Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Professors behaving badly

Via an email correspondent (who seemed to be fishing for some reaction) and Margaret Soltan at University Diaries comes word of a rather sordid bit of misbehavior by a presumably-to-be-soon-if-not-already-former faculty member and administrator (probably more the latter than the former) at Duke University:

A Duke University official has been arrested and charged with offering a 5-year-boy for sex.

Frank Lombard, the school’s associate director of the Center for Health Policy, was arrested after an Internet sting, according to the FBI’s Washington field office and the city’s police department.

If these allegations are true—and I have no reason to believe they are not—it seems to me that Lombard should at the very least rot in jail for a very, very long time.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Psephological = pretentious political phraseology

Amber Taylor’s word of the day is one I’ve never used and hardly ever encountered. You’d think that was odd, since “psephology” is another name for my field of research, but I doubt most political behavior scholars could define (or even pronounce) the term. From a position of ignorance, I’d probably think it referred to reading bumps on people’s heads or something. (A Google News search suggests the term is reasonably common in India of all places, and gets some play in Britain and Ireland, but is rare elsewhere.)

In short: don’t expect me to order new business cards describing me as a psephologist any time soon.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

From the annals of journalistic innumeracy

CNet’s Don Reisinger to his credit apparently can do simple arithmetic, but understanding the arithmetic seems to be beyond his grasp:

According to Howard Stern on his radio show Tuesday, 60 percent of Sirius XM’s subscribers—about 20 million, at last count (PDF)—listen to Stern’s two channels. That means 12 million people who currently have satellite radio won’t have any use for its streaming app.

Leaving aside whether Howard Stern actually accurately reports his listenership figures—something I doubt, in part because I suspect that most XM subscribers don’t subscribe to the “Best of Sirius” package needed to listen to Stern (heck, I have BoS on my subscription and have never listened to him), and in part because Stern is an egomaniacal blowhard and thus likely to inflate his own importance as a consequence—I really think it is unlikely that all of Stern’s listeners don’t listen to any other XM or Sirius channels. Suggesting that 60% of Sirius and XM subscribers will have no use for the application on the basis of the lack of Stern is frankly absurd.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Fan, feces on collision course

Dan Drezner’s prediction of things to come in Iran:

With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways: the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend.

Actually, come to think of it, those two outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Iran so far away (gotta get away)

“The Red Pill” at Cadillac Tight gives some useful background information on how Iran’s political system is designed to work, which I expect will be of value to those trying to figure out exactly what is going on in Iran at the moment. For the uninitiated, it proves—if nothing else—that our system of checks and balances is not nearly as complicated a system as could be devised and made to work in practice; there’s also an interesting parallel to be drawn between the role of Iran’s Guardian Council and Madison’s proposed Council of Revision from the Virginia Plan, although the Guardian Council’s power to screen candidates for public office goes well beyond Madison’s plan.

The vetting function of the Guardian Council also raises some interesting questions about what sorts of qualifications for office are appropriate in a democracy. While the objective qualifications for public office in the United States are basically viewpoint-neutral (excluding the exemptions from onerous requirements to get on the ballot enjoyed by the two major parties in many states), other liberal democracies disqualify candidates or parties based on their political views—for example, national socialism is banned in Germany, while communists are banned in a few Eastern European countries—regardless of how palatable they may be to voters. Obviously these requirements exclude narrower ranges of opinion than does the Iranian system, but the question of where to draw the line does seem at least to be of academic interest.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Mission really bloody improbable

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: (re)watch Roger and Me and identify any content therein that would have averted General Motors’ current sorta-kinda bankruptcy, as its auteur claims it includes. I’m quite certain reopening all of GM’s mothballed plants in Flint and thereabouts—which I believe was Moore’s central demand of the film, although the whole business with the bunnies and the prison dinner party was a cute little sideshow—would have been comically ineffective in saving the company from its current travails, but what do I know?

Inspired by Angus at KPC.

In which I attempt to apply rationality to the irrational

John Sides ponders psychological explanations for the alleged murderer/assassin of George Tiller’s behavior, noting recent research on the motivations of extremists:

Is there some salient new “threat” that would have heightened Roeder’s concern about Tiller? Lots of research suggests that threat is a crucial motivator of violence. ... However, I’m not sure what the threat is in the case of [alleged assassin] and Tiller. Some have suggested that Bill O’Reilly’s criticism of Tiller is to blame.

I’ll freely admit that if I owned a commercial television network I wouldn’t give Bill O’Reilly a platform to express his views (as, for that matter, I’d cancel any programming that featured latter-day Know Nothing nativist Lou Dobbs or someone who spends most of his program, as far as I can tell, whining about the guy who kicks his ass in the ratings in the same timeslot—namely, Keith Olbermann).* Sides goes on to explain this theory is lacking too, in any event.

There is a reasonably plausible threat hypothesis, however; for the first time in eight years, there is a Democratic, pro-choice president in the White House who just happens to have nominated a left-leaning, presumably (if we are to believe the White House’s spin machine) pro-choice candidate to a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which is where (for better or worse) our political system has decided abortion policy is to be decided. I’d imagine if you’re just a wee bit crazy to begin with that might activate the super-crazy neurons a bit, even if it’s just related to hearing people on the news yammer on about the nomination “reigniting” the abortion debate.

Then again, maybe his dog told him to do it.

* Clearly my network would go out of business for lacking viewership, but nobody ever believed I had much television programming acumen anyway.

Monday, 1 June 2009

QotD, Sony has man-boobs edition

ArsTechnica user “thenino85” on the web-browsing capabilities of the PlayStation 3 console:

Saying that the PS3 has a web browser is like saying that a man has breasts. Sure, it’s technically true. But no one really likes to play with it, and there are much better alternatives, so for all intents and purposes we can pretend it doesn’t exist.