Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Assorted links

1. Where Great Courses come from. I was hoping the article would explain their (to me) bizarre pricing strategies as well, but it does not.

2. Driving through a wildfire.

3. Chasing death around.

4. What to do when law enforcement wants to chat.

5. A hard day at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book: Top Student, Top School

Radford, Alexandria. 2013. Top Student, Top School? How Social Class Shapes Where Valedictorians Go To College. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I liked this book a lot, and not just because the evidence it presents supports various conclusions in my work on college mismatch with Nora Dillon (e.g. that for some students, distance to college is an important variable, either because they want to save money by living at home, or because they want to be able to return home regularly and easily, and that student application behavior matters more than what college admissions offices do).

The book provides qualitative and quantitative analysis of a cohort of high school valedictorians who vary on a number of relevant dimensions such as sex, high school quality, and parental education. The relative roles of these and other variables are traced through a set of stages - predisposition, preparation, exploration, application, admissions and matriculation - in the process of transitioning from high school to college. The author does a nice job of combining straightforward quantitative analysis with insightful qualitative analysis. Indeed, one might even use this book as an example of integrating the two.

Even the policy section, which often provides a letdown at the end of otherwise sound books by non-economists, is not too bad. We could, and should, do a better job of informing strong students from low income backgrounds and/or who are first generation college-goers how the system works. This is, of course, an active area of research in the economics of education. One potentially instructive comparison would be to places, e.g. Ontario, where the choice problem is substantially easier for all students, due to centralized application and admissions and the absence of private colleges.

Recommended for those interested in the topic.

Monday, September 28, 2015

P.J. O'Rourke on Ann Coulter

This piece is more personal than the usual P.J. piece, and includes some reminiscing about growing up in Toledo.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On letters of recommendation

A thoughtful post from on letters of recommendation.

I agree with much of it and was surprised by some of it.

I was surprised by the fact that files are often incomplete due to unsent letters. I always send them, though sometimes right at the margin of the deadline. That is too bad for the students / workers involved.

Addendum: an alert reader points out that the link leads to the main page of This post was composed (incompetently it seems) by my past self some months ago, and some searching just now did not yield the post I remembered (send me an email if you find it), though it did lead to a bunch of other interesting posts on letters of recommendation, such as this one, as well as their review of Dear Committee Member (which you really should read if you have not already). Julie Schumacher, the author of said book, offers some thoughts on letters as well. I particularly liked her remark that "The word “Harvard” counts for several thick and complimentary paragraphs, the crimson shield on the letterhead reducing the need for encomiums by 30-40 percent."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Megan McArdle on Syrian refugees

Megan travels to Greece to meet and write about the refugees. I am largely in sympathy with her views and think she could usefully have added that part of the responsibility for the refugees results from failures of US foreign policy. We should be taking more than we claim we will.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The economist reviews the literature on the effects of pornography

As usual, the economist does a nice job of avoiding the hype.

My favorite line in the article is:
The most common effect of a porn habit, says Geoffrey Miller, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, is a tendency to watch a bit less television.
The remarks on research funding and methodology are also useful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Structural economics moment of Zen

"We just want to tell a story, like all structural models do. We are like storytellers from the days of yore."

Nirav Mehta

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Second thoughts on Cecil the Lion

I wish the American justice system were as devoted to "innocent until proven guilty" as this fellow thinks it is. I suspect that the people whose mug shots get posted online by the local police when they are arrested, rather than when they are convicted, would disagree. Still, better late than never.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Assorted links

1. The Onion on the pros and cons of legalizing prostitution.

2. Top immigrant jobs by state. I would not have guessed Michigan's.

3. Great moments in Canadian politics.

4. Training gynecologists. I would be curious to know what the wage is for this.

5. A bit of Hillary humor. Legal or not, the private email business seems remarkably inept.

Hat tip on #2 to Dan Black.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beer humor

This "beer troubleshooting guide" is probably as old as the hills - certainly the cigarette reference indicates at least a couple of decades, as does the existence of numerous small variations - but I had somehow never encountered it until seeing it on a t-shirt in a store in Ottawa's Byward Market this weekend.