Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Goin' down south

I am happy to report that I have accepted a visiting position for the 2007–08 academic year in the political science department at Tulane University in New Orleans. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be teaching next year, but I know it involves an introduction to political science course and some additional mid-to-upper-level courses in American politics at the undergraduate level, which hopefully will include my seminar in Southern politics in the spring semester.

I’m particularly looking forward to living about nine degrees farther south. St. Louis may very well be a great place to live… but not between November and March, at least for this cold weather wimp.

Monday, 8 January 2007

The home stretch

I am finally on the return leg of the grand roadtrip—I have one more day in Memphis before I finally get back home to butt-numbingly cold St. Louis. I enjoyed my visit to New Orleans. Both of my SPSA panels went well, although they were, alas, lightly attended; I am certainly more confident about the publication prospects for the paper, although now it needs a blog nickname—perhaps “the damn measurement paper” will suffice.

I also enjoyed catching up with Steven, Dieter (the rock upon whom ICPSR is built), Andrew (all too briefly), and Kelly.

Friday, 5 January 2007

My Lunch with Steven

Steven Taylor and I had lunch today at Mother’s Restaurant, self-declared home of the “world’s best baked ham.” I have to say that the ham and cheese po-boy was excellent, if on the pricey side ($9!).

In other SPSA conference news, my morning panel at the Hotel Intercontinental was relegated to a tiny conference room with a hand-printed sign adjacent to a service elevator. You’d think the public opinion section would get more respect from the conference powers that be…

Thursday, 4 January 2007

A tale of two Katrina-ravaged cities

Since I only had a two-hour drive today from Mobile to New Orleans, I decided to take a detour via what used to be known as the scenic route along the coast. Not that today was likely to be good for sightseeing in any event—it was foggy all day.

Driving along US 90 from Gulfport to Pass Christian was probably the most surreal experience of my life, an experience heightened by the fog on all sides that kept the merely damaged buildings out of sight. Every half-mile or so you could see some effort at rebuilding along the highway, with living quarters usually (but not always) elevated above ground-level garages, but the gaps in between were completely desolate save for “for sale” signs, as if the Hand of God came down and just scooped everything within sight off the planet, leaving a few scrawny trees and eerily empty streets behind. Here are the two photos I took, which if anything understate the devastation.

Driving through eastern New Orleans on I-10 was an altogether different experience, like what one imagines Beirut or Mogadishu would currently look like if either city had previously been American suburbia. On my previous visit, I’d left and arrived via the closer-to-normal western suburbs; the contrast is quite stark.

To the left, to the left

I’m now about to embark on the home stretch of the grand holiday road trip, which should be a leisurely drive from Mobile to New Orleans. I’m not exactly looking forward to arriving this afternoon in a city full of hung-over fans of the Bayou Bengals and Fighting Irish, although maybe if I hide in my hotel room they’ll all lose interest and leave town.

Friday, 22 December 2006

SPSA done

The SPSA paper is here for the morbidly or otherwise curious.

Thursday, 21 December 2006


After a last-minute grading emergency, I finally escaped St. Louis and got to Memphis, a.k.a. stop one on the grand road trip.

Now, hopefully stop three won’t sink into the Gulf of Mexico between now and SPSA… (þ: BigJim).

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Blessings upon blessings

All but one of my discussant assignments at SPSA have apparently disappeared without any notice to me—which is just as well, since that allows me to postpone my arrival in downtown New Orleans until January 4th… garnering about a 50% reduction in hotel rates, since now I can stay at the Hilton Garden Inn I stayed at a couple of weeks ago for $99/night and get free breakfast due to my HHonors perks, instead of the conference hotel at the significantly above-market $155/night rate; one fewer night to pay for; and avoiding the crush of the Nokia Allstate Sugar Bowl to boot.

Monday, 23 October 2006


My visit to New Orleans culminated in more dining and dancing yesterday, along with some DVD viewing and dog-walking. Alas, today I have to go home, and all I have to look forward to is spending Tuesday grading papers and exams so I can submit midterm grades by the end of tomorrow afternoon. But the good news is that I’ll be back in the Crescent City in about ten weeks for SPSA, or possibly sooner if one or more of the local universities are seriously interested in my job applications.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Dance, dance

Kelly and I went to a ballroom/salsa dance thing tonight with some of her friends after an excellent dinner at Juan’s Flying Burrito. I am immensely surprised to find that I don’t completely suck at at least the rudiments of ballroom-style dancing, but salsa was a bit more of a challenge.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

The Big Not-So-Easy

I’m enjoying my visit to New Orleans thus far—except for a bit of rain this afternoon, the weather has been quite pleasant. I certainly got my exercise in today—I walked from my hotel two blocks south of Canal St to the Old Mint and back, at least 3 miles total—compensating somewhat for the beignets and hot chocolate Kelly and I had at Café du Monde last night, although I did have lunch at the Crescent City Brewhouse, probably making the effort less effective.

Friday, 20 October 2006

The arrival

My vacation is now officially underway; here’s the view from my hotel room window:

View from my hotel room (Oct 2006)

As correctly guessed by Frequent Commenters Scott and Alfie, I am in New Orleans (although my flights are in and out of Baton Rouge). They share the rights to the official Signifying Nothing no-prize of the week, which is a free copy of the 2007 edition of the Spreadsheet of Death™ upon request.

Sunday, 23 October 2005

The New Orleans Saints of Los Angeles (by way of San Antonio)

ESPN.com reports that, according to NFL sources, the only way the Saints are likely to come back to New Orleans is if they play in a Super Bowl. Given the team’s history of threats to leave town for greener pastures (most recently—and, in retrospect, ironically—for the Mississippi Gulf Coast), nobody should be particularly surprised.

If Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco are smart (admittedly a dubious proposition), they’ll shake down Saints owner Tom Benson for as much buyout money as possible—and then spend it on something other than luring another NFL franchise to town.

þ: OTB.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Porkbusters go down in flames

As they say, heh.

Or to put it another way, one man’s pork is another man’s necessary infrastructure project. After all, the good people of New Orleans could get along just dandy with a repaired 4-lane I-10 Lake Pontchartrain bridge for years to come (especially when you consider that the depopulation of the city is going to make a widened span unnecessary for the forseeable future, Mayor Nagin’s revitalization fantasies aside)... Katrina alone shouldn’t bump them to the head of the line for a fancy new 6-lane span. And, surely, a real “porkbuster” would favor letting the FHWA bureaucracy, not Congress, decide where the money would best be spent. Let’s see how many votes that Coburn amendment would get; my bet is pretty close to zero.

Incidentally, my lack of sympathy also goes for using emergency rebuilding funds to pay for decades-old wishlist items and “new urbanism” tripe on the Gulf Coast instead of sticking to the essentials.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Fiddling while Rome floods, SPSA edition

Your SPSA non-update update of the day. Quoth the SPSA website, as of this posting:

On Monday, we expect to announce the signing of a contract with the new host of our January 2006 conference.

Perhaps SPSA is using a different value of “Monday” than the rest of us. I thought it was over nearly 17 hours ago, myself…

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Defending Nagin from the right

For what it’s worth: a counterpoint to my cheap shot at Ray Nagin comes from Cobb (þ: Xrlq).

SPSA bails on New Orleans, plays solidarity card

The meat of the latest update from the Southern Political Science Association website:

Intercontinental North America has excused us from the 2006 commitment without penalty. They have also asked their other properties in the South to try to step up and host our 2006 meeting under the same contract terms that we would have enjoyed in New Orleans. Detailed discussions are underway today (Friday, September 9th) with three beautiful Intercontinental properties. On Monday, we expect to announce the signing of a contract with the new host of our January 2006 conference. You can help in this process by honoring your commitments as we honor those that the association has made. Those of you who have attended The Southern since Savannah 2002 know that attendees will have a fabulous time and an excellent conference. You risk nothing by standing by the association while we stand by our corporate colleagues.

The candidate properties would appear to be three of the following four: Buckhead (Atlanta), Dallas, Houston, and Miami.

Given the givens (geography, air and road access, and the location of the association offices), Atlanta seems to be the most likely prospect, and perhaps the allure of Buckhead to potential attendees will be higher than that of the relatively uninteresting neighborhood surrounding the Sheraton that has been the site for several past SPSA meetings. With reports of attendees already bailing, SPSA had better have the situation resolved soon.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Group work

I made my intro class do a group discussion exercise today; I had intended it as a debate over Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution” thesis, but I guess my questions were general enough to become a debate over non-economic self-interest too. The kids seemed to enjoy it—for the first time, they seemed as engaged as the methods kids—and it saved me from having to lecture as much.

The class also picked up one of our 50-or-so refugees from New Orleans today, a student from Tulane. I had planned to get the class to discuss the Katrina situation next week—we’re covering federalism and state/local government, so it seemed pretty apropos—but maybe that would be a bit insensitive. Thoughts?


Michael Brown is apparently being pushed aside at FEMA in favor of his deputy. There’s more thoughts from James Joyner at OTB, who points out the lack of experimental control here:

One presumes Brown has put in incredibly hard hours and done his best here. Clearly, he wasn’t particularly well trained for the position; it’s not knowable whether someone with better credentials could have done any better, though.

Nominally, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has better credentials… let’s go to the tape on her handling of the situation. Shall we say pas bien? And let’s not forget Ray “Underwater Schoolbusses” Nagin either. A pretty shameful showing all-around, methinks.

þ: Glenn Reynolds. I really don’t get the Norman Mineta vitriol, though…

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Your backdoor SPSA update

Following up on yesterday’s post, David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy reports:

The head of the New Orleans convention bureau told NPR today that he is canceling all conventions scheduled to be held in New Orleans through March 2006.

The CVB site claims that this cancellation only applies to large conventions or those using the convention center space, but realistically if the Crescent City won’t be in good enough condition to host a large convention in April it probably won’t in good enough condition for any convention in January.

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

SPSA to members: grow gills

Via PoliBlog: the Southern Political Science Association thinks it will hold its annual convention in three months in New Orleans. Steven Taylor is unconvinced:

I certainly would not want the association to make a move that would take money out of the city, if, in fact, the meetings can take palce in January. However, I really don’t see that happening. The hotel, given its location and pictures I have seen is probably largely fine. However, what about the electrical grid, the phones, the water system, the roads, the police, the general support struture for tourists (restaurants, other hotels, etc.)? I just don’t see the city being able to host any events by the first week or so of January.

Considering that all that’s likely to be close to functional in New Orleans in three months (and, more than likely, for the forseeable future; the SPSA can only be delayed so long before it becomes moot) are the higher parts of the Jefferson Parish suburbs and some of the downtown area—bear in mind the Hotel Intercontinental, while on high ground, is only a few blocks from areas that are still flooded around the Superdome—I am forced to echo Steven’s skepticism.

A conference the size of SPSA should have no trouble finding suitable convention space elsewhere in the southeast, but these decisions need to be made sooner rather than later.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

What little I have to say about Katrina

Randy Barnett explaining why faith in government is a dangerous thing:

[G]overnment at all levels has obviously not lived up to its promise of being able to anticipate and react to disasters and other social calamities better than nongovernmental institutions. This should not be surprising. Governments are comprised of ordinary human beings with the same limitations of vision and self-interests as those in the private sector (and often, but not always, with far worse incentives)—that is, these human beings confront pervasive problems of knowledge, interest, and power. I have the same reaction every time there are calls for increased government oversight in the aftermath of some failure in the private sector. What gives anyone confidence that government institutions will act with any more prescience? Moreover, it seems often the case that the core functions that are most often used to justify the existence of governments—such as public safety, national defense, and public infrastructure—are often the very tasks that are given short shrift by real world politicians in search of more “elevated,” seemingly less pedestrian goals than these. This seems especially the case when the failure to provide these “essential social services” can so often be obscured from public view or, when revealed, responsibility for failure can be shifted to others.

Incidentally, anyone who can’t acknowledge that the fuck-ups that led to tens of thousands of New Orleans residents are the combined fault of a Republican-controlled federal government and Democrat-controlled state and local governments is responding in a fundamentally unserious manner. See, for example, Eric Muller and Glenn Reynolds, two smart men who (a) I didn’t previously believe were fundamentally unserious (hence why I am not calling out nitwits like Kos and Atrios—their behavior is par for the course) and (b) should know better.

Oh, and brava to Sela Ward for laying the smackdown on Kanye West’s idiotic "FEMA hates blacks" meme (speaking of the fundamentally unserious) on Larry King Live tonight.

Sunday, 28 August 2005

À dieu, New Orleans

Well, I suppose that city was nice enough while it lasted. Here’s my photos from my last visit, back in March; there’s a very good chance that my next visit, scheduled for January, won’t be happening if this bulletin is to be believed.