Author Archive | david_park

Thank You Mr. Robinson?

Sometimes I’ll ask my (almost) 4 year twin boys a difficult question. They’ll think about the question, and if they don’t know the answer, they simply respond by saying, “Daddy, I don’t know the answer to that question.” I wish Mr. Robinson could respond to a question he doesn’t know like my sons (excluding the Daddy part of course). Here’s the exchange between Eugene Robinson (columnist for the Washington Post) and David Gregory on Meet the Press last week:

MR. GREGORY: Here’s a question. On the economy overall…how are we going to know if it’s working, and how much time does Obama really have?

MR. ROBINSON: It’s a, it’s a good question. I think there’s a realization in the country that this doesn’t happen overnight, that you—that, that we’ve dug such a deep hole and it’s taken so long to do it that, that, you know, I think if, if things are perceived to have stopped getting worse in, in—within six months, say…

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. ROBINSON: …or, or, or nine months, and, and if, if we can—think we can see a bottom then, you know, I think people’ll give him some more time…

Thank you Mr. Robinson for letting us know that we’ll know if the stimulus is working if “we can see a bottom.” Why can’t journalist (or maybe it’s more accurate to say columnists) who have no expertise in a particular field, just respond by saying “I don’t know, you should ask an expert.”

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Forum Network

In a previous post, I mentioned Ted Talks and how it quenched my intellectual thirst. I recently received an email from WBGH informing me about their Forum Network which “offers free, online access to more than 2,500 audio and video lectures by some of the world’s leading authors, artists, scientists, policymakers and historians.” Check out this talk by MIchio Kaku on String Theory.

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History by Numbers

How does the 2008 presidential and congressional elections compare to previous elections? Before we start throwing around terms like, “unprecedented” and “historic,” James W. Ceaser and Daniel DiSalvo ask us to take a step back and compare the 2008 presidential and congressional elections with previous elections by looking at the numbers. What do they find? (1) The 2008 presidential election was not unusual by any historical standard. (2) The 2008 congressional election falls in the upper range of congressional victories in a presidential year.

According to Ceaser and DiSalvo, by looking at the numbers, the 2008 election was not unusual because Obama won the presidency with a share of the popular vote that ranks fourteenth, or at the median; his margin of victory ranks nineteenth, or slightly below the median, and his electoral vote percentage was seventeenth among twenty-nine elections. The process of painting by numbers can produce a concise drawing, however, the drawings usually lacks any richness or complexity.

When I was a graduate student, on the first day of class, one of my professors lifted a book to show to the class…to the surprise of the students, it wasn’t a book by V.O. Key, E.E. Schattschneider, or David Truman, but instead it was a book of paintings by Pablo Picasso during his Cubist period. Why Cubism? He wanted to emphasize that any historical examination should try to capture, not just one narrow perspective, but try to piece together multiple perspectives to better capture reality.

Therefore, while understanding the 2008 Democratic victory by the numbers provides one (and important) perspective of presidential and congressional elections, I’m looking forward to reading Ceaser’s cubist rendering of the 2008 presidential elections in his forthcoming book (with Busch and Pitney) Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.

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TED Talks

When I was in graduate school at Columbia University, we has so many outside speakers coming to present their latest research, I would have to force myself to limit my attendance to just a few a week so I could actually work on my dissertation. I thought it would be such a public good to have these talks available via the web. Back then, hardware and software was expensive and internet connections were slow. Now, costs have come down and connections are much faster, so we should have these available to the public (and less endowed universities). How great would it be to have these talks at Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, etc. available to the public. Until then, we have TED talks now available via their website and podcasts. Check out this great talk by Dan Gilbert.

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Samuel Huntington Dies

Samuel Huntington, political scientist and Harvard professor, died on Wednesday. He taught at Harvard for 58 years and was the author, co-author, or editor of 17 books and 90 scholarly articles. His intellectual breadth was truly amazing. Read more about his personal and intellectual life on Harvard’s website.

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Kiyoshi Ito, 93, Mathematician Who Described Random Motion, Dies

From the New York Times:

Kiyoshi Ito, a mathematician whose innovative models of random motion are used today in fields as diverse as finance and biology, died Nov. 17 at a hospital in Kyoto, Japan. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Junko Ito.

Mr. Ito is known for his contributions to probability theory, the study of randomness. His work, starting in the 1940s, built on the earlier breakthroughs of Albert Einstein and Norbert Wiener. Mr. Ito’s mathematical framework for describing the evolution of random phenomena came to be known as the Ito Calculus.

“People all over realized that what Ito had done explained things that were unexplainable before,” said Daniel Stroock, a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Read the rest of the obituary here.

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Election 2008: what really happened

Since Andy wears many blogging hats, he sometimes forgets to put his other posts on on this blog. Using the election returns from CNN he gives a nice wrap up of the 2008 election and puts in context of the 2000 and 2004. His conclusions are:

1. The election was pretty close.
2. As with previous Republican candidates, McCain did better among the rich than the poor, but the pattern has changed among the highest-income categories.
3. The gap between young and old has increased–a lot.
4. Obama gained the most among ethnic minorities.
5. The red/blue map was not redrawn; it was more of a national partisan swing.
6. Finally, how did the pre-election polls do? Unsurprisingly, they pretty much nailed the national vote.

For more details (and of course some nice plots) see the post on the Red Blue Rich Poor blog.

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Words of (Undergraduate) Wisdom

I teach a political participation course, and when the course overlaps with a presidential election, I have the students form into small groups, where they analyze all the available data out there, and make a prediction. All the groups have Obama winning the election (see plot below). On the low end, Group 4 has Obama winning only 291 electoral votes, and on the high end, Group 7 has Obama winning 353 votes. Most of the groups have Obama winning in the low 300s and McCain in the low 200s. I guess we’ll see on election night which group is the closest to the actual outcome (there’s some extra credit points riding on this).


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Is the Military a Bastion of Right Wingers?

The conventional wisdom is that the military is overwhelmingly Republican. In fact, the Military Times last week showed that the armed services planned to vote for McCain over Obama by nearly 3-to-1. However, when Maj. Jason Dempsey started looking a little more closely at the respondents of the poll he found that they tended to be white, older, and more senior in rank.

Dempsey (not only is he a battalion operations officer at the Army’s 10th Mountain Division but has a PhD from Columbia University in political science) and Robert Shapiro conducted the first and only random sample survey of enlisted personnel, junior officers as well as their superiors. So what did they find? According to Dempsey:

The Army, it turns out, is hardly a bastion of right-wing thought. It is true that the upper echelons of the military tilt right. My own research confirmed that about two-thirds of majors and higher-ranking officers identify as conservative, as previous studies found. But that tilt becomes far less pronounced when you expand the pool of respondents. That is because only 32 percent of the Army’s enlisted soldiers consider themselves conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and the remaining 45 percent are self-described moderates. These numbers closely mirror the ideological predilections of the civilian population…The Army, it turns out, is hardly a bastion of right-wing thought.

Read the rest of the article in The New Republic.

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