Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Troester gets all the cool search queries

Nick’s blog is asked how one should go about fixing heteroskedasticity. By contrast, my Google hits fall into roughly two categories: people who Google on Friday or Saturday asking for “fun things to do on Saturday,” and people who want to know who the jackass applying for a job at their university is. I’m pretty sure I have a better—or at least less disappointing—answer to Nick’s question than either of those.

New and exciting ways to injure myself

This morning I lost a conflict with the sidewalk on St. Charles Avenue. Thankfully all that was damaged besides my right palm and left knee was my ego (which was probably due for some deflation anyway).

Chris 0, St Charles Ave sidewalk 1.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Digital TV coverage maps

Find out what digital stations you can get with just an antenna and a new TV (or other ATSC tuner, like a TiVo HD) here.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Trinity beats Millsaps with lateral frenzy

This is the second time I’ve seen Trinity beat Millsaps at home in the waning minutes of the game… although the first time back in 2004 was a tad more conventional than Saturday’s example:


Update: Timothy Sandefur asks, “is this how [football]’s really supposed to be played?” Well, no, but when you’ve only got two seconds left on the game clock, reverting to rugby is about the only option available other than the hail mary.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Stinsonian Blog

Matthew Stinson, who’s been through about half-a-dozen blog URLs since I’ve started blogging, is back again at yet another site. Welcome back!

Well, that sucked

Ugh. On the upside, I did meet a couple at the bar I saw the game at that gave me some suggestions for tourist stuff to do when Mom is here next week, so all-in-all I guess it was worthwhile.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Kabuki politics, APSA style

This explains that. My inner spidey sense wonders if it would have passed in Orleans Parish post-Katrina; my eyeballing of the precinct numbers says no.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


If I can’t get this ticket for the Ole Miss/Northwestern State game to sell for at least 42¢, I don’t know what I’ll do… I guess I’ll probably just mail it to Frequent Commenter Alfie or something.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Under construction

If you don’t hear from me for the next couple of days, it’s because I’m building an ark in my back yard.

Clearly I am missing the booster gene

Perhaps I’m just too practically-minded, but I’m not at all sure what good would come from firing Ed Orgeron as the Ole Miss coach after three seasons, two of them with David Cutcliffe’s players and hastily-grabbed JuCo guys. After getting oh-so-close to beating Florida and Alabama, and hanging in for three quarters against Georgia, I’m hardly surprised that the Rebels’ collection of first-year starters and walk-ons couldn’t hold it together against a Heisman candidate on a good team that was desperate for a win to save their coach’s job—a team that regularly beat the Rebels under Tubby and Cutcliffe too, mind you.

Now, if Dickie Scruggs has a suitcase full of cash that he’s willing to hand over to Bobby Petrino, and Petrino’s willing to take it to come in and spend the next 2–3 years at the bottom of the SEC, that’s one thing, but realistically I don’t see who’s out there who’s going to do a better job than Orgeron. If the issue is play-calling on Saturday, toss Werner and/or get a full-time defensive coordinator to make the calls. But replacing Orgeron with some other coach plucked from obscurity, or one of the “hot” coaches from a lower-tier conference like C-USA or the Big Least, who likely won’t even have Orgeron’s recruiting chops, is just a recipe for more of the same.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

I will be dreaming of working voting machines tonight

My first experience as a poll worker today went moderately smoothly; we only had one voting machine, which coupled with the ridiculously long ballot led to long lines on occasion (a few people may have had to wait around 20 minutes), but most of the day went in dribs and drabs. I don’t remember the exact vote totals, but I’m pretty sure Bobby Jindal got about 65% of the vote in my little corner of Uptown; considering that it’s part of his congressional district, I don’t know if that translates into strong support for him to avoid a runoff or not (the live stats I’ve seen with about 1/4 of the vote in say he’s at around 53%).

Next month I’m bringing an IV drip of caffeine or something, particularly if the only runoffs are way down the ballot.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Liar, liar

I ended up doing more of a book overhaul than I planned for the spring. The least change: American Government got all four books I mentioned in the previous post.

I ended up with a net add to Congress, bringing the grand total up to seven books. I will probably emphasize Analyzing Congress as the primary readings for the subjects it covers and demote the overlap in Congress and Its Members to supplemental readings, but I couldn’t get rid of the interbranch and policy stuff from the latter. Other than edition updates, I added a new CQ book, All Roads Lead to Congress, as a complement to Sinclair’s Unorthodox Lawmaking. Never before have my professional interests and hobbies intersected so well.

Southern politics ended up with a net loss in the requirements column and a hold on the total book list length. Jettisoned are Woodard’s The New Southern Politics—I could justify it in a course on contemporary southern politics, but my class isn’t quite that, instead being more of a “REP + parties in the south” syllabus—and Bullock and Rozell, the latter just simply because the group presentations make their readings redundant. Added to the required readings is Black and Black’s Rise of Southern Republicans, because I realized this semester that my readings really didn’t cover anything between 1985 and 2000, especially with Woodard ditched. Bass and de Vries’ Transformation of Southern Politics makes the “recommended” list, joining Key, since I decided to add some reserve readings from it.

Next stop: syllabus tweaks.

QotD, current student edition

One of my southern politics students recently penned her thoughts on the gubernatorial contest for the student newspaper; perhaps it’s my inner “proud professor” coming out, but I thought this passage was amusing:

The other Democrat in the race is Foster Campbell, whose platform consists solely of eliminating the Louisiana income tax and replacing it with a tax on oil and gas companies. Campbell claims that this will result in “the greatest economic [boom] in Louisiana history.” However, Campbell may have taken his populist message a bit too far. Hilarity ensues whenever Campbell compares himself to Huey P. Long. And not in a “I wouldn’t be corrupt like him,” way, but a “he was on the Public Services Commission, too, so I’m qualified to be governor” way.

When Huey Long is held up as the paragon of gubernatorial virtue, you know you may have a problem.

The big drama in these parts is whether or not Bobby Jindal gets over the 50% threshold tomorrow; if he does, I’ll probably need to bring a book or two with me when I work the polls next month (alas, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have down-ballot runoffs anyway).

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Credential inflation

Laura at 11D interacts with her baby-sitter and discovers a certain lack of rigor in courses at a local community college, leading to the following inquiries:

More students are in college than ever before. But how many of them are getting degrees that mean something? Why aren’t they ticked off that they are spending thousands on empty degrees? Why are the colleges not enforcing some rigor?

I’m sure Prof. Karlson would attribute many of these problems to the “access-accommodation-remediation-retention” model being followed at the lower and middle tiers of contemporary academe, but I’m not sure the fault isn’t in ourselves and the incentive to overindulge our students. My observation, which I posted at 11D, follows:

I think to many kids, college education these days is all about getting the credential, even at good schools (several different departments I interviewed with last year had the same observation, including at some very good schools). The fact that they don’t have to work very hard, or the expectations are low, is a feature, not a bug. Coupled with the over-reliance on student evaluations in decisions on faculty retention, tenure, and promotion, the incentive structure for faculty to teach rigorous courses just isn’t there.

I’m sure there’s more to the story than the demand side of the equation—certainly there exist departments and colleges where there is no institutional commitment to maintaining a high quality of instruction, and the AARR model isn’t blameless either—but students who don’t demand good classes probably won’t get them.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

I really, desperately need a life

In a recent phone interview, I pretended to be interested in golf and fishing just to be able to act like I cared about recreational opportunities. Next time I think I’ll ask about jogging trails and bungee-jumping. And wind-boarding. Or base-boarding. Or free-basing.

I’m pretty sure none of those are real outdoor activities, but somehow I think people believing I have a serious coke habit would make me a more interesting job candidate than the truth, which is that I’m just plain boring. The most exciting things I’ve done in the past month outside of work, in rough descending order of excitement:

  • I spent about 14 hours in my car to visit Memphis and see Ole Miss lose to Florida one weekend.
  • I visited a friend who’s just starting out in a job in Baton Rouge.
  • I watched a lot of TV.
  • I sent out a paper for review.
  • I got my laptop back from CompUSA in Metarie.
  • I did laundry a few times.

Why I can’t just be a normal person and admit my non-work interests mostly revolve around watching Pardon The Interruption and The Office and being generally socially awkward are beyond me.

Monday, 15 October 2007


I just found out that my presentation proposal for the 2008 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference in San Jose next February was accepted. Now I just need to figure out how to get away from school for the weekend.

Reducing agency loss

As readers of my sidebar know, an election has been scheduled for November in Australia. Semi-frequent commenter Chris Zorn passed me this Slashdot article about a party called “Senator On-Line” which promises that its candidates will vote, if elected, in accordance with public preferences as measured by online polls of qualified Australian voters.

If nothing else, it’s conceptually an interesting experiment, although I suspect that once the public novelty wore off and Aussies went back to having lives (instead of playing legislator) the process would quickly get captured by intense minority interests acting contrary to the public good.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

We was robbed

Rick Cleveland points out that the SEC apparently uses a different definition for “indisputable” than the rest of humanity—not that we should have expected the competence of SEC replay officials to exceed the legendary incompetence of its on-field officials in the first place.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Know your proposed constitutional amendments

The Times-Picayune helpfully explains the four state constitutional amendments on the ballot next Saturday. They don’t explain how most of this crap ended up being decided in the state constitution in the first place.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Tip of the day, job market paranoia edition

You can now subscribe to comments in your feed reader of choice on most Blogger blogs in Firefox by going into the particular comment thread and clicking on the little “feed” icon and choosing the last “Atom” feed listed. (There is also a direct link at the bottom of some, but not all, Blogger blogs to do this.)

I also updated the market paranoia PSA recently, with links to all the rumor blogs I know about and the current and 06–07 wikis. As always, I remind readers that I am not the proprietor of any of said blogs or the wikis.

MMP goes down in Ontario

Prof. Shugart reports on the failure of the Ontario ballot measure which would have changed to a mixed electoral system, previously discussed here. As it happens, I ended up weaving a bit of his analysis into my (8 a.m.!) lecture on demands for electoral reform in plurality jurisdictions—the topic of the bulk of Chapter 2 of David Farrell’s Electoral Systems textbook.

In seeming parallel with Prof. Shugart’s thoughts, I note that this month’s PS symposium on electoral reform in the states omits any article-length discussion of alternative electoral systems. Certainly the emphasis on this side of the 49th parallel is on (seemingly) nonpartisan administration and redistricting issues, rather than any perceived unfairness of plurality elections per se.

Spring classes

The upside of having taught everything under the sun in American politics (well, except parties and interest groups and the presidency) is having zero new preps in the spring. Maybe I’ll have a double upside and not have to spend 50% of the semester on airplanes like I did last year.

The lineup: American Government, Southern Politics, and Congress. For my own sanity and to free up some more time to work on research, I expect minimal tweaks from the last time I taught these courses.

The most likely changes for Congress are culling a book (it’s between Congress and Its Members and Congress Reconsidered, most likely the former due to overlap with Analyzing Congress, even though I may sneak back in some of the inter-branch relations material from the former) and replacing one Fenno book with another (out: Congress at the Grassroots, in: Congressional Travels).

For American Government, I may ditch The Right Nation in favor of bringing back Fiorina’s Culture War, or I may figure out a way to use both. I’m about 98% sure I’ll be sticking with The Logic of American Politics and its companion volume, Principles and Practice.

Except for some syllabus reordering, I’ll probably stick with my current Southern Politics readings.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Compare and contrast

A tale of two (or possibly more) morons:

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

MMP referendum in Ontario Wednesday

Matthew Shugart reminds readers of tomorrow’s referendum in Ontario on adopting a mixed-member proportional electoral system to replace its existing purely constituency-based plurality system. If nothing else, it’s auspicious since this term I’m indulging my semi-closeted comparativist in my Introduction to Politics course—with the main theme considering representation and voting systems. Now, if only we were on the right chapter of Electoral Systems, although the chapter on plurality systems—where we are now—does talk a bit about electoral reforms: most notably, Labour’s long-promised but never-delivered referendum on electoral reform in Britain, dating back to 1997.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Dangerous curves

In response to an Orin Kerr post about a grade complaint lawsuit against the University of Massachusetts, Megan McArdle asks why professors use curves in the first place:

[W]hy do faculty, particularly at the undergraduate level where the task is mastery of a basic body of knowlege, set exams where the majority of the students can’t answer a majority of the questions? Or, conversely, as I’ve also seen happen, where the difference between an A and a C is a few points, because everyone scored in the high 90’s? Is figuring out what your students are likely to know really so hard for an experienced teacher?

I’ve spent a lot of time the last four years looking into psychometric theory as part of my research on measurement (you can read a very brief primer here, or my working paper here), so I think I can take a stab at an answer. Or, a new answer: I’ve blogged a little about grading before at the macro level; you might want to read that post first to see where I’m coming from here.

The fundamental problem in test development is to measure the student’s domain-specific knowledge, preferably about things covered in the course. We measure this knowledge using a series of indicators—responses to questions—which we hope will tap this knowledge. There is no way, except intuition, to know a priori how well these questions work; once we have given an exam, we can look at various statistics that indicate how well each question performs as a measure of knowledge, but the first time the question is used it’s pure guesswork. And, we don’t want to give identical exams multiple times, because fraternities and sororities on most campuses have giant vaults full of old exams.

So we are always having to mix in new questions, which may suck. If too many of the questions suck—if almost all of the students get them right or get them wrong, or the good students do no better than the poor students on them—we get an examination that has a very flat grade distribution for reasons other than “all the students have equal knowledge of the material.”

It turns out in psychometric theory that the best examinations have questions that all do a good job of distinguishing good from bad students (they have high “discrimination”) and have a variety of difficulty levels, ranging from easy to hard. Most examinations don’t have these properties; the people who write standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, and GRE spend lots of time and effort on these things and have thousands of exams to work with, and even they don’t achieve perfection—that’s why they don’t report “raw” scores on the exams, instead reporting “standardized” scores that make them comparable over time.

If you go beyond simple true/false and multiple choice tests, the problems become worse; grading essays can be a bit of a nightmare. Some people develop really detailed rubrics for them; my tendency is to grade fairly holistically, with a few self-set guidelines for how to treat common problems consistently (defined point ranges for issues like citation problems, grammar and style, and the like).

So, we curve and otherwise muck with the grade distribution to correct these problems. Generally speaking, after throwing out the “earned F” students (students who did not complete all of the assignments and flunked as a result), I tend to aim for an average “curved” grade in the low 80s and try to assign grades based on the best mapping between the standard 90–80-70–60 cutoffs and GPAs. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but in the end the relative (within-class) and absolute grades seem to be about right.

Update: More on grading from Orin Kerr here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Carbonized opinion

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Interesting things I've seen but am too lazy to blog about...

… can now be seen to the right on the front page, or via this link.

Streetcars being tested on St. Charles

The Times-Picayune reports something I noticed on my Friday trip to the Uptown post office: streetcars are being tested on the line between Lee Circle and Napoleon Avenue, although apparently not without minor hiccups. Alas, although there’s been a little visible work around Tulane, the odds of me still working there when the streetcars make it to Audubon Park seem slim.

What I quasi-accomplished today

What I did today:

  • I spent most of the morning reading Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Recruiting by Bruce Feldman, which is Feldman’s behind-the-scenes account of spending a year on the recruiting trail with The Orgeron and his staff. You can almost read it as a sequel to Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which featured the other side of the process—Ole Miss’ recruitment of genetic freak Michael Oher. Definitely a good read, although it’s the second time I’ve seen or heard the term “grayshirt” without a definition.
  • I went into the office to finish working on the second batch of job applications for next fall; I am now caught up except for one job I can apply for without a post office visit. The Spreadsheet of Death™ is now up to 53 entries. I still need to email my contacts at a few places to let them know applications are on the way. Maybe, after four years, having cultivated a social network in the discipline will finally pay off—although I’m not holding my breath.
  • I went to the post office to mail all of those applications. The USPS is now $30 richer. I suppose it (and killing off most of an “off” day) beats making Interfolio $130 richer, though.
  • I took my 7-month-old refurbished MacBook in for a warranty repair at CompUSA. Until yesterday, I didn’t even know there was a CompUSA around New Orleans. I also picked up one of those snazzy new Mac keyboards.
  • I watched last night’s Patriots/Bengals game at between 20× and 60× on my TiVo. I don’t think I missed much.