Saturday, 26 July 2008

Public retrocranial inversion

Over at OTB today, helping fill in for vacationing James, I discuss PZ Myers’ defacement of a communion wafer.

More asshattery, if you can stand it, in a two thread extravaganza at, where the denizens debate the merits of hidden city ticketing rules, prompted by a Continental gate agent who’s apparently gleeful he helped his employer extract an extra $1800 from a party of customers.

Graduate placement statistics

My OTB colleague James Joyner links a post by Dean Dad on graduate school placement statistics, noting that the key question is “how would you define ‘success’ for a doctoral program?”

I think this is, at some level, a relative question; the “expected placement” for various programs differs wildly and the bandwidth of that expectation also varies, often between specialties. In American politics, at least, supply and demand are pretty well balanced; my “travails” on the market probably have had more to do with my personality as an interviewee and my pickiness when it comes to job opportunities than a placement issue. On the other hand, if I defined success not as “a tenure-track job” but “a tenure-track job in a doctoral program”—which is how many of the faculty and graduate students I’ve interacted with over the years at ICPSR and EITM have defined it—my career is destined to be a failure, since I have no real interest in such a job except as a means to obtaining another job (I suppose now is as good a time as any to offer my apologies to those PhD-granting departments I applied to under semi-false pretenses).

Those who are skeptical that any single, useful, standardized measure of placement can be adopted are probably right, although there are some surveys available that get at the basics, and I think this answer gets to the crux of the situation for the potential student:

Programs with a good placement record will keep track of placements and brag about them.

If you can't get a straight answer from a department/program, THE REAL ANSWER SUCKS.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Wordling the blog

Via PoliBlog, here’s the Wordle of the blog of late:

And, just for my amusement, I dumped my entire dissertation in and got this:

Sunday, 20 July 2008

There is a time for flip-flopping

If the Iraqi prime minister thinks we should go, we should go. If McCain has any sense (admittedly, not something in evidence so far in his campaign’s response to the Maliki remarks), he’ll pivot to underbid Obama, Name That Tune style: “16 months? I’ll do it in 8!”

Mind you, I’ve already predicted that the net effect, blogospheric bloviation aside, of McCain and Obama’s positions on leaving Iraq on the actual date of departure is on the order of milliseconds, so I really don’t care that much what domestic political games the Iraqi government wants to play to shore up Sunni-Shiite cooperation in parliament.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Equal opportunity snarky question of the day

I hate to pick on my ex-co-blogger Brock, but (in fairness to him) his post is what triggered the thought. Al Gore today apparently joined those who have called for a carbon tax to replace payroll taxes, to produce a revenue-neutral means of reducing carbon emissions:

To secure this green revolution, Mr Gore said the single most important policy change would be to “tax what we burn – not what we earn”.

Social security is one of the U.S. government programs funded by a payroll tax. So, does this mean that Gore also believes social security is a “disgrace”, as the mass media have distorted John McCain’s position to be?

Obamacon yawn

Andrew Sullivan links the debate between Steven Taylor and James Joyner over the merits, or lack thereof, of the Obama alternative for disaffected conservatives. From my point of view, which is a bit more apathetic than disaffected and libertarian than conservative, and thus theoretically (at least) a bit more analytical, things work out as being roughly outlined as follows:

  • John McCain is, by all reasonable standards of analysis, more conservative than Barack Obama, across the issue space. (At worst on some obscure issue dimensions they may be tied.)
  • All other things being equal, this means the expected policy outcome would be more conservative under a McCain administration than an Obama administration.
  • Therefore, if you want to cast a instrumental vote, and you are conservative, you probably should vote for McCain.

Personally, I don’t think there are large, meaningful differences between Obama and McCain on the few issues that poorly map to ideology, like executive power, where there are few politicians of principle whose positions don’t reflect the partisanship of the executive officeholder. Obama is probably a bit more of a liberal internationalist than McCain when it comes to small-scale interventions, although I can’t see this making a huge difference or really being a useful voting criterion. By and large I think what’s happening in Iraq, rather than who’s in the White House, really matters when it comes to bringing the troops home sooner rather than later, although I suppose there may be a difference in the semantic game we’re going to play with distinguishing “the troops” who leave and those who remain. Afghanistan isn’t going to be fixed until the Pakistanis fix themselves, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. McCain as a hawk can probably more credibly produce a rapprochement with the various pariah states of varying degrees (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, etc.), but I don’t think there is a huge obstacle to Obama doing the same (he may just have to do less).

From an apathetic libertarian perspective, neither candidate is particularly appealing, although generally speaking I find critiquing Washington from the (Postrel-1990s Reason) economic classical liberal perspective more interesting than from the (Gillespie-current Reason) social/cultural left. As a future upper-middle-income government bureaucrat I suppose the Democrats are more likely to govern in support of my personal, short-term financial interests (throwing money at higher education, lower taxes on the “middle class” which seemingly tops out right at the peak Congressional salary, transferring more of my personal health care expenses onto the backs of Bill Gates and Mark Cuban), even if I have to balance that against the possibility that eight years of Democrats at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could fuck up America economically to the point it becomes Britain circa 1978, and the billboards won’t even be as catchy.

All this is, of course, really just a boring way of saying that since my vote really won’t matter I’m having a hard time feeling all that motivated to care one way or the other.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

QotD, whisky-and-car-keys-and-teenage-boys edition

Megan McArdle on the profound ignorance of 100 University of Chicago faculty members:

I haven’t heard such transparently wishful claptrap since my fifteen-year-old boyfriend tried to convince me that sex provided unparalleled aerobic exercise.

Then again, profound ignorance is hardly a new problem for the institution.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Roundup: kills Google Reader items dead

Time to clear out the Google Reader “to be blogged about” queue, while I wait around for the Safelite guy:

  • The old debate over academic titles resurfaces with questions over whether Barack Obama’s teaching at the University of Chicago Law School merited his claim of being a professor; Orin Kerr says yes and I am inclined to agree, particularly given that at most institutions instructors with a terminal degree in the field (which in most fields of law, horror of horrors, includes the professional JD degree) would receive the title “adjunct professor” even when teaching a single course.
  • Amber Taylor describes why she doesn’t sound like a Houstonian. My accent, on the other hand, is not really the result of any deliberate plan; it just seems to have worked out that way.
  • Political scientists only pay attention to the importance of SES in their research, not in graduate admissions.

That wasn’t all of the queue, but it took care of most of the highlights.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Melton down

While I was on medical haïtus, Marvin King took note of the latest legal problems facing Jackson mayor Frank Melton. Granted, I’ve erroneously predicted the end of Melton’s mayoral career before, but one presumes that with an election coming up next spring there’ll be a viable alternative on the ballot; at this point, even the return of do-nothing mayor Harvey Johnson might be in the cards.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Resolving the West Lothian question

I think I have to agree with the critics that fixing the anomalous situation of England in Britain’s almost-but-not-quite-federalist arrangements, thanks to the reintroduction of home rule in Northern Ireland and Scotland and the establishment of a Welsh legislature over the last decade, by only allowing English (or, in some cases, English and Welsh) MPs to vote on some things only affecting England (or England and Wales) is probably not really going to work very well in practice, since the whole notion of cabinet government in the UK relies on there effectively being one government supported by a majority of Parliament that can muster majority votes on all issues that come before it. When the “England” majority and the “UK” majority differ, as could easily be the case due to the regional variations in party support in Britain, it seems likely the whole business will become a mess.

Not that many of the alternatives are much better. Labour’s plan for regional devolution was pretty dumb, since few of the “regions” have any historical standing and governing different parts of England under different laws runs counter to the rationale for devolution elsewhere in the UK. A separate, single English parliament seems like overkill, given that most Britons live in England, but in the end it may be the only workable arrangement in a parliamentary framework.