Monday, 30 April 2007

What Kathryn Johnston's death can teach us about government

Jason Kuznicki earns quote of the day honors for this statement; but, you should go read the whole thing:

[T]he state enforcement of private moral conduct almost inevitably produces an even greater moral evil than the conduct we aim to repress. Far from leading to a more moral society, the use of force to police the private conduct of adults achieves just the opposite; in the name of opposing libertinism, the prohibitionists run squarely into something far worse.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Overdue book reviews

The Elephant in the Room by Ryan Sager is an interesting examination of the issues facing the Republican “big tent” coalition in the run up to the 2008 election. The book is well-organized and the writing is clear and concise, advancing a logical argument that the social conservative right and what I might call George W. Bush’s “Christian Democratic conservatism” have alienated the libertarian west, placing the GOP back in jeopardy of returning to permanent minority status in Washington. Definitely a must-read book for anyone wanting to understand the contemporary Republican party—although one would be interested in Sager’s explanation for the continuing popularity of Rudy Giuliani, even with the GOP base.

Boeing Versus Airbus by John Newhouse ought to be a more interesting book than it is, but falls short in a number of irritating ways. Newhouse is an incredibly repetitive writer, and the narrative structure is frustratingly almost-but-not-quite linear. Newhouse introduces one key Boeing executive by thoroughly trashing him, but then spends the next 200 pages apparently forgetting he ever said anything bad about him. As one Amazon review points out, Newhouse never clearly explains why Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas outright instead of just waiting for it to go bankrupt and getting the parts it actually wanted; nor does he address other baffling decisions, like Boeing canning the Boeing 717 (the last iteration of the DC-9) just as it was proving to be a success with Airtran, as most of its competitors were commercial non-starters, and as major carriers were looking to replace their aging DC-9s with more modern aircraft. Newhouse also includes bizarre segues to complain about the Iraq war that don’t seem to have anything to do with Boeing, Airbus, the aviation industry, or anything else on-topic. The occasional insight—for example, that Airbus’ decision to go ahead with the A380 was based largely on the misunderstanding that Boeing made more money from the 747 than other aircraft—is lost in the narrative. Nor does Newhouse spend any time talking about the emergence of competition from below by up-and-coming entrants like Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier, who are successfully attacking Boeing and Airbus’ real cash cows, the narrow-body 737 and A320; instead, he devotes a whole chapter fretting about the potential rise of East Asian manufacturers, who have yet to become a factor. There’s an interesting book about the contemporary aviation industry to be written, but Boeing Versus Airbus isn’t it.

Congress at the Grassroots by Richard F. Fenno, Jr. is one of the books I assigned in my Congress class this semester. If you want to understand how the nature of congressional representation has changed in the past 40 years, this is as good a place to start as any. From a social scientist’s perspective, I’d have liked to have seen more evidence that these two representatives were typical of their time and place, and thus we can arrive at generalizable knowledge from these two cases, rather than simply an assertion in the concluding chapter to that effect. But overall I think it was a very good book… and if I didn’t already have a bazillion readings in my southern politics course, I’d add it there too.

Collapsing the probability function

I’m waiting to hear back from one job interview; once that happens, I’ll either have a very tough decision to make, or a very easy one… and even though professionally a tough decision might be better for me, personally I’d rather just have it all be over with for 2007 so I can get on with doing what I need to do for 2008.

Unorthodox lawmaking

I was wondering out loud in my Congress class Friday when the Democratic leadership and the president would get around to actually hammering out a supplemental instead of the kabuki theater approach that seems to have prevailed in D.C. until this point.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

TiVo Series 3: $500, including free wireless adapter

Dave Zatz points out a really sweet deal on the HD TiVo Series 3: $500, including a free TiVo wireless adapter. (If you want to give me a referral kickback, use chris (at) as the referral address when activating.)

Blighted my ass

Radley Balko takes note of my hometown’s inability to convince a Missouri Court of Appeals panel that an area of downtown Clayton is ‘blighted’. Quoth Balko:

The idea that expensive office buildings there could be “blighted” is laughable.

Indeed; the corner of Hanley and Forsyth is pretty close to the least blighted area in the St. Louis MSA by any plausible definition of the term.

Blog reader survey

Something for you to do if you’re bored this afternoon: take this survey that allegedly will help me attract (better?) advertising to the blog, or something.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Sheehan: I'm sorry

That would be Ruth Sheehan, apologizing for her inflammatory columns at the beginning of the Duke lacrosse “fake but accurate” rape scandal in the Raleigh News & Observer, rather than anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who as of last report is still emulating a homeless woman in Crawford, Texas.

þ: Craig Newmark.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Talking French (elections)

Paul Gronke and Free Exchange both address how the use of a majority-runoff system in French presidential elections has produced in 2007 a runoff without the presumptive Condorcet winner on the ballot; neither is inaccessible enough to bring the good Marquis in by name, but Free Exchange mentions Ken Arrow and Paul Gronke discusses Gary Cox, which are certainly good starts in that direction.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Accent problems

I spent several years of my life learning to pronounce a proper name like the locals did… but for the next 24 hours, to avoid sounding like a southerner (usually not a problem for me, except for the occasional “y’all”), I have to consciously pronounce the name the way northerners pronounce it—if only so people can understand the proper name I’m using.

Teaching moments

Free Exchange notes New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm playing fast and loose with infant mortality statistics to extrapolate ominous trends from what appear to be random year-to-year fluctuations in infant death rates (and a downward-sloping overall trend, to boot).

One might also wonder what effect—if any—Hurricane Katrina had on the 2005 mortality rate. That is, if one weren’t Eckholm, who doesn’t even mention the possibility of a relationship with the largest natural disaster in Mississippi history.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Mazal tov!

Saturday marked the long overdue wedding of my good friends Alfie and Annie in a lovely ceremony at The Chimes in midtown Memphis, followed by a very nice catered reception next door, where I got to bust out my stunning old-school dance moves to classic tracks like “Baby Got Back” along with some vague efforts on my behalf at ballroom dancing, and a post-reception gathering at Celtic Crossing. Congratulations to the happy couple, pictured below in much less formal attire:

Alfie and Annie stylin'

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Binge and purge

TigerHawk talks eminent sense about the legal drinking age:

On the drinking age, I think the right answer is now and always will be obvious. Individuals should be able to purchase alcohol on their own account starting at age 19, which would liberalize the current law considerably and still allow for the policing of unsupervised drinking among high school students. In addition, teenagers older than, say, 15 should be able to drink in the company of their parents, either in private or in restaurants. Responsible drinking has to be taught. One can’t help but believe that the current generation binges because it has had no opportunity to learn that responsibility from the people in the best position to teach it to them.

The only thing I might add is that I’d prefer some sort of policy that got colleges and universities out of policing student prohibition. Lowering the drinking age to 19 would continue the temptation for “student life” officials to (largely ineffectually) regulate all alcohol consumption by students, regardless of age. I’m not sure what the exact solution to that conundrum is, but I am certain that I’d rather have freshmen drinking openly than “out of sight” in the basement of some frat house or off-campus apartment.

Ugh, planes again

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend trip to Memphis for the wedding of Frequent Commenter Alfie and his lovely fiancée Annie. I get back Sunday night, then Monday morning I leave for yet another job interview. No rest for the wicked… or at least the aloof.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007


I wouldn’t be up now if I hadn’t forgotten I had things sitting in the washing machine for several hours.

Well, actually I probably would still be up given my chronic insomnia, but at least I wouldn’t be waiting for my laundry to get finished.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Flying headscratcher

I’m trying to figure out how to get a flight to a smaller airport with very little mainline jet service (and of course none that’s non-stop from St. Louis, as that would be too easy) in the next week or two. The ideal combination of flights for me is to go on Northwest and come back on either Continental or Delta; the most direct feasible return routing is on Continental. Despite the alleged codesharing alliance among these airlines, the following situation obtains:

  • Northwest will sell me* a ticket that goes on NW, Continental, or Delta, but only returns on NW or Continental, and at least one flight has to be on NW.
  • Continental will only sell me a ticket that is all on Continental, or a bizarre routing that backtracks from Cleveland to Detroit via Northwest.
  • Delta will sell me a ticket that leaves on NW or Delta and returns on NW or Delta; at least one flight has to be on NW.

All will sell me a roundtrip on their airline for about the same price, and Northwest and Delta will sell me a roundtrip using both for that price too, but the roundtrip involving Continental—which works best for my schedule—is $300 more, unless I do it all on Continental. Flying on Continental means all four flights are on regional jets, which admittedly is more fun for me on Continental’s ERJ-135/145s than on Northwest and Delta’s CRJs—but I’d rather be on a mainline jet than either.

On the other hand, I suppose life could be worse and I could not have these sorts of problems.

* I have to pay for the ticket, but I will get reimbursed—in theory at least.

Virginia Tech

I really don’t know what to say about the tragic events today at Virginia Tech, but Dean Dad’s reaction tracks with mine, by and large.

College campuses are incredibly vulnerable places. They’re open, they’re highly populated, they’re lightly patrolled (if at all), and they’re full of stressed-out people. In a way, they’re almost naive, if it’s possible for institutions to be naive. As I’ve mentioned before, they really aren’t built for easy lockdown modes. Most were built before that term was even coined.

Those awful ‘what if’s’ are always in the back of my mind. One of my committees is the group that tries students accused of plagiarism or other cheating. We set up the room so that we’re closer to the door than the student is, just in case. One of my colleagues has suggested to me, gently but clearly, that it might be a good idea to hide the pictures of my kids that I keep in my office – you just never know. (I haven’t, but I haven’t been able to shake the thought, either.)

Such situations are not unheard of in higher education—the infamous sniper in the tower at UT-Austin from years ago comes immediately to mind—but given the vulnerability of campuses and their tendency to attract some really creepy people (a few people I encountered in my life as a student spring immediately to mind; I haven’t seen it so much as a faculty member), it’s almost surprising stuff like this is as infrequent as it is.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Chicago, Chicago

I just got back from the Midwest conference in Chicago; Frequent Commenter Scott and I shared a rather palatial room on the nosebleed level—at a price significantly below the conference rate to boot. I can say that all three panels I participated in were intellectually stimulating and full of intriguing papers, the choices of food and beverage destinations by FCS were all excellent, it was great to catch up with a few Signifying Nothing groupies readers in the discipline, and Southwest Airlines did its usual quality job of shuffling my derrière from point A to point B with minimal fuss. Given my time constraints on Wednesday, I had to abandon my earlier plan of riding the train, although the CTA did get a healthy chunk of change from me while in Chicago (to/from Midway and on our gastronomic touring).

Now I just need to track down a local source for 312 and Honker’s Ale.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


Interesting paper alert

This working paper by Holger Lutz Kern and Jens Hainmueller just crossed the POLMETH wire and may be of some substantive interest—particularly for those who are debating the use of state-subsidized broadcasting into authoritarian states, like the U.S. broadcasts into Cuba and many of the BBC World Service’s foreign-language services:

A common claim in the democratization literature is that foreign free media undermine authoritarian rule. No reliable micro-level evidence on this topic exists, however, since independent survey research is rarely possible in authoritarian regimes and self-selection into media consumption complicates causal inferences. In this case study of the impact of West German television on political attitudes in communist East Germany, we address these problems by making use of previously secret survey data and a natural experiment. While most East Germans were able to tune in to West German broadcasts, some of them were cut off from West German television due to East Germany’s topography. We exploit this plausibly exogenous variation to estimate the impact of West German television on East Germans’ political attitudes using LARF instrumental variable estimators. Contrary to conventional wisdom, East Germans who watched West German television were more satisfied with life in East Germany and the communist regime. To explain this surprising finding, we demonstrate that West German television’s role in transmitting political information not available in the state-controlled communist media was insignificant and that television primarily served as a means of entertainment for East Germans. Archival material on the reaction of the East German regime to the availability of West German television corroborates our argument.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be a libertarian

So, I have this job interview… and the university in question decides to use a car service instead of having a department member shuttle me to/from the airport, which a perfectly rational decision on their part—and probably better for candidates’ sanity anyway, but nobody asked us what we think of being interrogated by a search committee member just minutes after enduring airline hell. But I digress.

Anyway, I arrive at the airport and get in the guy’s van, and I get to spend an hour listening to the guy’s treatise on the global monetary system (his issues with debasing the currency, fiat money, the whole nine yards). He drops me off and I go on my merry way. Same guy picks me up after the interview and, in the course of the airport journey, asks me if I’ve thought about 2008 and I try to steer the conversation to about the driest, most academic discussion of front-loading known to man. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work—and at this point, the driver tells me in no uncertain terms that the only candidate for 2008 who’s a “real American” is Ron Paul (his distinct lack of popularity—like the low prices of gold and silver the previous day—being attributed to The Man keeping him down).

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Etch is out

Debian 4.0 is now released. There are definitely a couple of ugly reportbug issues that made it into the release (primarily in the Unicode and memory use areas), but I don’t know whether or not a fix for those will be allowed in to the first point release.

But it is a time for rejoicing nonetheless, especially when paired with the election of our new Debian Project Leader for the next year, Sam Hocevar, in a pretty darn close election—Sam was preferred to Steve McIntyre, my top preference, by just eight net ballots.

The president of APSA talks blogs

Robert Axelrod has belatedly discovered the blogs, and he’s missing the forest for the trees. Quoth our esteemed leader:

In discussions with APSA colleagues, I have learned that a number of private web sites and blogs have emerged recently that are widely used by political scientists, particularly graduate students, to discuss the academic job market. In their best form, such sites afford a new vehicle for the “grapevine” discussions that have always accompanied the academic labor market. However, I have also been shown anonymous postings on these lists making racist, sexist, and homophobic attacks on political scientists. The context makes clear this language is coming from within our discipline. There is little we can do to respond directly to these anonymous postings. We can speak out however. I urge you to stay attentive in the departmental communities you lead to gauge whether there are incivilities in the exchanges among your students and colleagues. Where you hear evidence of them, directly or indirectly, confront this behavior in whatever ways you consider appropriate and best. I truly believe these events are infrequent and at the fringe of our community. But the integrity of our professional exchange is the bedrock of our community. I hope you’ll agree with me it is our obligation as leaders of the discipline to sustain the respectful and civil treatment of colleagues.

Since Bob’s late to the party, I’ve had my response prepared for nine months:

In terms of wider disciplinary conversations in the blogosphere, I think the truth of the matter is that there are some serious grievances about the discipline among political scientists that simply will not be aired in non-anonymous public fora. That inevitably means there is going to be some nastiness, as those with private agendas use anonymity to attack others. I am unsure what the proper balance is, but I do know that the same themes raised at the American/Comparative jobs blog are the subject of whispers in the hallways of conferences and other gatherings.

The bottom line, I think is that if we are going to have more “openness” and “reform” in political science, we are going to need some brutal honesty about issues beyond methodological pluralism in the APSR—things like overproduction of PhDs, hiring practices (including the fundamentally broken hiring process), the dominance of doctoral-granting departments on the boards of the APSA, journals, and regional associations, differing standards for what is considered “quality” scholarship among subfields, and more. And I think that brutal honesty is going to need people who are willing to speak up about these issues non-anonymously without the protection (not from outside interference as originally intended, but from our own colleagues) of tenure. Personally, I don’t see that happening any time soon, but I would love to see someone prove me wrong.

Except for the overuse of scare quotes, I think it still basically applies today. Anyone who believes that “racist, sexist, and homophobic” attacks are solely motivated by a lack of civility—rather than being based on (quite likely falsely-held) beliefs about widespread non-merit-based decision-making in hiring, tenure, and promotion at most institutions and within APSA itself—is quite simply dangerously naïve.

Friday, 6 April 2007

If I were you, I'd stick with condoms

Somehow I doubt New York City will be seeing long lines of uncircumcised adult males volunteering to get their foreskins lopped off, even if it does substantially reduce their risk of getting AIDS from unprotected sex.

Update: As Jane Galt notes (thanks for the link!), “In all this, the obvious point was missed: is anyone really going to take the city up on this?” Not bloody likely—with an emphasis on the word “bloody.”

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

But she ain't messin' with no broke Beatle

Heather Mills denies she’s a “gold digger.”

I have real no post, I just wanted to channel Kanye West. Or make fun of Ringo Starr.

Benchmarking schenchmarking

According to this table, the median 2006-07 academic year salary for a first-year political scientist was $50,207. I’m told the same researchers also found that every six-year-old girl in America got a pony at Christmas, just like she asked for.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Alanis does Fergie

Via Julian Sanchez: Alanis Morrissette remakes “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas, radically improving the song in the process (not that that would be hard).

Update: Dan Drezner dissents.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Public service announcement

Lisa Edelstein (Dr. Lisa Cuddy on House) is not Paget Brewster (Jessica on Andy Richter Controls The Universe).

That is all.

Reviewers wanted

Dan Drezner seeks eyeballs for a chapter on blogging in the upcoming “APSA Guide to Publication,” which is worthy of your input for reasons beyond the fact that my name appears sandwiched between those of Leslie Johns and Jacob T. Levy in the acknowledgments.

The wiki isn't dead, it's not even past

While the mystery table dude(tte) sorts out his/her issues with Blogger, you can get to the political science jobs wiki here. And, no, I’m not the table dude(tte), in case you were wondering.

I can’t imagine why my big news hasn’t appeared yet… but maybe you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internets on April 1.