Sunday, 30 March 2008

The paper

It is done. Or at least as done as it’s going to get before the conference. Now I can work on overheads or something on Tuesday before the big trip.

Charts and graphs

A sneak preview of part of my Midwest paper, for all zero of you waiting for it at the edge of your seat:

Suffice it to say I’ve spent more of this morning trying to figure out how to get R’s maptools package to merge the raw data with the cartography than I did on the actual data analysis, which was actually quite easy, even though the MCMC took forever.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Plus ça change

By the time I start my new job in the fall, it appears that the department chair, college dean, and (now) provost will all be different people than those I interviewed with a month ago.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

In November, party identification will win

I can’t say I’m likely to get all that excited by Gallup’s numbers that allegedly show Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s supporters will engage in mass defections to John McCain in November if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the Democratic nomination. For starters, it reeks of the same whininess we were hearing back in ancient history (i.e. about six weeks ago) when we were told on good authority that Republicans who supported Romney/Thompson/Giuliani/Huckabee wouldn’t vote for McCain in November. A little smooth talking by the eventual nominee will get the base on board for November.

More importantly, most partisan voters are going to figure out that at some level their party’s nominee is preferable to the opposition’s candidate. For all Republicans’ complaints about McCain on issues like campaign finance reform, the Bush tax cuts, and judicial nominations, from the perspectives of the campaigners Obama and Clinton are at least as bad on those issues, if not worse, and they’re bad on many issues where Republicans agree with McCain too. For Democrats upset about Clinton’s triangulation or Obama’s lack of substance on the War in Iraq, the various spiritual advisors of those candidates, the level of armed attack Clinton was under when she visited Bosnia, or the detailed nuances of their plans to nationalize health care, again those differences pale in comparison compared to the prospect of voting for John “1000 Years” McCain. The real partisans will come home in November, once the nomination campaign sideshow is through, provided the process in the end is seen as reasonably fair.

Now, I may eat my words if one candidate somehow gets the Democratic party convention to unseat fairly-selected pledged delegates or otherwise makes an end-run around the established rules, but if that happens the Democrats will have much more serious problems in November than a bit of negative campaigning that will quickly be forgotten once the Democratic-leftist-liberal noise machine lines up behind the nominee—as much of the Republican acrimony has already moved to the wayside as most of the GOP-rightist-conservative noisemakers have gotten on board, to the point that the only real McCain complaints that show up on my RSS feed these days are coming from libertarians, centrists, and the Democratic side of the aisle.

Troester gets schooled

Nick on the unbearable lightness of office hours:

Another office hours, another students-not-showing-up-even-though-they-emailed me. I will resolve to no longer be surprised if this happens.

My modal office hours visitation score over my career is zero. The mean isn’t much higher, although I find amazing bursts of interest when I’ve passed out take-home exams or have a research paper due, particularly in my research methods classes.

That said, I am not complaining about this state of affairs (beyond the fact that it ties me to my desk at times I might otherwise choose not to be so tied), although I encourage the movement of most potential student meetings to email; as my ex-boss repeatedly points out, with appropriate Internet-shouting emphasis, WORK IS WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS.

Finding numbers to stick in font-size-adjust

While fiddling around with my style sheets this morning, I discovered this web page which will allow you to calculate the right font-size-adjust value to specify in CSS for any locally-installed font, although I think the page only works with Firefox at the moment.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

swift boat, v.t.

How exactly are Barack Obama’s problems with Jeremiah Wright a swift boating? I like Obama about as much as your average Republican-leaning academic blogger with libertarian leanings, but it’s hard to see that there’s much that’s unfair about attacking a political candidate who willingly associates himself on a weekly basis with a pastor who frequently crosses the line that separates legitimate critiques of American race relations and delusional paranoia.

James Joyner made much the same point Thursday, in reference to a YouTube video that’s been making the rounds and the basis for Sullivan’s defense of his favored candidate:

Does the video play on the fears that some whites have about angry black men? Sure. Mostly, though, it seeks to undermine Obama’s portrait of himself as mainstream. It’s more than a little unfair but that’s the nature of these mashups. It’s no different than the various ads of one candidate morphing into an unpopular politician that we’ve seen over the years. And it’s frankly much tamer than the infamous 1964 ad that implied Barry Goldwater would get us annihilated in a nuclear war or the 2000 NAACP ad featuring the daughter of James Byrd stating that “when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.” Goodness, I’m not sure it’s even as insidious as the “3 a.m.” ad that the Clinton campaign ran to such good effect last month.

All that said, if the McCain campaign wants to shit-can some guy on their payroll who shared that video on Twitter, that’s their prerogative; any campaign that can’t keep their employees on-message is doomed to controversy—ask Amanda Marcotte, or for that matter John “Two Americas But Stuck In Third Place” Edwards.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Condorcet and Borda go mainstream (kinda)

Via my Facebook friends feed, I discovered this New York Times book review by Janet Maslin of William Poundstone’s Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair. Money grafs from Maslin’s review:

Mr. Poundstone’s book asks one overriding question: “Is it possible to devise a fair way of voting, one immune to vote splitting?” The answer requires some historical context: a brief history of elections gone terribly awry.

Mr. Poundstone’s chronicle of spoilers concentrates on presidential elections that delivered the opposite outcome from the one most voters seemed to prefer. This goes from explaining how abolitionist vote-splitting in 1844 put the slave-owner James Polk in the White House to showing how a consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, helped to elect “the favored candidate of corporate America,” George W. Bush, in 2000.

Since at least 5 out of 45 presidential elections have gone to the second-most-popular candidate because of spoilers, Mr. Poundstone calculates a failure rate of more than 11 percent for our voting system. “Were the plurality vote a car or an airliner,” he writes about this traditional method, “it would be recognized for what it is — a defective consumer product, unsafe at any speed.”

Any book that earns a favorable blurb from Ken Arrow is probably worth a read.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Web fonts in Safari are funky

As mentioned below, I added a web fonts stylesheet to the blog for users of Safari 3.1 and later; however, there’s a deviation between the specification and Safari’s behavior, it seems. The spec says that you should specify a local font to use if available instead of downloading using the full font name of the local font (e.g. “DejaVu Sans Bold Oblique” or “Inconsolata Medium”), but Safari seems to only work right if you specify the family name (“DejaVu Sans” or “Inconsolata”). I think this is a bug in WebKit, and will file a bug report as soon as I get a password to do so, but the specification may be misleading here.

Update: Bug report filed.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Experiment of the day

For the bleeding-edge Safari and Opera users in the audience, I decided to add CSS3 Web Fonts support to the blog, providing a decent set of fallback fonts for readers; I’m currently using the freely-available DejaVu Sans and Inconsolata typefaces, with the stylesheet designed to only download the fonts if they are not locally-installed already. (Most Linux distributions these days at least include the DejaVu fonts; the next version of Debian will include a ttf-inconsolata package as well.)

King Willie: Ex-Parrot

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, the city’s first African-American mayor, subject of Marcus Pohlmann and Michael Kirby’s Racial Politics at the Crossroads, and the longest-serving city executive in Memphis history, will be resigning on July 31, according to the Commercial Appeal and WREG Channel 3. The reason for Herenton’s resignation is not yet clear, although the CA website indicates that ”[r]ecently a federal grand jury exploring Herenton’s ties to a city contractor has served subpoenas at the Memphis Area Transit Authority offices.”

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Wright, past wrongs, and Obama

There are, to steal John Edwards’ shopworn phrase, indeed “two Americas,” and the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright and presidential contender Barack Obama has brought that to the surface, most prominently in the latter’s speech Tuesday in which he discussed the distinction between the African-American experience and the experiences of whites in this country. I haven’t had time to read all the commentary the speech has generated, and probably won’t, but I will at least commend my OTB co-blogger James Joyner’s take as well as that of Marvin King.

The existence of this disconnect is, of course, nothing new in American politics—indeed, perhaps the oddest feature of modern American political history is that for a few years enough of the gap between the two Americas was bridged to bring the Civil Rights Movement to fruition and partial accomplishment of its goals. But as we all know, even that bridge was a fleeting one; in a small bit of serendipity, the Memphis Commercial Appeal revisited a point by which that bridge was largely washed away, the 1968 sanitation worker’s strike.

The paper’s (somewhat unsatisfactory, largely for its failure to recognize that even if white leaders in Memphis—including the CA editorial board—had seen it as a form of civil rights protest, rather than a labor action, they still would have seen it as a threat to public order) effort to address its own coverage of that strike here and here addresses the fundamental disconnect: most blacks saw the Civil Rights Movement as a means to an end, getting redress for the economic and social injustice of slavery and subordination, while whites primarily saw it (in the south) in terms of a challenge to the established political order or (outside the south) primarily focused on securing equal rights in a more classically liberal sense, such as equal standing before the law and the right to participate in the electoral process. As such, the post-Voting Rights Act movement found itself caught between a black community that didn’t think the movement had achieved enough and a white community that thought the movement had either achieved plenty—or, once the issues moved beyond abstract principles to more concrete implementation, such as integration of schools in redlining-induced de facto segregated communities across the nation, too much.

The unenviable challenge, I think, that Obama (and to a large extent, the Democratic Party he represents) faces is the need to move the debate beyond race—in other words, to diminish the importance of white-black differences—while simultaneously addressing the deep-seated, and in my mind broadly justified, demands of the black community for economic empowerment. Without diminishing the perceived racial differences—and, by extension, convincing working-class whites in the traditional Democratic coalition that economic empowerment is not a wealth transfer from them to blacks, a case that may be harder to make given that virtually any such empowerment (if in the form of government intervention) would necessitate increased federal taxation—the left has no hope of building a viable coalition that can do more than fiddle at the margins.

Update: As Megan McArdle indicates, that challenge won’t be a pretty one either, at least for those of us who don’t think the Smoot-Hawley Act was one of the high points of the Hoover administration’s response to the Great Depression:

And then he has to go and make possibly the stupidest remark in this entire campaign—or at least, Best in Class (you can't really expect him to outdo a television anchor.) "This time we need to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you will take your job, it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit."

This is jaw-droppingly, head-shakingly, soul-cringingly, "Oh my God, maw, I think my eardrum just exploded" stupid.

"Don't be afraid of the people who don't look like you—be afraid of the people who don't look like you, and have the nerve to live somewhere else." They'll sneak over the border at night, steal your job, and sell it to some wetback hooker in Juarez.

I understand the political logic that forces Barack Obama to spend a fair amount of time hating on trade. But I sort of feel--call me a starry-eyed idealist though you will--that a speech urging Americans not to hate and fear people who are different from them, should perhaps itself forgo urging Americans to hate and fear people who are different from them. You know, to set a good example for the children.

Megan might be reading in a bit more xenophobia than Obama intended, but it’s a very short bus ride these days from being a Democratic presidential contender to a Dobbsian/Paulian/Tancredian foaming-at-the-mouth zero-summer-slash-Minuteman-wannabe.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Public service announcement, potential grad student edition

Via the rumor blog, I discovered The Grad Cafe, a website aimed at potential grad students in a variety of fields. For the potential political scientists in the audience, I found this post by “realist” and a reply by “eve2008” to be particularly of interest and largely congruent with my battle-tested views on the subject. (Reality is harsh. Deal with it.)

In terms of graduate admissions, I particularly would emphasize the importance of strong training in research methods at the undergraduate level—if your BA program doesn’t require a rigorous methods course (and many top departments don’t), take it anyway or if unavailable go to another department and take their equivalent course (e.g. econometrics, stats for psych/sociology/marketing). I’d also argue that some experience writing a real research paper either in a course or as a capstone/honors thesis is important. Even with weak GREs and a less-than-stellar GPA, those two would be enough to get into an MA program where you can prove yourself “worthy” of admission to get a placeable PhD.

For the morbidly curious, I believe the tenure-track placement record for my PhD program in the last seven years or so is 2 state school BA/MA/MPA programs (both for fall 2008, one of which is me), 2 state school BA programs (fall 01 and fall 04?), and 1 private BA program (fall 06). Our MA graduate who went on to another PhD program placed in a PhD program (fall 07). Not bad for a low-ranked program, overall.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Academics, titles, Germans, and Nazis (oh my!)

Tyler Cowen notes a recently-changed German law (previously shared over on the right and also noted by James Joyner) that made it illegal for anyone with a doctorate from a non-E.U. university to call themselves a doctor.

As someone who’s discussed academic titles excessively in the past, I found this turn of events somewhat interesting, but I found this part of the original WaPo piece more noteworthy:

Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use “Dr.” as a courtesy title.

The law was modified in 2001 to extend the privilege to degree-holders from any country in the European Union. But docs from the United States and anywhere else outside Europe are still forbidden to use the honorific. Violators can face a year behind bars. ...

The German doctor rule has been in effect since the 1930s, but it has been only sporadically enforced in recent years.

That changed last fall, when an anonymous tipster filed a complaint with federal prosecutors against seven Americans at the prestigious Max Planck Society, which operates 80 scientific research institutes across Germany. Federal authorities forwarded the complaint to prosecutors and police in at least three states, who decided to take action.

Shouldn’t all of the laws passed under Nazi rule have been repealed anyway, either during the postwar occupation or the subsequent transfer of sovereignty to the Federal Republic in the west? One wonders what other oddities emanating from Hitler’s Reichstag are lurking in modern German law.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

On the potential of becoming a public figure

One of the more appealing aspects of the new job is that it’s an opportunity to make an impact at an institution that serves a community that historically has not been served well by higher education. The community in turn seems more enthusiastic than most about the university, in spite of a rather marked “town-gown” gap in terms of the demographics of the university faculty versus the student body and wider community.

The downside of this arrangement for those not comfortable in the limelight—a category I firmly count myself within—is that nary a happening at TAMIU fails to make the newspaper. Case in point: a goodly share of my future department is quoted in a single article in yesterday’s Laredo Morning Times, a fate I am likely to share in the future.

The potential silver lining: I doubt I’ll ever become as ubiquitous as Frequent Commenter Scott. Being a sharp-dressed, vaguely handsome tall guy trumps everything I can bring to the table with the media.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Policy schmolicy

I’ve been duped drafted into teaching a graduate public policy seminar in the fall. Would any of my fair readers have suggestions on textbooks? I’ve already ordered exam copies of the Mungowitz’s tome from Norton and CQ’s two possibilities; anything else I should seriously consider?

Update: An email correspondent recommended Public Policymaking: An Introduction by James Anderson and Theories of the Policy Process by Paul Sabatier.

Run-off in the first

The GOP primary in the first congressional district election to replace Bobby Jindal in the House is headed to a run-off election next month, as southshore candidate Steve Scalise came up short of the absolute majority he needed to avoid facing the second-place candidate on April 5th. This also means that the general election will take place on May 3rd, where he will face Gilda Reed and two independents in Louisiana's first plurality-winner election to Congress in 30 years.

At least in my precinct, the turnout in the special primary election was abysmal; we had 27 voters (11 Democrats and independents, 16 Republicans) out of 512 registered voters in 14 hours. On the upside, at least we didn’t have to turn anyone away or fiddle with provisional ballots this time around.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Democratic crime and punishment

Let me get this straight: the Democrats penalized Michigan and Florida for holding their primaries early, because those states wanted to have disproportionate influence on the nomination process. And the proposed remedy for the situation is that Michigan and Florida may get “do-overs” and thus have disproportionate influence over the nomination process—likely even more influence than they would have had their delegations been counted in the first place (or even if the DNC had been as sensible as the Republicans and just docked them 50% of their delegates, which would have knocked down all the silly Bush v. Gore II arguments that got us to this point).

Is there a planet in the universe where this makes any sense whatsoever? Your Democratic National Committee—making the rules up as they go along.

La Migra

As you might appreciate, the immigration issue is a big deal in the environs of my future employer and residence. Today’s Laredo Morning Times carries three articles on the issue: one addressing unfunded mandates associated with law enforcement detention of illegals, and another features Washington kabuki theater on immigration reform, but I think the most interesting of the three is a report on a lecture by Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations on the conflation of immigration, terrorism, and border security.

Vote for this

The race to replace Bobby Jindal in Congress has largely played out off of my radar screen, but the Times-Picayune reviews the recent round of mudslinging from the contenders. For some reason, I’ve only gotten mailings from the Scalise campaign; I guess the other Republicans are working from an older GOP registered voter list—I changed affiliations from Libertarian to Republican in January so I could vote in the February presidential preference primary, when I thought the GOP race would be more competitive than the Democratic one, and upcoming special elections.

In terms of my personal self-interest, I’m hoping that no candidate gets 50% of the vote so I’ll have another election in May—I’ll miss working on the April election date due to being at the Midwest, and if there’s no runoff the general election will be held then.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Rememberance of things past

I forgot to mention that I appeared on OTB Radio yesterday, so if you have an hour to kill you can hear me, James Joyner, Dave Schuler, and Steve Verdon pontificate on Hillary, Obama, McCain, the economy, Venezuela/Colombia/Ecuador, and a billion other topics.

I try, try, try to escape from the market, but they reel me back in

In addition to accepting a job this week, I also found out that the job I internally ranked* somewhere around #2 or #3 on my initial list way back around APSA (before, I hasten to add, the TAMIU job was even a glimmer in someone’s eye) wasn’t filled and will be re-advertised next year.

* Incidentally, one of these days when I’m really bored I may try to quantify my “gut-feeling-based” scoring method for ranking jobs. I think I have a pretty good idea of the factors that are involved; finding the right the signs and weights will be the big challenges, but I have 3–4 years’ spreadsheets’ worth of data (probably around 200–300 jobs) to play with now.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

MUTCD proposed amendments

The Federal Highway Administration is taking comments on proposed amendments to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the book that dictates how federal, state, territorial, and local officials sign and mark streets and highways in the United States. The batch of proposed changes is pretty lengthy this time around, including new standards on consistent signing for toll roads, new recommendations on signs and pavement markings for roundabouts, and quite a few more pictographic signs replacing text legends borrowed from Canada and Mexico, including graphical “no passing,” “falling rocks,” and “no straight through” signs.

Other changes of interest, to me at least:

  • States and territories that currently use sequential exit numbers will be required to adopt distance-based (“reference location”) exit numbering.
  • New traffic signal standards for “protected/permissive” left turn signals that will apply to new installations only, including provisions for flashing red and yellow arrows.
  • Adoption of special warning signs for motorcyclists and a symbol for a hypothetical nationally-interoperable electronic toll collection system.
  • New “hybrid” signal types for usually-dark situations such as pedestrian crossings and emergency vehicle crossings.
  • A requirement that all speed limit drops of 10 mph or more include a new-style “speed limit ahead” sign (this last one is similar to a suggestion I made in the last round of changes).

Monday, 3 March 2008

Run for the border

I’m very happy to announce to all of my readers that I’ve accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas beginning in the fall. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to teach and conduct research at one of America’s newest universities in a dynamic, rapidly-changing community.

Perhaps most happily, I won’t be getting there until well after all the politicians leave town!

Watch this space

The “Chris Lawrence needs a job” campaign will be making an important announcement regarding the future of the campaign sometime Monday, likely in the early afternoon, here at Signifying Nothing.

I’m Chris Lawrence and I approve this message.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Gotta love Network Solutions

The reason you can’t read this (yet): Network Solutions won’t let me renew my domain name until I prove to their satisfaction that I am who I say I am, and I can’t transfer my domain to any of the registrars who believe I am who I say I am because I need to prove I’m me to NSI first.