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Category: Dave Brockington

The Commercialization of Academia: A Case Study

[ 226 ] March 28, 2013 |

I’ve been sitting on this post for over 20 months; writing it, editing it, deleting it, writing it again. It was initially inspired by a book review written by Stanley Fish in the New York Times, which generated some online discussion, then the University of Virginia firing and subsequent unfiring of Teresa Sullivan last summer. Finally, we there is the effect that Coursera specifically and MOOCs in general will have on our understanding of the role of higher education. Higher education in the United States is facing a series of challenges, from the erosion of legislative support for state universities and colleges, the emergence of Coursera and its ilk, to a whole scale reassessment of the role of higher ed. In America, the concern is that the sector is being pushed towards a mission dedicated solely to the production of vocationally-equipped graduates with skill sets easily measured, all administered in a commercial framework driven by ever changing business models glossily packaged in the buzzwords fashionable to the day .

We’re already there in Britain.

In immediate response to the firing of Sullivan at Virginia, Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote an excellent piece at Slate. The following two passages are pertinent to this post:

The biggest challenge facing higher education is market-based myopia. Wealthy board members, echoing the politicians who appointed them (after massive campaign donations) too often believe that universities should be run like businesses, despite the poor record of most actual businesses in human history.

Universities do not have “business models.” They have complementary missions of teaching, research, and public service. Yet such leaders think of universities as a collection of market transactions, instead of a dynamic (I said it) tapestry of creativity, experimentation, rigorous thought, preservation, recreation, vision, critical debate, contemplative spaces, powerful information sources, invention, and immeasurable human capital.

Read more…


The Past Ten Days (or so) in Soccer

[ 35 ] March 25, 2013 |

Seeing as how we’ve been outed as a blog of eight white guys these days (c’mon, there’s a little diversity here, one’s Canadian and I have lived in, you know, Europe for over a dozen years), it’s time to revert to type and talk sports.

It’s an international break.  The USMNT beat Costa Rica 1-0 in a bit of a snowstorm on Friday.  This is how we should play Mexico every home game. The official line is a match was scheduled in Colorado in March in order to prepare the squad for playing at altitude, as the next match is at Azteca against Mexico tomorrow. That has some credence, but Costa Rica have filed  protest with FIFA about the conditions. They have a legitimate point. The match between Northern Ireland and Russia was cancelled both Friday and Saturday in Belfast due to “wintery conditions”.

There’s been grumbling about the Klinsmann era, and qualification is more difficult this cycle than we’re accustomed.  The next two matches are away to Mexico and away to Jamaica. Jamaica drew Mexico 0-0 in Azteca on Friday February 6.  There’s two ways to interpret this: pollyanna (hey, Jamaica drew? We’ve got a decent shot against Mexico!) or chicken little (holy crap, we’ve already lost once away to Jamaica during qualifications, and now they’ve got the temerity to hold Mexico to a 0-0 draw? At Azteca? Shit.) I’m not worried — it’s early days, as they say here — but we could be on four points following the first four matches of the final qualification round. Read this if you need a dose of realistic optimism.

Demarcus Beasley received a surprise start, and at left back no less.  I remember when he broke out during the 2002 World Cup, and how he was going to be an omnipresent key component of the USMNT. It didn’t quite work out that way. Oh, and Landon Donovan’s taking a break. Thoughts?

England scored eight goals against San Marino. Why is this notable, aside from a mountaintop of 30,000 with its own international side competing in real matches that matter? It’s England. Not too long ago they struggled somewhat in a WC qualifier against Andorra.

Blackburn Rovers are looking for their fourth permanent manager this season, having sacked the third last week. This was once a proud team, a mainstay in the EPL, where Brad Friedel had 287 appearances in eight seasons. They were relegated last season to the Championship, and under their newish ownership, have become something of a joke for inept administration. While we don’t really have any evidence (yet) of managers in baseball having a measurable, systematic effect on the probability of success of their team (something I posted about a few years ago), apparently the owners of Blackburn believe that its of paramount importance in the second tier of English soccer. I suspect it matters more in soccer, though a) measuring it in a rigorous manner is difficult to imagine, and b) going through at least four managers in one season is perhaps not the best way forward.

Charles Green, chairman of Rangers, has floated the idea of Celtic and Rangers playing in England. This comes up at least once a season. It won’t happen any time soon, much as I’d like to see it. Incidentally, Rangers drew 0-0 to the mighty Sterling Albion on Saturday, so perhaps playing in the English fifth tier does look appealing in comparion. Never mind, Rangers have a 21 point lead in the Scottish fourth tier.

Argyle Watch: my local club, Plymouth Argyle, were in 23rd place in League Two when I last posted on Soccer eleven days ago. As League Two is the fourth tier the English pyramid, that placed them 91st in a 92-team league. They’ve been on quite the roll since I publicised their fight against relegation; they defeated Fleetwood 2-1 at home, beat Southend away 2-0, and had their match at Chesterfield postponed due to conditions (which, ordinarily, would have been a cause for celebration in Plymouth). They now find themselves in 21st, two points above the relegation zone, and with a match in hand versus the three clubs below them and the two above them. Ironically, the defeat of Southend led to the sacking of Argyle legend Paul Sturrock, who had two spells in charge of the club, 2000-04, and 07-09. In his first spell, Sturrock not only saved the club from relegation from the fourth tier (a familiar story down here), but won two promotions in three years, and was poached by Southampton, then playing in the Premiership.

There might be some hope for Argyle’s survival in the league yet.

When Overreaction is Legitimate

[ 568 ] March 23, 2013 |

I’ve been passively following this story for the past couple of days in my copious spare time.  The setting is a tech conference during a keynote address in Santa Clara, CA. In the audience are a female techie, Adria Richards, with something of a public profile, sitting front of a couple male techies, which itself isn’t so unusual. The gender distribution at such events is somewhat asymmetrical, putting it mildly. The picture embedded in the story linked above is illustrative. The male techies were allegedly making sexual jokes of the sort that aren’t funny once most of us have graduated from junior high. The female techie had listened silently to this running commentary for a while, then reached a breaking point. She turned around, snapped a picture, and tweeted both the picture and the context.

The usual vile online backlash kicked off featuring the typical repertoire of death and rape threats. One of the male techies got sacked, and not long after so too did Adria Richards.

Most online debate has focused on proportionate response. Richards over-reacted. The two sackings were greater overreactions. I’m inclined to believe that the jokes were offensive, but likewise that this was not the intention of the two male techies, nor that they were even self aware enough to understand how their comments could have been received in a mixed gender audience. A typical observation is that Adria Richards should have simply had a few quiet words with the guys, perhaps a kinder, gentler version of “shut the fuck up”, and not gone nuclear by publicly outing them to her >12K twitter followers. In an ideal, perhaps naive world, the guys would have stopped their running dialogue, seen the error of their ways, and left the conference as changed, better men. Nobody would have been fired, reputations would not have been tarnished, and rainbows and unicorns would proliferate.

However, how many such quiet words have been exchanged in how many public settings, and what aggregate effect have all these isolated admonishments had on the culture, not only of the tech industry, but on society writ large? Perhaps some, but not enough to prevent these episodes from continuing. When observed in isolation, Richards overreacted. The guys were offensive and unprofessional, but as they violated a social norm, so too did she. However, they also had no reasonable expectation of privacy. A few quiet words wouldn’t have changed their attitude, but it probably would have ended the running dialogue, but also might have resulted in a confrontation. Nothing would have changed save for one isolated episode.

I gave a couple of lectures last week on protest politics. When the usual, acceptable methods of working within a democratic system fail to result in a change or policy desired by a significant segment of the population, (both progressive and conservative), one has to work outside of the system, through legal or extra legal means. The short term goal is to bring attention to the issue, and hopefully move public opinion in your direction.

The nuclear option adopted by Richards has brought some degree of attention to this issue that otherwise would have remained invisible. In isolation, tweeting the picture was a disproportionate response to mildly unprofessional behavior. However, it’s not difficult to imagine the sense of frustration that Richards must have felt. Operating within the system, in this case within acceptable social norms of behavior via a quiet conversation, isn’t working. Bringing greater attention to the episode via, yes, the dramatic, is potentially more effective in the long run.

Of course, it also comes with unforeseen consequences.

Random Soccer Musings

[ 45 ] March 14, 2013 |

This post by Paul a couple weeks ago has inspired me to post more about soccer. I’ve sporadically written about it in the past, including every major international tournament, occasional mentions of clubs I support or otherwise follow (Celtic, Arsenal, and to a lesser extent Plymouth Argyle, FC Twente, and Seattle Sounders FC), and other random topics. I naively hope to make this a semi-regular feature.

First, the USWNT defeated Germany 2-0 last night to win the Algarve Cup in Portugal. They’re on a pretty decent run of 29 matches without a defeat. I have a ticket to see the Alex Morgan and the Portland Thorns to play in the new NWSL this upcoming summer, and you bet I’m looking forward to it.

The past week has seen the winnowing down of the UEFA Champions League field to the final eight, including three clubs from Spain (Barcelona, Malaga, and Real Madrid), two from Germany (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich), and one each from Italy (Juventus), France (PSG) and Turkey (Galatasaray). The big news is that England do not have a side in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1995-6, which is atypical for a league that has had a club in the final seven of the past eight tournaments (Liverpool 2, Arsenal 1, Man U 3, Chelsea 2), and won it three times in that span (Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea).  The draw for the quarter finals is held tomorrow.

EPL sides were dumped out in the group stage (Chelsea finished third in their group hence parachuted into the Europa League, while reigning English champion Manchester City finished a miserable fourth on only three points), or the first knockout round: Manchester United went down to Real Madrid 2-3 on aggregate, while Arsenal went out last night to Bayern Munich on the away goal rule in an aggregate 3-3 draw even though they won in Munich 2-0).  Celtic, of course, were humiliated by Juve 5-0 on aggregate, but when they qualified for the group stage (itself not a given) my best optimistic hope was a third place finish, and I was expecting fourth. Thus to finish second in the group (including a magnificent victory over Barcelona in Glasgow) and to even qualify for the concomitant schooling by Juventus was bonus.

It should also be noted that England’s absence in the tournament at this early stage is ironic given that Wembley is the hose to the final this year.

In the North American version of that tournament, the much heralded CONCACAF Champions League (six syllables that make one’s hair stand on end), Seattle became the first MLS side to defeat Mexican opposition in the knock out round since the tournament adopted its current format in 2008. Going into Tuesday’s match in Seattle down 1-0 from the first leg, Seattle defeated Tigres 3-1 for a 3-2 aggregate victory. This Guardian piece on the match includes a clip of Djimi Traoré’s (yes, that Djimi Traoré) amazing goal from well outside the box. Their reward is a tie against Mexican side Santos Laguna, who knocked Seattle out the previous year. The other semi final has LA Galaxy against current holder Monterrey, so it’s MLS v Mexico, as it should be.

The absolute unconditional faith that Arsenal supporters have had in Arsène Wenger has been attenuating the past several seasons, and this year there have been vocal calls for his removal. The season has been a disaster by Arsenal standards of the past 15 years. Arsenal are five points from fourth place in the Premiership with ten matches to go, which matters because the 1st through 4th place teams qualify for the Champions League the following year. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League the past 15 seasons. Arsenal have also lost to Bradford City of the fourth tier in the League Cup, and were knocked out of the FA Cup to second tier Blackburn Rovers. Embarrassment would be warmly received compared to those two defeats.

What to do about Wenger, who has managed Arsenal since 1996? The NYT article linked above correctly suggests that a large degree of the malaise since winning the FA Cup in 2005 results from the financing involved in building their new stadium, The Eremites. Unlike American sports, clubs are expected to finance, own, and maintain their stadia themselves. The Emirates opened in 2006, and cost between £390 and £470 million. It’s difficult to imagine a baseball or American football team happily paying $600 million for its stadium. Wenger has deserved reputation for buying talent young and cheap, and some go on to be club legends (Thierry Henry), while others are turned around for decent profits (Nicolas Anelka).  Lately, though, Arsenal are degrading into a farm club (Cesc Fàbregas, Robin van Persie). In the past, Wenger was able to hold onto his best players (I remember the annual calls from Manchester United and Real Madrid for Patrick Vieria) but this appears to be no more (Manchester City have particularly benefited from Arsenal in recent seasons).

Wenger has always had a blind spot for defense, and it can legitimately be argued that he inherited the backfield on which his initial success was built (Seaman, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon, Keown). It now appears that his nous for midfielders and forwards is waning (Giroud?), and for whatever reason, tactical, lack of success, lack of money, he’s no longer to hang onto the players he develops (at least Theo Walcott signed an extension in January). At 63, it might be possible that where he had identified and exploited a market weakness in player acquisition int he past, others have caught up to him; equally, his tactical innovations from the past may likewise no longer afford a competitive advantage. While it’s impossible to argue that Wenger and Arsenal are what they were ten years ago, and few retain the comforting faith that “Arsène Knows”, my question for the detractors is “who?”  A fifth place side, out of the CL, not winning a trophy since 2005, is not an obvious destination for an ambitious, known commodity. And Pep Guardiola has already signed to take over Bayern Munich at the end of the season anyway. The other alternative is to Wenger route itself: pluck a relative unknown from some obscure league or division. But does anybody trust the current board to make an inspired selection? As a Celtic supporter, I’ve long since tired of the naive belief that David Moyes is the solution, since he’d be foolish to downgrade from the EPL to the SPL, but perhaps Moyes could be enticed to Arsenal? It’s far more likely that he’s biding his time for Ferguson to finally retire at Man U.

Finally, it could be worse. A lot worse. Plymouth Argyle, my local club in England, drew 0-0 to Bradford City on Tuesday (the same Bradford City that dropped Arsenal out of the League Cup, made it to the final of that tournament, only to get thrashed by EPL side Swansea). These clubs play in League 2, or the fourth tier in the English pyramid. What was remarkable about this unremarkable goalless draw is with the single point earned, Argyle have progressed above last place in the 24 team division for the first time in a few weeks, if only on goal differential. They’re still in the relegation zone (the bottom two places in this division), two points from safety with only nine matches to play. I agree with Paul on the many benefits of promotion / relegation, but this relegation is different. It would drop Argyle out of the “League” and into the fifth tier Football Conference. While the lowest fully national division, the Conference still includes some clubs that are semi-professional.

My time in Plymouth has corresponded with a particular roller coaster in Argyle’s history.  They won the third tier my first year here, then spent six years in the second tier (including one season where a majority of it was spent in the promotion zone to the Premiership), four at mid table obscurity and two facing relegation up to the last match of the season. When they were finally relegated from the second tier in April 2010, I wrote about it here at LGM. From 2010-12, they were relegated two successive seasons, and narrowly avoided a third relegation last season by two points on the last day. This year they’ve spent a significant chunk of the season in 24th, or the 92nd placed of the 92 clubs in League football.

The Ultimate Drop is a collection of chapters that chronicle different teams that have experienced relegation into the abyss. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I (during one of her rare visits to England) had a couple over for dinner, including a friend who is a passionate Argyle supporter, cofounder and occasional member of the board of the supporters’ trust. I offered to loan him the book. He declined the invitation, saying it would be best to wait until the end of the season.

Falklands Referendum Shock Result

[ 50 ] March 12, 2013 |

Three British citizens voted against the following proposition: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”  This against 1,513 votes in favor, and one presumably soiled ballot out of 1,517 cast.  We can’t assume, however, that the three nay votes are in favor of uniting Las Malvinas with Argentina, however; they might want to go it alone as an independent country. You know, like Scotland some day.

For their part, Argentina has called the referendum illegal.  Argentine rhetoric in their quixotic quest to take over the Falklands is certainly meant for domestic consumption. An interesting empirical project, if it hasn’t been done already (I suspect it has, someone must have completed a dissertation or chapter on this question somewhere), is to compare variance and intensity of this rhetoric to domestic Argentine conditions, such as economic performance or public opinion approval of the government. Claiming that the views of the islanders don’t matter, that they’re a transplanted population (of at least nine generations ago), won’t win many arguments in the international community given that 86.4% of Argentines self identify as of European descent.

A comparison might be made to Canadian claims over Saint Pierre and Miquelon I suppose, an economic powerhouse contrasted with the Falklands, if only such claims existed.

Last Week in Gun Fetish Legislative Crazy, Missouri Edition

[ 32 ] February 26, 2013 |

I don’t know how I missed this:

Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara (R) loves the Second Amendment so much he wants to make it a felony for state lawmakers to propose legislation he thinks would violate it.

On Sunday, Leara offered up this addition to Missouri law:

“Any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony,” Leara’s bill reads in its entirety.

There’s too much frightening hilarity in this for one morning, but a key question: just what the hell is Leara afraid of?

Doping in International Ice Fishing?

[ 17 ] February 24, 2013 |

The Onion comes to life.

I’m encouraged to see that the international sport of ice fishing is taking proactive steps to weed out performance enhancing steroids and human growth hormones, with the United States Anti-Doping Agency providing an official on site in a Wisconsin tavern following the day’s gruelling competition to ensure that the sport is and remains clean. The last thing that we need in our sporting universe is the dark cloud of doping rumor and allegation to destroy the passions of fandom.

I’m not sure which aspect of this story I find more extraordinary, that the US Anti-Doping Agency is working with the United States Freshwater Fishing Federation to ensure that cheats are caught, or that the sport is serious about its application to be part of the winter Olympic Games.

Breaking: Mississippi Ratifies the Thirteenth Amendment

[ 13 ] February 21, 2013 |

This bold step into the latter third of the 19th Century was declared official by the National Archivist on February 7.  Of this year.  As in, precisely two weeks ago:

On Feb. 7, Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back that he had received the resolution: “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The delay was apparently due to a clerical error, as the state legislature ratified the Amendment in 1995 yet the paperwork was not formally submitted to the United States Archivist.  But still, 1995?

In all fairness, my current state of residence, Oregon, didn’t get around to ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment until 1959, and waited until 1973 to ratify the Fourteenth. At least Oregon ratified the Thirteenth 130 to 148 years prior to Mississippi, depending on how one measures these things.

Reducing the Burdens to Voting?

[ 24 ] February 13, 2013 |

I didn’t watch the speech last night. Being in Britain, I was busy sleeping. Indeed, I barely made it through all of Celtic v Juventus, regretfully. Buried towards the end of the speech, at about 51 minutes in, is the initiative to address voting barriers:

In another sign of the election’s lingering shadow, Mr. Obama was creating a bipartisan commission to investigate voting irregularities that led to long lines at polling sites in November. Studies indicate that these lines cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes. The commission will be led by the chief counsel of the Obama presidential campaign, Robert Bauer, and a legal adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, Ben Ginsberg.

To quote the speech:

Defending our freedom, though, is not just the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental rights of a democracy, the right to vote. Now, when — when any American, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right because they can’t afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. So — so tonight I’m announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And it definitely needs improvement. I’m asking two longtime experts in the field — who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign — to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it, and so does our democracy.

I’m not sure that voting is a “God-given right”; if it is, then He has some work to do regarding the fair representation of His flock, given that the geographic distribution of Cardinal electors in the College of Cardinals makes the malapportionment of the Electoral College appear insignificant in comparison. However it is certainly “one of the most”, if not the most, fundamental rights of a democracy by definition. It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that no voting means no democracy.

My sense is that setting up a commission to study a problem is a death warrant (but I’m happy to be shown to be wrong). A brief history since 2000 on such voting commissions certainly does not inspire confidence in fundamental progressive reform, and over at the Election Law Blog the best we can hope for appears to be “modest” pragmatic recommendations. See also this story outlining some Republican Senatorial opposition to the commission, but not for that bit of predictable obvious; rather, for the excellent Senator Ted Cruz quotes.

This reminded me of a piece in The Nation that I meant to discuss last week, before my day job inconveniently intruded, which responded to the stories in the NYT last week about the effect long lines and waiting times might have had on the Democratic share of the vote. It correctly points out that the overwhelming majority of election law is conducted at state level, and barring the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments and the VRA:

There is no federal right to vote for Congress to guarantee. I’d be glad to be corrected, but as best I can tell, that means that technically, in almost every case, a state can make it as hard as it wants for its citizens to vote, and there’s practically nothing DC can do about it.

The proposed solution is the Right to Vote Amendment, proposed by then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., which “would solve every last one of our voting problems. (I bet, although you’d have to ask a constitutional lawyer, it would even cover our gerrymandering problem . . .”.  The thing is, it wouldn’t, nor would it address gerrymandering:

SECTION 1. All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.

“Regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections” is a green light for Voter ID laws and other selective enhancements in the cost of voting operating under “fraud prevention”.

SECTION 2. Each State shall administer public elections in the State in accordance with election performance standards established by the Congress. The Congress shall reconsider such election performance standards at least once every four years to determine if higher standards should be established to reflect improvements in methods and practices regarding the administration of elections.

Vague. Furthermore, let’s face it: Republicans have been known to control both houses of Congress on occasion, and I’m not sure allowing the present Republican Party to set electoral “performance standards” is in the better interests of democracy.

SECTION 3. Each State shall provide any eligible voter the opportunity to register and vote on the day of any public election.

Most of us can get behind this clause, but the word “eligible” can easily be exploited. This would not prevent the lifetime disenfranchisement for convicted felons, which to my knowledge is the status in both Virginia and Kentucky. Florida used to have lifetime disenfranchisement, then removed it, then restored it in 2011. (Perhaps I should update that lecture again before giving it in a couple weeks). Felony disenfranchisement is generally constitutional, and the 14th Amendment can be read as permissive on the practice.

SECTION 4. Each State and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall establish and abide by rules for appointing its respective number of Electors. Such rules shall provide for the appointment of Electors on the day designated by the Congress for holding an election for President and Vice President and shall ensure that each Elector votes for the candidate for President and Vice President who received a majority of the popular vote in the State or District.

This merely eliminates faithless electors, which while theoretically an issue in the 26(?) states that do not have statutes locking electors into the candidate for whom they are pledged has only occurred eight times since 1948. It does have one pedantic problem: majority. What happens to those electors representing states or districts won only by plurality? Do they just disappear? Presumably before the above text made its way through to 2/3 vote in each house, that wording would be addressed.

What this proposed amendment doesn’t do is “solve every last one of our voting problems”. In terms of progressive reform aimed at reducing the burdens to the act of voting, the only thing this amendment guarantees is same day registration. Period. It doesn’t touch gerrymandering, though it does allow Congress to address this through the provisions regarding electoral performance standards. Given the vagueness of that clause, however, Congress can do quite a bit with that power, both progressive and regressive.

Waiting in Line to Vote

[ 33 ] February 7, 2013 |

The past few days have seen several stories on waiting times at the polls in November, spurred by the release of a couple of studies, including one by Charles Stewart at MIT with an N of over 10,000. Key findings from the MIT survey are illustrated here in the NYT piece. With these data we can’t be at all certain that these resulted from the much discussed Republican vote suppression efforts, but the effects that are observable did have a substantive effect on voters, and were systematically related to politically predictive demographic categories such as race and income.

Democrats waited an average of 15 minutes, Republicans 12.4. Waits were longer in more urbanized settings and for those on lower income brackets. Most damning is that Latinos and African-Americans waited an average of 20.2 minutes, while whites 12.7 minutes. The state with the longest wait was Florida at 45 minutes. This Nation piece on Florida, which conducted its own examination into the problem, includes this brilliant quote by the incumbent Florida Secretary of State: “I can confidently say Florida conducted a fair election in 2012.” Perhaps when compared to some past Florida elections of note, but perhaps not when compared to 2012 cross-nationally. Work done “by an Ohio State University professor and The Orlando Sentinel, concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida “gave up in frustration” without voting.” The NYT article states that the overall cost to Democrats numbered “hundreds of thousands of votes”.

Positive reform (not to be confused with voter ID) at the Federal level is encountering the usually justified obfuscation from Republicans:

Conservatives have complained that Democrats are politicizing an issue that should be handled by the states, not the federal government. “It’s ridiculous to stand in line a couple of hours to vote,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But I think it’s also ridiculous to make a political issue out of it when it’s very easily handled.”

And that’s one of the more ridiculous things I’ve read today. Voting is a political issue, and making voting easier (or harder) is all about politics. When African-Americans and Latinos have to wait nearly twice as long as whites, it’s political. We know, and they know, that efforts to suppress votes masquerading as fraud prevention result in Republicans having a larger percentage of a given electorate, while easing the costs to voting (e.g. easier / no registration, more polling places, shorter lines, etc.) increase the Democratic percentage of a given electorate. While it’s a starkly political issue, there is one key difference: we’re right on the normative merits. Anybody who wants to vote should be able to vote. As a society, we should be reducing, not erecting, roadblocks to the act of voting.

I cobbled together a state level dataset to quickly examine if there are determinants of the average wait by state. While the studies discussed in the NYT and Nation articles are based on survey data, what does this look like at the state level? The dependent variable in the little model that follows is the average wait time courtesy of the MIT survey. I included some standard state level measures, including PVI, wealth, aggregate population, poverty rate, as well as percentages African-American and Latino of the overall state population. I also hypothesized that unified Republican control of the state government (defined as both chambers of the legislature and the executive) would lead to longer wait times, as it was the Republicans pulling back on early voting windows and introducing Voter ID laws (which they achieved anything, achieved longer lines). There are 25 such states. Finally, I included the margin of victory for the state winner in the Presidential election.

Several notes prior to viewing the table in all its glory are warranted. First, interpretation of the effects will be a product of your own view of the significance of statistical significance. I think it is often mis-applied. In this model, it could be argued that I have the universe of cases at my disposal, hence I’m not trying to ascertain the probability that the effect I’m observing in this sample is the result of random chance. Furthermore, with an N of only 48 (two states are not included in the model; Washington relies heavily on postal voting, while Oregon is exclusively so, rendering waiting lines at polling places an irrelevant concept), only the strongest substantive relationships will be significant. A lack of significance does not equate no relationship, it simply means that the relationship has not been observed with the precision necessary to be arbitrarily comfortable generalizing from our sample to the target population. Second, the measures are not normed to a common metric, meaning size is not relative. Third, as this is state-level data, it is not fine enough to capture precinct-level variations, and I suspect a lot of the vote suppression tactics were conducted at precinct level.

“Significant” relationships are found with state wealth, percentage African-American, and poverty rate (the bi-variate correlation between poverty rate and per capita GDP is low.) The actual estimate for wealth required moving the decimal a few spaces to show a real number, but a rough norming of the measures indicates that it has the second strongest substantive impact on wait times: the wealthier the state is, the shorter the wait. Counter-intuitively, the higher the poverty rate, the shorter the wait as well, and I’m not sure what to make of that. The overall winner, in terms of both significance levels and normed substantive effect is % African-American. For each percentage point increase in a state’s black population, the average wait increased nearly half a minute. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but this measure ranges from 0.8% in Montana to 37.6% in Mississippi, hence the overall range effect is around 18 minutes. Moving on to the measures that did not report significant estimates: there really isn’t anything going on with overall population size, states with larger Latino populations had longer waits, the greater the margin in the election, the shorter the wait, and states under unified Republican control waited nearly two minutes longer when everything else in the model is taken into account. A straight bi-variate analysis is starker: the average waiting time for states under unified Republican control was 13.42 minutes, while 9.13 minutes for those with at least a modicum of Democratic input (and this relationship is significant with a one-way ANOVA).

Finally, the overall model fit is only .31: these variables only explain 31% of the variance in waiting times. While some variation is just random, there’s with near certainty several additional unobserved determinants of waiting times.

As I only just slapped all this together, I’m not completely sure what the story is beyond the obvious: your wait time will be shorter in a richer state, but longer in a more heterogeneous state. I think, given the nature of the data and the significance of the bi-variate relationship, we can also be confident that states under unified Republican control had significantly longer lines to vote.

And that’s pretty much exactly the way they like it.

This Week in Gun Fetish Paranoia

[ 41 ] February 7, 2013 |

Obama “VIPER” Death Squads v The Second Amendment.

From the original MJ story:

Various tea party activists, libertarian websites and other conspiracy-minded Obama haters are claiming that Russian security forces have discovered that Obama is about to unleash “death squads” across America to assassinate defenders of the Second Amendment.

I knew that trusting shady Russian intelligence operatives with this information was a tenuous proposition, but nobody would listen to me.

Electoral College Alternatives and 2012, continued

[ 15 ] February 6, 2013 |

Unlike most other Red-Blue states, Pennsylvania is still considering changing the rules allocating their EC votes. Instead of the Congressional district system, the new move is for a variant of full on proportional where the 18 votes corresponding to the size of their House delegation are distributed proportionately, and the two remaining are awarded to the overall plurality winner of the state.

This ongoing issue motivated me to finally update the slide I use in my lecture on the Electoral College that I reproduced here in the event that all 50 states adopt a given reform. There are several calculations available, including the district system here, and a straight proportional system here. I found neither entirely satisfactory, so in the spirit of a further delay in grading essays, made my own calculations.

The district plan, assuming all states implement it the manner in which it is currently used by Maine and Nebraska, results in 265 EC votes for Obama, and 273 for Romney. (I’m not sure how sound this is; as of today Daily Kos Elections still does not have data on the presidential vote for 26 districts, but unlike the page I linked above, my estimate does add up to 538 at least). The pure proportional plan (without the two vote bonus for the plurality winner) results in Obama 277, Romney 261. I allocated remainders with a strict rounding up criterion. As both estimations assume uniformity in the rules adopted by the states, neither are bullet proof. The table below the fold reproduces my results for the proportional model. Read more…

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