork pushing. This would seem to be a relatively trivial exercise, except the closest branch of the credit union I have my IRA with is in lovely Picayune, Mississippi (best known as “the place all the signs on I-59 say you’re going when you’re actually headed to New Orleans”), which is about 6 hours from here.

I have thus decided the sensible course of action is to defer further action until I find out whether I’ll end up being a state employee again in the fall—the odds of that are rather slim, but one more year of state employment would be sufficient for partial vesting in the plan, thus making this entire exercise financially counterproductive.

Tuesday, 16 March 2004

New York marriage certificates

Eugene Volokh writes, regarding the prosecution of two Unitarian minister in New Paltz, NY for marrying same-sex couples:

Some readers suggest that the clergy may be being prosecuted for signing their names to some government document attesting to the marriage. This might indeed be more punishable as an offense, partly because it’s more likely to be seen as a false statement of fact—a clerk might indeed not realize on a quick glance that this is a same-sex marriage, and be confused into thinking that the marriage was valid. But that’s not what I understood “solemnizing” to mean under New York law; as I understand it, solemnizing means performing the marriage, not signing a document.

This prompted me to dig up my New York marriage certificate from August, 1995. There’s a signature on it by the town clerk who issued it, but no place on the certificate for the signature of the person who performed the ceremony. (The town clerk happened to be the person who performed the ceremony, but if someone else had, there’s no place on the certificate for that person to sign.) For that matter, there’s no place on the certificate for the couple to sign, and I seem to recall signing something at some point. The wording on the certificate alludes to a “duly registered license … on file in this office.” Perhaps the person who performs the ceremony has to sign the duly registered license.

Madison 253

Tim Sandefur points out that James Madison would be 253 today. Although the term “political scientist” wouldn’t be coined until much later, Madison was among the first American political theorists. Of course, he also managed to provoke the British into kicking our asses in the War of 1812, New Orleans notwithstanding . Still, when compared to the other “political scientist” president that we can claim as our own—the not-quite-as-infamous-as-he-should-be racist Woodrow Wilson, whose hopeless idealism in some matters of international relations has earned him a free bigotry pass in the history books—Madison is vastly preferable using virtually any metric.

Oddly enough, as they say, I was born in the now-no-longer (thanks to the newfangled abomination that is Nashville-Davidson County) town of Madison, Tennessee.

Getting jobbed

Steven Taylor claims the following today:

The hardest part [of academia] is everything you have to do to get the job in the academy in the first place, and those are quite rare.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report some good job news. A good friend, who’s ABD in sociology, applied for exactly one job this year, got exactly one interview, and was offered, and accepted, exactly one tenure-track job at a well-respected liberal arts college within two hours of the Grande Onze university where she is finishing her Ph.D.

What? You were expecting good job news from me? Surely you jest…

Outdoor blogging

I’m taking Glenn’s advice and blogging outdoors this afternoon; it’s just a wee bit chilly where I am (on the north side of Weir Hall on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford), since it’s in the shade, but there isn’t a lot of choice—the alleged wireless network in these parts is nowhere to be found, so I’m sitting in a patio area that has wired 100 Mb/s Ethernet and power outlets. But, as they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words…

The porch on the north side of Weir Hall.

Don’t ask how much work it was to get that photo from my SprintPCS camera phone onto the blog. I guess I need to work on making that easier.

The Message of Madrid

A lot has been said about the political effects (or lack thereof) of the Madrid bombings on the Spanish elections this week; I won’t try to sum it all up here. In general, though, I have to agree with those such as Robert Garcia Tagorda, Jacob Levy, and Steven Taylor, and disagree with those (who will go unlinked, but you can find them easily enough) who ascribe the Spanish electorate’s behavior to being cowed by terror. Rather, I think much of the blame for the Popular Party’s loss has to be laid at the foot of prime minister Aznar’s hasty connection of ETA, the Basque separatist terror group, to the bombings, and the perception that he was “playing politics” with the situation at the U.N. Security Council.

There are two other worthwhile data points to mention. Post-Franco, Spain’s governments have generally been center-left coalitions led by the Socialists, in part because of the lingering association of the political right with the Franco dictatorship. The Popular Party victory in 1996 was very much against the long run trend of Spanish voting behavior, and probably should not have been expected to persist.

Secondly, the Mediterranean ex-dictatorships—Greece, Portugal, and Spain—have had a (not entirely unjustified) dislike of U.S. foreign policy, in large part due to the realpolitik decision that America made in supporting those countries’ former unelected governments as a bulwark against Soviet expansion. In the cases of Portugal and Spain, the United States was essentially confronted with faites accompli: the Salazar and Franco dictatorships were consolidated during the interwar period in which the U.S. retreated from European affairs, although arguably the United States—and Britain and France—should have continued the war against the Axis to eliminate Hitler and Mussolini’s Iberian fellow travellers. (Greece is a far less forgivable case.)

As a practical matter, it is still an open question whether an accommodation can be worked out with the incoming Socialist government on keeping its forces in Iraq, perhaps in a different command structure under the authority of the soon-to-be-sovereign Iraqi interim government. It remains to be seen whether, as David Brooks alleges today, in the pages of the New York Times, “Al Qaeda has now induced one nation to abandon the Iraqi people.”

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

Monday, 15 March 2004

USM Day 7: Scott has the goods

I’m enjoying massive shoulder pain today, so blogging isn’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities. Thankfully, Scott has the rundown of events as of this morning.

The Hot Abercrombie Chick philosophizes

Amanda Doerty, arguing for the intrisic immorality of theft, asks:

If, in any situation, we find it justifiable for any person or group to take the property of any other person without the consent of the other (whether by force, or threats of jail, etc.), we cannot argue that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that act. On what, then, do we base our objections to theft?

She dismisses the utilitarian answer thus:

Pure utilitarianism is of course impossible—you can’t know what serves the ‘greater good’ unless you have some conception of what that greater good is, and it obviously won’t work out too well if every single person gets to decide what he or she thinks the greater good is. ‘Happiness’ is often proposed, or ‘life,’ or something similarly vague. The difficulty of deciding how one would measure such things is problematic enough for the utilitarian route, and there is always the question of why a certain criteria should be used. Not only that, but for those people who do not personally benefit from serving the greater good, there is no compelling reason to do it anyway.

In any case, you can’t really hold on to a utilitarian ideal if you believe that individuals have certain unalienable personal rights, since those rights will likely be often violated if every one always acts for the ‘greater good.’ For those of us who want to hold on to the idea of individual rights, that is probably enough reason to stay away from utilitarianism.

As a card-carrying utilitarian, I feel compelled to respond.

First, a purely definitional matter. Classical utilitarianism, a la Bentham, certainly does have a “conception of what the greater good is”: pleasure is the good, and pain is the bad. Nothing vague about that. Some contemporary utilitarians define utility in terms of preference satisfaction, which comes close to “every single person gets to decide.”

Hard to measure? Yes. But do we have any reason to think that figuring out the right thing to do will always be easy? As for “the question of why a certain criteria should be used,” I don’t see how natural rights theories fare much better in this regard. The Kantians claim to have an answer, but that's responding to the Kantians is beyond the scope of this blog post.

And the only ethical theory that can provide a compelling reason for everyone to follow it is ethical egoism. As nice as it would be to have the ethical coextensive with the rational, I can’t see any reason to think that it must be.

Amanda is correct, though, that pure utilitarianism is incompatible with “inalienable rights.” But even if people do have “inalienable rights,” it doesn’t follow that the utilitarian answer isn't the correct explanation of the wrongness of theft. It seems to me that the strongest candidates for inalienable rights are rights to control one’s own body: the right not to be killed, the right get a tattoo, the right to injest whatever sort of intoxicating substance one pleases. There’s a big leap from those to general property rights. So perhaps a rights-based explanation is the correct explanation for the wrongness of murder, but a utilitarian explanation is the right explanation for the wrongness of theft.

Sunday, 14 March 2004

Warning labels

I bought a Hamilton Beach ShortCut food processor at Target on Saturday. My wife took it out of the box today, only to discover the following warning, in English, French, and Spanish, on the plastic bag enclosing it:


Nuanced or nebulous?

For those who are willing to look, there is at least one salient difference between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry: Bush “doesn’t nuance,” while Kerry, er, does. David Brooks captures the essence of Kerry quite well in his Saturday Times op-ed. Here’s the lede:

The 1990’s were a confusing decade. The certainties of the cold war were gone and new threats appeared. It fell to one man, John Kerry, the Human Nebula, to bring fog out of the darkness, opacity out of the confusion, bewilderment out of the void.

Actually, Kerry is just applying the lessons of the great social scientists; after all, we methodologists always say it’s a bad idea to dichotomize continuous variables. Kerry just extends this sound methodological advice to matters of public policy…

Saturday, 13 March 2004

USM Day 6: Go read Cliopatria

Ralph Luker has the latest, saving me the effort of having to sum it up myself.

However, there are some bits Luker overlooked: Thames is now going after the Mississippi chapter of ACLU for its decision to provide counsel to aid the appeals of Glamser and Stringer, and the USM faculty senate will consider a resolution calling on Thames to resign at its next meeting.

Block 37

Stephen Karlson notes plans by the Chicago Transit Authority to create a new station in downtown Chicago that will finally link the State and Dearborn subways, and provide express service to both O’Hare and Midway airports. Speaking as someone who once made the mistake of trying to use the “L” to get from O’Hare to a hotel on the Magnificent Mile, which required changing from the Blue (Dearborn) to Red (State) lines, such a project can come none-too-soon.

These days, with the colossal pain in the ass that flying has become, I just drive to Chicago. It’s cheaper, even after paying to park downtown, and the extra time involved is only a couple of hours, if you compare flying direct on Northwest or American—going via another airline, such as Delta, will certainly kill any time savings of flying. (Amtrak usually costs more than flying.) The downside is that you have to drive both the most boring 250 miles of interstate highway in the eastern United States (roughly, I-57 from I-64 to I-80) and the second-most-boring stretch (I-55 and I-57 through Arkansas and Missouri)—really the only interesting parts are in the hills in southern Illinois and when you get to metropolitian Chicago.

Matt finally gets it

Wow, finally a Democrat has figured out why most libertarian-leaning Republicans won’t defect to the Democrats:

The fact that this bullshit upping the fines for “indecent” radio broadcasts passed 391–22 shows a good deal of what’s wrong with today’s Democrats. The Democrats are never going to convince anyone that they’re really the better anti-“fuck”, anti-fag party. At the same time, by refusing to ever stand up for liberal principles whenever doing so might be mildly unpopular, they manage not to gain any votes from folks disenchanted with conservative frumpery.

It’s amazing how the Democrats only seem to act like an opposition party when it comes to either abortion or taxes… highfalutin’ rhetoric to the contrary.

Update: Matt Yglesias has more here, in response to Jim Henley; Will Baude also wistfully hopes for Democrats who are serious about their professed liberalism.

What a heel

This week’s PoliBlog Toast-O-Meter has arrived, for those who want to remember this completely forgettable week of primaries and campaigning.

Very cool stuff for your inner TeX geek

Most “cheapo” font collections are pretty much dime-a-dozen; however, I’ve been pretty impressed with the FontSite 500 collection, which I’ve had for several years, and which (in the grand scheme of things—fonts tend to be not cheap) is a steal. Yesterday, I discovered that Christopher League put together all the stuff you need to use the FontSite fonts in TeX and LaTeX under Linux.

If you’re someone like me, who gets annoyed at the limited font selection in TeX,* but can’t live without it—after all, I typeset all my papers and my entire dissertation in LaTeX, not to mention my vita and cover letters—this is a really neat add-on.

Friday, 12 March 2004


I watched the premiere of Fox’s new comedy/fantasy Wonderfalls this evening, in the Friday night “geek slot,” as my wife describes it.

Caroline Dhavernas stars as Jaye Taylor, a cynical, overeducated (philosophy major, Brown University) young woman working at a souvenir shop in Niagara Falls, NY. For some reason, a red wax lion and a brass monkey begin talking to her, telling her to do things, but not explaining why. Jaye, of course, thinks she’s going crazy, but does what they say in a effort to get them to shut up. The things they get her to do, lead, Rube Goldberg-like, to helping people, including Jaye’s sister Sharon and a UPS delivery man.

(What’s with the rash of young female characters with philosophy degrees? First Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, now this show.)

Dhavernas plays the role well, and is very cute, but the supporting cast, with the exception of a Texan tourist, is pretty bland. The pilot was well written, with very funny dialogue and situations. And the location shots in Niagra Falls, NY are beautiful. I look forward to watching more of this show.

Hat tip to Crooked Timber for getting me interested enough to watch this show.

"They" as a singular pronoun

My two cents on using “they” as a singular pronoun: it’s acceptable in spoken English, but not in written English. In writing, one should use “he or she” unless one has to repeat it more than once in succession, or if one has to use the reflexive form, at which point it just gets too awkward. In that case, one should just use “he” or “she.” And for crying out loud, don’t ever write “he/she” or “(s)he.” Shudder.

I also note that Tim Sandefur shares my biggest grammatical peeve: signs at the checkout aisle that say “10 items or less.” It’s “10 items or fewer.” Use “less” with mass nouns (“Less than 10 inches of snow”) and “fewer” with count nouns (“Fewer than 10 cats”).

It’s interesting that “more” works with both mass nouns and count nouns.

Columbus' DNA

Crescateer Beth Plocharczyk wonders how scientists will test whether or not Christopher Columbus’ remains lie in Seville, rather than in the Dominican Republic as previously thought. She asks:

If anyone knows how a confirmed DNA sample from Christopher Columbus is available for reference, please email me. I’m utterly stumped and dying to find out.

I doubt they actually have a DNA sample from Columbus. However, my understanding is that you can use DNA samples from known descendents for this purpose, in much the same way that paternity testing works; this is how, for example, the Sally Hemmings theory was substantiated a few years back (although it didn’t dispositively show that the Thomas Jefferson was the father).

USM Day 5: The conspiracy theory emerges

Scott of I Know What I Know has an email that gives one perspective on the “big picture” of what’s going on at Southern Miss:

Word on the street is that the attempt to decimate liberal arts at USM is very calculated and is indeed one of the reasons Thames was given the job. IHL had a very tangible agenda for putting him in there against protests from the faculty. They were operating under pressure from “the business community,” or a handful of powerful people who have the goal of reducing education spending in the state by cutting duplicate programs from the various universities. They consider strong graduate programs in liberal arts at more than one university in the state to be wasteful duplication.

First, the obligatory disclaimer: I’m strongly in favor of rationalization and consolidation in Mississippi higher education. This state doesn’t need 8½* public universities, especially when you consider that half of them were created as a result of racial and gender segregation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nor does it really need half of its universities to be classified as doctoral institutions by the Carnegie Foundation.

That being said, while I favor better allocation of the limited resources the state can bring to bear on postsecondary education, I don’t think an overall cut in the IHL budget would be productive. And, were I to start cutting at individual institutions, it wouldn’t be at USM—rather, I’d focus on the four institutions (ASU, DSU, MUW, and MVSU) with a combined enrollment smaller than the individual enrollments of Mississippi State, USM, and Ole Miss. This state runs two sets of four-year institutions (DSU-MVSU and MUW-MSU) that are geographically closer than the two campuses of USM. While there are sound political reasons for this arrangement, there are no good pedagogical or financial justifications for this duplication of effort.

Turning back to the “conspiracy theory” explanation: in general, I am disinclined to believe grand, overarching explanations for human behavior. The more plausible explanation, from what I can piece together from this account, is that the professors involved engaged in some sort of (potentially illegal) misrepresentation† in their correspondence with the University of Kentucky to further their investigation of Angie Dvorak, and Thames decided—since he didn’t particularly like professors Glasmer and Stringer in the first place—to use evidence of that misrepresentation to force them out. This theory has the benefit of generally fitting the observed facts, although it is undoubtably wrong on some of the particulars, and is generally speculative in nature.


If it’s any consolation to Kofi and the gang, I’ve had the exact same thing happen to three of my ties. Granted, my ties weren’t key evidence in figuring out what triggered the genocide in Rwanda, but it’s still pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, 11 March 2004

They, he, or she?

Will Baude has received a fair amount of feedback on his advocacy of “they” as a singular pronoun. I am overall, sympathetic, to Baude’s plight, and certainly prefer a singular “they” over such awkward PCisms as “he or she.” French, alas, has a decent third-preson genderless singular, on, and I am somewhat partial to “one” as a substitute for it—particularly as a substitute for the oft-colloquial “you” in hypotheticals and the like. Unfortunately, “one” is a bit pretentious for everyday speech. If we must move to gender-neutral language—a need that, frankly, is lost on me—“they” is infinitely preferable to “he or she,” although “one” is reasonable as well.

My general policy in academic writing is one I picked up from a book on voting behavior (I honestly don’t remember which; it may be Zaller’s The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion): I tend to use female pronouns for citizens and voters and male pronouns for politicians, reflecting the empirical preponderence of both.

My policy as a grader, however, is most agnostic. I do not insist on the use of gender-neutral language, as some of my own professors did when I was an undergraduate. In general, I prefer clarity of expression over form; the ultimate test of good writing is not whether or not it conforms to a particular style, but whether or not it communicates ideas successfully. “Standard written English” is a standard largely because of the latter, and, while I will correct awkward locutions, I do not insist on precise conformity with a stylebook, as such requirements can be counterproductive to the essayist’s central goal of clear, efficient communication.

Terrorist scum

Matt Stinson has the analysis, Dean Esmay has the gut-level reaction, and Jeff Jarvis continues his over-the-top schtick he’s been working on with the Howard Stern business.

Write-in campaign

Amanda is throwing her hat in the ring. I guess the question is: are we supposed to write “Hot Abercrombie Chick!” on the ballot? That seems vaguely embarrassing, although probably less so than voting for Nader…

Virginity pledges not kept; news at 11

James Joyner links this NYT piece with the snarky comment:

I await the study that investigates New Years resolutions.

I tend to agree with commenter “steve,” who writes:

Too bad there are some in this country who want to make so called virginity pledges part of serious public policy. When serious people call for new years resolutions in order to solve serious socail [sic] problems your point will stand.

But I think there’s an interesting question here: why aren’t many of the pledges kept? I suspect it has to do with peer pressure: students who don’t sincerely want to make virginity pledges are pressured into them by religious groups they are affiliated with, parents, or friends. And, in general, people don’t keep pledges when there’s no effective sanctioning mechanism to ensure fealty to them; unless you’re female and get knocked up, nobody’s going to know whether or not you actually kept a virginity pledge.

That said, one other part of the study, as reported in USA Today, seemed a bit puzzling:

The study also found that in communities where at least 20% of adolescents pledged the STD rates for everyone combined was 8.9%. In communities with less than 7% pledgers, the STD rate was 5.5%.

Not only is this a massive ecological inference problem (there’s absolutely no way to show causality here), the causal mechanism doesn’t even function right: adolescents are a relatively small part of the population, dwarfed by the sexually active adult population. Nor is there any test of whether the pledge rate affects STD rates over time—which at least might get at the question of whether pledges have some aggregate effect on STD incidence. Most odd.

Anyway, I tend to agree with critics that government-led efforts to encourage abstinence—a cornerstone of both the Bush and Clinton administrations’ “sex ed” policy*—are likely to be completely ineffective, if not counterproductive, in reducing teen pregnancy and STD transmission. The feds should find something better to waste our money on instead…

USM Day 4: From bad to worse

Events are now on an inevitable collision course down in Hattiesburg. Today’s developments:

  • The Hattiesburg American interviews University of Southern Mississippi president Shelby Thames. Thames did not back off his assertions that the AAUP was a union or his criticism of history professor Doug Chambers for allegedly cancelling class in response to Thames’ actions.
  • Thames also went after the president of the USM faculty senate today, accusing him of hypocrisy.
  • Thames suggests that criminal charges may be in the offing against fired professors Glasmer and Stringer. The professors deny they engaged in any illegal or unethical conduct.
  • 69% of USM faculty voted on the no confidence motion; 64% of the entire faculty (including those who didn’t vote) voted in favor of the no confidence motion.
  • USM provost Tim Hudson says he’s not stepping down, despite disagreeing with Thames’ actions in the case.
  • Thames will not resign in the face of the overwhelming no confidence vote.

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Comment policy

My interactions with Matt Stinson’s household troll “Billy” rated a mention at Prof. Bainbridge’s place. One more notch in my online tally against comments…

USM Day 3: Faculty tell Thames to shove off

I Know What I Know and the Hattiesburg American are both reporting that the faculty of the University of South Mississippi voted overwhelmingly in favor of a no confidence motion against USM president Shelby Thames, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating ousted professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer.

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

John Kerry's law degree

Lily Malcolm asks why ambitious go-getter John Kerry ended up going to law school at decidedly middle-of-the-road Boston College rather than a more prestigious institution. Lily has some theories:

Maybe he was sick of the Ivy League. Or he decided BC would be better for his political career. Or he had terrible grades (how bad would they have to be to outweigh a Silver Star?). Were there financial complications? Geographical constraints?

Obviously I can’t read Kerry’s mind. My gut level feeling is that geography, alone, wouldn’t explain it—assuming his resume was as impressive as Lily indicates it should have been, Kerry could have gone to Harvard—historical Yale–Harvard grudges notwithstanding. And, generally, the “political career” explanation only works when you’re talking about leaving the state or region for law school; no rationally ambitious Mississippian would dare try to come back home and run for office after going to Princeton or Yale, what with the perfectly good (at least for such political purposes or for in-state practice, if not for one’s future reputation on the national scene) law school sitting right here in Oxford.

Indeed, it’s possible that Kerry’s high-profile antics after returning from Vietnam had a negative impact on his stature; law school admissions committees in the early 1970s, I suspect, were rather conservative bodies filled with men who served in World War II or Korea before their academic careers. Hanging out with the Hanoi Jane crowd and publicly accusing your comrades-in-arms of being war criminals don’t seem like the sorts of activities that would have endeared Kerry to an Ivy League admissions committee circa 1971.

That being said, people end up at particular schools for the most idiosyncratic reasons. Someone familiar with my academic record and standardized test scores probably wouldn’t guess I’d have degrees from the University of Memphis and Ole Miss. The place where one got a particular degree is only a very rough indicator of one’s talents—something I’m hoping (though skeptical) that hiring committees bear in mind.

Update: Lily has an update with a number of different perspectives.

More on conservatives in academia

Jane Galt, freshly rested (but not tanned), has a post of Den Bestean proportions on academe’s political diversity problem. Jane ponders these questions, in turn:

  1. Are conservatives underrepresented in academia?
  2. If they are, is this underrepresentation due to action on the part of the faculty, or is there some other reason that we can’t (or shouldn’t) correct?
  3. If conservatives are underrepresented, and the cause of this underrepresentation is due, in whole or in part, to the actions of the faculty or administration, should we try to do anything about this?

You should definitely RTWT™.

Update: Both Jane and James Joyner don’t think the remedy is to be found in the political process; James writes:

I also share her libertarian instincts on the matter; there’s not much to be done about this phenomenon that wouldn’t be worse than the problem.

We're all libertarians now

Like Chris, I can’t resist those silly internet quizzes, so I also took that Libertarian Purity Test that’s all the rage today.

The first time I took it, I answered all the questions yes or no, since there was no “undecided” option. I was able to answer a solid “no” to all the five point questions, a pretty solid “yes” to most of the one-pointers, and felt like I needed an essay-style format to answer the three-pointers, but I gave gut-level answers to all of them. I scored a 34, “your libertarian credentials are obvious.”

That’s hardly the stratospheric heights occupied by Will Baude, but that didn’t seem quite right. Apart from my support for drug legalization, I don’t think my libertarian credentials are at all obvious.

So I took the test again, refraining from answering most of the questions that I felt unsure about. I scored a 23, “soft-core libertarian,” putting me in the neighborhood of Amanda Butler, Josh Chafetz, and Matthew Yglesias, which seems about right.

Bush slogan

Somehow, I think “Annoy France—Vote Bush” would be a very effective campaign slogan. That said, the “Priceless” approach seems effective too.

As for me, I did my civic duty today and cast my ballot in the only primary offered (the Democratic one). Unlike usual, the real vote-counting equipment wasn’t in use—instead, we got a sheet of paper obviously run off on a laser printer with various “fill in the circle” options, including “uncommitted.” Since I think the Democrats ought to be committed, that option was right off the table; instead, as a sensible, strategically-minded voter, I decided to throw my support to the candidate not named Kerry who was most likely to be close to the 15% threshold needed to get delegates.

Yet another blackface incident

Eugene Volokh notes yet another blackface incident at a college fraternity. This time it’s Pi Kappa Alpha at Georgia State University. Prof. Volokh notes that the university is considering punishing the students involved, and that the wearing of blackface is protected under the first amendment. He then asks:

Do the university officials not know the law? Or do they just not care?

Good question. But here’s the question I really want answered:

When are these idiots going to figure out that blackface costumes are deeply offensive?

Unrest in the forest

It was only a matter of time until Juan Non-Volokh posted Rush lyrics in his “Sunday Song Lyric” series, and of course it was Rush’s Nietzschean anthem, “The Trees.”

Reading the lyrics, I’m remided of an old joke, which I’ve given an arboreal twist to fit the theme of the song.

Q: What’s the difference between a Southern Oak and a Northern Oak?

A: A Southern Oak doesn’t mind growing near Maples, as long they don’t get uppity. A Northern Oak doesn’t mind uppity Maples, as long as they don’t grow nearby.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, I’ve always thought that the Coolest Band Name Ever belonged to a band in my former home of Rochester, NY: the Pietzsche Nietzsches, pronounced “Peachy Neechies.”

USM: Thames blames the AAUP

USM president Shelby Thames is now blaming the whole mess on the American Association of University Professors, a group whose combined national membership isn’t that much bigger than his campus’ student enrollment.

Ah, well, it could have been worse; he could have blamed outside agitators and sicced the Sovereignty Commission on them.

Huzzah and kudos

Congratulations to Kelley on her first blogiversary! And also congrats to Kevin Drum on the occasion of his moving on up in the world.

USM: Thames fisks self

Forgive me for saying it, but the latest news from Hattiesburg seems just a wee bit odd:

University of Southern Mississippi President Shelby Thames said Tuesday he is considering whether or not to allow two dismissed professors back into the classroom to serve out the semester.

If he makes the decision, the reprieve would only be temporary. Thames said he would initiate termination proceedings at the end of the semester against Gary Stringer and Frank Glamser, two outspoken critics of his administration and leadership.

Thames, mind you, is the same guy who on Friday considered Stringer and Glamser such a threat to the university that he had the university’s custodial staff cart off stuff from their offices and change the locks while he was meeting with them. My bogosity meter is rapidly approaching 11 here, folks.

Thames’ meeting with USM students today didn’t exactly go well, either, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

More on this topic here; this is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam.

USM Day 2

Stephen Karlson and Eugene Volokh have followups on their posts from yesterday on the ongoing kerfuffle at Southern Miss. Quoth Volokh on the importance of the case:

[T]he faculty—as joint governors of the school—must have the right to criticize the administration, which must of course include the right to investigate alleged resume fraud by the University’s vice president of research. If the University is right that the faculty members whom it’s trying to fire engaged in defamation (i.e., were themselves lying) or real misuse of university facilities, then its actions might well be proper. But if the University is just trying to silence faculty members whose criticisms it sees as disruptive, that’s very dangerous indeed. Shared governance, whether in Washington, D.C. or in a university, necessarily involves some disruption and tension. Trying to eliminate that disruption and tension is impossible unless one abandons the shared governance project.

Meanwhile, I Know What I Know is still on the case; as Scott notes, The Student Printz is all over this, and it isn’t looking pretty for USM president Shelby F. Thames.

Purity test rage

Via both Stephen Bainbridge and Will Baude, I took the latest “flavor of the month” quiz: the Libertarian Purity Test. I got a 50 out of a maximum 160, mainly because my hard-core minarchist libertarian views have subsided over time in favor of more practical politics.

IMHO, the quiz was actually pretty poorly engineered; the “libertarian” answer was always the “yes” answer. This sort of thing generally leads to response bias. But, the questions seemed to tap libertarian attitudes better than the infamous Political Compass does.

Monday, 8 March 2004

The diversity hornet's nest

James Joyner has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest over his complaints about Patrick Henry College and, by extension, the homeschool movement it is associated with. James argues that PHC and homeschooling, by and large, foster closed-mindedness and a lack of exposure to diverse points of view. Since PHC, for example, only hires Christians—and, from a reading of their “statement of faith,” only Christians who believe in scriptural inerrency—a PHC student is not going to be exposed to people with varying religious viewpoints within the academy. And to the extent home-schooled students (generally Caucasian, Christian, and middle-to-upper class) are exposed to diversity by interaction with other homeschooled students, one suspects the ethnic, religious, and economic diversity of the children interacted with will be minimal.

On the other hand, we have the recent discussion of Duke University’s lack of political diversity in its faculty—not to mention the reaction of the American Association of University Professors to proposals for academic bills of rights, which is basically to say, “yes, we think there should be political diversity—but, unlike racial and gender diversity, we’ll have none of that government oversight stuff to ensure it actually happens.” Such attitudes suggest that the AAUP doesn’t take these legitimate concerns of many students and faculty seriously.

I don’t disagree with the AAUP’s Committee A when it says that being confronted with controversy in the classroom is an essential part of a postsecondary education. However, when only conservative students are being confronted with that controversy, as is often the case, it seems that universities are failing in their missions to challenge and educate their students.

But—that said—the antidote to the Dukes of the world is not to establish more Patrick Henrys and Oral Roberts. Rather it is for mainstream academe to take seriously its commitment to ensure a broad and challenging education for all of its students without marginalizing some for their political or religious beliefs.

R.I.P. Radio Pig

WMPS 107.5, a.k.a. “The Pig,” has undergone a format transmogrification, becoming “Hit Radio Q107.5,” which is just as awful as it sounds.

The Pig was a breath of fresh air in the all-too-stale atmosphere of Memphis commercial radio. It was a station on which you could hear Johnny Cash and Peter Gabriel in the same set. A station where they’d dig up a slightly cheesy song with high nostalgia value from the 80s, like Men At Work’s “Land Down Under,” put it in the rotation for a few weeks, and then pull it before you had a chance to get sick of it. A station where the programming decisions seemed driven by love of music, not by marketing statistics.

But nothing lasts long in the Flinn Broadcasting empire.

Good-bye, Radio Pig. Memphis radio won't be the same without you.

UPDATE: Tim at Lean Left has almost exactly the same thoughts, except he pairs Peter Gabriel with Patsy Kline. It is more alliterative, I suppose.

USM fires two tenured faculty members

There’s a big brou-ha-ha down in Hattiesburg at the University of Southern Mississippi: two tenured faculty members are being terminated by the university administration, apparently for speaking out against a university vice-president. More details at Critical Mass, I Know What I Know (just start at the top and keep scrolling down), The Volokh Conspiracy, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Clarion-Ledger.

Update: More at Crooked Timber and Opiniatrety, as well as Cliopatria (I take issue with the latter’s characterization of higher education in Mississippi in general, however) and Stephen Karlson.

I promised myself earlier this weekend that I wouldn’t blog about this, because I have a pending application at USM for a tenure-track faculty position, but there’s no way I will accept a job at a university that apparently has no respect for the tenure process.

Why liberals should support a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights

Bill Hobbs takes his advocacy of a taxpayers’ bill of rights for Tennessee to its liberal opponents, with five reasons why liberals should support TaBOR:

  1. TaBOR will cause the state to manage its resources more wisely and set priorities – reducing wasteful spending.
  2. TaBOR will shield existing programs from deep cuts during future economic downturns.
  3. TaBOR will foster more grassroots political involvement and encourage better communication between citizens and their elected representatives.
  4. TaBOR will foster more trust and confidence in government.
  5. TaBOR will make it easier to pass a state income tax.

Arguably, the first four are good reasons for anyone to support TaBOR; regardless, go and read the whole thing.

Sunday, 7 March 2004

Coin-toss bias

Robert Garcia Tagorda, Christopher Genovese, and Alex Tabarrok today take note of this article in Science News, which indicates that 3 researchers have found that coins, when tossed, land the same way up they started about 51% of the time.

Why hasn’t this been discovered in practice before? Interestingly, the article discusses a previous experiment with coin tossing that didn’t discover any bias:

During World War II, South African mathematician John Kerrich carried out 10,000 coin tosses while interned in a German prison camp. However, he didn’t record which side the coin started on, so he couldn’t have discovered the kind of bias the new analysis brings out.

Kerrich most likely didn’t discover the bias because some other part of his coin-tossing procedure ensured randomness. And, indeed, in a large number of trials, if there’s no bias in the starting condition (approximately equal numbers of coins are “heads” or “tails” when tossed), there will be no bias in the aggregate result—even given this finding.*

More to the point, the practical value of this finding seems minimal. The most obvious application—wagering—is precluded because no casino game that I’m aware of uses coin flips, though it’s possible that the ball in roulette and dice in craps may be similarly biased—again, given a known starting position, something that is rare in roulette at least (as the ball is under the control of the casino staff rather than the wagerers).


James Joyner isn’t quite convinced of Jeff Jenkins’ argument that John Kerry is more conservative relative to Democratic presidents (historically) than George Bush is liberal, using Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal’s NOMINATE method. James writes:

The problem I have with Poole’s coding methodology is that it’s excessively time bound. To compare Bush 43 to Reagan or Kerry to Carter ignores massive shifts in public opinion during those time periods. The “center” is not a spot on a map; it’s a median of current attitudes.

There are actually two versions of Poole and Rosenthal’s methodology. The version Jenkins apparently used for his analysis (from the description in the article) is called W-NOMINATE, and only looks at a particular Congressional session (e.g. the 107th Congress, from 2001 to 2003). There’s a second version, called DW-NOMINATE, that allows comparisons over time between Congresses. In other words, using W-NOMINATE is inappropriate for comparisons over time.* James goes on to write:

I’d think the ACU/ADA ratings are much more useful than Poole’s, since the comparison is made against one’s contemporaries.

Actually, ACU and ADA ratings are essentially interchangeable with W-NOMINATE first dimension scores. But I think James is critiquing Jenkins for something that Jenkins actually didn’t do (even though the article might lead you to think he did).

It seems to me there are two related questions here: is Bush more extreme than Kerry? and, are Bush and Kerry more extreme relative to their partisan predecessors? The first question was pretty clearly answered by Jenkins in the article. The second can’t be answered by the W-NOMINATE method that Jenkins used—which, given his indication that he deliberately simplified the analysis (by using W-NOMINATE instead of DW-NOMINATE), makes it seem odd that he tried to make comparisons over time. The question I think Jenkins answered is “are Bush and Kerry more extreme relative to predecessor presidents vis à vis the Congresses they faced”—and, for that comparison, W-NOMINATE or ADA/ACU scores would work equally as well.

Update: Jeff Jenkins has a comment at Dan’s place that clarifies the situation; he did use DW-NOMINATE for the interyear comparisons, but that point was lost in the editing process. So ignore the above paragraph. ☺ He has some interesting points too in regard to Poole and Rosenthal’s book, Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting.

Also worth pointing out is the forthcoming APSR piece by Doug Rivers, Josh Clinton, and Simon Jackman, “The Statistical Analysis of Roll-Call Data”. There's also a recent issue of Political Analysis in which all of the articles were on ideal-point estimation (which is the technical term for NOMINATE and the Rivers-Clinton-Jackman approach). And, if you want to do it yourself, Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn have included the Rivers-Clinton-Jackman procedure in their MCMCpack package for GNU R.

I previously discussed Kerry’s ideology here. Dan Drezner also discusses the article in question here.

No radar, for now

Today’s Clarion-Ledger has an article on the continued difficulty some large-county legislators are having getting an exception to the statewide ban on county sheriffs using radar.

The status of all the various bills is here, while the current law is here.

Saturday, 6 March 2004

Toast comes to Dixie

As Steven Taylor notes in the latest Toast-O-Meter, there’s a primary to be held this Tuesday in Mississippi and three other Southern states. Democratic frontrunner and presumptive nominee John Kerry will be campaigning in Jackson tomorrow at a black church and Tougaloo College.

Something to talk about

Steven Taylor, prompted by the Invisible Adjunct, observes that the appropriateness of lecturing versus using a seminar format is largely determined by three factors:

1) the level of the course (e.g., intro, advanced undergrad, grad), 2) the subject matter, and 3) the size of the class.

I’d broadly agree with Steven. All three of these factors are highly correlated; relatively straightforward subject matter is generally taught at an introductory level in large classes, while more complex subject matter usually involves small classes taught at an advanced level. The exceptions—notably the “honors seminar” version of intro—work because there’s an underlying assumption that the students in the course are already familiar with most of the material that they would have learned in the non-honors course, thus the course is no longer a true “intro” course.

Area code #4 coming to Mississippi

Starting this summer, Mississippi’s getting a new area code—769—which will overlay the 601 area code in central Mississippi. Amazingly, Mississippi only had one area code until 1997. (Everything you’d ever want to know about area codes is here.)

The Snark of Omaha

The 2003 Chairman’s Letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway was released this morning, and Warren Buffett gets in a couple of subtle digs at the Bush administration. The best one was this one on page 19, regarding the opening of a new Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM) store in Kansas City:

“Victory,” President Kennedy told us after the Bay of Pigs disaster, “has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” At NFM, we knew we had a winner a month after the boffo opening in Kansas City, when our new store attracted an unexpected paternity claim. A speaker there, referring to the Blumkin family [the founders of NFM], asserted, “they had enough confidence and the policies of the Administration were working such that they were able to provide work for 1,000 of our fellow citizens.” The proud papa at the podium? President George W. Bush.
We'll see if the President ever speaks at a Berkshire-owned store again.

Friday, 5 March 2004

Take my love, take my land, whatever; just give me my Serenity

To borrow a phrase from another Sci-Fi series, wa-HOOO! But, yeah, I’d like the TV show back too…

Weird pickup attempt of the week

A recent addition to SN‘s blogroll is the self-described Hot Abercrombie Chick!, Amanda. She seems to attract very weird commenters. She also received this email, which is just downright odd… but, since I’m bored, I’ll put my limited matchmaking skills to work to fulfill this gentleman’s request.

How I learned to stop loving Paul Krugman

Here’s the punchline from Steve Verdon:

I used to have quite a bit of respect for Krugman. Now I see him as a despicable, low-life, partisan jackass.

Read the whole thing for the rest. It’s pretty sad.

Dopey Yaleites go on a road trip

My theory about the history of the South is that every Southerner doesn’t know anything that happened before 1980 (except Sherman’s march to the sea) and every Northerner doesn’t know anything that happened since 1954 (except a bunch of blacks getting blasted with fire hoses). For the former, I rely on interactions with Ole Miss students; for the latter, I rely on this Yale Daily News piece, which contains the following quote:

“Tennessee has southern hospitality and a southern feel without having the antagonism of the deep South,” Elizabeth Dohrmann ‘06 of Nashville said. “Everything is so alive and the culture is still intact, but it’s probably one of the easiest places to visit in the South.”

One suspects Ms. Dohrmann’s experience of the South—a region that Nashville is about as much a part of as Seattle is—is limited to a viewing of Sling Blade and vague familiarity with the plots of Deliverance and Mississippi Burning. One also suspects Ms. Dohrmann’s knowledge of Memphis—a city that combines the best and worst of the deep South in one not-so-tidy community—is limited to knowledge that her beloved Tennessee Titans played a season in a shitty stadium in said city.

As for the alleged “antagonism of the deep South,” I’d rise to the defense of the region except I’m running late for my Meetup with Acidman and a few pals from the CCC.*

The new laptop

Since I really don’t have much to add to any of the current political discussion (Stern versus the FCC, Bush’s campaign advertising—hey, it’s 1992 all over again!), and I’m running out of time to meet my “one post per GMT day quota,” I figured I’d talk a little about my new laptop—inspired in part by Michael Jennings’ blogging about his.

Thursday, 4 March 2004

How liberal is John Kerry?

Tom Maguire suggests that the National Journal finding that John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate isn’t supported by Poole and Rosenthal’s NOMINATE scores, at least not over the last two Congresses. He also quibbles:

Any fool can ask a question that ten wise men cannot answer: Dr. Poole bases his rankings on all recorded roll call votes, including the straight party-line organizational votes – for example, all Republicans voted for Bill Frist as Leader, and for the various Republican committee chairpersons. My suspicion is that the results give a good ranking within parties (so Kerry is really a centrist Dem), but the border between Republican and Democrat on substantive votes is blurrier than these results suggest. Objectivity and simplicity might suffer, but has this been looked at?

My (admittedly fuzzy) recollection of NOMINATE is that the results are fairly robust when you exclude pure party-line votes from the input data. A second approach to this question is a recent paper (released Monday!) by Joshua Clinton, Simon Jackman, and Doug Rivers that uses a Bayesian item-response theory model to approach the question (the same method used in their forthcoming APSR piece, a variant of which I used to measure political knowledge in my dissertation); the abstract follows:

We reanalyze the 62 key Senate roll calls of 2003, as identified by National Journal, using a statistical procedure that (1) is sensitive to different rates of abstention across senators and roll calls; (2) allows us to compute margins of errors on voting scores and the ranks of the legislators, as well as compute the probability that a given senator occupies a particular rank (e.g., is the “most liberal” senator). The three Democratic senators running for president in 2003 have markedly higher rates of abstention than the rest of the Senate, leading to considerable uncertainty as to their voting score (particularly for Senator Kerry). In turn, we find that contrary to recent media reports, Senator Kerry (D-MA) is not the “most liberal” senator, or at least not unambiguously; as many as three Senators could plausibly be considered the “most liberal“, with Kerry third on this list behind Senators Reed (D-RI) and Sarbanes (D-MD).

The note lacks any high-powered math, and should be accessible to anyone with an interest in politics and a modicum of statistical knowledge. Incidentally, their method does show a closer overlap between Democrats and Republicans than NOMINATE does (in part because they restricted the analysis to 62 “key” votes rather than all of the roll calls). One other thing to note: the whopping error bar around Kerry’s position, a direct result of his absenteeism from the Senate over the past year.

Wednesday, 3 March 2004

The Passion

Considering that I spent a good ten minutes of Black Hawk Down with my eyes closed and am still freaked out about the needle scene in Pulp Fiction almost a decade after it was released, I’ll probably take a pass on The Passion of the Christ. For those considering seeing it (including my mom’s Sunday School class, who are going this weekend), Robert Prather has a roundup of links, while Rev. Donald Sensing has a review.

XML legality question

Dumb question… does anyone know if the following XML construct is technically legal?

<a title="<![CDATA[lame <i>test</i>]]>" href="">blah</a>

PyExpat barfs on it, as does Mozilla’s XML parser, and I suspect they’re right to do so, but I can’t find anything in the XML specification that says, definitively, whether or not CDATA declarations are allowed in attributes. (If this is incorrect XML, Movable Type 2.661 generates invalid RDF/XML and my trackback discovery code isn’t busted.)

Borda bites

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber demonstrates the well-known flaws in Borda vote counting quite vividly. The Borda count is probably best known as the counting mechanism used by the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today college basketball and football polls in the United States—to my knowledge, it is not used in practice by any governmental body.

Non-fans of Sam Huntington unite!

Dan Drezner’s latest TNR essay deals with Sam Huntington’s recent Foreign Policy essay on the “threat” of unassimilated Hispanics to the United States. Read the whole thing here and all the footnotes at Dan’s place.

Update: Two Matthews weigh in: Stinson and Yglesias. Neither is impressed by Huntington’s argument, while Matt Stinson helpfully points out that whatever Huntington is, he isn’t a neoconservative (whatever that is…).

SCO's latest bogosuit target: AutoZone

Read the story at Slashdot, bearing in mind the FUD-to-truth ratio inherent in that forum. There’s more info on some of SCO’s claims from GOLUM’s own Jim Greer here.

Update: Joy Larkin is rather unimpressed by SCO’s latest antics as well.

Obligatory conflict-of-interest disclaimer: I interviewed with AutoZone for a job (in part) supporting the software at issue in the lawsuit last month, and Jim (who is no longer at AutoZone) is a pretty good friend of mine.

Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Lecture notes

Tonight, I attended the 2004 Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Public Lecture by Wisconsin political scientist Virginia Sapiro; her topic was, “What Does Civility Have To Do With Politics?” It was a rather wide-ranging talk that engendered a pretty good discussion from the audience, and not one that is easily summarized—particularly by someone who wasn’t taking notes. She came at the question from the perspective of the impact of politics on norms of civility rather than (as you might expect) the impact of the norms of civility on political discourse.

I did ask Dr. Sapiro her thoughts on reconciling our empirical knowledge that people learn more from negative campaigning with calls for civility, like the “I approve this message” requirement in McCain-Feingold, and she pointed out that it is possible to have a civil campaign that nonetheless compares candidates’ positions. I wonder about the relative effectiveness of that approach versus the more classic “incivil” negative campaign—do voters learn as effectively from “civil” ads—and whether civility is really more in the eyes of the beholder. Ads like the infamous mushroom cloud from 1964 or Willie Horton in 1988 probably weren’t considered uncivil by the campaigns (or, in the case of Horton, nominally unaffiliated groups) that produced them, but Barry Goldwater and Mike Dukakis probably didn’t agree with that assessment. Definitely plenty of food for thought.

Castration still on the table?

Robert Garcia Tagorda is the latest to ponder whether or not Dick Cheney needs to be replaced:

Here’s my tentative observation: Cheney represents two related problems. First, he has a bad image. Second, he gives Democrats a good target for criticism. Rudy and Condi can help fix the first, but they wouldn’t necessarily solve the second. For instance, though they’re significant improvements from a public-relations standpoint, they wouldn’t really slow down the attacks on the jobless recovery.

On national security and foreign policy, they could do both: Rudy’s post-9/11 performance still resonates with the public, while Condi has the professional qualifications. But how much would they add overall to the campaign? Bush is already strong on these fronts, and unless he can gain notably more voters by subtracting Cheney’s Halliburton ties and WMD remarks (among others), I don’t see how Republicans truly benefit from the change.

In the end, it might still be best to dump Cheney, if only to energize the ticket. I just caution against high expectations.

I think dumping Cheney, however, removes the most obvious target for criticism—and the only one actually on the ticket. While some of the Cheney criticism would devolve onto Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Paul Wolfowitz, and a host of other figures, it’s hard to pin all of the myriad problems attributable in some tenuous way on Cheney to any single one of them. Removing a lightning rod for critics like Cheney, while not immunizing the administration from criticism, at least has the effect of diffusing that criticism, thus making it harder for Democrats to personalize their attacks.

Update: Kevin Drum doesn’t think it’s going to happen. He asserts that “Cheney is very popular with Bush's conservative base,” something I don’t buy at all, for reasons discussed here, although it’s a forgivable error on Kevin’s part.* For what it’s worth, though, fewer conservatives than moderates think Cheney should be ditched, according to the Annenberg poll numbers that Robert cites, but I can’t tell offhand if the finding is statistically significant.† (The finding may also simply reflect the fact that conservatives are more loyal to the administration in general.)

I’ve previously discussed Cheney’s status as a liability for the administation more than once in the past couple of months as these rumors have swirled around.

The newest front in the War on Drugs

Apparently unsatisfied with wasting taxpayer dollars by insulting our intelligence with TV advertising, the Federal Drug Warriors are now planning to annoy the hell out of internet users in their quest for a drug-free America:

[ Drug Enforcement Administrator Karen]Tandy said the DEA plans online educational initiatives including Internet versions of Public Service Announcements and pop-up ads that will appear on the computer screens of individuals searching the Internet for drugs.

All the more reason to use Mozilla Firefox. You can block pop-ups and stick it to the Man!

Monday, 1 March 2004

Liv Goes Loeb

Ryan Gabbard inquires:

Anyone else think Liv Tyler was much prettier presenting the music at the Academy Awards than she was playing the most beautiful Elf in Middle-Earth?

Well, it’s your big chance to judge for yourself. Personally, I could have done without the Lisa Loeb glasses, which look fine on Ms. Loeb, but seemed odd on Ms. Tyler.

An (inadvertent) endorsement of Zaller's RAS model on normative grounds

Hei Lun takes apart a philosophical paper that argues that people should only listen to experts who share their ideological beliefs. (Let the grand de-linking begin!)

Just how many anecdotes equal data?

Steven Taylor links a Howard Kurtz WaPo piece that notes the media’s differential treatment of two political figures who defied the law, ex-Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and very-much-not-ex-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome. What may be more interesting is that Kurtz finds a married (at least in the eyes of Ontario) lesbian reporter to quote on the topic (not to mention getting multiple Sully quotes), but can’t manage to dig up an evangelical Christian who has anything to say.