2010: My year in Photos

Thought I’d end the year with some of my favorite photos of the year (narrowed down to 25).  Mostly, chosen by how cute my kids looked, but some, just because I like them.   Enjoy…

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RPI for grades

The Times ran an interesting story earlier this week about efforts at UNC to combat the ever-increasing problem of grade inflation.  Princeton has a policy that only 35% of grades can be A’s.  A number of universities are now including information on transcripts that show median GPA.  Here’s the nature of the problem at UNC, “At U.N.C., the average G.P.A was 3.21 in the fall of 2008, up from 2.99 in 1995. A’s have become the most frequent grade, and together, A’s and B’s accounted for 82 percent of the 2008 grades.”  As for me, the truth is, it’s pretty hard to get an A in one of my classes, but perhaps easier than it should be to get a B.  I’m definitely in line with my department averages and I’m pretty sure that I have not been grading any easier over my 8 1/2 years at State.  The article discusses some of the problems that have resulted with providing median grade information, etc., and points to UNC’s new system:

Last spring, the faculty called for the creation of Mr. Perrin’s committee to help the registrar give context to undergraduate grades by providing statistics on what percentage of students got each letter grade, what percentage are majors in the department and what percentage are seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

“We seem to have a pretty good consensus here now,” said Holden Thorp, the chancellor. “What I like about this approach is that it allows faculty who have a certain philosophy of grading to stick with it, as long as they’re O.K. with having it be shown. If somebody gets an A in a class with a lot of A’s and that’s put out there, that’s good. If the chemists are willing to tell everybody that they grade harshly, that’s good too.”

Sounds like a good idea, though I think you may end up having so much information on a transcript that it stops being helpful.  What I love, is the idea the UNC faculty voted down a few years ago:

Since 1967, when the average G.P.A. was 2.49, grade inflation at the university has been well-documented. In 2000, the faculty council heard a proposal to adopt a target average G.P.A. of 2.6 to 2.7, but the idea was dropped. A few years later, the faculty narrowly voted down an ambitious proposal for an adjusted G.P.A., called the “Achievement Index,” that would reflect not only the students’ performance in their courses, but also the rigor of those courses.

What occurred to me is that we’ve already got an analog for that which most sports fans are familiar with: the RPI for rating college basketball teams based on the strength of their schedule.  I., a team that got to be 20-5 playing against ACC competition is going to be much better than a team that got to be 20-5 playing against Big South competition.  The RPI is basically accounts for the quality of opponents by looking at not only their record, but the record of their opponents.  Wikipedia puts it more clearly: “In its current formulation, the index comprises a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%), and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents (25%).”  The formula is not perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than just looking at a team’s w/l record.  The truth is, if all you know is a student’s college GPA, its pretty much like simply knowing the W/L record of a college team with little other information.  I’d love it if something like an achievement index caught on.

Blog navel-gazing

Inspired again by Big Steve, the end of the year seems like a good time to take a look back at the year in blogging.  Wordpress has some nice site statistics (though, sadly, no country of viewer statistics, that I can find).  What I find most interesting is what led people to the blog.  To make things more interesting, I’ve collapsed similar searches into the same category (e.g., porn tennis and tennis porn):

  1. Tennis porn (who knew there was such pent-up desire for this).  I feel badly for all those people coming to my blog looking for something more titillating)
  2. John Boehner tan
  3. Fully myelinated
  4. unaristocratic words
  5. Muslim swimwear
  6. Galactic rebellion for dummies

After than, no topic really led to a lot of hits for the blog.  And here’s my not quite the same top 10 pages:

  1. Soft core tennis porn?
  2. Mosque timeline
  3. Are there other “un-aristocratic” words I should know about?
  4. Cutting costs by cutting doctors
  5. On football, tailgating, and student athletes
  6. The PhD glut
  7. Pretend curse words
  8. Muslim swimwear
  9. What I know and you don’t
  10. Galactic Rebellion for Dummies

Sources of traffic

  1. My facebook page
  2. torquilandcheezedoodle.blogspot.com
  3. faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene/
  4. enikrising.blogspot.com
  5. healthfitnesstherapy.com
  6. saideman.blogspot.com

Hmmm, not all that interesting.  Still, nice to have all the annual stats there in one place.  Actually, I guess what’s notable (and what I might find slightly depressing), is that only 3 of my top 10 posts are about politics.  Still, it’s glad to know I’m having an impact on language by those looking for “un-aristoctatic” words and pretend curse words.

2010 my year in television

I get so annoyed by the TV naysayers.  There is an amazing amount of truly top-notch entertainment being created for television these days.  Sure, there’s a ton of crap, but lots of books are a ton of crap, too.  It’s a rare novel that offers as much in terms of thoughtful story and character development as a series like Mad Men or The Wire.  Anyway, I’ve watched a lot of TV this year (not all of it created this year) and I felt like my favorites deserved a shout-out.  In semi-meaningful order:

  • Mad Men.  Best Christmas present of 2009– my little sister gave me Mad Men Season 1 on DVD, which finally got me to start watching it. Simply brilliant.  I’m up through season 3 now (I’m planning on watching season 4 of my DVR next month).  I’m consistently amazed at just how smart this show is.  For a long time, I was thinking I would place it just below the Wire.  Now I consider it my co all-time favorite.  Bascially, as far as TV dramas go, I’d say there’s Mad Men, the Wire, and The Sopranos and then everything else.
  • 30 Rock.  Damn this show is funny.  Just the other day, David asked me, “how come some TV shows are so much better than the others?” My answer: “the writers.”  And Alec Baldwin :-).  I didn’t start watching this until season 2 and I’ve now caught most of Season 1 on Netflix.  So good.  My favorite TV quote of the year: Jack and Avery’s Christmas card: “Happy Holidays is what terrorists say.  Merry Christmas, Avery and Jack.”
  • Modern Family.  Along with 30 Rock, these two are completely in a class by themselves when it comes to intelligent comedy.  Ty Burrell’s Phil Dunphy ain’t quite Alec Baldwin, but its damn good.
  • Lost.  Didn’t miss an episode in the 6 season run.  Just pure entertainment.  I know the sci-fi aspects lost some, but as I love sci-fi, not an issue for me.  And what a crush I have on Matthew Fox :-).  The surprise ending at the end of Season 3, remains pretty much my personal favorite moment of TV ever.
  • Breaking Bad.  This show is really good and so gets the critical love.  I do really enjoy it, but it is so close to being truly outstanding, that it’s weaknesses really frustrate me.  This show is an amazing character study of a high school chemistry teacher (and his junkie partner) turned drug kingpins, but almost every episode there’s something so lazily written it might have come right out of CSI.  Still, better than 95% of what else is on TV.  Looking forward to hitting season 3 after I make it through Mad Men season 4.
  • HBO Sunday Night.  Loved Boardwalk Empire.  Amazing production values and acting and a fascinating time and place. This is what inspired me to finally learn more about Prohibition.  After a slow start, Bored to Death totally grew on me.  It just needed to embrace itself as absurdist farce.  Eastbound and Down was a bit of a let-down after the brilliant season 1, but still had some terrific moments.
  • Last, some disappointments.  I started out as a big Glee fan, but I feel that this show used up almost all its original creative energy in the first 10 episodes or so.  I had to give up on it early in the 2nd season.  Sure, the musical numbers are great, but that’s not enough.  The plots became silly and redundant.  And, the Office– oh, how the mighty have fallen.  More often than not, just boring.  It’s sad to see a show that was once so good, stick around long after all the creative juices have clearly been used up.


    How not to write a textbook

    Interesting story in the Post about how the Virginia history textbook used across state high schools is rife with errors. They have an on-line quiz, and some of these errors really seem pretty minor, i.e., the month in 1865 that the 15th amendment was ratified (I got 5 of 8, by the way).  I was even willing to forgive them being off a full year on the first Battle of Bull Run, but I’m not feeling so charitable after the Post pointed out why the text was under such a thorough review:

    These are among the dozens of errors historians have found since Virginia officials ordered a review of textbooks by Five Ponds Press, the publisher responsible for a controversial claim that African American soldiers fought for the South in large numbers during the Civil War….

    The review began after The Washington Post reported in October that “Our Virginia” included a sentence saying that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South. The claim is one often made by Confederate heritage groups but rejected by most mainstream historians. The book’s author, Joy Masoff, said at the time that she found references to it during research on the Internet. Five Ponds Press later apologized.

    Based on the standards of internet research used in the writing of this text (hey, it’s on some webpage, it must be true!), many of my students may have a lucrative career in writing texts.

    Sleep and the power of marketing

    Caught an ad on TV for this Midnite sleep aid the other day.   Based on the claims in the ad, I checked it out and was not surprised to find that it was basically melatonin plus a few other natural extracts which I doubt have any proven value in helping people sleep.  So, basically, this is a sleep aid for suckers.  Melatonin has been available for years and years from all sorts of no-name vitamin and supplement manufacturers.  In fact, all three of the Greene boys rely on it to fall asleep at night (and before you think I’m a , bad parent, it’s under doctor supervision).  Anyway, it was just interesting to see that some drug companies realized all you’ve got to do is add a few interesting-sound extracts, invest in some marketing, and double the price, and you’re rolling.  I’ll stick with the generic stuff at Whole Foods and Wal-green.


    George Allen: liberal?

    It hasn’t happened yet, but damn if the Tea Party isn’t just going to drive the Republican party off a cliff these days.  The Post had a story yesterday about how many VA Republicans now consider former Senator/Governor (and any reasonable person’s conservative) as too moderate/liberal.  Seriously?!  The inmates are truly running the asylum.  It basically seems as though all the Tea Partiers have attributed Republican success in the 2010 midterms to the Tea Party, rather than the economic conditions which actually were overwhelmingly responsible for Republican gains.

    George Allen scored a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union in 2005!  And this man is too moderate for the Tea Party?!  They may yet have some more short-term success, but seriously, some chickens have got to come home to roost on this and it will not be good for Republican electoral fortunes when they do.

    Parenting sweet spot

    Interesting (and somewhat encouraging) NPR story on how parenting can affect childrens’ likelihood of binge drinking.  It’s good to know that what we do as parents might actually matter.  Basically, really lenient parents and really harsh parents are most likely to have children who engage in problem drinking.  Here’s the details:

    The teens who were being raised by so-called indulgent parents who tend to give their children lots of praise and warmth — but offer little in the way of consequences or monitoring of bad behavior — were among the biggest abusers of alcohol.

    “They were about three times more likely to participate in heavy drinking,” says Bahr.

    The same was true for kids whose parents were so strict that no decision was left to the teenager’s own judgment.

    “Kids in that environment tend not to internalize the values and understand why they shouldn’t drink,” says Bahr. They were more than twice as likely to binge drink.

    The social scientist in me loves this really cool U-shaped pattern of dependent/independent variable.  The parent in me would like to think I’m actually doing a good job on this.  Kim and I are certainly more towards the lenient side, but I think the description of the “parenting sweet spot” describes what we are at least trying to do:

    The parenting style that led to the lowest levels of problem drinking borrowed something from each of the extremes. From the strict parents: accountability and consequences for bad behavior. From the indulgent parents: warmth and support

    Bahr says these parents tend to be more balanced.

    “They recognize their kids when they do good things and praise them, but they offer direction and correction when they get off a little bit,” he says.

    It also recommends talking to kids about alcohol as early as 4th grade to help them develop healthy attitudes.  Check on that.  I’ll report back to you on David in 6-7 years and let you know how it’s gone :-).


    Census interactive

    I don’t think I ever got around to commenting on last week’s big news about the Census report and the impact on Congressional seats around the country.  Now I will.  First, one comment I read at a number of blogs (and now I mostly forget, but I’m pretty sure Yglesias mentioned this) is that the growth in the population and Congressional seats of several red states, i.e., Texas, Florida, Arizona, is coming primarily from blue voters (largely Hispanic).

    Anyway, of all the stuff on the matter, my favorite is this very cool interactive graphic at the Post.  It shows the changes in Congressional seats dating back to 1900 (hover over a state and watch the graph below).  Anyway, I think this is great for disabusing from “conventional wisdom” I had fallen prey to myself.  In short, we’re always hearing about the massive internal migration to “the sun belt.”  I think most people take that to mean Southern states.  It doesn’t.  It basically means Texas and Florida and to a lesser extent Arizona.  Texas and Florida have both gained around 20 House seats over the past century and Arizona close to 10.  Otherwise, MS, AL, LA, AR, SC, NC, TN, GA are  basically flat or only a very modest rise (GA, NC).  That really puts thing in perspective.

    Death panels are back!

    Good news– the “death panels” are back!  Of course, if you do not rely on Fox News or Sarah Palin’s facebook feed for your news, you realize that “death panel” was actually Republican shorthand for simply reimbursing doctors for taking time to address end-of-life issues with their patients.   And just so we’re clear, that’s an unequivocally good thing.  Anyway, it may not be part of the ACA, but apparently Medicare is simply going to re-write the regulations on the matter:

    When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

    Under the new policy, outlined in aMedicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

    The article does a really nice job explaining how increasing these sorts of conversations is a very good thing for patients.  I’ll skip the excerpt on that, as the fact that you’re here instead of Palin’s facebook page means you get that.  It does go on to talk about the potential political fall-out, which intrigued me:

    “While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer’s office said in an e-mail in early November to people working with him on the issue. “This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.”

    Moreover, the e-mail said: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are ‘supporters’ — e-mails can too easily be forwarded.”

    The e-mail continued: “Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch and may be calling on you if we need a rapid, targeted response. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

    In the interview, Mr. Blumenauer said, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”

    There’s the rub.  So, do Republicans bring back this cynical death panel non-sense or find a new target?  Or was that just an effective ploy in trying to prevent the law, but less so in the future political maneuvers they’ll attempt of de-funding, etc.  If they bring back the death panel nonsense after its been so thoroughly debunked, it will be quite clear just what their “moral values” are (i.e., more suffering for terminally ill patients).

    Finally, I would be remiss as a Political Science professor if I didn’t point out that this whole episode also shows how important political control of the bureaucracy can be.  There’s a lot that can be accomplished simply through changing bureaucratic regulations, regardless of legislation (next up, EPA regulation of carbon emissions).


    Presents of 2010

    I’ve been inspired by Big Steve to do a post on the presents I received in 2010.  Let’s start with my actual Christmas presents.

    • Telephoto lens for my DSLR.  I’ve gotten really into photography this year and it’s great to finally have a serious telephoto lens.  I’ve been disappointed in the depth of field I’ve been able to achieve with the standard lens, and even on the back of the camera I can now see I’ve just needed this lens.
    • Aston Villa long-sleeve jersey.  I’ve been a big soccer fan for a long time, but I watched a ton of this Summer’s World Cup and was not ready to give up watching high-quality soccer.  I’ve started watching English Premier League games this season and it has greatly enhanced my Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Aston Villa is one of my favorite teams (along with Arsenal and Tottenham), but I like their jersey the best.

    And the non-Christmas presents

    • Sarah.  We seem to be adjusting surprisingly well to four kids.  I’m really enjoying having another kid.
    • CASL Boys U11 Blasters.  I had no intention of being a head soccer coach for a bunch of 10-year old boys after a scant one season as a 2nd assistant coach, but when David’s league needed another coach, I figured why not me.  I had an absolute blast with a great group of kids.  Huge learning curve.  My major goal was simply not to be a bad coach and therefore do a disservice to the kids. I’m pretty sure I accomplished that.  Really looking forward to getting back to it in the Spring.
    • The NCSU Teaching Award.  I really don’t want to be brag-y and I am truly sure there’s plenty of great teachers who’ve never won an award, but anybody knows me knows just how important teaching is to me.  Thus, it was incredibly rewarding and validating to be recognized for my work in the classroom.  I’m convinced I’ve got the greatest job in the world.
    • Obamacare.  Sure, lets throw in some politics.  I’ve become quite the health care policy wonk in recent years, and though the ACA is certainly far from perfect, it is nonetheless hugely important legislation and I was most definitely hugely emotionally invested in this.  More Americans will have access to decent health care and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.
    • Friends and family.  It’s cliche, but I’m a really happy person and as I like to quote Coach K “it’s all about the relationships.”  I’ve got a lot of good ones that I’m thankful for (including some of you reading this).
    • Readers.  The fact that you are reading this.  Thanks!  I love the feedback I get and it certainly is nice to know that somebody other than my wife (who does actually read my blog despite her minimal interest in politics– although she’s known to skim most posts) cares about my musings and meanderings.

    Merry Christmas

    to all.  And to all a good night.

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