Sunday, 21 December 2008

Make my job easier

Andrew Gelman links a paper by Christian Grose and Carrie Russell I am discussant for at SPSA in three weeks. (Incidentally, it’s the only paper for the panel I’ve received so far—but since I’m not exactly on-schedule with my paper, I can’t really throw many stones about it.)

The paper looks at the effect of being required to vote publicly (for example, in a caucus setting) on voters’ willingness to participate based on a novel experiment conducted during the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Their research may be some implications for the current debate over card check, although what those implications might be I leave to others, at least until SPSA.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Apparently I'm big in Eastern Europe

Not only do I have a published article in Ukrainian (or possibly Russian), I’m cited in Czech. Would that I had such academic prestige in North America.

Another day, another syllabus

My current draft of my graduate political behavior seminar syllabus. There are a few holes here and there—and I know it’s probably closer to a senior seminar-level syllabus at a more selective institution—but I’m confident I can refine it a bit in the next few weeks while I tackle the easier syllabi.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The girlie blog

Megan McArdle gives beauty product advice and Amber Taylor recommends hosiery. I’m sure this is all of some use to my female and/or hitched readers, which seem to be pretty much all of them. For the rest of my readers, I’m not convinced that chest hair is back in; we can’t all be Alec Baldwin, after all.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

GPS buying advice

Rich Owings of GPS Tracklog offers advice on must-have and less-worthwhile features for an automotive GPS. I’ll slightly dissent from Rich on the value of traffic information, although of the units I’ve used the Dash Express has the only helpful implementation* of traffic I’ve found so far—and with Dash leaving the hardware business it’s not clear that anyone will be filling the gap in the future—although TomTom’s HD Traffic is allegedly headed stateside in 2009.

* Virtually all of the existing products focus on Interstates and other freeways, which might be helpful in really big cities where there are multiple freeway routes to the same destination, but isn’t so helpful in the places I’ve lived where the question is not “which freeway should I take?” but “should I take the freeway or one of the 2–3 surface street options?” Dash at least has some data on traffic on the surface street network—but much of it relies on Dash getting more market penetration, which seems unlikely unless they’ve hooked up with a major player like TomTom to provide traffic services going forward.

More on the filibuster

The Economist gets in on the filibuster debate thusly:

What’s needed is less posturing and more discussion of when, exactly, a supermajority should be required to get something done in Congress. Right now the only constitutionally-required supermajorities are the two-thirds majority needed to remove an impeached official from office and the two-thirds majorities needed in both houses to pass constitutional amendments. Which other issues are important enough to get that treatment? Should a Supreme Court nominee require confirmation by a supermajority? Should either house of Congress do as California does, and require a two-thrids majority to pass a budget?

Approach the question another way: What sort of congressional actions should only require a simple majority vote? As much as Republicans and business interests fear the Employee Free Choice Act, why should Democrats need 60 votes to pass it? If voters were opposed to the concept, they could have avoided giving the Democrats the presidency and a net 14 Senate seats and 55 House seats over the last two elections.

They are sanguine about the prospects of a real debate over the role of the filibuster, though. And, again, I am forced to wonder how Harry Reid is supposed to “bully” Republicans into not exercising the privilege of unlimited debate since he lacks any effective institutional tools to engage in such bullying.

Monday, 15 December 2008

On the filibuster

Nate Silver thinks Harry Reid is being an ineffective Senate majority leader because he’s letting the GOP get away with holds without the traditional filibuster. However, as I pointed out here in 2003 (and also here later that year), the traditional filibuster is far more burdensome on the majority when the minority is bigger than a single senator; while you need 60 majority senators to be on-call to break the filibuster, all you need at any given point of time is a single minority senator to hold the floor.

Ultimately the “cot drama” makes for nice TV, but dragging out the cots probably won’t win him any friends among the supermajority of senators he needs to break the minority. These problems have also vexed other majority leaders of both parties—if there’s a common theme to in-partisans’ complaints about their majority leaders, it’s “ineffectuality,” without much recognition that Senate majority leaders are institutionally weak and individual senators like it that way. It probably doesn’t hurt that most senators have served in the House and the last thing they want is to have another Speaker trying to boss them around.

On a related topic, McQ points out that the bailout had enough GOP support in the Senate to pass if Reid had successfully herded his party’s cats. But again being a good cat-herder isn’t really the qualification that fellow senators want when choosing their majority leader, so I’m not sure anyone in Reid’s position would have been able to do a better job.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Corollary of the day

King Politics thinks the GOP anti-bailout faction has the politics of the day wrong:

The time for pragmatism is now, but Senate Republicans don’t recognize that.

Senate Republicans have yet to realize that the GOP lost so many seats in 2006 and 2008 because the American public has a greater desire for pragmatism than ideology.

I think that’s true to a point—but I suspect it has more to do with post-Katrina George W. Bush than any coherent definition of ideology. As much as the Democrats would like to pretend otherwise, ideological is not a term I’d readily apply to the bumbling nature of Bush’s second term. Nor am I really convinced that the average voter is doing much more than engaging in post-hoc rationalized-as-something-else economic voting, which doubtless makes me no fun at parties when I play a public opinion scholar. (“Yes, all this crap matters at the margins, and occasionally elections are won at the margins, but most of the time it doesn’t matter.”) But I digress.

There is a broader lesson, though, in that to the extent the Democrats believe that their recent success is due to their ideology it is at their long-term peril, particularly if they bypass pragmatism in favor of catering to the cobbled-together collection of rent-seekers that passes for the Democratic coalition. To the extent bailing out Detroit is seen as a Democatic handout to its paymasters—particularly with the emerging frame of “the greedy unions are standing in the way” trumping any sort of concept that any deal that tells the UAW to can their contract is essentially an impairment of the obligation of contract (which, believe it or not, is unconstitutional)—the auto bailout won’t go over well in the 48 or so states that don’t host significant Big Three production.

On a related note, Steven Taylor notes the defining-down of the filibuster by the media to mean “failure to win a cloture vote.” While I accept the point graciously, I think this may be more a failure of us as a profession than the media per se; modern congressional procedures (not just filibusters and “holds,” but also esoterica such as the Rules Committee and UCAs), even superficially treated, aren’t a strong point of most American government textbooks, and more often than not that’s the only real government orientation budding journalists will get. I make a point of assigning Barbara Sinclair’s Unorthodox Lawmaking in my Congress classes, but I doubt the average journalist gets that in-depth in their undergrad days. So here at least I think the blame falls somewhat closer to home than we might want to admit.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Final exam, UNIV 1101

Please use only a green Scantron form and #2 pencil to complete this exam. Answers circled on this exam paper will not be graded.

1. A professor says an assignment is due on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Which of the following statements is true? (Circle only one.)

a. I can turn in the assignment on Wednesday at 8 a.m. without penalty.
b. I can turn in the assignment prior to Tuesday at 8 p.m. without penalty.
c. I must turn in the assignment at precisely 8 p.m. Tuesday—synchronize watches!
d. Your professor is likely to be in his/her office at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

2. Your professor, Louise Johnson, is apparently a single female. Which of the following is a proper form of address for her, absent specific instructions to the contrary? (Circle as many as appropriate.)

a. Mrs. Johnson
b. Miss Johnson
c. Dr. Johnson
d. Prof. Johnson
e. Louise
f. Hot Lips

3. Your professor has given instructions that an assignment must be turned in both in electronic form at and on paper. How should you respond? (Circle the appropriate answer.)

a. I will turn in an electronic copy at and a paper copy at the professor’s office.
b. I will make up some excuse about being “out of printing credits” and only turn in an electronic copy.
c. I will copy-and-paste my paper from a Wikipedia article on a completely unrelated topic and only turn in a paper copy.
d. I will turn in neither; instead, I will complete a Universal Grade Change form as found at “Kids Prefer Cheese,” a popular Internet weblog.

4. A professor gives an examination in which s/he requires the use of a green Scantron form and a #2 pencil. I should

a. bring some obscure type of pencil only marketed in Mongolia and a pink Scantron form purchased at a university in the Ivory Coast.
b. bring a #2 pencil and a green Scantron form to the exam.
c. complete the exam using a pen, because there’s no way the machine knows the difference between pencil and pen even though one is reflective and the other isn’t.
d. come to class late and disrupt other students by asking if anyone has a green Scantron form they’d like to give me.

Extra Credit: My class meets MWF 8-8:50 a.m. My final exam is Friday from 8–11 a.m. Finals week starts Monday. I should

a. go to class Monday and Wednesday even though there are likely other final exams scheduled in that room at the same time.
b. email the professor Thursday night letting him know that I have three final exams scheduled for Friday and I’d like to reschedule my exam for some other time.
c. not attend the final exam because my high school exempts students from taking finals if they have an “A” in the course (never mind that I currently have a 76, but don’t know that because I can’t be bothered to check the online gradebook).
d. study.
e. none of the above.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Public opinion, voting behavior, parties, and interest groups all shoved together in one unholy syllabus. And the best part is that I couldn’t even figure out how to cram in two books I’ve already ordered, which no doubt will annoy the bookstore to no end.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Finally a thread we can all get behind

The rumor board gets a thread on dealing with non-academics who don’t get the academic job market. Now if we just had a thread for academics who don’t get the nature of the market, we’d be set.