Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gender and incumbency, or: girl-on-girl political action

An interesting pattern I noticed in the 2006 midterm elections is that women seem to run disproportionately against other women. More precisely, it seems that female incumbents face female challengers more often than male incumbents face female challengers.

Being the intrepid social scientist that I am, I dug up this paper on the subject, which confirms my suspicions: they report that women are both more likely to seek the opposition nomination and more likely to be the opposition candidate when the incumbent is female as opposed to when the incumbent is male.

What the paper does not do a very good job at is figuring out why this happens, although they do offer several hypotheses. One possibility is that this is a deliberate strategic decision on the part of parties, to try to neutralize a perceived gender advantage on the part of the incumbent. Another is that it might be a strategic decision on the part of the individual candidate: if a woman has won office, women should be more inclined to run for office. And, most simply, it may just be that some congressional districts will randomly have a high concentration of female politicians, and that those districts will clearly both be won more often by women and contested more often by women.

Shooting from the hip, I would say that the first hypothesis (which was my initial thought when I observed this anecdotally) is the least convincing: if we think that men are at a real or perceived disadvantage facing women in a general election, one would imagine we would see a lot more women in Congress. Occam's Razor inclines me towards the last hypothesis, but I believe getting the true story from the statistics will require a little "persuasion" with an instrument or two. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Edit: Link now goes to paper.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Yankee Doodle Dandy

So, I'm about as far from a stathead as you can get when it comes to baseball. I love to watch the games, end of story. For me, that's where the real drama takes place. While the works of stat wonks add some depth to that pleasure, it's not something I find necessary to understand in order to enjoy baseball. So, when it comes to baseball, you'll be hard pressed to find any numbers here. What can I say, I'm a purist.

In that vein, the fine folks over at Bronx Banter brought up an important point: what should Joba Chamberlain's song be? We're talking about a kid who, being part Native American, is even more American than apple pie. And he plays baseball! Also, his stuff is just lights out. So he needs a song that is quintessentially American and also intimidating as all get out. I'd like to suggest When the Lights Go Out by the Black Keys. Listen to the first 10 seconds. Can't you just hear that percussion blaring over the speakers as he swaggers to the mound? Those bluesy guitar riffs? And the refrain, God, it's so good: You'll know what the sun's all about when the lights go out. 


Edit: Of course, I also love to break rules. Joe Posnanski's article, Statheads and True Wins, is a great defense of the "new" statistics against the old. He makes a very strong case against the absurdities of ERA and BA.


Remember those gay porn star twins/burglars from Philly? Well, apparently their mom was a lookout for them

Confused about the subprime mortgage crisis? So was I, until I read this helpful guide. Apparently, the word "fuck" plays a central role in our economy.

Charlie Rose "trips" on St. Patrick's day and sacrifices his beautiful face to save his MacBook Air.

"What do they call the death squad here?" Five middle aged women , all of whom were visiting a church in their neighborhood's central square, answered in imperfect unison: "The Thundercats."

Moscow's fashionistas party in Stalin's secret command bunker. They've still got nothing on Stalin's all night "Missile Crisis" coke orgy, though. 

'Wingers finally mobilize to point out that, in fact, Barack Obama is a terrifying black dude

It's been a banner week for cannibalism.  A top aide testifies the Charles Taylor ordered soldiers to eat victims. In perhaps the finest bit of cross-examination ever, the defense lawyer asks a witness "which one tasted best?"

And, while in Africa they eat people, here in the US of A we just plead guilty to "body stealing." This guy carved up Alistair Cooke's cadaver like a Christmas ham. NJ: come for the hookers, stay for the black market bone marrow.

Finally, panhandling gets a national audience as some black guy repeatedly asks nation for change.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weekly Reader: Great Speeches Edition

In the wake of Barack Obama's speech on racism in America, [Text] [Video] the only thing on which most pundits agree is that it was courageous and honest. There's a lot of "it's good, but will it get them off their tractors?" speculation going around, but rather than indulging our baseless opinions (never fear, Michael Gerson is on the job) we'll link to some of the other speeches it's being compared to. We'll also throw in a couple of other fantastic speeches that you probably haven't read but really should. 

Martin Luther King, Jr: "Why I am Opposed To The War In Vietnam" [Text]
Martin Luther King, Jr: "I Have A Dream" [Text]
John F. Kennedy: "Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association" [Video] [Text/Audio]
Robert Kennedy: "Challenge to GDP"

Above all, I'd recommend MLK's Vietnam speech. The echoes of our own times that flow through his words are striking. Beyond that, his uncompromising and consistent moral vision is at the heart of liberalism and a remarkable contrast to the role that Christianity has played in our national politics recently. 

I'd also like to point out Ed Kilgore's article on Obama and His Church, which delves into the relationship between Trinity UCC and the community and highlights some of the differences regarding the role of the church in white and black life. 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Metacommentary: Strategy and Tactics

I think one of the most interesting aspects of this primary season is the different ways in which the candidates are making their cases. The overarching narrative of this contest has been experience vs judgment, but there's another contrast that Keith Olberman's biting critique of Hillary's campaigning provides an opening to discuss, namely that between strategy and tactics. 

For the purposes of this discussion, let's agree to define strategy as a systematic approach to a series of contests with the aim of achieving a larger goal. Tactics, in contrast, is understood to be a series of maneuvers with a more immediate aim. In military terms, we would refer to a flanking maneuver as a tactic, while a bombing campaign aimed at destroying an enemy's industrial capabilities would fit under the strategy heading.

Returning to the subject at hand, one of the most illuminating differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is that Barack frames his candidacy in strategic terms, while Hillary is much more focused on the tactical issues. 

To wit, Hillary's campaign message of experience and "being a fighter" essentially expresses the idea that "she'll do whatever it takes to win [for you]." However appealing that idea may be in a general election, when she applies that same approach to a candidate from the same party it provokes a negative reaction, especially when the outcome of the contest is still in doubt. In other words, the "you" is very important. If "you" is understood to be the entire Democratic Party, then I don't think there's a problem. However, the content of her tactics--Shaheen, Ferraro, et al--is pretty clearly aimed at those segments of the electorate that she thinks are winnable at the expense of those that she has foreclosed on. 

I think her message is certainly viable in a general election when the objective conditions surrounding a campaign aren't severely tilted in favor of one party or the other. I'll get into why I think her brand of politics is particularly ill-suited to this campaign a little bit later. 
Obama's message is fundamentally a strategic one. His schtick about Reagan and Bill Clinton serves to highlight the strategic successes of the former and the failures of the latter. Briefly, the sense of malaise surrounding the Carter administration allowed Reagan to lock in a group of voters--the much touted "Reagan Democrats"--into a Republican coalition that also tapped the evangelical Christians for votes. In contrast, Clinton's indiscretions shattered the small coalition he had and emboldened (yes, we can use that word too) his opponents while [speculation] the economic boom enabled a dialogue that was more about character and principles than bread and butter issues. 

With that in mind, Obama is making the case that we're in another period of profound national distress. A pervasive sense of malaise has detached people from the Republican coalition and alienated a great many young people who are tired of the results produced by "the same old politics." He thinks that the Democrats can bring these disaffected voters into the party and keep them there, creating the sort of robust coalition that enabled the Republican victories during the 80's and 00's. To reiterate, that's a strategic argument about the way in which the Democrats can best lay the groundwork for future victories, but it may be a bit too "inside baseball" for Democratic voters experiencing acute economic hardship. 

I find Obama's claims both more interesting and worth the gamble. Whatever Ferraro may want to believe, Obama's race negatively impacts his candidacy. Take a look at the difference between the way Jeremiah "God Damn America" Wright and Reverend "The US exists to destroy Islam" Hagee were covered in the press. The expectation is that he'll be unable to sway white working class voters in OH and PA in part because of his race and the "trickle up" nature of his candidacy. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that he'll prove the Onion right once again.

Now, returning to Hillary for a moment, I think the real issue with her approach to securing the nomination is that on everything save healthcare, she's committed to attacking Obama from the right. I really wonder how this is going to play out in the weeks to come. If it appears to pay electoral dividends, there's no reason to think she'll abandon it. However, I think the Democratic party is still pretty enraged by the comprehensive idiocy surrounding the Bush administration, so I don't know how much tolerance they'll have for that sort of tactic. On the other hand, that may not matter. If the party is fragmented enough, any backlash will diffuse enough to be irrelevant. It's also unclear whether the voting public will eventually reach a "if it talks like a duck" moment. It's a pretty perilous path she's treading, and I'm not sold on the idea that it will produce the outcomes she wants. 

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sovereignty and Anarchy

While the internet isn't hurting for intellectually dishonest pontifications on the subject of international relations, there's surprisingly little actual discussion of the fundamentals of IR and foreign policy. We at FTB suspect there is a shocking level of ignorance of these basic ideas among both the major editorial writers and their readership. Thus, we get Thomas Friedman's intellectually hard-hitting bubble theory of history capped by his SUCK. ON. THIS. approach to foreign policy. Honestly, we can't even mock his interview because he spends 2+ minutes rambling about a wall-hopping, talking, metaphysical bubble that he wants to beat to death with a stick. Watch it, and think back on those heady days of the 1990's when everyone thought terrorism was groovy and OK.

Unfortunately, the academic side of IR is produced and consumed by a tiny audience. The members of the academic community aren't ignorant of the screeds that fill our nation's newspapers, but prefer to take a hands off approach and surrender that territory to the dread Krauthammer and the foolish Friedman. Of course, our aged protestant grandmother taught us that if you surrender the pulpit you don't get to complain about the sermon. In that spirit, and embracing the style of our earlier Dr. Doom vs. Voltron analysis, we present a couple of central tenets of IR theory:


So, back in 1648 Europe decided that the Thirty Years War wasn't the ripping good time everybody thought it would be. After all, there are only so many times you can set a Catholic/Protestant on fire before someone decides to set you on fire and then it becomes old hat rather quickly. One of the important outcomes of the Peace of Westphalia was that it established the principle of territorial integrity, which, vastly simplified, says "this area is France, in France the French sovereign says what's what, and those flippin' British don't get a say in our internal affairs." Pretty straightforward, right? Well, there was a long period of time when the Catholic Church was running around telling people how they could run their principalities, excommunicating rulers, and whatnot. Henry VIII notably took exception to this state of affairs, with sexy results. 

So that's more or less what we have now. We can tell France that we don't like their labor practices and that they'd be a lot richer if they spent less time sipping wine and smoking and more time working. But, in the end, the French get to look at us cockeyed, take a long drag from their Gauloises and maybe nibble a bit of gruyere. Because that's how the French do, and in France nobody except the French gov't gets to say otherwise. Even then, it doesn't always work out so well.


Now, this isn't your great-grandaddy's anarchy. It doesn't have anything to do with Bakunin or McKinley's assassination. Instead, it's a fundamental characteristic that arises when you have a system of sovereign states. In IR jargon, anarchy simply means that there's no world government with the obligation to address the crises that crop up in the world. 

Again, this wasn't always the case. Back in the day, you could whine to the Pope that a particular prince or king was embarking on an unjust course of action, and the Pope would duly threaten to excommunicate the sovereign in question. In those days, excommunication was a hassle. Your nobles would immediately start plotting your downfall, and if someone happened to put a knife in you, your soul went straight to hell. The Pope had the power to proclaim a general truce in Europe (frequently so that everybody could send their soldiers to die in the Holy Land). One upside of being Pope is that nobody can excommunicate you, so it wasn't long before a few enterprising Popes figured out that they could have a war anytime they felt like it. To bring this tangent full circle, it was this lack of accountability that led to a lot of the bad blood (and real blood) during the Reformation, which led to the 30 Years War, which led to the Peace of Westphalia.

Anyway, there's no world government and you can't whine to the Pope anymore. We IR nerds refer to this state of affairs as "anarchy." These two concepts have implications we'll explore in another entry, after we talk about cooking and the Yankees for a while.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Consume! Consume! Consume!

In order to bring your information consumption to a higher level [read: make it more like our own] we at FTB are pioneering a wholly new form of recommendation: one in which we plug our favorite things beneath a thin veil of presumed objectivity. 

For Outstanding Achievement in Baseballitudnous Blogatry:

The good people at IT IS HIGH... are perhaps the foremost purveyors of informative Yankees-related humor, keeping their readership abreast of all the latest Spring Training news. Their unique blend of hyperbole, ominous theological mutterings and baseball is completely in line with the forward-looking vision of FTB.

Of course, the Yankees wouldn't be anywhere without the tireless contributions of numerous small-market teams that obediently line up year after year so that the Bombers might ascend their massed and bloody corpses, come within a finger length of the World Series and trip over the gaping skull of Joe Maddon. And so we tumble end over end until we land atop the rigid corpse of the Florida Marlins, their frozen hands still firmly rooted in the soft neckflesh of the New York Mets. In tribute to that team, the Eli* to our Peyton, we at FTB would like to direct your attention to two of their greatest prophets:

Rickey Henderson, the surly helmsman of Riding with Rickey. His explorations of the issues of the day (beardsRed Sox pederastry, etc) are of a piece with our own. Check him out, and don't forget to click the link to Humor Blogs at the bottom of each of his posts. While we believe his pursuit of referral networking to be a bootless endeavor, we would not want to offend Rickey's enormous yet frangible ego. He was our first commenter here at FTB, and is venerated accordingly.

Additionally, we would be remiss in allowing our readers to proceed without consulting The Musings and Prophecies of Metstradamus. A follow devotee of the "long blog," Metstradamus has seen the future, and it includes Moises Alou's legless, groinless home run trot. We at FTB believe the experience drove him mad and now his eyesight is forever occluded by visions of unspeakable horror.

[*We at FTB are Giants fans to a man, but find ourselves incapable of the sort of rank deceit required to so much as insinuate that Eli is the superior Manning.]

For Felicitous Exploits in the Field of Politico-Punditry:

We can only point you towards the fine people at Obsidian Wings. Now, we know that sounds like a place where some twenteen Brooklynite with dyed hair and fishnets writes about cutting herself, but bear with us. Hilzoy, Publius et al provide some of the most interesting and even-keeled reflections on contemporary politics that we've read anywhere. The discursive nature of their posts (even the speculative ones) is refreshing in these times of paranoid belligerence. Read them, link them, learn from them.

When not singing the praises of the true frontiersmen of the blogosphere, we also follow a number of fat-cat blogs. These titans of the 'sphere can be found in the sidebar. For the time being, we will continue to huddle in their shadow, hoping in vain for a glimpse of sunlight or perhaps a crumb.