Thursday, 30 June 2005

Why political scientists try to be irrelevant

Today’s Washington Post carries a front-page article that (inadvertently) explains why empirically-oriented political scientists* like myself for the most part avoid doing anything that has anything close to real-world implications. And, it’s a no-win situation unless you’re a raging lefty “new politics” type (i.e., the sort who wouldn’t be hired by Democrats or Republicans to do this sort of work in the first place): somehow I doubt those in our discipline who want our discipline to be more “relevant” will be cheering the efforts of my future colleagues Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi to reinforce public support for the Iraq war and the War on Terror.

James Joyner’s comments further underscore the reasons for this reluctance:

Peter Baker and Dan Balz have a front page editorial, er “analysis,” at the Washington Post pointing out that President Bush is a politician who crafts his public speeches with his audience in mind. Even more damning is the suggestion that he hires experts to advise him.

Another data point: a few weeks ago, I made the mistake of trying to explain 50 years of empirical public opinion research to a reporter for the Jackson Free Press (for this article) who was asking why nobody voted in Jackson’s mayoral race, and all I got for it was being accused of being a “cynic.” Talk about shooting the messenger.

German confidence tricks

Here’s a new one: a parliamentary leader who wants to lose a vote of no confidence:

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will call a vote of confidence in the German parliament on Friday as part of his plan to hold early elections.

Schroeder is hoping he will lose the vote of deputies in the Bundestag, a move that would allow him to resign as chancellor and call fresh elections in the autumn—probably in mid-September.

He would then begin campaigning for a fresh mandate to push through tough economic reforms.

There’s some background on Germany’s rather unusual confidence procedures here at Wikipedia (the standard Wikipedia caveat applies)—there are actually two different types of confidence vote, one of which replaces the chancellor (the “constructive” vote that most comparative politics textbooks talk about) and the other of which requests (but does not require) that the president call new elections.

The Bear necessities

Steven Taylor is organizing a new TTLB blogging community of professors, known as The Academy. Drop by Steven’s place and let him know if you meet the admissions requirements and are interested in joining the faculty club.

Phoners to get a tax cut?

Yet another proposal to eliminate the telephone excise tax that dates back to the Spanish-American War has apparently been introduced in the Senate, although given the ballooning deficit and the typical political wrangling, I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing the repeal happen anytime soon.

þ: Ars Technica.

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

An actress with a different sort of talent

Presumably this will air as part of ESPN’s World Series of Poker coverage… so, if you’re avoiding spoilers, don’t look below.

Going to the wall

Will Baude disagrees with Todd Zywicki’s assertion that the “wall of separation between church and state” is a modern coinage, pointing to Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.

While it’s true that Jefferson did write the letter, and he is a “founder” in some senses of the term, on the larger issue I’m not sure his opinion is dispositive as to whether or not the First Amendment should be understood as erecting a “wall of separation,” particularly since Jefferson was an executive branch official (Secretary of State to George Washington) at the time. James Madison’s position (as chief author of the Bill of Rights) would be more dispositive—and, in fact, Madison appears to have staked out a somewhat different position closer to the “coercion” and “neutrality” tests than either strict separation or Lemon.

Whether or not this should matter when interpreting the Constitution, however, is another question entirely.

Election fever: Catch it!

More presidential election speculation from Hei Lun of Begging to Differ, who makes the early case for Hillary Clinton in 2008 after surveying the field and finding it, to put it mildly, wanting. Don’t forget, there’s only 1,223 shopping days left until Decision 2008!

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Times op-ed irrelevance watch

Kevin Drum hasn’t linked the New York Times op-ed page for six weeks, and nobody seems to have noticed—or, for that matter, to have cared. Will someone remind me again who was supposed to be ponying up $50 a year for access to crap like Paul Krugman’s foreign policy nonsense and political commentary from losers.

Shelby Foote, RIP

Popular civil war historian Shelby Foote passed away last night in Memphis, according to the Associated Press.

I swear it was clean last month

My desk this morning:

My desk

I guess I’ll be cleaning again Friday afternoon, once classes are over.

Don't drink the water

EDSBS passes on word that an unlicensed football video game due out this fall features a quarterback with suspiciously similar stats to those of Michael Vick wearing “Mexico” on his #7 jersey.

No word yet on whether the game, which is supposedly going to include “off-the-field” situations à la ESPN‘s canned-at-NFL-behest testosterone-soap Playmakers, will be feature product placement of the Original Whizzinator.

When PR doesn't work, use PR

Although I can’t find the post now (not for lack of trying, mind you), in retrospect the decision to elect the Iraqi Transitional Assembly from a single electoral district was a mistake—one that it appears the Shiites are willing to rectify by retaining the proportional representation system, but using the 19 provinces as electoral districts, thus (in theory) guaranteeing greater Sunni representation in the government even if Sunni turnout is low in the first elections for the permanent government that are supposed to happen sometime in the next year.

Of course, this adds the complicating factor of having to reapportion the legislature every decade or so, and it probably will make it somewhat harder for national cross-sectarian parties to gain seats, but in the end I think it’s a reasonable compromise.

(Other commentary at The Moderate Voice.)

Monday, 27 June 2005

Shopping Alone

Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher and Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow both travel down nostalgia lane to sing the praises of the local market over Big Bad Evil Wal-Mart. Dreher focuses on the social fabric argument, but touches on revenues as well:

People shopped at the impersonal supermarket for years, but now many of them drive over to the next town to buy groceries at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, where the aisles are wider, the lighting brighter and the product selection more dazzling.

With them go the tax dollars that ought to be supporting my hometown but aren’t.

Why should these tax dollars be supporting his hometown? The town housing Wal-Mart bears the externalities of hosting the retailer; shouldn’t they get the tax dollars it generates? And, while the property taxes may remain local, the bulk of sales taxes are generally shipped off to the state capital and redistributed back to localities on the basis of population.

Stringfellow, on the other hand, doesn’t care that much about taxes—he just wants local ownership, although it’s not obvious to me why we should care that the folks extracting surplus are a few visible local millionaires versus the more numerous, invisible shareholders that we’d probably prefer to see in a true “ownership” society. Yes, Jitney Jungle was a local “hometown” success story—until those same locals ran it into the ground with a series of bad business decisions.

It seems to me that Dreher and Stringfellow get it backwards: Wal-Mart, Target, and the more successful “pure” grocers like Kroger have figured out that society has changed from the era when people had the time to search for goods in narrow, cramped aisles and the inclination to go elsewhere if they couldn’t find them—which was OK when we (mostly) had one-income families and a “stay-at-home” spouse had most of the day free to shop several places, prepare meals, and maintain the household. We don’t live in the Dick Van Dyke Show era any more, the Jitneys and other small retailers failed to adapt, and nostalgia isn’t going to bring that era back.

þ: James Joyner.

Now I don't feel so bad

The Texas Longhorns won the College World Series yesterday; I have to say that I was disappointed when Texas beat the Ole Miss Rebels in the best-of-3 a couple of weeks ago in Oxford, but losing to the eventual champs (especially given that the Rebels were on the verge of winning both games 2 and 3 in the 9th) takes a little bit of the sting out of it.

þ: Steven Taylor.

Sunday, 26 June 2005

A burning sensation not associated with sex

Mark Steyn on the daft proposal to ban flag burning:

A flag has to be worth torching. When a flag gets burned, that’s not a sign of its weakness but of its strength. If you can’t stand the heat of your burning flag, get out of the superpower business. It’s the left that believes the state can regulate everyone into thought-compliance. The right should understand that the battle of ideas is won out in the open.

Quite right. As it turns out, one of my first bits of political almost-participation—I say “almost” because I never mailed it—was a letter to the editor to the Stars and Stripes opposing such an amendment in the wake of Texas v. Johnson. My political views on a few things have changed since then—I was something more of a nanny-statist in my youth—but not on flag burning.

þ: Peaktalk and a host of others.

Something pretty

Class Maledictorian is now Prettier Than Napoleon. Hey, that rhymes!

Lining up the redshirts

The Baseball Crank notes that Joe Biden is throwing his hat—or at least his hairpiece—into the ring for 2008, while the SoCons are apparently in the market to coalesce behind a single Republican contender already, according to this piece linked by John Cole—after all, there’s only 1,226 shopping days left before the next presidential election. All hail the permanent campaign.

Of course, the drawback of predicting the “redshirts” at this point is that, unlike in Star Trek (or, in general, when using the Law of Economy of Characters*), you don’t know who is going to buy it until after the fact.

Maybe OJ can help

Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell suggests that prosecutors may find forensic evidence that is sufficient to indict the real other killers involved in the slayings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Color me somewhat skeptical, but if the evidence fits, you must convict.

Another oddity: the C-L piece mentions Sam Bowers as a possible suspect in the sidebar, and Scipio points out that Bowers and Killen may soon be bunkmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in lovely Rankin County, Bowers having been convicted for killing Vernon Dahmer a few years back. You’d think they’d mention Bowers was already behind bars for another racially-motivated killing, instead of referring to him as “Sam Bowers of Laurel.”

Inspect this

I love the smell of a 100% fee increase in the morning:

A change in state law that requires scrutiny of window tint as part of vehicle safety inspections has some businesses that perform the annual inspections reconsidering whether to offer them.

Starting July 1, the darkness of a vehicle’s window tint must be checked as part of vehicle inspection, and the inspection fee rises from $5 to $10. Legislators approved the change to protect law officers.

Just another year in the life of our state’s massively effective vehicle safety inspection program, which (in its entirety) ensures public safety by making sure our cars’ horns, lights, and blinkers work.

Saturday, 25 June 2005

King of Howard's Hill

Matt Bai thinks national Democrats could learn a lot from Hank Hill and Gov. Mike Easley (D-N.C.). He’s probably right, although Tom Maguire has the Democrats’ likelihood of success with this theme pegged:

No more sneers? No more “Vote for my health care plan, you racist, homophobic gun nuts”?

Republican strategists can relax.

Or, to paraphrase another modern Southern legend, when the red meat your party activists want turns off the voters you need to reclaim that (oh-so-slowly) “emerging” majority, you might be a Democrat.

Update: Mr. Mike thinks Bai seriously misreads King of the Hill; not being a viewer of the show, I wouldn’t presume to know.

Another Update: Ann Althouse has more thoughts on KotH (þ: Instapundit).

Rove v. Durbin

James G. Lakely of the Washington Times compares the press reaction to Karl Rove’s recent remarks about liberals and/or Democrats with Sen. Richard Durbin’s apparent attempt to draw an equivalence between Gitmo and Naziism, but I think some of Lakely’s evidence is rather specious… including this item:

The White House press corps also handled both stories dramatically differently. Questions about Mr. Rove dominated the White House press briefing the day after the speech was delivered with spokesman Scott McClellan being peppered with 22 questions on the subject.

A solitary reporter asked for the White House’s response to Mr. Durbin’s speech—two days after it was delivered—and Mr. McClellan was asked about it just two more times.

Karl Rove works for the president of the United States; one would expect that the president’s representatives would be asked to answer questions about his comments. Durbin, on the other hand, is a member of the legislative branch. This disparity doesn’t show bias—it shows that one person works for the president, and the other doesn’t.

Nothing to say

Well, almost nothing: I got my Flickr schwag in the mail today. Yay! Now to figure out what I’m going to do with this stuff…

I also got a report in the campus mail detailing the grade distribution in my classes last academic year. I don’t know what’s more disturbing: that my average grade assigned both semesters was a B (3.05 in the fall, 2.97 in the spring), or that this placed me well in the bottom half of the faculty in terms of average GPA (42nd percentile in the fall, 33rd percentile in the spring).

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Boner Madness

I can’t believe I’m watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals instead of this cautionary morality tale that some are calling the Reefer Madness of this generation. Maybe Lifetime will rerun it overnight so I can see what I missed; this review suggests it’s off the charts on the unintentional hilarity index:

We get 8/10 for the hilariousness alone, it would be a full ten had Justin been killed by the internet porn.

Yep, it definitely beats watching sweaty guys in knee-length shorts run left and right across your TV screen for three hours.

Formula Zero

Most of the Formula One discussion this past week has focused on F1 head Bernie Ecclestone’s idiotic comments about Indy car driver Danica Patrick; perhaps somewhat helpfully for F1’s future in the United States, the debacle that the actual U.S. Grand Prix turned out to be hasn’t gotten quite as much publicity. Jerry Palm and BigJim, however, were paying attention to the race, and neither liked what they saw.

The predictions of Formula One’s demise on this side of the pond seem a bit overblown, though, as F1 was pretty much stillborn here to begin with—notwithstanding Indy’s involvement—and open-wheel racing in America basically is (and has been, for the longest time) the Indy 500 and nothing else.

Kelo inconvenience

I don’t have any particular expertise to offer on the Court’s completely and thoroughly icky decision in Kelo v. New London handed down today—for that, see folks like Orin Kerr and the Crescat gang for the legal nuances—but I will note that I’ve finally learned my lesson: never teach a constitutional law course during a semester while the Court is handing down decisions.

I am somewhat reminded of the Nissan plant case here in Mississippi (discussed here); the prevailing feeling at the time was that the Mississippi Supreme Court probably would have found that taking to be unconstitutional. Mind you, the Mississippi Constitution is rather more explicit in stating that “public use” is a justicible question than the Fifth Amendment of the federal constitution.

Also, my armchair psychoanalysis of Justice Kennedy’s recent “leftward” shift is that he really doesn’t want to be nominated for chief justice when (if?) Rehnquist retires. Not that there was much risk of that happening, mind you, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

Survey This

For all you bloggers out there: here’s a link to a survey being conducted by researchers at MIT.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

þ: Amber Taylor.

Killen gets the book thrown at him

Although I can’t find a link yet, the top of the New York TImes home page is reporting that Edgar Ray Killen was just sentenced to 60 years in prison for his role in the Neshoba County killings. Enjoy rotting in Parchman, Eddie.

Update: C-L story here.

SN gets results, crappy supermarkets edition

Ok, I probably can’t personally take credit for this one, but nonetheless Winn-Dixie is exiting the Jackson market just months after I revealed to the world that they sell crappy frozen pizzas in their stores. It is possible that other grocery chains will acquire at least some of the shuttered locations, including the venerable Fortification Street store that I avoid like the plague.

Update: More here.

Quote of the Day

“I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve been helping you avoid me.”—Odo (to Kira) in DS9’s “Tears of the Prophets”

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

More on the Killen manslaughter verdict

Scipio further explains his view that the Killen manslaughter verdict indicates a weakness in the state’s case—and gives evidence from the Evers case that suggests the decision to seek the manslaughter instruction might reinforce the “political” nature of Killen’s prosecution:

Because of the peculiarity of Mississippi’s murder law, a defendant who is on the evidence guilty of murder can be convicted only of manslaughter without error attaching. But this is a decision the jury should be allowed to make, without the State telegraphing AS IT DID WITH ITS MOTION. When, immediately before trial, the State asks for a special instruction on manslaughter when murder is the real crime, it indicates a severe weakness in the case, and also that the indictment is deeply flawed.

Klansman Killen Konvicted

Contrary to my pessimism earlier today, the jury in Neshoba County today convicted Killen of three counts of manslaughter, a lesser charge than murder but one that, given the sentencing range, still will probably see Killen spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Update: Scipio wonders why the state asked for the manslaughter instruction in the case:

Additionally, what went wrong with the state's case? Why did they suddenly seek that manslaughter instruction?

Considering that the state's case was based primarily on old evidence from the civil rights trial of Killen and testimony from relatives of the deceased, and there were no surprises at trial, one has to wonder: why did the state indict for the top offense then chicken out? One obvious reason is to guarantee a conviction of some kind. But isn't securing a manslaughter conviction in place of a murder conviction a masterly coup on the part of the defense counsel, and a big downer for the state?

On the other hand, since it’s unlikely that Killen is going to ever be a free man again, I’m not all that sure it’s much of a coup for the defense.

Elsewhere: Steven Taylor has another story link on the case; the AP’s article is here. Finally, I’ve entered this into today’s OTB Traffic Jam.

NCAA Football 2006

Is it July 12th yet? No, but in the meantime look at the pretty pictures and preorder the game. NCAA easily gets the most play out of the (small) collection of Xbox games I have, so '06 will definitely be in my grubby little hands as soon as it comes out.

þ: Orson @ EDSBS.

Justice and show trials

James Joyner comments thusly on the jury deadlock in the Killen trial:

One of the many problems with digging up decades-old cases for re-prosecution in order to salve old wounds is that only one outcome is “acceptable.” Our criminal justice system is supposed to be geared to put the burden on the prosecution. In these cases, though, the guilt of the man on trial is assumed and the jury is expected to play their role in the grand show by convicting him. If they do, all is as expected. If they don’t, then it just goes to show that they’re a bunch of racists and society has not changed.

I believe Killen is guilty as sin—heck, the original trial in 1967 wouldn’t have come out 11–1 if he weren’t—but I really don’t know how you can prove that in a court of law with virtually no physical evidence, relying on less-than-credible witnesses and 42-year-old memories, and that’s the fundamental problem the prosecution is facing in this case..

I tend to think that “truth and reconciliation commissions” are a bit of a joke, but there’s something to be said for them in preference to having trials where the downside—the acquital of a pretty-obviously guilty man—is much bigger than the upside of the trial confirming the obvious. The success of the Beckwith “Ghosts of Mississippi” prosecution I fear may have distorted perceptions of this equation by state authorities.

Meanwhile, at least one witness at the trial was sounding a lot like Robert Byrd:

[A well-wisher]’s affections for the KKK were echoed Monday by defense witness Harlan Parks Major, who left office eight years ago after serving two four-year terms as Philadelphia mayor. “They do a lot of good for people,” Major said of the KKK, drawing indignant chuckles from some in the audience.

Nothing like a Song of the South-style whitewash of the Klan to brighten up one’s day.

Pod people

According to CNet, Duke has released the results of its evaluation of its iPod giveaway to last year’s freshman class. It was a qualified success:

Humanities students, particularly those studying music and foreign languages, made the most use of the devices, though the whole first year of engineering students had to use the device in a project for their computational methods class, the report said.

Among the classes that took part in the experiment were those for Spanish, in which students were evaluated on iPod recordings of themselves speaking the language. Electrical and computing engineering students, meanwhile, used the devices to record pulse rates.

“The iPod increased the frequency and depth of student interaction with audio course content through portable and flexible access offered by the iPod,” the report said.

You can read the full report here in all its nitty-gritty detail. I have to say I’m not sure what I’d do with one as a professor—beyond loading it up with music to listen to on the East-West Bus on the way to and from work, that is—at least until someone ports Stata (or R) to the iPod.

þ: Infinite Loop.

Monday, 20 June 2005

Your daily dose of pop culture

A question that occurred to me listening to XM on the way back from Memphis today: Why would someone think it would be a good idea for the Backstreet Boys to have the first single off their comeback album sound exactly like an early-90s Bryan Adams power ballad?

I’m serious: listen to it, and you’ll be transported back to the era when we were force-fed a steady diet of Adams to help fill A&M Records’ Canadian content quota. (Mind you, not even this explanation is sufficient for Backstreet’s return.)

Sunday, 19 June 2005

Le Weekend

No, I haven’t done a Mungowitz on my dwindling band of readers… I just spent the weekend in Memphis visiting my mom and my grandparents and didn’t really feel like blogging much. Not that blogging would have been anything other than excruciatingly painful on dialup anyway.

On the other hand, if you haven’t visited the other place in a while there’s a couple of new(ish) posts there.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

More books I need to read

In Borders today (I had a 25%-off email coupon that expires Sunday), I saw a new book by Larry Diamond, Squandered Victory, on the shelf. I was sorely tempted to buy it, even though I already had picked out something I was using the 25% coupon on.

Good thing, too, since when I checked out, I got a coupon worth 30% off a single book purchase next week. Now I just wish I was flying somewhere so I’d be forced to read all the books already in the queue.

Reducing grade grubbing

Michelle Dion offers some sound advice to those instructors who want to reduce student lobbying for grade changes, inspired partially by this WaPo op-ed from earlier in the month.

I think a well-defined, clear grading policy is key; while I don’t do everything Michelle does (I don’t have enough time in my life to track attendance, and anonymous grading is unlikely to work in small classes anyway—even if I had the TA support to do it), I always make it clear at the outset what assignments are worth. It doesn’t eliminate the complaints, and sometimes I do make clerical errors that would lead to legitimate complaints anyway, but it does reduce them somewhat.

Embracing my inner RINO

I suppose RINO is as good a label for me as anything else, so long as I don’t have to pretend to like über-RINO John McCain. Not that liking someone is a prerequisite for getting my vote, mind you: ask John F’ing Kerry. So, I’m in.

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

He said, she said journalism

Not having analyzed the data (a big caveat for a social scientist, mind you) I’ll agree with the critics who aren’t buying the evidence from a Heritage report that suggests that “abstinance pledge” programs work. Not that the story makes that much sense, since it’s clear the author doesn’t actually know anything about social scientific research and just relies on an expert and the authors of the original study to rebut the paper.

But Matthew Yglesias’ critique really goes off the rails. First he complains, “the study was not peer-reviewed, is unpublishable in real academic journals, uses an unreliable data source, and only supports the conclusion when you use a non-standard test for statistical significance.”

The first two critiques are bizarre, since (a) it has never been submitted for peer review and (b) we don’t know whether or not it’s publishable, since submission for peer review hasn’t happened yet; the lack of publishability is an opinion expressed by someone in the article, not a factual statement. They don’t use any “non-standard test”; they use a p-value of 0.10 as their cutoff, which isn’t the traditional 0.05 and not quite as convincing as 0.05, but isn’t inherently invalid either, and confidence levels aren’t tests (examples of tests are “t” tests and “Wald” tests; p values are the results of statistical tests).

The only critique that’s even vaguely valid is that the data source is unreliable, as it relies on self-reporting by respondents of their behavior. This is a problem, to the extent you believe that people who have signed abstinence pledges are more likely to lie about their sexual activity than those who haven’t. I’ll concede that it’s possible that that’s the case. Mind you, Heritage didn’t come up with the data—HHS did—and trying to get people to accurately self-report anything is harder than it looks.

Then Yglesias turns and goes completely bizarro:

The only newsworthy information in the story is that the Bush Department of Health and Human Services has decided for some reason to start contracting out research on controversial questions to an ideological think tank that is non-partisan in name only, rather than to proper independent analysts.

There is no evidence in the story that Heritage was working under any sort of HHS contract. On the contrary, Heritage appears to have analyzed data, produced under HHS and CDC contract, which is in the public domain.* They then presented their results at a government-sponsored conference. The next step would be to fix any problems in the paper (and the article suggests there were some), and then submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s how social science is done.

Now, mind you, it might be premature for the New York Times to be calling attention to this story, but given public interest in the issue—and the Times’ possible interest in discrediting this evidence, not that I’d suspect the paper of having an ideological bias in its reporting decisions—I’m not sure I can fault them for covering preliminary results that (potentially) rebut a serious critique of administration policy.

* If the CDC had helped fund either analysis, it would be traditional for the studies to acknowledge the funding at the beginning of the paper in a note. I think it’s more likely that the Times meant to say that the CDC helped fund the HHS survey, not the Heritage study.

What she said

Michele, posting basically the same thing I wrote in comments to this post by someone in the “non-reciprocal linking” school (exponded at length here), except it disappeared into the ether:

I don’t really care what YOUR etiquette/rules for trackbacks are. I know what MY rule is: Don’t trackback to my posts unless you’ve linked/referenced them. I see no reason for someone to go through the trouble of sending a trackback which basically says “hey, I’ve written about the same thing as you, but I didn’t reference your post on it at all. However, I’m going to use this nifty automated feature to leave a URL to MY post on your blog!” That’s just god damn RUDE.

I also HATE when trackback is used as a feature to say “I wrote about a subject that you seem to care about and instead of emailing you a note to say hey, check out this post, I think you’ll be interested in it, I’ll just lazily send off a trackback to a completely UNRELATED post of yours, most likely your most recent post, thereby informing you that I’ve said something I consider important and leaving a URL to my very important post in your completey UNRELATED post!”

See where I’m going with this? Stop doing it. It’s arrogant. Take two freaking minutes to send an email. Or don’t trackback at all.

I will delete any trackbacks that don’t reference the post they track. Don’t be an such a self-absorbed ass all your life, ok? Show some manners.

That’s my policy too… if you bothered to find the trackback URL, you’ve already found out how to link to my post. Or, to put it another way, if you want me to send you some of my readers, the least you can do is send me some of yours too. Frankly, to not do so isn’t just rude—it’s spamming, and just because you’re not selling something doesn’t make it not spam.

Accomplishment of the day

I feel like I actually achieved something this morning—I finished packing all the books in my office, except the ones I’m using for classes this summer (and the ones I’m bequeathing to my successor):

My office, in compressed format

Now I get to deal with the shelves full of books at home.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Too many photos

I just uploaded a bunch of photos from my hooding ceremony last year and a family picnic to Flickr; most of the pictures were taken by my dad on his 35mm film camera. Hope you enjoy them…

Quote of the Day

Orson Swindle of Every Day Should Be Saturday, on being a pundit:

[P]unditry’s like going to a small liberal arts college-soon enough, everyone goes to bed with everyone.

Sadly, this statement is untrue if you read “going to” as “teaching at.” Then again, judging from some accounts, I may be an outlier in this regard.

Coke Zero

As mentioned in comments below, I obtained a 2-liter bottle of Coke Zero at Brookshire’s today. My first impression of the beverage is that it’s very good—you’re not likely to confuse it with Coca-Cola Classic, unless you just haven’t had a Coke in a long time, but it’s not in any way similar to Diet Coke and I really couldn’t discern any aftertaste. I also think it’s better than C2. I think Coke has a winner here.

It also makes a very good mixer with Bacardi Gold—too good perhaps.

I feel like I'm in Hunt for Red October


Move along, nothing to see here…



Heel turn or adios?

Mungowitz announces his departure from non-anonymous blogging and Michelle Dion takes the opportunity to shoot a promo on him. Are we seeing the beginning of a heel turn for Mungowitz, with Hollywood “Grease” Mungowitz donning a goatee and strutting down the ramp with some hard rock entrance music? Or is he going to turn face and stop tormenting the retail minimum-wage-slaves of the Triangle? Inquiring minds want to know.

Progress and regress

As reputed Klansman Edgar Ray Killen goes on trial for his role in the Philadelphia Three murders, the U.S. Senate decided to apologize for its complicity in Klan terrorism, which I suppose would be a more meaningful gesture if more than 6% of the Senate had shown up for the vote or if either senator from Mississippi, a.k.a. Lynching Central, had co-sponsored the bill. Steven Taylor has more thoughts on the belated apology.

Mind you, I’m not sure which is worse… the locals who are ignorant of the past or the non-locals who are ignorant of the present.

Monday, 13 June 2005

Bring back Sammy F

First I’d heard of this: one of the alma maters forced out its president over the weekend after a rocky start to his tenure:

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology President Jack Midgley resigned over the weekend after months of criticism from students and staff and two votes of no-confidence.

The business executive arrived on the Terre Haute campus amid high hopes he could successfully replace Samuel Hulbert, who retired after leading the college for 28 years.

Midgley didn’t last a year.

Ouch. Even I lasted longer at Rose…

Diet Coke with Splenda

Apparently, someone at Coca-Cola had the brainwave of making a beverage that tastes exactly like a combination of three ingredients:

  • Carbonated water
  • Caramel food coloring
  • Splenda

This beverage has absolutely no discernable flavor other than that of sugar water. Now, if you like sugar water, Diet Coke with Splenda is the beverage for you. Me, I’m just hoping Coca-Cola Zero actually manages to taste non-awful, although I have to say that the relaunched Pepsi One isn’t a complete travesty, though, regrettably, on the wrong side of the Coke-Pepsi divide for my palate.

Another reason I'm going to like Durham

I just bought a round-trip ticket from RDU to BWI for Labor Day weekend for APSA in Washington for $69.40, including taxes and everything.

Of course, I’d rather not be going to APSA in the first place, but my third consecutive year on the meat market doesn’t leave me with a lot of choice in the matter.

Sunday, 12 June 2005

TEA-21 renewal finally getting somewhere

Monday’s Washington Post reports that conference negotiators are finally getting somewhere on the renewal of the federal transportation authorization bill, which expired 21 months ago. The reason for the sudden burst of progress: members of Congress are sick and tired of wrangling over the bill:

“I just want to get it all over with,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said as final negotiations began Thursday.

At stake are around $290 billion in road, rail, and transit projects over the next six years (well, four years and three months, at this point). The same article also reports that the Senate may actually come up with a workable compromise on the energy bill. The stars must really be aligned this month or something…

Also on the roads beat, an interesting article on the trend toward building more toll roads recently appeared on Wired News. One such project is North Carolina’s proposed Triangle Parkway, an extension of the Durham Freeway south to the I-540 Western Wake Expressway through Research Triangle Park.

No blood for corn

Ethanol is all over the news today; today’s New York Times has a piece noting the newfound popularity of gasohol in the Midwest due to high oil prices, while yesterday’s Clarion-Ledger finds some folks looking for a $8 million handout so Mississippi too can get on the ethanol-producing bandwagon (can you say beef plant?).

Saturday, 11 June 2005

Tyson tanks

I must say I’m a little bit surprised at the news that Mike Tyson lost his fight tonight in Washington against unknown opponent Kevin McBride after quitting at the end of the sixth round. While there’s no doubt Tyson is no longer at the top of his game, pretty much everyone expected him to make short work of McBride nonetheless, although most would have figured that he’d be in trouble if he couldn’t make a knockout early… and that’s exactly what appears to have happened.

James Joyner recaps Tyson’s career; Tyson just never was the same fighter after serving the sentence for his rape conviction—as the AP piece points out, he hasn’t beaten a top opponent in 14 years, and his career has been increasingly bizarre since his time in the big house.

More than Tyson needed this fight, though, one suspects heavyweight boxing needed it; Tyson’s promise this week to “gut [McBride] like a fish” gave boxing its first real sizzle since he was in his prime in the 1980s, and the sport—embattled by corruption, a lack of stars, and a public image that makes Big Tobacco’s look good—needed the sort of buzz that Tyson can generate. Tyson at least has the gift of gab to eventually carve out a George Foreman-type role for himself in pop culture; boxing, though, may now be in terminal decline.

Killen goes on trial

Edgar Ray Killen is set to go on trial in Philadelphia, Miss., for his alleged role in the “Philadelphia Three” murders on Monday, and the predictable flood of worldwide media coverage has materialized; probably the best pieces I’ve seen are from the New York Times and Canada’s National Post.

However, neither story makes it clear why Killen wasn’t tried again after his 1967 federal criminal trial that ended in a 11–1 hung jury; you’d think that an 11–1 jury vote would be a pretty strong indication that a second trial would have ended in a conviction… does anyone know the answer?

You ask, we answer

OFJay has a couple of thoughts worth responding to:

Why is it that Trek fans absolutely, positively, demonizingly hate Voyager? It’s as if that show had no merit whatsover either as a Trek show or as a TV show. This inquiring mind would like to know.

I don’t know that fans necessarily “hate” Voyager, although most would probably have it tied with Enterprise for the nadir of televised Trek. I think the main problem with the series is that televised science fiction had “grown up” since The Next Generation came on the air, as more sophisticated shows like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 were out there, and Voyager quickly settled in as essentially redoing TNG with an inferior cast; its oft-discussed failure to deliver on its premise left it in the position of having less intelligent things to say about pushing the limits of Trekkian ideology than DS9 did in the comparatively “safe” confines of the Alpha Quadrant.

That said, there were lots of elements of Voyager that really worked, and some of the best hours of modern Trek were on the show. It just never added up to much of anything more. (This critique probably also applies to Enterprise.)

It’s been less than a month since the season ender for House but I sure miss that cranky doctor. And the “tall dark one,” the “little girl,” and the Aussie that “would run like a scared wombat.” Also Lisa Edelstein, who played a post-op transvestite in Ally McBeal and a real woman in the last season of The Practice. At least they’ve signed it on for a second season.

Indeed, despite the occasional gore (something I’m really averse to), House M.D. is probably my favorite network show these days. Greg House is probably the best unlikeable character on TV since at least early Andy Sipowicz, and possibly even Basil Fawlty. Add my thing for Sela Ward and you have must-see TV in the fall.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Afternoon delight

I decided to go out for a drive today down the newly opened stretch of the Trace around Jackson, and ended up taking a bunch of photos (although none of the Trace itself). The highlight of the set, by far, is my favorite billboard in Jackson:

Cellular South billboard

Of course, there are lots of others in my Flickr photostream, mostly from downtown Jackson but also a few from Raymond, the other county seat of Hinds County.

Something wrong with these examples

Now, ordinarily I’d be highly supportive of evidence supporting my fundamental beliefs, but this New York Daily News piece from yesterday (þ: memeorandum), subtitled “Ready for a real relationship? Ditch the pretty boys and grab yourself a geek,” is stretching credibility just a tad, largely because of the poster children it chooses for this phenomenon:

  • Jordan Bratman, a music executive
  • David Arquette
  • Tiger Woods
  • Adam Brody (from The O.C., a show I’m proud to say I’ve never seen)

So, we have two actors (granted, one of them is a low-rent Tom Green, but still…), a media mogul, and one of the richest athletes in the world. Can anyone find another possible causal factor that might explain why attractive women might be interested in these guys?

Figuring out Gwen

Shawn points to Joe, who in turn points to an OC Weekly piece by Greg Stacy that attempts to explain what the hell Gwen Stefani is talking about in her hit single “Hollaback Girl.” Mind you, I’m still confused…

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Rebel RB woes continue

Vashon Pearson, the Rebels’ leading rusher last year (not that that’s saying much) didn’t make the grades last year and has been declared academically ineligible for what would have been his senior season. (þ: EDSBS) ‘Twas nice knowing you, Vashon.

It looks like the bulk of the running game will be in the hands of junior Jamal Pittman, who has had his own share of off-field troubles, but emerged from the spring as tied on the depth chart with Pearson after Coach O decided to give him a clean slate. So, if Pittman can keep himself out of trouble, the Rebels may still be in decent shape at RB; mind you, I’m not sure anyone expected anything much beyond another “rebuilding” year and a possible Bowl bid out of the team to begin with.

Finally, a reason to watch CNN again

Today’s Washington Post reports that Bob Costas will be Larry King’s permanent guest host for about 20 appearances a year, starting this Sunday. I’ve always enjoyed Costas’ work as an interviewer, particularly on Later, and it’ll be fun to see him doing real interviews again somewhere other than HBO. (þ: memeorandum)

Quote of the day, globetrotter edition

Kamilla, somewhere between Istanbul and Kyrgystan, gives some advice to global aviation authorities:

We all would be more civilized and less stressed if there were more clocks in airports; I don’t understand why, since it’s THE place of changing time zones, they only announce the local time once, if that, as you’re landing.

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Three parties good, two parties better

Nick Troester on the latest round of arguments about the potential success of third party presidential candidates:

Political parties, being more-or-less coalitional, actually need to take positions on a wide number of issues to be able to draw in people who are oriented towards things other than the party’s main issue—that is to say, one might think both parties are bad when it comes to good government issues, but one still probably lines up as a D or R when it comes to entitlement spending, the deficit, foreign policy, etc. A lot is needed to uproot people from where they are.

Or, to put it another way, there just aren’t enough people who care about politics who’d support the “not stupid or evil party” just because it’s not stupid or evil.

And, many observers suggest Roosevelt would have won the Republican nomination—and almost certainly the presidency—had the 1912 convention not been stacked with Taft patronage appointees from “rotten borough” delegations from the South. I don’t know that there’s a specific lesson for John McCain in there, but the route to power is much easier if you can take over a major party than starting your own… ask the Christian Coalition or the Deaniac crowd, who now effectively control the two major parties, if you don’t believe me.

Another Debian upgrade PSA

If your attempts to connect to your PostgreSQL database from psycopg fail with a missing socket error after upgrading from Debian sarge to etch or sid (as I inadvertently did yesterday), add "host=localhost" to the DSN string. Apparently the Unix domain socket was disabled in the default configuration, so database connections must now go through TCP/IP. This may affect other database adapters too.

Musical theft

Nick and I are pondering who—if anyone—Radiohead was ripping off on The Bends, as a followup to the Coldplay discussion from Monday. Please post any comments, if you have them, at his place.

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Thong wars

Glenn Reynolds takes heat for the Instapundit thong (though it’s apparently on the Father’s Day shopping list for some), while new-to-the-reciprocal-blogroll Memphian Serrabee wonders why nobody buys her underwear for Valentine’s Day while linking a story informing Britons that thong underwear can be bad for your health.

Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t think the particular style of underwear you’re wearing makes that much difference to others—now, it might make a difference to you (Lord knows I’d be embarrassed to be seen in a lot of the underwear I own, something I suppose I should rectify), and if that’s the case I suggest a change. But if you’ve gotten to the point that someone else is seeing them I think the main concern is going to be how easily they can be removed, not whether or not they give you a wedgie when you walk.

Then again, in this low-rider world we live in (apparently, the plumber butt look is “in”), maybe underwear matter more than they used to… but you’d think OFJay would have found some evidence of that.

Written evals

I got my written evaluations today, and while some of it was bizarrely contradictory (some people complaining that my lecture was too much like the book outline, others complaining that the tests and lecture had nothing to do with each other even though the tests came from the book materials!) I got a rather odd comment that I’d made “occasional anti-Catholic remarks and jokes” in my civil liberties class. I suppose there are a few things that could be stretched that way (mostly, a few Louisiana jokes), and maybe even a few things that could be construed as anti-religious in general (I generally stay away from that soapbox, although I will make an occasional “Ten Suggestions” joke for the Methodists in the audience), but I don’t remember singling out Catholics in particular. Weird.

Separated at birth?

Stephen Fry and John F. Kerry. I link, you decide.

And let me get this straight: Kerry hid his military records to cover up the fact he was a mediocre student at Yale? Sheesh. Of course, since the “smart” guy got 4 D’s and the “dumb” guy got 1, I guess I could see how that would make at least a modicum of sense.

Monday, 6 June 2005

Quote of the Day

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift on some erroneous chronology in the New York Times:

Coldplay’s powers of suck are so all-encompassing that they extend out backwards through time, influencing bands that actually predate them.

þ: Nick Troester, who also finds other aspects of the article to be amusing.

OS X on Intel

The long-rumored move of Apple OS X to Intel processors was confirmed today by Apple at its annual developer’s conference. More at Wizbang and Slashdot, the latter of which claims that there is a “preview” that you can order for Intel processors today, something I wouldn’t mind taking for a spin, although it is as yet unclear whether you’re going to be stuck with buying Apple’s hardware to run OS X. Frankly, I’m much more interested in spending $350 or so to upgrade my desktop box’s motherboard & CPU combo to an Athlon 64 than dropping two large on a similar configuration just so I can run OS X.

I’ve become so numb

I just got back from the dentist’s office after receiving the first of two fillings I’m due for. Except for the fact I can’t talk, and probably shouldn’t eat or drink for a while (not that the dentist told me anything), I think I’m fine.

Incidentally, there’s more personal crap at the other place, wherein I talk about helping Kelly move her stuff into storage last week. It’s probably rambling and overly detailed, and a healthy chunk of the more amusing stuff is omitted anyway, but the post is there nonetheless.

The Supreme Court creates more work for me

I’d personally like to thank the Supreme Court for announcing its decision in the medical marijuana case Gonzalez v. Raich (né Ashcroft v. Raich) today. I guess the silver lining is that I have a week before I actually have to talk about the case in my con law class.

Slightly more seriously, James Joyner approves (although not of the public policy in question), while Glenn Reynolds doesn’t. More, of course, at the Volokh Conspiracy from Orin Kerr and David “Buy My Book” Bernstein.

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Real women have curves (but don't tell Disney)

Amber Taylor and Hei Lun Chan of Begging to Differ have uncovered yet another reason not to bother with the new Love Bug movie: you won’t be seeing as much of Lindsay Lohan as you might have figured—no pun intended:

Disney technicians were forced to go through numerous scenes – especially those showing the actress jumping up and down at a motor racing track, reducing her breasts by two cup sizes and raising revealing necklines on her T-shirts.

That must have been a hardship tour. Both linkers think this problem could have avoided during production; Taylor with technology, Chan with casting:

If Disney wanted a teenage blonde without big breasts for the movie, why didn’t they just cast Hilary Duff?

A question for the ages, to be sure.

Meanwhile, given Lohan’s recent emaciation (documented by Taylor), someone really ought to get her to read up on the health benefits of having body fat (þ: Instapundit).

All boxed in

My brilliant plan to use shipping boxes I bought at Sam’s Club to pack up all the books in my office has been foiled, mainly because if I tried to put my books in them they’d be impossible to lift. Time to think of Plan B, which is most likely to be “beg the campus bookstore for boxes”; I’ve already used up all my boxes.

That said, I’m sure the Sam’s Club boxes will work for lighter stuff like my clothes, so there’s that at least.

Saturday, 4 June 2005

Mo’ photos

I noticed yesterday, while engaged in an ultimately futile effort to switch the hard drive on which Windows XP is installed on my Athlon XP box, that I had a bunch of photos on the hard drive from spring 2001, from just after I bought my now-aging Olympus C-2100UZ.

So now they’re on Flickr: vacation (well, actually, Western Political Science Association conference) photos from Hoover Dam in March 2001, and a few Ole Miss photos from April 2001 that I took for some website work. Hope you enjoy them!

Friday, 3 June 2005

My week is over

One of the perks of only having one student in a class (in this case, Introduction to American Government) is that when you’re done, there’s no need to pad it out, or reexplain things six times so it might penetrate the skull of the kid in the back of the room who’s half-asleep. My wallet would have liked it had he had some compatriots, but I suppose on a per-hour basis I’m actually coming out ahead on the deal. It also helps to be using a textbook that’s readable by humans with minimal handholding.

Incidentally, it’s funny but I’d actually somewhat forgotten over the past four weeks how much fun it was to teach.

Thursday, 2 June 2005

I knew I forgot something

Somehow I managed to forget all about implementing lsbinstall when I uploaded LSB 3.0–1 for Debian to sid last month. Grrr…

The unkindest Cut

Former Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe’s stint at Notre Dame didn’t last very long: he resigned Tuesday from his position as quarterbacks coach for the Fighting Irish after deciding that he couldn’t come back to coaching this year. Cut, known to Ole Miss fans as the master of the “prevent offense,” recently underwent triple-bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack in March. (þ: Jeff Quinton @ FanBlogs)

Wednesday, 1 June 2005


In the space of two days, my two closest friends in Jackson have up and left to do cool summer things for the next few weeks—one is doing research in Central Asia, while the other is headed up north to work on some projects and hang out with friends and family.

If it weren’t for my students in summer classes, I’d be almost completely abandoned at this point (although I’ve seen a few soon-to-be-ex-colleagues around and I’ll probably have lunch with some of them later on in the month). Of course, if it weren’t for my students, I’d be off doing something else myself—more likely than not, spending late June and most of July in Ann Arbor with stats geeks.

Without students, I probably also wouldn’t have been up at 8:30 this morning either, come to think of it.