Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Duke under siege, Day Two

The blaring headline on today’s Duke Chronicle is “Unrest hits Main West.” I hate to think how they’d report a riot.

Meanwhile, for those of you out in the real world beyond Duke, go read Timothy Burke’s response to the Kenyon debacle.

Update: Actual news on the rape allegations is here, including the not-very-shocking revelation that there are lacrosse team members who have faced alcohol-related charges in the past (your Claude Raines moment of the day) and the news that what really made the dancers run for the door wasn’t the alleged racial slur about the provenance of one of the players’ shirts but instead that “one of the men watching held up a broomstick and threatened to sexually assault the women,” presumably using said broomstick. (þ: UD)

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Learning to love Piss Christ, Islamic edition

Pieter Dorsman reasons by analogy between Andres Serrano’s infamous “Piss Christ” and the recent controversy over the caricatures of Muhammad that appeared in a Danish newspaper and are now spreading across Europe’s media outlets.

Friday, 18 November 2005

Bad strategery

While we can’t explore the counterfactual universe, I suspect ABC News wouldn’t have bothered with this story on CIA interrogation techniques if the White House weren’t stonewalling the McCain anti-torture amendment—putting aside whatever merits or demerits the McCain amendment may have. (þ:Orin Kerr)

Sunday, 23 October 2005

The view from Manhattan

In the midst of an article on Wal-Mart’s new low-premium/high-deductible health care plan, the New York Times makes the sort of bizarre statement that could only be made by a news organization whose employees have never set foot in a Wal-Mart:

Currently, fewer than half of Wal-Mart’s workers are covered by company health insurance, compared with more than 80 percent at Costco, its leading competitor.

Costco is Wal-Mart’s leading competitor? Perhaps in the warehouse club space, but that’s small potatoes compared to Wal-Mart’s discount store/grocery business, where its main competitors are K-Mart, Target, Meijer, Kroger, and the like. I strongly suspect those competitors are much less generous with health care than Costco (and perhaps even less generous than Wal-Mart).

Fact checking, it’s a beautiful thing.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Holy crud, the Chronicle shoots a three-fer

To my infinite shock, today’s Duke Chronicle actually has three well-written, vaguely-intelligent op-eds:

Ok, I did say vaguely intelligent.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Times op-ed irrelevance watch

Kevin Drum hasn’t linked the New York Times op-ed page for six weeks, and nobody seems to have noticed—or, for that matter, to have cared. Will someone remind me again who was supposed to be ponying up $50 a year for access to crap like Paul Krugman’s foreign policy nonsense and political commentary from losers.

Saturday, 25 June 2005

Rove v. Durbin

James G. Lakely of the Washington Times compares the press reaction to Karl Rove’s recent remarks about liberals and/or Democrats with Sen. Richard Durbin’s apparent attempt to draw an equivalence between Gitmo and Naziism, but I think some of Lakely’s evidence is rather specious… including this item:

The White House press corps also handled both stories dramatically differently. Questions about Mr. Rove dominated the White House press briefing the day after the speech was delivered with spokesman Scott McClellan being peppered with 22 questions on the subject.

A solitary reporter asked for the White House’s response to Mr. Durbin’s speech—two days after it was delivered—and Mr. McClellan was asked about it just two more times.

Karl Rove works for the president of the United States; one would expect that the president’s representatives would be asked to answer questions about his comments. Durbin, on the other hand, is a member of the legislative branch. This disparity doesn’t show bias—it shows that one person works for the president, and the other doesn’t.

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

He said, she said journalism

Not having analyzed the data (a big caveat for a social scientist, mind you) I’ll agree with the critics who aren’t buying the evidence from a Heritage report that suggests that “abstinance pledge” programs work. Not that the story makes that much sense, since it’s clear the author doesn’t actually know anything about social scientific research and just relies on an expert and the authors of the original study to rebut the paper.

But Matthew Yglesias’ critique really goes off the rails. First he complains, “the study was not peer-reviewed, is unpublishable in real academic journals, uses an unreliable data source, and only supports the conclusion when you use a non-standard test for statistical significance.”

The first two critiques are bizarre, since (a) it has never been submitted for peer review and (b) we don’t know whether or not it’s publishable, since submission for peer review hasn’t happened yet; the lack of publishability is an opinion expressed by someone in the article, not a factual statement. They don’t use any “non-standard test”; they use a p-value of 0.10 as their cutoff, which isn’t the traditional 0.05 and not quite as convincing as 0.05, but isn’t inherently invalid either, and confidence levels aren’t tests (examples of tests are “t” tests and “Wald” tests; p values are the results of statistical tests).

The only critique that’s even vaguely valid is that the data source is unreliable, as it relies on self-reporting by respondents of their behavior. This is a problem, to the extent you believe that people who have signed abstinence pledges are more likely to lie about their sexual activity than those who haven’t. I’ll concede that it’s possible that that’s the case. Mind you, Heritage didn’t come up with the data—HHS did—and trying to get people to accurately self-report anything is harder than it looks.

Then Yglesias turns and goes completely bizarro:

The only newsworthy information in the story is that the Bush Department of Health and Human Services has decided for some reason to start contracting out research on controversial questions to an ideological think tank that is non-partisan in name only, rather than to proper independent analysts.

There is no evidence in the story that Heritage was working under any sort of HHS contract. On the contrary, Heritage appears to have analyzed data, produced under HHS and CDC contract, which is in the public domain.* They then presented their results at a government-sponsored conference. The next step would be to fix any problems in the paper (and the article suggests there were some), and then submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s how social science is done.

Now, mind you, it might be premature for the New York Times to be calling attention to this story, but given public interest in the issue—and the Times’ possible interest in discrediting this evidence, not that I’d suspect the paper of having an ideological bias in its reporting decisions—I’m not sure I can fault them for covering preliminary results that (potentially) rebut a serious critique of administration policy.

* If the CDC had helped fund either analysis, it would be traditional for the studies to acknowledge the funding at the beginning of the paper in a note. I think it’s more likely that the Times meant to say that the CDC helped fund the HHS survey, not the Heritage study.

Monday, 6 June 2005

Quote of the Day

The Minor Fall, The Major Lift on some erroneous chronology in the New York Times:

Coldplay’s powers of suck are so all-encompassing that they extend out backwards through time, influencing bands that actually predate them.

þ: Nick Troester, who also finds other aspects of the article to be amusing.

Monday, 16 May 2005

Interrupting the two-step flow

James Joyner links a MarketWatch piece that claims the New York Times is going to put its op-ed columnists behind a subscription wall; the Times has confirmed this in its own article. While comparisons to New Coke may be premature, I have to wonder who’s really going to pay $50 a year to read Paul Krugman, David Brooks, and MoDo.

One also has to wonder why the Times would want to abandon the mindshare that comes from getting linked from the blogosphere; PaidContent.org has an interview that indicates that some sort of “affiliate program” is in the works, but I don’t think the opportunity for right-wingers to make fun of Paul Krugman’s continuing descent into moonbattery—or for leftists to mock John Tierney and David Brooks—is really worth the subscription fee in the first place (presumably some of which would be kicked back to referrers through the affiliate program). Indeed, the point of having an op-ed page is to influence public opinion; the idea that the Times would curtail its ability to influence local and regional elites, and thus shape public debate over the issues, runs directly counter to that goal.

There are other thoughts from Erik Kennedy of Ars Technica, Steven Taylor, and Julian Sanchez.

Saturday, 14 May 2005


Thanks to Backcountry Conservative Jeff Quinton for name-dropping our humble blog during his appearance on MSNBC’s “Connected: Coast to Coast” yesterday; he specifically referred to my posts on the BRAC list’s impact on Mississippi. If you didn’t see it live or on TiVo delay, Jeff’s link above has the streaming video; I think the Signifying Nothing mention is in response to the first question from Ron Reagan.

Thursday, 21 April 2005


My local media infamy continues to increase in this week’s issue of Planet Weekly, one of Jackson’s two alt-weekies:

Such questions [about ties between bloggers and political campaigns, and whether independent blogs are campaign contributions] are becoming more and more prevalent as websites and blogs become more of a force in politics at all levels, said Dr. Chris Lawrence, visiting professor of political science at Millsaps College and webmaster of a blog called “Signifying Nothing,” which he’s operated since 2003 [sic: actually, November 2002, but who cares?]. Such sites can serve as an organizational tool for volunteers, a media channel for voters, or a method for campaigns to get their message out, said Lawrence.

The article is about the Jackson’s Next Mayor blog, which is in something of a pissing contest with the Jackson Free Press, the other alt-weekly; the JFP says JNM is carrying water for incumbent mayor Harvey Johnson’s opponents, while JNM says the JFP is carrying water for Johnson—I’d charge both as being “guilty” on all counts, as a mostly-disinterested observer.

Incidentally, it’s amazing how much more pub I’m getting now that I’m leaving town…

Monday, 18 April 2005

Premise not computing

Normally, I’m in full agreement with TigerHawk about things, but this post on Ann Coulter will not stand:

Michelle Malkin, who certainly should concern herself with the press’s treatment of attractive conservative women, writes that it is all part of a pattern. [emphasis mine]

Of course, I don’t share my co-blogger’s apparent interest in emaciated women—not to mention his predilection in favor of Ms. Coulter’s cleavage—so I may not be an unbiased observer.

Monday, 11 April 2005

Dinner is not (always) a date

Dan Drezner links a New York Times Style section piece that Will Baude rightly characterizes as “bizarre” on something called a “man date”—or, at least, something that isn’t really called that, since the reporter made up the term. (Compared to Mitch Albom, Ms. Lee is a piker.)

Perhaps the most bizarre part is the coinage of calling it a “date”—the only sort of non-romantic dates I’ve ever heard of before involve people under the age of 10, and even the term “play date” sounds fundamentally stupid to me. I’ve certainly had dinner with people and been confused about whether or not it was actually a date, but I have never experienced that confusion at dinner with someone I wasn’t interested in romantically.

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

Agenda setter in denial about own agenda setting

You have to admit that The New York Times has quite a bit of testicular fortitude to publish the following paragraph with a straight face:

Two years ago, the Masters tournament was ensnared in a debate over the absence of women in the Augusta National membership, a debate spearheaded by Martha Burk, the chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

Then again, maybe the Grey Lady is just hoping its readership will forget that Howell Raines was ever employed by the paper.

Friday, 1 April 2005

Chris Lawrence: Columnist

Well, the long-awaited column has finally arrived in print, and I only just learned it was there with an email from a reader. Serves me right for not checking the Clarion-Ledger website today.

It’s on judicial filibusters and a possible compromise between the Democratic and Republican positions on the “nuclear option.”

Sunday, 20 March 2005

Olé olé olé

Seen at the top of yesterday’s Clarion-Ledger: Michigan State 89, Ole Dominion 81. Ole habits die hard, I guess.

Saturday, 5 March 2005

Tonight's project

I cobbled together an op-ed on judicial nominations and the filibuster for the Clarion-Ledger. Let’s see if it makes print; maybe they’re looking for a Mary Matalin (or at least a George Stephanapolous) to Bob McElvaine’s James Carville.

Wednesday, 23 February 2005

Mirror images

The left half of the blogosphere is rather worked up by some comments from Power Line’s John Hinderacker, quoted as follows (I didn’t bother watching the video, so YMMV) in regards to the “mainstream” of the Democratic Party:

The whole mainstream of the party is engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America, what they care about is not winning the war on terror…I don’t think they care about the danger to us as Americans or the danger to people in other countries. They care about power.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn’t this exactly the same thing we’ve been hearing about the Bush administration and Republicans from the Kos/Moore/MoveOn left for the past four years? That is, when they’re not calling Bush stupid. Goose, gander, and all that. (Update: As if on cue, Greg Wythe—no Deaniac or Sorosite by any stretch of the imagination—demonstrates exactly this sentiment himself saying “the only thing Republicans are consistent about is the quest for power alone.”)

Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis has the cojones to call out The New York Times and the rest of the media for hyping the blue state-red state myth:

I’ll argue instead that it is big media who have, to use your words, accelerated “a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left….” Who is trading on the notion that we are suddenly a land of red v. blue but big media? Except for the oddities of the electoral college, as you know, our political maps would more accurately show us to be a nation of urban vs. exurban. Or I could be really difficult and contend that the close votes in the last two presidential elections actually indicate that we are getting closer. Big media have made division the key narrative of the age.

Readers are invited to tie together these two disparate thoughts as they see fit. There might even be a lesson in it, somewhere.

(Yglesias puts his post in the “Carter series,” and thus so will I.)

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

The self-delusions-of-reality-based community

I don’t always agree with Stephen Bainbridge, but he has a point about Paul Krugman’s latest missive:

Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense. (Link)

Which is precisely the Democrats’ problem. In their party, being what the Economist’s Lexington called “a moderate governor of one of the most left-wing states in the union,” qualifies you as a centrist. There’s a big difference between being a centrist in Vermont (or Manhattan or LA) and being a centrist in, say, Missouri.

Of course, that cuts both ways; a Republican at the center of his or her party (Thad Cochran? Bob Taft?) is going to be well to the right of the centrist voter in many states, and certainly would not be the same thing the media would label a “moderate” Republican (someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, or Christie Todd Whitman). Howard Dean may well be at the center of his party (or at least the “Democratic wing” of it, as he would put it), but that doesn’t make him a political moderate like fellow Democrats Martin Frost, John Tanner, and Joe Lieberman.

Monday, 14 February 2005

The reality of corruption

Mike Hollihan looks at the motley collection of felons and other miscreants hanging around Shelby County’s halls of government today and wonders where the scandal is.

Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Free idea for the C-L

Steven Taylor notes that the Austin American-Statesman has started a weblog just covering the Texas state legislature. It seems to me that the Clarion-Ledger could easily do the same thing for the Mississippi Legislature and provide a much more useful service to its readers than its typical output of 2–3 articles a day during the session.

Monday, 31 January 2005

Word abuse of the day

Somehow, the departure of William Safire from the New York Times has led to the gratuitous misuse of language:

Participation varied by region, and the impressive national percentages should not obscure the fact that the country’s large Sunni Arab minority remained broadly disenfranchised – due to alienation or terror or both.

The word “disenfranchised” literally means deprived of voting rights. Southern blacks were disenfranchised under Jim Crow. Women were disenfranchised prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

By contrast, Sunni Arabs in Iraq were not disenfranchised; nobody stopped them from voting. Instead, they chose not to drag their sorry asses to the polls, for whatever reason.

Friday, 21 January 2005

Alt-weeklies and leftism

Something I pondered yesterday as I ate dinner at Fazoli’s reading both of Jackson’s alt-weeklies: why are virtually all alt-weeklies mostly left-wing affairs? The advertisers, for the most part, don’t care about the politics—they just want 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs on their ads—and most young people don’t care about politics; even the ones who do aren’t particularly leftist in their outlook (rather, the distribution is fairly evenly bimodal, since people who care about politics tend to be of one wing or the other, but the median college kid isn’t that far to the left). So why are alt-weeklies full of articles crusading for “social justice” and whining about SUV owners and people who rent movies at Blockbuster?

I suppose there’s an economic argument that leftist writers are more willing to accept low-to-nonexistent pay to produce content for the alt-weeklies than right-wingers would, since the opportunity cost for the typical left-winger is lower—but this wouldn’t apply to the college kids (including some I teach) who write a good deal for these papers. There might also be some sort of network effect; the people who set up the alt-weeklies tend to be leftists, so they get other motley liberals and progressives to join them. But if there’s money to be made running an alt-weekly, surely people with right-wing politics would also have established alt-weeklies. It’s doubly-puzzling since most college alternative newspapers are generally right-wing affairs. Any better theories?

Monday, 3 January 2005

AP Poll Corruption Watch

After Auburn’s squeak past previously 10–2 Virginia Tech tonight, how many additional AP voters will be so impressed to promote the Tigers above the winner of Tuesday’s Oklahoma–Southern Cal matchup of undefeated teams? Inquiring minds want to know…*

In other SEC news, Louisiana State finally hired a coach, who got this monetary vote of confidence from LSU AD Skip Bertman:

“I’m not going to pay Saban money for a guy who hasn’t earned it,” Bertman said.