Thursday, 30 November 2006

OTB downtime

Those of you who visit Outside the Beltway to see my occasional posts should be advised that OTB is going through a bit of downtime at the moment due to a huge spike in search engine traffic to the OTB “Gone Hollywood” site. James Joyner currently has no ETA for when the site will be back up, but hopefully it will be soon.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Mike Munger might be my governor*

My ex-boss outlines his public education voucher proposal for North Carolina, which of course is far too sensible to become policy but nonetheless is quite appealing. Money grafs:

Now, it is true that not all charter schools are so successful, though it is also true that even the worst charter schools are no worse than the lowest-performing public schools. But think about it: what happens to a charter school that parents aren’t satisfied with? It closes, because its enrollments fall below the level required to secure sufficient funding to continue. What happens to a traditional public school that parents aren’t satisfied with? Nothing, because public schools are not just the last resort, they are the only resort for parents who are denied a choice.

Now, you can say that everybody has a choice. After all, there are private schools. And there is home-schooling. Both of these options have been selected more and more often in the past decade. Those choices are not enough, however. Private schools are not plentiful, and they are very expensive. Home-schooling is expensive too, in its own way, and not everyone is able to teach bright students the challenging material they need to know to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

Prof. Munger also responds to critics of his choice to use Amtrak to get to a conference in Charleston, a response that I suppose applies equally well to my choice to commute most days via Metrolink (even though it takes twice as long as driving and is a pain in the ass).

I will, however, add two minor quibbles: First, to the extent that our country’s involvement in the politics of the Middle East and other unstable regions of the world is driven by demand for oil, the critique that this involvement is tantamount to a subsidy to driving is only half-correct, as the other forms of transportation that are alternatives to driving either also require oil as a fuel, use a substitute fossil fuel (like coal or natural gas) whose price is dependent on the price of oil, or depend on electricity generated from fossil fuels. If Amtrak were run on electric power outside the Northeast Corridor, and the bulk of U.S. energy needs were supplied by renewable sources or nuclear power, my esteemed ex-boss’s account of implicit subsidies to passenger cars and airlines would be more convincing.

Second, highway fuel taxes account for a larger share of the funding of highway construction and maintenance than Mike’s account suggests; indeed, at the federal level the 18.4¢ per gallon tax is used almost exclusively for transportation—the bulk goes to highway construction and maintenance, although significant chunks of the money are diverted to the mass transit account and to “transportation enhancement projects” including non-motorized-vehicle projects and historical preservation. At the state level, however, Mike is correct that many states siphon money from their fuel taxes—typically of similar magnitude as the federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel—into general spending programs.

I suppose the moral of this digression is that I should start doing more transportation policy stuff in my research, since clearly I know far too much about it for it to be a healthy hobby.

* If I get a job in North Carolina (hint, hint). And Mike turns out to be the luckiest third-party candidate for a state governorship since Jesse Ventura.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Phone interview

I now have a phone interview scheduled for a position at a midwestern state university. More please.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Accentuating the Neutral

Here’s a big shocker, I know:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

“You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

A minor disclaimer: I tend to use a weird mix of formal speech and Southern colloquialisms in everyday conversation, so I do have my Southern “moments” when speaking, but if I avoid Southern terms (primarily “y’all”) I pretty much sound like Tom Brokaw.

þ: Prof. Karlson

Tubby Studies

One of the dozens of “last forms of acceptable discrimination” will get its place in the academy if “fat studies” is added to the curriculum. Somehow I don’t see the study of William Howard Taft (or, for that matter, William Jefferson Clinton) fitting very well into this research program.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Double-entendres of the night

Brent Musberger just said on national television—and I quote literally—“the road to Glendale is paved with Trojans.”

I wish I were making that up. What’s worse is now I can’t get that image out of my head.

Brent also just said that a Notre Dame player was penalized for “pulling out early.”

QoTD, Egg Bowl edition

From Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side, explaining the passions surrounding the Egg Bowl to outsiders:

The game served as a proxy for the hoary Mississippi class struggle, between the white folks who wore shirts with collars on them and the white folks who did not. Mississippi State was a land grant college, originally called Mississippi A&M. The desperate contempt Ole Miss football fans felt for Mississippi State was echoed in the feelings of fans of the University of Texas for Texas A&M and fans of the University of Oklahoma for Oklahoma State—formerly known as Oklahoma A&M. These schools were not rivals; they were subordinates. Theirs was not a football team to be beaten but an insurrection to be put down. This notion was most vivid in the Ole Miss imagination: that the state of Mississippi, with the sole exception of the town of Oxford, was once a Great Lake of Rednecks. In recent decades the earth had warmed, and the shores of Great Lake Redneck had receded, so that, strictly speaking, perhaps it should not be described as a lake. But still, the residue was a very large puddle. And the one place in the puddle deep enough to ruin a shiny new pair of tassel loafers was Starkville, Mississippi.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

EDSBS interviews Michael Lewis

Orson Swindle at EDSBS has posted part one of a two-part interview with Moneyball author Michael Lewis, wherein he discusses his new book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game and the primary subject of that book, Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher.

The following passage of the interview warmed the cockles of my heart—by way of explanation for the warming, the Ole Miss political science department used to house the criminal justice program until it was spun off along with the rest of the programs that a four-year university (much less the College of Liberal Arts) had no business operating into a separate school:

[ML:] On behalf of [Oher’s] mind, I would say…I’e watched him over the past few years, and he’s become a much more verbal person. He is intelligent–he’s not stupid. He’s shrewd, and he’s sensitive. The way he’s impressed me is not with his grades in the classroom, though I’m sure he’s worked to get them and they’re not entirely fraudulent.

OS: We’re not talking about Auburn, here.

ML: Well, I do think we’re talking about that. All these schools have the smooth track for the football players–

OS: Sociology at Auburn, Criminal Justice…

ML: It’s funny. You watch the Saturday football games, and if it’s West Virginia playing, all the football players are “sports management” majors, but if it’s Ole Miss playing, all the football players are “criminal justice” majors. So you get the sense that every school has its major for the football team, and it’s different from school to school. All the Ole Miss football players aren’t majoring in criminal justice because they have a deep and sincere interest in criminal justice. It’s that that’s where you go to get the grades.

And Michael is majoring in criminal justice. That’s not a great sign, but he’s doing well. And this is what is true about him: he’s not just “not dumb,” he’s intelligent and sensitive. When he sits down to write something, it’s actually impressive. He’s got things to say. The mind he’s got is a good and interesting mind. That that is true despite his first sixteen years on the planet is amazing.

Incidentally my copy of Blindside was allegedly going to be shipped to my mom’s house in Memphis by today for delivery Wednesday, according to the checkout screens, but given the current delivery estimate of next Monday I doubt that actually happened. Regardless I promise a review soon.

Update: Never mind; I just got an email from that has a tracking number saying it will be delivered tomorrow. So, depending on how engaging a read it is, I may have a review up by the end of this weekend.


Iceweasel has (finally) replaced Firefox in Debian unstable, not that the differences—beyond the 1.5 → 2.0 transition, which happened at the same time—are all that noticeable.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

QotD, job search edition

As (virtually) always, from NewsRadio:

Jimmy: The market can be a cruel mistress.
Beth: Well, so can I… but that’s not how I want to make my money any more.

St Louis HDTV Survey

One of the regulars at the St. Louis HDTV forums at has put together a rather lengthy survey for HD viewers in the region, with the hopes of getting results from local broadcasters. So, if you have HD in St. Louis, go forth and help out.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Don't blame me, I voted for Rick Whitlow

The short mayoral career of Jackson (Miss.) sheriff mayor Frank Melton looks to be close to its end. I can’t say I was a huge fan of his predecessor either, but Melton’s level of wackiness in office has been largely criminal and borderline comical—particularly since I no longer live in the city, so I can laugh derisively from a safe distance.

I’d say that I owe Donna Ladd and the folks over at the Jackson Free Press an apology and some credit for their foresight, but given the lengthy email tirade exchange we had last year over one word in a conference paper I wrote I’m not all that inclined to give either, despite the fact that a few really good students I taught at Millsaps did and presumably still do good work for the JFP.

þ: Hit and Run and Dad.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

More Trent, Less Fulfilling

Favorite Signifying Nothing whipping boy Trent Lott has gotten a second opportunity to demonstrate the validity of the Peter Principle thanks to the 25 clueless senators who elected him Senate minority whip for the 110th Congress, selecting him over Lamar! Alexander. Senate leadership positions on either side of the aisle aren’t exactly hotbeds of political power (thanks largely to the fundamental institutional feature of the Senate—the filibuster—that distinguishes it from the House), so the substantive effect of Lott being in the formal leadership will be approximately zero, but in terms of symbolism I can’t say I can conceive of a choice from the 49-member caucus that is worse than Lott. I mean, that would be like the Democrats appointing a former segregationist as president pro tempore of the Senate or something.

The small bit of silver lining: the Porkbusters weenies are restless. Heh.

Even people in South Carolina know what blogs are

Winthrop University professor Scott Huffmon (better known as “Frequent Commenter Scott” around these parts) recently investigated the South Carolina public’s acquaintance, or lack thereof, with the blogosphere as part of the first Winthrop Poll of state residents; the results, as reported at LaurinLine, were quite interesting, with over 2/3 of the state’s public claiming familiarity with the concept of a “blog.”

Sales job

For the first time in my life, the spirit moved me to create flyers for the Congress class that I am teaching next semester. I’m not entirely comfortable with advertising “no prerequisites” as a selling point, but then again there are no prerequisites—indeed, I don’t think our intro to American politics class, despite its popularity with undergrads, is actually required for anything at all in our curriculum at present.

The next step is to finalize a syllabus; I have an outline that I think will work well, but I’d like to nail down the dates for each topic and the content of the assignments.

Incidentally, I haven’t taught a MWF class since my days as a graduate instructor—if even then—and next semester I’ve lucked into two of them (Congress and intro). I am not at all a fan of the 50-minute class, and it's going to play havoc with my in-class exams in intro, but I suppose I will adapt. At least methods is only scheduled MW…

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Buried in Economists

As of today, I am now two weeks behind on my Economist reading. Clearly I need to step it up a notch… or figure out a way to have a longer commute so the whole thing gets read before a new one arrives.

Monday, 13 November 2006

A good distraction from grading exams

I have to say this is clever: a map of the motorway system of Great Britain in the style of a London Underground map (a map that, incidentally, the good folks at Metrolink might learn a few things from).

þ: TransportBlog.

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Blessings upon blessings

All but one of my discussant assignments at SPSA have apparently disappeared without any notice to me—which is just as well, since that allows me to postpone my arrival in downtown New Orleans until January 4th… garnering about a 50% reduction in hotel rates, since now I can stay at the Hilton Garden Inn I stayed at a couple of weeks ago for $99/night and get free breakfast due to my HHonors perks, instead of the conference hotel at the significantly above-market $155/night rate; one fewer night to pay for; and avoiding the crush of the Nokia Allstate Sugar Bowl to boot.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Public service announcement

I get an inordinate number of Google hits looking for the political science job market blogs… so here are the links that I’m aware of (as of October 2009):

For the record, I have no responsibility for any of the above blogs or wikis, although I have commented on some of them on occasion. I will be happy to add any additional links that are germane to this post.

Interview'd (Part II)

Today went better than Wednesday, largely because (a) it was shorter and (b) I didn’t spend 90% of it walking or standing. I feel reasonably good about how things went, all things considered—and certainly better than I did yesterday morning, when I was both tired and in one of those depressed moods.

I think the bar is now set pretty high, at least if the dimensions that appear to matter to this department and university are the ones on which this position will be filled. But we will see; it is early days yet.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Interview'd (Part I)

Day one of the interview is over, and I am basically brain-dead.

There is something immensely odd about interviewing for what is essentially one’s own job: the pronouns get muddled, as do the tenses, and (putting on the shoes of the interviewers) I’m not sure there’s much comparability between what an outsider might say and what I would.

Maybe it just doesn’t feel like an interview “should” because (a) I am basically comfortable with the people I am talking to and (b) I have resigned myself to knowing my fate is essentially out of my hands; I can fiddle at the margins, but essentially whether or not I get the job is largely determined by whether or not they find someone “better” than me who also accepts this offer, neither factor being under my control.

The analogy in my mind that keeps replaying itself is something that came up during one of my feeble attempts at a relationship with another political scientist† who explained to me that for all my swell features her existing boyfriend had “incumbency advantage.”*

Well, the one time previous to this when incumbency advantage should have accrued to me on the job market it did me very little good—partially my own fault in that case, since I was still in “meek new faculty member” mode—and I am no more optimistic now than I had right to be in the past.

The Big Election

If you’re looking for detailed election commentary, look elsewhere.

But in the meantime: have some pretty graphs looking at the 2006 midterms in historical perspective. I need to add the 2006 numbers, but my brain is barely functioning at the moment. But in a nutshell:

  • The GOP losses at midterm are remarkably consistent with the historical expectations for presidential parties.
  • However, party control will change in the 110th Congress in both chambers due to the Republicans’ failure to build a cushion—the Democrats could afford to take 20–30 seat losses on average with Democratic presidents, because they could retain the majority and regain the losses in presidential years, while the Republicans did not have that luxury.

If you buy that the GOP is a natural minority party that only occasionally will muster majorities, there is a reasonable case to be made that the GOP made no strategic errors in this election or in the process of building its slim majority. However, if the GOP does have the potential to be a majority party in the electorate over the long haul, its failure to use the redistricting process to create enough safe GOP seats is a strategic blunder.

Maybe when I’m more coherent tomorrow I’ll have some thoughts on a remedy for the GOP that would revive the “strange bedfellows” alliance that got them the House in 1994: an alliance with minority interest groups to gerrymander House seats for both at the expense of white Democrats, only this time looking to another mutually-beneficial solution than gerrymandering.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

A nation weeps

Britney and Kevin are no more. The line forms at the Dairy Queen on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge.

I am a soft touch

My review copy of Stewart’s Analyzing Congress showed up today in the mail (I actually had it suggested to me by a professor at Lawrence during my interview there last year), and I liked it so much it went in my book order and on my Congress syllabus. Maybe I’m just overcompensating for having virtually no formal theory training in grad school.


I voted about an hour ago at the oddly-named Ethical Society building on Clayton Road in Ladue; I was in and out the door in about fifteen minutes. On the way in, someone gave me some literature for two candidates: one of them wasn’t on my ballot, but I voted against the other one, who had already mailbombed me with two flyers in the past week.

Voters were offered a choice between touchscreen (with paper trail) and paper ballots; I went touchscreen. There were eight pages of questions, and I got to vote for a bunch of people I’d never heard of, in addition to the all-important ballot initiatives.

Incidentally, nobody told me I was going to get to vote against retaining about two dozen judges, so that was a nice bonus bit of schadenfreude.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Weird borrowings

Anyone who’s been to SLU knows that our illustrious president is obsessed with gateways and archways (along with statues)... our campus is littered with metal arches spanning pedestrian walkways, even whole streets (I think we have four spanning Grand Boulevard alone).

So it was pretty jarring to see a photo of two of our arches—the pair on either side of Grand at the crosswalk where Pine Blvd used to run back in the olden days, lightly Photoshopped to read “State University”—in the corner of last week’s episode (the one with Hugh Laurie and Borat) of Saturday Night Live during Weekend Update. Should’ve gotten a photo of it, alas.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

One down, five to go

I accomplished item #1 on the list today. Here’s the result. Item #2 should be feasible tomorrow, since my Monday schedule is currently clear, particularly if I get my intro exam written tonight.

Unfortunately, I think someone set the building alarm on Fitzgerald Hall about 30 minutes ago with me still inside, so getting home tonight may be interesting.

Crescat displaced

Readers of longtime Signifying Nothing blogroll staple Crescat Sententia should be advised that the blog has moved to a new URL as the result of a domain name snafu. Update your feed readers and blogrolls accordingly.

R moves in mysterious ways

Oddly enough, the graphics package code that I was using to add error bars to my dotcharts has mysteriously stopped working since upgrading to R 2.4.0. I can still make the dotcharts using dotchart, but the error bars don’t show up after adding them using segments. This clearly worked last month, or otherwise I wouldn’t have had a presentation to show at Mizzou.

Luckily enough I found another solution using dotplot in lattice instead in an article by Bill Jacoby in the most recent edition of The Political Methodologist… which I probably should have read before hacking together the code the first time around. So now it works… at least until R 2.5.0 comes out, at which point all bets are off.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Halfway report

Halfway through the weekend, I’m 0–6 on the agenda, although I did get out 11 job applications. Sunday’s plan is to go into the office to do real work, since clearly I won’t get anything done if I sit around the apartment.

Friday, 3 November 2006

I didn't fight the law and the law won

Today I decided that wasting several hours downtown fighting my Metrolink fine to save $25 wasn’t going to be the best use of my time, particularly since my court date was scheduled for a day I either will teach or be out of town, so I paid my fine and court costs by mail like a man.

The moral of this whole story: make sure your monthly pass is in your wallet several times a day, even if that makes you look obsessive-compulsive to the rest of the universe.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Research this

I am resolving in public to spend at least six hours this weekend doing research stuff (hey, it seems to work for vegreville). Here’s my “to do” list through SPSA:

  1. Rerun the 1992–2004 NES IRT models and add the slides to the new job talk.
  2. Finish up the strategic voting paper revisions, update the results and fancy graphs, and send it out for review (again).
  3. Hack together a new draft of the heuristics paper after adding the McCain data analysis Rachna and I worked on over the summer during her independent study at Duke.
  4. Put together a submittable draft of the coalition performance paper.
  5. Write the paper that goes with the job talk for SPSA and Midwest.
  6. Put together a proposal for APSA? (Do I really want to go to APSA? Do I have any new ideas for APSA?)

Items 1–2 should be feasible by Monday. 3 and 4 may get reversed in order. 5 probably needs to get done before both 3 and 4 happen, depending on how busy November ends up being.

Update: I suppose some more job applications should be in that list too.


Here’s how I plan to vote Tuesday… feel free to try to change my mind.

  • U.S. Senator: Claire McCaskill (D). Frankly, I despise both major party candidates with a passion, and every campaign ad makes me despise both of them more. Both Talent and McCaskill are lightweights, but that’s fine for a state that has a storied history of sending lightweights to Congress. This is simply a vote for divided government—no more, no less.
  • U.S. House: whatever Libertarian is on the ballot; I can’t even remember if I’m in District 2 or District 3, but my vote has been gerrymandered out of meaningfulness either way.
  • Stem cell initiative (Amendment 2): for. As far as I can tell, the only substantive effect is to prevent the state legislature from banning stem cell research if it so chose; unlike California’s initiative, it creates no funding for research in and of itself. Plus the opponents just sound like idiots—I get about the same visceral reaction to people who use the term “cloner” as those who use the word “abortionist,” which is basically “run for the hills before this creep can corner me.”
  • Tobacco tax increase (Amendment 3): against. It’s a tax increase, and a regressive one at that. Not to mention it’s an intergenerational transfer: the old people who were dumb enough to smoke 17 packs of Marlboros a day get their health care paid for by kids who smoke a pack a week. Besides, wasn’t all that tobacco settlement money supposed to pay for this crap in the first place? No thanks.
  • Judicial pay amendment (Amendment 7): for.
  • Minimum wage increase (Proposition B): against; the Earned Income Tax Credit works better and actually helps poor people, unlike minimum wage increases (the effects which primarily accrue to union members well above the poverty line whose wages are often tied to multiples of the minimum wage). The Economist explains why.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Observation of the day

Advising students is really hard to do without a paper copy of the catalog in front of you.