Saturday, May 21, 2005

Satire...It's Satire. They can do that. Shut up.

These administrators need to calm down.

Students satirizing administrators, making fun of political groups? What's next....a food fight in the cafeteria? These people must be stopped. Call Dean Wurmer.

Look: If you want to photoshop public photos of public figures, you can do it, as long as it is clearly satire.

If you are interested, here is the blog in question. Frankly, I think that student journalism is going right down the toilet, and it needs to be stirred up a little. There are very few fringe publications. Blogs should take up the slack. It's fine to embarrass yourselves, as long as you totally humiliate those in power who deserve it.

An article. We are all going to hell, unless bloggers kick some fascist nutjob ass. You people can't stop us! We're going to write what we want, and use photos for effect! So you life-arranging speech-quashers can all bite me!

(Nod to TtstbxC) (Tommy the soon to be ex-Canuck)

Friday, May 20, 2005

In Pizza Veritas

Tex, from Whacking Day: If it's this easy, why do we all make it so hard?

I plan to use this essay when I teach. Markets are complex, but the reasons for preferring them are not.

Why Improve On Perfection?

I started to write a review of "...the Sith."

But Yobbo linked up to one that was better than I could have written.

What he said.

MWT liked it. A mystery. He seems otherwise sentient.

I laughed out loud at many inappropriate places. Most of them places where that android Hayden Christensen was on the screen. A different view, proving my point.

A Dukely Haiku-kely

This is a sad thing.

Revolution without me.

Can you start it now?

Google: A pathway to...

One of the things you can do in SITEMETER is to check on the referring sites that got people to your blog.

Lots of people get there from GOOGLE, of course.

Interesting to think that someone in Germany might look for reviews of Caesar and Cleopatra, and get this. Of course, they might want it IN GERMAN, and go after this.

I bet my German sucks. But funny to see that picture of Buchanan and Tullock up there on the top right, amid all those German words...

Flybottle: Word

Will has a nice post on income mobility.

He does plead some ignorance on the numbers thing (and perhaps with cause, since his list has THREE number 4's in it).

But very interesting and provocative claims. And the comments....better than most of my posts. Okay, better than all of my posts.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Myths and Myth-sters

I wrote about publishing, and the work of being an academic.

Some of the questions that came up were about whether I was just a typical old fogey, everything-was-harder-then, "we had to walk barefoot two miles through snow to get to the interet" guy.

Some reactions to my earlier post:

Stephen Karlson
Paul Brewer
Chris Lawrence
Michelle Dion

Here are five myths, or what are in my opinion myths. They really are empirical questions. I give answers, but I haven't researched them closely.

Myth 1: There is no relationship between work and publishing record. It is all luck, connections, and mystical "ability"; either you have it or you don't.

Garbage. Any moron can write stuff and get it published. Many do. It may not be good, but at most universities that doesn't matter at all. The old saying is that "Deans can count, but they can't read." There are quite a few "major" universities that have social science departments that just attach weights by journal quality and pages published to figure out raises. But the modal number of citations of articles in Web of Science? 0, bagel, bupkes, nada. Publishing stuff just takes patience and hard, focused work. You just have to face the terrors of the blinking cursor, instead of eating muffins and reading the NYTimes on the pretext you have to stay informed.

Myth 2: It has gotten harder to get published.

Oh, please. If anything, it has gotten easier. The number of journals has increased much faster than the number of professors in American universities in the past two decades. The number of papers published per year has gone up dramatically.

Myth 3: Okay, but then it has gotten harder to get published in "top" journals.

Gag me. Sure, the acceptance rates at top journals has gone down, but there are two things to consider. (a) the quality of the papers published by the top journals has not gone up. If anything, they publish more junky, narrow schlock than ever before. If you talk to journal editors, they say they would love to get more good papers, even the kind of papers they expected routinely 5 years ago. It is just as likely, or even more likely, for a GOOD paper to get published now as it was 20 years ago. (b) relatedly, the papers sent out for review by junior people today are shockingly, apocalyptically bad. No attempt at lit reviews, worthless narrow data sets, cases selected on the dependent variable, no model of any kind, the wrong method. As grad students, everyone gets patted on the head for the sake of building self-esteem, and then when you have to go out into the big bad world people are MEAN to you. Boo hoo. I get papers to review that wouldn't get a B in one of my undergrad classes. My reaction is not friendly.

Myth 4: Boy, a what big dickhead you are, Kgrease! Surely it is true that it has gotten harder to publish in the top journals. There are just so many more people trying to publish in the "big three", or whatever you mean by "top" journals.

Yeah, that may be right. Here's the thing. Suppose it's true that people are working hard, and well, but that it has gotten harder to publish in the three top journals. What would you expect to see? You would see LOTS of publications in lesser journals, field journals, that sort of thing. And some junior faculty do exactly that. I will listen to those people. I disagree with them that it is harder than before, for the reasons above. But at least they are clearly working. I have heard SO MANY other excuses, and I am sick of them. "Journals are biased against conservatives, so there is no use writing journal articles." No, journals are biased against lazy whining half-wits who write crap, so you should just go kill yourself. Usually when I ask for evidence of the supposed bias, the biasee has not one instance of rejection. They just failed to try. Another example: Political theorists say it is impossible to publish in the APSR. But theorists in my department have published several papers in APSR in the last few years. The key is just not to suck.

Myth 5: Kgrease, you know so much, teach us what to do!

(Notice this is listed as a myth, and is therefore false. Read on at your peril)
Here are my rules:
(a) If you have five papers you have presented at conferences, but have not yet sent to journals, you ought to just abandon pretence and buy an inflatable doll. All you are doing is pleasuring yourself. You ain't working. Finishing is work. Starting a paper and having dinner with friends at conferences is fun, but not work. I specifically look at the ratio of conference papers to published papers on c.v.s I receive for junior people when we have a position. If the ratio is >3/1, I put them in the reject pile. In academics, like in every sport, finishing is what matters, and finishing is what so many people, even smart people, cannot do.
(b) Junior people should have three (3) papers being considered at journals at all times. If one gets rejected, turn it around immediately and get it back out there. A paper on your desk is rotting. A paper on a referee's desk, or editor's desk, is germinating. If a paper gets accepted, you need to send out another new paper immediately. Don't sleep until you do. Spend the time between hearing about papers from journals in writing new papers. Don't spend all your time checking your mail and dreaming of what might be. Nobody cares about the labor pains. They just want to see the freakin' baby.
(c) Every idiot has ideas. Lots of them are good. Not all of them turn into good papers. You can't tell until you work on them a long time. If an idea turns out to be not that great, write it up and send it right away to a second-tier journal. Fairly often, a referee will see something you didn't. Several of my publications in "top" journals started as fairly sucky papers sent to lesser journals, and got TURNED DOWN EVEN THERE, with useful referee reports.
(d) If you are publishing less than two papers a year, you are not working enough. If you are NEVER sending papers to top journals, you are not working deeply enough. And if you are hoping your department will promote you because of your shiny personality, you are in the wrong business. This is a tough business.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Grocery Performance Art

I consider myself to have comic stylings. My wife considers me to be a narcissistic loudmouth.

You be the judge:

I'm in the grocery. I am buying lots of soda and beer, because it's on sale now and we are having a party next week for the Magellan baseball team.

I have in the cart 12 12-packs of soda (buy one get one free), and 7 12-packs of beer. I also have 5 big bags of chips. Finally, I picked up an onion, a big purple one, for the dinner I am cooking tomorrow.

Cashier (female, maybe 19, skinny and quiet): "You havin' a party?"

Me (loudly enough so people turn and look): "The onion! That's what gave it away! I KNEW I shouldn't have bought the onion. But now the word is out: A party. Now EVERYBODY knows! Darned stupid onion."

Cashier:

Me (going back to my "inside voice"): "I was just kidding. Yes, we're having a party for my son's baseball team."

Cashier:

Manager, walking up quickly: "Is there a problem?"

Me: "We're having a party."

Manager (looks at cashier, looks at me, looks at the sodas and beer and chips, and onion): "Well, can you keep it down?"

Me: "The party isn't until next week. Can you hear it already?"

Manager: "....hunhihhunhhh" (or something like that); walks back to cubby hole.

Cashier keeps head down, finishes ringing up, whispers "You saved $30.06 on your VIC card."

I go home, well satisfied that I have introduced unexpected surrealism into the lives of two people who clearly needed it.

Now, my wife and sons will not go shopping with me. This is MOST unfortunate. Because if there were actual other people to play along, the possibilities for grocery performance art are nearly limitless. But they won't go.

(By the way, on the Magellan team page, of the five pix, the one on the right, with the bat, is my son Brian. Check the hair).

Help Us, Please....

Could people possibly be any more confused about "good" investment strategies?

Here is an idiotic story in the LA Times "proving" that the government needs to manage peoples' investments.

An excerpt:

Douglass C. North, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis, won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for work on the importance of institutions in fostering growth. However, in deciding how to invest his prize money, he trusted his gut rather than institutions. He concluded that the stock market had peaked, and poured the money into low-interest municipal bonds. When stocks confounded his predictions by doubling in value, he said, "my wife spent years berating me."

Still, he hung onto the bonds, and stock prices eventually reversed course. Chief among the rewards he said he collected: "My wife quit berating me."


That's a fib. I know Elizabeth Case pretty well, and she just quit berating Doug North about that one subject. All the other subjects he deserves to be berated about...she is still after him on those.

Seriously, North didn't throw the money away, he chose a low risk, high after-tax yield investment instrument. Suppose that North had invested the entire amount on the winning number of the New Jersey Lottery, a dollar at a time, every day since 1993. He would have earned trillions of dollars. Now, North is a fine man, but he is as greedy as the rest of us. If he had known the winning lottery number, he would have invested in it.

Just like if he had known that stocks would rise so dramatically, he would have invested in it.

Comparing a solid investment strategy to the one high-risk strategy that happened to maximize returns, ex post, and then saying the sensible strategy is wrong....well, it shows that you don't understand anything about markets, and the efficient capitalization of information. Criticizing someone for not buying the winning lottery ticket....doesn't make sense. And one certainly can't conclude that lotteries are good investments from the fact that ONE person won big.

So, my proposal is this: the government should take over the investments, and all other aspects of the lives, of those who know least about markets: the reporters, editors, and staff of the LA Times. Leave the rest of us alone.

I am confident that North's investments, and those of the other Nobelists, outperformed the anemic return on Social Security, even with their inherently conservative investment strategies.

(Nod to Craig N, who also has a most excellent rant on this subject. Craig includes reporters for the Boston Globe among those who are too stupid to live on their own. I would restrict this service to actual bipeds. But to each his own.)

Tenure

A story from INSIDEHIGHERED on the tenure process.

Excerpt:

The scholar was well liked and well published, according to the e-mail that arrived last week, but he was denied tenure in April. And then he lost it.

One day on campus, he started shouting expletives about the university administration (some versions of the story have this taking place in a class; others do not). He then moved into a hallway, continuing to shout and removing his clothes, taking leaflets off the walls. At some point, he was subdued by campus security officers.

Many people at the university involved know about the incident (or versions of it they have heard, with the “facts” changing a bit), but there’s been no public discussion. Professors in the department where this happened have been told to refer anyone asking to the public relations office, where a senior official would confirm only that there was an incident last month involving a professor.

We’re not naming the university or department here because to do so would lead to identifying the professor, who is getting help, and who doesn’t need (or presumably want) to be known nationally. To provide some context, it’s a university you’ve heard of, but it’s not the kind of place that is on “top 10″ lists of public or private institutions.


It happens everywhere. People in the public have no idea what a tough, sometimes savage, business academics is. Well over half of those hired don't get tenure, and at Duke and other top research universities that proportion is even less. Fired, sacked, out the door....it can happen for a lot of reasons.

I don't know if I was oblivious, arrogant, or just lucky, but it never occurred to me that I might not get tenure. I didn't even tell my wife when I got it; just seemed like one of those "sun rose in the east this morning" things. About five years ago, may 1999 or 2000, she came up to me at a party, obviously worried. "All these people are talking about tenure, and it sounds hard. Do YOU have tenure?"

We got married in 1986, so I was enough of a veteran husband not to laugh. I told her, as gently as I could, that yes, I had gotten tenure in 1992. "Really? Oh, good, that's good." She patted my arm.

Donna is an attorney. Even after being married to an academic for nearly 20 years, it is hard for her to put herself in the place of a professor. If I am sitting, staring at the wall, working on some equations, she asks, "What are you doing? Are you okay?" Later, when I come out to have a glass of wine with her before bed, she says, "Are you done? Did you finish?"

Well, no, I'll never finish. When I finish this, I have to do something else. The advantage of being an academic is that you can schedule the 70 hours you work anytime you want during the week. But that doesn't change the time commitment, and that is what so few people see.

I keep hearing from junior people that it has gotten harder to publish, and that it is now harder to get tenure. Maybe...but I doubt it. As far as I can tell, the work habits of junior faculty is what has changed. People watch TV, play with their kids, do almost anything except sit in their office and work. The first couple of jobs I had, nearly everyone (but certainly the junior people) were all in their offices by 9:30 am....on SATURDAY. Having a shared work ethic, and time together, made a difference. Now, lots of senior people rarely use their offices except for office hours. So junior people don't get the sense of how hard, long, and often you have to work.

Economic Determinism

Yikes. It has always been an article of faith for me that the "American Dream" is real.

The right-wing side of American culture is built on two "truths", neither of which is entirely true, but which need to have some merit for our system to make any sense.

1. Anyone who works hard, is thrifty, and saves and invests, will be wealthy, at least by world standards. Everyone CAN BE above average, just like in Lake Wobegon.

2. Wealth position is something one can control. Failure to succeed is simply a sign of lack of effort, or will. Anyone who is poor, dissolute, wretched deserves to be so.

Sure, this is a gross oversimplification, but much of our collective rhetoric and social policy are based on the truth of these two statements.

But, some evidence that #1 may not be true, not even true enough to serve as a myth for policy decisions. That left-wing rag the Wall Street Journal has some questions.

Excerpt:

...the reality of mobility in America is more complicated than the myth. As the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1970, the odds that a child born in poverty will climb to wealth -- or a rich child will fall into the middle class -- remain stuck. Despite the spread of affirmative action, the expansion of community colleges and the other social change designed to give people of all classes a shot at success, Americans are no more or less likely to rise above, or fall below, their parents' economic class than they were 35 years ago.

Although Americans still think of their land as a place of exceptional opportunity -- in contrast to class-bound Europe -- the evidence suggests otherwise. And scholars have, over the past decade, come to see America as a less mobile society than they once believed.

As recently as the late 1980s, economists argued that not much advantage passed from parent to child, perhaps as little as 20%. By that measure, a rich man's grandchild would have barely any edge over a poor man's grandchild.

"Almost all the earnings advantages or disadvantages of ancestors are wiped out in three generations," wrote Gary Becker, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate, in 1986. "Poverty would not seem to be a 'culture' that persists for several generations."

But over the last 10 years, better data and more number-crunching have led economists and sociologists to a new consensus: The escalators of mobility move much more slowly. A substantial body of research finds that at least 45% of parents' advantage in income is passed along to their children, and perhaps as much as 60%. With the higher estimate, it's not only how much money your parents have that matters -- even your great-great grandfather's wealth might give you a noticeable edge today.

Many Americans believe their country remains a land of unbounded opportunity. That perception explains why Americans, much more than Europeans, have tolerated the widening inequality in recent years. It is OK to have ever-greater differences between rich and poor, they seem to believe, as long as their children have a good chance of grasping the brass ring.


(Nod to JP)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Duke Graduation: A good time!

Actually had fun at Duke's graduation ceremony.

Speakers were good, day was neither too hot nor rainy, and there were some surprises.

1. Started with the Star Spangled Banner. I had been late getting into line, and so I was seated among the physical science faculty (bio, physics, chem, etc). They all SANG, loudly, to the national anthem. Quite a refreshing change from the social science faculty, where I usually sit. It would be even moreso a change from the Lit/English/Cult Anthro folks, who mutter to themselves about tyranny and jingoism if they even see a flag. Of course, the Lit/English/etc faculty would never actually show up to graduation. I was having a discussion with a famous member of our Lit facult two years ago, and talking about teaching. She snorted and said, "People in my department almost never teach; we are all much too famous." Of course, she is a big fan of "the people," but doesn't like individual people (like, for example, students) very much.

2. President Brodhead was introducing one of the honorary degree recipients, Roald Hoffman, and was reading from a prepared text that compared poetry and science. He quoted Hoffman, something like, "If poets can write about lumberjacks, then scientists can write poetry." Then Brodhead looked down and murmured, but into the microphone, "Hmmm...I wonder which poet he had in mind?" Maybe this one? Dick is a very funny guy, and much more low key than Nan. Nan had the whole regal thing down very well. She was smooth. Dick Brodhead appears to think of himself in a much more down-to-earth way. (To be fair, Nan was perfectly down-to-earth personally. When she thought her role called for it, she became queen. And that is a perfectly legit way to present oneself as President. Dick is more of the chief-jester-in-charge. I can't say one is better than the other, but boy are they different).

3. At the Poli Sci diploma presentation, I mispronounced a record number of names. We have way more grads than ever before, and there were 800 people at just the Poli Sci ceremony, with 150 grads and 650 proud papas and mamas and bored sibs. The University does not give us nearly enough money to pay for this shindig, so it is a big money loser. But it is darned fun, I have to say. Reminds you of why you became a professor. All of those grads take a little piece of you, your classes, and Duke, with them for the rest of their lives. 150 stories we don't know the end of yet.

(If you didn't click on the lumberjack song above, do it now. You'll be sorry else.)