Friday, August 25, 2006

Vintage Baseball

Jim Bouton, who came down a couple of years ago and gave a great talk at Duke about his then new book, Foul Ball, has a new project. (He doesn't get tired of projects).

The Vintage Base Ball Federation (VBBF) was officially launched yesterday.

Got some pretty decent coverage, at several places.

Congratulations, Jim, and good luck.

(Full disclosure: Jim B has been very supportive of my run for Governor of NC, and has agreed to write the foreward for the resulting book. He is a big believer in participant observation, which he is certainly good at himself. Now, I'm not saying he would VOTE for me; he just loves encouraging other people to do weird stuff. I am going to have to work to make that book even half as good as either Ball Four or Foul Ball. And, I was using the latter book in class; a very fine textbook on local land use from a public policy perspective)

(Nod to my man Martin, who is complicit in nearly everything)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Joanna Nails It

I think this is quite interesting.

Tending towards knee-jerk open-borderism myself, I am interested in the articles she links. Maybe open borders are bad....

But her main point, that the real justification for draconian immmigration restrictions is our inept welfare state provisions and disastrous education policies, seems spot on. Don't blame the immigrants. Maybe we need to regulate immigration, but the reason is that we can't get our act together on core issues.

And the result is a second-best or third-best world where we don't know if we are doing good or doing harm. The theory of the second best tells us stuff is complicated, once you depart from the path of righteousness. But second best is a two-edge sword: if the deviation from optimality is the RESULT of bad policy, then additional policy interventions (like immigration restrictions) may make things worse, not better.

My Prediction: We Will Hear More About This

The Lebanese Red Cross Ambulance incident: a counterclaim.

This is interesting in a broader sense, because this is what bloggers do.

Send me other links, for or against the hoax claim (I'm agnostic), and I'll post them.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Concealed Position Returns

Concealed Position returns, after a hiatus.

Her most recent entry captures, in a wonderful brief narrative, the relationship that a surprisingly large proportion of women seem to have with their mothers. Now, CP's experience was worse than most, but teenage girls and their Armageddon.

Plus, I think all mothers put some version of "the curse" on their daughters.

My wife actually went so far as to voice openly the hope we wouldn't have girl babies. She had been one, and it was pretty tough dealing with the mom. In my wife's daughter, no curse.

You really don't understand your parents until you have children.

I, for example, learned a great deal from my own father about how (not) to raise children. I am more like him than I'd like to admit. Remembering his mistakes helps me avoid those mistakes. But now I do understand him: until the day he died, he told me often, "You aren't smarter than I am. You are just better educated. And I paid for that education. So what makes you think you are so great? You aren't so great." Then he would have another beer.

The answer just turned out to be that I am mostly happy, while he never really was. God rest your tortured soul, Dad. And welcome back, CP.

Viewpoint Diversity: Why Fight Hypocrisy With Hypocrisy?

I have had some trouble with the claim that the way to "solve" the problem of leftist bias at universities is to hire a lot of additional profs, all of whom are biased to the right. All that would do is validate the claim that bias is acceptable, and reduce education to a power struggle over whether the left or the right controlled the state legislature. Ick.

Stephen K has a long, interesting meditation (actually, he may be on medication!) about the problem, or nonproblem, of viewpoint diversity. Nicely done.

He also links this Mallard Fillmore cartoon:

Sure, I smile when I read it, and some people on the left do buy into a neo-Rousseauvian "secular religion," but...

I really don't think it is harder for a conservative professor to get tenure than a liberal one, in most disciplines. At most good universities, if you publish important work that gets noticed, and restrict your political jabber to the dinner table and your personal life, you will get tenure. It is too hard to find good scholars.

Now, it is certainly true that people on the right, as well as the left, find it convenient to play the victim of enormous shadowy forces (remember Hillary Clinton's "vast right wing conspiracy", when all that really happened is that her husband lied about a blow job?).

There is a growing tendency on the right to blame their own simple laziness, and an appalling dullness of the spirit, on a nonexistent leftist establishment. Lack of productivity is NOT a sign of profundity; neither is it evidence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

So, sure, there is an embarrassing hypocrisy on the side of the left. They want to hire people who LOOK different, but who all think exactly the same. That's not diversity. But it is crazy to think enabling right-wing nutjobs to force students to parrot a DIFFERENT line of crap will make things better.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Went Down to the BlogRoad

Ed Cone has a nice perspective on the "Why Do We Blog?" question. The links he gives are interesting.

His answer to the "Why Does Ed Cone blog?" is "Because Ed Cone can!" Of course, that's the same reason a dog licks its private parts*, so maybe we are talking about something more primitive here.

(*No, not because Ed Cone can lick his private parts; because a dog can lick its own private private parts. Pay attention, will you?)

Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell have an interesting paper, and now an edited volume coming out, entitled (I think) THE POWER AND POLITICAL SCIENCE OF BLOGS (titles change, but that is the name of the paper...)

Dan and Henry were kind enough to allow me to let me write the concluding chapter in that book. Below is a brief excerpt from my buy the book, when it comes out next year, or the year after that!


The distinction I want to focus on is one popularized by Stephen Colbert in his October 17, 2005 segment of “The Word” on The Colbert Report on the cable TV network Comedy Central. To distinguish much of current political debate from questions about truth or falsity, Colbert suggested a neologism:

Truthiness: the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.

Colbert’s point was that truthiness trumps truth, because it is an intuition based on feeling or values rather than debate and evidence.

Some of the key topics raised in this book can be distilled down to questions about truth vs. truthiness, or so I will argue. I want to ask the reader to consider the blogosphere as a (potential) generator of truth claims, in effect a statistical estimator that returns predicted values for an unobservable parameter of political interest. Under some circumstances, this estimator has desirable properties, and is a means of glimpsing outlines of the truth. Under other circumstances, blogging is simply an exercise in truthiness, and reinforces pre-existing disputes over the truth, possibly rendering their resolution more difficult, or even impossible.

Truth vs. Truthiness: The End of the Beginning

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill, The Lord Mayor's Luncheon, Mansion House, November 10, 1942

Churchill was referring to what he called the “remarkable and definite victory of Allied troops at El Alamein. But the claim is strikingly apt for the state of blogs and their impact on elections and politics. Never again will we be surprised by the kind of frenzy that swept the blogosphere in 2004, and the strange political consequences of a large number of nameless, faceless writers who had rented an IP address and an FTP client.
The end of the beginning of the blogging phenomenon will, for future generations, have a definite place. This incident is cited so commonly, and so smugly, by bloggers that it is now its own meme, reduced to the status of a fortune cookie saying. But it really happened, and it is important to get the events right. And it is important to say why it is important: we depend on truth, not truthiness, as a basis for political discourse.

The date was September 9, 2004. The television show 60 Minutes, a dinosaur even by the standards of the main stream media, had been accused of being duped by doctored documents. These documents purported to show significant irregularities in G.W. Bush’s National Guard service, most particularly in a failure to report for a physical when a direct written order to do so had been issued May 4, 1972 by Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian. CBS had the documents to prove it, and they had broken the story on 60 Minutes on September 4, a conspicuously short time before the election scheduled in November.

The Executive Vice President of CBS News, Jonathan Klein, was appearing on the Fox News Channel on that night of September 9. He was “debating” Weekly Standard writer and pundit Stephen Hayes, in the confrontational style now popular on TV news shows. Hayes, and the host, were both citing claims by bloggers that the documents were obvious forgeries, and that CBS should acknowledge that.

Jonathan Klein responded with a level of condescension that will take its historical place beside Marie Antoinette’s dismissive, “Let them eat cake.” The last words of the main stream media’s ancien regime were:

“You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [i.e., fact checkers at 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

It turned out to be true, though not in the way that Mr. Klein intended. The documents were forged, just like the bloggers said. The pajamas guys ended up having a better claim to truth than the multiple layers of checks and balances.

The reason is that, in this instance, the main stream media giant CBS was acting out of a sense of truthiness. Dan Rather had believed in the “essential truth” of the claim that George W. Bush had violated an order to report for a physical. This was, for Rather, part of a larger “essential truth” (Rather’s words), that the President’s service record was an indication of indifference (at best) or outright shirking of duty during wartime. This idea of an essential truth, or a truth that transcends mere facts, is a remarkable claim for a news organization. CBS persisted in defending this exercise in truthiness long after it was clear to most people, even those who shared the basic distrust of the President and his policies, that they had gotten their facts wrong.

Now, the documents either were or not forgeries. Three decades had passed since the letters had been written (if they were real), so it would not be surprising if memories were hazy. But peculiarities in the letters quickly surfaced, and the focus quickly moved to apparently simple features of the primary letter in particular, the one in which the supposed “direct order” was issued. The most obvious problem was with the raised (superscripted) letters, in a smaller font-size, on unit numbers in the letter. This way of typing would not be conventional on most military typewriters, as it would have required changing the type ball and manually moving the line setting to create superscripts. This, it was pointed out on dozens of blogs, is nearly impossible to do without distorting the line-up of type at least slightly. Furthermore, other (legitimate) letters from the files at around the same time from the same office showed a completely different, nonproportional typeface.

None of this is proof, of course, but the questions kept coming as more and more people independently studied the letter. My use of “independent” is important, because each person is bringing a new perspective, trying to make sense of the truth in a complicated problem. Before long, the supposed “source” for the letter had changed his story about where he had gotten it, and CBS eventually threw in the tool. Dan Rather issued a tepid, narrow apology for the use of the letters, and CBS News fired four people, including the (apparently) overzealous producer Mary Mapes.

Right up until the end, Dan Rather defended the story as “essentially” accurate. That is, even though the specific documents were (possibly) not real, Rather and the producers at CBS argued that their description of the behavior of President Bush was real. CBS saw the behavior, and not their evidence documenting the behavior, as the real issue. On several occasions, as documented in the Thornburg-Boccardi (2005) report and elsewhere, senior CBS personnel (including Dan Rather) flatly stated that they could prove the essential truth of the story: The President had not denied their claims about his missing service time.

Let me summarize what I have intended by giving this extended example. CBS’s 60 Minutes producers, particularly Mary Mapes, believed so firmly in the essential truth of their argument that the Killian documents were seen as examples, not evidence. In fact, no evidence was required. They both relaxed the normal standards of fact-checking and speeded up the production process so it could have an impact on the election. The President’s guilt was a foregone conclusion; the news producers’ only job was to get the word out.

The universe of bloggers, partly out of (nearly universal) innate contrarian impulses and partly out of (widespread, though perhaps not majority) partisan antipathy, jumped on inconsistencies in the evidence for the claims. And the particular evidence that CBS had used had varied between flimsy and fabricated. Consequently, as an exercise in discovering truth, blogs proved far more accurate and useful than a respected mainstream media organization.

But CBS had erred in a relatively narrow and technical sense. There was quite a bit of other evidence, both in the form of documents and eyewitness testimony, that supported the CBS claim, at least in its broad outline. Because of its surrender to truthiness in one broadcast, CBS appeared to be biased, and the blogosphere appeared to have the better claim to generating truth.

At a minimum, guys in their pajamas had laid low the people in suits, acting as an independent check on veracity.

The Jewish God of Walks


Dennis Leary puts out some smack, on Mel Gibson.

At this point, it has to be pretty funny before you pile on poor Mel. But this is pretty funny.

Thanks to MA, through MWT.

(video may not play, because so many people are watching it right now)

Desperate, But Not Serious

The old Adam Ant song describes a lot of what goes on in academic administration: desperate, but not serious.

What follows is probably not an original formulation, but it is one I have found useful in being an academic administrator, or for that matter a junior faculty member.

There are TWO dimensions on which we evaluate projects and obligations. The first is urgency. That would be time-sensitivity, deadline pressure, and so on.

The second is importance. Actual significance. Will anyone care a month from now? More important, will anyone read what you are writing ten years from now, or more (the Buchanan test).

So, it works like this:

Desperate Is Not Serious
. Important? Yes No
Urgent? Yes 1 2
No 3 4

Nobody pays any attention to cell 4.

And everybody works right away on cell 1.

The question is how you trade off cell 3 and cell 2.

The point is that nearly all real work academics do, or should do, is in quadrant 3. Journal editors don't have deadlines. They don't care if they NEVER hear from you. You can do it tomorrow. But you won't.

Because what everybody wants you to do is in quadrant 2. "Can you talk to this person we have on the phone? They want to know about the _____ program." Can you attend a meeting of the letterhead control committee? (Yes, my children, that is a real committee. We have to have standards.)

And the problem is much worse for administrators. The electronic revolution means that you are never out of touch. And, incredibly, lots of administrators willingly buy crackberries, or treos, so that they are always on call. But that means that every waking moment is spent answering, or at least reading, some stupid crap from some other administrator who does not know the rules of academic work. And (a bonus for readers of the End), here those are:

1. Work is what we do between meetings. Repeat this to yourself every day.

2. Reading email is a virtual meeting, of the most time-wasting kind. We had an assistant prof here at Duke that checked his hand-held device every two or three minutes (I'm not making this up). So, he appeared CONSTANTLY busy, when what he was doing was living in cell 2 of my little table: urgent, but not important. The reason they are called "crackberries" is that if you have any trace of self-importance (and what prof doesn't?), then taking out your hand held device and then saying, "Excuse me, I have to answer this" is so appealing you can't help yourself. Don't buy rocks of crack, and use your treo only on trips, and then sparingly. People don't think you're important if you have to check email every 3 minutes. They recognize that you would rather be in a permanent meeting than do your work.

3. Most emails will wither up and blow away in 24 hours. People don't really need you. Same for phone calls. If you are a professor, just don't read your email, or delete almost everything after reading the first line. Tell everyone you know: any email that blathers on for more than three lines, I'm going to delete unread. Do not read and respond to emails every 2 or 3 minutes. If you do, you are in a permanent meeting, Dante's secret 39th circle of hell.

4. If you are an administrator, design a filter system. Raise transactions cost of contacting you. There are type I and type II errors here: how many urgent but unimportant messages will you have to pay attention to, to ensure that you get all of the urgent AND important messages? And the main thing is to preserve some time for important but not urgent tasks, LIKE WRITING! Your assistant is your filter; depend on her/him to take care of you. If you don't answer your email (it was more than three lines long, so it got deleted), or you are not in your office/didn't answer the phone, the next person who gets called is your assistant. She (in my case) knows where to track you down. And LOTS of times the irate person is not willing to pay the transactions costs of setting up an appointment and coming back next week. You are doing them a favor, because they don't really want to have this meeting. It is urgent, in their minds at this moment, but not important.

A final note: meetings are an important part of what we do. We talk, we get together, we share. We perform service. I don't mean to say you should shirk your service duties. What I do want to say is that you have to filter out all the urgent, but trivial, things that will take up all your time. If you retire and wish you had written something more significant, that regret will hurt for a long time. Don't let the reason for your failure be that you spent all your time in meetings, or checking your $%^$&#$ treo.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The fellows over at Joint Strike Weasel (in this case, Jeffrey and Ivan) have a couple of pieces on the decision to require an end to wiretaps by NSA.

I like the outcome; the wiretapping seemed like a dangerous power for the President to have.

But the JSW boys, and their reference to the Volokh roundup, do raise some difficult questions.

Liking the outcome doesn't mean you think the decision is a good one. I have felt this way often since Roe v. Wade: seems like the outcome is the one I would pick, but I don't know that I want judges MAKING that kind of pick, on essentially political issues.

The Recognition I Deserve

Ah, so at last I have gotten to that putz, Colbert.