Monthly Archives: November 2004

Your Retro Speedometer Melted [Open Thread]

Last week’s quote (Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going.) was from the classic Thanksgiving movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. New one is difficulty: Severe, 6 points.
Closing old comment threads has been very successful in curtailing spam; I only received 3 spam comments in the last four weeks after implementing the policy. So I’ll be continuing to close threads that are 10 days old.

A little too quiet

I am not dead, but my computer is seriously ill, a fact that contributed to the empty space here over the vacation. Now I’m back, but I have yet to catch up on the news, so I don’t have anything to post about yet. I’ll post a new open thread after work, and hope to be posting more regularly after that.
In the future, maybe I should get people to guest-blog when I go out of town…


Since I’ll be travelling all day today, and therefore not blogging, I’m posting some filler. Back in August when I moved, pictures of my new place were requested, but I never came through with them because the place was not clean enough to be photographed. Until now! Click below for a glimpse at the exciting Gazebo lifestyle.

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Today’s link dump

Someday I will have time to write full blog posts again. In the meantime, here are some links.
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing apparently finished System of the World about the same time I did, and posted a review of the series which is pretty accurate.
A column in the Washington Post decries Michael Powell’s tenure as FCC chair.
Ever the voice of reason, Chad Orzel points out that the recent evolution poll is not necessarily evidence of Americans clinging to religious dogma, but probably just Americans being really dumb about science. From that link, here are things that half of Americans don’t know:

  • The earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs.

  • It takes Earth one year to go around the Sun.
  • Electrons are smaller than atoms.
  • Antibiotics do not kill viruses.
  • Lasers do not work by focusing sound waves.

And this is supposed to make me feel better? Well, Chad says, “After twenty years of intense lobbying and frantic effort, [the creationism movement] still trail[s] the non-existent large-electron movement by seven percentage points.”
Since I mentioned the JFK assassination earlier, I am now compelled to point out that this event has been made into a video game. You already know this, because pretty much everyone has been linking to it today.

Damn kids, get off my lawn! [Open Thread]

Last week’s quote (“I am going to suggest that you think about biological warfare in terms of a TV show called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”) comes from a policy paper entitled Biological Warfare and the ‘Buffy Paradigm’ (pdf), which I found on Slacktivist. The paper is entirely serious, and uses Buffy to illustrate the flaws in the current US approach to bioterrorism.
The new quote is on the other end of the difficulty scale: Trival; 0.5 points.
Weekend notes: I cleaned the apartment, went to lab, played D&D, and finished System of the World. (This did not leave me time to watch Stanford get crushed like a bug.) I was a bit dubious when I picked up Quicksilver back in January, but the whole Baroque Cycle quite exceeded expectations, and I enjoyed it more than Cryptonomicon. (Comparisons to Snow Crash are a bit harder to make.) Neal Stephenson should be commended for actually bothering to write an ending this time, since he usually stops immediately after the climax. Anyway, it was a good series. Next up: China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station
Today is the 41st anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

Liberal Academia and Hiring Bias

Now that I have more time, I want to follow up on one of the links from this morning’s post, the survey of faculty party identification at Berkeley and Stanford. The New York Times article on this study points out that some (e.g. David Horowitz) see this as evidence of hiring bias in academia. I don’t buy it—maybe in the humanities, where a person’s political views are more evident in their work, but I have a hard time believing that the physics department has information about applicants’ party affiliation, or for that matter even cares. (Anyone who’s applied for a tenure-track physics job would be better able to confirm or disconfirm this.) The D/R ratio observed was as bad or worse in physics than in other fields, but there are a number of non-malicious factors that would explain this:

  • Democrats are more likely to come to Berkeley in the first place than Republicans.

  • Merely by residing in Berkeley one is more exposed to liberal arguments than conservative ones. (The fact that the liberal arguments around here are frequently really, really dumb may offset this.)
  • I am obviously less than neutral here, but the Democratic platform is much more attractive to scientists in particular. I’ve talked about all the reasons for this before; to give just one example, when one party’s leadership denies that evolution is true, it should be no surprise that scientists support the other.

Again, this doesn’t rule out a hiring bias in the humanities; the anti-science elements of Republicanism aren’t going to be as much of an issue there. But it shows that a large imbalance isn’t by itself evidence of such a bias.

Some links I clicked on today

Google has a search service for peer-reviewed journals: Google Scholar. Via Unfogged (and a lot of others).
Here’s the CNN/Money ranking of state-local tax burdens. Note that California and Massachusetts, despite common perceptions, are below both the national average and median on this list. Via Decembrist, who talks about the tax reform being considered by the White House.
Scientific American on National Missile Defense. “[D]espite the more than $80 billion spent by the U.S. on missile defense since 1985, this system will not provide significant protection for many years, if ever.” Via Chris Mooney.
Josh Marshall is finding out which Republican congressmen (start there and scroll up) will admit to having voted for or against the “DeLay Rule”, which allows Tom DeLay to continue to be majority leader if he is indicted for ethics violations related to the Texas gerrymander. Those who took a stand against this move are being dubbed the “Shays Handful”; those readers who are current or (like myself) former constituents of Rep. Shays (R-CT) may be pleased to know this. If you’re represented by a Republican, see if he’s on the list!
From a voter registration study I learn that Democrats outnumber Republicans among Berkeley physics faculty in a ratio of 14:1. In UCB hard sciences as a group, the ratio is 10:1. (Departmental breakdown is in the pdf.) Via Tyler Cowen at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Stress in U.K. Universities

Via Crooked Timber, an article in The Guardian on “near-epidemic levels of stress” in British academia. Many of the issues raised apply in the United States as well (from what I’ve observed). I thought this was an interesting take on it:

“Every job comes with its own internal psychological contract,” Kinman says. “The deal that most academics make with themselves when they enter the profession is that they will be trading a lower salary for greater autonomy and flexibility.
“When they discover that not only are the pressures as intense – if not more so – than in other professions, but that much of their workload has been reduced to bureaucracy, they feel cheated that the contract has been violated. They are in effect mourning the loss of the job they thought they had.”

The statistics at the bottom of the page are also very revealing.

A different Buffy quote [Open Thread]

I’m a little late with the quote post; last night I expected today’s workload to be x; when I read my e-mail in the morning I revised my estimate to 2x, and by midafternoon it had been upgraded to 3x. Since I got it all done, I’m hoping tomorrow will be better.
Last week’s quote (If some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry.) was from the Harlan’s World revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer in Richard K. Morgan’s novel Altered Carbon. This comes from a longer passage which I am too lazy to type in; just read the book anyway, because it’s really good.
The new quote is difficulty: Insane; 9 points. Although people who read the same blogs I do may know where to find it.