Wireless-less classrooms

March 31, 2008

In a story on Silicon Valley corporate meetings going gadget-less, an LA Times report notes in passing that 75% of law professors at UCLA shut off wireless Internet in their classrooms.  Anyone think this is worth trying at Northwestern?  Students, would full-scale uprisings break out?

I wonder if there’s any hard data on the effects of Internet usage during lecture classes.  For example, it would be interesting to compare class performances pre- and post-installation of wireless internet in the University.

Binding contracts?

March 30, 2008

In what can only be described as a tremendously misguided offer (if you don’t believe it, watch this), the Dr. Pepper Company has offered a free can of Dr. Pepper to everyone in America if Guns-N-Roses puts out their album that has been in the works since I was in college. 

Jeff, are you on the class action if (a) the album comes out and (b) Dr. Pepper renigs?

And also, can you think of anything more horrible than drinking a Dr. Pepper and listening to a new Guns-N-Roses album?  Perhaps DIET Dr. Pepper and Soulja Boy??

Sometimes . . .

March 28, 2008

it is just impossible to find a sitter.

Can anyone explain the “FREE” in “free market” to me?

March 28, 2008

I know critiquing neocons for market interference is nothing new, but right now it is just so crazy.  Let’s recap the last few weeks.

Hoping to avoid a big drop in the financial markets, the fed subsidizes Chase’s buy out of Bear Sterns, externalizing most of the losses from bad business decisions or unlucky investments or failure to diversify or whatever you want to call it.  Bear Sterns is not saved but how cool for Chase?  They get this big new company and none of the downside risks and costs. 

Oh, and when the economy is faltering let’s give rebates to try to tinker with all kinds of markets. 

Don’t forget helping people who bought mortgages on the free market that they now cannot afford.

And, just the last one for now, all the tinkering we do with interest rates in reaction to all kinds of market faltering or chaging

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against helping mortgage buyers who may have been duped by greedy mortgage brokers who lied to them (hey, how about some regulation with enforcement?).  I am just saying, why do we even pretend that there is such a thing as free markets?  It is hard for me to hear the talk of free markets without giggling. WHat am I missing?  Why doesn’t everyone just laugh when free market lingo is used to justify Chinese imports of cheap stuff?  Or when it is used to resist helping individual home owners/mortgage holders but not Bear Stearns?

What am I missing?

George Lakoff on Barak Obama’s Landmark Speech

March 28, 2008

Lakoff’s analysis of Obama’s speech on 3-18-08: the most important speech on race in recent history & much more….


I am going to meet a Bush appointee in 35 minutes . .

March 26, 2008

That’s right people, I am going to a small group meeting with someone appointed by President George W. Bush.  I am trying to figure out what to say.  Yes, I am being somewhat cryptic here because it will certainly be in our local news and my immense and extreme hatred for the Bush administration should not be the story.  The story should be about what an AMAZING school my kids are lucky enough to attend.  Lucky, lucky, lucky — thanks mom.  I mean, it is such a good school that even an executive branch agency full of people appointed by President GW Bush recognizes it.  So it must be good. 

More soon. . . .

UPDATE 11:42 am:   I met the undersecretary of education for special education and programs (or something like that).  He also had the person who runs this program called PBIS (positive behavior incentive program) that rewards good behavior and collects data about where good and not as good behavior happens around the school.  It is a great program, but the principal at my kids’ school has made a million great innovations/additions (you can watch a time lapse of the school with red and green dots for good and bad behavior).  Anyway, all this data collection leads to rational decisionmaking about behavior and such. It is a great program and even better with Andy’s improvements, so the school is getting an award and he will be going to make a presentation to the department of education.  And, the dude was nice — Now if they would internalize the idea of rewarding positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior . . . . (NCLB anyone?)

Apropos of blog party discussion

March 24, 2008

NYT: Even at Megastores, Hagglers Find No Price Is Set in Stone

SAN FRANCISCO — Shoppers are discovering an upside to the down economy. They are getting price breaks by reviving an age-old retail strategy: haggling.

Click for more…

Appropos of my last comment . . . UNDERGRADS I NEED YOU

March 23, 2008

So I podcast (for free!) NPR’s “talk of the nation” and listen to it while I balance my checkbook, drive around, etc.  I was listening to last Friday’s episode (3/21/08) in which the second story is about web privacy.  It started with the story about the breach of privacy with the state dept officials who looked at Obama, Clinton, and Mccain’s passport records, but, it went on to talk about web privacy generally. 

Let me tell you some stories:  On this site, I often mention research by other prominent scholars.  When I do, I ALWAYS email them and say, I am talking about your book/article on my blog; please come over and comment and discuss.  I then give them passwords and DETAILED instructions.  They always email me back (after reading the entry), say something REALLY blinking interesting about it (which I wish you could all read), but decline my “kind invitation to blog.” 

Sometimes they say it is because they think they do not have time (of course, none of us has time — this is just a fun way to be in conversation with some of our friends — it is not supposed to be work) or they say they don’t want to be “on the record” about something.  even if it is their own research!!  In some cases their career of research.

Now, I am willing to consider the possibility that my blog just kinda sucks.   But that is not really the thing.  The thing is, they think this will make them less than anonymous.  I kinda think none of us are anonymous.  One of the moments I discovered this was when I was posting (primarily on scatterplot) under some fake names (not fake like I was posting as Hilary Clinton or anything, but cutsie names).  Then, I went to lunch with someone else on scatterplot and said, “can you guess who I am?” (I meant, since you know me, can you guess who I am from what I say?”) and this person said, ‘”oh yes, I can reverse engineer who anyone is.”

Right then I signed up as laurabethnielsen on the assumption (correct I think) that there is no such thing as anonymous anymore.  And not just for Brittney Spears; for all of us. 

Now, I am not going to put my social security number on here.  Or, god forbid my cell number, but I assume many of you could find it with a credit card and 10 minutes of your time. 

On this NPR show, someone suggested that since “kids” post all kids of stuff on Facebook (or insert alternative here), we should have laws against discrimination based on what people put on there.


That’s kooky.  But what do you guys think?  So I assume no privacy.  You will know about me, my kids, my wacky/bawdy sense of humor (the comment in the last thread).  Will that mean I won’t be the President?  Probably (but for other reasons too).  President/Provost/dean of a University?  I hope not because I could be good at that (I think).  But that’s me.  You ask me what you should say to President Clinton, you are gonna get a sex joke.  Sorry (except that i am not really sorry — that’s me!!) 


Some (in)famous guy is coming to my town

March 23, 2008

Channeling Garrison Keillor:  it’s been a big year for my little hometown.  First we get a Top 11 American Idol contestant.  Now Bill Clinton is coming to little ol’ West Lafayette, Indiana.  He’ll be at West Lafayette High School on Monday night. 

My question to him is going to be something along these lines:  “Mr. President, Senator Clinton said in February that she was honored to run against Senator Barack Obama.  If she really meant that, I wonder, can you tell me, what kind of campaign she’d be running against someone she actually didn’t respect?  I mean, you played the race card in South Carolina.  You just played the patriotism card on Friday.  And she personally played the Muslim card on 60 Minutes.  So what’s left for her to do except just run as John McCain’s VP?”

Whaddya think?  Snarky yet pointed?  Humorous yet biting?  Think you can do better?  Feel free to supply suggestions until 6:30 p.m. Monday (eastern time–Indiana’s on Eastern time now!). 

Truth, Justice, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and the Social Sciences

March 21, 2008

This month’s Law and Society Association Newsletter, just published, leads off with a message from our president, Rick Lempert.  Lempert sounds a mournful tone in describing the tactics employed in this year’s presidential election primary campaigns.  He bemoans the whatever-it-takes-to-win approach deployed by “campaign professionals” who see winning the nomination as their only goal, often burning their candidate’s chances for the general election in the process.  Lempert then reflects on the signal changes in elections themselves, particularly the use of early voting, voter ID laws, and the issues raised by voter fraud.  “Much of what social science can contribute is law-related,” Lempert concludes (p. 3). 

So far, so fairly conventional.  But Lempert’s analysis then takes a more startling turn.  “In the Harry Potter books, Harry and his fellow would-be wizards have to take a course in Defense Against the Dark Arts.  The time has come for social scientists to devote more attention to producing the material for such a course. . . . [We] need to know how we can aid people to assess the sense and truth of persuasion attempts, to perceive when attempts are being made to manipulate their views through quotes out of context, half-truths and outright lies, and to resist the attempts perceived” (ibid.).  Lempert argues that an electorate so armed will be more able to resist emotional appeals and to make decisions about candidates based on the higher virtues of reason and wisdom.

Though I’m not likely to contribute to the social scientific literature on, for example, ex-felons and the franchise or the actual extent of voter fraud in the 2004 election, I can report that I have already supplied Lempert with one deep reading of the intentional misdirection in Harry Potter.  I wrote this paper for the 2006 LSA meeting in Baltimore and explained my theory to anyone who would listen before the final book came out.  Much as Barack Obama tried valiantly to introduce complexity and ambiguity into the national discussion of race and identity on Tuesday, I try in this paper to show how the most interesting character in the HP novels is the most morally complicated one:  Severus Snape.  Snape embodies the conflict between good and evil that lies at the heart of every morality tale.  Understanding how something fundamentally good can sometimes be concealed within something (or someone) who appears distasteful, unappealing, or even hateful is a pretty demanding thing to ask of readers of fiction.  Given the reactions to Obama’s speech the other day, it’s apparently even more difficult for an entire nation that’s been primed to regard the racial Other with suspicion, even dread, for centuries, to muster the will to try.  But that is exactly where we social scientists can marry popular culture and empirical knowledge.  We can train our students to aspire to higher levels of discernment when it comes to assimilating information that is crafted to slant opinions in the heat of election seasons.  And if Harry Potter helps us model that, I’m all for it.