Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Housing markets

Baby steps on getting the government out of the mortgage business, and thus out of the housing bubble creation business, elicit cries of horror from, not surprisingly, interested parties.

I remain puzzled by the American fetish for home ownership. Renters are people too and there is no particular reason to subsidize the one and not the other. Also, though it might surprise some folks, the mortgage market did manage to function before Fannie and Freddie came along.

Hat tip: Ken Troske.

Tressel out at Ohio State

Jim Tressel has resigned as football coach at Ohio State, and apparently Ohio State will play all of next season with an interim coach.

Tressel should have spent more time reading about Richard Nixon. The punishment for the cover-up is always worse than the punishment for the crime.

Good news for Michigan and Brady Hoke. Bad news, I would say, for college football overall.

Addendum: here is the pounding from Sports Illustrated that makes it clear why Tressel had to go now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie: Lincoln Lawyer

This was much better than I expected. The NYT - not A.O. Scott this time - does a better job than I could of expounding on the movie's virtues.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kate v. Michelle

The Daily Mail thinks Kate won the sartorial battle running away, while Yahoo Shine! praises Michelle.

Bottom line: nationalism rules here as elsewhere.

Double bottom line: why, oh why, does anyone care about what these people wear?

Addendum: it turns out there was a scandal about Kate's dress because it was not made by highly paid Italians but rather by poorly paid Romanians. The most damning evidence of their oppression:
Many of the women who filed out of the factory gates this week barely knew who Prince William’s wife was, let alone that they were behind her outfit.
The horror.

More on SAT scores and race

UM gradual student Isaac Sorkin sends along a link to this blog post from a couple of years ago that is also relevant to the discussion of David Leonhardt's column on elite colleges from last week.

My earlier post about it is here.

Alumni association journal access!

The University of Washington Alumni Association, of which I am a member, is now offering access to on-line scholarly and popular journals as one of its membership perks.

I mention this for two reasons. First, I know there are some UW alumni who read the blog and who might value this perk if they are not already members. Second, and much more broadly, this is but one more milestone on the long road to major changes in academic publishing, as hard copies slowly disappear and, I suspect, for-profit journals disappear along with them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On the multiplication of weasel words

Economists and other social scientists love their weasel words (and phrases) such as "suggests", "may mean" and "seems to indicate". Sometimes these weasely words serve as a helpful shorthand for the fact that the estimates being discussed have standard errors, or that the a given empirical pattern may have multiple causes. Other times they just signal authorial timidity or a desire to avoid full responsibility for one's conclusions.

Reading a gradual student paper this morning, I was reminded that regardless of the reason for including weasel words, one of my rules of writing is that a given sentence should have at most one weasel word or phrase. Consider the sentence
This suggests that the longitudinal weights may underweight non-participants.
To accomplished the desired level of weaseliness, the writer (who is actually quite a clear and organized writer) does not need both "suggests" and "may". The sentence
This suggests that the longitudinal weights underweight non-participants.
does just fine at conveying the intended meaning, as does the sentence
My findings indicate that the longitudinal weights may underweight non-participants.
The bottom line: one weasel word or phrase per sentence.

As an aside, in the context of the paper from which it is drawn, the sentence actually does not require any weasel words at all, as the results shown in the paper clearly indicate underweighting of non-participants. But that, perhaps, is a subject for a different post.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A scene I had forgotten

I did not remember this scene from Spinal Tap until reminded of it by Jeff Wooldridge (!) on Facebook today.

Embedding is disabled so you have to click through to see it. Short, funny and worth it.

Todd, Greg and Dave ...

... discuss the reduced form relationship between test scores on college entrance exams (i.e. the SAT or ACT) and performance at university.

Lesson 1: Dave needs better research assistants, who will read the literature before his column is printed in the NYT.

Lesson 2: As they so often are, one's priors are confirmed in the data.

Movie: Fast Five

We are in the midst of a very fluffy streak in terms of movies. Last night was Fast Five, which got picked mainly because it had a surprisingly positive rating on rotten tomatoes for an action movie.

The NYT - not A.O. Scott this time - does not share the enthusiasm and is, I think, too harsh. Fast Five is better than Pirates or Thor, though I, at least, would put it below Hanna, among the last four action movies we've seen.

As the NYT review suggests, Fast Five is really just Ocean's 11 gone to Brazil, with burlier guys, less humor, a dash of Brazilian beach (required, of course, to get the handprint of the bad guy in order to open the great big safe) and lots and lots of cars and chases.

Recommended for (very) mindless fun.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alan Bock, R.I.P.

A fine obituary from reason.com.

Book: Fatherland by Robert Harris

I like alternate histories in both fictional (written by novelists) and non-fictional (written by historians) form and was in the mood for some not-too-literary fiction. So I picked up Fatherland by Robert Harris, newly purchased in hard cover for $4 from an antique store in bustling Howell, Michigan, and finished it in two days.

The conceit of the book is that it is 1964 in an alternate world in which the Germans won WW2 by figuring out that the Brits had cracked their codes and by doing a bit better on the eastern front in 1942. They now dominate all of Europe. The US did beat Japan, and so, just like in the real 1964, there is a bipolar world wrapped up in a Cold War, but this time between the US and Germany.

At one level, this is a very conventional detective novel. The characters will be quite familiar even to readers like me who dip into the genre pretty rarely. The plot is not as predictable as the Publisher's Weekly review (available on the amazon page) makes it out to be, but it is not wildly unpredictable either.

What raises this book a bit above the average is that the author, a Cambridge-educated journalist, puts in a lot of effort to make his alternate history credible. Many of the documents that play a role in the story are real, and the true history is carefully followed up to 1942. The author also has done a good job of porting over lessons from the real Cold War, and the real history of the Soviet Union in shaping his imagine of German society in 1964. For example, the revolution has been overtaken by bureaucratization, just as it was in the Soviet Union, and the Germans are fighting a costly war in the Urals against what remains of Russia (assisted covertly by the US), much like the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Harris also does a good job of laying out the Berlin that would have emerged from the grand(iose) plans of Albert Speer.

Perhaps oddly, the thing I will longest remember from the book is the historical document that it excerpts in which the German ambassador to the UK reports on a conversation with Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy is the US president in 1964 in the book's alternate history and was, in fact, US ambassador to the UK in the late 1930s and the father of Ted, John and Robert Kennedy. In the document, Kennedy reveals himself to be both a general anti-semite and, more narrowly, a Nazi sympathizer.

Overall, this book is somewhat recommended if you are into both alternate history and detective stories, but probably not otherwise.

Movie: Thor

We saw Thor last week at the local Rave multiplex.

A.O. Scott's review is worth reading just to see him in full snark mode, but the movie was not quite as bad as he makes it out to be. I would say it is around the median of the various Marvel comic books turned movies.

Still, if you are choosing between them, I would pick Pirates just for Johnny Depp.

Aside: you know that raves are no longer cool when there is a chain of theaters named after them.

Old Woody Allen interviews

Bits from old 60 minutes interviews with Woody Allen. The editing is heavy-handed at the end but still very much worth watching.

Assorted links

1. Economists in love: Al Roth

4. Comedians shouldn't steal jokes.

What War Powers Act?

The whole point of the rule of law, of course, is that the laws have to apply to everyone.

The problem with the War Powers Act is that it does not have an effective enforcement mechanism. It relies on Congress and Congress has no backbone these days.

This illustrates yet another of the many ways in which Obama is essentially the same as Bush II or, put differently, it illustrates that it is very difficult even for the president to push back against the institutions that surround the office.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cedar Rapids is more realistic than I thought

On randy insurance salesmen or, more precisely, re-insurance men, in Germany.

Somewhere in here is a paper on when workers prefer compensation in kind to compensation in cash.

Hat tip: anonymous UM gradual student

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides

We saw the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie last night at a local multiplex. A.O. Scott at the New York Times says all I have to say, other than that the scene with mermaids, which one might better refer to as the "attack of the aquatic super-models" is pretty cool. This is very fluffy fluff, indeed. Oh, and the writing is a disaster.

Recommended for mindless fun and Johnny Depp.

Advice on academic publishing

The Spring 2011 CSWEP newsletter includes some short articles giving advice on the academic publishing process. I liked the ones by Robert Moffitt and Patty Anderson the best but all four are useful.

I would emphasize the following points that come up in one or more of the articles:

1. Do not resend a paper that has been rejected at one journal to another journal without revising it in light of the comments received. I can tell you from personal experience that if you get the same reviewer at the second journal, s/he will be really pissed that you have ignored the initial reports. When this happens, it sends a strong signal to the reviewer and to the editor (who is sure to hear about) that you do not care overmuch about the quality of your work.

2. Be sure that the paper you submit is easy to read. Poorly labeled tables, repeated bits of text, typos and such all signal lack of care; you do not want the reviewers and the editor to think that you are similarly careless with the theoretical and empirical substance of your paper.

3. Get some comments from gradual students, friends or colleagues and do an "internal" revision before sending out the paper to a journal. This is less of an issue with co-authored publications, where presumably the two co-authors are reviewing each other's work as the paper is drafted.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Atlantic Causal Inference Conference

I spent the last two days at the Atlantic Causal Inference conference which, this year, was held far away from the Atlantic at Michigan's School of Public Health.

The conference was great inter-disciplinary fun, as it included statisticians, biotstatisticians, epidemiologists and even a few economists. I got to meet some famous people from other fields and also learned a lot (though there were a couple of presentations where simultaneous inter-disciplinary translation would have helped).

Two quotes that I liked well enough to write down:

"My colleagues, they study artificial intelligence; me, I study natural stupidity" - Amos Tversky

"Matching is an attempt to approximate what reweighting is doing directly" - Justin McCrary

In addition to providing the Tversky quote, Sander Greenland's keynote speech taught me the term "nullism", which indicates excessive reverence for the null hypothesis in classical hypothesis testing. I expect that term to come in handy in future.

1,000,000 jobs

The economics blogosphere has been all aflutter about this paper by Tim Conley (Western Ontario) and Bill Dupor (Ohio State) that provides a point estimate for the net change in private sector employment due to the ARRA (the "stimulus" - actually one of the stimulii) of about minus 1,000,000. The point estimate for public sector employment is positive but smaller. Neither estimate is statistically different from zero, something that is noted in the abstract of the (newly) revised version of the paper that I linked to.

The paper was linked to by both Greg Mankiw and Marginal Revolution, in both cases without comment, which links presumably led to all the attention.

For example, Rush Limbaugh hyped the paper as confirming his own reasoning based on what one might charitably call lay theory. Limbaugh has some trouble sorting out where Conley and Dupor actually work though. Perhaps his assistant was having an off day.

MR also linked to this critique by Michigan gradual student Noah Smith. Noah's critique has two main bits. First, he emphasizes the lack of a statistical difference between the point estimates in the paper and zero. True enough, but he edges a bit too close for my taste to equating "not statistically different from zero" with "equals zero". The point estimate is still the best estimate in the sense that it is the solution to the optimization problem embodied by the estimator. Yes, it is imprecise, and that is important when thinking about how to update one's beliefs about the effects of the ARRA, and yes, it is not statistically different from zero. At the same time, it is very different, and perhaps even statistically different, from various positive estimates of ARRA employment impacts offered up by, for example, the administration. In my view, as a casual Bayesian, the effect of the Conley and Dupor should be to add additional uncertainty to claims of large positive impacts made by others.

Noah's other critique is aimed at Greg Mankiw, for linking to the paper without comment or critique and for not linking to another, related paper. I think Greg would be liable to valid criticism if he had hyped the paper, but to me just linking to it means "hey, this paper by two reasonable economists looks interesting but I've been too busy to really dig into it yet". I do not, in general, link to papers I have not closely read on my blog, but it does not seem to me unreasonable to provide a link-without-comment with the intention of starting a discussion, just as Tyler Cowen did at MR.

Paul Krugman (surprise!) does not like the paper.

Early on, he has this to say:
Remember, the stimulus was not big compared with the economic downturn. The original Romer-Bernstein estimate was that it would, at peak, reduce unemployment by about 2 percentage points relative to what it would otherwise have been. And most of that effect was supposed to come through measures that would have been common to all states: tax cuts, transfer payments, etc.. At most, differences between predicted effects among states should have come to no more than a fraction of a percentage point off the unemployment rate.
I am not quite sure what Krugman has in mind with this paragraph. I think it means that he does not fully understand how instrumental variables work their magic - not surprising perhaps given his background as a trade theorist. The point is to find a variable, the instrument, that isolates a bit of exogenous variation in the independent variable of interest, in this case stimulus spending. The instrumental variables procedure isolates this exogenous variation and determines its effects. In a common effect world, wherein every dollar of stimulus spending has the same impact on employment, and it is that world in which this literature and this paper operate, all you need is to then appropriately scale the instrumental variables estimate to get the full impact of the stimulus spending. For consistency of the estimates, it does not matter that the fraction of the variance in spending pinned down by the instrument is small, as long as the instrument clearly predicts stimulus spending. Where the fraction of the variance explained by a valid instrument shows up is in the standard errors and they are large here, as one would expect.

Krugman next presents a bar graph showing before-after changes in state unemployment rates in a bar graph and then adds:
To tease any effect of the stimulus out of these interstate differences, if it’s possible at all, would require very careful and scrupulous statistical work — and we’d like to see some elaborate robustness checks before buying into any results thereby found.

The latest anti-stimulus paper shows no sign of that kind of care. It makes no effort to control for the differential effects of bubble and bust. It uses odd variables on both the left and the right side of its equations. The instruments — variables used to correct for possible two-way causation — are weak and dubious. Dean Baker suspects data-mining, with reason; the best interpretation is that the authors tried something that happened to give the results they wanted, then stopped looking.

Really, this isn’t the sort of thing worth wasting time over.
Unfortunately for the reader trying to engage with the Conley and Dupor paper, Krugman does not say what variables he thinks are odd. Is employment odd? Looking at employment rather than unemployment - which may or may not be the alternative Krugman has in mind - seems reasonable enough as impacts on employment capture effects on the number of discouraged workers, while impacts on unemployment rates do not. Krugman similarly does not bother to explain why the instruments are dubious, he just asserts it. Conley and Dupor make a positive case - see Section 3.1 - for their instruments in their paper; surely Krugman can be expected to make a negative one in his response. Certainly the instruments can be questioned; really compelling instruments are essentially non-existent in macro. Why not make the case? Worst of all is Krugman's claim that the instruments are weak, which is technical shorthand for saying they do not have a strong (enough) relationship with stimulus spending. This claim is simply wrong, as shown in Table 3 in the paper.

In short, Krugman's response disappoints the serious reader. Of course, the fact that Krugman's response is weak does not mean that the Conley and Dupor paper is worth paying attention to; it just means that one must look elsewhere for serious discussion.

I happened to be at Western Ontario on Wednesday for a conference and had a chance to talk to Tim about all the craziness surrounding the paper. He said that he had, as of that time, gotten about 60 pieces of hate email, as well as lots of media inquiries, almost all of which he had declined. I should note, too, that it was Tim who emphasized to me the importance of comparing the estimates to values other than zero and who pointed out that employment is very much not an odd dependent variable.

Full disclosure: I overlapped with both Tim and Bill in gradual school at Chicago, though we were not close friends. I skimmed the paper when writing this post but have not read it closely due to having spend the whole week (other than Monday) at conferences.

On Arnold

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Purple and Proud

Western Ontario is the only Canadian university to make Playboy's list of the top ten party schools.

Addendum: I should have included more context for this post. Western Ontario was my first academic job.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On the killing of OBL

Dan Drezner makes the case that it matters but then there is the public, at least some of which has a different view. My own view lies somewhere in the middle.

Science (the thing) and Science (the journal)

David McKenzie on a new study from some non-economists in Science that purports to show that teachers do not matter and methods do.

I am stunned that this got published in Science. The fact that it did has led to a negative revision in my beliefs about the quality of the research it lets through its editorial process. Though even before this, I would likely have applied a somewhat weakened version of this theory of social science publications in medical journals to Science.

The key here is that the dispersion of knowledge regarding study design (or identification, if you prefer) among practicing researchers, and thus among editors and referees, is, on average, much weaker outside of economics. Of course, many disciplines have some researchers who are very strong in these areas, and, of course, other disciplines that are relatively weak on study design often know lots of useful things that most economists do not (item response theory, anyone?). The point is that disciplinary differences in the relative dispersion of knowledge about study design provide an incentive for weakly designed studies to find their published homes outside of economics. It would be a wonderful world indeed if journalists would adjust their reports for this important selection problem.

At the same time, I have some sympathy for the point of the paper. For many, but not all, subjects, lectures should play only a modest role in the teaching process. I think universities produce too many lectures and too few hands-on sessions in many cases. In econometrics, for example, there is simply no substitute for sitting down in front of the computer and confronting the data with the tools, and then writing up the results of the confrontation. Lectures have a role, but practice, made as realistic as possible, is a necessary complement.

Finally, McKenzie worries that economists do not have an outlet for such "exploratory" work. First, as a not irrelevant aside, Science is probably not a good outlet for exploratory work in any field. Second, I think economists do have ways to circulate or otherwise make use of exploratory work. One natural path is for a researcher to use it as a lever to get funding for confirmatory work that is better designed and has larger sample sizes. Another approach available to those with access to the standard working paper series such as the NBER and the IZA, is to circulate exploratory work in working paper form with no intention of eventual publication. There are also blogs, many of which function as a platform for the discussion of research at the working paper stage. Finally, one might have thought that a journal such as Economics Letters, or perhaps unrefereed conference volumes, would play this role.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mixing love with statistics and counterfactuals

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Trump campaign poster

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Three on Detroit

The financial times has an optimistic [sic] piece on real estate in Detroit.

A lawyer suggests Detroit as the new Amsterdam with legalized pot and prostitution. This has always seemed like a natural strategy to me, particularly given that Detroit already is heavy (by the standards of places outside of Vegas and Atlantic City) with casinos. It could be a real Vegas for adults, instead of one that just pretends.

Conservatives bashed Mayor Bloomberg's idea for urban homesteading - here's your house and land, fix it up and live in it for a while and it's yours - but it seems like an excellent idea to me as well. Homesteading helped to populate the American West, why not empty blocks in Detroit?

For your dear departed on two wheels ...

... a British fellow has developed a motorcycle hearse. Says the BBC:
The unusual vehicle consists of a hearse built at the rear of the front end of a Triumph Rocket III and can take a coffin of more than six feet in length.

If a larger coffin size is required a hydraulic system can add a few more inches to the available length.

After the successful record attempt Mr Biddiss was upbeat about his machine.

He said: "It is 2,340cc of British engineering, the Rocket. If you're going to infinity and beyond, best you go by Rocket."
Be sure to check out the picture.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Walking the walk after talking the talk

Kansas City sports blogger endures the punishment he recommended for a player.

I look forward, in a similar spirit, to Paul Krugman voluntarily paying all the extra taxes he recommends.

As an aside, this video would make a fine text for analysis by a gender studies class.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

In Royal News

I learned from watching the BBC last night that one result of the Royal Wedding in the UK has been to focus attention on the younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. The Duchess of Cambridge is, of course, Kate Middleton, now wife of Prince William. Her sister has the horrifying name of Pippa, short for Philippa. One assumes her parents wanted a boy.

If this were a post on MR, it would be titled "The Culture that is Britain".

Hat tip: British comedian Russell Howard, who is sort of a convex combination of Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel with an accent.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Grade Worries

This is actually pretty uncommon at Michigan.

I did have an honors student at Western Ontario once ask me for more points a few days after I caught him plagiarizing. That was closest I ever came to screaming at an undergraduate.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Hitchens on voice

A moving essay on talking (and not being able to talk) from Hitchens' "year of living dyingly".

The Onion on recreating lost youth

Both touching and funny.

It is certainly, and helpfully, true that as you age, you care less and less about what other people think. My older relatives often said that to me when I was young and I did not quite believe them at the time but now I do.

This piece also reminded me of a late evening spent drinking beer with an economist friend in one of the student bars in Madison during the Institute for Research on Poverty summer research conference. I have never felt as completely invisible in my whole life as I did that night. As far as the drunken Badger undergrads were concerned, we were just not there. I like to think that our being invisible made our amateur ethnographic observations more credible.

Hat tip: Kim Ross

Friday, May 6, 2011

Taxes, taxes, taxes

MSNBC on the joyous tax regime in Denmark.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Assorted links

1. Descriptive differences between Mac and PC users. I don't fit well in either camp.

2. Political scientists everywhere mourn as Brits reject alternative voting.

3. A remarkably lazy, and remarkably honest, elected official in Tennessee.

4. Do you really need a SWAT team to search the home of someone who is suspected of being a driver for escorts? Even better is sending the SWAT team to the correct house.

5. Tyler praised this French existentialist version of Star Wars. It didn't work for me as well. Indeed, I thought about giving it its own post, with the title "Why the French did so poorly in the war" but then decided that would be too snarky.

6. Why I am not a Republican, Michigan legislature edition. The state budget is collapsing and they are worried about what people are doing in their bedrooms? Get serious.

7. How mistaken quotations get circulated.

Academic bloggers

The NYT profiles some of the leading academic bloggers.

Of those listed, I read Mankiw and Instapundit reasonably regularly, Becker/Posner, Althouse and Volokh on occasion and crooked timber on rarer occasions. Back in the day, I took two of Becker's classes in graduate school and was, prior to Heckman's return from Yale in 1991, working on a dissertation under his supervision.

I was surprised by the absence of Marginal Revolution, which is the academic blog I read most faithfully. I am probably in some sense trying to emulate a combination of MR and Mankiw plus movie reviews though at this point I now longer worry overmuch about what the blog is or should be and just post what strikes me.

Addendum: Chris Blattman on academic blogging and, in particular, Dan Drezner.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Canada's new government

The Economist has some wise words on Canada's new majority Conservative government.

It is always helpful in translating for Americans to recall that Canadian conservative has more lovers of tradition, but fewer evangelicals and libertarians, than American conservatism.

Interview with the CEO of Borders

The interview is from annarbor.com. He is remarkably honest about both past mistakes and future strategy.

The most interesting bit for me was that 10 percent of book sales are now electronic. That was fast!

Book: The Performance of Performance Standards

The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research has just published a very fine book entitled The Performance of Performance Standards. I know it is very fine because I am both a co-editor and a co-author on many of the chapters.

The book summarizes the work of Jim Heckman and a group of his students on the performance standards system that guided the behavior of the Job Training Partnership Act program. A very similar (though arguably inferior) system guides the current Workforce Investment Act and, due to the bipartisan enthusiasm for poorly-designed performance systems in the Clinton and Bush II administrations, nearly every other government program.

Understanding these programs and the administrative havoc they sometimes generate should be of interest to anyone studying organizational behavior. The work is also relevant to those interested in personal economics; indeed, as I often say, simply having the people in charge of designing performance management systems read, say, Lazear's Personnel Economics book would lead to huge improvements. On the other side, managers in private firms (or non-profits) face many of the same design problems faced by the designers of government performance management systems; the book is relevant for them, and for those who study compensation schemes in firms, as well.

Some of the chapters are rewritten versions of published journal articles, with the rewriting both designed to make them more readable for a mixed audience of policy wonks and academics and to update to reflect changes in programs and progress in related research.

I should note that the book was only 17 years in the making! The original proposal for the book was submitted in 1993 and we have been working on it on and off ever since. My friend Carolyn Heinrich deserves much of the credit for the fact that the book did, eventually, get done and, unfortunately, yours truly deserves much of the blame for the long time lag before it did.

At least, in this case, good things have come to those who waited.

Attorney general out of control

Having state attorney generals use rules designed to prevent fraud to conduct amateur science reviews with real penalties seems like a bad idea to me.

Is there no actual crime in Virginia for the attorney general to attend to?

Truth in labeling would be increased if the name of the attorney general position were changed to "media whore who wants to campaign for governor or senator while collecting a taxpayer funded salary".

Full disclosure: I have a graduate school friend who is a state attorney general (in a different state). My sense is that he behaves better than most.

David Giles shares his examination fantasies

Good stuff here from University of Victoria econometrician David Giles, but perhaps not for students who are faint of heart.

At the least, Giles provides a stark reminder of how academia has changed with the passage of time, and the arrival of large numbers of lawyers and bureaucrats trying to avoid lawsuits, standardize and regularize the university experience and, most important of all, increase the net present value of alumni donations.

I have a bit of a middle position here I suppose. I don't tell students the questions in advance for my undergraduate econometrics course, but I also write an exam with a mix of easy, medium and hard questions, where the easy questions should be obvious to anyone who showed up regularly or cracked the book and the hard questions require application of familiar concepts from the course but in slightly altered contexts. I provide practice exams which, while they cost me some time by forcing me to write new exam questions more often, also increase the chance that I am testing students on the material on not on their understanding of how I write questions. As I like to say, the only dimension of the course that should be challenging is the material.

I also always include some humor on my exams to lighten the mood (and, back in the days before I handed exam grading to the teaching assistant, I gave little bits of partial credit for funny and original non-answers).

Movie: Potiche

A fine (very) French fluff set (perfectly) in an airbrushed 1970s.

A. O. Scott gets it almost exactly right; I did not share his view that the movie went on a bit too long.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Athletic contests

Click here for a chance to win 250 free concussion tests [sic] for your team.

Or, if you do not actually need 250 concussion tests for your team, you can learn about the release dates of new sneakers.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Cracked on air travel

A fine Cracked complement to the piece on airline ticket prices I linked to the other day.

Hat tip: Scott Imberman

Monday, May 2, 2011


The US has killed Osama bin Laden without holding a trial and by mounting a military operation on the sovereign territory of another country without letting that country know about it. The president then went on national television to gloat about the killing.

Adding this to the near-miss on Colonel Klink in Libya and it seems we are in the business of directly taking out bad guys these days. May I humbly suggest Mugabe and the Castro brothers go next?

I actually think it makes a lot of sense to kill one bad guy directly rather than hundreds or thousands of civilians or soldiers or followers in an indirect attempt to get at the bad guy, but wouldn't it be a bit more seemly, and a bit more legal and just, to have some sort of trial (in OBL's case) or declaration of war (in Colonel Klink's case) as a lead-in?


I am about two years behind on reading my dead-tree reason magazines, which is actually kind of interesting, especially in regard to political articles, because I know some of the future that the authors do not.

Last night I read this fine article about Christiania, the "free city" located on an old military base not far from downtown Copenhagen. The article does a good job of describing the place as I remember it from my own visit.

I hope it lives on. It really is a public good at this point, not just for the tourists it brings to the city but also for the example it provides of a different way of living. The government would be foolish and mean to shut it down. Indeed, I think they should work with the residents to reestablish the kinder, gentler pot market that existed a decade ago, before the government shut it down and let rougher folk come in to replace it in the shadows.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Another alternative holiday interpretation

Maggie McNeill meditates on the meaning of May Day.

Victims of Communism Day

A worthy suggestion from Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy to make May 1 "Victims of Communism" day.

It is pretty appalling the extent to which communist crimes against humanity in the last century (and, in a few spots like North Korea, still today) are ignored.

Birthers, Triggers and now Balders

On the mysterious origins of Donald Trump's hair.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith