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Why Does America Hate Ohio State?

[ 0 ] December 5, 2009 |

So I find this interesting (no link, but you can find state by state data here):

Setting aside the utterly unscientific nature of such polls, I’m mildly surprised by the Ducks’ nationwide dominance. I would expect the Ducks to be favored because a) the Ducks are higher ranked, and b) they just won an exciting game on ESPN, while Ohio State hasn’t played since November 21. The extent of the dominance (68-32) is higher than I would have expected, but I’m especially surprised by its geographic extent. Ohio State unsurprisingly wins Ohio, and it does better in the Midwest states of the Big 10, but it gets crushed in border states that don’t have Big 10 teams (71-29 in Kentucky, 70-30 in West Virginia). Even in the other Big 10 states Ohio State doesn’t do particularly well; apart from the 50-50 tie in Iowa, the closest it comes to winning a state is taking 45% in Illinois (and it takes only 35% in Michigan). Are there perhaps two dynamics operating here, with general Big 10 sympathy on one level contradicted by local resentment of Ohio State on another? If so, it’s interesting that the pattern doesn’t appear to be replicated in Pac 10 states, all of which support the Ducks at a pretty high clip (including 82% in Washington, where I’d expect the most resentment).

I suspect the answer may be thus: Ohio State graduates are simply more objectively loathsome than Oregon graduates. Thoughts?


You are witness to the birth of Glenn Beck, Mark 2…hope you enjoy my new direction

[ 0 ] December 5, 2009 |

Wow. How humiliating for him. Then again, real Americans don’t live in big cities, so it’s hard to count this as a loss for him. I’m sure he killed in Batavia.

An end of the quarter treat: "Batman Is My Boss"

[ 0 ] December 5, 2009 |

The final assignment of my visual rhetoric course is called Rhetoric in Practice (or RIP). It has two components. To paraphrase the rubric: the students create their own rhetorical performance, explore questions of how to target an audience, follow the conventions of a genre, choose the medium for their message, and all the while, use the critical tools they’ve been learning all quarter to develop their ideas. They then perform a rhetorical analysis of their own work via a detailed writer’s memo.

The pedagogical theory behind this is sound: by forcing them to do something fun at the end of the quarter, I get better evaluations the tools I taught them over the course of it become more solidly ensconced in their brain-space. Only this time, instead of deducing the rhetorical intent behind someone else’s decisions, they must decide how to communicate their message to their target audience most effectively. Over the years I’ve had many successful projects, including

  • a Batman-centric version of The Game of Life that opens with pegs for two parents and one child already in the car and an Alfred peg in the wing awaiting the inevitable
  • a pop-up book of Watchmen, in which the first page consisted of pulling a tab that sends the Comedian crashing out a window and into the reader’s lap
  • a scored and recorded soundtrack to Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke
  • a New York Review of Books style review of the novelization of Batman Begins, in which the book is slammed for its Ludlum-lite car chases and unconvincing fisticuffs
  • an adaptation of this issue of Planetary by Cormac McCarthy
  • a Master Legend-type recruitment video for a superhero academy

This quarter it looks like I’ll be adding a few more to my personal hall of fame. One of them is so conceptually brilliant in its timeliness that the idea alone sent my head spinning: a comic in which a super-heroic University of California student punches a certain unpopular university president in the face repeatedly (this idea elicited cheers from classmates when the student first shared it). The second is a web-comic by this student entitled “Batman Is My Boss.” Here’s a sample page in which she uses moment-to-moment transitions to great effect:

She plans on updating it both for the class and, with encouragement, after it ends. Go encourage her already!

World Cup draw

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

Some very preliminary thoughts:

Great draw for both the U.S. and England. Algeria is clearly the weakest African team and Slovenia might be the softest Euro side. Right now it looks like it would be a monumental upset for the Mother Country not to make it through group play, while the U.S. will be a very solid favorite to do so. And of course this sets up a replay of the famous 1950 game — quite arguably the biggest upset in the history of major international sports. Another big break for the U.S. is that the world’s four top-ranked teams (Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Italy) are all on the other side of the draw, which means the Americans can reach the semis without facing any of them.

France: Unbelievable. After FIFA did what it could to punish the Gallic hand of God, they draw not only South Africa, but the weakest South American team (Uruguay) as well. Mexico is the other fortunate recipient in this group so two-thirds of NAFTA should be in the knockout round.

Most unlucky team: Probably Portugal. The European power is stuck in a monster group with Brazil and the best African team (Cote d’ Ivoire), and as an extra special bonus will almost surely have to play world #1 Spain in the round of 16 if they manage to get through group play.

Relatedly, Spain probably has the easiest route to group play, but then is bracketed opposite the Group of Death, and will probably have to knock off a very good team in the round of 16 and then Brazil just to reach the semis.

Most certain to go home early: North Korea

Most likely #1 seed not to make it through other than South Africa (no host team has ever failed to get through group play but it seems unlikely they will): It’s tempting to say Brazil, but Brazil is Brazil. I’ll say Italy, which draws tough South American and European sides (Paraguay and Slovakia) to go along with sacrificial lamb New Zealand.

Helicopter Ben

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

Obviously, in a more rational world his testimony would have ended his chances for re-appointment. But it says even more that in light of Alan Greenspan’s straight-faced assertions that we needed upper-class tax cuts because we were in danger of spending down the surplus too quickly anybody takes the policy recommendations of libertarian Fed chairmen seriously…

Friday Daddy Blogging

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |


Scroll Down. No, Farther Down. Keep Scrolling.

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

Hey. HEY! The only thing that’s important is that UK made the List of Top Public Schools. It doesn’t matter where we are on that list.

And yes, such rankings are nonsense. Also, while I haven’t done a comparative study of the behavior of state legislatures, I can say that the perception among the faculty at UK is that the legislature remains relatively generous to UK, compared to other states and their flagship universities. There is less to say, I think, about the legislature’s generosity to the rest of the public schools in the Kentucky state system.

GOP: Beck/Taitz ’12 or Bust!

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

I wish I could say I’m surprised by Sarah Palin going birther. But…

I also I wish I could say that this was political suicide, but in terms of her (real) chances of getting the GOP nomination it may be a net neutral, and (granting that she pushes the boundaries of this truth) essentially anyone who could get a major party nomination could win under the right circumstances. Terrifying stuff.

…see also Weigel, Marcotte, and Terkel. For those readers who have never encountered political discourse before, “questions are being rightfully asked” is a classic consipracy-theorist forumulation, and certainly no 9/11 troofer would get a pass on similar language.

Civil War!!!!!!

[ 0 ] December 4, 2009 |

The most consequential Civil War game ever played will begin shortly. It’s fair to say that over the past six or seven years, the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry has utterly displaced the Oregon-Washington rivalry that dominated my college and graduate school years. It’s all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. I have won the victory over myself. I hate the goddamn Beavers.


The Monty Hall problem and counter-intuitive teaching

[ 0 ] December 3, 2009 |

The Monty Hall problem is a well-known thought experiment in probability analysis. The problem is fairly simple, but for reasons that aren’t well understood the right answer is sufficiently counter-intuitive that a very large majority of people get it wrong on their first attempt. More interestingly, I’ve found that students often resist the validity of the correct answer, even when the problem is analyzed in some detail. The problem:

Suppose you’re on a game show and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. The car and the goats were placed randomly behind the doors before the show. The rules of the game show are as follows: After you have chosen a door, the door remains closed for the time being. The game show host, Monty Hall, who knows what is behind the doors, now has to open one of the two remaining doors, and the door he opens must have a goat behind it. If both remaining doors have goats behind them, he chooses one randomly. After Monty Hall opens a door with a goat, he will ask you to decide whether you want to stay with your first choice or to switch to the last remaining door. Imagine that you chose Door 1 and the host opens Door 3, which has a goat. He then asks you “Do you want to switch to Door Number 2?” Is it to your advantage to change your choice?

(Taken from the wiki page if you want to look up the answer).

Here are some strategies I’ve used for explaining the solution to students who resist accepting it.

(1) Redescribing what the offer to switch gives you, i.e., by switching you are in effect choosing two doors instead of one, and thus doubling your odds of success.

(2) Recharacterization via different quantities, i.e., what if there are one hundred doors and 99 goats and a car, and Monty Hall is required to show you 98 goats after you choose a door?

(3) Explicitly working out all the potential iterations, i.e., if you choose Door 1 and there’s a car behind it then X, but if there’s a goat behind it then Y etc.

(4) Empirical testing. Have the student run the experiment and observe the results.

These are listed in descending order of abstraction, and probably not coincidentally ascending order of pedagogical effectiveness. (Occasionally there will be a holdout even after (4). This person is invariably male and almost certainly a future litigator.

Anyway, teaching the problem is a fun way to get students to think about the limits of common sense intuition, which is a much-cited source of wisdom for legal interpretation in general, and statutory interpretation in particular. It’s also a good way to get people to think about how people tend to cling to intuitively correct answers, even in the face of demonstrations that their intuitions are wrong.

Update: Thanks for the comments, and especially to J.W. Hamner’s variation on explanation (1) and Vardibidian’s card trick for explanation (2) — I’m going to use those.

Lemuel Pitkin and Mike Schilling emphasize that it’s crucial that the rules of the game require Hall to reveal a goat after the initial choice, and that without this caveat the situation is different. Just for the heck of it, gaming that out: The contestant doesn’t know what if any post-choice decision rule constrains Hall, or even if Hall knows what’s behind the doors. What should the contestant do?

Possibility (A) Hall doesn’t know what’s behind the doors.

Possibility (B) Hall knows and is indifferent to whether you win or lose.

Possibility (C) Hall knows and wants you to win.

Possibility (D) Hall knows and wants you to lose.

If (A), then the revealing of a goat moves the odds to 50/50 for the remaining doors, and therefore switching neither helps nor hurts.

However, this is where “pure” game theory needs some richer sociological context. In our culture it would be a very strange game show in which the host didn’t know what was behind the doors, and therefore might accidentally reveal the car. So as a practical matter the contestant can probably rule out (A) as an actual possibility. In any case, the sum probabilities created by (B), (C), and (D) remain dispositive, since (A) would leave the contestant indifferent to switching or staying, i.e., whether you estimate the odds of (A) being the case as 1% or 99% makes no difference — the only thing that matters are the odds governing the other possibilities.

Moving right along, if (B) is the case, then as long as you assume he’s not going to choose to show you a car, which given the rules of game shows is a pretty safe assumption, we’re right back to the classic description of the problem, and you double your odds of winning by switching.

If (C) is the case, then deciding whether to switch comes down to your estimate of Hall’s assumptions regarding your mental state. Maybe you’ve chosen the goat, and because he wants you to win he’s giving you additonal information that, if you both understand the probability structure and that he wants you to win, tells you to switch. But here’s a disturbing possibility: maybe you’ve chosen the car and he wants you to win, but he’s showing you a goat precisely because he believes that if he does so he’ll encourage you not to switch, because like most people you’d get the probabilities wrong under the classic assumptions of the game’s rules, and it’s more likely you’ll choose to stay than switch because of endowment effects or sheer stubborness. Remember you don’t know the rules — you don’t know whether he even has to open one of the other doors. The analysis is the same for (D) but reversed.

Ultimately if you don’t know the rules of game, you have to make two separate judgments: what are the probabilities that (B), (C) and (D) are the case, and what are the probabilities within each of those possibilities? Those two estimates then determine whether to switch or stay, since (A) leaves you indifferent.

ChiComs Under the Bed!

[ 0 ] December 3, 2009 |

Al Kamen, via Jason Sigger:

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Clinton administration’s cavalier handover of the Panama Canal — leaving an alleged front for the Chinese Red Army in control of the strategic passage — despite the strong misgivings of some top foreign policy experts.

“If we do nothing, I can guarantee you that within a decade, a communist Chinese regime that hates democracy and sees America as its primary enemy will dominate the tiny country of Panama, and thus dominate the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most important strategic points,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told a House subcommittee on Dec. 7, 1999, as it debated the handover.

Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer warned that China could sneak missiles into Panama and use it as a launchpad for attacking the United States. And former defense secretary Caspar W. Weinberger wrote that fall that Panama’s contract with Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa to control ports at both ends of the passage was “the biggest threat to the canal.”

Is that a money back guarantee, Dana?


[ 1 ] December 3, 2009 |

Edroso, on one of the most prominent bigots on the “Democratic” side of the aisle in Albany:

I will say that Hiram Monserrate surprised me, in that I don’t see how he manages to be so perfectly disgusting all the time. From his beginnings as a deranged cop to his (as a councilman) Willets Point double-cross to his involvement with the Albany “Gang of Three” shakedown artists and Coup to his assault on his girlfriend, this guy seems almost consciously determined to set new standards of repulsiveness. Maybe he’s a government experiment of some kind.

And what’s even worse is that when it comes to determining the most loathsome member of the Democratic caucus he has serious competition.

a more positive example.