Wednesday, 30 January 2008

QotD, McCain Derangement Syndrome Edition

My blog-colleague James Joyner on the results of the Florida primary:

Conservatives ranging from Michelle Malkin to Robert Stacy McCain can’t believe [John McCain] beat Romney. Republican primary voters, apparently, figure an 82% conservative who sometimes takes positions seemingly designed to anger the base is preferable to a guy who was a Massachusetts liberal a few months ago but now says exactly what conservatives want to hear. Go figure.


Smell the turnout

I’m probably infringing on some other blogger’s schtick by posting this, but I thought it was worthwhile: 0.3% of Louisiana’s registered voters have voted early. You can totally sense the enthusiasm. In addition to making a stab at explaining how the votes correspond to delegates (to the extent delegates qua delegates matter in this process), there are also some handy statistics:

East Baton Rouge Parish, which has a controversial election to approve or reject a third riverboat casino, led the early voting with 1,880 votes cast, the only parish to register a four-digit total. St. Tammany was a distant second with 679 votes cast, and Natchitoches Parish was third with 614, four ahead of Orleans Parish. Jefferson Parish was fifth with 572 votes cast.

By the close of business Tuesday, 6,808 white voters had cast ballots, 2,299 African-Americans voted and 199 from other ethnic groups voted. A total of 5,388 of the early voters were Democrats, 3,497 were Republicans and 421 were independents or nonaffiliated voters who cast ballots for the local races.

I’ll be packing some additional reading material to bring with me to the polls on the 9th; War and Peace alone may not suffice.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Back of the envelope

As noted by me at OTB, one question going forward for Democrats is whether or not Barack Obama’s voter breakdown by race carries into the next primary states. Here’s some quick-and-dirty math for Florida’s zero-delegates-except-if-Hillary-says-so primary on Tuesday.

Assuming Obama gets 80% of the black vote and 25% of the non-black vote, and 24% of Florida Democratic primary voters are black (assuming no differential turnout, based on Florida’s registration statistics from December 31st), Obama should get around 38% of the Florida vote. That’s well ahead of how Obama has been polling in Florida, so I’m not at all convinced that the extrapolation works well even though Obama’s average has been tracking upwards slightly in the state and one would expect that Florida whites would be less racially conservative than South Carolina whites. I think the safe money is that Clinton will still win the state and its 0 delegates comfortably, but I wouldn’t be overly surprised with a result like 40–35 or so (with both candidates receiving about equal numbers of those 0 delegates at stake, given the Democrats’ high threshold-PR rules).

Old wine in new bottles

Josh Patashnik of The New Republic discovers that Republicans and Democrats have divergent beliefs about the state of the national economy (þ: JustOneMinute). Clearly he doesn’t have a subscription to the American Journal of Political Science, where my dissertation chair and two co-authors showed this to be the case seven years ago based on 1990s data, well before George W. Bush set up camp in the Oval Office (see also Duch and Palmer 2001, which demonstrates the same effect among Hungarian voters).

The moral of the story: those who do not read the political science literature are condemned to reinvent it.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Bizarro campaign logic land

So, it’s not OK for Democrats to boycott debates held on Fox News, but it’s just dandy for all the Republican candidates except John McCain to refuse to meet with the New York Times editorial board. Apparently petulance is only petty when one is a Democrat.

Math works

I had fun today in class with the following formula: 0.98/√N.

A Textbook Study

IHE reports on a new study appearing in the January 2008 edition of PS which “examine[s] to what extent African Americans are integrated into the study of American politics.” Or at least American government textbooks, the modal example of which is a pile of flaming crap that has more to do with high school civics than political science.

Funnily enough, the report says that Landy and Milkis’ American Government text (which they single out for praise) was not published in a second edition, yet I just got mailbombed† by Cambridge* with two adoption review copies of the second edition. A brief review: personally I find the American political development approach Landy and Milkis employ to be uninteresting in its own right, and I’m exceedingly unlikely to adopt a textbook that spends nearly as many pages on the bureaucracy as it does on mass political behavior (per the authors, “public opinion and political participation”). That said, a skim suggests the book is somewhat better than the median, with the inclusion of a chapter on political economy being something of an interesting novelty and ditching the endless parade of Supreme Court cases that characterizes most treatments of civil rights and liberties in intro texts being a step in the right direction, not to mention its effort to at least allude to the fact that Woodrow Wilson was a white-sheet-wearing sleazebag (even if it weasels out of giving him the “credit” for bringing Jim Crow to the federal government and D.C.). So if APD is your thing, or you like to tell stories in your intro classes, you could do far worse.

I’ll be sticking with Kernell and Jacobson myownself, though; yes, you have to get the kids over the hump of understanding collective action problems early on, but really any college student should be able to handle that—if not, they’re not going to understand the material on interest groups or political parties either (or, for that matter, the bureaucracy and the judiciary—see regulatory capture and agency loss) unless it’s thoroughly dumbed-down.

† Not literally, but Cambridge seems to send me 2–3 unsolicited copies of everything they publish, usually arriving on the same day.
* Incidentally, Cambridge publishes both PS and the Landy and Milkis text. Left hands and right hands and all that.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Chinese food logic

Why would you open a new Chinese restaurant about six blocks from another Chinese restaurant when there isn’t a single Chinese restaurant for two (driving) miles around my apartment? Would it kill someone in this city to open a Chinese place near Whole Foods?

Get in touch with your inner preclear

Via Matthew Stinson on Twitter, Jerry O’Connell channels Tom Cruise:

Now we just need a Katie Holmes/GMA parody to complete the set.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It's Super Duper Chrisday at OTB

What I said

Timothy Burke articulates in a far better way an idea that Frequent Commenter Scott and I discussed (probably very loudly in a way so as to maximally annoy other patrons) at a bar in Chicago sometime last year, although my pitch was more for Mythbusters gone social science. Then again, maybe just using straight Mythbusters is a better idea; I doubt very many people would tune in to watch Kari Byron analyze data in SPSS.

Your gratuitous YouTube links of the day

The ads for It’s All Good Auto Sales in southwest Memphis. There’s just something so deeply wrong about these ads, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Inspired by the Mungowitz, who has uncovered the Mo Money Taxes ads, which spring from a similar vein.

Bleep this

Just for the record, Mass Effect is not Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas. Besides which, after playing ME for over a day (including seven hours wandering aimlessly in the Mako and three hours riding up and down elevators) to get to the minute of dirty bits, you deserve to be rewarded with something for your perseverance… but there’s nothing there you didn’t see on NYPD Blue in 1995, at least in the sexual realm.

In other words, being a kickass space marine is pretty darn cool, but you’re not exactly getting Hot Coffee (warning: Wikipedia article with possibly NSFW image) at the end.

Edited to slightly rephrase my thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Thoughts on MLK, Barack Obama, and Mike Huckabee

… are posted over at Outside the Beltway. They’ve been there for a day or so, I just didn’t get around to letting y’all know about them until now.

Now back to laundry.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

What does this say about the CFL?

Win the Grey Cup (the equivalent to the Super Bowl north of the border) and weeks later you’re willingly taking a job as second-banana on what is unquestionably the worst football team in the Southeastern Conference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Kent Austin is coming to Oxford (and, on paper, the Rebels should be better than they were last year), and you couldn’t pay me enough to live anywhere in Saskatchewan, but damn.

Monday, 14 January 2008

ABDs and VAPs of the world, unite!

Michael Bower has an op-ed at Inside Higher Ed about the role of disciplinary associations in the job-search process that’s worth posting to one’s office door, even though it’s about history rather than political science. Make the appropriate substitutions in the quote below and it applies equally, if not more so, to our discipline:

As a national organization and the most powerful entity in the historical job market, the AHA has done surprisingly little to help the newest members of their profession. On the whole, historians pride themselves on their concern for social justice. In 2005, for example, the Organization of American Historians uprooted its annual conference and moved it to another city in a show of solidarity with hotel workers. When it comes to the plight of the discipline’s own working class, the unemployed job seeker, this compassion and concern is absent. In its place is an annual report from the AHA talking about how good it is for some. For others, there isn’t much the AHA can do. I find this lack of action, especially when compared to what is normally shown for the less fortunate, disheartening.

While the AHA can do nothing to overcome the dearth of tenure-track positions (which is a reality that deans, trustees, and legislators control), the association has a great deal of control over two things: job market statistics and the interview process. These areas, which some might say are of secondary concern, have made the job search a very inhospitable place. For one, the association could conduct a statistically sound study of the job market based on an actual survey of departments and job seekers. Drawing attention to the total number of jobs and the number of Ph.D.’s produced in the past year overlooks the fact that visiting faculty and independent scholars are also on the market. A more thorough census would provide better information to AHA members and possibly even a snapshot of many other employment concerns, including how the positions stack up in terms of pay, tenure-track status, and other key factors.

More importantly, the organization could do a number of things to reform the poorly designed hiring process that leaves applicants floating in a limbo of uncertainty throughout much of November and December [for political science, since we don’t even have a real hiring event: add September, October, January, February, March, April, and May – ed]. The lack of communication between search committees and job seekers is so common that it is now taken for granted along with death and taxes. Job applicants no longer expect any professional courtesy. While this results in a good bit of anxiety for anyone on the market, it can also lead to undue financial hardships that could easily be avoided. As a former editor of the H-Grad listserv and one currently searching for a tenure-track position, I can safely say that these concerns are pressing on the mind of most applicants.

The recommendations:

1. Take a more accurate census of the job-seeking population annually.

2. Make the Job Register service a privilege that has to be earned. The AHA has a good deal of influence on the job market but has yet to utilize it in any significant way. Since most tenure-track positions are advertised in the AHA Perspectives and interviews are conducted at the AHA annual meeting, the AHA should mandate certain conditions that must be met before interviewing and advertising space is sold. If those conditions are not met, the AHA should deny departments the right to use their facilities and their ad space, thus adding substantial cost to the interviewing institutions. ...

3. Require that search committees inform applicants of their interview status via e-mail 30 days before the annual meeting. [This would require a real hiring event in political science to be effective in the first place. – ed]

4. Establish a general listserv for search committees and job seekers. Search committees are notorious for their lack of communications. Job seekers have pooled their resources into a number of academic career wikis, but these can be misused and are dependent on the truthfulness of the poster. The AHA can alleviate this uncertainty by creating a listserv and mandating that those who use the Job Register would agree to notify the AHA by e-mail at important phases of the job search process. Which steps those are would be open for negotiation, but everyone, committees and candidates alike, would know what those benchmarks are ahead of time. The AHA, and this is the critical step, would aggregate these notifications and send them out via a daily listserv to all job applicants who choose to subscribe. Under this system, for example, all who applied for the position in Pre-Modern China at Boise Valley State could know that the search committee has made AHA invitations, has made invitations for on-campus interviews, or that Dr. Damon Berryhill had accepted the position. Job applicants, who usually have no idea how the searches are progressing, would be more informed when fielding other offers and would no longer need to contact each institution directly for updates. Participation would also be in the hiring institution’s best interests, as it would reduce the need to communicate one on one with job candidates (a very time consuming task for search committee members) but still create a much more open system of communication for job seekers.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Delurkez-vous, maintenant

Amber points out that it is “National Delurking Week,” although I can’t find any official website designating this week as such.

Nonetheless, if you do read Signifying Nothing (if only for the comments), it’s time for you to post in the comments and come out of the closet or other badly-lit room where you read this fine blog.

Virtual office hours

On the plane back to New Orleans yesterday, I saw this article in USA Today about professors using tools like AIM and Skype to provide “virtual office hours” for students.

I’ve toyed with doing that myself, but I worry about the perils of becoming too available—I already tend to respond to student emails at strange hours of the day, and I wouldn’t really want to advertise my weird working hours for student chat sessions. I suppose the compromise would be to set up separate Skype and AIM accounts that I just use for office hours and which I only use on my office computer, much as I’ve set up a separate GMail account with a more “professional” address and a separate professional website; now’s the time to do it while I’m still finishing up syllabi.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Kabuki politics, New Hampshire style

For someone who fundamentally believes that political campaigns are by-and-large sideshows that have little real effect on voter preferences, I am surprisingly transfixed by the last week of the campaign. Then again, that may be due to my week of broadband withdrawal at Dad’s, where I replaced my normal web surfing habits with channel-flipping between MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. Maybe a return to broadband will restore my corrosive cynicism about the democratic process.

Related: the latest Toast-O-Meter™ update from Steven Taylor.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Ho hum

Vacation (of a sort) continues. I flipped between the NFL playoffs, some Ashley Judd movie that was on CBS, and the ABC/Facebook debates some last night, and probably paid more attention to the Republicans than the Democrats—I wish I could say it was because I changed my registration to Republican before I left, although that is true, but really it had more to do with my exceedingly low tolerance for listening to Hillary Clinton (there’s your likability problem) and my much higher tolerance for Ashley Judd and John Madden. The competitiveness of the Jaguars-Steelers game probably was a factor as well.

Much is being said about the Obama boomlet and the gushing reaction he has received from across the political spectrum; the most notable to me was that originating from Joe Scarborough, a guy from a different ideological planet than Obama. Does Obama pull away Republicans from Huckabee in a general election matchup? Like James Joyner, I’m skeptical—after all, I’ve read The American Voter and 47 subsequent years’ worth of political science research that says that partisanship is fairly sticky and it’s the primary determinant of vote choice—but elections are won at the margins, not based on the behavior of the bulk of voters. Obama would also be more likely to arouse opposition from Republicans in Congress when he tacks too far to the left; the behavior of the GOP with a Republican in the White House who’s significantly more fiscally conservative than Mike Huckabee suggests that Reagan’s 11th Commandment is more valued by the bulk of the congressional GOP than fiscal sanity. (I’d probably vote for Obama over Huckabee… but then again I voted for John Kerry in 2004, so I’m probably not representative of the typical Republican.)

Interestingly enough, both Alex Tabarrok and Greg Mankiw appear to give the “most economically literate” endorsement from the Democratic debate to Obama. Then again, on any stage containing John Edwards, the threshold for economic literacy is pretty damn low.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Hooray for Toast

Steven Taylor has brought back the always-popular Toast-O-Meter for the 2008 campaign. The semi-official motto: “If Sabato can use a crystal ball, why can’t I use a toaster?”

Hey, it beats Hillary Clinton’s latest focus-group-approved tag line, “Ready for Change”—a description that certainly applies to all 71% of the Iowa caucus-goers who didn’t vote for her.

Get digital: a Signifying Nothing PSA

If you rely on an old-school antenna to get your television fix like a surprising 15% of my fellow Americans—or me during the two weeks it took Cox to get their crap together this summer when I moved to New Orleans—it’s time to get your digital television converter box coupons from the government. While you wait for your coupons and for the boxes to show up at your favorite retailers, use this website to figure out how to get all your free-to-air digital TV with an antenna. Even if you use cable or satellite, I’d consider getting one of the boxes just to have for when your cable or satellite service goes out during your favorite sporting event or other TV show.

Of course, if you want high-definition television (or at least the full benefits thereof, since the coupon boxes will only give you downscaled HDTV at best), you’ll need to just junk the old TV and get a new one.