Thursday, July 31, 2008

The New Orleans APSA Convention

I find myself torn on the issue of the APSA New Orleans meeting. For those unfamiliar with this issue, the American Political Science Association decided a few years back (prior to Hurricane Katrina) to hold its 2012 annual meeting in NOLA. Then, in 2004, Louisiana's voters passed a particularly egregious version of an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution. This amendment not only defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, but it prohibited the recognition of same sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. (I can't believe this is constitutional, but whatever.) Recently, a group of political scientists has been petitioning APSA's siting committee to move the meeting elsewhere. While APSA decided to change its criteria for siting future meetings, it plans to continue with the New Orleans meeting. There is now movement afoot for a boycott of the 2012 meeting.

I've heard a lot of very thoughtful arguments on both sides of this issue. The unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, framing of the issue is that it's a choice between gays and poor blacks. That is, holding the convention in NOLA is good for the local economy and pumps much needed money into poorer African American neighborhoods. On the other hand, most of the money we spend on conventions goes to corporate hotels and airlines; political scientists aren't known for their big spending ways.

And I'm persuaded that this is a serious issue for gay and lesbian political scientists. While New Orleans, as I understand it, is a pretty welcoming city, there are serious legal issues that same sex couples face if they visit the state, particularly if they are parents. What would happen if a conference attendee were injured? Would his or her partner be allowed a hospital visit? Would custody issues arise? I don't normally consider whether I'm waiving any rights to attend an academic conference, but that would be a serious consideration for gay or lesbian attendees at the 2012 convention. As another political scientist wrote, just having to make such decisions is so denegrating to gays and lesbians that APSA should not be asking them to subject themselves to it as a price for professional advancement.

What do you think?

Convention invitations

I'm starting to get invitations to events surrounding the Democratic convention. NARAL wants me to sign a pro-choice pledge; in return, I get a gift bag and tickets to a Stand Up for Choice event featuring Rubi Nicholas and Lynne Koplitz. No, I hadn't heard of them, either. But if I sign the pledge, then NARAL will be that much closer to being able to declare the Democrats a largely pro-choice party. I'm not sure whom this will surprise.

On the other hand, CH2M HILL has invited me to an evening dedicated to global sustainability, which features food, drinks, and a performance by Willie Nelson. Now we're talking.

Not safe to go back in the water

I must've watched Jaws II about a dozen times on ON-TV as a kid, which would explain why, when I saw parts of it last night, I seemed to know just about every line of dialogue. And you know what? The movie's not that good. The first Jaws only seems to get better with age; the second one now just looks like a generic 70s teen horror flick. Kids disobey their parents and sneak out to try to have sex, so a monster eats them. Yawn.

That said, if you enjoy watching people tie knots, Jaws II is a real treat. It's about the knot-tyingest flick I've ever seen. Oh, also, the shark eats a helicopter, which is pretty novel.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cue Symbolic Racism

Well, all that talk about Obama being "presumptuous" (read: "uppity") for doing things like giving speeches in other countries (as McCain did a few months ago) or meeting with the Fed. chief (as many senators do) must not have been paying off. So now Team McCain is employing the tried-and-true method of tying the black man in question to promiscuous white women. (h/t TPM and Dday.) Note the new ad -- ostensibly about economic conditions -- that blends Obama's face with those of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton:

This is the same sort of thing that sunk Harold Ford's senate campaign in 2006. And, not surprisingly, McCain has hired the creator of the "Harold, call me" ad.

Let's call this for what it is.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How the parties perform in office

I'm a little late to this party, but kudos to the folks at the Liscio Report for creating so many interesting graphs demonstrating how the U.S. economy performs when each of the two parties controls the White House. As they note, Democratic presidents overwhelmingly out-perform Republican presidents in terms of job growth, GDP growth, erasing deficits, stock market growth, and reducing economic inequality. Republicans only beat Democrats in the rate of return on bonds. Woo hoo.

Demanding party unity in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has removed one of its Clinton-pledged DNC delegates because she said she'd vote for John McCain over Barack Obama.
Bartoshevich was elected by party activists as a pledged delegate for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from the 1st Congressional District in southeastern Wisconsin. But after Clinton dropped out of the race, Bartoshevich told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she would support McCain over Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

The June comments from Bartoshevich, a 41-year-old nurse and mother of two from Waterford, were seized on by the McCain campaign as evidence of his appeal to former Clinton backers. Within hours, the Wisconsin Democratic Party passed a resolution at its state convention supporting a challenge of her credentials with the national committee.
Heavy stuff. I wonder if there will be more of this sort of thing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bad blogger

Sorry for the light posting. I just got back from a week at the Lair of the Bear, a family summer camp north of Yosemite. I camped there as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, staffed there in the late 80s and early 90s, and now I'm camping there with my own kids. Crazy.

I'm sure I'll have some opinions to vent pretty soon. Right now, I'm just trying to get the dust out of my laundry.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hillary supporters reaching out to... McCain

Excuse me?
The Wall Street Journal reports that Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and senior adviser to Sen. John McCain, met with a group of 25 prominent supporters and fundraisers for Sen. Hillary Clinton at a private home in Westchester County, NY. The group included several so-called "Hillraisers," each of whom have raised in excess of $100,000 for Clinton's failed primary campaign. The meeting was repeatedly sought by the Hillary supporters and is at least the second such meeting between backers of Clinton and the McCain campaign.

An organizer of the meeting, Amy Siskind, said that the pro-Hillary groups represented pledged to help deliver, "hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of votes," to McCain if the groups find areas of agreement between themselves and his campaign.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dem Convention run by Cyberdyne Systems

August 28th: Barack Obama nominated.
August 29th: SkyNet becomes self-aware.

Seriously, check out this press release:
DENVER--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Denver will get its first glimpse of a revolution in outdoor video display technology on Aug. 11, when ADTI Media Inc. unveils SkyNet, a giant, LED-illuminated flexible video screen that will broadcast a mix of convention activity, advertising, news, and messaging on the side of the Colorado Convention Center. ADTI Media Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Advance Display Technologies Inc. (OTCBB: ADTI).
Don't companies like this pay people to research product names? Could they have come up with a name that doesn't evoke images of genocidal robots or California's governor?(Via DemConWatch)

The Korean academic market

We know that American professors trade jobs like Liz Taylor used to trade husbands. Apparently, this isn't true in Korea. According to Daniel Hamermesh at Freakonomics, Korean academics mainly stay at one university throughout their entire careers. Why?
Korean professors’ salaries are very similar, so it’s hard to get a raise by threatening to leave. Also, all the universities are in Seoul, so the living conditions are independent of where you’re employed. The only gains to moving come from having better students or being at a more prestigious institution. These matter... but the examples are few.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kids and Star Trek

I showed my son Wrath of Khan today. It was his first ever Star Trek experience. He very much enjoyed it and wants to see more of the films, so I'd say it was a success. But in preparing him for the experience and in helping him process the lessons of the film, I was struck by just how much more complicated and nuanced the Star Trek universe is than the Star Wars one.

He wanted to understand why Khan kept ignoring his crew when they told him to forget about Kirk. And he wanted to know why Spock would sacrifice himself to save the ship. I tried to explain that this was an important lesson of the film. Khan had essentially won - he'd escaped exile, he had a starship, he could go wherever he wanted - but he couldn't let go his desire for revenge, even though it put the rest of his crew at risk. Spock was the opposite; he made the cold calculation that his own life was worth less than that of the crew. Both men die, but Khan's mission and crew died with him, while Spock was the hero.

This is pretty heady stuff for a six year-old! But I think he understood. He never had trouble understanding the Star Wars movies, even at age four. Those lessons are easy. Some people are good, some are bad, and the bad can usually be identified by their revolting physical appearances. There is no strategy; good people and bad people fight with guns and swords until one side wins. Yawn.

Cool effects, though.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Party identification over time

Show me a young conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.
The above quote is often (and mistakenly) attributed to Winston Churchill. Regardless of its actual origin, it is certainly widely believed.

It is, however, quite wrong, at least in the U.S, as Andrew Gelman reminds us. As the graph below shows, the most liberal age groups of American voters are the youngest and the oldest. The most conservative are the folks in their forties -- those who came of age seeing Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Changes in FISA, displayed graphically

This is very helpful.

via Lawyers, Guns, and Money


Lincoln and Obama

Susan Schulten pointed me to this wonderful article by Gary Wills, in which he compares Obama's race speech from March to Lincoln's Cooper Union address in February of 1860. This is a fitting comparison, given the political circumstances of both speeches. Both were unconventional and relatively inexperienced Illinois politicians, both had risen to prominence by opposing wars, and both were challenging more established senators in their runs for the presidency. But the particularly interesting similarity was in the aim of both speeches:
The most damaging charge against each was an alleged connection with unpatriotic and potentially violent radicals. Lincoln's Republican Party was accused of supporting abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, who burned the Constitution, or John Brown, who took arms against United States troops, or those who rejected the Supreme Court because of its Dred Scott decision. Obama was suspected of Muslim associations and of following the teachings of an inflammatory preacher who damned the United States. How to face such charges? Each decided to address them openly in a prominent national venue, well before their parties' nominating conventions—Lincoln at the Cooper Union in New York, Obama at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Definitely worth the read.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Forty years in the wilderness

My half-birthday was yesterday. I am now closer to my 40th birthday than to my 39th. Head trip.

Unconventional Denver

Well, there's a new group in town aiming to disrupt the Democratic Convention. If you liked ReCreate '68, you'll love Unconventional Denver. Here's what one of their leaders, Tim Simons, had to say:
We don't want history to remember the Democratic National Convention in Denver as something that went smoothly.
Okay. From the Post story, it's hard to tell what UD stands for, other than making things difficult at the convention. According to their website, they're a local affiliate of Unconventional Action. Their platform?
*Reject all forms of hierarchy including capitalism, party communism, patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and so-called representational politics
*Organize on a non-hierarchical, consensus-based basis that promotes autonomy, solidarity, grass-roots involvement, and the agency of those most affected by each decision
*Embrace a diversity of tactics
*Do not condemn any action on the grounds that it is illegal alone
Okay! So it doesn't sound like they have any particular set of issues they're fighting for. It's more like a world view that opposes hierarchy and capitalism, which probably describes 99% of the organizations in the United States today. So I'm not sure what the Democratic Party could do that would satisfy them, since the party is, by its nature, hierarchical (although probably less so than the Republican Party), and since the convention is a meeting of its elected leadership.

What kind of turnout will they get at their protests? I am very curious.

UPDATE: OMG, Unconventional Denver has a poster out that lists their agenda for the convention week. The schedule for Thursday, August 28th?
Media Savvy Actions: End White Supremacy!
They're going to end white supremacy by protesting the nomination of an African American for president. This is friggin' great.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Homemade Jamz' Blues Band

Have you heard these guys? The sound is incredible, even though it's just three kids: Ryan (16), Kyle (14), and Taya (9) Perry from Tupelo, MS. The boys built guitars out of car mufflers. The version of "Penny Waiting on Change" that they did at NPR is amazing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Obama's ahead... IN ARIZONA

Or so says Zogby. Man, either Zogby is full of shit, or this is going to be a blowout.

Those are not mutually exclusive.

Why would Obama vote yes on the FISA bill?

As we all know, Sen. Obama fought to strip the FISA bill of telecom immunity, but, failing that, he supported the final bill. Why did he do it? Most of the framing I'm seeing of this decision is that he's thinking of November. He doesn't want to be portrayed as soft on terror in the general election, so he voted for the least bad bill he thought he could get.

That certainly may be some of it, but there's possibly another calculation in there, as well, and I haven't seen much written about it. Obama may be thinking past November. That is, he expects to be president this time next year. He's thinking less like a senator and more like a president at this point. The FISA bill is an expansion of executive power. What president would vote no on that?

Just thinking....

Fuel savings tips

I keep reading cute little ways to save money on gas. According to Slate, it's better to cool your car by opening your windows, rather than using the A/C, but only up to around 68mph. If you're going faster than that, the drag created by open windows is tougher on the engine than using the A/C, so shut the windows and crank it up.

Also, I read somewhere that a clean car is something like 5-10 percent more fuel efficient than a dirty one. That seems like a stretch, unless the dirty car is really, really dirty.

But here's one that's got me scratching my head. According to Discover, you should fill up your tank at night when it's cooler, since cooler gas is more dense and you pay for gas by volume. Is this actually true? What happens if you fill up your tank at night and then the next morning it's really hot -- your tank doesn't explode, right? Does the extra gas bleed off as vapor somehow? Can the gas cap handle extra pressure? It's been too many years since I took physics or chemistry. The equation pv=nrt seems appropriate here, but I don't know what to do with it.

Keeping me from my iPhone

So Apple has this sweet new iPhone coming out this Friday that's better, faster, and cheaper than the older one. So AT&T, the sole service provider for iPhone, responds by raising the price of the plan. Near as I can tell, the 16GB version of the iPhone will cost about $300 less than the old version. The new family plan from AT&T, along with a data plan, will cost about $30/month more than the old plan. So in less than a year, you've paid more to AT&T than you've saved from Apple, and it just keeps getting worse from there.

Grumble grumble. Any chance AT&T will bring their price down?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Joe Cocker, translated

via MFH

Education polarizes, without necessarily making us smarter

I found this graph interesting:
via Andrew Gelman

I must've missed the straight talk part

Karen, you know I love you, but you're letting McCain get away with murder here. The lede:
As president, Republican John McCain says he would be ready to do "the hard things" to ensure that the U.S. government is held to the same budgetary standard as American families.
Okay, that sounds serious. So what's he going to do? Well, neither McCain nor the article tell us much. No specifics on how to put America on surer financial footing, except for this paragraph:
Keeping a balanced budget in the long term would mean reforming Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, among other things, according to the campaign's economic plan.
Ack! McCain wants to balance the budget by "reforming" three pillars of the social safety net? What does "reform" mean? Cutting benefits? Raising the payroll taxes that finance them? Either way, that's your story!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Realignment as an act of redemption

Party realignments are usually described as things that just happen to parties. Ezra sees it differently:
In the 60s, the Democrats went through a wrenching, and electorally lethal, expurgation process. In doing, the party lost not only the South, but a number of its own politicians. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms both began their careers as Democrats and ended their lives as Republicans. As any conservative will tell you, these were not stupid men, and they left the Democratic Party for a reason: It had transformed itself into an institution that was hostile to racists. More than that, it transformed itself into a party whose electoral coalition relied on African-American voters.... The Party sought absolution through actual change, which is the only way to achieve it.

Obama at Invesco

It's official -- the final night of the Democratic convention, including Obama's acceptance speech, will occur at Invesco Field, home of the Broncos and more than 70,000 seats. Personally, I like this move. It's nice symbolically, opening up the convention to more people. Plus it takes advantage of Obama's arena-rocker-like appeal. I mean, while it would be great to talk to Springsteen one-on-one or have a beer with U2, those guys kick the most ass in giant arenas. Same with Obama.

I understand that this move is not without precedent. The 1960 Democratic convention was held in the L.A. Sports Arena, but JFK accepted the nomination at the Coliseum.

How the hell are we delegates going to vote at Invesco? This should be interesting.

Genetics and politics

In the latest APSR, Fowler, Baker, and Dawes find a genetic influence on voter turnout. Using a study of twins, they determine that monozygotic (identical) twins have a higher correlation in voter turnout rates than dizygotic (fraternal) twins. In case you're new to the topic, this is just the latest in James Fowler's many fascinating twins studies, in which he shows a possible genetic basis for partisanship, political trust, ideology, and something along the lines of charisma.

This is undeniably fascinating research, but I can't help being slightly ooged out by it. I'm rather devoted to the (possibly naïve) view that it's all environmental. That even the most cynical, jaded person could be persuaded to vote or even care about politics if she realized its importance to her life or if parties or candidates knew how to contact her. Or that even the most disinterested student could become interested if a politics course were taught correctly.

As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more widespread, I suppose the day isn't too far off when students will use their voter turnout gene as an excuse for not caring about my class. Or maybe microtargeters will be able to map genetic information onto polling info to produce more accurate turnout models, and entire groups of voters will be written off because of their genetic predispositions. Or maybe the Department of Justice will screen job applicants for the presence of the liberal gene. Or maybe they're already doing that.

Meat is bad. Meat tastes good.

Let me just second Ezra Klein's post on this subject:
Bacon is transcendent. The words "porterhouse" and "steak" make my mouth water. Pork belly makes me simultaneously believe in God and doubt my own religious tradition. And because of this, I'm not a full vegetarian. But I should be. And not liking liberals don't change the truth about meat: Industrial agriculture is cruel, meat production is a huge contributor to global warming, and the market for meat contributes to world hunger in a substantial and direct way.
How does meat production contribute to world hunger? Because it's just about the least efficient use of agricultural land, in terms of its protein yield:
So all the land currently devoted to raising cattle (and there's a lot of it) could feed a lot more people at much lower cost if it were devoted to wheat, rice, soybeans, etc.

The problem is a classic prisoner's dilemma. Everyone may know that the world would be better off if we each ate less meat, but so many of us find eating meat so pleasurable, and one of us giving it up would make almost no difference to the rest of the world. We're not going to give up meat voluntarily. The government will have to play a role here. Good luck with that.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The impending constitutional crisis

Larry Sabato is, of course, right when he warns us about this impending constitutional crisis. It is quite possible in this era of close presidential elections that the candidates will split the electoral college vote, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. And the House would decide by unit-rule, with each state getting just one vote, giving Wyoming's 500,000 residents the exact same voting power as California's 35 million. It's a deeply undemocratic feature of the Constitution, even if it made perfect sense in 1787. (It's also something that could end in a deadlock since we have an even number of states.)

But does he really expect Americans to amend the Constitution to stave off a crisis that hasn't happened yet? Hell, just eight years ago, the presidency was handed to the loser of the popular vote, thanks in part to a decision rendered by the only unelected branch of the federal government. What percentage of Americans even knew that such a thing could happen before 2000? And yet talk of reform quickly fizzled, and the same thing could happen again this year.

But, anyway, thanks for the warning.

Man, I love the Count

via EotAW

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth!

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Hillary getting railroaded?

I've heard rumors from a few Hillary Clinton supporters that Howard Dean is trying to remove her name from the ballot at the Democratic convention. I haven't been able to find much of an authoritative source to back this up. It seems to have been started over this paragraph from a June 7th NY Times article:
When Mr. Dean reached out to Cynthia Ruccia, who started an organization of female Clinton swing-state voters threatening to vote for Mr. McCain, Ms. Ruccia asked that the Democratic convention include a symbolic first ballot for Mrs. Clinton’s delegates. Mr. Dean discouraged the idea on the grounds of unity.
It's not very clear what the Times means about a "symbolic first ballot," or even who the source was on that anecdote.

I'm guessing this whole rumor just isn't true and never was. There will be a ballot and Sen. Clinton's supporters will have a chance to register their support for her. Obama will, of course, win on the first ballot, and then, maybe, there will be a motion to record the vote as unanimous. They should probably work that out beforehand, since it would be embarrassing if such a vote failed on live TV.

But it is interesting to see how much animus is still out there among Clinton supporters, despite the unambiguous signals of unity from Hillary herself. I'm wondering how long this will continue.