Shutter Island

Really enjoyed the book, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, but I found Martin Scorcese’s film decidedly underwhelming.  I actually stopped watching because I was just plain bored– something I do fairly rarely.  And, I’m not one of those people who always complain that the book is better than the movie–I’m plenty happy to judge a movie on its own merits.  In this case, though, I think the screenplay made some mistakes, relative to the book, that really detracted.  The book ends with a huge twist, that has a big impact because you really don’t see it coming.  The movie, however, goes completely overboard in letting you know that reality and imagination are totally blurred, so to find out that things are not as they seem at the end, really lacks the same impact.  Mostly, the movie just way overdoes it with fantastical dreamscapes, etc., that aren’t really doing much to drive the plot, other than to show you that the main character isn’t exactly mentally stable.  Curious what thoughts others might have had.

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“Battle of the Babes”

Would they ever call a Congressional race between two attractive men the “battle of the studs”?  Alas, that’s what the race in South Dakota between Democratic incumbent Stephanie Hersketh Sandlin and her Palin-endorsed challenger, Kristi Noem, has been dubbed.  Definitely more attention to the fact that both are mothers than you would ever get with two male opponents.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the story and accompanying photo gallery would be very different if these two candidates were men.  It’s also worth mentioning that, although I would obviously prefer Hersketh Sandlin stay in Congress, her opponent makes a very valid point that is spot-on:

As South Dakota’s lone House member, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) wants each of her votes to reflect the wholesome, conservative values of this rural rectangle of a state. So she has artfully tailored her record: no on the health-care overhaul; no on the Wall Street bailouts; no on the cap-and-trade energy bill. She’s a proud Democrat, she says, but a prouder South Dakotan.

Still, there is that one vote Herseth Sandlin cast, the aye for California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker, that her opponent has hammered her on.

And this is exactly right.  The Democrats could afford do lose Sandlin’s vote on those issues so she could appeal as an “independent voice” for SD, but the truth is, far and away the most important vote Sandlin takes every two years is voting for a Democratic speaker.  Anything else is a distant 2nd place in comparison.  In truth, our politics would be more rational and accountable if voters appreciated this fact.  If you want conservative policies, you should not be voting for Sandlin no matter how many times she voted against the Democratic leadership.  When voting for Congress, most voters are too easily swayed by these protestations of “independence.”  Especially, in House elections, you really are just voting for the party.  Of course, it many cases, it is in the interest of the member and the leadership to disguise this fact, e.g., the House seat in South Dakota, so it will certainly persist.  Still, I’m glad to see Noem and her allies making this case.

College Rankings

It’s been a long time since I paid attention to college rankings, but as I’m still getting US News & World Reports via my (late) mother’s subscription (and still will for another year), I was actually flipping through college rankings the other day.  Poor Duke had dropped down to a tie for #9, whereas I think it somehow made it up to 4 or 5 back in my day, when I actually put stock in these things.  Anyway, I came across this critique of the rankings via the facebook page of my friend and colleague Tom Birkland, who put it best:

It’s that time of year again–the time where anyone with more than one social science methods class realizes–and can easily explain–why college ranking systems are universally worthless.

Here’s a couple of the highlights:

1. College rankings are often based on opinion and not actual data
US News & World Report is now producing a list of schools that have the “best undergraduate teaching.” How did they do that? According to their description of their methodology, the magazine “asked top academics as part of the regular U.S. News peer assessment survey to name the schools that they think have faculty with an unusually strong ‘commitment to undergraduate teaching.'” Got that? They measured the quality of teaching at one school by asking people who work at other schools how good the teaching is. It would be like basing the Fortune 500 on just the opinions of other CEOs instead of things like revenue and profit…

But the largest problem with all these college rankings and guides is this: A student’s success or failure in college and in life will ultimately be determined by who they are, not which college they attend. Successful people attended all kinds of colleges – only three CEOs of the top 20 Fortune 500 companies attended “elite” colleges, and 12 of the top 20 attended public colleges.

They also make the argument that it’s better to be a big fish in a smaller pond.  I suspect this is very much true, so long as your pond is a place like UNC or UVA as opposed to an Ivy, not Southwest Missouri State:

But a savvy student might be better off attending a school with a bunch of students who are dumber than he is. Why? A recent study of law school grads found that the correlation between class rank and salary is stronger than the correlation between school prestige and salary. “Under-matching” – that is, attending a law school where you’re smarter than many of your classmates – is likely to result in better grades and a better class rank and a higher salary. Princeton economist Alan Krueger has theorized that this phenomenon may explain why students who get into elite colleges but attend less elite colleges earn as much money as students who attend elite colleges/

Well, then, apparently I made a mistake in going to Duke.  Definitely worth it for the basketball, though.  My sense for a while has been that a smart, motivated student can get a truly top-notch education at any decent university.  It’s a lot easier to coast, though, and not really get a solid education at a non-elite school.  I’ve long felt that the value of a place like Duke is certainly more than what you get at UNC or NCSU, but not nearly as much as the extra financial burden.

UPDATE: Via email, Damon C. was kind enough to inform me that Southwest Missouri State has the best collegiate handball team in the world.  True.  What he neglected to inform me is that as of 2005, they changed their name to Missouri State University.  Apologies to my huge fan base in Missouri.

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