Saturday, 31 March 2007

Long layover

My connecting flight from Memphis to St. Louis last night was canceled, so I got to spend the day today with mom and my step-dad before flying out this evening. While I was in town, Mom and I went to see Blades of Glory, which was highly amusing.

I also had the distinct displeasure of having a relatively well-known political scientist go after me for having the temerity to treat Daron Shaw’s measure of campaign resource allocation as valid. I’m not sure if I scored any points by standing my ground or not, to be honest—I pointed out that it appeared in a top-3 journal, so presumably the reviewers lent some credence to the measure; that Shaw was a tenured professor at the University of Texas, so presumably he wasn’t an idiot; and that his results were consistent with other scholars’ measures.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Brush with greatness

On one of my flights headed to my latest job interview, my seat was directly in front of one occupied by Sandra Bullock, who I wouldn’t have recognized in a million years (except that her travel companion, whoever he was, seemed to make a point of announcing her name to people). I do have to say that without professional makeup and in jeans and a sweatshirt, she basically looked like any moderately attractive 40-year-old brunette of average height and weight (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Monday, 26 March 2007

Weird freebie of the year

A textbook called Looking at Movies mysteriously arrived for me today. I say “mysteriously” because I don’t teach any classes that have anything to do with film, although I’ve always wanted to teach a course on depictions of politics in the mass media—not a “politics of film” course per se, more a course looking at how the political system is portrayed in a variety of movie and TV genres.

Certainly one segment would be on speculative fiction, wherein most political systems shown are implausible or ridiculous (the new Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 being far less absurd than most). It’s a shame there’s no movie of Clarke’s Songs of Distant Earth, for its “Jefferson Mark-3 Constitution” would be worth some serious mockery, although I suppose wags might say after the 2004 election that any two randomly-selected Americans would have made better candidates than the two foisted upon us by the GOP and Democrats.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

My DPL vote

Here’s how I voted for Debian project leader:

[ 3 ] Choice 1: Wouter Verhelst
[ 3 ] Choice 2: Aigars Mahinovs
[ 3 ] Choice 3: Gustavo Franco
[ 3 ] Choice 4: Sam Hocevar
[ 1 ] Choice 5: Steve McIntyre
[ 3 ] Choice 6: Raphaël Hertzog
[ 2 ] Choice 7: Anthony Towns
[ 3 ] Choice 8: Simon Richter
[ 4 ] Choice 9: None Of The Above

For the uninitiated, Debian uses the Schulze method of vote counting (a Condorcet method) to decide its elections based on ranked ballots cast by Debian developers. In English, my preference order was McIntyre > Towns [the incumbent DPL] > (any other candidate) > (nobody).

Thankfully, another candidate withdrew from the election, saving me from having to cast a ballot ranking nobody ahead of a candidate for the second consecutive year.

Research-Intensive Courses

Timothy Burke advocates moving away from “writing-intensive” courses in favor of a requirement for courses that include assignments that emphasize the development of information literacy and library research skills. Now if we only included such a course in each major—perhaps one that also included instruction in, oh I don’t know, the appropriate methodologies for the given discipline—perhaps we might get somewhere in the academy.

The rational basis test

Julian Sanchez succinctly explains the rational basis test as applied by the courts:

Now, understand: For a law to be “rationally related” to a legitimate state purpose, it’s not necessary that it actually achieve that purpose, let alone achieve it without bringing about various ancillary harms in the process. It’s enough that a sane legislator might reasonably believe it to contribute to the relevant goal.

In other words, whenever the Supreme Court strikes a law down while claiming to apply the “rational basis test,” they weren’t actually applying the rational basis test. Case in point: Romer v. Evans, in which the court laid the foundations for Lawrence v. Texas by essentially applying heightened scrutiny to discrimination against gays and lesbians—even though they claimed they were simply applying the rational basis test.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Greek Professor Gets Mixed Evals

This Chronicle piece including some “student evaluations” of Socrates has been getting a bit of play around the blogosphere and is pretty damn funny. I thought this was the funniest part:

He always keeps talking about these figures in a cave, like they really have anything to do with the real world. Give me a break! I spend serious money for my education and I need something I can use in the real world, not some b.s. about shadows and imaginary trolls who live in caves.

He also talks a lot about things we haven’t read for class and expects us to read all the readings on the syllabus even if we don’t discuss them in class and that really bugs me. Students’ only have so much time and I didn’t pay him to torture me with all that extra crap.

þ OTB (among others).

For it while he was against it

DiA observes that Barack Obama may be taking the “all things to all people” schtick a little too far.

Stats stuff

I’ll pitch a couple of items from the Harvard Social Science Statistics Blog worth mentioning.

First, Sebastian Bauhoff plugs a number of summer quantitative methods programs. My overall review of ICPSR would be more positive than his, but as he mentions much depends on the courses you choose: Charles Franklin’s MLE class is generally a subject of rave reviews, and I can personally vouch for Bill Jacoby’s class in scaling and Doug Baer’s class in latent variable structural equation modeling (LISREL models). I’ve also heard that the advanced MLE course has vastly improved since I took it in 2001 (when it batted around .500 while rotating four instructors). Other advanced classes that seem to get good reviews include Jeff Gill’s Bayesian class and the simultaneous equations class. Historically I know time series and categorical data analysis were somewhat hit-and-miss; the latter was regarded as excellent when taught by Jeremy Freese, but I’m told it has gone downhill since.

Second, James Griener expresses concern that people may start applying statistical models willy-nilly to explaining lower-court decision-making, on the basis that decisions are not iid but instead controlled largely by precedent. Certainly sticking circuit court opinions in as the dependent variable in a logit would be stupid without paying some serious attention to the error structure. But that hardly forecloses interesting analysis.

Also, my vague applied notion of the ideal-point model is that items (decisions) are not actually believed to be iid (there is at least one latent variable explaining them, so by definition they are not truly independent of each other), so I don’t think using an item-response theory model would be problematic—however, you’d certainly end up recovering a “respect for stare decisis” dimension in addition to the ideology dimension(s) you recover from the Supreme Court, which might actually help contribute to interesting substantive debates.

The horse’s mouth

A public service announcement: anyone who needs to know my employment status for 2007–08 would be best advised to ask me directly. But as of this moment I have not accepted any job offers and do not expect to do so in the next two weeks, barring some unforeseen circumstances (i.e. a new offer).

There goes one reason to avoid moving to Louisiana

Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, whose response to Hurricane Katrina made fellow Peter Principle exemplars Ray Nagin and Mike Brown look positively competent by comparison, won’t be seeking a second term in the wake of polls that showed Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal wiping the floor with her in a potential November contest.

The smart money for the Democrats is on former senator John Breaux, last seen on K Street. Whether he can complete the Haley Barbour impression by successfully imitating Barbour’s transition from hobnobbing in Gucci Gulch to appealing to the Earl Hickey set remains to be seen.

Jim Cramer on violating securities laws for fun and profit

Via Democracy in America, I present to you Jim Cramer:

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The trials and tribulations of the elite and ex-elite

An anonymous writer (but my money is on Megan McArdle) has a hysterically funny post up at Free Exchange that mercilessly takes the piss out of this New York Times article relating the sad stories of Ms. Elizabeth Davidson, who recently lost her gold elite status with US Airways, and other newly-plebeian air travelers.

In related news, first-class passengers on a flight from India to Britain were upset when British Airways recently had the temerity to move a dead passenger into the first class cabin. Presumably they would have preferred the airline leave the passenger in steerage economy.

Newsflash: people still hate Congress

James Joyner notes that the public opinion numbers on Congress have reverted back to their long-term average of 28% approval after a brief “100-hours” honeymoon where “approve” only trailed “disapprove” by a mere 18 points.

What may be more interesting is the dropoff among Democrats; their approval of Congress is already almost down to the last year’s lows among Republicans. I have a good hypothesis as to why that might be the case (my guess is that Republican identifiers tend to have lower expectations of Congress, and therefore rate it more highly than Democrats, when you control for who’s in the majority party), but no real time to spend on the analysis to demonstrate it, or for that matter the journal search to find out if it's already been done.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Phone interview folly of the day

Somehow a conference call for an interview today turned into a series of conversations involving me, the relevant search committee, and my voicemail. Hopefully I was at least somewhat coherent during the interview, after being interrupted by busy signals, voice prompts, and “off hook” tones, but I wouldn’t wager a lot of money on that.

I suppose it could have been worse; I could have ended up having a conversation with two search committees simultaneously. Clearly that would violate some fundamental physical law of the universe, or, at the very least, certain provisions of the UN Declaration of Human Rights relating to cruel and inhumane treatment.

How to make public schools suck less

Jane Galt nails twenty-five theses to the wall; the whole exercise serves as a useful reminder to me of why I don’t bother to blog much about politics these days.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Run silent, run deep

Still no sign of a written offer letter… presumably spring break (there, not here) is to blame for that. No news on any other recent interviews either, which makes me a little antsy.

Friday, 16 March 2007

QotD, The Office edition

Dwight Schrute, attempting to mingle with another guest at the CFO’s party:

Dwight: You ever watch Battlestar Galactica?
Party guest: No.
Dwight: No? Then you’re an idiot.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Making big sections of intro suck less

From today’s Inside Higher Ed stories:

Intermediate algebra at the University of Alabama used to be your basic introductory class — lecture format, little interaction.

When Joe Benson, senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, looked at the grade distribution in the Math 100 course in 1999, he was displeased. Fewer than 40 percent of the 1,500 students who enrolled during that academic year received a C- or higher, and many were unable to move onto the next course in the math sequence.

“It was a situation where students, particularly at that level, had a difficult time learning the math in that format,” Benson said. “Their engagement in the course wasn’t as high as we would have liked.”

By fall 2004, the grade distribution was markedly different. Seventy-five percent of students received either A, B or C grades in the course.

What gave?

Early in 2000, Alabama was selected to take part in a course redesign project set up through the National Center for Academic Transformation. The nonprofit organization consults with colleges across the country on how they can improve student academic performance while reducing costs. It advocates more use of technology in large-enrollment, introductory courses, and in some cases replaces lectures with lab time that allow for more individual interaction between professors and students.

With an $8.8 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the center provided grants to 30 two- and four-year institutions to take part in its program in course redesign from 1999 to 2004. NCAT reported that student learning, measured through tests before and after, improved at 25 of the institutions and remained equal at the other five. All colleges involved reported cost savings — money that goes back into a department’s general fund, according to the center.

Will it work in political science? n=1 thus far.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

News of a sort

I have a job offer; the terminally bored probably already learned that (along with other details, probably down to the dollar figure of the offer) from the wiki or one of the rumor sites already. The Magic 8 Ball says “situation cloudy—check back next Monday.”

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Your deep thought of the day

“I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member.” – Groucho Marx.

In unrelated news, I’m going to EITM at WashU in June.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Prof. PowerPoint

Laura of 11D has been trying out PowerPoint in her classes lately despite some initial reluctance to do so. I have to say I’m generally in the anti-slideshow† camp, with a few exceptions:

  • I always do my job talks with a presentation if I can. It keeps me organized, it avoids handouts and fiddling with overheads, and (with a remote) I can wander around more freely.
  • I do the “math” part of methods with presentations; I can’t draw most Greek letters to save my life, and overheads are just too fiddly for me.

The big downsides are the lack of spontaneity, which affects all classes, and showing steps in figuring out a problem—the “here’s one I baked earlier” problem—that I think detracts from student learning in methods if you don’t structure the presentation right (usually I break from the presentation to work out problems on the board).

I couldn’t see using a presentation in a seminar; anything I’d write on the board in the seminar would be too hard to predict in advance anyway. But if I end up at a place with large introductory classes, I’ll probably use more presentations for the self-interested reason that “PowerPoint = good evaluations” and the more practical reason that I’ll probably end up teaching multiple sections of the introductory course at such a place anyway.

† Even when I use presentations, I normally don’t use PowerPoint, OpenOffice, or Keynote; instead, I use the über-secret slideshow features of PDF viewers like Adobe Reader or xpdf with LaTeX.

The Worldwide Pants sitcom curse continues

BigJim passes along the sad news that The Knights of Prosperity has been canned by ABC. Since that’s the only show I regularly watch on ABC, at least I can move my indoor HDTV antenna to get a little better reception on CBS now.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

The only sane reaction to the FBI anti-piracy warning

BigJim has the poster, which I assume originates from the other side of the pond.

Economists 1, political scientsts 0

Arnold Kling takes apart the book The Logic of Political Survival by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita et al. A taste of the critique:

In my opinion, the authors of The Logic of Political Survival should not be criticized for mishandling data.

They should be arrested. Imprisoned. Only released back into the community with warnings to neighbors to protect your children. ...

[I]t is only interesting to tests constraints on the data that are imposed by theory. In this case, the constraints are being imposed by simple incompetence.

The Logic of Political Survival is a stimulating and provocative book. I was impressed by the authors’ use of historical examples, particularly the use of King Leopold’s different approaches to governing Belgium and the Congo as a “natural experiment” demonstrating that institutional characteristics matter more than the leader’s personality. However, in my view, the attempts to introduce formal game theory and econometrics did more harm than good. Rather than bridge the gulf between political scientists and economists, they widened it—as far as I am concerned—by their shameful and unseemly conduct with the data.

þ: Dirk, via email, who by virtue of his educational background represents the winning side in this argument.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

First Frontier

I had my first experience flying with Frontier Airlines today, and I have to say it was most pleasant. Of course, it helped matters that my second flight of the day from Denver to St. Louis was probably 50% empty and the plane was a practically brand-new Airbus A318—it certainly beat the crap out of being squished in a United Express regional jet with drunken yahoos sitting in the row behind me, even accounting for the $29 upgrade to Economy Plus so I could actually use my tray table.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Burke on IRBs

Timothy Burke talks sense about Institutional Review Boards and federal oversight thereof, at least as applied to the humanities and social sciences.

Incidentally, many IRBs (including those at SLU and Duke) have asserted that the use of secondary data on human subjects is also subject to their oversight, even if completely anonymized as is the case of the American National Election Studies and General Social Survey. Apparently this requirement exists just in case junior faculty members on the tenure clock didn’t have enough useless paperwork to fill out… or maybe it’s just bureaucratic turf-building by non-academics who wouldn’t recognize social scientific research if it snuck up behind them and interviewed them for six hours.

An allegory for our times (particularly in Debian)

On my flight from St. Louis to Denver today (not my final destination, mind you), I had the distinct displeasure of sitting right in front of three or four half-loaded idiots on their way to some sort of ski vacation in Colorado, who engaged in the following obnoxious behaviors, among others:

  • Repeatedly hitting the flight attendant call button.
  • Using the word “fuck” liberally in conversation, usually 3–4 times per sentence.
  • Having an extended discussion of airplane crashes.
  • Asking the flight attendant repeatedly if they could smoke aboard the aircraft.

While their level of obnoxiousness probably didn’t rise to the level at which I would have supported them being hogtied by an air marshal, hauled off to Gitmo, or forcibly ejected from the aircraft at altitude, in large part because my in-canal earphones and some additional volume on the iPod effectively muted them for about 3/4 of the flight, I can’t imagine I would have put up much of an objection to any or all of these actions—and idly contemplated taking such actions myself.