14 December 2010


Paper writing.

In the meantime, I'm sure that all my fellow former residents of Read Residence Hall (Curry-Three 4 Life!) will appreciate the astounding attention to detail devoted to our quondam home in this Web comic.

08 December 2010

Number One for 8 December 2010

Candy-coated misery:

Carrie Underwood, "Cowboy Casanova"

07 December 2010

Number One for 7 December 2010

Hoover, he was a body remover:
Rage Against the Machine, "Wake Up"

06 December 2010

Number One for 6 December 2010

Take field trips to our favorite mall:

Jonathan Coulton, "Shop-Vac"

Shop Vac from Jarrett Heather on Vimeo.

04 December 2010

Academic Titles

What do you call a doctor of philosophy?

When I was an undergraduate, the answer was straightforward: "Doctor [lastname]" or "Professor [lastname]." These days, I generally call them "firstname," except (a) sometimes when emailing (I write several registers more formally than I speak, especially when asking for favors!) or (b) when dealing with someone particularly eminent or senior. And even (b) is a diminishing category.

But it's never crossed my mind to demand that someone in an informal or presumptively collegial setting call me "Mr." Much less have I ever dreamt about being called "Professor" on a routine basis. (I still think the first time should be pretty fun.)

A recent contretemps has shown that apparently some holdouts on formality remain, something that is deeply ironic considering the presumably egalitarian norms of the professor in quo. The comments section was, as often happens, livelier than the post, particularly FLG's question "Would you accept Dark Lord Alpheus? Or Darth Alpheus?"

So now I know what I will insist my students call me once I've received my doctorate: Darth Pedantus.

Number One for 4-5 December 2010

In America, you get food to eat:

Randy Newman, "Sail Away"

03 December 2010

Number One for 3 December 2010

But here's an FYI: You're all going to die screaming.
  • One fewer reason to see the Nats, as Dunn goes to ChiSox -- WaPo
  • Former California assemblyman Chuck DeVore is a prolific Amazon reviewer (I found this entirely by accident) -- Amazon.Com
  • Mysterious spacecraft returns to Earth -- AP
Jonathan Coulton, "Re: Your Brains"

02 December 2010

Perceptions and Misperceptions and Zombies

I went to Foggy Bottom today to see Daniel Drezner's presentation about his forthcoming Princeton University Press (February 2011) book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies. The talk was phenomenal and the book looks like it will be a great teaching tool; the atmosphere was somewhere between a comedy club and an MC Frontalot concert.

Drezner's Foreign Policy article covers the essentials of his presentation, although if you can you should see it live. (So to speak.) The discussion was equal parts nerd-fest and theoretical disputation; Dan Nexon, the chief critic of Drezner's IR zombies approach, pointed out that Drezner suffered from a "vitalist" perspective that blinded him to the post-zombie world's problematization of the hitherto binary life/death category. (He also noted that the COW dataset will have a problem in coding armed conflicts between humans and zombies, since it requires 1,000 battle deaths.)

Drezner and Nexon have staked out the ground for productive debates. But there's still more to be said about IR and zombies. For instance:
  • Buck passing. There are two ways in which states could choose to buck-pass. The first are small powers, which could simply choose to let great powers shoulder the burden of resisting the menace. This, as Drezner points out, could lead to great-power intervention--but the strain of regime change in addition to zombie-nuking might be too great. (In fact, compellence might instead take the form of warning potential buffer states that they are to be turned into cordon sanitaires.) The second is that great powers may choose to postpone their own interventions until the hegemon or some other k-group chooses to act in order to safeguard their own interests.
  • Zombie gerrymandering. Why not selectively exclude troublesome populations (or voting blocs) from counter-zombie efforts? A Republican president, for instance, might choose to draw the defensive lines at red-state borders instead of the national borders. (Democrats would be too wussy to do this.) Of course, the U.S. constitution is silent on how to handle the congressional seats that would be elected by voters in undead-held lands. But a dictator (a Stalin or a Kim) might be quite happy to see rebellious provinces subjugated by the zombie menace, which would allow them a twofer of both eliminating domestic opposition and having the U.S. foot the bill for cleanup.
  • Religious reformations. There would be millions of undead wandering the earth. Certainly, if religion matters in IR, this would be an event that would make it salient.
  • Post-bailout fatigue. Contra Drezner, zombie protection is not a public good; it is a classic private good. (Want to exclude someone? Just don't send the Marines.) So why should we expect to see states with varying preferences choosing to protect each other? Sure, there may be some constructivists who believe the "West" will stick together, but recent experiences in the much more thickly constructed European Union demonstrate that even "good international citizens" like Germany are unwilling to provide bailouts for, say, Portugal. Would a GOP House vote for a zombie bailout of Ghana?
  • The end of IR. How can any meaningfully constituted "international society" survive a zombie apocalypse? Both Nexon and Drezner assume that international relations will survive in some fashion after the flesh-eating undead hordes attack. But why should we continue to see anything resembling a Westphalian anarchic world--or any other definition that could reasonably be construed as "international"--after such an existential threat that would lead to the end of international trade and migration, as well as the immediate extinction of homo sapiens in entire countries and continents? Nexon posits a return to empire, but I suspect that the true end state is that of a 1984--style totalitarian government. (Twelve Monkeys suggests how this could play out.) Consequently, even for the survivors, the zombie uprising will lead to the end of anything that a Western liberal would regard as "human" in anything but the biological sense.

Number One for 2 December 2010

They used to call me lightning

Toby Keith, "Bullets in the Gun"

01 December 2010

Office hours

Two observations:
  • Every guide to college success says that students should go to office hours.
  • Hardly anyone ever goes to office hours.
I decided last week that from next semester I will no longer hold scheduled office hours. It is literally a waste of my time. In five semesters of TAing, I have had perhaps six, or maybe it was eight, students drop-in to office hours. Many more have come to office-hours-by-appointment, and many, many more have come to the ten p.m. office hours I used to hold in the library a day or two before midterms. But to a first approximation, of the nearly three hundred students whom I have graded and taken pains to at least minimally understand course material which held wildly varying degrees of interest for me, pretty much none of them have come to scheduled office hours.

And a lot of them should have. It's remarkable that students who have received a C or worse (and at my institution, a B- is probably pretty bad news) refuse to come to office hours, even when I've told them to. It's trite but true that a student who gets a B+ is much more likely to pay me a visit in the hopes of angling for an A-.

(I suppose it's the same principle by which stout burghers are more likely to get a new sidewalk installed by the city government than their slum-dwelling co-urbanites. Even though the sidewalk is probably much more important to someone who has to walk everywhere, or at least to the bus, than to the homeowner who only visits the sidewalk when it rains, nevertheless it's the latter who knows that city hall will, in fact, take care of these things.)

I don't mind that students have almost no idea what office hours are supposed to be like. I never did. I went either because I was intensely interested by the subject or drowning--as well, of course, to negotiate grades. Of course, now, I actively don't want people interested in the subject to come and talk to me; if you really care, come by and I can point you to some things to read. I much prefer talking to people who are earnestly and sincerely grappling with the material, because in plain fact they often understand the material better than people who are really passionate about international relations, comparative government, and other do-gooding endeavors.

It took me about a semester to realize what TAing was supposed to be, and since that first term I've watched, amused, as succeeding cohorts have repeated my early mistakes. Here's the classic rookie errors:

  1. Offering to hold multiple scheduled office hours per week. This is the biggest mistake. It's dumb. If people won't come to one office hour session, they won't come to two. And you'll be chained to some stupid table in a coffee shop playing Solitaire two hours a week, waiting for undergrads to drop in.
  2. Believing that section is a lecture. It's not. It's not about you; it's about them. Don't prepare extensive notes or handouts for them; listen to them instead, and find out what they don't understand. Generally, you should be trying to simplify, not complexify.
  3. Thinking that people will do the reading. They won't. You didn't--and if you did, you should know right off the bat that you're weird. Part of your responsibility is to help them know what they have to read. Another part is to make them read what they should be reading. Reading quizzes are great for this.
  4. Being disappointed if they don't take the course seriously. Chances are, this is an intro class, which means that at most a third of the students actually care about the course. And why should they? Frankly, partying is both more fun and likely more important to their future happiness than your course. Better a pig than Socrates.
  5. Thinking that you're paid to be a TA. You're not. You're paid to do research. If you enjoy teaching, then great--but anything over the de minimis effort should come out of the time you budget for recreation, not research.

From now on, though, I'll be providing a much less personal experience. Students who want to visit me will be able to check out my Tungle page and schedule 20-minute appointments with me. But no more fixed office hours por nada.

Number One for 1 December 2010

Stevie Wonder, Secretary of Fine Arts:

  • Chocolate City Brewery to open this spring; vanilla suburbs rejoice -- Conor Williams
  • God fails football -- Daily News
  • Which shipping company will punt your fragile shipment? -- Popular Mechanics
  • "[I]t is still striking how many pies the United States has its fingers in, and how others keep expecting us to supply the ingredients, do most of the baking, and clean up the kitchen afterwards." -- Foreign Policy
  • Do elected officials perform better than appointed ones? -- Enik Rising
  • Why Euro defaults are necessary -- Felix Salmon
Parliament, "Chocolate City"