Thursday, April 30, 2009

The future of the GOP

I've been invited to give a talk on the future of the Republican Party in June. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with it, but Robert Farley's post from earlier today seems like a good place to start. Still, I'm not sure I agree with him here:
Political parties do die. They don't die often, but even in the United States they sometimes go belly up. I think that the Republican Party has become stuck in an ideological and demographic trap of its own making, and I'm not sure that it understands the seriousness of the situation. It's Congressional deficit is greater than any that the Democrats have faced since 1931. It's struggling to maintain its share of a part of the electorate that is steadily shrinking, and it has failed to make serious inroads into any other demographic.
For one thing, the last time a major party died was in the 1850s, and its death gave rise to the Republican Party and the Civil War. To say they "don't die often" is a bit of an understatement.

But beyond that, I'm not sure how useful it is to use a party's demographic shortcomings to describe its prospects for overall success. Yes, the GOP is at a low ebb right now, but not necessarily because its unpopular with Latinos or women. It's pretty much unpopular across the board, as this graph of party self-identification shows:

But that won't last forever. At some point, Obama's approval ratings will drop significantly, either because the economy fails to rally, or because of a scandal or some kind of screw up. And the GOP will look relevant again. That doesn't mean they'll be the majority party again any time soon; that may take decades to achieve. But they'll be back. They'll probably make some gains in the House in 2010, although I'm not sure about the Senate. And when their stock begins to rise, they'll start looking good among various demographic subgroups, too.

Just remember where the Democrats were in 2002. It really didn't seem like they were on their way back to unified control of the government within six years.

Oink oink

We've got swine flu here in Colorado! According to the Post, the disease struck a baggage handler at DIA and a woman in Arapahoe County who recently traveled to Mexico.

The rumor on campus is that the University will go into flu mode if one case shows up on campus. That means we finish out the quarter using on-line technology; chat rooms, discussion boards, video conferencing, etc. Campus will otherwise be pretty much shut down. I'm wondering if students will be allowed to go home or will be confined to their dorms.

Again, this is all rumor so far -- no specific instructions from the administration yet other than to wash hands a lot. I'd better go do that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Okay, Biden's earned his keep for the year

According to Greg Sargent, it was Biden who orchestrated Specter's defection. Not a bad piece of work.

Afghanistan's Parties

Marc Herman points out an interesting passage from a recent report by the European Council on Foreign Relations:
In the longer term, the international community should begin to address a cause of the systematic instability that has racked Afghanistan for the last seven years: the absence of political parties. In most political systems, parties play a central role in selecting leaders, defining a political agenda and bridging social cleavages. Yet in Afghanistan, alliances tend to be based on ethnicity or religion rather than ideas.
It's quite heartening to see parties portrayed in a positive light, something that's often lacking in debates on political development. But it also raises a key question: why have coherent parties not emerged in Afghanistan?

My understanding of most new democracies (I'm an Americanist, so bear with me here) is that the first election is often chaotic, featuring dozens or even hundreds of minor parties, but that those usually cohere into a few major parties within a few election cycles. I believe that's the story in most of Eastern Europe, and I think that's what's been happening in Iraq in recent years. Why is this not happening in Afghanistan?

I'm just guessing here, but I'd surmise that one of the reasons that minor parties can see past their differences and coordinate on elections is because there's a big payoff for winning: control of the national government. That still doesn't mean a whole lot in Afghanistan. The national government has never been very strong there and still has trouble coordinating actions and enforcing laws across such rugged terrain. So there's not much incentive to integrate parties.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

File under "This was already a 'West Wing' episode"

Gov. Ritter gave a speech touting the great outdoor spaces of Colorado yesterday. But due to crappy weather, he had to give the speech inside. Forgot to change the speech. Whoops.
“What a joy it is,” he said, “to be here today soaking in this beautiful Colorado weather.”
Yeah, President Bartlet did the same thing when addressing the United Organization of Trout Fishermen.

Incumbents vs. the Party

Arlen Specter:
I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.
Few statements better crystalize the tension between parties and the people they put in office. Incumbents are hard to control. They develop their own constituencies, their own funding sources. Sometimes the party can actually topple them with a primary challenger. Sometimes they can keep an incumbent loyal just by threatening a primary -- incumbents don't want to work that hard to keep their jobs. But there are limits to what you can do, particularly when the incumbent has such a devoted constituency that is so antithetical to the party's members.


Arlen Specter is now a Democrat. Once Franken gets seated, that's sixty Democratic senators. That means health reform, seizing the means of production, you name it.

I think the lesson here is that Republicans should've left Specter alone for the same reason Democrats leave Ben Nelson alone. Yes, they're crappy members of the party, but they also have constituencies to represent. Joe Lieberman had no excuse to be a crappy Democrat -- his state was quite liberal. He could be pushed. Push Specter too far to the right and you lose the seat. Or you drive him out of the party.

Update: Josh Marshall notes that Republican voter registration is way down in the past few years in Pennsylvania, which is a closed primary state. Only the real hardcores are still there. This made the 2010 GOP primary look like very hostile territory for Specter.

Monday, April 27, 2009

More CA budget politics

In an interesting development, the California Democratic Party failed to endorse Proposition 1A, which is one of the state government's latest efforts to shore up its financial stability by capping spending and prolonging some sales taxes. The politics on this one are odd, with Democratic leaders in the legislature working closely with Gov. Schwarzenegger to craft it, but prominent unions like the California Faculty Association opposing it.

This is turning out to be a classic coalition of extremes. I'm guessing there are enough union voters and conservative Republicans in the state to kill this initiative next month. Stay tuned.

No school like the old school

The California Democratic Party has elected John Burton as its new chairman. I've heard some rumors that he actually tried to strongarm his one competitor out of the race, even though it was widely known she didn't have a chance.

It's worth a minute to pause and reflect that term limits were enacted in California in part to drive John Burton from politics. That was 19 years ago.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

He said, he said

The AP has some nice vacuous crap about environmental legislation currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"I have read all 648 pages of this bill," Gore bragged, a boast that would surprise no one who caught his teacher's-pet performance in the 2000 presidential race. "It took me two transcontinental flights on United Airlines to finish it."
Also not surprising, Gore endorsed the bill.
Gingrich, who opposes the bill, said he had read a bit more than 200 pages, until he got to a reference about a Jacuzzi. That was enough, he said, calling the legislation an energy tax and a power grab for the Energy Department.
Both men settled back into the camera-hogging, hyperbolic styles they had honed during their days of power in Washington.
Can we just stipulate that Gore's a know-it-all and Gingrich is a hothead and move on from there? Like, was one of them actually right about the legislation? We certainly wouldn't know it from this article.

Friendly advice for a letter writer

A Lakewood resident got this letter published in today's Denver Post:
I have written Bennet at least a dozen times since he became our non-elected senator. He either doesn’t care about the people who may elect him in 2010 or he can’t make up his mind on an issue. To date I have not received an answer from him or his office on any of the issues I’ve written him about. Even when I requested his local address from his Washington, D.C., office, he didn’t answer.
I’m disappointed in Bennet’s performance at the present time. I find it hard to understand why he doesn’t answer my letters to him. It certainly makes me wonder where he is coming from.
A word of advice from someone who used to make his living responding to constituents for elected officials: It's regrettable that Sen. Bennet didn't respond to your first letter. I can only assume that this had something to do with the fact that Bennet had to hit the ground running in January and had no former campaign staff he could immediately employ to do basic things like respond to constituents.

That said, writing a dozen letters to an elected official in his first four months of office (that's three per month) does not ensure you'll receive a response. Quite the contrary: it flags you as a compulsive letter-writer and possibly a bit of a crackpot. Constituent service staffers of public officials regard such writers with a combination of pity and dread. My advice is to back off for a few months and then try again.

Oh, and don't start letters by saying "I am not a crackpot." Only crackpots do this.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I felt better about the poll before the pollster defended it

There's been much to-do in Colorado of late over recent PPP polls which show both Gov. Ritter's and Sen. Bennet's approval ratings to be a mere 41%. Now, PPP does robocalls, which are sometimes considered a tad methodologically iffy. The Bennet poll curiously calculated 75% name recognition for Sen. Bennet, which seems high considering he was just appointed a few months ago and had a name recognition of about 1% (I'm guessing) prior to that. Coloradopols, in particular, was saying that this poll just had to be wrong. PPP responded by saying:
Some blogger in Colorado whacks our poll today, saying there's no way 75% of voters in the state really have an opinion about Michael Bennet.
I think that's probably true, but it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with our poll.
Um, actually, that means that roughly everything is wrong with the poll. If we're accepting that 75% is way too high, then the sample is clearly unrepresentative of Coloradans, which calls the whole approve/disapprove thing into question.

Ignorance is bliss

If you'd like to feel queasy for a few hours, check out this discussion about torture from "This Week" last Sunday. And keep in mind that this isn't Fox and Friends. This is the centrist Beltway elite media, and they've come to something close to a consensus that lawbreaking is okay if it's done by employees of the U.S. government, that transparency is a bad thing and that, as Peggy Noonan says, "Some things in life need to be mysterious."

(via Ta-Nehisi)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Political geography

Jim Gimpel, guest blogging at the Monkey Cage, points out a fascinating ongoing project called the CommonCensus Map Project. So far, more than 50,000 people have been asked the question, "On the level of North America as a whole, what major city do you feel has the most cultural and economic influence on your area overall?" The answers have produced this map:You should really check out the version here that allows use of a magnifying glass. It's pretty fascinating. As Jim points out, it seems to overlap a lot with media markets. Thus people in western Nebraska and eastern Utah are more likely to identify with Denver because that's whose TV they watch.

This project helps answer a query that Lee Siegelman raised on Monkey Cage a few weeks ago. What's the best level to analyze the vote? Should we be looking at individual data? County returns? State returns? There's no obvious right answer here. Yes, individuals, not counties or states, are the ones that cast votes. But people are not islands. They often think as members of communities and evaluate political events in terms of their impact on their geographic area. There's some reason to think that counties are the relevant area to examine. People identify with their counties (much more than they do with their legislative districts, which shift frequently) as counties have relatively fixed borders, are host to many political contests, have set tax structures and public services that are often different from those of neighboring counties, etc. And yet some people may identify more with their county than others do. A resident of Compton probably has a very different conception of "L.A. County" than a resident of Woodland Hills does, even though they're in the same county.

Another nice take on American political geography can be found in the TPM Book Club's discussion of Andrew Gelman's book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State. The whole book is basically an examination of an ecological inference problem: wealthy states vote Democratic, while wealthy people vote Republican. Another way of stating the problem is, as one commenter notes, "mistaking the map for the territory."

Bring your little girls to "Monsters vs. Aliens"

"Monsters versus Aliens" is good, if not great. Okay, it's DreamWorks, and I'm a total Pixar snob. I'm willing to admit it when Pixar makes a bad film, but they just haven't done it yet. And other major studio animation films just usually don't rise to that level, with the possible exceptions of "Ice Age" and "Shrek."

But what "Monsters" has going for it is that very rare thing in family entertainment -- a positive female lead. Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) begins as a docile bride-to-be, prepared to follow her upwardly-mobile husband wherever his career leads them. (She's even willing to accept Fresno over Paris as a honeymoon destination because it will help his career.) Then fate intervenes in the form of a meteorite that transforms Susan into a giant. The government immediately rips her from her hometown and imprisons her along with a handful of other lovable mutants.

Fate again falls from the skies when an alien robot starts tearing up northern California, and the government decides to dispatch its "monsters" to stop it. In doing so, Susan finds new strength and purpose and begins to enjoy her role as a protector. But she finds that her old friends, family, and fiancé are reluctant to hang out with her and her fellow monsters.

Ultimately, Susan faces a choice: to go back to her normal, subservient life and live "happily ever after," or to remain a strong, unmarried giant with a career that she loves. That she chooses the latter is a real credit to the film and sets it apart from such fare as "The Little Mermaid." The fact that she needed to be forcibly removed from her old life for her to make this choice is rather interesting, but I'll let those familiar with feminist theory and false consciousness comment on that.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much my four-year old daughter picked up from this viewing, but she could do worse than seeing the occasional movie like this.

Also, Stephen Colbert was really good as the president.

Marketing opportunity

I saw a preview for the new "Land of the Lost" movie the other day. Looks fun. They've obviously made a bunch of changes to the story, but several key characters, including Chaka and the Sleestaks, are there. And so is Enik! According to IMDB, he's being played by John Boylan, who I think played the racist cop in the first Harold and Kumar movie. I hope he's up to the task.

I wonder if I can parlay this into a money-making opportunity for this blog.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Solar sails

Thomas Mallon has a piece in this month's Atlantic about solar sails. The last I heard about any form of solar sailing (other than Count Dooku's silly ship) was in an Arthur C. Clarke short story about a competitive sport in which people use solar winds to propel themselves past the moon. Mallon reports that people are now taking this technology seriously and are proposing using it to send a payload to another solar system. Unfortunately, Mallon's piece focuses largely on international politics and funding (it is a political magazine, after all), and not on the technology, about which I was particularly curious.

Apparently, I had some misunderstandings about what solar sails do. I had thought that they collected solar wind, which is a collection of sub-light particles streaming from the sun. In fact, they are propelled by light itself. I don't really get how that works, since I understood photons to have no mass, thus being unable to exert any force, but this is hardly my field of specialty. But assuming that it works, I don't get why it would be a good vehicle for interstellar travel. As Mallon writes,
Once a sailing vehicle leaves the solar system, it will run out of gas—that is, sunlight—and space-based lasers, put into orbit around the planets, would have to keep beaming the necessary juice over vast distances.
Solar sail proponent Louis Friedman suggests a mission that could carry a 1-ton payload to Alpha Centauri in under 20 years. Isn't this kinda impractical? Beaming lasers into deep space for 20 years? Aren't there other forms of propulsion that could do roughly the same job?

Book reviews

My book allegedly comes out May 7th. Here's hoping I don't end up with a review like this:
Chesa Boudin seems like a genial guy with a bright future stretching far ahead of him. If “Gringo” is any indication, that future should not include committing sentences to paper with the intention of distributing them widely.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sobering advice for academics on the job market

Courtesy of Ari:
Precious few people, even in times of plenty, are offered jobs they really want, at least not straight out of graduate school. This means they’ll have to move to a place they don’t want to move. Or they’ll have to work at an institution that bears little resemblance to the temple of knowledge they associate with higher education. Because, after all, few people get jobs at schools like the ones where they received their BAs or PhDs. The conditions of employment, in other words, aren’t great in most instances: perhaps too much teaching, sometimes in fields distant from one’s area of expertise; perhaps low pay, sometimes not enough to buy a house or cover the cost of living in one’s new hometown; perhaps a grim work environment, sometimes peopled by unruly colleagues, hostile administrators, and intellectually indifferent students. And finally, the realization that this is it, that thisis what all the fuss was about.
It's a rather bleak post, but one nonetheless worth reading. Personally, I'd direct these comments more at those considering going to graduate school in the first place. Academia is a wonderful line of work, but it really isn't for everyone. I really don't recommend graduate school for those who aren't really sure what they want to do but just know they want a few more letters at the end of their names. There's much to like about graduate school -- you get to spend your days learning interesting things and talking and arguing with folks about issues that matter to you, and you can do a lot of it while drinking either beer or coffee -- but you subsist on very little money and your future, as Ari notes, is profoundly uncertain. It can be tough on marriages, too, as spouses often like to know where they're going to be living and when the money will start coming in. Finally, years spent in graduate school are years that could be spent actually earning money or learning skills or establishing oneself in a field.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More tea parties, please!

Dining in the Springs

As we reflect on levels of taxation and the role of government, it might be worthwhile to recall that El Paso County, the home of conservative citadel Colorado Springs, has so cut taxes that it cannot afford to meet state requirements for inspecting food safety conditions at its restaurants. As a result, complaints about food safety are way up. Personally, I won't eat anything in that county that hasn't been deep fried for at least 12 minutes.

Best president ever?

via Kim Yi Dionne and big crush.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Salad - the great enabler

So sad -- having salad with a meal makes one more likely to eat french fries. Salad just makes you feel healthier. (via Ezra)

On a related note, I worked out this morning and am currently eating jelly beans.

Rethinking "The Candidate"

I was showing "The Candidate" (1972) in class last week, and my views on that film are changing somewhat. Originally, my interpretation had been that Bill McKay (Robert Redford) was a decent, serious guy who kind of lost his way. As the possibility of becoming elected increased, he became more dependent on his consultants and less committed to his own beliefs. In my last viewing of it, however, it appeared to me that the political consultants were really manipulating him into this behavior.

At the beginning of the movie, for example, Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) is trying to recruit McKay to run. He does so by promising that McKay can say whatever he wants, since he's likely to lose anyway. However, on the night that McKay wins the Democratic nomination, Lucas hits him with some sobering exit polls.
Lucas: "I'm a little disappointed."
McKay: "Why? I've got 47 percent of the primary field."
Lucas: "Yeah, but if you look at the projection on the printout, it adds up to 32 percent in the election."
McKay: "So?"
Lucas: "So, if those figures hold 'til November, it'll be Jarmon 68, McKay 32."
McKay: "I thought I was supposed to lose."
Lucas: "Now I'm telling you you'll be wiped out. You'll be humiliated."
McKay: "That wasn't part of the deal."
This is a terribly unconvincing polling analysis. Using McKay's primary performance to suggest that roughly half the Democratic Party won't vote for him in the general election is preposterous -- of course McKay will get nearly all the Democratic vote. The thing is, Lucas knows this, but he knows McKay doesn't. So he uses a little bit of math and some information asymmetry to make McKay more dependent upon his advice.

The same sort of dynamic occurs throughout the film. Consultants keep telling McKay that he's free to do as he wishes, but they keep subtly reining him him. The same thing happens when the consultants are prepping him for media questions on various issues:
Consultant: "Mr. McKay, what do you think about legalized abortion?"
McKay: "I'm for it. I think every woman should have that right."
Lucas: "Wait a minute, Bill, you can't put it that way."
McKay: "It's what I think."
Lucas: "Well, it's not going to be understood without a hell of a long explanation, so how about this for the time being? Just say it's worth studying."
McKay: "Okay, I'll think about it."
Again, Lucas is bullshitting McKay. His answer was easily understandable, but was perhaps too strong for a statewide race in 1972.

There are several examples of consultants using their superior knowledge of politics to manipulate McKay into softening his stances. In the end, of course, they have molded McKay into the ideal candidate -- one who is electable but stands for nothing. If the consultants had any ideological predilections, they could easily use the new senator to their advantage. But one gets the impression that they have little interest in governing. They just enjoy the game.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guns on board

Via Robert Farley, I learn that Rush Limbaugh is opposed to putting weapons on board merchant vessels to prevent piracy. And his reasoning -- that weapons make mutinies a lot more likely -- is totally sound.

Yet I remember a scene from "The Perfect Storm" in which the crew accidentally hooks a shark and brings it on deck. Coaxing a shark off the deck proves difficult, and since it's trying to eat everyone, George Clooney grabs a shotgun and pumps some daylight into the shark's tiny brain. That seemed like a good call to me. But is it common for small commercial fishing vessels to carry shotguns? I'd guess that the captains of such ships have to make a lot of unpleasant calls that put the other crew members in danger. Isn't an armed mutiny a possibility there, too?

The Bird

Oh no, Mark Fidrych is dead! I have a 1977 card of his. Just thinkin...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon does something stupid, backs down

This is an odd story. Apparently Amazon stopped listing sales rankings for any book that referenced gays and lesbians. When asked why, they claimed that they don't like to list sales rankings for books with "adult" content, which apparently includes literally anything about gays and lesbians. Then Amazon said it was just a technical glitch. Weak.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New recommended news site

I'd just like to call my readers' attention to an interesting new site called True/Slant. To be honest, I'm not sure whether to call it a webzine or a blog or what. But it covers a wide range of political and cultural topics and the quality of reporting is very high. I get the impression that the writers at True/Slant would be among the better correspondents at many American newspapers if those newspapers still existed. It has many of the qualities that first drew me to sites like Salon and Slate back in the 90s, but it has not yet become annoying like those publications did.

My old friend Marc Herman has a page on this site. Marc is someone with a great deal of knowledge about many obscure topics, and this site is a great outlet for him. I'd particularly refer you to his recent post about why Americans should care about Indonesia's recent election and his post showing some fascinating maps and aerial photos related to modern piracy. I guarantee that you will learn something new about some topic that you did not expect to care about.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Caught Springsteen at the Pepsi Center last night (actual iPhone photo at left). Damn, what a show. He played a few of the new songs, and a whole mess of classics. Also, in what apparently has become a recent tradition, several audience members brought signs with the names of songs on them. He grabbed the signs and used them as a playlist. Very classy.

I was reflecting yesterday on my first Springsteen show -- 1985 at the LA Coliseum with my friend Sheri. We smugly enjoyed the music and derided the awful yuppies surrounding us. I am well aware that I am now one of those awful yuppies. On the other hand, there just weren't too many teenagers there to deride me last night. Bruce isn't pulling in too many new folks, and although his fans are legion, we're aging. But if he can rock for 3 hours a mile above sea level at the age of 59, I can at least show up and dance.

A poignant 1986 Bloom County cartoon can be seen below.
Update: Hi-res version of cartoon here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More vacancy committees

Two Democratic state senators from the Denver area, Jennifer Veiga and senate president Peter Groff, are apparently vacating their seats. Groff is taking a job with the Obama administration, and Veiga's moving to Australia.

Someone told me years ago that the real power in Colorado politics was sitting on a vacancy committee. Those folks literally get to hand pick members of the statehouse. I thought it sounded potentially powerful, but how often would one get to flex that muscle? Pretty often, it seems.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Angel of Death

While we're on the subject of Passover, my son is finally old enough to understand the story, and he's asking questions about it. And while I'm trying to explain it, I realize, it's terrifying. And pretty horrible.

It would be one thing if it were about the Israelites overcoming their oppression and liberating themselves. But that's not the story. The Israelites are rather passive in this story (with the exception of Moses, but he had to be talked into everything). Instead, it's about the brutality of slavery being countered by the brutality of God. God murders children to effect a policy change. Not only do I have a hard time telling this story to my kids, but I'm not sure why I'm telling it.

I had the idea that I could show my kids "The Prince of Egypt" (1998), which I remembered as a pretty good telling of the Exodus story without the campiness and lengthiness of "The Ten Commandments" (1955). Bad idea. "Prince of Egypt" refers pretty obliquely to the horrors going on in Egypt at the time. If you know the story, you get that firstborn children are being killed, people are being whipped to death, etc., but they don't directly show this stuff. But then comes the angel of death scene. There's just no way to soft-pedal that one. The film depicts this terrifying entity that moves through the city almost silently. The only sound we hear as it passes through a house is an exhalation -- the sound of breath being taken away from the oldest boy. We see one of these boys as he dies quietly in his sleep. The specter moves through the city with brutal efficiency and then leaves. Then we hear the sound of parents crying. Honestly, it's about one of the most horrible things I've ever seen committed to film. (Watch it here if you wish and tell me if I'm overreacting.)

Anyway, I know it's important that Jews pass along their stories to the next generation. But why this story above all others?

UPDATE: Ezra Klein (sadly, my source for religious scholarship) reminds us that the Pharaoh was prepared to give in to Moses several times, but that "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart." God manipulated Pharaoh into the visit from the angel of death. Which kinda makes you wonder, why didn't He just manipulate Pharaoh into letting the slaves go earlier? He apparently needed the confrontation to prove that He was more powerful than the Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.

Which raises another point. When the Israelites are camped by the Red Sea, God creates a "pillar of fire and cloud" that holds back the Pharaoh's army until the Jews can safely cross the parted waters. But then the fire dies, allowing the army to enter the sea, at which point God closes the sea and drowns the soldiers. Why not just keep the fire going? These men had just lost their sons. Why kill them, too?

The Haggadah Lives

In the mid-90s, I hosted my first Passover seder. I found most of the haggadahs I'd seen throughout my life pretty boring, so I decided to create my own, filled with tons of pop culture references and just enough low-impact Judaism to pass as legitimate. The haggadah was a hit, and I began updating it every year to keep it fresh.

I'm now getting requests from strangers to update it and make it available again. I'm glad this thing has developed a life of its own, but I just haven't found time in years to update it. My most recent version is available here. You're welcome to it, but keep in mind that the Bush administration jokes are pretty stale at this point.

Quote of the day

My mother, on David Frum:
He's just like all those awful boys I had to date in high school.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Moon is 1.28 light-seconds from Earth

And here's visual proof.

Quote of the day

Jon Stewart, addressing the likes of Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, and Michelle Bachman:
See, now you're in the minority. It's supposed to taste like a shit taco.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slow but steady acceptance

I largely stopped reading Nate Silver after the election, and I really shouldn't have, because he's still pumping out interesting stuff. Recently, he produced a little regression model predicting state votes on gay marriage bans. It turns out that you can predict a huge amount of the variance in those votes just by knowing state religiosity and the year of the election. With regards to the year variable, state support for gay marriage bans appears to be declining at about two points per year. So a gay marriage ban would probably pass in Iowa today. But by 2012, the odds will be even.

Yes, Nate's going beyond the data a bit in making these projections, but they're still consistent with what we know about public attitudes toward gay rights.

Parties reduce pork

In the new APSR, Philip Keefer and Stuti Khemani, two researchers at the World Bank, find that legislators from areas with strong local parties tend to demand less in pork. As the authors write,
A central challenge in political economy is to identify the conditions under which legislators seek to “bring home the pork” to constituents. We conduct the first systematic analysis of one determinant of constituency service, voter attachment to political parties, holding constant electoral and political institutions. Our analysis takes advantage of data from a unique type of public spending program that is proliferating across developing countries, the constituency development fund (CDF), which offers more precise measures of legislator effort than are common in the literature. Examining the CDF in India, we find that legislator effort is significantly lower in constituencies that are party strongholds. This result, which is robust to controls for alternate explanations, implies that legislators pass on pork when voters are more attached to political parties. It has implications not only for understanding political incentives and the dynamics of party formation, but also for evaluating the impact of CDFs.
The suggestion is that it's harder to buy people's votes if they have strong party attachments. Interesting stuff.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Freeing up candidate time

For the record, I'm not a big advocate of public financing of elections. I'm not opposed to it, but I just don't think it will make our politics less corrupt (although it might look less corrupt), and I think the current system has quite a bit more virtue to it than is generally recognized. I figure that just letting anyone donate to anyone is fine, as long as there's rapid and public accounting of it. True scandals will out.

That said, one concern I do have with the current private system of campaign donations is the amount of time that officeholders need to devote to fundraising. The time spent hanging out with annoying rich people begging them for money is time not spent learning about issues, raising children, or talking with regular voters.

Luckily for me, I had the chance to discuss a paper right along these lines last week at the Midwest Political Science Association. Michael Miller looks at state legislative candidates in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, where candidates can opt in to a full public financing of their campaigns. He then uses a matching algorithm to compare these candidates with other similar ones who do not (or can not) use public financing. The differences are pretty striking. Miller finds that candidates who use full public financing devote 11 percent more time to door-to-door campaigning than those who must fundraise. The implication is that public financing gives candidates the opportunity to do things we consider not only good for their campaigns but also good for democracy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Overcoming party divisions

Last summer, Michael Heaney, Joanne Miller, Dara Strolovitch, and I conducted a survey of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Our paper detailing the results of this survey can be found here.

The paper is about divisions among Democratic delegates during the convention. We were looking to see what factors caused Clinton delegates to become more or less accepting of Obama as the nominee, and also what factors caused Obama delegates to become more or less accepting of the role played by Clinton supporters at the convention.

Some of the results are pretty predictable. For example, Clinton delegates who had more experience within the party (had attended previous conventions, had held local party offices, etc.) tended to be more accepting of Obama's nomination. What we found particularly interesting was an effect of participation in the various group caucuses held during the convention. Clinton delegates who were more involved in the caucuses became less supportive of Obama.

Another interesting finding was that Sen. Clinton's speech on the Tuesday night of the convention endorsing Obama mainly affected Obama supporters, making them more accepting of the role played by Clinton delegates, without making Clinton delegates more supportive of Obama.

My co-authors and I are presenting this paper at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting tomorrow in Chicago. The paper is still a bit rough and will probably undergo a lot of revision before we try to get it published, but feel free to check it out. Feedback welcome.