Wednesday, 30 June 2004


Who would have thought that updating two syllabi for classes you’ve already taught before would take so long? Now, the fun part: writing a syllabus from scratch for constitutional law…

Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Trade imbalances

Pieter of Peaktalk notes an interesting immigration pattern. One suspects, however, that he underestimates the number of reliable NDP voters among my northward-bound ex-countrymen. Of course, the substantive effects of the migration are the same either way.

Jackpots no more

From Scipio comes this word:

In court on Friday, Judge Pickard announced that he was going to effectively bar asbestos and silica products liability cases in Jefferson and Claiborne Counties, because about half of every jury pool consists of named plaintiffs in asbestos and silica cases. Accordingly, the defendants would not be able to ever get a fair trial in those two counties.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing: that half the people of two counties are named plaintiffs in liability cases, or that it took half the people of two counties being named plaintiffs in liability cases to get any meaningful tort reform in this state.

Interesting statistics: in 2000 Jefferson County had 9,740 people, 86.7% of whom were black (the highest proportion of any Mississippi county), while Claiborne County’s population was 11,831, 84.4% of whom were black (2nd). Mississippi as a whole had 2.844 million people in 82 counties, 36.6% of whom were black; the median county propulation was 22,374, and the median percentage black in a county was 37.5% (μ=39.6%, σ=20.2).


Brian J. Noggle explains the physics behind getting “free” stuff (well, it’s not free—usually, someone else paid for it and got screwed over) from vending machines, an art mastered by many a college student over the years.

My advice: although “tipping” the vending machine may not vend free product (as the labels say), it usually manages to dislodge any loosely-hanging items that failed to vend properly. Just don’t do it when anyone else is around.

Bullies in the blogosphere

Laura of Apartment 11D is understandably quite annoyed at the public response that at least one (presumably prominent, although I haven’t seen the post in question) blogger gave to her survey.

I generally agree that, ethically, a good blogger will provide readers with an opportunity to have opposing views heard, at least in the form of trackbacks. It is disappointing that many “big boys” of the Blogosphere like Glenn Reynolds, Josh Marshall, the Volokh Conspiracy, and Andrew Sullivan don’t use “real” Trackbacks—Volokh relies on Technorati, which isn’t a proper pingback/trackback service, while Reynolds, Marshall, and Sullivan don’t even go that far; Sullivan accepts “reader mail,” but much of it is buried and all is stripped of any way to tell how authoritative the response is.

Laura cites Usenet as a more “democratic” medium; it is, in the sense that it does facilitate conversation more readily, but there are significant drawbacks to it—most notably, no inherent ability to enforce strong identities of participants in the discussion, which leads to the sort of trollish behavior that one finds at the comment sections of some prominent weblogs (or inmate-run asylums like Slashdot and K5), not to mention issues of spam, off-topic discussion, gratuitous vulgarity, and other vices large and small. The “decline of Usenet,” mind you, has been a staple of Internet discussion since at least 1992, when I was first exposed to it, so it has proven to be more resiliant than one might have thought.

Keg registration law in Missouri

In an attempt to curb underage drinking, Missouri has passed a new law which goes into effect Thursday, requiring beer kegs to be registered to their buyers.

The law requires retailers to attach a tag that will allow the keg to be traced back to the buyer. The store must keep records for three months with the buyer's name, address and birth date.

The idea is that if someone bought a keg and supplied it to teenagers, and the party was broken up, law enforcement could identify who provided the alcohol and pursue charges.

They'll take my beer when they pry it from my cold dead hands!

Indecision 2004: Canuck style

The election came and went, and, while the Liberals did beat the Conservatives in the realm of seat counts, neither side (apparently, pending recounts) won enough to form even a coalition government with a natural partner (a Liberal–Bloc Quebecois coalition would work in terms of seat count, but not in terms of ideology). Collin May suspects the real winner in all this is Alberta premier Ralph Klein, while Albertan Colby Cosh does his postmortem duties. In any event, virtually nobody expects this parliament to last very long.

Monday, 28 June 2004

Irradiated nuts

Apparently the use of cell phones, like everything else it seems (except khat), leads to reduced sperm counts in men.

Meanwhile, I can’t tell if Amber Taylor is upset that these inanimate objects are sexist in their effects or just interested in obtaining an inexpensive form of contraception.

Booby-trapped beer coolers

According to this story in the New Zealand Herald, the terrorist menace may have a new weapon: booby-trapped beer coolers!

Security officials have warned of a possible new weapon in the terrorist arsenal - booby-trapped beer coolers.

Law-enforcement officials in the United States have been warned to be alert for the enticing bombs.

The warning was sent to 18,000 law-enforcement groups by the FBI last week, Time magazine reported.

Is nothing sacred to those barbarians?

The semantics of "laundry"

I was puzzling today over the semantics of the term “laundry.”

When clothes are on your body, they are not laundry. But when you toss them into a pile, basket, or hamper, and they are waiting to be washed, they become laundry. They are laundry while they are being washed, dried, and folded.

But when you put them away, into a closet or drawer, they cease to be laundry.

Settling Catan

I, along with a couple of friends from the Memphis Strategy Board Games Community, have started a new boardgaming blog, Settling Catan.

So far, we’ve got a repeat of a Signifying Nothing post by me, reviewing Princes of Florence, and a review of Die Macher, a game of German electoral politics.

Expect more game reviews, thoughts on game strategy, and musings on what makes a good board game in the near future!


Alex Knapp more-or-less sums up my reaction to the Supremes’ ruling on the Guantanamo detainees and José Padilla. More, of course, at Volokh. And, there’s archived Signifying Nothing Gitmo coverage here.

Incidentally, both Alex and Von approvingly quote from Antonin Scalia’s dissent. (Mind you, the most immediate impact of this case on my life is now I have to shoehorn it into two-thirds of my courses in the fall.)

Personal crud

All it seems to do here is rain… I feel like I accidentally moved back to England or something. This also means the jackasses at Home Depot have rescheduled the installation for the trim around my front door (never mind that they are doing the work indoors), meaning another few days of me staring at bare doorframe in the living room.

If that weren’t annoying enough, the good folks at a certain Oxford bar (who otherwise have given me good service in the past, hence my lack of interest in casting aspersions on them publicly) managed to lose my debit card Friday night while they were holding it to secure my tab. One might suspect that the universe was conspiring against one’s efforts to have a social life, if one were the paranoid type. (One also drank a little too much beer and has been regretting it for the past two days.)

On the other hand, I do have a spiffy custom cap (well, actually a tam), gown, and hood on the way in plenty of time for the fall convocation, so there’s that at least.

Gmail deficiencies

Matt Stinson has a list of Gmail deficiencies. There are a few more I’d add:

  • No (obvious) way to search or filter on arbitrary headers, à la procmail.
  • No way to mark messages as “to” you (e.g. with ») that are addressed to other addresses than your Gmail account (useful if you’re using a procmail recipe to Bcc all your incoming mail to Gmail).
  • No way to automatically Bcc all your outgoing mail elsewhere.
  • Nonexistent handling of mailing list headers (Mail-Followup-To, etc.). Ideally, Gmail should automatically create tags based on X-Mailing-List.

Still, it’s managing to win over this devoted mutt user quite quickly.

The fog of war

Riddle me this, Batman:

I think it’s a safe bet that somebody is wrong.

Vote away

Contra the quoted individual, I’d like to extend my best wishes to our Canadian friends and allies as they go to the polls today to choose a new parliament (and almost certainly a new government).

More thoughts from Peaktalk, Colby Cosh, and Collin May, all of whom are rooting for a Conservative victory. Unlike certain other American pundits of similar girth, I will not be weighing in on this matter, as it is strictly an internal affair for Canadians to decide for themselves, except to express the view that the GOP might be a more attractive option at the ballot box (for me, at least) if they reflected the more vigorous attitude toward federalism and libertarianism expressed by their ideological counterparts on the other side of the 49th parallel.

Sunday, 27 June 2004

Textbook Drive for Iraq

Steven Taylor is helping a colleague obtain recent books to donate to Baghdad University in Iraq. In particular demand are recent textbooks in mathematics, the sciences, and medicine, although I suspect any and all donations of relatively contemporary texts (from the last five years or so) would be welcome.

Making amends

Matt Stinson would support a constitutional amendment forbidding Britney Spears from getting married again. Apart from the unfairness of singling out Ms. Spears for constitutional opprobrium (surely, the violations perpetrated by Jennifer Lopez and Larry King are equally deplorable), conservatives—as opposed to libertarians—might legitimately be concerned that such an amendment would lead to widespread sympathy for Ms. Spears engaging in nonmarital* sex, and—if we are to believe the cited Mr. Sullivan’s views on same-sex marriage—increased promiscuity by Ms. Spears and other individuals prohibited from the benefits of legal marriage.

On a more legalistic level, one might be concerned that such an amendment amounts to a bill of attainder and deprives Ms. Spears of equal protection (particularly if Ms. Spears is subjected to some nonmarital abuse), although it is unclear whether a constitutional amendment can be unconstitutional in its own right; an amendment reducing or increasing the Senate representation of any state in which Ms. Spears resides would clearly be unconstitutional, as would have any amendment passed in 1800 restricting someone from importing Ms. Spears as a slave, but these are clearly “corner cases” in the law. Such questions would no doubt lead to great controversy between the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals—which has jurisdiction over Nevada, undoubtably the site of any future Spears “marriage”—and the Supreme Court, inevitably leading to a further decline in public respect for both institutions.

Thus, and for reasons of good taste, I must decline Mr. Stinson’s implicit invitation to join his effort to amend the constitution. Nonetheless we should remain vigilant that the institution of marriage remain the sacrosanct cornerstone of American society. Or at least retain the possibility that Ms. Spears might, eventually, come to her senses and marry the proprietor of this weblog.

The Westminster House Rules

Eric Grey attempts to describe the rules for forming a minority government. There are a few points worth mentioning:

  • The rules vary among parliamentary democracies. Some democracies, like Germany, require constructive votes of no confidence; in other words, to get rid of an existing government, you have to nominate a new one, which necessarily increases the stability of the system. In some other parliamentary democracies, the government falls if any government proposal is defeated on a party-line vote (i.e. not a “free” vote). Canada generally follows Westminster tradition, where “confidence” is a customary rather than a legal requirement; since only the Prime Minister (well, technically, the sovereign) can dissolve parliament and call elections, essentially this system is equivalent to the German system—although, since a government could only be replaced by a plurality vote, the PM is more likely than not to call new elections before such a vote could take place.
  • Minority governments are somewhat more common than one might suspect. Notably, Israel’s government is currently a minority government. Britain and Canada each have had a few since World War II. Interestingly, minority governments are much more common than coalitions in countries with first-past-the-post (plurality) elections.

An interesting study of coalition government, by the way, is Multiparty Government by Michael Laver and Norman Schofield. Laver and Ken Shepsle’s Making and Breaking Governments is probably also worthwhile (from a more game-theoretic perspective, as is Shepsle’s bent), but, alas, I haven’t read it.

Incidentally, I’d appreciate recommendations on a scholarly text (or even a textbook) on Canadian politics, perhaps something comparable to Philip Norton’s The British Polity. For now, it’s just an idle scholarly interest, but maybe an employer one of these decades will be desperate enough to let me teach some comparative courses.


If you’re suitably wealthy (to the tune of $16.00), you may now invest in a printed copy of my dissertation. Of course, you can still download it for free, but this gives you the option of obtaining it in convenient book form—and, I might add, at a price significantly cheaper than that charged by UMI, while still funneling several bucks into my pocket.

Saturday, 26 June 2004

Ars gratia artis

I seem to have struck a nerve with my (admittedly off-the-cuff) criticism of critics of popular music.

I think Jay gets to the heart of much of my critique, but there’s another component of it as well. One often hears that “band X is a ripoff of band Y.” Band X need not have covered any of band Y’s songs—all they have to do is “sound like” band Y. This has always struck me as something of a silly critique; if people like what Pearl Jam sounds like, and Pearl Jam isn’t making any more songs, why should we complain if Creed makes some songs that sound like something Pearl Jam might have performed? I could understand the critique if Creed went out and covered every song on Ten, or if Pearl Jam were still releasing new albums, but the critique as it stands seems rather odd.

There is one other point I should clarify from my previous post; I made a point of including “NPR listeners” among the group of similarly-afflicted snobs. I actually have no problem with NPR listeners in general, although I do have a problem with NPR listeners who make a point of telling everyone they meet that they listen to NPR. (The classic quote on NPR is, alas, missing from the memorable quotes page for NewsRadio in the Internet Movie Database.)


As mentioned earlier, I rented Love Actually and Lost in Translation last week. Not surprisingly, the combined effect of the films was to make me want to visit both London and Tokyo.

I think Lost in Translation was the weaker of the two films, although I did enjoy it nonetheless. Bill Murray and Scarlet Johanssen both gave excellent performances, the film deftly avoids a cliché resolution, and the cinematography was outstanding, but the whole is ultimately unsatisfactory—although I can’t really put my finger on why. Perhaps the weakness is simply relative to the amount of hype the film received.

On the other hand, Love Actually was a supremely enjoyable film, with excellent acting, an engaging plot, and (also) outstanding cinematography. In terms of story construction, the obvious referent is Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, but Newell uses that framework in service to a more comedic story. A minor demerit for the use of Rowan Atkinson in a throw-away role; if you’re going to use him, put him in a real role (a sin also committed less egregiously by Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral).

The only other problem with Love Actually is that the widescreen cinematography used—on the order of 2.8:1 2.35:1—would make the film virtually unwatchable on a standard 4:3 television set (and thus seems inappropriate for a comedy). Luckily, as I mentioned before, it did play on my laptop’s 1.6:1 display, though even there was ample unused screen real estate at the top and bottom of the screen.

Friday, 25 June 2004


I noticed on my last visit to Blockbuster that sufficient desperation has set in that they’ve decided to offer a NetFlix-style “unlimited rentals” plan… for $24.95 per month (limit 2 rentals at once), which strikes me as rather noncompetitive if you ask me, although I seem to remember NetFlix being significantly cheaper than it is now in the past.

Of course, the fact Blockbuster decided to raise the DVD rental fee to $4.19 hasn’t exactly ensured my continued patronage after I use up my $20 gift card.

My most recent rentals are Love Actually (some of the humor in which, I suspect, is lost on people on this side of the pond—most notably, the plight of the has-been singer trying to get the Christmas #1 is something of a riff on a British tradition of has-beens and never-wases trying to gain glory with a hit Christmas single) and Lost in Translation, the latter of which doesn’t seem to be very cooperative with my laptop for some reason (I couldn’t get Totem to play it at all under Linux, and Windows Media Player won’t let me skip past any of the promo crap on the DVD). So we’ll see if the real DVD player can cope with Lost, and then I’ll run to Blockbuster to return the DVDs.

Another reason to tell Leahy to go f*ck himself

Apparently, Dick Cheney was ahead of the curve and speaking on behalf of fans of P2P networks when he told Patrick Leahy what he thought of him:

According to this article, Senator Hatch’s “INDUCE” act has been renamed the “Inducing Infringements of Copyrights Act,” but has not otherwise been changed. ”Foes of the IICA, including civil liberties groups and file-swapping network operators, are alarmed that the measure enjoys strong support from prominent politicians of both major parties. Its supporters include Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Truth, justice, and the Canadian way

Brian J. Noggle has figured out how Celine Dion came into existence. Cloning is involved.

Thursday, 24 June 2004

Building a core

Stephen Karlson ponders curriculum reform—in particular, an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. My knowledge of such matters is necessarily limited—I was not a guinea pig for the integrated first-year curriculum at Rose-Hulman (those of us with high-school calculus were too far along), and I was never a freshman again.

All I’ve gotten so far on Millsaps’ interdisciplinary core is the fluffy, press release material aimed at potential students and parents and anecdotal accounts from various participants (principally, my tour guide during my interview)—I assume it works, since they’ve been doing it for over a decade, but I have no empirical evidence either way. It certainly seems more rigorous than NIU’s approach to the problem, but then again there are advantages in such things to being a selective private school that can restrict its enrollment and worry less about the implications of transfers in or out.

Gmail offer

I have two Gmail invites to spare. Email me if you’re interested. All gone!

More C2

James Joyner links reviews of C2 by Meryl Yourish and Kevin Aylward.

I gave a fairly positive review to the product last weekend, which seemed to fit the general consensus until Ms. Yourish weighed in.

Update: Steven Taylor asks a question that proves he’s not a cola connoisseur.

Print it

My latest little project for Debian is an automatic printer setup tool, built from lots of the bits and pieces I’ve developed for Foomatic-GUI. Details here on debian-devel. Short instructions:

Add this to /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb ./

Then do (as root):

apt-get update; apt-get install printconf

Success or failure reports would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, 23 June 2004


It’s something of a cliche to say that someone has a spiffy new design for their blog… but Matt Stinson’s new design, coupled with a transition to WordPress, is pretty darn impressive nonetheless.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004

Genesis of a gaming geek

Vincent Baker confesses how he got started playing role-playing games:

When I was 8 or 9 I was playing Zork on my uncle's new Atari 800 with a couple friends, and we dug it. At some point we wanted to play it but we weren't at my uncle's house, so I volunteered to "be the computer." We even played it text-based! I'd write a description, pass the notebook, my friends would read it and write their actions, I'd write the results. We kept that up for a while, actually, several sessions, before we figured out that we could just talk instead.

He’s got me out-geeked. (Link via Jim Henley.)

Ego blogging

What can I say? I like seeing my name in print. Plus, the paranoid part of my brain likes seeing visual evidence that I actually have a job and that the whole thing isn’t a giant clerical error.

SN scoops Drudge on bias study

Steve Verdon and I managed to scoop Matt Drudge on this working paper by Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo that attempts to quantify the bias of media outlets using the ADA scale. Where’s my gold star?

Meanwhile, James Joyner reacts to the paper itself. I agree that the method of using think-tank citations isn’t ideal, but I can’t come up with a better one offhand that allows you to put members of Congress and media outlets in the same measurement scale without a lot of a priori assumptions. (There are some other critiques at the Dead Parrot Society.)

Update: As Brock points out, Alex Tabarrok scooped us all. Story of my life.

Monday, 21 June 2004

Anybody but Bush

James Joyner has some poll numbers that pretty much explain why John Kerry hasn’t articulated much of a political vision beyond “I’m not George W. Bush.”

Sunday, 20 June 2004

Return of the Browser Wars

Jeff Licquia has a pretty insightful look at the news that the rapid improvement of Mozilla Firefox has shamed Microsoft into start developing Internet Explorer again.

Of course, the fact that IE’s pathological problems with modern CSS are being fixed by one guy using JavaScript ought to be pretty embarrassing to begin with.

The pretentiousness of music critics

I hate to directly contradict Ryan of the Dead Parrots, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s the widespread condescension displayed by the self-annointed music cognoscenti toward popular music. It’s the same order of pretentious twaddle advanced by NPR listeners, independent bookstore owners, peddlers of concern about low levels of political knowledge among the American public, and film-school graduates—faux bourgeois superiority, nothing more, nothing less.

You know what? I couldn’t care less that every Nickelback song sounds alike, that Jewel’s music is now the soundtrack for marketing womens’ razors, or that record companies—in their efforts to produce sufficient content consistent with Canadian domestic artist quota rules—have foisted a succession of Alanis Morrissette-wannabes on the North American listening audience. I refuse to care what poor, long-suffering garage band has been pushed aside for Linkin Park, or what nameless-but-nonetheless-vastly-superior Little Rock bands toil in obscurity while Evanescence’s Amy Lee rockets up the charts, or how Kenny G killed the market for Herbie Hancock CDs.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to listening to Avril while the bourgeois piety police go back to diving into the remainder bins full of obscure, but doubtless vastly more “artistic,” artists in their endless search for art that meets their own exacting standards.

Pothole politics

Kate of Small Dead Animals has visual evidence of the Saskatchewan NDP’s hostility to the United States.

Neoprohibitionists on Parade

Radley Balko is keeping an eye on the state-level activities of the increasingly prohibitionist (and increasingly misnamed) MADD and their pet state legislators. It’s not a very pretty picture.

The origins of the Electoral College

Dean Jens explicates the original purpose of the Electoral College:

[T]he electoral college as originally conceived was expected to elect George Washington as many times as he could be talked into it, and then to very rarely actually give a majority of the votes to any candidate. It was viewed largely as a nominating committee, giving the House of Representatives a short list of candidates from which to select a president. It didn’t work out the way they envisioned, and, if it had, it may not have worked out the way they envisioned; regularly having the legislative branch elect the chief executive may or may not have proved to be a good idea. But it’s my understanding that that was the idea.

Alexander Hamilton’s explanation of the selected procedure is in Federalist 68. Funnily enough, one of the changes to the procedure made in the 12th Amendment reduced the “short list” of candidates from an indecisive vote of the Electoral College from five to three.

Saturday, 19 June 2004


Jeff Jarvis has unkind words for the 9/11 Commission:

The 9/11 Commission has perverted its work and, in my view, committed the unpardonable sin of politicizing 9/11 and turning the attacks of mudering terrorist nutjobs into a litany of things we did wrong, things that are our fault.

No, 9/11 is the fault of murdering terrorist nutjobs and the only solution to this is to hunt down and capture or kill every one of them we can find wherever we find them—yes, even in Saudi Arabia, even in Iraq, even in Pakistan, even in New Jersey. I wish I heard the Commission giving us a few more suggestions about how to do that.

C2 Review

I found some C2 at Wal-Mart tonight in the course of handing over a significant portion of my last paycheck to the Walton heirs. My general first impression is that it tastes like a slightly less syrupy version of regular Coca-Cola Classic; unlike, for example, Diet Coke,* it actually manages to evoke the flavor of regular Coke.

Since it is less syrupy than regular Coke, I’d imagine C2 probably makes a better mixer with vodka. Not having any vodka (or, for that matter, any hard liquor) on hand, such experiments will have to wait until at least Monday.

Update: Len Cleavelin also has a review of C2 that goes into more scientific detail.

The mostly-unlamented passing of a dynasty

The slo-mo breakup of the Lakers finds no regret from either Big Jim or Matt Yglesias, although Kevin Drum is probably crying on the inside.

In an interesting twist, the Shaq trade scenarios (dictated largely by cap considerations) strongly suggest that the big man will return to the team that drafted him way-back-when, the Orlando Magic, in (nominal) exchange for Juwan Howard and/or Grant Hill. In a not-so-interesting twist, Lakers owner Jerry Buss is apparently betting his franchise on the possibility that a Colorado jury—fresh on the heels of the UC-Boulder sexual harassment and rape allegations—will be sympathetic to an out-of-state athlete accused of raping a local woman. Glad it’s his money and not mine.

In the Garden of Allah

Steven Taylor debunks the theory that the Saudis didn’t care about saving Paul Johnson:

It seems that with the scant information available, that the logical conclusion is that something about the disposal of the body or the delivery of the video tipped off the Saudi security forces leading to al-Moqrin’s whereabouts and his subsequent death.

An alternative conclusion is that killing al-Moqrin would have pretty much guaranteed that Johnson would be executed; thus, the sensible course of action was to wait until after they confirmed Johnson was dead to go after al-Moqrin (who may not have been at the same physical location as Johnson anyway).

Friday, 18 June 2004

This Is Punishment

Robert Prather is retiring from the blog scene, due to him having a pretty full plate and losing the will to blog. Hopefully the blogging bug will bite again in the near future; if not, he’s certainly had a good run and most assuredly will be missed.


Thanks to Mark Turnage, I’ve got a Gmail account now (sorry, they haven’t given me any invites yet…).

Just for kicks, I’ve added a procmail rule that forwards a copy of all my email (except detected viruses) to my Gmail account, and it seems to cope pretty well with spam--almost as well as my SpamAssassin 3.0 config does (thus I strongly suspect Gmail uses SpamAssassin under the hood). Overall it seems to be a pretty capable email tool, and I’ll probably use it quite a bit when I’m away from home, although I find non-graphical clients (like mutt) more efficient for day-to-day use, and the lack of true folders takes some getting used to.

By the way, for a more comprehensive look at Gmail, see Eric Janssen’s review at Plug In.

Evidence of media bias

Steve Verdon links a working paper (an updated version of which will be presented at APSA in September) by political scientists Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo that attempts to quantify the partisan leanings of various media outlets on the basis of their reliance on think tanks for “neutral” information in straight-news stories. Estimated ADA scores for the think tanks are derived from their citations by politicians in the Congressional Record, which are then used to estimate ADA scores for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Drudge Report, Fox News’ Special Report, and the three broadcast network evening newscasts.

I’ve only skimmed the paper so far, but this seems like a fairly sound approach to the problem. As for the results… well, unless your name is Eric Alterman, I doubt you’ll be very surprised.

Cruisin' the Bash

I’ve been remiss in not thanking Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered for assembling the second successful Memphis Area Blogger’s Bash. While turnout was slightly lower than the last meet, some new folks turned out, which more than compensated for the slight decrease in attendance:

  • The thoughtful AlphaPatriot, who somewhat reminds me of a younger version of Ole Miss criminal justice prof Chester Quarles.
  • The lovely and intelligent Rachel in the City, who has some ill-defined off-camera job at WMC Channel 5.
  • The vivacious Peggy Phillip, news director of WMC Channel 5.
  • Birthday boy Mark Richens of The Memphis Scene.

Also present were Eric of the CA web team, WebRaw and Plug In (among other stops in his blogging empire), Len Cleavelin, Mr. Mike, and (briefly, as his D&D group was meeting Wednesday night too) Brock.

It was fun to see everyone out; it almost—but not quite (after all, I need to make enough money to eat)—makes me wish I wasn’t off to Jackson for the next year or so. I guess the social scientist in me was on display; Mike says I was “laid-back and watchful again.” I guess since my “day job” is to be the expert, I generally find it more pleasant to watch and observe than to be the center of attention.

More reviews: Len, Mike, Peggy, Rachel, and Eric.

Should I be available for the next bash, I second the suggestion that we should try to blog the next event in progress; Eric suggests Cafe Francisco in the Pinch.

My head hurts

I know I’m a fan of Condorcet voting, but this is a ridiculously confusing vote, even by Debian standards.

I guess I’ll vote 2145376, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to explain 2145376 to anyone else on the planet.

Tit for tat

As expected, Paul Johnson just became the latest victim in the “terrorism by beheading” campaign operated by al-Qaeda.

Reaction: Moe Lane said it best. As far as I’m concerned, the Saudi government’s response should be to immediately execute every single person whose release was demanded by the terrorists. My moral qualms about such a policy in general (I would actively oppose the U.S. engaging in such a policy, for example) don’t extend to actions by the Saudi regime, who routinely show less mercy to Saudis, guest workers, and western ex-pats accused of dubious crimes under their rule. We already know the Saudis have zero respect for human rights; such a policy seems like an excellent complement to a-Qaeda’s policy of zero respect for human life.

Saddamed if you do

Both Alex Knapp and James Joyner (writing at Tech Central Station, so feel free to dismiss accordingly) think the 9/11 commission’s standard of proof for al-Qaeda involvement in, well, anything might be just a tad too high.

As for Saddam himself:

Saddam’s government was never the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism. Iran and Saudi Arabia far outstripped him in that regard. Nonetheless, the fact that Saddam Hussein actively supported Islamic terrorists has been an article of faith since the Carter Administration. Indeed, Iraq was one of the original five states (along with Iran, Libya, Syria, and Cuba) on the original “Patterns of Global Terrorism” list compiled by the State Department in 1979. Saddam was a major sponsor of various terrorist groups, including the PLO, Hamas, and the Abu Nidal Organization.

Read the whole things.

Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Drug war nonsense

I went to the downtown Walgreens today to purchase some Wal-phed (Walgreens’ generic version of Sudafed). I walked back to the aisle where it is normally kept, and there were lots of little yellow signs, telling me that tall products that contain pseudoephedrine are now kept behind the pharmacy counter.

I went back to the pharmacy counter to buy some, and while I was there, asked the salesperson (I don’t know whether he was an actual “pharmacist” or not) about the change. “They make methamphetamine out of it.” Yes, I know. But they can’t make it from the liquid caps that also contain guaifenesin. (Which is what I was purchasing.) Was this a government requirement or was this just a new Walgreens policy? “It’s not a government requirement. We’ve got to do something bout it.” Yeah, I said. Legalize it.

We can’t stop people from making it and selling it, so there’s no reason to make it inconvenient for me to buy decongestants.

Campaign Finance and the Balk Rule

Steven Taylor:

Can we say “matching funds are dead”? I bet we can. There can be no doubt that after Bush in 2000 (and ‘04) and Kerry and Dean this time, that the presidential primary matching-fund process created by the FECA is essentially dead. At best it is campaign welfare for medium-to-low wattage candidates.

While we spend a while hashing out what we’re going to do about this travesty, Congress and the Federal Election Commission might do well to heed the words of baseball guru Bill James, on a completely unrelated topic, the balk rule:

Q: Can you elaborate on how/why the balk rule doesn’t work? Thanks

Bill James: The rule manifestly fails to achieve its goals. It’s one of those rules that, when it didn’t work, they tried to fix it. When that didn’t work, they fixed it again, and they fixed it again, and they fixed it again.

At some point they should have stopped and tried something else, but they didn’t, so they stuck history with a rule which (a) is almost totally unintelligible, and (b) is arbitrary in its enforcement.

In principle, trying to prevent one player from decoying another is a dumb idea. The balk rule is like a rule in basketball that says (a rule that would say… theoretical example) that if you fake a shot, you have to take the shot; otherwise it is travelling. That would be a dumb rule. The balk rule is basically the same thing, only applied to baseball. [emphasis mine]

I think the bolded passage pretty much sums up the state of campaign finance law in the United States in 2004.

Tortured reading

Mark A.R. Kleiman:

So now we have a choice, as voters: Are we going to ratify the decision to make torture (described in various weaselly ways) part of the policy of the United States, or are we going to reject it by replacing those responsible?

Great idea, but what’s our guarantee that a Kerry administration wouldn’t engage in the exact same behavior, if not worse? Where are Kerry’s condemnations of Gitmo? (Everyone’s condemned Abu Gharib, so that doesn’t count.) Mrs. Kerry (the ex-Republican) seems rather more forceful than Sen. Kerry. And, if Kerry is going to try to outflank Bush on terror, is it plausible that he can simultaneously promise to get tougher on al-Qaeda while renouncing the current means by which the U.S. is getting tough on terror?

Throwing the bums out is a great idea… so long as we’re not bringing in new bums that are equally bad, if not worse.


Collin May has a capsule review of tonight’s English-language debate among the major party leaders in Canada; by all accounts, nobody really stood out or got bloodied.

Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Blue Monkey business

Reminder: the second Memphis Bloggers’ Bash is tomorrow at the Blue Monkey on Madison (in the heart of Midtown Is Memphis), starting at 6:30 p.m. Be there, or, er, be somewhere else.

How much do you care?

Jeff Jarvis asks:

Now it’s time that a social scientist or a pollster to measure the passion of our opinions—and an issue better come out pretty high on that passion scale before any reporter can say it’s deeply divisive.

Jon Krosnick at Ohio State (a social psychologist/political scientist) has published at least a half-dozen papers on attitude importance (e.g. “the passion of our opinions”) over the past 15 years. So, my suggestion to the pollsters would be: go forth and read Krosnick.

I’d also suggest that they go back and read Converse on attitudes and nonattitudes and “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics,” but I suspect they read—and forgot—such things long ago; they certainly don’t need me reminding them.

There is no cabal

The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.

Electoral college futures

There’s a petition drive is underway in Colorado to allocate the state’s electors in proportion to candidates’ popular vote. All I can find is the title as it will be presented to voters; I can’t find the actual text of the proposal (including any minumum threshold requirement or whether there will be “bonus” electors for the plurality winner), so it’s hard to judge what the impact of the plan will be.

I suspect the substantive effect of such provisions, if adopted in every state, would be minimal across the board; while candidates might arguably be more inclined to focus on the most populous states, I’m not sure that the actual benefit of such a strategy would be very large. Instead, the sensible strategy would be to focus on states where you’re close (say within 100,000 votes) to gaining an additional elector, and it’s not at all apparent that these states would be more likely to be large.

At the individual level, I suspect PR for the electoral college would somewhat increase turnout in relatively lopsided states like Massachusetts and Mississippi, and somewhat decrease it in perennial “swing states” like Florida and Ohio, but I think that would have more to do with campaign effects than any sort of utility calculus by voters.

Incidentally, there’s probably a good undergraduate or first-year graduate student paper in an analysis of the effects of various electoral college allocation systems (PR, bonus PR, congressional district, plurality), with particular focus on elections with relatively large third-party voting (1948, 1968, 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000).

More from Daniel Geffen, James Joyner, DavidNYC, and Jane Galt.


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Giblets on God™

Over at Fafblog, Giblets explains the god of ceremonial deism, the god we invoke in pledges, in oaths, and on currency:

This God is a fitting adornment for oaths and flags and coins. Especially coins! Ceremonial God blesses your divine use of a slot machine with every quarter you feverishly insert. He marks His glory upon every dollar bill you stuff into the g-string of an aging lap dancer. He is the God of Coke and Pepsi, the all-embracing deity of McDonalds and Wal-Mart. All are one in His commercial bounty.

Giblets longs for a day when God will proudly stand out not just on money, monuments, plaques, greeting cards, university mottos, bumper stickers, action figures and gun shows, but on everything from hamburger wrappers to beer to car insurance. Giblets had a Big Mac dripping with special sauce yesterday, and he thought “Is this special sauce godless, commie special sauce? Or is it All-American, True-Blue, Under God special sauce?” And the sad thing is my friends that Giblets did not know, because it did not say on the box.

More on the standing issue in Newdow

Eugene Volokh gives the legalist’s reasoning as to why the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Newdow v. Elk Grove; I still believe the original plan of the justices who voted for cert was to also reach a substantive conclusion on the constitutionality of the pledge requirement (perhaps in line with Thomas’ concurrence), but Scalia’s recusal threw a wrench in the works of that happening.

Meanwhile, Alex Knapp agrees with Dahlia Lithwick that the more important issue settled in the case may relate to the majority’s newfound respect for the principle of federalism, at least in the area of family law.

Matthew mulls McArdle's musings

Philosophy blogs

Prof. David Chalmers of the University of Arizona has put together a list of philosophical weblogs.

Justice Thomas defends Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Many conservatives like to bash the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, pointing out that in recent years it has had more decisions overturned by the Supreme Court than any other Court of Appeals. I’m no legal expert, but I’ve long suspected that this is because the Ninth Circuit has been faithfully applying precedents that the Supreme Court has been in the process of overturning over the past two decades. Which is exactly what a lower court is supposed to do. Other Courts of Appeals have, to a greater extent than the Ninth Circuit, been instead playing a game of “guess what the Supreme Court will say.” To the extent other Courts have been right in their guesses, they have been overturned fewer times.

Some support for this thesis is contained in today’s concurring opinion in the Newdow case by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s most conservative Justice. Thomas, who would have overturned Newdow on the merits, writes: “I conclude that, as a matter of our precedent, the Pledge policy is unconstitutional.” (Via the Volokh Conspiracy.)

Monday, 14 June 2004

Downtown livin' large

News like this makes me happy I decided to get an apartment in Belhaven rather than living in Ridgeland or northeast Jackson.

Of course, knowing my luck, this coming year will be the year Jackson finally decides to fix Fortification Street (which drives like it was last resurfaced during the Nixon administration) and they find the cash to stick in all the speed humps and roundabouts they want to put in the neighborhood.

Pledge stays unchanged

Contrary to my expressed preference in the case, the Supreme Court decided to duck the case by pretending that Michael Newdow lacked standing to bring the case in the first place, a decision that essentially concedes (at least in the mind of this attitudinalist) that the Court couldn’t muster five votes to keep “under God” in the pledge without using the bogus “standing” issue. Indeed, Stevens’ justification for the 8–0 ruling (Scalia recused himself) amounts to a non sequitor:

When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law.

How, exactly, does the question of who has custody over Mr. Newdow’s daughter affect whether or not the pledge of alliegance is constitutional? Whether or not the child’s mother approves of the pledge is irrelevant to the legal issue at hand.

One suspects, however, that this holding action won’t settle the argument for good, as I’d imagine Mr. Newdow will find another athiest parent with uncontested custody, or a high-school student of majority age, to bring a similar case in the near future.

Update: Stephen Green, Eugene Volokh (via Anti-Climacus), Jacob Levy, Mark of Memphis Red Blogs, Steven Taylor, and Spencer of Mediocrity’s Co-Pilot also have posts on the decision.

I think the interesting political question here is why the Supremes granted certiorari in the case; the standing issue certainly could have been decided without an oral argument, and perhaps even without briefs (the case simply could have been reversed and remanded). I don’t want to post too much about my thoughts, because I think this might be a good discussion topic in Con Law in the fall when we talk about the structure and powers of the Court, even though the content of the semester focuses on topics other than civil liberties (except economic regulation, which is covered).

Half a birthday

Since it’s Flag Day, it must also be my “half-birthday,” a useful modern invention for those of us with December birthdays who got cheated by fate out of a proper commemoration of our actual birthdays. (Interestingly enough, both of my parents and my first cousin also have December birthdays, and my birthday is exactly between my parents’ birthdays. Numerologists would have a field day with all this, of course.)

Art and political scientists

Dan Drezner discusses a Chronicle article ($) on the newspaper clippings that academics post on and around their doors. When I had an office door, my postings were on the mundane side: office hours, a Wall Street Journal editorial on eminent domain abuse in Mississippi, and a couple of forgettable political cartoons. After 9/11 they were joined by a printed U.S. flag that the university administration sent out en masse. Perhaps I will be more creative at Millsaps.

Laura of Apartment 11D’s art discussion goes after ‘performance artist’ Andrea Fraser, who’s blazing a trail only previously trod by the likes of Linda Lovelace, Traci Lords, and Ron Jeremy.

Texas bringing WiFi to the highways

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to install free WiFi hotspots at all of its highway rest areas, after a pilot project at 4 rest stops along U.S. 287 found them to be a hit with the motoring public.

Sunday, 13 June 2004

Your mom dresses you funny

Please, for the love of God, will someone tell Tom Tolbert that his suit is the most hideous thing ever seen on American television.

Friday, 11 June 2004


Eric Muller starts hypothesizing about MemoGate:

This is the sort of thing one might expect to see a young lawyer do in a “brainstorming” sort of memo—and that one would expect to see a more senior lawyer react to by saying, “Very creative. I like how you’re thinking outside the box. But none of this is going to fly in the real world. Please go back and rewrite this into something we can actually use.”

The memo is marked “draft”—so maybe all of this too-clever manipulation of hornbook law ended up in the back of a filing cabinet of non-starter ideas. Somehow I don’t think it would have been leaked if that were true, though. [emphasis mine]

Alternative hypothesis: today is June 11, 2004, a mere 144 days before a presidential election. This memo is highly embarrassing to the Bush administration (at least in the opinion of those who already don’t much care for said administration; the jury’s still out on whether rank-and-file swing voter cares about Jose Padilla and Iraqi detainees). Lower-level functionaries in major government departments are known to be core Democratic voters. Ergo, any embarrassing material—even if it was never used to justify administration policy—is worth leaking, especially considering that Abu Gharib was finally moving off the front pages in light of progress in the political situation in Iraq.

Counter-hypothesis: today is June 11, 2004, the week of Ronald Reagan’s death. The memo is highly embarrassing to the Bush administration, but about the most damning piece of the paper trail that ties administration actors to extra-legal torture by CIA and military intelligence operatives. Leak it now, and the news will be buried along with Reagan, as the only media outlets who will still care in a week will be ones with known partisan taint like The New Yorker, and thus, any such accounts will be immediately discounted by otherwise-swayable Republican elites.

Hell's Bells

Will Collier notes that the ILECs won a Pyrrhic victory at the Supreme Court that will let them raise the fees they charge wireline competitors… not that it will help them in the long run.

I have BellSouth at present, like Will did; I’m trying to figure out a way to ditch wireline service when I move to Jackson next month. BellSouth’s nominal $16.55 local unlimited calling service actually is around $30, once all the bogus fees and taxes are piled on—including the absurd $1.87 a month fee I’m charged so they won’t give out my phone number in the directory. Vonage is looking awfully appealing, although I’m still not sure if my TiVos will play nicely with it or not.

I’ve been generally happy with BellSouth’s DSL, even though their occasional hardware screw-ups are annoying, but Earthlink has a great deal on cable Internet in Jackson which I can’t pass up ($29.95 per month the first six months, then $41.95 per month, with no equipment to buy). Now just to figure out how I can get my DirecTV hooked up with all the trees around and it being a rental property. Hopefully the DirecTV movers’ deal will cover that.

Like a match in a pool of gasoline

Needless to say, Mr. Neimeyer’s Wednesday column, which referred to the recently deceased Ronald Reagan as “the anti-Christ,” attracted a rather colorful exchange on the Letters page of the Daily Mississippian.



For what it’s worth, I was never a huge Reagan fan—I was more of a Thatcherite in my youth, albeit perhaps a bit more of a “wet” Tory than she was. But in a world with Kim Jong-Il, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe, and the entire leadership of the Chinese Communist Party still around, I think one can find much better candidates for the title “anti-Christ.”

I also think Dr. Shugart might have more properly addressed his remarks to Mr. Neimeyer for having written such ignorant drivel, rather than complaining that the paper failed to exercise proper editorial judgment—although the idea expressed by Mr. Jones that Dr. Shugart’s rather brief letter constitutes a “chill” on free speech only serves to highlight the widespread misconception among undergraduates that the right to hold an opinion somehow includes the non-existent “right” to have that opinion go unchallenged if articulated in public, no matter how ill-informed or poorly-argued it is.

Mini-bottles and Ben Tillman

The always-engaging Geitner Simmons has an interesting post on the links between South Carolina’s backward alcohol laws and über-segregationist Ben Tillman, who was pretty much the intellectual forebear to folks like Strom Thurmond and Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo in the 20th century.


The machine Signifying Nothing is hosted on had some serious surgery last night (a complete Debian sid reinstall onto some xfs partitions, a large memory boost, a case transplant, a “new” Maxtor IDE controller and new boot disk, and about a hundred other changes), since there was some mysterious flakiness I suspect had something to do with bad RAM and I had lots of decent parts sitting around that would be of better use on gateway (named for its role, not the company) than gathering dust. Oddly enough, everything still seems to be working after less than an hour of tweaks.

The only downside: if you commented or trackbacked (or posted, for that matter) after about 4 pm yesterday, your comment/trackback didn’t make it into the backup, so it’s lost. Well, not lost, but I’m not going to bother trying to get it out of the old PostgreSQL installation on the old boot disk.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Holdsclaw v. Davies

Daniel Davies:

I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power in Baghdad because if this were the case, then about 3,000 Iraqis would have been murdered by his regime and would be dead, the roughly 10,000 Iraqis we killed ourselves would still be alive, and we would most likely be well on our way to formulating a credible, sensible, properly resourced plan for getting rid of him and handling the aftermath.

Sebastian Holdsclaw:

This is pure fantasy. European countries and the UN were not in the process of figuring out how to get rid of Saddam just before bumbling George Bush talked them out of it. In January 2002 France, Germany and Russia were talking about having sanctions removed from Iraq and trade and diplomatic relations normalized. Even if he were one of those people who is easily impressed by European words decoupled from actions he couldn’t take comfort in the words. There wasn’t even a large rhetoric-only anti-Saddam pose being taken by European governments. At best there was the admission that he had been somewhat naughty in the past and aren’t we glad that sanctions have brought him to heel.

We would not be ‘most likely be well on our way to formulating a credible, sensible, properly resourced plan for getting rid of him’ if only the U.S. hadn’t invaded in 2003. Unless of course by ‘we’ he means the U.S. acting unilaterally. I understand the need to protect the leftist conscience, but let us at least stick to semi-plausible hypotheticals like “If we were lucky Saddam might have choked on a chicken bone.”

Needless to say, this is engendering a good discussion—a lot of it from the eminently sensible Gary Farber, whose blog you really should read on a regular basis if you’re not already.

Father's day shopping

I have come to the conclusion that slippers just aren’t sold in the summer in Mississippi. They’ll probably have to wait until this coming winter and be a birthday gift.

The good news is, Hallmark had something nice that I think will work as a gift, even if it wasn’t exactly what was requested. Now I just have to figure out how to mail it…

Another satisfied customer

Avril Lavigne, on Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit (a band name that seems oddly appropriate in light of this account):

“I mentioned to Fred that I was hungry, like, ‘I want an In-N-Out burger.’ “He had someone go out and get me a whole box of them, with fries. I was like, ‘Yeah!.’ Then he took a private jet out to one of my shows, expecting me to bang him. He was disappointed that I wouldn’t even go near him. He was a little pissed that I went to my room alone that night.”

That Fred’s one smooth dude, no?

Via Begging to Differ and Jeff Jarvis.

Fisk this

Some of my more conservatively-inclined readers may enjoy tearing a new one in this hapless Ole Miss undergraduate, who I’m sure thinks he’s far more clever than he actually is. A free sample:

The anti-Christ is dead. That was my initial reaction Saturday afternoon at a Cincinnati hotel bar to the news of former President Ronald Reagan’s death. I know it’s an insensitive sort of statement to the news of a death of someone grandly touted as one of America’s “greatest presidents.” Frankly, though, he is one of the worst presidents we’ve had.

Oh, don’t worry, it gets better from there. I think the only thing he forgot to complain about was Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers.


Steven Taylor thinks we shouldn’t go overboard in naming things for Ronald Reagan, a position I generally agree with.

I could get behind the idea of letting Sacagawea share the dollar coin with a series of dead presidents not otherwise honored on American currency, though. Coupled with stopping the presses on the $1 bill in favor of pumping out a lot more $2s (and dollar coins), I think people would be reasonably tolerant of a changeover.

Someone needs to read someone's dissertation

Will Baude:

Voting instrumentally (in presidential elections, at least) is quite irrational, except to the extent that voters enjoy doing it. The probability of any single voter changing the outcome of a presidential election is 0.

Tell that to a voter in Florida in 2000 (his probability was about .002, which isn’t great, but beats the heck out of the lottery). Because of the electoral college, the probability of any single voter changing the outcome of a presidential election varies from state to state, and is a function of the competitiveness of the election in that state. But you don’t have to believe me; instead, believe, er, Chris Lawrence:

For [supporters of third party candidates], the strategic/sincere choice rests on whether their vote is likely to be pivotal. Although Downs (1957) argues that casting a non-strategic vote is irrational, that is only the case if the vote has a non-negligible chance of affecting the outcome of the election. Sincere voting for minor candidates is irrational in the sense that elections are not normally thought of as a forum for expressing general preferences, but rather as a “selection process”; however, if political actors respond to election results as if they are referenda on particular policies espoused by candidates, sincere voting for minor candidates may be rational in certain circumstances. If a citizen’s vote is almost certainly not pivotal, it may be rational for voters to show their public policy preferences by supporting a minor candidate. ...

Thus, voters may be considered rational if they express a preference, rather than merely taking part in a “selection process,” in states where their vote is highly unlikely to make a difference in the outcome. For example, according to CNN (2000), only 20 of the 51 elections for electors in 2000 were in so-called “battleground” states that were expected to be close. Thus, a voter in one of the other 30 states or the District of Columbia could presumably vote for a third-party candidate and thus have virtually no expectation of affecting the presidential contest, as their vote would be highly unlikely to affect the disposition of their state’s electors. (103–04)

Unfortunately, the astounding finding that the variation in “pivotalness” of an individual’s vote varied in 2000 by a factor of nearly 1000 between the most competitive and least competitive state didn’t make it into then-Mr. Lawrence’s dissertation, although it has made it into at least one presentation of the findings of this chapter.


Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Emprical political science makes the Times

It’s not every day that you see a citation of The American Voter in The New York Times, but thanks to Nick Troester and Will Baude I stumbled upon David Brooks’ Sunday column on partisanship and rationality.

First, to settle the discussion between Messrs. Baude and Troester: Brooks’ analysis is essentially correct, although the transitory attachment voters would have with political parties under pure rationality wouldn’t be “party identification” (an affective—or emotional—orientation) as we conceive of it in American politics. Under pure rationality, voters would select among the platforms of the parties and vote for the party with the most desirable platform at that given moment, subject to the institutional rules governing vote choice (i.e. whether we are using plurality elections, proportional representation, majority-runoff, Condorcet voting, the alternate vote, or what-have-you, and the district magnitude).

Voting, I’d argue, has both expressive and (to borrow Baude’s term) instrumental aspects. One votes to both participate in the selection process—the way Downs conceived of voting—and to express preferences about how the government should act in the future. Much ink has been spilled over this debate over the past four decades (“proximity” versus “directional” voting, the rationality of turnout, etc.) and I need not recount it all here. Suffice it to say: voters aren’t rational in the Downsian sense (Page and Shapiro notwithstanding), people (to the extent they are rational) seek to maximize their expected utility, and Troester (despite his minor fault of not being an Americanist) is right—an outcome I attribute to Troester receiving a Michigan education, versus Baude’s Chicago one.*

On to Brooks, who shows he’s a little out of his field in his discussion:

Party affiliation even shapes people’s perceptions of reality. In 1960, Angus Campbell and others published a classic text, “The American Voter,” in which they argued that partisanship serves as a filter. A partisan filters out facts that are inconsistent with the party’s approved worldview and exaggerates facts that confirm it.

That observation has been criticized by some political scientists, who see voters as reasonably rational. But many political scientists are coming back to Campbell’s conclusion: people’s perceptions are blatantly biased by partisanship.

I’ll grant that he’s working in newspaper space, but there are a couple of caveats:

  1. I think he ascribes too much prescience to The American Voter on the role of perceptual screens or partsian filters. Most contemporary scholars would agree its psychological underpinnings are weak to nonexistent.
  2. Political scientists aren’t “coming back” to their conclusions; with the exception of the aforementioned Page and Shapiro, the Michigan approach has been essentially the dominant paradigm in American political behavior since around 1980, and was certainly a leading contender since the mid-1960s.

Still, this is about the best explanation of contemporary thinking on American politics you’ll find in about 600 words, and it dovetails rather nicely with Ken Waight’s work at Lying in Ponds on elite political discourse.

Innovations in transportation policy

I originally meant to discuss Virginia Postrel’s NYT piece from last month on the highway reauthorization bill, but got distracted. Luckily, she has resurrected the topic at Dynamist Blog, and given me something more to talk about:

New spending also ignores all the “micro allocative efficiencies” that transportation economists like Cliff Winston spend most of their time worrying about: Could pricing make roads more productive? Should we target spending and construction toward the most congested areas? Are the roads the right thickness? Should cars and trucks be segregated? Are construction costs artificially high because of Davis-Bacon and other political constraints? Are we building too many roads in rural areas? What is the right tradeoff between capital costs and maintenance? And so forth… These questions simply don’t get asked, because highway spending is entirely political. It isn’t about making the roads more efficient.

While I’ll concede that the bulk of the highway reauthorization is about new spending (whether for maintenance or new construction), I think many of these topics will be addressed in the eventual legislation. It expands the authorization of toll projects on existing free facilities for rehabilitation and expansion, as well as authorizing new pilot programs for congestion pricing and “high-occupancy/toll” lanes. FHWA and state transportation agencies have been experimenting with new and improved pavement technologies for years, leading to the development of Superpave™ and better standards for highway construction. The idea of separating cars from trucks has been advanced in other venues—Texas’ own Rick Perry has spearheaded the Trans-Texas Corridor project, which includes separate truck and car lanes as a central feature, while similar ideas have been explored for improving traffic flow in both urban areas (access to ports in southern California and the Detroit-Windsor border crossing) and on rural corridors (namely, the congested I-81 route in Virginia).

So, in sum, I think many of the questions are being asked—and answered. Looking for those answers in the national political process, however, overlooks the other areas of innovation—public-private partnerships, state transportation agencies, and (shockingly) the federal bureaucracy—where progress on ideas other than pure pork is being made.

Sunday, 6 June 2004

Be careful what you wish for

Mike Hollihan has a very interesting post that manages to summarize pretty much everything worth knowing about Memphis politics today. A particularly interesting quote:

Also, if Memphians who want out—for good schools, racism, safe neighborhoods, whatever—know that Shelby County is now, or will soon be, a closed book, then they just skip county or state lines and move anyway. But now they’d be out of the reach of Shelby County altogether.

And, thanks to a oft-overlooked portion of Tennessee’s “smart growth” law passed in the late 1990s (after the “Toy Towns” crisis), they’re now out of the reach of Memphis too. Part of the deal that half-heartedly imposed Oregon-style urban planning on the state’s municipalities was a little provision that essentially cut off the “nightmare scenario” under previous law that would, essentially, have allowed Memphis to annex any unincorporated land in Tennessee, given sufficient ingenuity by the Memphis City Council;* now, annexations across county lines require county commission approval, except in limited cases where a city already straddled county lines.

In essence, the legislature told Memphis: “we saved you from the Toy Towns, now the whole mess is yours to sort out—the catch is, you only get to f*ck up one county.” The legislature is looking mighty prescient right about now.

R and R

To the rest of the world, “R and R” means “rest and relaxation.” To academics, however, it means “revise and resubmit”—a living hell of extra data collection, analysis, and writing.

Guess which version I’ll be doing this afternoon.

Damnedest of them all

Professor Bainbridge roots for the Redskins to win one for a very idiosyncratic reason:

A 72-year streak links the victory or defeat of the Washington Redskins on the eve of election day with the presidential race. If the Redskins go down to defeat or tie, the sitting president’s party loses the White House. That leaves the fate of President Bush squarely on the shoulders of Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs. Hometown hero Gibbs, who led the team to three Super Bowl titles, retired after the 1992 season and now has returned to the team’s helm.

The Redskins face off against the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field on Oct. 31 — the last game before the election Nov. 2. ...

The Redskins’ performance has aligned with the presidential outcome in the last 18 elections — a probability of 1 in 263.5 million, according to Dave Dolan, an assistant professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Bainbridge at least acknowledges that this result “is a spurious correlation generated by data mining.” No such luck for someone else who should know better (quoted by Steven Jens):

From UVa poli-sci prof Larry Sabato comes word that no incumbent president with a four-letter last name has ever won (I’m avoiding using the term “re-elect” so as not to exclude Ford).

Sabato deserves his own personal category here at Signifying Nothingparticularly considering that I’m stuck with using his god-awful American government text in the fall. Even “Burns, Peltason, and 17 other dead people” would be better.

North of the Border

A few links for those with an interest in goings-on in Canuckistan. Peaktalk is disappointed that the Conservatives have moved to the left on health care, thus forestalling a much-needed national debate on Canada’s health care system. Meanwhile, Collin May of Innocents Abroad is pretty much flooding the zone with current poll results and analysis; barring a major reversal in the next 3 weeks, it’s looking more and more like the Tories will win a plurality and be able to form a government with the support of the Bloc Québecois (as outlined here)—inspired debate or no.

Also of potential interest (and joining the blogroll, at least through the end of the month): Alexandra Taylor, who comes recommended by Colby Cosh, and Points of Information, a group blog recommended by Alexandra.

Last comment on comments

Will Baude still maintains his objections to comments on heavily-trafficked blogs, but concedes there may be some merit to comments in the less-traveled-by portions of the blogosophere. The interesting questions to me are: why do comment sections turn to sludge, and what’s the inflection point where sludge control efforts can no longer be fruitful?

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Fire up the black helicopters

A direct quote from Peter Jennings, not more than one minute ago:

We’ve kept half an eye on the [hockey] game, but we’re very, very deeply involved in President Reagan’s death.

Sheesh, I knew the media was liberal, but I think that’s just going too far…

Reagan RIP

The inevitable has happened: Ronald Reagan has passed away. Dan Drezner invites comment on Reagan’s legacy—personally, I think his greatest contribution was rehabilitating the Republican Party after the twin disasters of Watergate and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, to the extent that the GOP was able to survive the scandals of the 1980s with far less damage.

Thursday, 3 June 2004

A fictitious political philosophy

Amanda Butler laments the misclassification of The Federalist Papers as “fiction” at her local Books-A-Million store.

[Insert your own joke about companies headquartered in Alabama here.]

The definition of "politician"

Vance of Begging to Differ summarizes Paul Krugman’s latest column with the following two-line statement:

Bush really doesn’t care about the explosion of federal spending or the possible consequences. He does care, though, about getting reelected.

In other words, first-term presidents, like members of Congress, are “single-minded seekers of reelection,” to borrow David Mayhew’s classic phrase.

Meanwhile, Alex Knapp links to an Onion piece that pretty much summarizes how I suspect about 75% of the voting public feels about November.

Jackson here I come

I signed a one-year lease today and paid a deposit on a nice apartment in an older building in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson. I’m pumped.

The Butler did it

Both Dan Drezner and Amanda Butler (Dan’s research assistant) respond to some grade-A dipshittery from commenters with ideological axes to grind who are pissed off that the empirical results of Dan’s survey don’t comport with their normative views of how the universe ought to be.

Wednesday, 2 June 2004

APSA blogging panel

Russell Arben Fox gives some advance pub for the blogging roundtable organized by Dan Drezner at APSA in early September and ponders how the discussion will play out.

Of course, I’ll make a point of being there—assuming I end up going to APSA (I’m not presenting or anything, just going to play my designated role as meat for the job mill). I’m about 95% sure I will be there, but I should discuss it with the chair before upping that to 100%.

Anyway, it should be fun. Personally I’m curious how the panelists will reconcile blogs with the two-step flow of political information—is blogging expanding the access to be part of the elite or not, is it another avenue for transmission and diffusion of elite discourse, stuff like that. And it’d be nice to meet some more “scholar-bloggers” in person; as far as I know (for all I know, “John Lemon” could be in my department), Dan is the only one I’ve met in meatspace.

Back to the Peak

Pieter Dorsman has decided to start blogging again at Peaktalk. He returns with a sage philosophy of blogging:

So is Peaktalk back? Yes, I think so, tentatively. But with a slightly different approach. Content when I feel like it and when I have something to say, or when there’s really good stuff to link to. No more compulsion or posting for posting’s sake.

When blogging starts to feel like a chore, that means it’s time to take a break. Just remember to follow Pieter’s example and come back to us after a while ☺.

Oh, and Pieter—no pressure, but I’d love to hear your take on that minor skirmish going on north of the 49th parallel.

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Bleg: The con is on

It’s just been confirmed that I’ll be teaching Constitutional Law in the fall—specifically, the first half of the typical political science “Institutional Relations / Rights and Liberties” sequence. Since I’m not a lawyer or an institutionalist, this leaves me a tad out of my depth; I’ve been on the receiving end of Rights and Liberties, but the rest of my background in law and the courts is in judicial behavior.

Assuming I use the case method (given that these are primarily law-school-bound students, I think I should stick with orthodoxy), I’ve got a couple of possible textbooks in mind: Mason and Stephenson (used by John Winkle at Ole Miss) or Rossum and Tarr. Since I’m not sure we plan to offer Rights and Liberties in the spring, and since I’m not sure that I’ll be teaching it even if we do, I’m leaning toward a single-volume text (which indicates Rossum and Tarr over Mason and Stephenson). I also thought of dragging out the first volume companion to the overweight West book I used as an wee grad student for Rights and Liberties, but it may be too expansive—and expensive—for a junior-level undergraduate seminar consisting primarily of political science majors and pre-law types.

Any suggestions, endorsements, or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Update: I received a vote via email for Epstein and Walker, which has the advantage (IMHO) of having been written by political scientists.