Saturday, August 10, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Since I'm on vacation, I'm just going to leave it open. What do you think mattered this week?


  1. The most successful sports franchise in the US is back, with the start of the hideously unwatchable NFL preseason. The NFL preseason is a special kind of freakshow; you get about five minutes of real football, and the rest is a random smattering of simplified plays featuring guys who won't make the final roster for reasons surely having nothing to do with the action in the 'games'.

    I'm not sure, hard to keep track, but I think in the Cincy/Atlanta game the Bengals went for a two-point conversion in the 2nd half - its good practice, I guess, 'cept that none of the guys on the field will play an actual, regular-season two point conversion, and further any regular season 2-point attempt by the Bengals would bear no resemblance to what they practiced.

    I'm not certain how the Washington NFL franchise did, but if wouldn't surprise if August were the one month where many First Nations people are more offended by the action on the gridiron than the logo on the helmet.

  2. Psych professor at the University of New Mexico is censured and put on serious probaton for tweeting the following:
    Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.

    I don't know how true this is, but I haven't seen any obese PhDs in a while. But this tweet was apparently a step too far for progs who were mostly supportive of Bloomberg's soda-cup legislation. It's more evidence of what I've harped on: progs are not bothered by the violent threats of gov, but excited by them.

    Pointing guns at the obese to limit the size of their sugar water cups? Good! And so very brave!!

    Tweeting that people who can't control their eating will not be disciplined enough to get a PhD? Fascist!! Boo, hiss!

    1. I don't know what your invented term "serious probation" means, but the article states the prof in question is tenured. He will be fine.

    2. Maybe someone here knows how tenure works and can explicate the limits on speech and possibility of firing if the following passage from the article is true:

      Miller — who has tenure at the University of New Mexico and was a visiting professor at New York University this summer — will be required to:
      Not serve on any committee involving the admission of graduate students to the psychology department for the duration of his time as a faculty member at the university.
      Work with the faculty co-advisers of the psychology department’s diversity organization to develop a plan for sensitivity training on obesity (for himself to undergo, said a university spokeswoman). The plan must be approved by a co-adviser or by the chair of the department.
      Be assigned a faculty mentor for three years with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.
      Have his work monitored by the chair of the department.
      Apologize to the department and his colleagues for his behavior.

      Surely there's a real possibility of firing here, or how are they going to induce him to write up his own diversity training plan.

    3. Progs have a bone-deep hatred for free speech. This is how they create a culture of fear and silence. It's sickening how powerful progs come down randomly and hard on some mild, probably true statement and then demand an apology.

    4. I'll make it easy for you then: He. Will. Not. Be. Fired. Not for this tweet alone. If he is, I will meet you in Albuquerque, buy you a beer, and we can cheer on the inevitable wrongful termination lawsuit, which would be justified, together. But it's not gonna happen. And these sanctions are small potatoes. He will be fine.

    5. Random people support one thing, others support another thing, news at 10. "Progressives" are a giant majority, a unified body of like-minded people who all supported seemingly-conflicting things in publicly resounding unison? Yawn. People of independent thought come to this site to have actual discussions that aren't black and white. There are no teams and even if you think you're on one, the other "side" isn't inferior.

    6. Thomas,

      So you know something about punishment within tenure and speech restrictions. That's good, because I don't. The way it looks to me is that he's being sidelined, shamed, and stigmatized so that he'll leave. Can you give me an idea of how extreme these punishments are by the number compared to other punishments within tenure? 1 looks serious. 2,3,5 look designed to mess with his head. 4 I don't know at all.

      1)Not serve on any committee involving the admission of graduate students to the psychology department for the duration of his time as a faculty member at the university.

      2)Work with the faculty co-advisers of the psychology department’s diversity organization to develop a plan for sensitivity training on obesity (for himself to undergo, said a university spokeswoman). The plan must be approved by a co-adviser or by the chair of the department.

      3)Be assigned a faculty mentor for three years with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.

      4)Have his work monitored by the chair of the department.

      5)Apologize to the department and his colleagues for his behavior.

    7. Odd that you presume that all professors are liberal (they aren't) and that Bloomberg is too (he isn't), and that anyone riding any personal hobby horse that you disapprove of is liberal too.

      Personally, I've never met an avid animal rights activist who wasn't a Republican. And without wealthy Republican donors few conservation groups, like Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, would even exist. The same, actually, is true for PETA.

      For several years, as an advertising professional, I worked with a "natural" foods client -- my client and its customers were passionate and about their disdain for meat and processed foods, their disdain for fat, their commitment to healthy foods, healthy, active living, etc., and passionate in their desire to see public support for their take on those issues. But politically, my clients were Republicans, with very conservative economic views.

      The personal passion, personal experiences, and sometimes personal animosities and prejudices, that energizes these kind of issues have nothing at all to do with political ideology.

    8. 1) Their hands are tied, they can't NOT do this. Since "weight" is not one of UNM's stated admissions criteria, they have to disown this entirely or leave themselves vulnerable to litigious applicants. People have to recuse themselves from committees or boards, for any number of reasons, all the time. Sometimes it's their own fault, sometimes it's not. Either way, it happens. Not the end of the world.

      2) & 3) Measures for appearance's sake to show people they're "doing something" without actually doing something. It's silly, but typical of bureaucracies. And the professor knows it, he's not a nube. So, not serious.

      4) Too vague, I don't know what this is either. Probably same as 2&3.

      5) The minimum standard for any decent human being. So, not serious.

      In short, not a controversy. It did not matter this week.

    9. I don't like to see speech codes enforced on professors. That said, this guy was being a dick, and is seriously ill-informed for someone who wants to be employed for his brainpower. He assumes a simple relationship between obesity, "eating carbs" and lack of self-control. That's one common relationship, but obesity can also be caused by hormonal imbalances or as a side-effect of medication regimens needed to treat other conditions. The tendency toward it also genetic -- as is the tendency away from it, which means that a non-obese person might have even less self-controlled eating habits than an obese person, but we just wouldn't see it. And then there's the fact that a lack of self-control might easily take some other form entirely, like, say, spending too much time trolling online political discussions hoping to bait "progs." (Or maybe that's a sign of intense focuse, I'm not sure.)

      The point is, different cases are different, and you don't know what factors are in play in a given case just from looking at a person. Someone with an inclination to do that certainly should not be on graduate admissions committees or otherwise trusted to make decisions affecting others. And anyway, isn't this for the employer to decide? I remember just a few days ago hearing that employers shouldn't be bound by rules in their treatment of employees, they should be able to do whatever they think is good for their business. A university, even if it agreed with this clown, would not be mistaken if it decided that his loose lips are a business liability.

    10. Jeff,

      You're best point was about self-control and trolling, but I've cut back a lot and the doctors think that I'm going to be OK.

      Do you know of many obese PhDs?

      Why is it so much more dickish than to lecture obese people from a position of gov authority and use coercion to keep them from buying a cup that's larger than 16 oz? Can you tell me why progs are generally OK with one (which involves guns and snide lectures and little evidence of possible efficacy) and not the other (which involves one insulting tweet?)

    11. Thomas,

      You make it sound like it's normal for a professor to receive this treatment. Fair enough. It looks like an effective way to enforce prog speech codes.

    12. Anonymous,

      I'm referring to normal prog and con responses to each incident. Even though Bloomberg is an R, his push was much more popular among progs and loudly scorned by libertarians and the right, excepting Frum and a few others.

    13. I'd like to point out that that professor thing doesn't qualify for "what matters." I only wish I could have posted this sooner.

    14. backyard, you are mixing up individual judgments and public policymaking. There's no question that in many cases, overingestion of carbohydrates contributes to obesity. Knowing that, we can rationally try to craft public policies that try to curb this through measures that apply equally to all. Your Professor Numbskull wasn't doing that. The context of his "one insulting tweet" was his role and power within a professional position to help or hinder the aspirations of individual students. He was entrusted to make certain kinds of judgments, and he effectively announced that he planned to do this in an idiotic and prejudiced way. For such purposes, 140 characters is plenty. (If we found out that Obama had texted just one sentence to his aides like "Make sure the IRS puts the screws to right-wing groups," there would be a legitimate move to impeach him, since that one sentence would be adequate proof that he was abusing a position of trust.)

      I haven't studied the NYC soda ban closely enough to have an informed opinion on it. In general, I'm not opposed to nondiscriminatory public-health measures that work. At any rate, that's what Bloomberg was doing -- making public policy aimed (whether wisely or not) at lessening a known public-health problem. Making policy is what mayors are supposed to do. Did he order shopkeepers to keep selling big sodas to all comers except those they eyeballed and considered too fat? That would be a closer analogy to what this professor did.

    15. Actually, even that wouldn't be a very good analogy. This is better: the Bloombergian equivalent of the professor's tweet would be a directive that if someone a shopkeeper considered obese tried to buy a large soda, that person would be banned thereafter from entering the shop at all.

    16. The prof stated that he thought that obese people would fail. Bloomberg wanted to point guns at people to keep them from drinking from soda cups that he thought were too large.

      You still haven't answered my question about fat PhDs. I'm not going to use your anecdata to prove anything; I'm just curious if you've noticed the same in your environment. They've all been between skinny and slightly overweight.

    17. Of my recent colleagues, one was a Ph.D. with a massive weight problem (causes unknown to me, but I sense that it had some medical basis). She nonetheless finished the degree; I saw it happen. What this tell us one way or another, I don't know.

      You do know that Bloomberg didn't tell anyone how much soda they could drink, right? Nobody pointed a gun at you if you bought a refill. (Well, nobody from the government.) Limiting serving sizes is meant to change the incentives; it's about as mild a restriction on people's liberty as there is.

    18. Sure,

      It's OK to use coercion in every aspect of life, no matter how piddling. The state doesn't need to be limited to handling important things, but should point a gun at people during every decision they make. Gov got some random hypothesis and a nanny complex? Point the guns!

    19. byf,

      you really are getting too weird to appear in this mostly rational (except for you) space.

      I saw a bumper sticker today, "don't believe everything that you think." Whatever you are perceiving in in some fantastical "prog" in your imagination, it is not related to anything actually occurring in real life.

      Get out more, or give it up.

    20. You do realize this thread is for things that matter, yes? Or is that giving you too much credit?

    21. BYF,
      Your observations notwithstanding, there are plenty of overweight PhDs, and a good number of them are obese.

      I studied under one of them, regarded by most in the field as a genius and leading intellectual. According to the definitions I've seen (BMI over 30), I am obese. Didn't seem to hurt me getting my PhD, nor tenure.

      As for your 1-5, as someone with tenure, those are laughable punishments.
      #1 is a BENEFIT. Trust me, admissions work is tedious and time-consuming. And, as a professor at the #92 department for Pyschology, you can't expect that you're going to mentor the next Solomon Asch or Leon Festinger or whomever. Moreover, after getting famous for this, the good potential applicants in your subfield are going to steer clear of you, because you're poison to their job prospects.
      #2-5 are simply annoyances. In practice, it will mean some wasted time in his life, as he sits in some rather boring meetings/lectures that he would rather not do.

      If you want to hurt a tenured professor, you take away research support, you deny them course buyouts, you assign them to teach courses they don't like to teach, and you don't approve of their applications for sabbaticals. This is simply nothing.

      His comments, to me as an obese PhD, are not so offensive as they are stupid, particularly for someone in psychology, who should REALLY know better. Honestly, the best punishment is that which he will be given: derision and scorn from his colleagues and his profession. This guy will not be taken seriously again, and will be thankful for double-blind peer review protecting his submissions. But, he will be a joke and a cautionary tale told to grad students.

    22. I'm with Prof. Jarvis, and If there's any practical purpose to #2-5, it's to (hopefully) reassure future students they won't be judged on their appearance. So that too, actually would benefit his career, but it's mostly wasted time.

      Backyard, the prof dorked up, he knows it, and he's owning up to it. He's a big boy, and he can handle himself. Since you seem to admire him so much, I would've thought you could afford him that much credit. He will be fine.

    23. Interesting that the piece to which backyard linked finishes with a study out of Bowling Green that showed that obese applicants to grad school are discriminated against in face-to-face interviews, relative to applicants doing telephone interviews.

      I'm profoundly ashamed to admit I looked at this, but Miller's CV puts an intriguing spin on this story. For one, in the sense that he should know better than to write a tweet like that. But also, because its not entirely clear how many Columbia undergrad/Stanford grads end up at a place like University of New Mexico. I mean, if you go to the end of his CV, you'd probably even recognize several of his references (even if you are not in his field), most notably perhaps the most famous living mass-media scientist (not named Hawking): Steven Pinker.

      Puts a bit of a poignant spin on this story, no? Surely Professor Miller's credentials leave him wanting some sort of upgrade from University of New Mexico. But his poor judgment explain why he'll surely stay there.

    24. Actually, just to clarify: its not Miller's pedigree that's odd for UNM, its the number of high-impact publications, as well as the endorsement of several superstars in his field.

    25. CSH, thanks for this reminder of what I hate about academic CVs. Nonetheless, yes, it's an impressive record for a guy who's about 48. (One lesson: If you want lots of media notices, write about sex.) As to the point: Since people "compare upward" when looking at their own circumstances, you're probably right about Miller's personal expectations. Compared to 99.9% of working academics, though, he's got a really sweet deal: apparently a 2-2 teaching load, with one course each term being a large lecture (i.e. the actual work mostly gets done by graduate TAs) and the other being a small seminar, sometimes with enrollments in the single digits. Plus sabbaticals, visiting appointments, grants, prizes, etc., AND a lifetime contract. But despite the amazing long list of interviews, talks and scholarly publications, including books translated into many languages, he's best known publicly now as, "oh yeah, that guy who tweeted about fatties." That has to sting pretty bad. It's like a Greek tragedy performed in clown shoes and a rubber nose.

    26. Jeff, thanks for picking me up on this one; first, you're right about the obnoxiousness of the CV. The ~50 refereed publications and ~50 book chapters is pretty good for a guy at the #92 ranked grad program (and mad props to Matt Jarvis for uncovering that - the intertubes and USNWR rankings are amazing in isolation...together, a wonderment)

      Its kind of delightful to speculate that perhaps Professor Miller thought that the thing keeping him from a more appropriate, Top 25-type Psych grad school was the phalanx of fatties that kept showing up at UNM each year, admitted by phone interview only, which the Bowling Green research suggests may be hiding something relevant.

      "If only I had some lookers as proteges", he may have said to himself, "all this work and accomplishment on my part would pay off with the rewards I deserve. Maybe if I just put out a tweet that says 'No fatties please', all will be well, and Yale, here I come!"

      Oh, that's the thought of the day. Schadenfreude is a terribly unattractive trait, but there you go, that hypothetical makes me smile.

    27. In your defense (and mine), CSH, Miller's CV is the Schadenfreude equivalent of a "Kick Me" sign pinned to his backside.

      One thing to keep in mind about those publications: some social-science research lends itself to -- how can I put this delicately -- saying basically the same things over and over in slightly different ways and different formats. Or, similarly, taking basically one big study and breaking off little pieces of it here and there, like a chocolate bunny that you can have and eat at the same time. There's also some of that where I come from (discipline-wise), but I think it's less common. I was "raised" to think that each significant work should say something you haven't said before.

      Then again, maybe I've just been naive. I was never a very good academic careerist, as my own CV makes plain. On the other hand, I never took up tweeting, and at the moment that's looking less like Luddism and more like a smart career choice.

    28. Those papers are *tweaks*? For shame. In seriousness, doesn't that add to the deliciousness of the schadenfreude? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't tweaking one of those regrettable things that occurs in the academy, but always by someone else? Professor Miller is not at UNM because he's an inveterate tweaker, its these FAT KIDS...

      Actually, his list of refereed publications is priceless. He has 2011 and 2012 publications in a something (having a reasonable impact factor!) called Journal of Sexual Medicine. Forgive any cultural insensitivity, but how can the theme from Shaft not be played on an endless loop in their editorial offices?

      Better, though, is last year he published something in Humor. Man, how great would it be to be an editor for that Journal? You wouldn't just do a vanilla rejection of a submission. It would have to look like this:

      Dear Professor Miller,

      We regret to inform you that your recent submission, titled "_____", is NOT. FUCKING. FUNNY.

      The Editors of Humor

    29. Apparently Miller has a theory about how and why humor evolved (as an aspect of sex selection, or in layman's terms, as a way to impress chicks). He did originally say that his tweet was intended as "research." Perhaps he intended to test the Bergsonian Hypothesis and figured the best way to do it was by slipping on a banana peel.

    30. Bergson: the opposite of comedy is grace, not beauty. Fits!

    31. Matt Jarvis,

      Your comments are illuminating, as I know little about the subject. I'm sure there's a positive correlation between non-obesity and PhD attainment, but the tweet was pretty aggressive. I like the idea that he's lowered his load of annoying work by doing this. Maybe being un-PC in academe has some benefits.

  3. Sarah Stillman on Civil Forfeiture has potential to be important.

    "In West Philadelphia last August, an elderly couple named Mary and Leon Adams were finishing breakfast when several vans filled with heavily armed police pulled up to their red brick home. An officer announced, “We’ll give you ten minutes to get your things and vacate the property.” The men surrounding their home had been authorized to enter, seize, and seal the premises, without any prior notice.


    Their home also proved a comfortable place to raise their only son, Leon, Jr.—so comfortable, in fact, that the young man never quite flew the nest. At thirty-one, slender and goateed, Leon, Jr., occupied a small bedroom on the second floor. When his father, who had already suffered a stroke, fell ill with cancer, he was around to help out. But, according to a report by the Philadelphia Police Department, the younger Leon had a sideline: on the afternoon of July 10, 2012, he allegedly sold twenty dollars’ worth of marijuana to a confidential informant, on the porch of his parents’ home. When the informant requested two more deals the next week, the report said, he made the same arrangements. Both were for twenty dollars, purchased with marked bills provided by police.

    Around 5 p.m. on July 19th, Leon, Sr., was in his bedroom recovering from surgery when he was startled by a loud noise. “I thought the house was blowing up,” he recalls. The police “had some sort of big, long club and four guys hit the door with it, and knocked the whole door right down.” swat-team officers in riot gear were raiding his home. One of the officers placed Leon, Jr., in handcuffs and said, “Apologize to your father for what you’ve done.” Leon, Jr., was taken off to jail, where he remains, awaiting trial.

    The police returned about a month after the raid. Owing to the allegations against Leon, Jr., the state was now seeking to take the Adamses’ home and to sell it at a biannual city auction, with the proceeds split between the district attorney’s office and the police department. All of this could occur even if Leon, Jr., was acquitted in criminal court; in fact, the process could be completed even before he stood trial."

    1. I think this matters a great deal, but I honestly don't see this making it's way into public discourse. And if it did, for every reasonable person concerned about this there are five extremely loud public figures who will say that Leon Junior was a drug dealer and that the system is working, open and shut case, no time to even get to the empathy. And then it burns out. Maaaaybe a Rand Paul out there steps up but it's not likely since it's a non-federal issue so it's ok because State's Rights and all that.

      I wish I was wrong though :(

  4. This thread is more open than most, so I had a huge personal insight this week, courtesy of Plain Blog discussion. Its an insight about the conclusion of the Sheep and the Goats parable in Matthew's gospel (Matthew 25) that the road to salvation is dependent on how one treats the least of God's people.

    In discussing the Indian naming controversy this week, we politely left out one really salient detail to this particular case: the fans in the stands, and the folks feeling offended, have a pogrom in their not-too-distant shared past history. This got me thinking.

    I was imagining a counterfactual where, even though they lost WWII, the Nazis held on to the present day in Germany. The Holocaust would be over, if only because the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazim would have fled (if not been killed), and the military purpose of the camps would be over. Anti-semitism in 21st century Nazi Germany might be like racism in early 20th century Jim Crow south, with the big difference being that there would have been no Jewish people left in Germany. Against that backdrop, suppose Bayern Munich decided their new team nickname was going to be the "Hymies" or the "Kikes", and their mascot would be Shylock.

    We would be shocked at that development, in part because we are mostly Jewish or at least sympathetically Judeo-Christian. That's not the insight, though. We'd also be shocked because its hard to imagine such a thing happening to the 21st century Jewish community. As backyard reminded us in the other thread, the Ashkenazim have done very well for themselves, and the WWII Holocaust notwithstanding, its hard to imagine (in peacetime) a powerful cultural group being patronized as in the Bayern Munich hypothetical above.

    But the Native Americans? Hardly raises an eyebrow. Returning to the open, I must have heard the message hundreds of times in church about the last shall be first, etc - first in Catholic church, later Lutheran - but until this week it never really hit home for me.

    Thanks for indulging the digression!

  5. Richwine wrote a helpful piece in Politico on his witch hunt. There's lots of good stuff, including info on an American Psychological Association article that was meant to explain to lay people what questions were answered and unanswered. Progs will be shocked to learn that, according to the largest psychological organization in America, Richwine's points were uncontroversial.

  6. Dr. B,

    I'm going to run with Obama's presser on NSA/natl. security, Holder's remarks on NPR this week about his upcoming speech (probably better counted into next week, but I'm allowing it), and the R on R fight in the ID 2nd.


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