Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Obama paradox

Sully on Obama’s conversion to speaking truth to power douchebags:

It’s extremely depressing that the first major national black politician who takes on the victimology of Sharpton and Jackson is greeted by the right with the kind of cynicism you see at Malkin or the Corner or Reynolds. It reveals, I think, the deeper truth: the Republican right only wants a black Republican to do this. They are not as interested in getting beyond the racial question, in changing the hopes and dreams of black America, as they are in exploiting it for partisan advantage. Their response to the first major black candidate for president tackling the old racial politics? “We don’t believe him.”

To my mind, the “cynicism” is warranted (and, by the way, it’s a cheap shot to lump Glenn Reynolds—who has spoken very positively of other black Democrats, like Harold Ford—in with the Corner crowd and the odious Michelle Malkin) because, fundamentally, the question is which Obama is genuine. He’s spent two decades in Jeremiah Wright’s pews, and there are two plausible interpretations of that: he sat there all that time thinking “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit” while Wright preached his nonsense about CIA conspiracies to infect blacks with AIDS and spread crack in the inner cities and was being politically expedient in using that as a platform for reaching out to a black community skeptical of his African-American bona fides as a half-white, half-black-but-not-black-American politician, or he’s being politically expedient now reaching out to whites and Hispanics who are rather more troubled by Wright’s bullshit (and the related bullshit spread by Sharpton and Jackson) than he genuinely is. Neither interpretation squares well with the Sullivanesque interpretation of Obama as the Great Black Hope who will unite all the races in the quest for the one ring to rule them all, or at least a quick exit from Iraq or something.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Obama is a bad person or isn’t telling the truth now; hell, even if he is a liar on this one issue he’s still an order of magnitude more genuine a person than Hillary Clinton, who skillfully combines all of her husband’s artistry for compulsive dishonesty with none of the used-car-salesman charm that made it at least vaguely palatable. But it’s somewhat harder to square Obama the presidential candidate with Obama the inner-city politician than it is to square, say, Ford, who never had to pander as much to the black establishment (in large part because of his father’s coattails) before becoming a DLC-style centrist in Washington.

Update: Timothy Sandefur makes largely the same points, but far more eloquently (particularly with 100% fewer uses of the word “bullshit”), while Johnathan Pierce at Samizdata critiques another part of Sullivan’s argument.

The long arm of Barack Obama

Current MS-1 resident Marvin King and I have been taking note of the surprisingly successful campaign of Prentiss county chancery court clerk Travis Childers, running as a Democrat, against Southaven mayor Greg Davis; the surprise is that this has been a reliably Republican district since 1994, and likely would have turned to the GOP a decade earlier if not for Jamie Whitten’s heroic efforts to get federal largess directed to northern Mississippi.

Now that Childers has placed first in the first round of the contest, it appears the gloves have come off with GOP ads linking Childers to two recent winners of the not-very-coveted National Journal “most liberal senator” award, John F. Kerry and Barack Obama. Childers is now trying to distance himself from the national Democratic party and Barack Obama in particular, but it’s questionable how effective that tactic will be over the course of the campaign. Childers also has to contend with the real likelihood that he will win the special election amid low turnout, only to be turfed out in six months when the presidential contest will bring out more of those GOP-leaning voters and Davis will have a big stack of roll-call votes showing Childers having an 80%+ agreement in his voting record with Nancy Pelosi; I can almost imagine the ads now.

Obama continuing to win the economic literacy debate

As noted previously on these shores, Barack Obama has—contrary to his reputation as the “most liberal senator” ginned up by the National Journal—generally made proposals that make economic sense. His opposition to the hare-brained “gas tax holiday” scheme is another point in his—or at least his economic advisors’—favor.

That said, I will quibble with Dan Drezner’s half-suggestion that Obama run with the “it’ll only save you $30” talking point. My general feeling is that when politicians have belittled dollar figures in the past—most notably when the first $300 tax rebate was being proposed way-back-when (2002?)—voters outside the beltway bubble generally seem to think that they have better ideas about how to spend the money than folks in Washington do, especially when they're not making a six-figure government salary. That said, I think the talking point works better when it’s a relatively non-transparent tax like the 18.4¢/gal federal gasoline excise tax that generally isn’t broken out on receipts rather than a check that shows up in the mail.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Up now on The Soup

Kim Kardashian on doing a PSA about Burma (via Kerry Howley):

It’s an incredible story and I’m honored to have helped raise awareness about Burma’s plight. Over all it was a really fun and eye-opening experience!

As Joel McHale would say, she’s famous for having a big ass and a sex tape—not for having a high IQ.

You getting to keep your money = government spending

Ezra Klein reinvents government accounting today:

McCain’s tax cuts—which include the extension of the Bush tax cut and the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, neither of which are included on CAP‘s cool McCain thermometer—dwarf the spending plans of the Democrats before you even look into his programs (or his war agenda). But that’s rarely mentioned, because the media doesn’t really view tax cuts as spending in the way they view new social programs as spending. [emphasis added]

I’ll hazard a guess that outside Klein’s brain, nobody views tax cuts in general as government spending. I suppose a refundable tax credit, like the earned income tax credit, would be a form of government spending—but that’s not a “tax cut” in the same sense that reducing one’s tax liability (say, by repealing the AMT) is a tax cut.

I propose a very simple criterion for government spending: if the government cuts you a check for more money than you paid in tax withholding and estimated tax contributions, that excess is government spending. The rest… well, that’s taxes.

Friday, 25 April 2008

How not to win election to the U.S. House in 2008

Here’s a hint: it involves speaking at a lectern in front of a portrait of Adolf Hitler and with a skinhead wearing a black shirt and red armband to your right (via Megan McArdle).

Incidentally, the guy is trying the “I didn’t know who these people were” defense on for size, but something doesn’t quite ring true:

“I’ll speak before any group that invites me,” [Republican nomination-seeker Tony] Zirkle said Monday. “I’ve spoken on an African-American radio station in Atlanta.” ...

Zirkle said he did not know much about the neo-Nazi group and that his intention was to talk on his concern about “the targeting of young white women and for pornography and prostitution.” ...

The event was not the first time Zirkle has raised controversy on race issues. In March, Zirkle raised the idea of segregating races in separate states. Zirkle said Tuesday he’s not advocating segregation, but said desegregation has been a failure.

Well, as long as he’s not advocating segregation, just proposing it, I guess that’s OK. (I guess that’s of the opposite ilk as denouncing-without-rejection.)

Zirkle is apparently also not a fan of sex toys, using the term “divorce aids” as a term for dildos—apparently unironically, considering he himself is one (yes, I’ve used that joke before). A direct quote from his demented website:

I may also call attention to the fact that one of the biggest commercial frauds is that divorce aids market themselves as being for “novelty purposes only” so that they can avoid all consumer safety inspections; yet ,they then go to court and claim they have a 1st Amendment so called right to privacy to abuse their bodies. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19333870/page/2/ Who knows what toxic chemicals these women are inserting into the most intimate areas of their bodies and how many men chase children because they can not find comfort from an adult women. [sic]

This guy’s campaign is the gift that keeps on giving.

They're toying with me

An email subject header this afternoon from my inbox:

REMINDER: 2008 Ole Miss Football Renewal Deadline

Alas, I’m not one of those rich alumni who can afford to jet in from Laredo to Oxford seven or eight times a year. Or even once for that matter.


There’s nothing like that late-April feeling of ennui to put a final punctuation mark on the semester. I’m not sure exactly why I’m making this post two weeks earlier than I did last year, but surely that’s not a good sign.

Academic job satisfaction, part deux

Apropos the discussion Tuesday, there are further thoughts on this topic from Ilya Somin (also here; I think the parallels between being a law professor and a professor in most non-professional fields are very weak, however) and Thoreau, while Dan Drezner, Ingrid Robeyns, and Laura McKenna consider whether there’s such a thing as being a part-time academic, at least in a setting where some sort of scholarly development is expected.

QotD, not-so-super-delegates edition

Marc Ambinder on the uncommitted Democratic superdelegates:

So if Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who comes close to calling former President Clinton a racist, who believes that African Americans think that the Clintons “are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win,” who says these things in multiple venues (Reuters, the New York Times).... still won’t endorse and still won’t call for Clinton to drop out, should it surprise us that other superdelegates are even more shy?

Personally my suspicion is that a large part of the non-commitment by the superdelegates is that it goes against the way politicians deal with the tough issues—in large packs like roll-call votes where they can be at least somewhat anonymous. There is no “safe vote” now—or at least there’s nothing that is obviously the safe vote—so why commit now when in a few weeks you might have the political cover to commit after the heat is over?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Bitter much?

Arnold Kling and Megan McArdle have generated some discussion concerning, in Margaret Soltan’s words, “why American university professors are bitterly jealous status-obsessives.” I tend to think the following reasons identified by Megan are the most important:

It’s so hard to switch jobs. Job mobility is so low that you can’t salve your ego by telling yourself that your current job is merely a waystop en route to something better.

Academics have virtually no control over where they live. They usually seem to go where the best job is, regardless of whether or not the local area suits them. In many cases, this further focuses them inward on academia, because there aren’t all that many other people around who share their interests.

[I]t’s all terribly zero sum. Any article a colleague gets into a good journal is one less slot for your articles; any good tenure-track job secured by a friend is one less job you an apply to. All industries involve competition for market share, of course, but few have such a fixed supply of both jobs and customers.

Another important factor identified by one of Megan’s commenters is the incentive structure of the position itself:

People with PhD’s are [not] trained to be teachers. They’re trained to research—whether that research be population migrations in sub-Saharan Africa or Syriac poetry. The only way one has any possibility of “moving up’’ in the academy is to publish books or articles that few will read but those who do read them have a good amount of control over your future employment. This research is a job in itself, and it easily consumes 80 hours a week.

Yet within the broader world (and among your students) you are known primarily as a teacher. You teach graduate and undergraduate courses, you grade essays or problem sets, you meet with students, you participate on committees. Many academics find this quite meaningful and another job unto itself, but it has little or nothing to do with promotions, ability to change jobs, etc.

Certainly as I’ve considered tenure-track positions over the last four years these issues have been at the front of my mind. At the low end of the perceived status hierarchy, the incentive structures for gaining tenure and getting another job are almost entirely non-overlapping (to the point that some items that count as tenurable “research” at my future institution wouldn’t count at all in any category when being considered for a position at another institution)—in large part because there are no external metrics for anything but research. Another employer has no real way to determine whether or not I’m a good teacher except (a) by reading the teaching evaluations which I provide to them (and which are inevitably cherry-picked to include the most positive evaluations) out of any institutional context, (b) by presuming that if I weren’t a good teacher I wouldn’t have a job, or (c) by bringing me in and having me teach a class (which has its own problems). Service has even less in terms of definable metrics.

Further, the first and second factors I borrowed from Megan overlap. There is a non-negligible chance that even if I were to decide the first day I arrived at my future job that I hated it and wanted out, I could nonetheless not be able to secure another job but, because of the non-overlapping criteria for tenure and mobility, get tenure—at which point the potential mobility for academics drops even further, particularly in the upward direction on the status ladder (downward parachutes tend to have softer landings as long as you’re not at the bottom to begin with). This fear isn’t entirely rational, in that there are other job options for most academics (for-profit teaching, community colleges, secondary-school teaching accreditation, and non-academic work), but given that the academic job market is arbitrary and capricious there is no guarantee that merit (which to external observers is generally defined as “count and placement of peer-reviewed publications” and little else) will win out over less merit-based factors, such as perceived political leanings, the status of the institution where the person is teaching at, where the person got their undergraduate degree, etc.

Apatow scores again

I went to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall this afternoon; I think I found it funnier than the dozen-or-so people I shared the auditorium with, but it was somewhat hard to tell. Jason Segel doesn’t range too far away from the ground tread by Marshall Erickson, his character on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but he’s stretched more in the past—most notably as the creepy sorta-ex-boyfriend on Judd Apatow’s under-appreciated masterpiece series Undeclared—while Kristen Bell has a bit of fun spoofing both herself (try not to think of Pulse while she describes a particularly awful piece of Sarah Marshall’s œvre) and the “CSI” genre with Billy Baldwin and (briefly) Jason Bateman. On the Apatow scale, I’d rank it pretty highly; my current ranking runs something like:

  1. Superbad
  2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  3. Walk Hard (tie)
    Forgetting Sarah Marshall (tie)
    Talladega Nights (tie)
  4. Knocked Up (which I found amusing but not hilarious)
  5. Anchorman (which I really didn’t get at all)

Considering that the top five movies on that list are among the ten funniest movies of the past decade, that’s hardly a bad list for FSM to be on.

The other thing I’d note is that clearly Segel has most heterosexual guys’ dream job. He gets to make out with Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell in the same movie, and he gets to make out with Alyson Hannigan every week. Personally I’d try to figure out a way to get that job without having to go full frontal in two scenes, but I suppose sacrifices must be made.

Update: Reader Brian Baggett reviews the film, as does Alan Sepinwall (whose work I’ve enjoyed since his NYPD Blue reviews on Usenet in the 1990s).

Also, Ezra Klein quibbles with part of the ending of the film. Potential minor spoilers follow:

Monday, 21 April 2008

It's all Bush's fault

If you can’t drive anywhere in New Orleans for the next two days, blame the convergence of presidents Bush and Calderón and Prime Minister Harper on New Orleans. Not that the traffic report websites have bothered warning people that you’re not going anywhere fast near I-10 or the central business district for the next day or so.

I also blame the president for having to park farther away on St. Charles than I normally do this morning, even though it’s probably really just due to my arriving later than usual and the campus being crawling with admits checking out the university before forking over their parents’ hard-earned bucks to the Tulane Educational Fund.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Disappearing acts

I lost my Bluetooth headset in my apartment last week and trying to find it is driving me crazy. I know exactly where I lost it and exactly when, and the odds of it being more than 10 feet from where I lost it are about zero, but still I can’t find the stupid thing.

My clip-on sunglasses and glasses case have also disappeared into the ether. I have rather less hope of finding them, but given that the clip-ons were less than $10 at Wal-Mart I’m less worried about them.

Update: I found the headset this afternoon—it had somehow ended up on a shelf of the bookcase my charger is on behind the books. And I replaced the clipons at the Wal-Mart in Elmwood this afternoon. All is now right in my world. Well, as right as ever.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Principals, agents, and Debian

I’ve noted in the past that Debian has deliberately enshrined in its constitution some rather serious principal-agent problems. By and large this isn’t a bad thing, since there isn’t the consensus within the Debian community to support the “benevolent dictator for life” model of decision-making—if you want that, well that’s what Ubuntu and Daddy Warbucks is for. But it does mean that sometimes the caca hits the fan when a Debian project leader does exercise his powers, as our now-former DPL did earlier this week just before the end of his term of office (by my estimate, just over one hour and 27 minutes before). John Adams would be proud. So we have three related issues in my mind:

  • As a matter of general principle, lame-duck DPLs shouldn’t be making appointments. This issue is ameliorated somewhat because DPL delegations—unlike “midnight judges”—can be revoked at any time, but it strikes me that whatever legitimacy a DPL has from the developers evaporates once a new DPL-elect has been designated. I can only speculate why this happened in this case, so I won’t bother.
  • Second, while Debian has a very strong tradition of developer sovereignty, with many aspects of the project being self-organized rather than originating with appointments from upon high, it seems to me that certain aspects of core infrastructure can’t be managed in this way.
  • Third, the appointment does little to relieve the excessive concentration of power in the core of Debian; if anything, Anthony Towns’ apparent resignation in the wake of Jörg’s appointment worsens the situation. Ensuring there is proper vetting of people with access to important infrastructure is important, but at the same time I find it difficult to believe that there are only a half-dozen or so Debian developers who are trustworthy enough to be system administrators, account managers, or archive maintainers (several of them occupying overlapping positions). That, rather than a lack of technical tools, has been a problem of note within Debian since, oh, the days of my youthful vigor within Debian (which are long since past).

In any event, congratulations to all the new Debian developers—and I’ll avoid pondering for too long why one person’s appointment to an unrelated group would suddenly break the logjam of developer application approvals.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Voters don't give a damn about policy, news at 11

Alex Tabarrok on the open letter being sent to ABC about the debate that no sane person lots of people watched earlier this week on their network:

The only thing the signatories got wrong was where to send the letter. The letter should have been addressed to the American public. After all, this debate, which came in the flurry of all the tabloid journalism of the past several weeks, was the most-watched of the 2008 presidential campaign. The public got what it wanted.

I’d add the caveat that if there were any substantive policy differences of consequence between Clinton and Obama, this might actually be a worthwhile complaint about the Pennsylvania debate. However the policy debate at present between the two candidates is over minor semantic differences between public policy agendas at levels of detail that will have to be negotiated with other policy actors years down the road. I dare say the nuances of the differences between the two candidates’ health care policies will have the same impact on the average American as whether or not Obama wears a flag pin or not.

Actually, given chaos theory the presence or absence of a flag pin might actually impact the weather in six years’ time. No such hope exists for whether or not there is an individual mandate buried in the health care plan that gets sent to the Hill and then immediately thereon to the nearest shredder.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Grades are fungible

$20 says if Jefferson Parish compares the grade distribution now with the grade distribution two years after this change they’ll find no significant difference.

And since when is a 69 a failing grade? Are these idiots on crack? (And by “idiots” I mean the school board; I already can guess the answer for the students.)

True local knowledge

Robert Lawson writes in passing:

Memphis’s Interstate BBQ is the best airport joint in America btw. It’s near gate B14—look for the long line of NWA pilots!

The real reason to fly through Memphis is the Lenny’s in the main part of the B concourse (near gate B3 I think). Either way, most of the guys in line in Memphis are probably Pinnacle pilots, not Northwest folks.

As for the “goner” status of the Memphis hub for Northwest, first Delta will have to figure out how to ditch all their regional jet contracts and find a way to continue Northwest’s tradition of soaking Memphis consumers without keeping the same availability of nonstop flights and rolling out the red carpet for Southwest—all those Shelby plates on cars at airport lots in LIT and BNA are just a hint of the level of business they could do out of Memphis against a retreating Delta.

QotD, Bill Clinton has jumped the shark edition

Taylor Owen of OxBlog, on an unfortunate recent reading choice:

I just finished listening to an abridged version of Clinton’s autobiography (I just couldn’t commit to the full thing). There are two things that are glaringly clear. First, it’s all the evil “far right’s” fault. Everything. It is never Clinton’s fault. Second, and more relevant here, is that in 1992, Clinton was running a VERY similar campaign to Obama. Had Hillary been in the race, there is no doubt that he would be have mocked her as the establishment candidate. He would have been right, and he would have won. He would have done so using words, which he was at one point pretty good at. And he would have argued that a new generation was ready to have a turn in Washington. Sound familiar?

At some Uptown bar, George Shinn is weeping into his beer

The Hornets are stuck in their lease another year, suckers!

The Hornets on Tuesday night reached a goal that seemed impossible just three short months ago: pushing the team’s average attendance past the magic 14,735 opt-out number in the franchise’s lease agreement.

It came after the Hornets registered their sixth consecutive sellout and their 12th in the past 17 games as 17,388 fans saw the Hornets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 114–92 to win the franchise’s first division title, secure at least the No.2 seed in the upcoming playoffs and push their average attendance to 14,738 since Dec. 1.

But don’t worry, George, a year’s absence from the NBA will just make Seattle’s hearts grow fonder (and consequently your wallet fatter when you ditch town like we all know you will).

Monday, 14 April 2008

Streaming video onto a TiVo

Over the weekend I discovered pyTivo, a replacement for TiVo Desktop that can use ffmpeg to transcode pretty much every video format on the planet on the fly for viewing on any TiVo. There’s something fun about the prospect of “obtaining” and watching a certain science fiction television show about a guy with a funny accent who flies around the universe in a blue box with strange women without any fiddling around with conversion software… once pyTivo is set up, all you would theoretically have to do is drop the file in the right directory and it would show up as a program you could transfer onto your TiVo. Très cool. Alas, all I’ve been using it for is properly-licensed video that doesn’t feature a flying blue box.

Of course, if I got SciFi HD I might not be tempted go to such lengths to watch the blue box show a few weeks before they show it. But the picture quality on regular SciFi blows, as does the editing for time. Thankfully the better angels of my nature have stopped me from succumbing to any temptation to see the adventures of the man in the flying blue box before being supplied to us Americans in edited form.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Future work

Where my next office will be, from a bird’s eye view. (For comparison purposes, here’s where I work now.)

Friday, 11 April 2008

Broken borders

If the next president wants to help fix America’s reputation abroad, fixing our country’s nonsensical visa requirements for highly-skilled workers would be a low-cost way to make a good start.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ron Paul, friend of freedom

Dr. No strikes another blow in the struggle for human liberty everywhere:

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Wednesday calling on China to end its crackdown on Tibet and release Tibetans imprisoned for “nonviolent” demonstrations.

The vote was 413–1. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who recently dropped out of the presidential race [sic], was the lone congressman voting against it.

The resolution passed just hours before runners were to carry the Olympic torch on a six-mile route around San Francisco Bay.

Would it kill the guy to even symbolically oppose repression beyond U.S. borders?

(Subversive) text messaging

As reported in today’s edition of InsideHigherEd, a New Jersey teen has discovered something heretofore only known to every potential adopter of Wilson and Dilulio’s American Government text: namely, that the authors are conservative and take that viewpoint in their textbook. The Center for Inquiry has cataloged a few problems with the textbook, most of which can be chalked up to sloppy phrasing or editing (a problem endemic to American government texts, to say nothing of textbooks in general).

For example, much of the CoI complaint is about the authors’ mischaracterization of the Supreme Court’s rulings on prayer in public schools, but the mish-mash of rulings from the court aren’t exactly clear—hence why the report spends pages going into the nuances of those rulings—and they border on being contradictory (essentially requiring judges to mind-read whether a state or locality mandating “moments of silence” had religious intent or not when adopting the law). Furthermore, I suspect most students’ eyes would glaze over at a full treatment of this minor subject in what is supposed to be an introductory text; hashing out the nuances of the Supreme Court’s establishment clause doctrine would take 2–3 lectures in a constitutional law course, and you’re not going to do justice to it in at most five minutes of intro lecture.

That said, Wilson and Dilulio appear to have overstated the degree of controversy within the scientific community over global warming and climate change—but that doesn’t change the fact that there is little political consensus within the United States about the appropriateness of particular public policies to combat climate change, or even a political consensus that the scientific consensus is correct.

There is also a broader concern, in that the College Board is apparently reviewing the “appropriateness” of the use of the text in AP government courses. Frankly (speaking only in my individual capacity and not as an employee of ETS, the corporation that grades the exam on behalf of the College Board), the only criterion the College Board should be using is whether or not the textbook covers the topics that are examined on the AP exam in sufficient depth and accuracy. If the Wilson and Dilulio text contains a greater-than-average degree of factual inaccuracy (which, in my view, seems unlikely given the number of egregious errors or omissions I regularly discover in textbooks when asked to review them), then it should be avoided, but whether or not the authors take positions on anthropogenic global warming that conform with the political beliefs of the College Board is immaterial. In that regard—and probably only in that regard—I am in agreement with Richard Vedder.

All that said, I don’t use Wilson and Dilulio’s book, as I would not use any book that has a strong ideological bent in my introduction to American government course (similarly, I wouldn’t use Miroff, Seidelman, and Swanstrom’s book, a textbook from the same publisher written by three left-leaning political scientists, either—another disclaimer: Todd Swanstrom and I worked together at SLU). And I’d have a problem with it being assigned as the primary textbook in a mandatory course in a public school where students had no choice as to which instructor’s course to take—but AP Government is an elective intended to replicate a college-level course where students are not expected to be mindless consumers of the course materials but instead to engage critically with them even if they disagree with the ideas of the authors, so that complaint doesn’t fly here, and takes it over the line from a “force-feeding of ideology” issue into an “academic freedom” issue.

So, in sum: the teen is right to complain about the factual problems with the text, and those should be corrected (shame on the reviewers and editors for allowing those to get through). But otherwise Wilson and Dilulio have every right to write a textbook that reflects their views about American politics, just as seemingly hundreds of other professors have exercised their similar right to do so, and the instructor has every right to choose that book if he believes it provides the best preparation for students to succeed on the examination (which, in an AP course, is really at the heart of the instructor’s primary responsibility—you can complain about “teaching to the test” all you want, but in this case the test is the whole point of the course).

Update: Also covered at Hit and Run, Watts Up With That?, and No Left Turns.

CECB Reviews

AVS Forum poster “10frog” has posted a detailed side-by-side comparison of the Digital Stream DTX-9900 and Zenith DT900 digital television converter boxes, which may be useful for those of you who have taken my advice and gotten your government coupons. Both boxes are available at RadioShack (but typically each RS only carries one of the two—most of the RS’s around New Orleans seem to carry the Digital Stream box); the Zenith is allegedly available at Circuit City and the apparently-electrically-identical Insignia NS-DXA1 is on the shelves at Best Buy.

Meanwhile, Slashdot is claiming that at least one of the CECB peddlers on the Internet is a scam artist.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The vapors

Longtime Signifying Nothing staple Margaret Soltan samples a recent export from Oxford, Mississippi. I can’t say that the shirtless men were of particular interest to me during my six years on campus, but I suppose the general sentiment is well-taken.

Friends, Romans, countrymen

My LinkedIn and Facebook self-questioning of the day: should I friend* people who I just know from the blogosophere or email? I generally don’t add people I haven’t had a significant interaction with (defined loosely as “a conversation I can remember” or “we consumed sufficient alcohol that we probably had a conversation I cannot remember any more” or “significant online interaction over time”), but maybe I should make more exceptions.

Similarly, Flickr’s new Find Your Friends feature turned up one of my friends who happens to live here but disappeared off the face of my planet (but not the planet, judging from recent photos) about a year ago—indeed much of the reason I came to Tulane instead of another job with a bit more job security in the Mid-Atlantic was because I figured I’d have at least one friend here. I apparently figured wrong… although Flickr now believes otherwise.

I also saw friends in Chicago—a few new ones, now added to Facebook, and a few old ones, either already there or too tragically hip to be there in the first place. Shoutouts in particular to SN readers Dirk, Jennifer, Nick, and Sara, and possibly some of my lurkers too embarrassed to fess up to reading the blog to my face.

* I assume it is now safe to use the word “friend” as a verb. (OS X 10.5’s version of The New Oxford American Dictionary says it’s ok… and actually a revitalized archaic form.)

QotD, having your cake and eating it too edition

Dan Drezner today, on Democratic posturing on trade:

Just to repeat myself:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America’s standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

A close second, from the same source: “A bitter irony of this latest kerfuffle is that this will likely be the most prominent mention of Colombia during the presidential campaign—just as the NAFTA imbroglio will have been the most prominent mention of Canada.”

Saturday, 5 April 2008

None of the above

Jeff Jarvis considers donating money to the Titanic Hillary Clinton’s campaign and notes it is a violation of the canons of journalistic ethics:

What do you say: venial sin or act of grace?

Sorry, the correct answer is c: a waste of your hard-earned money. Thanks for playing, though!

The Liptak Effect

Rick Hasen notes that Linda Greenhouse’s replacement as the New York Times’ Supreme Court reporter will be Adam Liptak. Somehow referring to Supreme Court justices as going Times-native as suffering from “The Liptak Effect” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily.

Friday, 4 April 2008

John Cole: Degenerating into a parody of a really bad Kos diarist

Surely this and its ilk are a really bad put-on. Or John took the same bad acid trip that Sully took a couple of years earlier after Bush broke his heart over gay marriage; it’s not exactly easy to see the difference.

Then again, I’m sure he makes more in a week from BlogAds than I’ve seen in five years from Google Ads, so who am I to argue with success?

Term of the day

Choropleth map. Amazing that I got through 32 years of my life without knowing what to call a geographic map that you use to illustrate quantitative data (like this one from the Midwest paper or this one from a few years ago). And, since nobody outside cartography knows what “choropleth” means, I’ll probably never use the term again either.


I’ll just take it for granted that some idiot leftists will decide that John McCain’s presence in Memphis today on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King is a really deeply-coded appeal to racists. Your challenge: guess their rationale in the comments. Bonus points if you can work in the concept of James Earl Ray not being the lone gunman/involved in a conspiracy/also being the shooter in both Kennedy assassinations and making Ted run off the road at Chappaquiddick. Super bonus points if you can somehow tie Hillary Clinton’s simultaneous presence in the same city to a plan orchestrated by The Man to make Barack Obama look bad.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Absolut Manifest Destiny

James Joyner at my occasional-blogging-home of OTB takes note of the controversy surrounding an advertisement by Absolut Vodka which ran in a Mexican newspaper.

The thoughts I had, in pseudo-random order:

  • Most of those annoyed the ad are Republicans. Abraham Lincoln and many other early Republican leaders first made their name in politics as Whig opponents of the Mexican-American War (which was seen at the time as partially motivated by southern slaveowners to grab some more land south of the Missouri Compromise line).
  • I look forward to Absolut’s ad for the U.S. market, commemorating the 54° 40’ or bust campaign.
  • Look for every irredentist movement in the world to have their own T-shirt spoofing the ad soon.
  • One of these days I need to write up my half-thought-out blog post on the border fence. But not today… I’m off to the Art Institute to see the Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer exhibitions.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

All my work is better when rewritten using Cyrillic

I didn’t think these guys were serious at first… but this journal showed up in my mail today with my regime stability and presidential government article in it. Those who don’t read Russian or Ukrainian will probably find the English-language version a bit more digestible. (I think the translator added some stuff to the article, but damned if I know what it means.)

At least three regular Signifying Nothing readers will find their names on the first page, below, although two will have to transliterate for themselves.

First page of my article

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


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