Friday, 30 April 2004

Average Students

Len Cleavlin has a classic example (albeit probably apocryphal) of the dangers of the arithmetic mean:

There’s an old joke that the Geography Department at the University of North Carolina would tell prospective majors the average salary of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in geography from UNC, without telling them that UNC alumnus and NBA star Michael Jordan received his bachelor’s in geography….

Ole Miss’ criminal justice department might consider employing this trick, as New Orleans Saint Deuce McAllister was a CJ major (though I’m damned if I know whether or not he actually graduated); even given the number of CJ majors who’ve matriculated, Deuce’s NFL salary would probably bump up the mean by a few grand.


David Adesnik has an odd standard for courage among political scientists:

It takes guts for a political scientist to actually predict something. That’s because all that political scientists really have are their reputations, and they can’t afford to put those on the line. So here’s a shout out to Larry Sabato, who isn’t afraid to put his money where his mouth is.

Other than referring David to my post on explanation and prediction, I’d only warn readers that what really takes guts is to get between Larry Sabato and a camera.

USM: No, really, WTF?

Well, the settlement between Thames and Glamser and Stringer is out (full text here) and I find it completely baffling, and borderline inexplicable. HNN’s update from yesterday seemed to anticipate—as most would have, given Thames’ pathetic performance at the hearing on Wednesday—a settlement much more favorable to Glamser and Stringer.

Update: More from Robert Campbell. Time to drop the hammer on that letter to USM withdrawing my application for employment…

More broken XML generated by blogging tools

First it was Movable Type doing it… now, WordPress generates differently but equally-broken XML for its inline trackback RDF discovery. Here’s an example:

<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="" 
    dc:title="\'Hat of the Day:  Chip Frederick"
    trackback:ping="" />

Backslashes don’t escape anything in XML

Update: Per the trackback below, WordPress fixed it! So, the current score is: WP 1, MT 0. (So, my message to all you WordPress bloggers over there on the sidebar: get thee to an update.)

Inductive reasoning

David Pinto doesn’t think much of ESPN’s continued plugging of its “productive outs” statistic, and in particular Buster Olney’s justification thereof, as summarized by Pinto:

The basic argument is: here’s a stat, this team is good at it, this team won, so it must be important to be good at that stat.

I’m all for inductive reasoning, but inductive reasoning from a single case is, generally speaking, not a very smart idea…

In other baseball news, Ole Miss finally got off the schnide with a 2–1 victory over Murray State on Wednesday (snapping a six-game losing streak); let’s hope they can stay on track this weekend at South Carolina.

ScumWatch: Army Edition

Gary Farber and John Cole (also here) rightly characterize as “appalling” reports that Army soldiers tortured and abused Iraqi prisoners, possibly with the connivance of higher-ups. A special fisking is in order for the lawyer for one of the accused soldiers, as quoted by the New York Times:

“This case involves a monumental failure of leadership, where lower-level enlisted people are being scapegoated,” Mr. Myers said. “The real story is not in these six young enlisted people. The real story is the manner in which the intelligence community forced them into this position.”

No, the real story is that Mr. Myers’ client (allegedly) obeyed an illegal order, violated the Geneva Conventions, and deserves to spend every single minute he gets in Leavenworth—right along side the officers whose orders he obeyed. “I was only following orders” is a chickenshit excuse, especially for an E-6.

Update: More from Xrlq and Steven Taylor, who labels the soldiers “sadistic morons” and catches another soldier pleading “we didn’t know any better,” as well as news that British troops are also accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Thursday, 29 April 2004

The horror, the horror!

Will Baude of Crescat Sententia is enjoying Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; it has become one of my favorite literary works, although I didn’t appreciate it quite as much as I do now when my high school AP English teacher was cramming it down my throat. (I strongly recommend the Norton Critical Edition, linked above.)

Of course, it helps that Conrad’s book has reached archetypical status in contemporary culture, due in large part to its serving as the basis for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam film, Apocalypse Now.

Update: Will Baude says “the movie that really best translates Heart of Darkness to the screen is Chinatown,” at least according to Ted Cohen. Perhaps at an archetypical level, but the plots are miles apart—most notably: I don’t remember an incest subplot in HoD.

Another Update: Dave Kozyr has a response to Will Baude as well. Furthermore, the documentary about the filming of Apocalypse Now is entitled… Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. I rest my case.


Well, this is about the oddest thing possible to have expected to come out of the brou-ha-ha down at Southern Miss: USM President Shelby Thames and fired professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer reached a settlement after yesterday’s hearing in Hattiesburg. Extra bonus: good ole Shelby also spies on his employees’ email.

And, I’d like to declare advantage on this tidbit:

Testimony showed Stringer said he was chairman of the English department, a claim he later refuted.

Good money says the settlement is to ensure that Thames doesn’t get his derierre sued off, and that both professors will be reinstated, but we’ll see when we see…


I guess I should go back and revise this post, because now that I think about it, I omitted at least one job whose deadline hasn’t passed yet, in addition to the one I have a phone interview scheduled for on Friday.

Hopefully the next two weeks are the endgame, one way or the other…

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

The federalization of crime

There’s a must-read article (no matter what your political leanings are) over at Reason Online, about the federal government’s “ever-expanding criminal code.”

Those of you in Memphis might like to note that the first two cases mentioned by the authors, USA v. Mahoney and USA v. Logan, were tried in Jackson and Memphis, respectively.

Red-Blue in the Face

Maureen of Blog or not? is also unimpressed with the WaPo “let’s go interview Red Staters and Blue Staters” exercise, previously mentioned here.

Dubious distinction

I discovered today that I am (or, rather, this blog post of mine is) the number one result returned by Google for ”grad school dropout.”

Rat crap

James Joyner sides with Julian Sanchez against Radley Balko on the merits of government inspections of restaurants.

I’m pretty sure some libertarian—I want to say it was Charles Murray, in What It Means to Be a Libertarian—made an argument for optional regulation (not just for restaurants, but also in any regulated business): companies could choose to be regulated by the existing regulatory regime, or opt to not be regulated. In the latter case, the non-regulated companies would be required to display some “not regulated” symbol or disclaimer; of course, they could also opt for a private regulatory regime (like the ones Balko proposed hypothetically), and businesses would presumably show their “private stamp of approval” next to their “not regulated” symbol.

This is not unlike how university accreditation works in the U.S., although there is no legal requirement to put up a big “we’re not accredited” sign (at least, not that I’m aware of, although there are other meaningful disincentives—like denial of federal aid to students).

Tuesday, 27 April 2004

Back alive

I’m back in Oxvegas; however, since I didn’t get much sleep the past two nights, I’m probably just going to watch some stuff I TiVo’d (or perhaps I should refer to it as “stuff TiVo TiVo’d for me”) while I was gone and generally zonk out.

Monday, 26 April 2004

As I leave [redacted]

I need to get to bed in a few minutes, since I have an appointment with an American Eagle plane at oh-dark-thirty. So I’ll leave you to ponder this Dan Drezner post and the linked article on Larry Diamond’s experiences in Iraq attempting to promote democracy there.

More when I’m safe and sound back in Oxvegas, sometime late Tuesday.

Thank you for your liberal patronage

Lily Malcolm catches Washington Post writer David Finkel using a tone of “bemused ironic distance” in reference to a Texas suburbanite, in addition to commiting the cardinal sin of perpetuating the Red State-Blue State myth. I mean, at least Finkel could make himself useful and perpetuate obsolete but at least empirically-based theories of political culture, rather than crap peddled by two-bit media-hound hacks whose research doesn’t dignify the term.

Head to toe

Brian J. Noggle thinks an MSN dating column is giving erroneous advice. Given my recent focus on womens’ footwear, I might say “speak for yourself.”

Brian also is hat blogging, following Brock’s lead. I’m afraid my hat collection is limited to two Ole Miss baseball caps and a Linux “Tux” penguin hat; my fashion fetish is represented by my burgeoning collection of ties, including my find of the month, a nice silver-and-grey tie that cost me all of $2. Of course, it was probably made by Chinese political prisoners or some such…

At least Diebold isn't tabulating American Idol votes

Alex Knapp is not at all impressed with the spread of touchscreen voting and thinks it will ultimately create more problems than it solves; I generally agree, especially given the less expensive and superior alternative: optical mark recognition (OMR) machines, which are essentially glorified Scantron machines that read ink circles instead of pencil marks. Put an OMR scanner or two in each precinct, and the only other equipment you need are some pens and the proper machine-readable paper ballots. Not to mention that the audit trail is trivial: all you need to do is hang on to the ballots after they’re scanned.


Hei Lun of Begging To Differ wonders why conservatives are so worked up over the Specter-Toomey showdown in Pennsylvania. At some level, I suppose it’s the question northern liberals had to ask themselves in the 60s and 70s: do we continue to support conservative southern Democrats, and thereby retain our numerical superiority in Congress and keep the tent “big,” or do we follow our principles and try to get northern-style liberals to win the primary—and risk losing our majority by getting outflanked by the Republicans in the general election.

That said, a Specter defection to the Democrats would only be harmful to the GOP if it was a trigger for defection by the other northeastern Republicans (and therefore tipped the balance in the Senate), and the strategic calculus for Bush is such that the Olympia Snowes of the world will wonder—quite rightly—whether they would be next on the ideological purity “hit list” if Bush had endorsed Toomey over Specter.

On balance, I think both parties benefit from having moderates on their rosters—both for the public relations benefit of being able to claim something is “bipartisan” (a label that the media will apply to any legislation that has even one across-the-aisle supporter) and because they allow the parties to be competitive in areas that they otherwise wouldn’t be; Santorum-style conservatism may be viable for both Senate seats in Pennsylvania (though I suspect many Pennsylvanians think one Santorum is plenty), but it wouldn’t fly as well in other swing states.

Invisible in the Chronicle

Eugene Volokh links an interview with the departed (from the web, at least) Invisible Adjunct.

Hooray for hats!

Will Baude anguishes over the apparent demise of men’s hats as a fashion accessory.

Have faith, Will! One day, men’s hats will come back in style, and you and I will be ahead of the fashion curve.

Everyone who knows me “in real life” knows that I’m a big fan of hats. My wife has compared going hat shopping with me to going shoe shopping with a woman.

Right now I own three hats: a straw Stetson, a felt Bailey, and my newest hat, a straw Scala. Here’s a picture of me wearing the Bailey in San Antonio in January. The lovely lady in the picture is my wife.

A word of advice to men shopping for hats: do not buy a hat over the internet. Two hats of the same brand and style will fit slightly differently. You have to try each of them on to find the one that fits you best.

In Memphis, the place to shop for a hat is Mr. Hats.

Sunday, 25 April 2004

Suit yourself

Amanda Butler, Will Baude, and Waddling Thunder ponder the role of the suit in modern society.

A sociologist friend of mine was quite surprised to witness the spectacle of political scientists parading around the Palmer House Hilton in suits—apparently, sociologists don’t dress up for conferences, but political scientists (for whatever reason) do. I tend to think the suit is best reserved for special occasions; I wouldn’t dream of teaching in a suit on a regular basis (and, in fact, have only done it once—when I had a job interview immediately after class—although I’ll be teaching in a suit tomorrow as well), and if I were the churchgoing sort, I probably wouldn’t wear a suit to church either. On the other hand, I like my suit, and I don’t even mind wearing a shirt and tie on a semi-regular basis (and I have been known to wear a shirt and tie when teaching). Plus my suit actually manages to make me look halfway respectable, which is no minor feat.

As for Ms. Butler’s complaints about footwear, I can empathize—finding comfortable dress shoes is something of a challenge for me, given my rather wide feet, although my recent pair of SAS leather shoes are remarkably comfortable (my mother swears by SAS). I honestly don’t pay much attention to the footwear that female political scientists wear at conferences, though they do tend to dress more casually than the men, so I suspect many eschew heels in favor of more comfortable footwear, a decision I wholeheartedly support.

I am also rather convinced that the only people, aside from those with various fetishes, who care what shoes women wear are other women. Not being a sociologist, though, I can’t explain why this would be the case or how this might affect one’s strategies in making more comfortable footwear acceptable for women’s business attire.

Cypress Split

At the airport in Dallas† today, I broke down and bought a week-old Economist,* and in it I read about the then-current status of the Cyprus deal—the European Union made an ill-advised deal with the Greek Cypriots that basically let them in the EU regardless of whether or not they held up their end of the bargain to reunite the island, on the not entirely unreasonable but nonetheless incorrect assumption that the Turks would be the more recalcitrant party. Now the other shoe has dropped, with the Greek Cypriots rejecting the deal, and everyone is sort of standing around holding their proverbial Johnsons in response.

The moral of this story is Game Theory 101: don’t reward someone for their anticipated good behavior in advance, because otherwise they’ll see no reason to uphold their end of the bargain.

Thinking out loud

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can think out loud. The drawback is pretty much anyone can stumble by and read your thoughts, and given my current situation on the job market, it is in my best interest for everyone to think I’ll leap at the chance to take their job offer (which, given that I have fairly transitive preferences, is emphatically not the case).

Nevertheless, I feel the need to ponder aloud. One of the faculty members I was out to dinner with tonight (at a pretty good Chinese restaurant—I guess I should have picked something else for dinner last night, since this was my second dinner of fried wontons and beef fried rice in two days) mentioned that his son is studying for the computerized GRE. The GRE actually has an interesting structure; in the olden days, you answered a block of N questions per section, and everyone answered the same N questions. Now, you answer M questions, and the test is adaptive—if you get questions right, it gives you harder ones, and if you get them wrong, you get easier ones. Thus, it is important to do well early—if you blow the first few questions, there’s almost no way to score in the 700s, because you’ll never get back to the hard questions that allow you to get such a high score. In other words, there is path dependency in the GRE: past actions dictate the range of choices you have available.

One suspects the job market is the same way. Aside from Overby’s career-improvement maxim—generally quoted as “any job is better than no job” (and, its corrollary, “never have an unpublishable thought”)—some jobs are better than others. Course load, service requirements, pay, appointment length (tenure-track versus non-tenure-track), location, and prestige all have effects.

Funnily enough, I think I’ve made my decision, more or less; there are basically two jobs I’d say yes to (one of which I’m pretty sure I’m not in the running for), two I’d have to seriously think about, and one I’d reject outright (there’s also a possibility in reserve which I’m not counting yet). Now I just need to find out what my options are, and react accordingly.

(I promise I’ll stop being so cryptic once I have signed a contract for the fall.)

Morons on parade

This may be a good nominee for this year’s Darwin Awards: Diver in contest feared drowned. And this wasn’t any diving contest—it was a belly-flopping contest, at Diamond Jim’s bar in Beloit, Wisconsin.

The loss to society is immense, for not only did the unidentified 52-year-old man have “a heart of gold, a caring nature and a pleasant outlook on life,” he was also one of the few residents of Rock County who is certified to roast pigs. (Silly me didn’t realize pig-roasting required certification.) But I think the key to the story lies at the end:

His friend [the man who is presumed drowned] was planning on driving up to Reedsburg next weekend to roast a pig for a wedding reception and had asked Quaerna for directions.

“He’s originally from Mississippi. I don’t believe he had been that far north before,” Quaerna said.

What Quaerna doesn’t understand, is why his friend jumped from the bridge.

“He doesn’t know how to swim,” Quaerna said.

This story reminds me of nothing so much as the final track from Lewis Black’s first comedy album, The White Album (which also involved rednecks doing incredibly stupid things, only those rednecks were in Arkansas and ammunition was involved). Fun and amusement for the whole family!

Thanks to Scott for the link.


I’ve been tied up preparing for this job interview the last couple of days, so I haven’t gotten around to posting about the Iraq situation. Thankfully, Steven Taylor read my mind in his critique of the decision to hand over power on June 30th without figuring out who would be getting the power first (though the silver lining in this process is the belated jettisoning of Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq’s Charles de Gaulle wannabe), as well as his consideration of how the UN’s involvement in the handover is undercutting John Kerry’s position on Iraq.

Saturday, 24 April 2004

Pat Boone on censorship

From the Washington Times:

Mr. Boone said that if he were in charge of standards, there would be stringent controls on material.

"It must be majority approved ... voluntary ... and self-imposed," he said, clad in a yellow blazer, black slacks, a canary yellow tie and white leather shoes. "Censorship is healthy for any society, and that goes for arts, entertainment, anything. Self-imposed means that the majority of people say that is what we want, and it can be changed if people's attitudes change, which is how a democratic society works."

Good thing Mr. Boone is not in charge of standards. (Link via Marginal Revolution.)

Friday, 23 April 2004

Definitions redux

My mini-contest garnered two entries. Brock proposed “alleged,” while my fellow Ole Miss alum Scott proposed “perceived.” Since “perceived” was the word I had in mind when I wrote the post, Scott wins the Signifying Nothing no-prize of having his name mentioned in my blog, along with my pity for knowing me well enough to read my thoughts.

I actually went with “public policy is a government plan of action that is intended to solve a perceived societal problem,” because I like adding words to definitions for amusement value. So, if you’re one of the lucky students in Dr. [redacted]’s American Government class at [redacted] University, you will be regaled with 50 minutes of quality lecture time on U.S. public policy from yours truly at 1 p.m. [redacted] Daylight Time on Monday, complete with color transparencies. Don’t forget reading material for the slow parts!

Southern Politics in Staton Nation

As expected, the near-legendary faculty review of Ole Miss Provost Carolyn Staton’s job performance was overwhelmingly negative, according to survey results obtained by The Daily Mississippian (who deserve kudos for even the vaguest attempt at investigatory journalism—heck, they deserve kudos for stringing together a coherent article, something rarely seen in the DM outside the Sports section). News at 11.

Though I have to give Bobby Khayat credit where it’s due—he runs a tighter ship than good ol’ Shelby Thames down at USM, and keeps things significantly closer to the straight-and-narrow, even if he engenders similar levels of animus from the faculty and students in the process.

Social construction zone

Today’s Beltway Traffic Jam has a decidedly topical theme, given the gender role discussion that has swept this little corner of the 'sphere lately.

Cue the Jeopardy! theme

Hmm, maybe this phone interview isn’t going to happen after all… or it’s going to be about the shortest on record, one of the two.

Update: Shortest on record…

Thursday, 22 April 2004

Ignoring the big SUV in the room

John Kerry is in denial over his ownership of a sport-utility vehicle. Like any responsible husband would, he blames his wife…

Surprisingly, though, he does fess up to owning a Dodge 600, a giant piece of 1980s Detroit iron that probably gets less gas mileage than his wife’s late-model Chevy Suburban.

Why Radio Sucks

Julian Sanchez has an interesting economic speculation about why New York radio is so lame:

My guess - pure speculation - is that because current technology and spectrum policy limit the number of FM stations to well below what the New York Market could bear, what ends up happening is that the market is actually able to sustain at a profitable level enough Clear Channel-style top-40 schlock stations that the more interesting independent sorts that pop up in less dense urban areas get crowded out. Imagine every town in America got exactly five movie theatres, regardless of size. Ironically, in the smaller towns, three or four theatres would probably satisfy the total demand for the mainstream Hollywood movies coming out, and one or two would be left catering to the minority that was interested in art-house or foreign flicks. In Manhattan, though, those five theatres could easily sell out every showing of The Punisher or Scooby Doo 2 and still have lines at the door, so with a limit on the number of theatres in place, they stick with plucking that low-hanging mass-market fruit.

Interesting thoughts, but why is Memphis radio so bad? Answer: it wasn't, until George Flinn killed the Pig. We still have WEVL, I suppose, but it seems like every time I turn on WEVL they're playing Celtic music. Shudder.

Ambiguous headline of the day

From CNN:

Judge deals blow to Bryant defense

Judges have been saying that their salaries are inadequate, but who would have thought a judge would stoop to dealing drugs?

UPDATE: Reader Xrlq emails to point out yet another reading of the headline:

Actually, when I first read the headline, I thought of a third meaning: this judge's deals aren't just kinda bad for Kobe. To his defense team, they blow.

Say My 'Nam

Steven Taylor finds John Kerry discussing Vietnam in the oddest of places. My question: does the analogy make Cajuns “Charlie”?

Wednesday, 21 April 2004

Book meme also

Since Chris is doing it, so will I.

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

My result:

Limes are used a great deal in Asian cooking, and the rind can be used to flavor curries, marinades, and dips.

Book meme

Via Amish Tech Support:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Here’s mine:

Then, thoughtfully, “Actually I’m rather tired of it.”

Faulkner it ain’t.

Kiddie Wars

Laura of Apartment 11D thinks a war is brewing in academe between the parents and the childless:

Is this war new? I think so. With the pressures of the new economy, workers are turning on each other. Everybody else’s life looks better than their own. The parent workers are jealous of their single counterparts who can work uninterrupted, who get a full night’s sleep and a weekend off. The singles feel that they don’t have the excuse of a soccer game to get them out of a departmental meeting.

Since the decision to have kids has been framed in terms of choice, then that means that the chooser has to accept all the consequences. Of course, you could make the converse argument that the childless choose not to have children, and thus have to accept the consequences. [emphasis mine]

I suppose one can make that argument, but given the relative paucity of women beating on my door begging me to be a sperm donor, I think the “choice” aspect here is massively overstated.

On the other hand, the benefits of not having to convince a spouse and kids that (hypothetically speaking, of course) it’s a good idea for your career to spend the next winter digging out from under snow on the wild chance that a tenure line will open up the next year, especially when you’re turning down a tenure-track offer in much warmer climes to do it, probably shouldn’t be discounted…


Stephen Karlson is the latest to note the news that Duke is getting rid of its 8 a.m. classes in favor of 8:30 a.m. start times. He is also the first to note that the students may not actually be the impetus for the change:

[T]he clustering of classes in the 10 am to 3 pm time blocks, which contributes to a space crunch at many universities, reflects in part a revelation of preferences on the part of the faculty. Northern Illinois University wants at least one third of each department’s class offerings outside prime time. That, too, is not as big a problem for a night owl, or for a morning person. One colleague, now retired, would choose the 8 am classes, be in by 5 or 6 in the morning, and gone by 2 or 3 pm.

Given my future status as “low rung on the ladder,” I don’t expect to have my preferred sleep schedule worked into the formulation of the college bulletin. But I will say the way to this political scientist’s heart is to let him sleep in…

Preprint this!

Jacob Levy notes that my papers page may be heading towards obsolecence, given that the Powers That Be in political science have joined forces to launch

Now, if they can only figure out how to make employers actually pay attention to the vitas posted on eJobs, this discipline might well be organized by the time I’m retired.

I planned to post about this Monday when I got my APSA April e-Newsletter, which helpfully arrived in my email box well after half the events it talks about have already happened, but when searching for my name turned up nothing (when I know for a fact there should be some of my stuff in there, at least if it includes—as advertised—papers from APSA 2003 and MPSA 2004), I concluded the site was useless as-is, being an egotistical snob and all.


Professor Bainbridge thinks some branches of government are more co-equal than others:

Reading the accounts of the Supreme Court’s oral argument yesterday on the Guantanamo prisoner appeal, I am struck yet again by the unweening arrogance of the US judiciary. Set aside the substantive merits of the case, of which I believe Justice Jackson’s aphorism “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” more than adequately disposes (see also my friend and colleague Eugene Volokh’s more substantive critique). Instead, consider how offended some members of the Court seemed to be by the notion that any aspect of American life might lie outside their reach. Breyer, for example, complained: “It seems rather contrary to an idea of a Constitution with three branches that the executive would be free to do whatever they want, whatever they want without a check.”

Apparently only the Supreme Court is “free to do whatever they want… without a check.” If five of the nine unelected old men and women on that court agree, they can strike down any law or executive action. And our elected representatives have essentially no power to constrain them other than the impractical route of amending the Constitution.

In actuality, our elected representatives have a great deal of power to constrain the judiciary: they may, for example, limit its jurisdiction, expand its membership (“court packing”), reduce funding, split circuits, and take myriad other actions designed to frustrate the court. Lower court judges can, and often do, defy the clear precedent set forth by the Supreme Court. Congress and the president routinely ignore the intent of Supreme Court decisions like INS v. Chadha. The Supreme Court has no police power to compel compliance with its decisions; President Eisenhower sent the National Guard to Little Rock, not Earl Warren, while President Jackson gave the (figurative, if not literal) finger to the Court when it told him to stop deporting the Cherokees.

Heck, good money says that if the Supremes had done what almost all agree now is the right thing in Korematsu, and said Japanese-Americans were being deprived of their rights by being interred, it wouldn’t have made the least bit of difference. And, should the Court actually agree with the Gitmo detainees’ case, and if the hypothetical Reinhardt decision comes that some detainees should be released, I’m not expecting the administration to be in any hurry whatsoever to comply—more likely, they’ll just ship them off to the Mossad or something.

To assert that “our elected representatives have essentially no power to constrain” the courts is borderline absurd. Congress and the president have plenty of power—they just choose not to exercise it, given that both parties want to have a Supreme Court that is willing and able to do the dirty work of standing up to the voters when they demand “uncommonly silly” laws (that nonetheless get overwhelming legislative support) like flag desecration acts, public morals legislation, and the like.

Update: Brett Marston agrees with me, at least in part, citing additional constraints on the Court (most notably, that it is restricted to ruling on cases on its docket).

The unbearable hotness of being (or not being...)

While I was off doing better things, apparently some debate arose over whether or not the Hot Abercrombie Chick is really a, er, “chick.” (The hotness and the wearing of Abercrombie & Fitch were not debated.)

I really don’t know what to make of all this. I know better than to think that good-looking women can’t be smart though… and thus my gut feeling is to give Ms. Doerty the benefit of the doubt on actually being Ms. Doerty.

Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Court unpacking

More wackiness from the Bay State gay marriage kerfuffle: now the plan is, remove the judges.

Link via Kate Malcolm.


“Public policy is a government plan of action to solve a social problem.”

“Public policy is a government plan of action intended to solve a societal problem.”

Three guesses which definition was in the textbook, and which was the one I put in my lecture notes. Bonus points if you can make the definition even more accurate by adding a single word.

Political physiology

Tyler Cowen links a New York Times piece on how researchers are using MRIs to look at how voters’ brains react to political ads, and it’s a pretty fascinating piece. Though I must quibble with this graf:

“These new tools could help us someday be less reliant on clichés and unproven adages,” said Tom Freedman, a strategist in the 1996 Clinton campaign, later a White House aide and now a sponsor of the research. “They’ll help put a bit more science in political science.”

Dragging fancy machines into the room has nothing to do with whether or not you’re being scientific. Somehow people have this warped view that you can only do “science” when you’re dressed in a lab coat and goggles and there are a few bunsen burners in the room, which is simply not the case.

Driven to drink

Sid Salter had a piece in Sunday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger on the byzantine structure of Mississippi’s alcohol laws—so byzantine, in fact, that the state tax commission (or the paper) apparently doesn’t know that Lafayette County, with the exception of the city of Oxford, is dry, not wet.

Technically untrue, but amusing nonetheless

Alex Knapp links a rather amusing parody site, which contains this rather incorrect view of American political development:

The American Democratic system works as well today as it did when the electoral structure was laid out by the founding fathers. In fact, Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all ran as “Democratic-Republicans”, this party originating today’s Democratic and Republican parties. Not since Zachary Taylor in 1848 has the Electoral College voted a third-party (Whig, in this case) candidate into the White House.

That ain’t exactly how it happened. The “Democratic-Republicans” actually started out—even more confusingly—as the Francophile, agrarian “Republicans,” as in “not monarchists,” with the associated implication that the Federalists* (Anglophile, commercial, concentrated in New England) were. They then became the Democratic-Republicans and finally the Democrats circa 1828, well after the last gasp of the Federalists. Until the late 1850s, the primary opposition party were the Whigs, a party that lacked much of an ideology except, perhaps, being a tad less populist than the Democrats of the time.

The Republican Party, established circa 1854, had no real connection to the Democrats—beyond a membership of disaffected Whigs, Democrats, and assorted other parties who joined to support a fiercely abolitionist platform and the presidential candidacy of John Fremont in 1856.

Still, it’s a cute site…

Monday, 19 April 2004

BlogMatrix Jäger 1.0.0 out

I still owe David Janes some feedback on his new feedreader (David: I’ll get to it in my Copious Free Time later this week!). In the meantime, download version 1.0.0 for your Windows box and take it for a spin; Jäger takes a different approach than most feed readers, letting your preferred browser handle displaying entries (instead of using an IE or Gecko component internally), but it gets the job done very well.

Post-conference funk

I’m alive and well back in Oxvegas. More when I’m actually motivated to do anything…

Saturday, 17 April 2004

Up for air

I’m taking a short break at my hotel before heading back to the conference, which I have to say has been a pretty good one for me—I’ve gotten to catch up with some good old friends from ICPSR and elsewhere, met some new ones, and had a few promising conversations about job prospects in The Discipline™. Now off to get a sandwich and head back.

(I saw Dan very briefly yesterday afternoon… otherwise, except for Dirk, it’s been a blogger-free weekend so far.)

Domino dancing

Another week, another Hamas leader dies with a generous assist from the Israeli Defense Forces. Funny how that works.

Three cheers for Machiavelli

At Cafe Hayek, George Mason University economics professor Russell Roberts quotes James Surowiecki writing in the New Yorker about the Bush administration’s manipulation of economic statistics for political gain:

Statistical expediency and fiscal obfuscation have become hallmarks of this White House. In the past three years, the Bush Administration has had the Bureau of Labor Statistics stop reporting mass layoffs. It shortened the traditional span of budget projections from ten years to five, which allowed it to hide the long-term costs of its tax cuts. It commissioned a report on the aging of the baby boomers, then quashed it because it projected deficits as far as the eye could see. The Administration declined to offer cost estimates or to budget money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers included an unaccountably optimistic job-growth forecast, evidently guided by the Administration’s desire to claim that it will have created jobs.

Prof. Roberts then goes on to praise Bush for this:

[T]his indictment of the Bush Administration is disappointing. I was expecting to read that Bush had leaned on the bureaucrats to redefine unemployment or some such measure in order to look good in November. But except for the BLS example, Surowiecki's examples are examples of where the Administration has made inaccurate forecasts that led to more palatable political results. That's a good reason to ignore most forecasts....

Administration lies are good when they lead to political results that Prof. Roberts likes.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)

(Updated to correct Prof. Roberts' institutional affiliation and link to Marginal Revolution.)

Friday, 16 April 2004

Demon Weed from Canada

White House “drug czar” John Walters blamed Canada for a doubling of “pot-related emergency room cases,” explaining that hydroponically-grown Canadian pot is “seven times more potent than the marijuana baby-boomer parents may remember.”

“Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana and it is a dangerous problem,” said Walters.

DWLtW (Driving while listening to Wagner)

According to Britain’s RAC Foundation for Motoring, one should avoid listening to “Ride of the Valkyries” while driving. Other music to avoid, according to the RAC Foundation: “Firestarter” by Prodigy; “Red Alert” by Basement Jaxx; “Insomnia” by Faithless; and “Dies Irae” by Verdi.

Acceptible music for driving: “Mad World” by Gary Jules; “Another Day” by Lemar; “Too lost in You” by Sugababes; “Breathe Easy” by Blue; and Norah Jones – “Come away with me” by Norah Jones

One should also avoid any music ever featured in a Mitsubishi commercial.

Thursday, 15 April 2004


Tim Sandefur takes exception to familiar address among bloggers who don’t know each other:

Can it really be that hard for people to understand that when you don’t know someone, it’s not proper to call him by his first name? There’s no way to point this out without sounding rude in today’s backslappingly Jacksonian ultraegalitarian world, but when I’m tired of ignoring it, and finally say something about it, all I get is a ration of crap. There’s nothing mean or uppity about the rule, folks, it’s just the rule. The rule is, if you don’t know someone, you call him Mr. Soandso, you don’t call him Jim or Bob or Bill—and if you’re publicly speaking to a third person about Mr. Soandso, you call him Mr. Soandso, even if you are on a first name basis with him.

I think that’s true to some extent, but in a lot of ways blogging is like a community—you get to know people in a different way (by reading their posts, rather than by interacting with them), perhaps, but I think it’s awkward to refer to someone whose blogging I read and respect (and hopefully vice versa) on a regular basis using formal pronouns and titles. Heck, there are a few bloggers I’ve never met who I consider friends (of course, there are also folks like Dean & Rosemary Esmay and Mike Hollihan and Len Cleavlin who I have met in person, though only because of blogging).

There is also a certain carryover from academe, where it is considered generally collegial to refer to eschew titles—the hierarchy is enforced in other, more subtle ways instead.

As far as I am concerned: I’m Chris (or Christopher if you’re my parents), and you may call me that, although I’ll certainly forgive, and wouldn’t dare correct, anyone who insists on “Doctor Lawrence” or the (technically incorrect, at least for now) “Professor Lawrence” for reasons of upbringing or an interest in maintaining the tu-vous distinction for other reasons.


My panel this morning ("Public Support for the Iraq War") was surprisingly well-attended (at least, compared to panels I’ve presented on in the past), and we had a good discussion despite the absence of our original chair/discussant due to a family illness.

You can browse the MPSA paper archive online; my panel was Section 13, Panel 13 (I can’t figure out how to make a direct link that won’t break); of course, if you’re only interested in my paper, you can get it here.

Wednesday, 14 April 2004

Misery loves company

Dan Drezner takes a look at John Kerry’s “new and improved!” misery index:

Every index can be challenged on the quality of the data that goes into it, and the weights that are assigned to the various components that make up the overall figure. A lack of transparency about methodology is also a valid criticism. For example, in my previous post on the competitiveness of different regions in the global information economy, the company responsible for the rankings provides little (free) information on how the index was computed. That’s a fair critique.

Even when the methodology is transparent, there can still be problems.

This is a subject near-and-dear to my heart. In quantitative social science, your econometric model is only as useful as your indicators; a crappy indicator renders the whole model essentially useless.

Unfortunately, our ways of dealing with the problem of how well an indicator reflects a concept leave a lot to be desired; “face validity”—which boils down to “I think the indicator reflects the concept, so we’ll a priori assume it does”—is relied on, even by good scholars, to an extent that will make you blanch. Even seemingly obvious indicators, like responses to survey questions, are often woefully inadequate for measuring “true” concepts (in the case of public opinion research, attitudes and predispositions).

Building an index helps with some of these problems—if your measurement error—but introduces others (like ascribing valid weights to the items, as Dan points out). A few cool tools, like factor analysis and its cousin principal components analysis, are designed to help in finding weights, but even they have problems and limitations, most of which basically boil down to the fact that human judgment is still involved in the process.

Chicago, you're only a day a-way (from Memphis, at least)

I’ve arrived safe and sound in Chi-town. Illinois has to be the most boring state in the nation; the whole state is flat as a pancake as soon as you get north of Mount Vernon (where I-64 crosses the state on its way between Louisville and St. Louis), and it doesn’t get more exciting until you can see the Sears Tower about 300 miles (500 km) later.

I even tried going a different way than usual (“Surely this lake on the map means topography nearby,” I thought erroneously), and all I got for my effort was an extra hour of staring at endless farmland, although I at least got off I-57—in other words, at least the flat, boring farmland was different flat, boring farmland. (From Effingham, I took Ill. 32 to Ill. 121 to Decatur, then took U.S. 51 north to Bloomington, then I-55 into Chicago.)

Speaking of Effingham, that giant cross is just freaky. Say what you will about Southern Baptists, but at least they have the good taste not to inflict something so immensely gaudy on the motoring public (preferring, instead, giant fields of tiny crosses or trinities of smaller crosses that aren’t hazards to unsuspecting amateur pilots).

Now, off to get me a light dinner and to finish getting junk out of my car.

More on "The Myth of the Racist Republicans"

As promised, I’ve had more of a chance to closely read and think about Gerard Alexander’s Claremont Review of Books essay, “The Myth of the Racist Republicans.”

The prècis of Alexander’s argument is essentially that, while Republicans were willing to run avowed and former segregationists on occasion as candidates in the South in the 50s and 60s, and while their candidates “from the 1950s on” for state and federal office were willing to “craft policies and messages that could compete for the votes of some pretty unsavory characters,” this conduct—which Alexander concedes is expedient—does not rise to the level of making “a pact with America’s devil”—selling out the Lincolnian principles the GOP was founded on.

Alexander says that proponents of the “racist Republican” myth rest their case on an accomodation with Southern racism that is based on “code words.” He concedes that Goldwater’s call for “state’s rights” in 1964 may have been an instance of Republicans pandering to segregationists, but argues that other allegedly “coded” appeals to racism, such as the positions of Nixon and Regan “on busing, affirmative action, and welfare reform” were designed to appeal to broad middle-class discontent with the Democratic Party’s approach to these issues, rather than being part of a deliberate strategy to court racists; more to the point, he writes:

In effect, these critics want to have it both ways: they acknowledge that these views could in principle be non-racist (otherwise they wouldn’t be a “code” for racism) but suggest they never are in practice (and so can be reliably treated as proxies for racism). The result is that their claims are non-falsifiable because they are tautological: these views are deemed racist because they are defined as racist. This amounts to saying that opposition to the policies favored by today’s civil rights establishment is a valid indicator of racism.

Of course, given the strategic choice that Republicans have made to “craft policies and messages that could compete for the votes” of racists—a choice that Alexander himself acknowledges the GOP has made—it would seem that, at the very least, emphasizing these issues over (say) lower taxes or increased spending on defense, shows a willingness to cater to racist sentiment, which in itself borders on racism.

He then turns to why the GOP gained support from disaffected Southern whites; here he is on stronger ground, as it is fairly clear that the Democratic Party abandoned the tacit “New Deal” agreement to soft-pedal racial issues in favor of a more aggressive pro-civil rights stance beginning in the late 1940s with Truman’s integration of the armed forces, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His argument is essentially that Southern racists came to the GOP “mountain,” rather than the other way around—an argument that would be stronger if he hadn’t already conceded that the GOP was tailoring its messages to appeal to racists and win votes from the Democrats in the South. The “mountain” moved a bit on its own—he quotes Kevin Phillips as saying that Republicans didn’t “have to bid much ideologically” to gain the support of Wallace voters—but they did have to bid something, which arguably included “go slow” desegregation (in opposing busing) and opposition to affirmative action programs.

Alexander then looks at the pattern of GOP growth in the South, noting that the GOP did better in the Peripheral South than it did in the Deep South; he argues that this is further proof that the “Southern strategy” was essentially benevolent, and that the GOP‘s ideology was too moderate to appeal to hard-core segregationists, but an alternative intepretation is that the slowness in Deep South segregationists to move to the Republicans was a result of historical antipathy toward Republicans—who were, after all, the party of blacks (at least, the minority who had managed to evade the barriers to participation erected by segregationists) in the South until the 1960s—coupled with state Democratic parties that were more tolerant of old-line segregationists remaining under the Democrat banner.

It is, of course, overly simplistic to say that Wallace voters make up the bulk of today’s GOP in the South—the typical Wallace supporter from 1968 is probably a Constitution Party voter today, assuming his or her racial views remain intact. Nor is it necessarily the GOP‘s fault that some segregationists support it, any more than it is the Democrats’ fault that they have some support from eco-terrorists like the Earth Liberation Front. But I think it is valid to criticize the GOP for the “Southern strategy” that even Alexander concedes the party has used—and I also think it’s reasonable to believe that at least some of the Republican platform is motivated by an interest in appealing to those with unreconstructed racist views. Does that mean opposition to affirmative action is racist? No. But it does mean that the GOP‘s sincerity in being a non-racist party is somewhat questionable.

I also find it interesting that Alexander manages to write 3500 words on contemporary Southern politics without mentioning Trent Lott, which seems like a rather important oversight; however, that’s neither here nor there.

Tuesday, 13 April 2004

The taxman cometh

Amanda Butler shares her tax-filing pain. She should count herself lucky—going back as far as I’ve had to file tax returns, which would be about 15 years or so, I’ve never been able to file either 1040EZ or 1040A. Products like TaxCut are a godsend, that’s all I can say.

Monday, 12 April 2004

Southern strategies

Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia takes on virtually all the existing scholarship on Southern politics in the latest Claremont Review of Books—and, IMHO, comes up a bit short of proving his point to my satisfaction, although a proper treatment of the article will have to wait until sometime tomorrow.

I will note that Alan Abramowitz came to virtually the same conclusion* in “Issue Evolution Reconsidered” (The Journal of Politics, 1994), which was a rebuttal to Carmines and Stimson’s Issue Evolution, which, along with Huckfeldt and Sprague’s Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics is probably the classic academic work that promotes the “southern strategy” explanation for the Southern realignment—the Black brothers, however, see dealignment rather than realignment to the GOP, and in a lot of their discussion, they actually support what Alexander says, at least to some extent.

Link via Lily Malcolm (a recent victim of a minor paring knife accident).


Well, at last, I have a real, bona fide campus interview, tentatively scheduled for the week after next, for a tenure-track job at a regional state university with a predominantly non-traditional student body in the lower plains (think “where the wind goes blowing…”). I already have a pre-interview scheduled for this weekend in Chicago (with a different school), but this is the first campus visit.

It actually seems like a fun job, where I’d get to play “big fish in a small pond,” and to be honest the idea of focusing on teaching rather than doing research is starting to appeal to me—not that research-oriented departments have been beating down my doors, mind you.

(Now to finish my preparations for the Chicago trip, including a couple of overheads for my paper presentation…)

Sunday, 11 April 2004


One of the reasons why blogging has been pretty light this weekend—in addition to my spending the Easter holiday with family in Memphis—is that I spent much of Saturday doing the work I’ve been trained to do, in this case anonymously reviewing the text of a forthcoming political science textbook for a publisher.

While the text doesn’t focus on ideology, as a way to motivate the material (am I being vague enough?) it discusses the ideological divisions of the American public, and the contrasts among conservative and liberal thought on economic and social regulation—one of the fundamental topics in the study of political behavior in the United States. After reading it, something about that discussion clicked in my head, and suddenly the debate over the August 6th PDB—and the conviction by liberals like Kevin Drum that it contained the key information needed to prevent an attack, despite the clear absence of any “new” information that would suggest an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 (despite the sensationalistic account of Middle Eastern men taking photos of a building in New York—mind you, it was a federal office building, not the World Trade Center complex)—made a lot more sense.

Steven Taylor apparently had essentially the same thoughts on the matter:

While clearly much (most?) of the wrangling over the PDB is partisan in nature, much of the debate may also be ideological. Part of what defines a conservative in the political vernacular of the United States is skepticism about government, while liberals tend to think that given the right people and information that practically any problem can be solved by government. ...

[O]ne’s view of government clearly colors how one interprets these events. As a conservative (and as a student of government, here and abroad), I am highly skeptical of the ability of governments to successfully execute policy. Hence, I am unsurprised by governmental failures. I am not saying that policy can never be successful—it can. However, it rarely is an efficient process, and the more complex the undertaking, the more likely failure is to happen. At a minimum I know full well that government is not very good at processing information. ... However, it would seem that from the liberal point of view the problem isn’t government and its complexity, but rather the people who occupy government at a given moment. Now, I am not saying that that doesn’t matter—it does. But, I do not think, and believe that empirical evidence backs my position, that government becomes more efficient and efficacious just because one set of persons occupy positions of power. ...

And no, I am not arguing that government always fails. Although I would note that that tends to be the default position. I am not an anti-government libertarian, but I am highly skeptical about the ability of governments to do what they set out to do. Hence, I am not surprised wen governments fail. Liberals in the US context tend to be more optimistic about the abilities of government, and hence are more shocked when it fails. And, as noted, that failure is usually attributed not to systemic problems of governing huge numbers of people, but, rather, to those who are doing the governing. Hence, the fault must lie with Bush and Rice must be a “moron”, etc.

Obviously, unlike Steven I’m not a conservative—but I share the conservative skepticism that government power can be universally effective, or that it can always stop bad things from happening. Governments are comprised of people, and people are inherently flawed: they make mistakes, they aren’t omniscient, and they tend to make decisions consistent with their own personal interests. Aggregating a bunch of fallible people in a government, while reducing the possibility that one person’s mistake won’t matter, doesn’t eliminate it entirely.

I think the disappointment of the 9/11 commission is that, rather than trying to figure out how we can prevent future attacks and ensure the mistakes of 9/11 aren’t repeated, its members have decided to engage in alternating displays of grandstanding and ass-covering, and are seemingly more concerned with their job prospects in future administrations sharing their party affiliation than figuring out what structural and practical obstacles stopped policymakers from getting even all the unclassified information that indicated a plot was afoot on their desks.

XRLQ does the PDB

Xrlq is kind enough to donate some of his web space to partisan hack valued former public servant Richard Ben-Veniste to discuss the August 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing. In other news, partisan hack valued random guy from California who somehow got The Washington Monthly to pay him to be a partisan hack blogger Kevin Drum seems to agree with Ben-Veniste-as-channeled-by-Xrlq, while partisan hack political scientist Steven Taylor disagrees.

Michlmayr wins

Congratulations to Martin Michlmayr on winning reelection as Debian Project Leader; even though I supported another candidate in the election, I think Martin will continue to do good work for the project in this position.

Saturday, 10 April 2004

Balancing rights

Robert Prather agrees with Jeralynn of TalkLeft that the proposed Victims’ Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a bad idea, and I tend to agree with that assessment.

In general, the amendment seems to be an example of a solution that is in search of a problem. At the federal level, there is nothing in this proposed amendment that couldn’t be guaranteed by statute in federal criminal proceedings. At the state level, there is little evidence that states have failed to consider (and either accept or reject) the need for similar provisions in their jurisdictions, or have deliberately excluded the interests of crime victims from political debate, which is the general threshold I’d say you need to cross to justify a federal intervention into areas of traditional state sovereignty like criminal justice.

In any event, you can read the full text of the proposed amendment at THOMAS and decide for yourself.

Philosophy group blogs

There are three new philosophy grad student group blogs, one of which is from my graduate alma mater.

Looking at the list of bloggers at Rochester, I see two “tenured grad students” who were there when I was, seven years ago. I wonder what the record is for the longest amount of time spent in grad school.

(Link via Crooked Timber.)

Friday, 9 April 2004

Dodding old fools

I haven’t been “flooding the zone” on Chris Dodd’s idiotic praise of good ole Bobby “The Klansman” Byrd for a variety of reasons—not the least of which is, whatever other faults Dodd has, a history as a neo-segregationist isn’t one of them, which usefully distinguishes him from Trent Lott.

However, Robert Prather has a pretty good post from a less forgiving point of view. Plus, he takes a few well-deserved swings at Hesiod, who’s sort of the downmarket version of Atrios.

Sure, we'll get right on that

If anyone ever tells you to take seriously the comments of a former British cabinet member, here’s a new counterexample to add to your arsenal (along with the ravings of Robin Cook and Claire Short):

[Former Northern Ireland secretary] Mo Mowlam has called on the British and American governments to open talks with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Bear in mind, of course, that Ms. Mowlam’s former bailiwick (i.e. trying to stop the Provos and Loyalists from killing one another and returning responsible government to Ulster) is hardly a model of efficiency and good order, even today. It might also be worth bearing in mind that, to open talks with Mr. bin Laden, first we’d probably have to find him. Even the peacenik Liberal Democrats aren’t buying this lousy bill of goods:

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell criticised Ms Mowlam’s remarks.

“What possible result would there be from sitting down with al-Qaeda?” he asked.

“Their intention is to destroy the liberal values upon which our way of life is based.

“You cannot negotiate with those whose aim is your own destruction.”

It’s nice to see good sense is alive and well in at least some quarters across the pond.

Link via Jeremy of Who Knew?

Thursday, 8 April 2004

Marquee de Sade

Heidi Bond lets loose the BLINK tag but somehow fails to incorporate Microsoft’s one-upping of Netscape’s non-standard HTML ante: the sublimely evil MARQUEE tag.

Apropos of the substance of Heidi’s post, given the vista of my career options at the moment, a job as an “evil minion” seems like a reasonable option.

Slow mail propogation

Anyone who tells you that email propogation is instantaneous should consider this Received trace:

Received: from
        by (8.12.10+Sun/8.12.9) with ESMTP id i38G1LAf017356
        for <>; Thu, 8 Apr 2004 11:01:21 -0500 (CDT)
Received: from a.b.c.d
        by (8.12.9-20030924/8.12.9) with ESMTP id i36JvaK3027962
        for <>; Tue, 6 Apr 2004 14:57:37 -0500 (CDT)

In other words, the email took 44 hours, 4 minutes to get here (well, 44:08 if you count the 5 minute fetchmail cycle on my inbox). I probably could have gotten a paper letter sent first class from (within a day’s drive in a neighboring state) in less time.

Sins of commission

Jeff Jarvis gives a pretty good flavor of the complete joke that the 9/11 Commission is. For all the people who say George W. Bush is a moron (and Lord knows I agree with that assessment in a lot of ways), he was certainly correct to resist both this idiotic commission and its pointless cousin foisted on us by Congress, the Department of Homeland Security.

Tim Sandefur gets straight to the heart of things: the commission is simply “a symposium of blowhards.”

Wednesday, 7 April 2004

Official State Booze of Alabama

CNN reports that the Alabama state Senate has overridden a gubernatorial veto to make Conecuh Ridge Fine Alabama Whiskey the “official state spirit.”

Governor Bob Riley had vetoed the measure on the grounds that official designations should not be given to commercial products.

I’m highly sympathetic to Gov. Riley’s view, but I’ll still be looking for a bottle of Conecuh Ridge next time I’m at Joe’s Liquor.

More plagiarism

Ryan of the Dead Parrots notes the increasing use of anti-plagiarism software tools in academe (to fight the scourge of term-paper copying, something noted by Brock yesterday), the use of which apparently may be spreading to newsrooms to catch journalist-plagiarists (though obviously it won’t catch the Jayson Blairs of the world, who generally invented stories rather than copying them directly).

I have somewhat mixed feelings about these services. On the one hand, they do combat a real problem, and one that potentially damages the academic process. But, like Ryan, I wonder if requiring students to turn these papers in using these services (as a former colleague of mine is doing this semester) creates a presumption of guilt; funnily enough, I’d actually be more comfortable if I (the instructor) were the person submitting the papers to, rather than having my students do it. Maybe I’m weird that way.

Why I'm not riding the train to Chicago

Josh Barro (one of the Harvard Republicans) points out the reason only one person died when the City of New Orleans derailed near Yazoo City yesterday: practically nobody was aboard:

[The train carried 68 passengers and 12 crewmembers.] That works out to 7.56 passengers per car and 5.67 passengers per crew member. Perhaps unsurprisingly, few passengers are enticed by a train that can take them from New Orleans to Chicago in just 19 hours and 5 minutes. If this train is any indication of ridership on Amtrak’s routes outside metropolitan corridors, it’s no wonder its director says it needs a $1.8 billion dollar subsidy to continue operating in 2005.

They particularly aren’t enticed by a train that costs $182 to ride round-trip, $320 if you want to ride on the lower level, and a whopping $520 if you want to have a bed to sleep in. By contrast, you can fly non-stop round-trip to Chicago from New Orleans next weekend for $398… or, if you’re willing to do some advance planning, you can fly round-trip for $244 over a weekend in May. Not to mention that your trip will be almost 17 hours shorter in duration.

Or, you can ride Greyhound, completely unsubsidized,* for $138 round trip—and, if you pick the right bus, it doesn’t take much more time than the Amtrak train.

Update: * Both Stephen Karlson and a reader point out that there is a gross subsidy to the highway system (i.e. almost all highways are paid for by the state and federal governments); my point was, however, that the net subsidy is essentially zero, as all highway spending in the United States (except expenditures on low-volume local streets, which are usually supplemented by local property taxes—such streets would be necessary even in a less car-dependent society, mind you) comes from state and federal motor fuel taxes, which are borne by highway users such as Greyhound; in fact, highway taxes also pay much of the budget of the Federal Transit Administration, which is responsible for mass transit in urban areas. Apologies for any confusion.

The War on Porn

Is there anyone who thinks this plan is a good use of time and resources?* I realize that the fungibility of resources (a fancy way of saying the ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time”) is often overrated, that DOJ‘s “porn surfers” wouldn’t be much help in the War on Terror, and there is a bit of a dark side to the “legit” pornography industry that takes advantage of young (but legally adult) women from abusive backgounds, but a crackdown on dirty movies seems like a pretty stupid idea nonetheless. I personally would have no beef with a crackdown on “kiddie porn” and the like, but as Glenn Reynolds points out the Ashcroft plan goes far beyond this eminently reasonable target to go after such examples of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Porn” as Skinemax and Spectravision.

But, if we must do this, I think David Adesnik’s solution of having the ex-Taliban Gitmo detainees do the, er, heavy lifting seems appropriate. And I suspect the reaction of Josh Barro of the Harvard Republicans reflects that of most young conservatives: a healthy dollop of “what the hell are they thinking?”

Phone interviews

One of the phone interviews this afternoon seemed to go well; the other felt like a train wreck in slow motion. As of now, both of the phone interviews I’ve had with departments that used a speaker phone seemed to go poorly; the second department today used a real conference call, which went much better.

Now the waiting game begins…

Midwest Paper

Well, it’s not going to go down as the best paper I’ve ever written, but here’s the Midwest paper in all its glory. Now I have to prepare for those back-to-back phone interviews this afternoon…

Tuesday, 6 April 2004


One of the posts I inadvertently trashed during the composition stage yesterday was essentially the same as this Steve Verdon post.

It coulda been worse… I could have come out as Krugman.

Lit reviews

Have I mentioned how much I hate writing the front half of research papers? I guess this means I should find a frequent collaborator who likes writing literature reviews but hates data analysis…

(On the other hand, maybe I should just publish in economics journals… that discipline apparently considers three sentences to be a long lit review.)

Monday, 5 April 2004

MidSouthCon 22

It’s taken a week for me to get around to posting about it, after a lightning strike fried a modem, a hub, and a network card, leaving chez Sides with only one fully functional computer, but last weekend I attended MidSouthCon 22 here in Memphis.

Unlike previous years, when I spent most of my time playing D&D, this year I spent most of my time playing and running board games: Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, Ra, Pirate’s Cove, and New England.

I ran a game of Settlers of Catan that Mark from the Conservative Zone played in.

I also extended my collection of dragon art with a print of Cherry Blossom by Maia Sanders, part of her “Dragon Garden” series. I wish I’d picked up a print of Black Pine as well. They would make a nice pair.

Wonderfalls cancelled

Wonderfalls, a new show on Fox which I blogged about here, has been cancelled after only four episodes.

Fox really didn’t give this one a chance.

Yeay, it works!

I won’t spoil the whole Midwest paper for you, but here’s the pretty path diagram of the LISREL model. Guess the coefficients and standard errors—it’s fun for the whole family!

Actually, the most amazing thing about the paper is that the model works, despite the suboptimal polling data it’s based on—almost all of the manifest variables are dichotomous or trichotomous.


Back in September, I put a note on my philosophy papers page to potential plagiarists and their professors:

Hey, philosophy professors. If you've come to this page because you've found that a student has plagiarized one of the papers below, drop me a note, philarete at mindspring dot com. I'm curious as to how widely these papers are being plagiarized.

Hey, philosophy students. Don’t plagiarize these papers. For that matter, don’t plagiarize at all. It’s better to fail honestly than to cheat and get an A. Besides, you’ll probably get caught.

Today I received my first email from a philosophy professor confirming that a student has been caught plagiarizing my work. A undergrad at a California university plagiarized two of my papers, one on Bernard Williams on personal identity, and a shorter piece on the Lockean theory of personal identity.

I’m pleased that the professor told me that the student would have received an A, had he or she not been caught.

Two lost posts

I’ve managed to kill two posts in the middle of writing them today (one of which was no-thanks to Windows XP SP 2 deciding to pop up a dialog right before I pressed Enter). I think that’s a sign that I need to take a break…

Coming tomorrow: the semi-legendary Midwest paper (once I figure out why my sem specification isn’t working—I think I know why now, but I had to think about it all afternoon), a semi-review of the Windows XP Service Pack 2 beta, and probably more rants and ravings on the state of the nation and the world as I work off nervous energy prior to the two phone interviews I have scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Non-endorsement of the day

I think this bug report contains the most glaringly obvious statement in the history of software:

I’ve been trying out reportbug, and it’s not perfect. [emphasis added]

Not that I recall ever claiming that reportbug was perfect, mind you, but still…

Coup plotters

Via Electric Venom and InstaPundit, it looks like things are taking a bit of an ugly turn in Baghdad today.

Update: Wretchard at Belmont Club has some worthwhile thoughts on the matter.



Everyone’s favorite ex-Klansman, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), is back in the news, on the occasion of casting his 17,000th vote in the United States Senate (rumors that the vote was the one completing the wholesale transfer of the federal government to West Virginia are greatly exaggerated).

As when Trent Lott got a bit effusive in praising the longeivity of Strom Thurmond, though, this has become an event where a number of Senators decided “to heck with nuance,” and got a bit too enthusiastic about all of Sen. Byrd’s life.

One such quote is from Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Ct.). Unfortunately, there’s a bit of controversy regarding the provenance of the quote. So, to set the record straight, here is the complete text of Sen. Dodd’s remarks, from Thursday’s edition of the Congressional Record:

Mr. DODD. Mr. President, I add my voice as well to my seatmate, if I may. I sit in this chair by choice. Senator Byrd sits in his chair by choice as well, but he makes the choice before I do. I wanted to find out where he was going to sit so I could sit next to him. I did that because I wanted to sit next to the best, to learn everything I possibly could about the ability of this institution to provide the kind of leadership I think the country expects of us.

Several thoughts come to mind. This is a day of obvious significance in the number of votes that have been cast, 17,000, but it is far more important to talk about quality than quantity. Quantity is not an insignificant achievement, but the quality of my colleague and friend’s service is what I think about when the name ROBERT C. BYRD comes to my mind.

I carry with me every single day, 7 days a week, a rather threadbare copy of the United States Constitution given to me many years ago—I can’t even read it well now; it is so worn out—I may need a new copy—given to me by my seatmate, ROBERT C. BYRD. I revere it. I tell people why I carry it because it reminds me of the incredible gift given to me by the people of Connecticut to serve in this Chamber, to remind me of the importance of an oath we all made, and that is to do everything we can to preserve, protect, and defend the principles upon which this Nation was founded. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my mind, is the embodiment of that goal.

It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my view, would have been right at any time. He would have been right at the founding of this country. He would have been in the leadership crafting this Constitution. He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this Nation. He would have been right at the great moments of international threat we faced in the 20th century. I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation’s 220-plus year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country. Certainly today that is not any less true.

I join my colleagues in thanking the Senator from West Virginia for the privilege of serving with him. He has now had to endure two members of my family as colleagues. Senator Byrd was elected to the Senate in 1958 along with my father. He served with my father in the House. I have now had the privilege of serving with Senator Byrd for 24 years, twice the length of service of my father. That is an awful lot of time to put up with members of the Dodd family. We thank Senator Byrd for his endurance through all of that time.

There is no one I admire more, there is no one to whom I listen more closely and carefully when he speaks on any subject matter. I echo the comments of my colleague from Massachusetts. If I had to pick out any particular point of service for which I admire the Senator most, it is his unyielding defense of the Constitution. All matters come and go. We cast votes on such a variety of issues, but Senator Byrd’s determination to defend and protect this document which serves as our rudder as we sail through the most difficult of waters is something that I admire beyond all else.

I join in this moment in saying: Thank you for your service, thank you for your friendship, and I look forward to many more years of sitting next to you on the floor of the Senate.

I yield the floor.

In any event, you can find potentially embarassing quotes from about half the Senate in the series of effusive comments about Sen. Byrd.

Sunday, 4 April 2004

Is the Iraq Survey Group dropping the ball?

Alex Knapp links a lengthy analysis of the Iraq Survey Group’s work in Iraq that raises a lot of very important questions, to wit:

US forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom had the latest chemical detection gear, including chemical detection paper, chemical agent detector kits, improved chemical agent monitors, and sophisticated Fox Chemical Recon Vehicles. Some American GIs remembered well the shortfalls of this equipment in Gulf War I. Now all of these older devices had been improved, and new and more accurate devices had been issued. In fact, some mobile Army labs had highly sensitive mass spectrometers to test for suspicious substances. Who could argue the results of repeated tests using these devices without explaining how DoD had apparently been ripped off by contractors for faulty products? Apparently, the ISG could and did.

One of the reported incidents occurred near Karbala where there appeared to be a very large “agricultural supply” area of 55-gallon drums of pesticide. In addition, there was also a camouflaged bunker complex full of these drums that some people entered with unpleasant results. More than a dozen soldiers, a Knight-Ridder reporter, a CNN cameraman, and two Iraqi POWs came down with symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve agent. A full day of tests on the drums resulted in one positive for nerve agent, and then one resulted in a negative. Later, an Army Fox NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] Recon Vehicle confirmed the existence of Sarin. An officer from the 63d Chemical Company thought there might well be chemical weapons at the site.

But later ISG tests resulted in a proclamation of negative, end of story, nothing to see here, etc., and the earlier findings and injuries dissolved into non-existence. Left unexplained is the small matter of the obvious pains taken to disguise the cache of ostensibly legitimate pesticides. One wonders about the advantage an agricultural commodities business gains by securing drums of pesticide in camouflaged bunkers six feet underground. The “agricultural site” was also co-located with a military ammunition dump, evidently nothing more than a coincidence in the eyes of the ISG.

The bottom line is that Saddam’s troops apparently needed to use a lot of “pesticides” for rather mysterious reasons. Definitely RTWT™.

Saturday, 3 April 2004

Drunkest city in America

According to this HealthDay article, San Antonio, TX, “has the highest rate of binge drinking—imbibing till you’re drunk—in the entire United States.”

Congratulations, San Antonio! I certainly tried to do my part while I was there.

The rest of the top ten: Grand Forks, ND; Milwaukee, WI; Austin, TX; Sioux Falls, SD; Davenport, IA; Cedar Rapids, IA; Duluth, MN; Lincoln, NE; and Springfield, MA.

Odd stuff in the Times

David Bernstein, among my co-blogger’s least favorite Volokh Conspirators, links a New York Times piece on the passage of the House version of the transportation reauthorization bill.

Now the article is written by “David Stout,” whose job apparently is to rewrite AP copy for the NYT website; to my knowledge, “his” articles never appear in print (and “he” may just be a pseudonym for a group of copy editors). What’s weird about the article? Let’s pull out some excerpts:

Regardless of the real figure, President Bush has threatened to veto the measure as too costly at a time that he and Congressional Republicans are supposed to be serious about holding down the federal deficit.

I believe this is a run-on sentence, to begin with. And the second half of the sentence looks like an editorial comment, not news reporting.

“Thirty billion, when you are cutting the deficit in half in five years, is real money,” Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said the other day, apparently with no humor intended.

“The other day” seems rather imprecise for dating a quotation for a newspaper article. And the statement that this was said “apparently with no humor intended” is a complete non-sequitor. (The quote appears to have been cribbed from this Carl Hulse article dated April 1.)

The highway-spending bill enjoys wide support among Democrats and Republicans alike because the members of both parties have something in common: their constituents use highways (and bridges and bike paths and other incidentals wrapped into the bill.)

Again, another strange paragraph; this one isn’t even punctuated correctly—the “incidentals,” by the way, include the entire Federal Transit Administration; a rather large “incidental,” wouldn’t you think? Strange.

(Hulse’s article in Saturday’s paper is far more coherent.)


I ought to make this a daily feature… today’s lowlights:

Friday, 2 April 2004


Walkin' to my Escalade

Josh Chafetz and Andrew Sullivan have been having a bit of a back-and-forth over whether the gas tax should be raised. As Josh pointed out yesterday, such a tax would be highly regressive, particularly hitting the working poor in rural communities that don’t have mass transit.

It would also be bad policy for another reason: the gasoline tax is essentially a user fee. Most of the revenues of the federal gas tax are returned to the states (according to a rather arcane formula that just happens to shift funds from rural America to the Northeast) to pay for the federal share of major highway construction and resurfacing projects, while the rest of the money helps pay for the federal mass transit subsidy (thus, Mr. Sullivan, who doesn’t operate his own vehicle, receives a massive subsidy from those of us who drive). Diverting gas tax revenues to the general fund would arguably be even more crooked than diverting money from the Social Security tax to pay for the defense budget, or taking FICA receipts and using those to operate the postal service.

And, while I generally share their dislike for the sport utility vehicle (though am puzzled why comparably gas-guzzling vehicles like minivans escape their wrath), raising the gas tax would be a very crude instrument for reducing demand for SUVs: while people do respond to price signals over the long term, over the short run the demand for gasoline is rather price inelastic. But if your animus for the SUV is motivated by its gas-guzzling properties, rather than its appearance, you’ll be happy to know that Toyota will be introducing a hybrid gas-electric SUV next year, the Highlander Hybrid, which will provide “the fuel economy of a four-cylinder compact sedan.”

Update: Stephen Karlson properly takes note of the market-distorting effects of the rather arbitrary division between cars and trucks in the CAFE standard, which “effectively preclude some sport-ute and minivan drivers from substituting one size downward” to station wagons and large sedans.

Small favors

Von in pondering the continual PR nightmare that is the Bush administration observes:

Thank God there’s some good economic news—and that Kerry is so freaking weak as a candidate.

I suppose if you’re a Republican, that might be worth being thankful for. But, it seems to me, the completely lackluster nature of John F. Kerry would be a serious drawback if you wanted to be able to vote for a credible alternative to Bush this fall without holding your nose.


I spent most of the evening out at a bonfire (out in the boonies of Panola County) with some friends, some beer, and some hot dogs. A few choice observations:

  • Coat hangers, even when straightened out, are rather non-ideal implements for roasting hot dogs.
  • Every picture my camera phone takes in the dark looks like a blurry Bigfoot photo. I should get in touch with the National Enquirer.
  • Endorsement: a former student of mine from a few years back (in fact, the only one that took two different classes with me) said he liked my class because I “wasn’t a communist,” presumably in comparison to my more liberally-inclined colleagues in the department. I should slap that on the vita.
  • The young woman who the host of the shindig was pursuing was apparently quite disappointed that her current boyfriend was getting married.
  • Around 9:45, several people went for a beer run. When they returned 30 minutes later, it was opined that this was a rather long time to head to the gas station just down the hill. The conversation then went as follows: “We had to go to Bumf*ck to get the beer.” “We’re already in Bumf*ck.” “Well, we had to go to West Bumf*ck.”

Just another night in the soap opera that is my life.

Waking up with Megan

I’ve set my TiVo for the lovely Ms. McArdle’s appearance on CNNfn Friday morning.