Monday, 29 September 2008

QotD, democracy sucks edition

Daniel Drezner on the indeterminate future universe problem in politics:

[N]o one gets credit for stopping a meltdown if it doesn’t happen… [I]t was only after 9/11 that the American public was ready to take the actions that would have prevented 9/11.

Saturday, 27 September 2008


A commenter at InsideHigherEd suggests a new system for ranking colleges:

One index of quality might be a compilation where college professors send their own children to college. These parents know what goes on inside a campus that affects students.

College instructors are the last people who would rely on U.S. News for information in where to send their own children. The high prestige universities are great places to get a graduate degree, but professors often see that the best undergraduate education lies elsewhere.

Of course, professors also know that at least in academic hiring (probably to a greater extent than most areas, except medicine and law), institutional prestige is a major factor in the decisionmaking process, so they may emphasize prestige more than is warranted. But the general principle is sound: be wary of an institution that a professor wouldn’t send their own kids to.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Suspend this!

Fresh off contributing exactly nothing to the bailout debate in Washington, John McCain has decided to grace us with his presence at the first presidential debate tonight in Oxford. In case he hasn’t run his campaign enough into the ground this week, may I suggest that his handlers arrange a lengthy photo-op at the Cavalier Shoppe on his way to or from Oxford just to put the finishing touches on his apparent efforts to outdo Mondale and McGovern as a presidential loser.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

It can't be this easy

So does this news mean I can kiss two of my credit card bills goodbye? (Sadly, no.) WaMu, we hardly knew ye.

Maybe I should have held out for that Georgia State interview after all

Via Lee Sigelman, a ranking of the best cities for singles with Atlanta at the top. Laredo, no doubt to everyone’s shock and amazement, is unranked.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Via Ars Technica, yet another social networking site, this time for academics with extensive support for classifying yourself down to the most microscopic of subfields. So far it seems a little less sterile than LinkedIn, which is probably a good thing.

My profile is here, if you haven’t been blasted by an invite from me already.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Stealing my joke

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Inmates and the asylum

I’m all for responsiveness to reasonable student feedback but this student complaint seems somewhat beyond the pale.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Your daily coup d'état roundup

While Evo Morales attempts to hold onto power in Bolivia by defining genocide down, in Australia both the Labor prime minister and the new leader of the Liberal-National (right-wing) opposition support ending the monarchy and in Britain the slow-motion coup against Gordon Brown continues apace.

Hilzoy: Not a public opinion scholar

Hilzoy wonders why more people think Barack Obama will raise their taxes than think John McCain will, despite fancy graphs indicating that neither will raise most peoples’ taxes. Three broad hypotheses spring to mind:

  1. Voters do not believe Democrats (and Obama in particular) are credible on promising tax cuts or holding the line on taxes. Obama’s vote for a budget resolution that contemplated raising taxes (even if, in of itself, it did not raise them) does not help his credibility on this score. The inscrutability of how Washington works to the average voter strikes again—a similar procedural-versus-substantive vote issue, after all, was the basis for John Kerry’s “for it before he was against it” problem.
  2. Voters do not believe that the promises on the campaign trail regarding taxes reflect the situation that both candidates will face after the election. Presidents do not decide fiscal policy in a vacuum; instead, both will face a left-of-center Congress committed to both the appearance of fiscal responsibility and more progressive tax rates. For example, a “solidarity” tax increase on a greater portion of the “middle class” than anticipated by Obama (however “middle class” is defined) to fund programs like universal health care is not unlikely.
  3. It’s all heuristics. Voters have no actual knowledge of either candidates’ tax plans (rationally or irrationally—I’d argue rationally, due in part to point 2) and are relying on a schematic conception of politics in which Democrats are seen as more likely to raise taxes than Republicans.

Notice in the full report of the poll results the graph labeled “Economic Groups Perceived to Benefit Most in an Obama or McCain Presidency,” in which the heuristic perceptions of the public comport to a greater degree to the promised tax plans, in large part because both candidates are promising plans that—in their effects on various subsets of the population—are more consistent with what we’d expect Republican and Democratic fiscal policies to emphasize.

Incidentally, none of these explanations require voters to even be aware of the campaign spin regarding Obama’s tax positions; one suspects most voters aren’t.

Gotta have our priorities

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The power of language

I’ve always thought cooperative federalism was something of a misnomer, that whole “national drinking age” thing being just the tip of the coercive dimension of that state “cooperation”; now, via Jacob Levy, comes word of an SSRN article on uncooperative federalism.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Third-world elections

Via Marvin King and Dad comes word that a minor blow-up is happening in Mississippi over the placement of the Musgrove-Wicker Senate contest on the state’s ballot, after Gov. Haley Barbour approved a sample ballot issued by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (both Republicans) placing that election at the bottom of the ballot, in apparent contradiction of a state law that requires federal contests to be listed at the top of the ballot. Following my general rule not to attribute to malice what may simply reflect ignorance or an honestly-held, different interpretation of the law, I won’t leap to the conclusion that Hosemann, who drafted the ballot and is relatively new to the job, is engaged in partisan shenanigans. But Hosemann and Barbour should nonetheless fix the sample ballot forthwith and save the state’s taxpayers the cost of litigation. (I have no particular dog in this fight; both Wicker and Musgrove are, in my opinion, unworthy of election to any high office beyond that of class dunce, given their track records in office.)

Over the longer term, while I am not fully convinced that “independent” electoral arrangements are in practice much more fair than partisan ones, the state legislature should at the very least modify the election code to ensure the full board of election commissioners—which also includes the state Attorney General—reviews the ballot before it is issued.

Jargon obsession

One of the more annoying experiences of my high school career was my AP American History course—and not just because I scored a 5 (the maximum score) on the AP exam and was the senior class award winner in social studies, yet somehow only earned a B in the course. The annoying-before-I-saw-my-grade aspect was that often it seemed like we were learning the textbook authors’ pet names for certain events in American history, or overly cute quotations, in lieu of whatever substantive event was being described. (AP history being 15 years in my past, I can’t remember any specific examples alas.)

Which gets me to the mini-brou-ha-ha about Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson. Without wasting my time watching it, I’ll gladly concede the point that she is almost certainly as clueless about domestic and international politics as approximately 98.9% of the American public—which, if we were auditioning her for a slot on “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” would probably be less alarming than her current public audition to serve on the National Security Council.

That said, I can’t get too worked up about Palin’s apparent failure to recognize the term “Bush doctrine.” Indeed, most of the instances of the term a cursory Google search of uncovers come in questions from the media, mostly “gotcha” questions of the form “Is such-and-such an action consistent with the Bush doctrine?” By all means it is reasonable to inquire into Palin’s thoughts on how to combat al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, but a failure to recognize a cutesy inside-the-beltway label for a particular policy strikes me as rather less damning that whatever lack of substantive knowledge was displayed (again, given that I’m not going to waste any of my life watching the interview or reading the transcript).

Update: This argument is bolstered by the fact that Gibson apparently doesn’t know what the “Bush doctrine” is either. Oops.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

What she said

Like Megan, I have to say that even though expected policy under McCain-Palin is better (= closer to both my preferences and general economic sanity) than under Obama-Biden, I still can’t bring myself to vote for the GOP ticket.* Perhaps I’m just taking solace in the fact that the Democrats can’t even govern as Democrats under unified government, much less divided government (see 1993–94).

* No doubt to the infinite surprise of my readers, I have never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, although I have voted for a Democrat for president.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Evacuate (again)!

Via Brendan Loy, word that Hurricane Ike is probably going to ruin your day if you live anywhere near landfall:

I expect Ike will generate a 10–15 foot storm surge along a 100-mile stretch of Texas coast from the eye landfall location, northwards. I urge Texas residents to take this storm very seriously and heed any evacuation orders given. Most of you living along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane, and Ike is capable of causing high loss of life in storm surge-prone areas. Tropical storm force winds will spread over the Texas coast beginning Friday afternoon, and evacuations must be completed by Friday morning. All airports in eastern Texas will be forced to close Friday night, and will probably remain closed most of Saturday. Ike had a good chance of becoming the most destructive hurricane in Texas history—though not the most powerful.

Words to live by… literally.


Is it November 5th yet?

Technology run amok

AVSForum user DigaDo describes a high-tech new antenna technology for digital television. This advanced device, however, is not recommended for use outdoors or in damp environments.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Advice, of sorts

A few bits and pieces I’ve learned or been told over the years:

  • Create a word processor file each year. As you do things that need to go in your annual report (here it’s called PP&E), put things in it, so when you write the actual report you don’t have to remember what you were doing last September.
  • Type up all your lecture notes and save them on your computer and as many thumb drives as you can find. If you already have handwritten notes, either scan them in and archive, or type them up. You never know when you’ll have to teach that “one time only” class again.
  • “Face time” counts. Even though you will probably be at your least productive 8–5 weekdays in your office, being present and visible at least some of that time is a good thing. Also, try to get an office were your presence is difficult to overlook, even if you would rather hide in the corner suite.

Update: Another helpful hint from Michelle: “solicit advice and guidance from both junior and senior colleagues (they often like to give it and it will give you insights into dept politics, issues, and what they really care about for tenure).”

Two games into the Houston Nutt era

So, we’re now two games into the Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss and the record stands… exactly the same (1–1) as it did after two games of the Ed Orgeron era.

The similarities, though, seem to end there: instead of barely edging Memphis and losing by eight to Vandy the Rebels thumped the Tigers (admittedly, at home, and admittedly a Tiger team that this weekend just got beat by Rice, of all teams) and came within an arguably bogus pass interference call of a road victory against what appears to be the best team in the ACC this year (admittedly, not saying much considering the sorry state of the contemporary ACC), with the team missing two of the team’s key defensive starters for most of both contests (Peria Jerry played limited time against Wake, while Greg Hardy remains out).

I don’t know that Jevan Snead is going to make anyone in Oxford forget Eli Manning (call me back when Snead goes 28–28 in his first 28 pass attempts in a game), but he’s already helped me wash away the memory of the likes of Micheal Spurlock and Ethan Flatt. And, for better or worse Nutt has brought back the high drama of Rebel offensive playcalling in a way not seen since the traitorous Riverboat Gambler was roaming the sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway.

Is this the year the Rebels get back to a bowl for the first time since the Second Coming of Manning? The schedule looks favorable, although I only see one likely road win for the Rebels at this point (at sputtering Arkansas). But with Jerry back and Hardy on the mend, the Rebels will be tough to beat at home and might even be able to steal a second win on the road to move up beyond the Poulan Weed-Eater bowl-of-last-resort level.

* Yes, I know the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl no longer exists, but it’s fun to type and represents the sort of crappy bowl game, usually held in Shreveport, the Rebels regularly attend.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Circular thoughts

Via Tom Vanderbilt, Time reports on the burgeoning roundabout craze in the U.S. Money quote:

[I]n seven years, Carmel[, Indiana] has seen a 78% drop in accidents involving injuries, not to mention a savings of some 24,000 gal. of gas per year per roundabout because of less car idling. “As our population densities become more like Europe’s,” says Mayor Jim Brainard, who received a climate-protection award this year from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “roundabouts will become more popular.”

Alas, Laredo drivers will need to master driving in straight lines (much less going in circles) before roundabouts can succeed here. On the other hand, it’s impossible to run a red roundabout, so maybe there would be an improvement here after all.

Friday, 5 September 2008

He said obliquely

I learned today that two events for two subjects i I previously thought happened at time ti actually happened at time ti-3 (where time is measured in years). Suddenly my internal calendar seems way too leisurely.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

QotD, Obama needs a better line of attack edition

Megan McArdle on McCain’s big speech:

The words “I fought corruption” should never pass the lips of a charter member of the Keating Five.

My free advice to Obama and (particularly) his increasingly-boring surrogates like Sully: less Sarah Palin, more Charles Keating. Bad judgment isn’t a failure to follow the media-annointed process for selecting a vice-presidential nominee, it’s pay-for-play inside the beltway.

ESPN are douchebags

Who in their right mind in Texas would rather see Oregon State vs. Penn State instead of Ole Miss vs. Wake Forest? Then again, maybe they’re just trying to help the Longhorns cover up losing their team’s best quarterback to Ole Miss.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Too many synonyms

I’m now up to five different terms for “independent variable” (X’s) in my methods lecture for today (thanks in part to a Polmeth post that just reminded me of one I’d forgotten to put on the list), and I’m probably missing some. You’d think we could narrow that down a little. The others: covariate, predictor, explanatory variable, and regressor.

Funnily enough, I only came up with “dependent variable” and “regressand” for Y, but I’m surely missing some there too.


I don’t know about y’all, but to my mind the Sarah Palin pandemonium is getting a tad overheated. I’m not going to sit here and defend the pick, in part because I wasn’t going to vote for John McCain anyway and in part because you can read the pros and cons elsewhere. As far as comparing the vice-presidential choices go… well, let me just say that I think Joe Biden is more of an amoral beltway used-car-dealing sleazebag than John Kerry and John McCain combined, so Palin wins that contest pretty much by default. And no, that’s not much of a compliment.

I do, however, want to propose a minor thought exercise to my more “progressive” friends who think this is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel (I know you don’t know anything about guns, but bear with me). Nate at FiveThirtyEight points out that, on paper, Palin’s positions are outside the mainstream of public opinion, and—to the extent public opinion is meaningful on issues—that is true. Of course, both Obama and Biden’s positions are also outside of the mainstream—for example, both support the right to abortion under all circumstances, a minority position (something like 25% of the public support abortion rights under all circumstances), and both support prioritizing the environment and fighting global warming over jobs and the economy (a minority position).

The Democrats’ problem, as I see it, in demonizing her positions on cultural issues—and by extension McCain’s, most of which he shares—is not that they’re outside the mainstream of current opinion (they are), but that they aren’t outside the traditional beliefs held in Western society. America isn’t a “Christian nation”—that’s nonsense; the United States is fundamentally a product of enlightenment thought, albeit a country that has been much more tolerant of a diverse and heterodox set of Christian beliefs (including Palin’s) than many nominally Christian nations—but most Americans were raised to believe that traditional moral values are important even if we sometimes observe them in the breach and even if we don’t always believe the state should use its power of coercion to enforce them. Furthermore, out-of-the-mainstream views on the right have the dubious virtue politically of having been in the mainstream, if not outright consensus, in the past—in some cases, within living memory of most voters; non-mainstream views on the left, by contrast, have never held such a position. I’m not saying Palin is invulnerable on these positions, but it’s going to take a lot more than liberal echo-chamber snarkiness about how “insane” her positions are to convince most voters.

Meanwhile, Marc Ambinder has reached a minor epiphany:

[T]he more I think about it, the more I realize that if Palin answers her critics tomorrow night, these process stories might not matter much.

You don’t say. The Democrats have misunderestimated an opponent before in a year the “numbers” said they should win, and he was a hell of a lot dumber than Sarah Palin appears to be.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


A new toy I found for Firefox via my referrer logs: Feedly. I guess the best way to understand it is that it’s like an alternative set of views for your existing Google Reader subscriptions that also mixes in your friends from Twitter and other sources. There’s a little bit of clunkiness compared to Reader, and obviously it’s Firefox-only, but I’ve enjoyed using it so far.

So, while you’re waiting for Google Chrome to be released for a platform you actually use and for the source so you can compile it on Debian/amd64 (hint, hint), at least you have something new to fiddle around with.