Saturday, 31 May 2008

Accentuating the negative

Harry Brighouse reports secondhand that a British survey (of Radio Times readers) found that Hugh Laurie on House has the fourth-worst American accent by a British actor.

Commenter Matt McIrvin thinks things generally have improved:

There used to be a lot of British actors doing terrible American accents. You can hear them if you watch old sitcoms and Doctor Who serials from the sixties and seventies (the rocket pilot in “Tomb of the Cybermen” is a particularly choice example). Most of them seemed to be doing one of two accents. One was an outrageously exaggerated cowboy drawl used mostly for comic effect; but the other, used for non-cowboys, sounded sort of like an attempt to imitate the style of 1940s radio or newsreel narration—this rapid, somewhat nasal, loud barking patter that I’ve never heard any American use in actual conversation. I assume that acting classes were actually teaching it as a generic American accent.

Used to? For all my love of Inspector Morse, I don’t think any of the alleged “Americans” on that series ever managed to sound like an American—most sounded like a British person trying to imitate John Wayne and failing miserably because they weren’t John Wayne and no other American talks like him. More recently, the less said about the accents of any of the actors in Dalek during the first season of the Doctor Who revival, or the president they killed off last year, the better.

John Barrowman sounds like an American on Torchwood, but that’s largely because he is one. (The incongruity there is that nobody ever seems to be very bothered by the fact he’s running around Cardiff dressed like Bomber Harris and talking like an American, not even the people who ought to be predisposed to dislike Torchwood. Or Americans, for that matter, which may be an overlapping set.)

Good luck getting IRB approval for this

If you tried something like this as a social scientific experiment, I’m pretty sure you’d go to jail.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Policy can be fun

My review copy of Munger’s policy book finally arrived today; good thing I’d already decided to adopt it sight-unseen for the fall—I’d already used a book from the same series before, Stewart’s Analyzing Congress, and liked but hadn’t had an opportunity to really use Morton’s Analyzing Elections, so I figured the series editor knew what he or she was doing.

I’m still not convinced I’m the best person to be teaching this course—my back-of-the-envelope math suggests that there are sufficient PA folks in the department to have avoided assigning the graduate public policy course to the rookie non-PA person on the bench—but I think I can approach it from a reasonably political-science heavy direction. We’ll see if that survives contact with the students, but I think it will be fun.

The universe is a jihadi

That’s the only thing I can conclude after learning that the universe may be donut-shaped and Dunkin’ Donuts is the tool of the PLO. We are all doomed!

Nothing is ever simple

Reading CRANberries this morning I remembered that I’d never gotten around to packaging Amelia for Debian. So I dutifully filed my ITP and got to work on adapting the package to build with Debian, which thanks to Dirk’s hackery on R support in cdbs was pretty easy—copy over the debian directory from my Zelig package, update the copyright file, fix up the control file, update the Debian changelog, fix a lintian warning or two (FSF address in the copyright file), and it’s basically done.

Then I discovered that Amelia also throws in a couple of Tcl/Tk libraries. One, BWidget is already packaged, so all I had to do was delete the copy that’s installed by the Amelia package and add a dependency on it. The other is Combobox, the exact license of which follows:

completely, totally, free. I retain copyright but you are free to use the code however you see fit. Don’t be mean.

Yay. I get to play license negotiator again. I really love creating extra work I really don’t need for myself…

Paging Dr. Occam

Ezra Klein sees sinister relationships everywhere:

Mark Schmitt wonders why John McCain has had such an interest in America West’s runway operations throughout his career. The answer, it turns out, is predictable enough. “America West was a major financial backer of McCain, and one of his top aides, John W. Timmons, became America West’s lobbyist. America West donated a charter plane to Cindy McCain’s charity, American Voluntary Medical Team, for a trip to Kuwait, and this story in says that Cindy McCain’s Hensley Group holds a large stake in US Airways, the successor to America West.”

How about a simpler explanation: America West was and US Airways is headquartered in Arizona. John McCain is the senior senator from Arizona. McCain has thousands of voters in his constituency employed by AW/US, so maybe it makes sense for him to do things in their interests.

This logic also works for Democrats, by the way. Or are you going to tell me that Barack Obama (you know, from Illinois) has never done anything to support Chicago-based (that’s a city in Illinois) carriers American and United?

Monday, 26 May 2008

The use and abuse of technology in the classroom

Michelle’s post‡ today on laptops in the classroom (in a similar vein to this article I read last month on the suggestion of Glenn Reynolds) reminded me that I had a few items from the past few weeks still in my Google Reader queue of “things to blog about” related to Margaret Soltan’s continuing crusade against the use of PowerPoint* and its ilk, and specifically Timothy Burke’s partial rebuttal:

What’s the difference between bad usage of PowerPoint in lectures and bad lectures that involve hand-outs, overhead transparencies and writing on the chalkboard? Are we just complaining about old wine in new bottles here? Is the real culprit professorial droning at classrooms of 200+ students followed by recite-repeat-and-forget examinations? I think it’s at least plausible that the technology is just giving us a new reason to pay attention to a pedagogy whose effectiveness has been suspect for two generations.

I dare say I’m among the last doctoral students who was “trained”—and I use that word loosely—to teach prior to the widespread use of PowerPoint. Four years of full-time in-classroom experience, mostly with small lectures and seminars, has brought me basically to agreement with Burke on this point—complaints about PowerPoint essentially boil down to complaints about either instructional laziness or the whole nature of lecturing, or as a Burke commenter puts it, ”[e]xactly how does one teach even 80† students at once without succumbing to passive data transfer?” The non-use of PowerPoint or some other form of instructional technology seems to me to be a luxury confined to those who only teach small seminars and graduate students, and while my personal career aspirations lean in that direction the reality is that I’m several years away (in terms of research productivity) from being there—if I ever get there.

Burke in his comments hits the nail on the head, I think, when it comes to any sort of visual presentation in class:

It seems to me that the absolutely key thing is to avoid speaking the slides literally. They’re best as definitions, key concepts, images: the kind of thing you’d stop your flow of lecturing to write on the chalkboard. They’re not the lecture itself.

I think there are three useful aspects to a lecture: what you put on the board (or slides), what you say, and the general outline. If you’re preparing a handout or something to stick on Blackboard for students, the outline or outline-plus-slides is what they need, along with space to fill in the gaps. An alternative approach is to make the slides/board material the outline; several of the more effective teachers I had (my high school history teacher and a political science professor at Rose-Hulman) took that approach. But you can’t shovel your script into PowerPoint and expect that to work well, any more than you’d expect that writing it up on the board, or for that matter reading a paper verbatim at a conference would be a good presentation, to work.

All this discussion leaves aside the question of teaching anything that involves symbols (chemistry, mathematics, statistics) which I think requires a different approach than bullet-points. In class, mathematics and statistics (and, by extension, social science research methods courses) lend themselves to a combination of “passive” PowerPoint-style presentation and more spontaneous problem-solving and brainstorming; for example, one of my early activities is to have the class try to operationalize (define in terms of a measurable quantity or quality) a concept like “globalization,” which you can’t really do with a static slideshow even though you can define terms like “operationalization” that way. Similarly, while you can step through the process of solving a problem in a slideshow I think it’s more effective to demonstrate how to step through the process on the board.

Unfortunately, many classrooms aren’t set up to allow you to present and use a board simultaneously; some of TAMIU‘s lecture halls have a nice design where the projection screen is above the board, so you can write on the board without having to do anything special with the slideshow, but rooms most places are designed for “either-or” which can be a real pain—fiddle with the control system to blank the screen, raise the screen, write on the board, then lower the screen, switch the screen back on. After a few iterations of that in a single class, you’ll never do it again.

I freely admit I haven’t figured everything out yet; my current methods slides are pretty good lecture notes but pretty rotten for projection. One of my projects for this summer (postponed from last summer after I learned I wouldn’t be teaching any methods courses this year) is to work on my research methods lectures to incorporate advice from Andrew Gelman’s book so I can lay the groundwork for my plot to take over the world effort to produce a workable, but rigorous, methods curriculum at both the undergraduate and master’s levels for political science, sociology, and (at the grad level) public administration.

More on this theme from Laura at 11D, who takes note of some of the more positive technological developments associated with academe. And, another of Burke’s commenters links this hilarious example of what not to do with your slides.

* I use “PowerPoint” as shorthand for the use of a computer-projector based slideshow-style sequential presentation of items associated with a lecture, a technique obviously made famous by the Microsoft software package but also available with many other software packages such as Apple’s Keynote, Impress, and several PDF viewers including Adobe Reader, xpdf, and GNOME‘s Evince.
† I’d put the cutoff significantly lower, at around 30–40 students. Beyond that point, one might as well just blow the cap off the class.
‡ By the way, it’s nice to see Michelle’s blog back from haïtus! (Where else would I keep up with current Mexican politics?)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Having a gay old time in the Times-Picayune

The tempest in a very tiny teapot over the APSA‘s meeting siting policy has hit the Times-Picayune.

Mind you, there are there are thousands of very good reasons to boycott APSA meetings already—I believe they’re called “political scientists.” In a city the size of Chicago you can escape from the teeming hordes of them, even at APSA, but there’s likely to be no such luck in New Orleans. In my mind, the fewer folks who show up the better, at least in terms of improving the experience for those who do attend.

Veeping with the Enemy

The Libertarian ticket for ‘08: Barr and Root. With a name like that, you’d think they have a no-bid contract in Iraq or something.

Meanwhile, John McCain is allegedly talking with potential running mates at his ranch, including Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, and Charlie Crist, and the Obama veep spin cycle is ramping up too.

I have no real substance here, I just wanted to use this post title before I forgot it…

A very narrow definition of "policy"

Wired blogger Alexis Madrigal posts a map of gasoline prices nationwide and comments:

Note how similar gas prices are within individual states and how much they vary between states. Using just gas price data, you could practically draw the state lines, if they weren’t already inked in for you. Look at that Illinois-Missouri border!

This county-by-county highlights the importance of energy policy at the state level in driving prices, at least at the relatively small variations in price they are mapping here.

I know this is an amazing concept, but individual states set this thing called the “gasoline tax” at different levels. (A few states, including Missouri, also mandate a 10% ethanol blend to subsidize already overpaid and oversubsidized farmers kill most drivers’ gas mileage, thus actually increasing the quantity demanded of gasoline reduce our dependence on foreign oil.) Gasoline is essentially an easily-transportable commodity, and while there are some regional variations in formulation the marginal cost of those variations is rather low.

On a related note, acting Federal Highway Administration, er, administrator Jim Ray says it is time to decouple highway financing from the various motor fuels taxes levied by states and the federal government. Good luck with that.

Via Sully, who links without comment.


I don’t really see what all the fuss is about, but then again I’m not a Democrat so I don’t hold the Kennedy fils (John, Bobby, and Ted) as the Holy Trinity of modern American politics either. Maybe it’s genetic; my mother, by her own account, didn’t cry when she learned that JFK had been shot.

All that said, the analogy is pretty stupid, not because it’s offensive but because it’s specious. Much like in NASCAR, where there is a useful division between “prehistory” and “the modern era,” there is no valid comparison between anything today to anything that happened before 1972 when it comes to Democratic nomination politics. And pretty much everyone who was actively campaigning into June since then was either a loser in the primaries or the general election; Clinton would be better off not reminding Democrats of that history.

Wings! Beer! Sports!

I had a few beers this evening at Buffalo Wild Wings with Frequent Commenter Alfie and Frequent Facebook Correspondent Annie while watching the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt baseball game and various other sporting events, including part of a UFC contest. The onion rings were very good, as was the company, and even the beer wasn’t that badly priced.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

CECB mini-review: LG/Zenith DTT900

To continue the CECB mini-review series, I picked up an LG/Zenith DTT900 at Circuit City in Southaven this evening with one of my two digital converter box coupons (and $24ish of my hard-earned money at Sam’s Town’s blackjack tables).

With essentially the same setup and conditions (same television and el-cheapo VHF/UHF indoor antenna) as the RCA DTA800B tested before, the initial channel scan found the same 17 channels/sub-channels. However, the Zenith’s ability to manually add channels meant that I was able to add WMC-DT/NBC 5 (RF channel 52) and with some fiddling get a reasonably stable signal, something I was unable to accomplish with the RCA—this isn’t that surprising, since the Zenith is based on LG’s ATSC digital tuner chipset, which is known for its superior reception capabilities over most other silicon. In addition, other channels (WHBQ-DT/Fox 13, WPTY-DT/ABC 24, and WLMT-DT/CW 30) that were less-than-stable with the RCA were rock-solid with the Zenith. Bear in mind that WMC is running on a different frequency (and lower on its tower) than it will after the transition is complete in nine months, so indoor antennas in Shelby County at least should cope better with WMC when it is back on VHF channel 5.

The built-in guide is a little weaker than that included on the RCA model; the Zenith’s only shows program data for one channel at a time. The Zenith, however, has more functionality accessible from the remote control, including a “favorite channels” feature that would be useful for the compulsive surfer who isn’t interested in switching past the news and weather loops on 3–2 and 5–3 when doing the Letterman/Leno (or Conan/Craig) shuffle, and a sleep button. I also thought the Zenith’s menus were a little more polished and better organized.

On the antenna front, the Zenith, unlike the RCA, does not provide an attachment for digitally-steered “SmartAntennas,” which may be a consideration if you already have one of these (they are apparently uncommon at present) or have hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions which might benefit from this high-tech solution. The Zenith’s better signal-handling may reduce the need for a fancy antenna, however; either way, you should probably check out TVFool’s antenna aiming guide or the somewhat less-friendly CEA/NAB-sponsored AntennaWeb website to determine what sort of antenna solution is going to be necessary for you before spending money on one.

The only real problem I encountered in testing was that the “zoom” setting seemed to behave oddly; at first, letting it decide on its own seemed to work OK on some channels, but then I ended up with some bizarre “squeezed” pictures on several HD channels. Expect to manually fiddle with the zoom setting when channels switch between showing native 16:9 and pillarboxed 4:3 programs. Those who use closed captioning will also find that it seems to forget the CC setting when you switch channels, although I think there’s a menu option to leave closed captioning on all the time.

Finally, caveat emptor: many manufacturing runs of this converter, and its near twin sold by Best Buy under its Insignia house brand, apparently have an audio problem that certain TVs seem to be more susceptible to than others. The converter I purchased had a manufacturing date of April 2008, which has been reported to be the run in which this problem was fixed, and I observed no audio problems during my testing (on an admittedly low-end CRT stereo television/VCR over RCA cables).

Overall, I’d assess the LG/Zenith DTT900 as a better option for those who are planning to use the converter on a regular basis; however, if you’re simply buying a converter to serve as a “lifeline” when cable or satellite television is disrupted, or if you would like to take advantage of the SmartAntenna connectivity on that unit, the RCA model is probably adequate for most needs and seems to retail for about $10 less.

Friday, 23 May 2008

QotD, how to bamboozle the public the right way edition

Hei Lun Chan, in response to American Airlines’ decision to charge $15 per checked bag starting June 15:

They should have just raised prices by $15 then announce a ”$15 off if you don’t check any bags!!!” special.

The ultimate irony is that if they’d just raised each-way fares by $15, it would simply be another “the sky is falling because airfares are finally catching up to inflation for the first time since deregulation” story, but now American is cast in the role of being this side of the pond’s version of notorious buried-fee carrier Ryanair, which apparently combines Southwest’s low-cost business model with the customer service standards of your local DMV branch, at least until another of American’s dwindling band of competitors comes up with an even more boneheaded PR move like adding a cash-only “boarding fee” for use of the jetway to access the aircraft.

Given the ongoing fee-fest at the airlines, somehow trying to keep my elite status on Northwest for 2009 doesn’t seem quite so useless—although given that the only scheduled carriers that can take me anywhere other than Las Vegas from Laredo are American and Continental and driving to San Antonio to save time by avoiding a connection only works for places you can fly non-stop from San Antonio, much of that value is predicated on Continental continuing to honor Northwest status in 2009, which given the potential Northwest-Delta merger seems decidedly uncertain at present.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Pimp my insurer

Nick Troester extolls the virtues of renter’s insurance in light of his recent run-in with Durham’s criminal element. I’ve always maintained renter’s insurance myself (excluding the six years I co-owned a house, when I had home insurance coverage), along with a supplemental policy for my laptop and additional liability insurance, and while it hasn’t paid off more than I’ve put in it over the years it has saved my butt a few times, most notably with my policy’s refrigerator/freezer power-loss coverage which I’ve had to use a couple of times.

My car insurance, on the other hand, has done relatively little for me over the years; I don’t think I’ve ever collected on a claim.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Money money, yeah yeah

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling that the Department of the Treasury is required to make U.S. paper currency accessible to the blind; although the most recent changes to the higher-denomination bills have made various denominations of currency more distinguishable by people with limited vision, all the bills remain the same size and have no tactile features that distinguish the bank note denominations.

I’ll agree with the basic proposition that making major changes to the bills yet again would probably be a bit of a pain, but surely the Bureau of Engraving and Printing could punch some little holes or make some raised dots on the existing bill designs without compromising their usability in existing vending machines.

Kill the MWF template, please

Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed reports on the growing trend towards abolishing Friday classes at commuter campuses due to increasing fuel costs. I’m sure there are a few college classes that lend themselves to the MWF, 50-minute pattern—I think foreign languages probably lend themselves to a more intense approach, which you wouldn’t get meeting 1–2 times per week—but I don’t think I’ve ever taught a political science class that worked very well in the MWF pattern. Killing the MWF pattern might lead to underutilization of classrooms on Fridays, but Duke solved the problem by creating a WF pattern as an alternative for the MW pattern and having some 150-minute Monday and Friday classes, primarily graduate seminars.

Another potential cost reduction would be to cut course loads, either by increasing most courses to a nominal four-hour standard from the three-hour standard (Millsaps’ solution), or replacing hours with “credits” (as Duke does) and requiring fewer total courses; the bachelor’s degree at Duke is around 34–36 credits, equivalent to 102–108 semester hours in terms of classroom contact and far short of the 120+-hour requirement at most institutions.

Given the tendency for general education requirements to accumulate over time, you could only really do this successfully with an overhauled gen-ed approach—Millsaps did this by adopting a somewhat flexible ten-item core, while Duke’s seemed more like a traditional system. But many graduates these days end up taking several pointless electives to get to the required 120+ hours, so perhaps you wouldn’t have to sacrifice much from either the major or general education to get the course count down to a more efficient number.

Monday, 19 May 2008

CECB mini-review: RCA DTA800B

Mom and I went to Wal-Mart today to pick up two digital converter boxes (specificlly coupon-eligible converter boxes, “CECBs”) as emergency backup for Comcast’s frequently-incompetent cable service in Memphis. It took about 15 minutes for the assorted checkout staff figured out how to ring up the converters and use the government coupons for them, but eventually we escaped with two RCA DTA800B converters.

I found the box relatively easy to use and hook up. The boxes included quick start guides in English and Spanish and full user manuals in both languages, as well as a programmable remote control (with batteries) and a short push-on coax (F-type) cable for attaching the box to a TV over the “antenna” TV input.

Both boxes worked moderately well in southeast Memphis with a rather lame RCA unpowered indoor VHF/UHF antenna I picked up a while back, which is no Silver Sensor but a bit more compact to haul around, less likely to attract quizzical stares from airport security, and better than nothing at all. Neither box was able to scan WMC‘s rather weak digital signal (authorized at 394 kW but clearly not transmitting at anything close to that power) and there’s no manual tuning option. I’d imagine if I’d brought a decent directional antenna like the Silver Sensor I’d have gotten WMC and a more stable signal on some of the other channels.

So, overall, I have no real complaints about the boxes themselves, except for the lack of a manual tuning feature available on other converters, and the SmartAntenna feature will be nice for folks with hard-to-tune channels in multiple directions when you can actually buy one again. I’ll probably examine some of the other CECB models before settling on one, however, particularly now that it appears that the reported Zenith DTT900 audio problem is fixed in newer boxes.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Two tangentially-related brief linky things

Viking Pundit links an Economist article on Saturday’s election in Kuwait; one of my public opinion students this semester (a Kuwaiti) wrote an interesting paper on attitudes towards female candidates in that election.

Said Kuwaiti was also one of the graduates today, although he is one of the students I don’t remember crossing the stage—I saw all three of my honors thesis kids and about a dozen or so other seniors, but not by all means all of them. I posted some photos over at Flickr; when they say ”[i]t features the pomp and circumstance expected of a traditional Commencement celebration but with a New Orleans twist,” they’re not lying—although I don’t remember “Pomp and Circumstance” itself, so maybe they are. Or maybe it was just rearranged so much that I didn’t recognize it, which is pretty much the same thing as not playing it at all in my book. Overall it was an enjoyable experience, although I personally could have done without the fireworks, which seemed designed to thin the ranks of the tenured faculty by provoking sudden cardiac arrest.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Defining judicial activism

My OTB co-blogger James Joyner considers the question of what constitutes “judicial activism” as part of the broader debate over California’s same-sex marriage decision yesterday. The admittedly imperfect definition I use—and, kids, this is the one that’s the right answer on my American government exams—is “a tendency for judges to oppose the will of other courts or branches of government.” Mind you, that activism has a long and proud history and not one confined to liberal justices either.

In the case of California, given that just a few years ago the people of that state, acting as its lawmaking body through its public initiative process pursuant to its constitution, decided to legally define marriage as involving one man and one woman, I think you can fairly characterize the California court’s ruling as “activist.” That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong ruling under the constitution and laws of that state, but it’s not deference to either the will of the people or the executive branch either.

On the morality of bullshit degrees

Margaret Soltan is on the case of yet another diploma mill fraud, this time the head of Jackson Academy in one of my former hometowns.

All involved apparently recognize that Pat Taylor’s doctorate is garbage. Yet I am forced to wonder how much we should really be bothered when Taylor could easily have gotten his degree from an accredited and moderately-well-respected institution such as, say, SIU Carbondale, where the standards for doctorates in educational leadership don’t seem to be significantly higher at least in some individuals’ cases. If the credentials in an entire field are deeply suspect to begin with, whether the degree was bought from Uncle Bob’s House of Academia and Animal Husbandry or “earned” at Harvard really doesn’t seem to make that much difference.

Things that are icky about R

Andrew Gelman notes that the default graphics functions suck and that R has no real idea that all numbers aren’t conceptually signed floats. Gelman is told that the default graphics functions aren’t the ones we’re supposed to use these days (e.g. Trellis graphics a.k.a. lattice and a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of before today is preferable) and that R does have some idea that all numbers aren’t floats, but you have to convince R that the numbers you have aren’t floats, or something.

I think Gelman wins the argument by default.

Them boys are commencin'

Congratulations to all of my former students who are graduating this week or thereabouts. It’s certainly hard to believe that the freshmen I taught in Fall 2004 at Millsaps in my first year of full-time teaching are now going to be college graduates—I officially now feel old.

Having a gay old time in California

My office-neighbor just observed that state supreme courts seem to have a lousy sense of timing when it comes to inserting same-sex marriage into presidential election year agendas.

I tend to agree with Timothy Sandefur’s view that the California Supremes made basically the right decision for the wrong reasons. I think the right solution, broadly speaking, is to formally decouple the civil and religious institutions of marriage (as is essentially the practice in a number of religions anyway, most notably Catholicism)—confer legal recognition only on civil unions licensed by the state (or recognized as common-law unions, where applicable), with criteria that are constitutionally permissible under strict scrutiny (for example, requiring that all parties be humans, limiting the number of participants, and requiring them to be of legal age of consent—no Rick Santorum or Warren Jeffs fantasies here), and make marriage something that can only be recognized by religious institutions or civil society and can be decided based on whatever criteria they choose. If the Washington Times and the Pope don’t want to say that Adam and Steve are “married,” so be it; if Adam and Steve want to say they’re married, more power to ‘em.

A pipe-dream, I know. But a man can hope, can’t he?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Making friends and influencing people

One of my hobbies since before accepting my new job at TAMIU has been to peruse the Laredo Morning Times, so I can at least pretend to hit the ground running when I arrive in town. The occasional article provokes a bit of a double-take; this one, on the search for a new vice president for instruction and student development at Laredo Community College (the two-year institution that TAMIU was sprouted from back in the dark ages of academe) induced a bit more of a startled reaction:

After three attempts at hiring a vice president for instruction and student development, LCC has narrowed its search to one finalist: Beatriz Treviño Espinoza. The Yuma, Ariz.-based Espinoza is the former vice president of learning services at Arizona Western College and is now serving as assistant to the president for program development.

Last September, faculty at AWC gave Espinoza a vote of no confidence, just two months after she was named vice president of learning services, according to news reports from Yuma and AWC. ...

According to new reports, faculty became upset with Espinoza when she attempted to enforce a requirement that faculty work at least 30 hours a week and stop selling for personal gain textbooks mailed to them by publishers.

On a personal level, I really don’t think faculty should sell free textbooks—in my case, they usually accumulate on my bookshelf, although I’ve been known to give some of them away when moving. I wonder, however, how Espinoza thought she would be able to “enforce” this rule in practice.

I’m rather more intrigued by the idea that Espinoza would attempt to enforce a 30-hour work week for faculty. The typical teaching expectation for full-time community college instructors is around five courses per semester, or 15 hours (where an “hour” is usually 50 minutes). Presumably faculty then have office hour expectations; I’d say something like six hours per week is a reasonable standard for “posted” times for first-come, first-served meetings, maybe a little more during advising season. Assume that committee service and department meetings and miscellaneous crap (student-related extracurricular/cocurricular activities and the like) add about three hours per week, on average over the course of the semester. That would get us to around 24 hours or so of “face time”—e.g. some visible presence on campus.

Now, faculty also have to do other things—grade assignments, prepare for classes, keep up with (in the case of community college faculty) or produce (in the case of four-year college faculty) research—but these things can’t really be done during “face time” in any intensive way; I do accomplish some minor stuff during office hours, but you can’t expect to accomplish anything substantial in advance because you could have a student or six decide they are going to meet with you then. These things take several hours per week (I’d give a rough estimate that, for the average faculty member who’s teaching courses they’ve previously taught and not doing anything all that intense research-wise, we’re probably in the ballpark of ten hours or so), spread rather unevenly throughout the semester. And the ideal place to be accomplishing these things is rarely one’s own office, which is the first place that additional work seems to find faculty members.

Again this gets us back to the question of enforcement. If Espinoza wanted her faculty to teach 15 hours a week and sit in their offices with their doors open waiting for random students to decide to show up for another 15 hours with no expectation that they’ll accomplish anything worthwhile during the bulk of that time just so she can see more warm bodies on campus, and then add all the other stuff that faculty are expected to do—well, let’s just say that the no confidence motion would carry my household handily.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Another day, another article

Read about the new south. I don’t think this one is as good as the busing article, but I can’t think of much I could do to improve it either. Next up: George Wallace (not the comedian).

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Defining Yglesias down

How on earth is this quote by Warren Beatty an Yglesias Award Nominee? Is our discourse so poisoned that a liberal actor saying that a conservative politician is conservative somehow evidence of the actor reaching across the ideological divide?

Having a gay old time

The debate over the proposal before the APSA to move the 2012 annual meeting out of New Orleans due to the state’s voters’ approval of an anti-same-sex marriage initiative has hit the rumor blogs.

I didn’t bother to keep a copy of the message I sent to APSA from the website regarding the proposal—silly me expected it would be copied to me once it was sent—but I generally made the argument that both proposals on the table (either an outright policy of avoiding states that had passed anti-same-sex-marriage constitutional amendments or some sort of bizarre “case-by-case consideration” provision that reeks of committee-generated compromise) were fundamentally stupid and missed the point if the stated goals of the proponents—namely assuring the legal protection of individuals who are part of legally-recognized same-sex-married couples who attend the meeting—were the actual goals of the exercise. I also associated myself in my comments with the statement made by my colleagues at Tulane in their entirety, although I was not a signatory of their letter and my signature was not solicited.

My admittedly non-expert understanding of the legal situation—as someone who is neither gay nor in any sort of marriage-like partnership—is that legal recognition of same-sex marriage or an approximately equivalent status is confined to (within the realm of North America) Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. Of these places, there are perhaps a half-dozen or so cities capable of hosting APSA, and only one of them is in the United States (Boston, the site of the 2008 meeting). The symbolic opprobrium of anti-same-sex marriage constitutional amendments is, in practice, insignificant; California, Illinois, and New York authorities are no more likely to recognize a Massachusetts same-sex marriage than Louisiana’s authorities. So, in reality same-sex-married couples from the states and provinces that recognize such things are no more “at risk” of legal troubles in New Orleans than they would be in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York City.

If members of the APSA want to protest the symbolism of these amendments or just don’t want to be seen in retrograde states that don’t comport with their vision of a just and liberal society, they should be honest and forthright about that position rather than hiding behind outlandish hypotheticals that really don’t distinguish between the “enlightened” and “backward” states—and given the success of Oregon’s anti-same-sex-marriage ballot measure, that distinction is far narrower than most of us would care to admit.

Update: You can also have at the discussion here if you so choose.

Project of the day

Read everything you’d ever want to know about busing. Comments welcome.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Barr's giant sucking sound

I ponder the question of which major-party candidate would be harmed more by a Bob Barr LP candidacy over at OTB this afternoon while I wait in vain for any last-minute assignments to show up.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Essay error of the day, adjectives sometimes matter edition

I was slightly bemused to read in one of my American government essays that one of the distinctions between federal systems and the unitary system used in the United Kingdom is that the U.K. parliament can alter or abolish the Irish legislature at will. (In fairness, I think they tried that, but it never really stuck.)

In the future, I may have to reiterate the Northern part of Northern Ireland when I talk about the concepts of sovereignty and federalism.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Public service announcement, current and future students edition

I am all for students dropping by my office hours, scheduling appointments at other times, or asking questions via email or IM.

However, if you ever pull a stunt like showing up in my office to conduct a three-hour debate over my grading policy you can rest assured that the one thing you shouldn’t expect as a consequence is more lenient grading from that point forward. Moreover, I have a very strong suspicion that most college professors would take the same position.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Ding dong, the witch is dead

The good news: one of my student loans is paid off, and it’s the one that had the highest interest rate (5%). The bad news: it wasn’t a very big loan to begin with, and most of my student loan debt is still outstanding—granted, at about the same interest rate than I get on the money in my ING Direct savings account, but it’s still out there.

Academics on screen: not that pretty

In an apparent continuation of my recent movie-going kick, I went to see Smart People Thursday evening. Most of the reviews I’ve seen have rightly praised Dennis Quaid’s performance as a stereotypical “bitter prof” who, for added measure, also bags a former student, just in case we hadn’t wandered too far into stereotype territory yet. Without giving too much away, Quaid’s character (naturally a member of the species “tenured deadwood” who’s too lazy to even remember the name of a student he’s had in multiple courses the prior semester) ultimately gets involved up to his eyeballs in academic politics at its most petty seeking a goal he really has no desire to achieve except to spite his colleagues, who he hates to the last man and woman, and who wholeheartedly reciprocate the feeling. Clearly screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier has spent far too much time around academics.

I thought most of the remaining cast did admirable jobs as well. I’ve seen some criticism of Ellen Page’s character, Quaid’s cynical daughter Vanessa, being essentially another riff on Juno McGuff, which seems a bit unfair to me; other than being high school kids who aren’t as smart as they think they are (that last part may be redundant), there isn’t a lot of commonality; Vanessa strikes me as Tracy Flick meets Mary Richards, complete with the bad dinner parties, with a dash of Alex Keaton for good measure (left unexplained is how Vanessa picked up the apparently-recessive Republican gene in her family), while Juno’s at least a partially-functional wannabe hipster. I also enjoyed Thomas Hayden Church’s turn as Quaid’s loser brother Chuck and the small role played by David Denman, formerly Roy on The Office.

The only character I really didn’t get was Sarah Jessica Parker’s, who to my mind hasn’t done anything worthwhile on the screen since 1995 or so (I count her role in L.A. Story as the ditzy So-Cal skater girl SanDeE* as the apparent pinnacle of her acting career, although she was also pretty good in Extreme Measures); it’s certainly not all that clear why Quaid would be be drawn to Parker’s character except out of sheer laziness in finding someone else to date, although her character’s motivations are somewhat clearer. The vague feeling she’s going to go blab it all in the next scene in graphic detail to Samantha, Miranda, and whatever-the-hell-Kristin-Davis’-character-is-called doesn’t exactly help either. But my Parker issues didn’t detract overly much from the film, which really doesn’t dwell on her character much anyway, as this movie operates on the rule that the female romantic lead has no scenes that don’t in some way relate to her romance with the male lead, a rule which I think I read in the blogosphere years ago but can no longer find. So, overall, I recommend the film.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Letting go of my baby

I just added two new developers to the reportbug project on Alioth, Sandro Tosi and Y Giridhar Appaji Nag, who seem to be enthusiastic about working through the big backlog of bug reports and wishlist requests associated with the package. Since my Debian-related interests are largely elsewhere these days, mostly focused on R stuff that has a more tangible relationship with my research (and by extension my future job mobility and/or tenurability) and a few other infrastructural things in Debian (primarily LSB support and printing), I think this is a good development overall. But still, when you’ve been hacking away at something for almost nine years it’s hard not to develop a bit of a sentimental attachment to it. I still plan to be doing some hacking away at reportbug, but hopefully the new blood can take the lead in terms of day-to-day maintenance while I work on some of the desperately-needed code refactoring issues with the software.