Archive | Frivolity

Do Academics own the Titles of Their Articles? And What if it Involves a Really Good Pun?

Some of you who know me or my work will be aware that I value a creative title for an article, especially if it involves a pun or play on words. My dissertation was entitled It’s the Economy, Comrade!, Adam Meirowitz and I have an article called “Run, Boris, Run!”, and Ted Brader and I recently published a piece called “Follow the Leader”. (To this date, I am disappointed that I couldn’t come up with anything better for my book than Regional Economic Voting).

However, I think the high point of my title-writing career came when Amber Seligson and I co-authored an article on why people vote for ex-authoritarian leaders in Russia and Bolivia (which still may be the only straight Russia-Bolivia comparative piece in a political science article) and we called it “Feeding the Hand that Bit You”*. Truth be told, the genesis for the article came from the first time I met Amber to talk about our research, and I said “you know, if we ever co-author an article about voting for ex-authoritarian leaders, we should call it `Feeding the Hand that Bit You’.” And so we did. I loved this title, and even remember getting into a brief argument about it with Tom Romer, who was annoyed with it because hands couldn’t bite. Nevertheless, I persevered, and we eventually published the piece, title in tact. I was a bit sad, as I knew I was never going to top this one**, but all in all content that I had reached such a height of academic punnery.

Imagine my surprise, then, when yesterday I discovered a 2012 European Journal of Political Research article entitled “Why feed the hand that bites you? Perceptions of procedural fairness and system support in post-communist democracies”. There it was – the pinnacle of my punning career – attached to someone else’s article! What could I do? Sue? Tell the EJPR to change the title retroactively? Try to get the author appointed to the German government? (For those not getting this last reference, try Googling “German Minister Resigns Plagiarism” – it currently returns 398,000 hits).

Instead, I decided to do what I usually do in these circumstances, which was to try to write something vaguely humorous for The Monkey Cage. (“Vaguely humorous” is currently defined as not nearly as funny as Sarah Binder’s Peepal Conclave.) But it does raise an interesting issue. Do we have any ownership over our titles? I’m not talking about legal issues here, but more just in the sense of whether titles are up for grab as soon as they are used. Clearly, referencing one title to refute the argument of another similarly titled piece is fine – hence Larry Bartels’ superbly titled “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?” – but at the same time I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have called my book Harry Potter and the East European Elections, as one of my cousins suggested. Now most titles don’t really reflect any value added: saying that no one should ever again use “An Analysis of Economic Voting in the X Election” as a title would also be ridiculous. But some titles are very well known, some are creative, and some are memorably annoying. But all of these are somehow associated with the author in question, so is it somehow wrong to appropriate that title without acknowledging it? Curious to hear what people think of this. Is this also an issue among journalists? Fiction writers?

Two caveats before I close. First, I in no way think that the author of the “Why feed the hand…” article in any way knew about my article and deliberately copied the title; indeed I have explicitly not included the author’s name in this post because this is not at all a criticism of him. The pun (I think? hope?) is clever, and no reason two people couldn’t have come up with it independently. Second, I am completely aware of the possibility that someone is going to identify in the comments section below somebody who used the pun in a political science article before I did, thus putting me in the exact same position as the author of the EJPR piece. To reiterate, the point is not blame this author at all (or me if it turns out I did the same thing!), but merely to raise the raise the question – albeit in a lighthearted way – about academics and the proper concern they should have for their titles. (And yes, that last pun was intended!)


* For non-native English speakers reading this post, “Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You” is a well known English expression; you can find a discussion of the phrase here.

** I thought I came close last year with a play on the classic economic voting article “Peasants or Bankers” until a kind British colleague of mine informed me that I hadn’t quite understood the implication in England of the word I had chosen that rhymed with “Banker” and suggested I change the title….

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Wait, Nancy Pelosi Voted for *Herself*?

We welcome once more Jeffery A. Jenkins of the University of Virginia.  Jenkins and Charles Stewart are the authors of the new book Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government.


While most reporters, pundits, and political scientists explored the ramifications and historical importance of the large number of defections on both sides of the aisle (but mostly on the GOP side) in yesterday’s House speakership election, one action was largely ignored.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi voted for herself for Speaker.

Pelosi’s actions weren’t new either, as she has now voted for herself for Speaker six consecutive times – in 2003 (108th Congress), 2005 (109th), 2007 (110th), 2009 (111th), 2011 (112th), and yesterday.  On two of those occasions, of course, her Democratic Party was in the majority (in 2007 and 2009), so her vote helped produce her own election as Speaker.

What about John Boehner?

He refrained from voting for himself for Speaker yesterday, and also did not do so in 2009 and 2011.  He did vote for himself, however, in 2007.

Looking back through the history, as far as I can tell, these are the only occasions in which a major party nominee has voted for himself/herself in a House speakership election.

Rep. Pelosi thus set a precedent in 2003 and has established a trend since then.  Whether you love her or hate her, I think it’s fair to say that it takes a special person to cast a vote for herself (year after year) in a public setting of that magnitude.

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Sign the Petition: No Death Star!

Last May, this blog published my essay against building a Death Star. And, not to brag,  but at the time I thought we had saved trillions* of lives. With the help of re-posts by WonkblogGizmodo, and legions of social media warriors, the Monkey Cage squelched any thoughts of building a Death Star and saved the lives of countless planets.

Imagine my shock, then, to hear that a petition to the White House had received the 25,000 signatures it needed to force an official response from the White House. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

This cannot be ignored. I urge every Monkey Cage reader to sign this White House petition to:

ban the development or deployment of a Death Star, or any other moon-sized space station capable of destroying a planet.

Allow me to recapitulate the case against a Death Star:

1) Compared to more discrete alternatives, the Death Star is an inefficient strategy for subduing the population and elites of the galaxy.

2) The money and materials used to build the Death Star would be put to better use upgrading the conventional weapons of the Imperial army.

In the current budgetary environment, the second point is especially important. As we all know, the 2011 debt limit agreement included mandatory reductions in defense spending—the “sequester”—starting in fiscal year 2013. The Department of Defense budget is slated to decrease by $259.4 billion. And yet the advocates for a new Death Star plan to launch it in the midst of this austerity despite its$85.2 quintillion price tag.

Perhaps you are wondering, is an anti-Death Star petition really necessary? Surely the Obama administration will treat the pro-Death Star petition like it’s some sort of joke, even if it means enduring criticism that it is “soft on Alderaan.” Perhaps. But having destroyed the argument for the Death Star once, I was surprised to find that the pro-Death Star forces had moved to in another venue, displacing the local population and threatening the galaxy. I fear they will continue to keep trying until the federal government  sets a clear no-Death Star policy.

So please, sign the petition. The planet you save may be your own.

*My best guess, pending CBO scoring.

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The Growing Political Polarization of Santa Claus

For Christmas Eve, we featured a guest post from  Dr. Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton, which noted a growing trend in the percentage of survey respondents ascribing a partisan preference to Santa Claus from 1998-2001.  Unfortunately, those two data points missed most of the Bush 43 years and all of the Obama years.  Today, for Christmas, we are happy to report that  Dr. Jennings has located new data from 2012!  I’ve put all three sets of polls together in the figure below, and the trend is clear: opinions regarding the partisanship of Santa – like much else in the United States – has become even more polarized over the past decade:

One important caveat in comparing these data is that the most recent poll – conducted by Public Policy Polling on December 5-7, 2012 – did not include an options for “independent” – respondents were asked if Santa was a Democratic, a Republican, or if they were Not Sure (which was given as an option). So part of the difference in the proportion of respondents ascribing a partisans proclivity to Santa may be due to the lack of an “independent” option, which was offered in the earlier surveys. That being said, in 2012 we continue to see substantially more people thinking the elderly, white, and apparently well-off Mr. Claus as a Democrat than a Republican – perhaps he belongs to the Warren Buffet wing of the party?

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Santa’s (Political!) Party

The following is a guest post from  Dr. Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton.  A modified version is cross-posted on the Politics Upside Down blog.

Happy holidays from The Monkey Cage!


A question that has been sadly neglected by political scientists is Santa Claus’ partisan sympathies. We know a little, however, about whether Santa is seen as being on the left or the right of the political spectrum, or whether he transcends the partisan divide. In a Zogby poll of 1,043 adults in the US (in December 2001), respondents were asked:

In your opinion if Santa Claus was a registered voter, what political party would he most likely support?

Some 26% thought Santa would be a Democrat supporter (perhaps reflecting his ties to to social welfare), while just 15% thought Santa would be a Republican (keeping in mind Santa only brings presents for children have been good each year, suggesting a strict social conservatism behind his charitable facade). Far more, 43%, thought Sanda would be an independent, standing above the partisan rancour of politics (with some 16% unsure). We still don’t know, however, whether Santa’s schedule for this year includes a stop-off in Congress to solve the partisan impasse over the ‘fiscal cliff’, with hard-line elements of the Republican Party stubbornly refusing a compromise.

Santa has sadly not been immune to the growing polarization of US politics in recent years. In December 1998, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics asked a similar  question “Do you think Santa Claus would be a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent?”. In contrast, just 9% of people thought Santa would be a Democrat and 6% a Republican, with 62% suggesting he would be an independent. In just three years a quarter of the US public had taken a more polarized stance on poor Santa. It is only a matter of time before polarization occurs in judging who has been naughty and who has been nice.

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Political Football

The college football bowl season gets underway this weekend with an exciting doubleheader. First up is the Gildan New Mexico Bowl (featuring two five loss teams hoping to avoid becoming a six loss team—though apparently being a six loss team is enough to make it into the Little Caesars Bowl on December 26).  This is followed by the famous Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, held in the Big East’s new capital city: Boise.

President Obama has of course been a proponent of a college football playoff system and in fact PolitiFact checked off a “promise kept” in July when the NCAA adopted a version of this plan, effective after the 2014 season. To my knowledge, though, Obama has never sought to declare his own national champion, no matter how bizarre or biased the BCS system’s calculations.

Let us hearken back, then, to when President Richard Nixon did just that. It was the culmination of the 1969 season, and the NCAA had decided it was the 100th anniversary of college football. (Which is to say, it was the 100th anniversary of the Princeton-Rutgers game in November 1869 (Rutgers 6, Princeton 4). However, Harvard graduates know that the first real game – played with an actual football, as opposed to a round soccer-style ball – was actually in 1874, and thus Harvard refused to place the NCAA’s 100th anniversary logo on its uniform.)

On December 6, Nixon showed up at Razorback Stadium with a “national champions” plaque as the University of Texas took on Arkansas, both teams 9-0 and aiming for the Cotton Bowl. Penn State was 10-0, but apparently Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” took precedence. Texas won, 15-14, after trailing 14-0 after three quarters. Nixon presented his plaque to UT coach Darrell Royal in the Texas locker room, with ABC broadcasting it all to an estimated 50 million viewers.

Texas went on to the 1970 Cotton Bowl, but not against the #2 team—instead they played #9 Notre Dame. Saving Nixon’s blushes, Texas made a last-minute comeback (aided by a generous officiating decision) to win 21-17 and finish undefeated. (Penn State also won, in the Orange Bowl, thus finishing 11-0 but plaque-less.)

Nixon apparently thought the presidential declaration of a “national champion” might become an annual event – but in the wonderful memo below, rescued from the National Archives by the University of Houston’s Brandon Rottinghaus, Pat Buchanan urged the president desist. “I strongly recommend the President not get involved at all…” Buchanan wrote. Picking a winner could only alienate other teams’ fans—the 1970 season actually saw three different authorities picking three different national champions: Texas, Nebraska, and Ohio State. This was despite the fact that Texas, again the coaches’ poll champion, lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl this time around. So embracing Texas would anger “not a few Catholics,” Buchanan warned. And embracing Nebraska (which did at least win its bowl game) would anger Ohio State—and famous coach Woody Hayes, Buchanan reminded the White House staff, was “an RN man.”

For the record, this year Ohio State is undefeated but ineligible for bowl participation. Might Obama’s love for all things Ohio (up through November 6 at least) tempt him to step into the fray? Still, while I don’t know if OSU coach Urban Meyer is a “BO man,” Meyer’s $4 million annual salary plus incentives does take him safely out of the 99%…

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Time to Stop A Spuddering Analogy: The Difference Between Campaign Finance and Potato Chips

If you open this week’s Economist, you will find what is becoming a familiar line about spending on US elections:

The election cycle that has just limped to its exhausted conclusion cost around $6 billion—a new record, as in every new presidential cycle. But when you consider that Americans were electing on November 6th not just the president but 435 congressmen and 33 senators in a vast country of 330m people, where electioneering is primarily conducted by paid television advertisements, the figure may not seem quite so high. Americans spend more than that every year on potato crisps.(emphasis added)

This is not the first time I’ve encountered this type of argument (see the chewing gum version here), and indeed I heard variants on it a number of times at a conference I just participated in on assessing the results of the US presidential election. I’ve even used versions of this line myself with my students.

That being said, I think it is time to stop saying it. While it may be true that Americans spend more on potato chips than political campaigns, there are of course several important differences worth considering here:

  • Potatoes do not have to spend time or effort soliciting donations so they can be converted to potato chips.

  • Once purchased, people rarely lobby potato chips for favors in enacting preferential legislation.

  • Potato chips rarely, if ever, face trade-offs between trying to please the individual who bought them, their constituents, and the country at large. They can just simply be oh-so-tasty.

  • Anyone in the United States is allowed to buy potato chips, not just citizens.  Indeed, even children and foreigners can purchase potato chips.

  • Potato chips are accessible to all citizens, rich and poor alike (with the possible exception of people dealing with cholesterol issues).

  • Sheldon Adelson doesn’t purchase $15 million worth of potato chips for his own personal use (at least I hope not).

I make these points a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the issue is a real one.  I think we are at a point where this technique of comparing campaign funding to some simple consumer good is developing as a short-hand for dismissing concerns with the current system of campaign finance in the United States.  Regardless of what one thinks is the ideal system of campaign funding, suggesting that donating money to a politician is the same thing as buying a bag of chips is not the best way to go about addressing the issue.

Thus it would be Wise to start to Chip away at an over-Baked analogy that should be covered with a Cape (Cod), stuffed in a Kettle, and Lay(d) to rest before the discussion turns Salty and feathers get Ruffle(d) in what ought to be a serious discussion.

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