Saturday, 31 July 2004

No-more Nomar in Beantown

As James Joyner notes, Nomar Garciaparra was traded from the Red Sox to the Cubs in a 4-team deal that would seem to put the Cubs in a pretty good position, but which looks to David Pinto like something of a firesale for the Sox—even though they did get Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera in the deal.

I suppose this also means that Jimmy Fallon will have to learn to play another character than “annoying Boston guy who screams ‘Nomar’ and makes out with Rachel Dratch at the drop of a hat.” But given SNL’s track record on such things, maybe not…

The Chatham House Rules

Nick Troester (apparently, it rhymes with “toaster”) is under the impression that last evening’s events fall under the Chatham House Rules. My personal perspective is that it’d be hard to enforce those rules, considering that all activities took place in public venues, but I’m still leaning toward relative confidentiality, if only for the sake of the honor of our mixed company (or at least for my continued employment).

I will, however, note that Kevin, Leslie, and I did make it to the ICPSR picnic on Saturday, something that cannot be said for others of our group.

BTW, I did find my hat… it was in my backpack all along.

Thursday, 29 July 2004

Nerdier than thou

Prof. Bryan Caplan revels in his nerdiness at Marginal Revolution.

In case you haven't guessed, yes, I consider myself a nerd. I'm such a nerd that I worry that my sons will fail to embrace their nerd heritage. The best game show in history, Beat the Geeks, began by asking each contestant "What's the geekiest thing about you?" I still wish I could have been a contestant just to give my response:

"I am the Dungeon Master for an all-economists' Dungeons and Dragons game."

Beat that, geeks!

That sounds like a challenge to me. Or perhaps a new blog-meme. Okay, here’s the geekiest thing about me:

I met my wife because we were both subscribed to a Sandman fanzine entitled Dream Lovers.

And to tie it all together, here’s a blast from the past: a mailing list discussion on free will from 1995 between Caplan, me, and several others. In the midst of this discussion, I announce my engagement. Wow, it’s been nine years.

IIRC, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, founder of the Wikipedia, was also a member of that mailing list. Although maybe that was a different philosophy mailing list.

Parties versus interest groups

Chip Taylor solicits comment from political scientists on last weekend’s New York Times Magazine piece on the efforts to create a Democratic-leaning interest group infrastructure to rival the similar arrangements on the right. He writes:

That made me think about the Reform Party. After Perot was done dabbling in presidential politics, the Reform Party infrastructure was left with no real leader or agenda. It did have state and local party officials across the country, ballot access in many states, and eligibility for at least one more round of public funding for its presidential candidate.

Consequently there was a struggle between Buchanan and his organization and (if memory serves) the Natural Law Party apparatus (such as it is was). Neither was exactly committed to the principles of the Reform Party (to the extent that they existed); they were after the political assets of the Reform Party organization.

Now, I’m not saying that the Democratic Party is anywhere near the empty shell the post-Perot Reform Party was. But it seems that to the extent it is composed of coalitions of disparate interest groups, it is more vulnerable to a “hostile takeover.”

I wrote about this topic late last year:

With the institutional power of American parties in rapid decline relative to both candidates and interest groups (witness George Soros’ large donation to, rather than the Democrats), thanks to the incumbency advantage, widespread adoption of open primaries, and McCain-Feingold, it seems likely that the United States will see more of these fights for the heart and soul of the party, as candidates and interest groups try to gain control of the remaining institutional advantages of the major parties—their automatic access to the ballot and their “brand recognition.” Why build a third party from scratch when you can just hijack the Republicans or Democrats?

More broadly, I think American politics has moved away from the system of parties articulating voter preferences (articulated in part here by James Joyner) to a system in which interest groups are the primary vehicle for public influence of the political process—with electoral competition something of a vestigial sideshow, necessitated more by constitutional requirements and the need for some elected oversight of the bureaucracy than it is required for functioning representative government. I don’t know that the central thesis here is anything too original—go read Schattschneider or Dahl—but I think political actors have finally come to recognize this reality in a way that they didn’t before, prodded largely by the search for loopholes in campaign finance laws and continual weakening of the institutional position of political parties in the system.

Public opinion is crap, redux

I think Bryan Caplan has really stepped in one here:

Larry Bartels has gotten national attention for his work on Bush’s income tax cut, inheritance tax cut, and public opinion. (Here is the full article; here is the digest version; here is what Alex Tabarrok had to say about Bartels). Bartels’ main point is that public opinion verges on contradictory: the public believes that inequality has gone up, agrees that inequality is bad, agrees that the rich should pay more taxes, BUT still supports two tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich.

Bartels is right, although since I belong to the tiny minority of people who favors however much inequality the free market delivers, for once I have to celebrate the public’s folly.

What Bartels does not seem to realize, however, is that the contradiction he laments is only one of many. [emphasis added]

I suspect very strongly that Prof. Bartels does realize this, as he is one of the foremost experts on public opinion in American politics. Mind you, Caplan’s broader post is a nice primer on the contradictions in public opinion that political scientists have known about (and attempted to explain) since the 1960s—contradictions that Bartels, and any other political scientist studying public opinion, would be well aware of.

Quantify everything

Tyler Cowen calls on Dan Drezner to self-assign p values to his fence-sitting. My gut feeling is that this approach would be ineffective; based on the cognitive psychology literature, I’d have to conclude that Dan is probably not the best judge of his own objective probabilities. Instead, I recommend employing content analysis of Dan’s posts to arrive at estimated p values at given points in time, or using a panel of raters, or some other more accurate technique.

Incidentally, the only p value I have a good handle on for myself is that p=1.00 that, on election night, I will be sitting with my undergraduate methods class at some venue with available libations making fun of Brokaw, Rather, and/or Jennings on the big-screen as they call (and uncall) states. Assuming the dean doesn’t put the kibosh on the short field trip, that is…

Don't confuse me with Larry Sabato

Here’s my lame-ass election prediction: Kerry wins. And you can take that to the bank. At least, you can take it to the bank that you took my “Dean will be the nominee and Osama (not to be confused with Obama) will get a woody” prediction to (I suspect the tellers there aren’t that bright).

Now if I can just buy the Kreskin outfit and crystal ball prop from the local magic supply store, I’ll have some real respect in this discipline.

Lawyers and Attorneys

Eugene Volokh, defending the legal profession from charges that the This song is your song controversy is all the lawyers’ fault, writes:

But at most what we have here is a few special lawyers-by-training -- many of whom are no longer even lawyers in private service, but are lawmakers of one sort or another -- making unsound decisions. We do not have some general ethical failing on the part of the legal profession as a whole.

I don’t have anything substantive to say about Prof. Volokh’s post, but this does give me an opportunity to advance a linguistic mission of mine: to bring about a distinction between the words lawyer and attorney.

Now I’m not claiming this is distinction is found standard American English, but I think it would be a good distinction to make.

If we make the distinction, a lawyer is a person who has a certain professional training, whereas an attorney is a person, usually a lawyer, who represents people in their legal affairs.

An attorney is not necessarily a lawyer. Judges and law clerks are almost always lawyers, but (at least in the federal judiciary), they are not permitted to be attorneys. And someone who decides to represent himself in a legal matter is his own attorney, even though he may not be a lawyer.

We may make a similar distinction between doctor and physician. Senator Bill "Cat Murderer" Frist is a doctor, since he has a medical degree, but he is no longer a physician.

UUEncode makes a comeback

I just received the first UUEncoded email attachment I’ve seen in about half a decade. Now I have to remember how to decode one of the bloody things.

Wednesday, 28 July 2004

You ask, we answer

The part of “Chris” in this post is being played by someone else. The opinions expressed in this post are not Chris’s, particularly if you are looking to hire a methodologist… in which case, Chris’s vita is linked over there to the right, so read it and skip the rest of this post, which will be of zero interest to you.

For the individual in the San Francisco Bay area from a Comcast IP who did a Google search on “Political Methodology ph.d placement rate”: abysmal, if you generalize from an n of one—but pretty good if you consider a visiting position and spending another year desperately avoiding a tenure-track job with a 4–4 load or worse “placement.” Suffice it to say anyone actively looking for a real methodologist who can publish and teach Ph.D. students (as opposed to an Americanist they can also dump undergrad methods on) isn’t going to be happy with me—never mind that that’s what I’ve been trained to do.

On the bright side, your chances are probably much better if you manage to attend a top 25 Ph.D. program. So polish up those GRE scores!


Silly observations that don’t really deserve their own posts:

  • Yesterday in Ann Arbor was cold, rainy, and dreary—to the extent I actually had to switch on the heat in my apartment last night, lest I freeze to death (good thing I decided to have the gas switched on after all). Today, on the other hand, it’s around 80° and sunny, and supposed to stay in the 80s through the next week or so. Weird.

  • Maybe I’m getting old or something, but there’s something very disturbing about a current pop hit which has a chorus about a sexual technique. Particularly when it’s performed by someone best known for singing the theme to Disney’s “Kim Possible.” (What may even be more disturbing is I can’t figure out what sexual technique it is.)

  • Not to start a big brou-ha-ha like the recently-raging conflict over the relative “hotness” of libertarian women, but I‘ll put any five randomly selected young Mississippi women (18–35) against a comparably-selected slate of native Michiganders any day.

  • Would anyone know who Ashlee Simpson was if it weren’t for her sister?

More good news from the LP

Via Amber Taylor, I learn that the party’s vice-presidential candidate, Richard Campagna, has a Ph.D from a diploma mill, thus moving the party to a position formerly only occupied by the loons of the Natural Law Party and its advocates of “transcendental meditation.”

Watching TV so I don't have to

There’s something very nice about not having access to a television this week. Others, however, are less fortunate.

I may have to deliberately take my TV out of order when I get back to Jackson so I can avoid the Republican convention too.

21st Century Snakeoil

Stephen Taylor, the proprietor of the real PoliBlog™, points out the folly of leaping from punchcards to touchscreens—particularly by county election administrators whose general track-record of competence was pretty poor to begin with.

Plus, as an added bonus, it would have spared us the conspiracy-mongering claims that Diebold cares who wins the election.

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

The vagaries of radio waves

I can’t quite figure out why the bit-error rate of the terrestrial signal from a XM repeater seems to float in and out of tolerance; most of the time, it is right around 3, but it has short bursts up to 25—what’s annoying is that anything over 10 makes it lose signal. (It also only seems to produce a usable signal if I put the antenna within a 10 square-inch area of my office.)

Maybe next year (if I return) I should request a south-facing office.

Monday, 26 July 2004

Now he's really gone and done it

The drawback of wearing your heart on your sleeve (or your blog) is letting your emotions take you somewhere you don’t want to go in public. Case in point: Andrew Sullivan’s virtual endorsement of John Kerry, apparently motivated by the elephant in the room that James Joyner points out—the president’s position on same-sex marriage, something that Sullivan doesn’t bother mentioning in the column, but looms over the whole discussion for anyone familiar with Sullivan’s tireless crusading on the issue. Whatever one’s feelings on Bush’s handling of the issue (and, there, I’m largely in agreement with Sullivan, though I do lack the personal self-interest angle), wishing John Kerry were conservative isn’t going to make him conservative, as Stephen Green points out, and it’s disingenuous for Sullivan (or anyone else who genuinely considers themselves conservative) to believe otherwise.*

That said, I think it is reasonable to suspect a hypothetical President Kerry, if his election is unaccompanied by a return to Democratic control of Congress, will be forced by circumstances—namely a hostile Congress—to govern more conservatively (at least on the fiscal side of the ledger) than Bush has. But I don’t think Kerry’s instincts will be conservative, or even moderate for that matter, and in the areas of policy where there isn’t a strong check by Congress I think he will move in an unabashedly liberal direction.

Electric Boogaloo

I managed to get my gas and electricity switched on around noon, thus ending my long, semi-homeless saga since arriving in Ann Arbor. (Thanks to the kindness of an acquiaintence and his roommate, I at least had a roof over my head last night, gratis.) Now I’m dealing with accumulated spam email.

Sunday, 25 July 2004

Living a full life

From today’s obituaries in the Commercial Appeal:

A___ S___ W___, 67, of Memphis, retired cook for the Memphis City Schools, died Wednesday at Methodist South Hospital. ... She was a member of the Heroines of Jericho, Heroines of Temple Crusades P.H.A and the Order of the Eastern Star Eureka Chapter 241, where she was past most ancient matron of Eureka Court 19, princess captain of Wolverine Guild 3 and second lieutenant commandress of Moolah Court 22 Daughters of Isis.

I can only hope that my obituary is as colorful.

The "other" Ricky Williams no more

Ex-Texas Tech star Ricky Williams has lucked into some good news; the former Texas running back who shares his name is apparently retiring from the Miami Dolphins, at least according to the “hateable” Dan Le Batard* of the Miami Herald. The retiring Williams, you may recall, was the object of the foolish New Orleans Saints trade that gave away all their draft picks for about a decade or so; he was eventually traded to the Dolphins when New Orleans managed to acquire former Ole Miss RB Deuce McAllister.

Saturday, 24 July 2004

Morons on parade II

Frivolous lawsuit or real justice? Check out this story from Knoxville:

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has reinstated a lawsuit against a gas station filed by two victims of drunken driving.

The court ruled Gary West and Michell Richardson could sue East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Company for negligence.

An investigation concluded that employees of a Knoxville Exxon station operated by Pioneer refused to sell Brian Lee Tarver beer because he was intoxicated, but helped him pump fuel into his car.

Police say Tarver left the station with his lights off, driving in the wrong lane and crashed head-on into the car carrying West and Richardson in July, 2000. [emphasis added]

It seems to me the more appropriate target for this lawsuit is the employees, who I doubt were following company policy in helping drunk drivers fill their gas tanks (assuming the Exxon is self-serve only), but considering they were stupid enough to fill the guy’s tank, they probably don’t have any money to collect in a lawsuit anyway.

(Link via email from a friend of the blog.)

Labor law and grad students

Brett Marston isn’t too impressed with the National Labor Relations Board’s decision last week that removed the right of graduate students to organize at private universities. He writes:

I don’t want to be uncharitable, but the majority seems to have little interest in the function of labor law. They seem to view it as a collection of information about congressional views on categories of relationships between people rather than as an attempt to reduce labor conflicts. For the majority, the relevant question is whether TA’s have a primarily “economic” or a primarily “educational” relationship to the university; if it’s the latter, then the administrators win, because educational relationships are not covered by the rules.

In contrast, the dissent seems to indicate that the function of labor law is to provide a regularization of existing disputes that are characterized by the unionizing participants themselves as labor disputes. It’s the disputes themselves that matter, not the formal relationship categories that Congress has helped create.

My suspicion, however, is that TA unionization doesn’t “reduce labor conflicts” at all; instead, it is a vehicle for graduate students to obtain greater benefits from their employer/educator than they might otherwise receive (by bargaining collectively, rather than on an individual basis), which seems rather orthogonal to the idea of “conflict.” If anything, having a union would seem to create a system by which disputes between graduate students and the administration would be increased and intensified, by being channeled into adversarial activities such as “work to rule” and strikes—events that wouldn’t occur if disgruntled students had individual disputes with the administration.

On the other hand, I was raised in an era and a political culture hostile to unions, and grew up cheering on Margaret Thatcher as she pummelled Britain’s excessively powerful labor unions into submission, so I could be wrong.

Pick your reason for unconstitutionality

The “Marriage Protection Act of 2004” has all the good legalist-model-types in the blogosphere scrambling for reasons why it would be unconstitutional. Josh Chafetz says it’s unconstitutional because it (partially) strips the federal judiciary of its mandatory jurisdiction over all cases arising under federal statute and the Constitution.

My gut feeling is that the Court would be more likely to rule the act (assuming it ever becomes law, something I don’t see given the inevitable filibuster in the Senate) unconstitutional on the basis of Romer v. Evans, on the basis of the act being a violation of equal protection.

All this, of course, is trumped by the attitudinalist in me, which sees zero chance of the Supreme Court ever permitting any of its jurisdiction to be curtailed by Congress without its consent. The legal reasoning surrounding such a ruling would be, more likely than not, just window dressing for the underlying preferences of the Court’s members. (I suppose this is my bias as a political scientist showing.)

Y2K Nostalgia

Michael Badnarik has Chip Taylor reminiscing about Harry Browne. Say what you will about Browne (and, in the four years since I met him, I’ve found plenty of bad things to say about him—now, it’s just one shell game after another with no sign of anything productive ever coming out of it), but at least he wasn’t a complete nutter.

Friday, 23 July 2004

Hurricane Elvis

Mike Hollihan recalls “Hurricane Elvis,” the storm that knocked out power in some parts of Memphis for three weeks last summer.

Thursday, 22 July 2004

Subliminal expat

Conrad fills in the gaps in reporting the Filipino government’s spineless capitulation to terrorists. As most sane observers predicted, copycat terrorists have emerged in the hopes of finding similar appeasers elsewhere—though the logic of kidnapping citizens of countries that aren’t even part of the occupation force escapes me.

Wednesday, 21 July 2004

The things they learn at camp these days

When I went to summer camp, all we learned was how to tie square knots and clove hitches. But Tyler Cowen’s daughter is learning a lot more in the Center for Talented Youth program at Johns Hopkins.

Yana, who is fourteen, took a class on the philosophy of mind. She just started another class on the French and Russian Revolutions. This is her third year there, she calls herself a CTY addict. The year before she did Latin. This time we had her for two days between sessions. I heard about modal logic, Newcomb's Paradox, and mind-body reductionism. Yana now knows why she believes in free will, and why she doesn't want to be an undergraduate philosophy major.

Apparently they’re warning these kids about the state of the philosophy job market.

Summer daze

Steven Taylor notes that it’s apparently pretty hard for his university’s administration to figure out that he—and most of the rest of the faculty—are on fall-and-spring semester contracts, and thus have no obligation to set foot on campus over the summer. Personally, I’d be happy to sit in my office all summer for of my nine-month pay, but somehow I doubt that would be offered.

Nothin' remains quite the same

Free advice for those planning to move:

  1. Pay someone else to do it for you.
  2. Budget at least a week to pass out afterward.
  3. If you decide not to spring for professionals, go back to #1.

All that said, I’m slowly but surely getting settled down here in Jackson, and getting back up to speed with current events and the like. Hopefully I’ll be back in the groove in no time.

Tuesday, 20 July 2004


Happy blogiversary to me! July 18 marked one year of blogging here at Signifying Nothing for me. During that time, I’ve posted 144 times, which is an average of 2.76 times per week.

I’d like to thank Chris for letting me spout off on his blog, in spite of our substantial political differences.

I anticipate my blogging will become less and less political as the November election approaches, and I become more and more disgusted with the whole sordid process. I’ll be doing a lot more boardgame blogging at Settling Catan. And I’ll also be returning to my philosophical roots. I just received my copy of Donald Davidson’s first posthumous volume of essays, Problems of Rationality, and I’ll be posting a review of each essay as I read through them in the coming weeks.

Vote for your least favorite conspirator

Amber Taylor is soliciting votes in a face-off of The Volokh Conspiracy’s three worst guest contributors. As they say, vote early and often.

Update: One of Taylor’s candidates for “worst conspirator,” Cathy Seipp, has really gotten under Conrad’s skin with a fisk-worthy post accusing non-voters of being lazy and idiotic, a phrase Conrad would more likely apply to Ms. Seipp’s analysis of the issue at hand. Go away for a few days, and apparently all hell breaks loose in the blogosphere…

Also, Will Baude is running a web poll asking the same question. At present, Clayton “I'm a homophobe, and I'm OK” Cramer is well in the lead.

Back in the high life again

A few friendly words of advice: if you’re moving, hire professionals.

More later Tuesday, I hope…

Thursday, 15 July 2004

Ammo dump

Uh-oh. It seems Laura and I are headed for a disagreement over the merits of Avril Lavigne. For what it’s worth, I do find “Sk8er Boi” to be a deeply annoying song. I realize this won’t really redeem me in Laura’s eyes, mind you.

More ammunition here. But if you really want to know what pop sensation I truly have a “thing” for, click here and forever hold your peace.

Wednesday, 14 July 2004


I’ve posted a review of the game Ra at Settling Catan.

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

Fluoridated bottled water

Tyler Cowen rhetorically asks whether anyone would buy fluoridated water:

But hey, when you buy bottled water isn’t fluoride what you’re trying to avoid?

It may not make sense in urban areas, but if you get water from a well (or even from some rural water utilities), the water isn’t going to be fluoridated. Presumably, this product is aimed at parents in rural areas (or who live in areas with bad drinking water supplies, like Washington, D.C.) who want their kids to have more cavity-resistant teeth. So it makes sense to me, at least, especially when you consider the alternative is trying to make your kids take fluoride tablets every day (something I had to do while growing up).

Not a good sign

I hate to rain on the poor guy’s campaign, but Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik’s first fundraising mail didn’t exactly get off to a good start. In addition to making the mistake of targeting me (although, if I had some cash, I might actually be willing to part with a few bucks of it), the letter also managed to give a return address in “Austin, Texax.”

Hangin' with da Klan

Victor of The Dead Parrot Society is back from a trip to Mississippi with James Bates, who’s a photojournalist putting together a portrait of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Interesting stuff.

Correlation, causation, and other fun stuff

Eugene Volokh finds a shocking relationship between ice cream consumption and sex crimes. Fun with stats ensues.

(This item is blogged so I remember to shamelessly rip it off when I teach methods in the fall.)

Sunday, 11 July 2004


I can’t answer all of Will Baude’s questions, but I’ll give two of them a shot:

Why is a turnpike called a turnpike?

For that matter, what exactly makes a particular stretch of limited-access highway a turnpike?

Turnpikes were originally named “turnpikes” because that was the name of the turnstiles that were used at the toll gates; they started out as “turnpike roads” but the name was shortened to simply “turnpike” or even (particularly in the South) “pike.”

In general, a modern turnpike is a fully-controlled access highway (what engineers and Californians call a “freeway,” Britons would call a “motorway,” and francophones call an autoroute) that charges a toll for use; however, there are exceptions—most notably, the Connecticut Turnpike (part of Interstate 95), which stopped charging tolls after a nasty multivehicle accident at a tollbooth in 1985. Also, some contemporary turnpikes only charge tolls on part of their length—the Maryland Turnpike starts near Baltimore and runs to the Delaware border, but the toll is only charged at one location on the route.

So, in sum, the name “turnpike” is generally applied to roads that are, or used to be, toll roads, and there’s no particular logic to whether or not a particular toll road will be called a “turnpike.”

Choose Whitey

I think this report says pretty much everything you need to know about the Mississippi Democratic Party’s attitude toward its African-American base: like children, best seen (particularly when voting), but not heard.

Link via Radley Balko. More discussion from the Jackson Free Press lefty echo chamber here.

Just a little downtime

Signifying Nothing will be offline this coming weekend (most likely, beginning sometime Friday); we should be back up and running sometime on Monday, July 19, depending on the vagaries of my new cable company and the general level of progress in moving into my new home—most specifically, whether or not I manage to reassemble my computer desk properly. Apologies in advance for any inconvenience.

Saturday, 10 July 2004

Memoir '44

I’ve posted a review of Memoir '44, a boardgame about the Allied Invasion of Normandy, at Settling Catan.


Unlearned Hand fesses up to liking Avril Lavigne’s new album. I generally agree; it’s better than most sophomore efforts, and it more than surpasses the “three good songs” test.


Brian J. Noggle muses about Subway’s decision to stop giving out “Sub Club” stamps in some markets. Considering the existence of superior competitors, like Jimmy John’s and Lenny’s (to leave aside national chains like Quizno’s, Blimpie, and Schlotsky’s), I think Subway may be making just a minor tactical error here.

Friday, 9 July 2004

Strawman alert

In this otherwise sensible Clarion-Ledger op-ed praising Bill Cosby for his recent remarks imploring poor blacks to do more to help themselves, Ole Miss and Marshall prof Burnis R. Morris pulls out a strawman to joust with:

However, I fear Cosby’s comments will be taken out of context and open a floodgate of criticism against the disadvantaged. Cosby’s constructive criticism is useful because of his credentials, but all messengers don’t wish success for the poor.

Are there really that many people out there who “don’t wish success for the poor” beyond the lunatic fringe like the Klan, who are hardly a large segment of society who can “open a floodgate of criticism”? Libertarians and conservatives (and even many liberals) favor welfare reform, and even cutbacks, not because they don’t want the poor to be successful, but because they believe that existing welfare programs don’t actually help the poor become more successful, instead miring them in a cycle of poverty and dependency.

One can legitimately debate the merits of these reform proposals (see, for example, this Tyler Cowen post on taxes and public assistance in industrialized democracies), but implying the goal of most reformers is to hurt the poor is pretty asinine.

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Crosses and flags


Rather, just like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Confederate battle flag motif used in Southern state flags, it was a belated addition of the Eisenhower era. Both the cross and “under God” were added as part of a wave of religious iconography that swept the nation in the 1950s in response to fears of “godless communism,” while the Confederate flag was added to demonstrate contempt for the growing civil rights movement — and to rally local support for continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.

(Minor) point of fact: the Confederate battle flag emblem was first incorporated in the Mississippi state flag on February 7, 1894—Mississippi’s legislators must have been quite prescient to forsee a conflict over civil rights arising in another six decades or so.* The only other state to incorporate the battle flag “motif” into its own was Georgia, which did so in 1956; however, the use of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag dates back to 1879. No other state adopted the battle flag in part or whole, although South Carolina put up the flag in 1962 over its statehouse, but never incorporated the design into its flag.

Sex and the single mom

Dan Drezner is having trouble figuring out why Nicole Kidman is going through a bit of a dry spell on the dating scene. My working hypotheses:

  • Men think she looks like Virginia Woolf when not wearing makeup.
  • She’s too young for Russell Crowe.
  • Her gaydar is broken (insert your own Tom Cruise joke here).

Update: Xrlq in comments points to this Kim du Toit post, which blames the drought on her previous association with Lenny Kravitz.

When is a hypothetical not a hypothetical?

James Joyner ponders at a distance the following hypothetical exchange:

  • A says to B, “I have X.”
  • B says to A, “So I’ve heard.”
  • A says to B, “And I have to offer it to someone.”
  • B says to A, “Funny how that works.”
  • A says to B, “If I offered you X, would you take it?”
  • B says to A, “No, I wouldn’t take it.”

Here’s your ontological question: did A offer X to B? If not, what is the substantive difference between “If I offered you X, would you take it?” and “Would you like X?” if A intended to offer X to B had B answered in the affirmative?

The benefits of not being pivotal

My advice to Dan Drezner: move to Mississippi (or Utah or Massachusetts), where your vote won’t matter anyway. (Of course, the cynic might say that the likely prospect of massive voting fraud in Chicago makes Dan’s vote not much more likely to make a difference.)

Having said that, casting even a meaningless directional vote for Michael Badnarik is going to be tough, for reasons explained by Jacob Levy* (via Will Baude), even though—if push comes to shove—I’m slightly more inclined to write in “Stephen Harper” (q.v.) or “Condi Rice” than vote for either Bush or Kerry in the event I don’t vote for Badnarik.

Pondering counterfactuals

Matt Yglesias, Brad DeLong and the Volokh Conspiracy (at the moment, Tyler Cowen and Eugene Volokh) ponder the “alternative history” question of what the world would be like without a successful American Revolution. I don’t have much to add, but it’s an interesting concept to ponder. My gut feeling is that separation was inevitable by 1820 or so; the resources of the period (most notably, the lack of real-time communication and fast intercontinental transportation) probably just couldn’t sustain any form of unified government over an area separated by thousands of miles of sea.

More Edwards

Innocents Abroad has an interesting guest post from Steven Teles about what tangible benefits John Edwards can bring to the Kerry campaign. Chief among them: quite possibly the Florida panhandle.

Also, the Clarion-Ledger wastes ink interviewing a bunch of people* who agree that Mississippi isn’t in play, so Edwards being on the ticket isn’t going to change the disposition of the state’s six electoral votes. But at least it gets this quote:

Hinds County Democratic Party Chairman Claude McInnis said he hopes Edwards will attract Mississippi voters to the Democratic ticket.

“This is a strange voting state. Almost every need in the state is Democratic — Medicare, public education, social services — yet voters vote Republican,” he said.

“I hope Edwards can reach people here. We’re ready for something different.”

One suspects that if the average Mississippi voter didn’t think the national Democratic party stood on a platform of abortion-on-demand, gun-grabbing, and letting the Supreme Court decide every other issue that ought to be decided through the political process, they might be willing to pull the lever (or dimple the chad or beat the hell out of the touchscreen, as the case may be) for Kerry-Edwards.

Wednesday, 7 July 2004


Say what you will about Formula 1 racing, but Michael Schumacher has taken things to a whole new level; as BigJim points out, he’s won nine of the ten F1 races this season. This past weekend, he managed to take one more pit stop than the rest of the field and still left everyone in his dust. This guy is simply unreal.

Though you have to hand it to his teammate, Rubens Barichello, for the most audacious on-track move of the race, a nifty pass that gave him third place on the next-to-last turn before the chequered flag.

Domestic travails

Well, the ice maker is fixed, with plastic tubing this time so we won’t be having another lightning strike (through it, at least) in the next week, and the DSL seems back to normal after a reboot or two.

Tuesday, 6 July 2004

More lightning

In addition to damaging the copper pipe that feeds water to my icemaker, the lightning also took out one of the two inputs on the DirecTiVo in my bedroom, one output of the multiswitch on the dish, and (apparently) put my DSL modem in flakeout mode, where it loses sync once every 10–20 minutes.

The good news is I’m ditching the DSL and my current dish when I move to Jackson at the end of next week. The bad news is I was hoping to use the DirecTiVo in Jackson, but, since the primary input was the one that was fried, it’s not going to be a happy camper any more after the next time my power goes out. Now off to get a replacement pipe at Home Depot and some dinner…

Most boring comic ever?

According to this story at IOL, Japan’s defense ministry plans to release it’s annual white paper in manga (comic book) format.

"We'd like to be able to reach the younger generations, those in their 20s and 30s," a ministry spokesperson said.

“We hope the public reads the report so that we gain their understanding,” Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling a news conference after the white paper was released.

This might even be worse than slogging through the prose portions of Cerebus.

Signified Elsewhere

Yes, I’ve become enough of a blogging whore to do the “daily roundup” post. At least for today.

Civility and sludge

Dan Drezner ties together the twin themes of less-than-civil bloggers and bad comment hoodoo recently discussed in these parts.

One thing I will say, as a veteran of online fora in general (as an ex-MUD administrator and someone who’s been a part of Usenet since 1992), social problems rarely have good technical solutions. Technology can help—particularly when battling other forms of technology, like comment spam—but dealing with people and their idiosyncracies is a whole other beast.

As far as the negativity Dan has observed and been subjected to in academia, I have to say I’ve largely been spared it (although I will say I was deeply annoyed with the completely worthless one-line review I received for a manuscript once); I don’t know if that’s a function of one’s subdiscipline or perhaps just an example of my relative youth in things academic.

Update: More on this theme from Matt Stinson, who's strongly tempting me to join him in the media black hole that is mainland China.


Somehow, a lightning strike by my house a few minutes ago managed to burst the copper tubing between my wall and the ice maker in my fridge. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.

Update: Things have also been deeply flaky with the DSL since the lightning strike. Grr…

Executive selection and executive competence

One thing I’ve been kicking around in my head lately while I’ve avoided working on my R&R is that there’s a qualitative difference between the chief executives chosen in presidential systems versus those from parliamentary regimes. In general, it seems (offhand) that parliamentary systems produce better leaders, but I’m not sure why.

Consider the United States. I can think of only one truly great president during the modern two-party era, and it’s Abraham Lincoln. And he’s only great because he won the Civil War. The rest seem to be a succession of mediocrities, a few of whom are “great” solely in relation to their presidential peers. FDR was better than Hoover, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Winston Churchill (though, I suppose, he was better than Neville Chamberlain). Reagan beat the crap out of everyone since Kennedy, but—let’s face it—he was a mediocrity compared to Margaret Thatcher. Bill Clinton or Tony Blair? No contest, Blair by a mile. Hell, John Major was better than 41 and 43 combined.

Lest we consider this a solely American phenomenon, let’s cross the pond and consider the succession of political hacks and nobodies that have led France as president since World War II. De Gaulle is only memorable because he was a jackass of the highest order. Mitterand? Chirac? Great leaders only in their own minds. Give me Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, or even Gerhard Schröder any day.

I don’t have a good reason why this should be the case. Maybe it the experience of herding cats as a legislative leader makes prime ministers and chancellors better national leaders than the CEO-like experience of being a governor (the most common path to power our presidential system). Then again, Chirac was a party leader in parliament for years, and the experience seems to have improved him little. So, perhaps it’s just “grass is greener” syndrome—something to ponder the next few months while these two mediocrities duke it out.

More for the Sabato file

James Joyner excerpts at length from the latest wisdom from on high produced by the great Oracle of our age, Dr. Larry Sabato, who James bylines (fairly appropriately) as “a TV talking head who sometimes teaches political science at UVA.”

I actually don’t really disagree with Sabato’s assessments (if North Carolina is in play, Bush is essentially fucked—by that point, any normal vote model tells you he’s already lost the swing states), but what’s with all this “we” crap, kemosabe?

Besides, I don’t think Edwards is on the Democratic ticket for regional considerations—he’s there because the base loves his stump abilities, which work just as well in Detroit as they do in Durham.

More intellectual honesty

Lest I be seen as too hard on Matt Yglesias, Pejman Yousefzadeh provides the counterpoint. Surely he must recall the 2000 presidential campaign, during which our current president had less command of the names of foreign leaders than my then one-year-old cousin did.

Intellectual honesty

Well, you’ve got to concede that at least Matthew Yglesias freely acknowledges his newfound status as a Democratic party hack:

Three, and most least importantly, I’d gone way out on a limb with the Gephardt-bashing and wasn’t looking forward to needing to defend him after all once he got the nomination.

Yes, heaven forbid that Yglesias actually not defend the indefensible. After all, there’s an election to be won, so who wants to be stuck with taking a stand on principle?

Update: Yglesias has updated his post to indicate he was joking on this point. I prefer to think of it as an inadvertently revealed preference, but since he went to Harvard and I didn’t, I shall give him the benefit of the doubt.

Sludge control

James Joyner echos my month-old hypothesis on weblog comments, writing in response to the decision to shut down comments at The Command Post:

Unfortunately, there seems to be a strange variation on the Gas Law with regard to blog comments: As blog readership expands, the quality of comments declines geometrically. When OTB had 500 readers a day, the vast majority of the comments—whether from people who agreed or disagreed with me—were quite good. With readership in the 5000–10,000 range, most comments are crap. Reading—let alone policing—the comments gets to be more trouble than it’s worth.

For my part, at least, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of acrimony and vitriol since enabling comments here at Signifying Nothing, but—then again—our little corner of the blogosphere only attracts about 1/40th of James’ daily readership.

I can't handle this confusion

It appears that the Kerry Veepstakes will come to an end today. Will Collier is betting on Gephardt, both Dan Drezner (who thinks Edwards is the man) and Matt Yglesias think Gephardt would be a bad choice, and Robert Garcia Tagorda is, as they used to say, afk.

I really don’t care much either way (except that it’ll be a relief to go from the endless McCain speculation to the endless explanations of why the selectee is inferior to McCain), but I think the better choice—grudges and ego aside—is John Edwards. I suspect this election is largely going to revolve around motivating the base to turn out,* and Edwards is far better on the stump with Democratic constituencies than Gephardt—or, for that matter, Kerry—is. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that Dick Cheney would wipe the floor with Gephardt in the veep debate, while I think Edwards could hold his own.

Monday, 5 July 2004

Buckley on marijuana legalization

The Houston Chronicle has an op-ed from William Buckley supporting marijuana legalization. It doesn't say anything that Buckley and other legalization advocates haven't been saying for years, but all his points bear repeating.

Trust fund follies

Chip Taylor notes the current congressional squabble over the distribution of highway trust fund money. He writes:

Of course, if every state got back exactly what its residents paid in, the main purpose of the federal tax and trust fund would be to allow the feds to dictate highway-related laws: drinking ages, BAC levels, open-container laws and the like. Come to think of it, that is likely the main purpose now.


Of course, now the sicko social scientist in me wants to construct an econometric model of state highway trust fund returns.

More on elitism

Ed Cone and OxBlogger David Adesnik are having a small tête-à-tête over Adesnik’s critique of a Onion piece entitled “American People Ruled Unfit to Govern.”†

Rather than wade into the animosity between Messrs. Cone and Adesnik, I think there’s an important corrective to be made to Adesnik’s unyielding “faith in the aggregate rationality of the American public.” Adesnik writes:

As I’ve explained before, the American public actually has a very strong record of rational decision-making:

Before the 1980s, it was taken for granted that the American public had volatile and incoherent opinions about politics, both foreign and domestic. By extension, this volatility and incoherence rendered Americans vulnerable to manipulation by both the media and the government.

In the 1980s, scholars began to discover that the premise of volatility and incoherence had led public opinion researchers to rely on methods that created an impression of volatility and incoherence even when there was none. In contrast, the United States had a rational public that derived its opinions on current events from a fixed set of values and updated its opinions when new information became available to it.

This conclusion reflects the research of America’s leading experts on public opinion, most importantly Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro.

I’m afraid Adesnik tells half the story; while a few of America’s leading experts on public opinion do agree on the existence of “aggregate rationality,” many others do not—including, ironically, the self-same Benjamin Page, whose more recent book Who Deliberates? argues that this aggregate rationality is skewed by the nature of public debate.

Perhaps the most promising effort to bolster the “responsible electorate” view is Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen’s work on affective intelligence, which largely rejects both aggregate rationality and the Michigan “normal vote” approach in favor of an explanation of politics based on emotional (or “affective”) reactions by voters.

That said, I generally agree with Adesnik’s view that the elitist perspective (captured by the Onion satire) of an American* public that is incompetent to manage its own affairs is inherently insulting; however, I’d argue that this is more the result of unrealistic expectations of a democratic public (fostered, ironically, in the writings of men like Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville, often viewed as keen observers of the common man) than it has to do with embittered elitism per se.

More of interest here.

Sunday, 4 July 2004

It would be so nice

To echo Steven Taylor: Happy Independence Day #228.

Saturday, 3 July 2004

Power outage

If your power goes out for 30 minutes, but for the first 20 minutes you only think it’s out in the context of a bizarre dream, as your brain hurriedly tries to establish some in-dream reason why you suddenly feel like you are on a visit to the swamps of Southeast Asia (which is basically what summer feels like in Mississippi), does that mean that really your power was only out for 10 minutes?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, 2 July 2004

How are you making out?

Will Baude is doing his best to promote International Kissing Day, July 6, introduced to these fair shores by Amber Taylor (who, incidentally, only seems to get linked by Glenn Reynolds when posting in the realm of making out).


To the attention of my readers in the greater Ann Arbor area: help! Any and all assistance greatly appreciated (via email).

El Grande

An uncivil war

Dan Drezner and Alex Knapp have staked out positions roughly around Andrew Sullivan’s belief that there’s a coming civil war in the GOP.

Both Dan and Sullivan, however, make the classic “hammer-nail” mistake: Sullivan expects a rift over cultural issues—gay marriage and the like—while Dan expects it to be over foreign policy (and, to a lesser extent, budget issues). Both, I think, underestimate the elite consensus among the Republicans in Congress to tolerate socially conservative positions and spending increases (so long as they keep Bush in the White House) and overestimate the salience of foreign policy issues to the rank-and-file in Congress. If Bush loses, chances are many of the “moderate” Republicans will lose too—moderates tend to be in more competitive House seats—so, if anything, a Bush loss should lead to a more coherent and socially conservative party, who no doubt will be determined to make a Kerry administration the least productive administration in American history.

On the other hand, should Bush be re-elected, one suspects he will be more concerned with his legacy—and, by then, with an economic recovery underway he should be able to make the tax cuts quasi-permanent without restraining domestic spending. Since, rhetortic aside, there are surprisingly few Republicans on the Hill who care about spending restraint (that’d be Ron Paul and, er, uh, Ron Paul), this outcome seems unlikely to result in a GOP fissure either.

So, wishful thinking aside, I don’t think any of this will happen.

Thursday, 1 July 2004

Another step on the road to becoming a neighborhood busy-body

I think evidence of middle age is when you start to take interest in neighborhood revitalization efforts. Next thing you know, I’ll be showing up at resident association meetings and writing churlish letters to the editor.

More on the core

Kate Malcolm has decided she has little use for core curricula:

I have a problem with [the liberal arts approach to] higher education. It seems to me that this approach assumes that college is necessary to be a productive member of society—“an educated citizen.” It also seems to assume that the quality of education at these universities would not decline if they imposed a larger core of required classes. I can’t say this for certain, but I believe that a larger core of required classes would likely result in bigger, less personable, less detailed classes. It might result in less motivated, less interested professors. It most certainly would sap resources from other courses. And it would also force specialized education more strongly into the graduate realm, depriving students who can’t afford those extra years (for one reason or another) of that educational opportunity.

I say phooey on the silly report. Keep the core out of our universities.

I must beg to differ with Ms. Malcolm, on at least a couple of her points. There is nothing inherent about a core curriculum that requires large, impersonal classes—such an approach is often advocated by penny-pinching college bureaucrats, but that has more to do with penny-pinching than any good pedagogical reason why Macroeconomics should be taught in groups of 100 instead of groups of 10.

To the larger point, I think a liberal undergraduate education is largely necessary to be a fully-versed, competent citizen. The purpose of a university or other four-year institution is not vocational training—if you want that, go to Ivy Tech, or go to engineering school. But no undergraduate degree outside engineering and the “applied sciences” (what respectable colleges call their vocational programs)—with the possible exception of a teaching degree—makes any claim that the degree will make you thoroughly competent in that field. Degrees in the liberal arts and sciences are intended as training in general competencies—how to think scientifically, how to come to your own conclusions based on information, how to think—rather than specific, rigorous training in the minutae of a particular field of knowledge, which is the goal of graduate and professional education (law school, medical school, et cetera).

And, in general, I think (in retrospect; as an undergraduate, I probably concurred with Ms. Malcolm’s assessment) that this is the correct approach—specialists are pretty useless outside their field of expertise without a general education to back it up. Witness the travails of modern journalists, who—armed with a B.A. in communications or some other “soft” specialized degree—routinely butcher the basics of the arts, humanities, sciences and mathematics, and confuse the common consensus of their colleagues with “objectivity,” all because their basic knowledge extends no further than a modicum of grammar and the ability to produce prose in “inverted pyramid” form. Those who deride the inability of the American press to “nail” the president might do well to remember that, “chimp” or not, he’s probably significantly more broadly educated than his would-be interrogators.

More core thoughts here.

Update: Stephen Karlson argues that Ms. Malcolm and I are talking past one another, although I personally don’t see it. My conception of the core is largely (though not completely) in line with that expressed in Millsaps’ core curriculum