Category Archives: meta

January 2, 2009, 8:18 pm

More presents!

Kieran weighs in on the question of how to present the WPA data, following up on Duncan.

In effect, what I’ve done here is choose to break a different rule from Duncan. Instead of putting two scales on the same axis, I have made one axis discontinuous between panels, skipping values in order to compress the horizontal size. Hence the reminder at the top of each panel that you’re shifting up an order of magnitude each time. Despite the rulebreaking, there’s still some principle at work because instead of just putting a discontinuity right at the end (to incorporate the largest value) the panels are split consistently by powers of ten, and it makes sense to think of WPA expenditures as falling into groups like “stuff they spent billions on” versus “stuff they spent tens of millions on” or “stuff they only spent a few million dollars on” and so on.

I like this, too. I…

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December 31, 2008, 5:30 pm


Duncan Agnew, a professor in a university at the very edge of the American West, sends along this solution to the “Tufte I ain’t” problem. I like it. Thanks!

He says anyone can feel “free to use, reproduce, and display this figure in any way you wish, with or without attribution.” Happy new year!

December 30, 2008, 11:25 am

Tufte I ain’t.

But I’m willing to learn. Properly rebuked for slapdash graphing, I’ve tried to improve the representation of WPA expenditures that appeared in this post, using the Greensboro font from

I’d be delighted to hear further suggestions and critiques. One thing I want to do, but can’t figure out how for a graph like this one, is to figure out how to make the biggest line discontinuous—that way I could change the scale so you could make more meaningful distinctions among the other numbers, while still appreciating that the top expenditure goes way off the scale.

UPDATED: Here it is with a scale in billions, per suggestions.

December 11, 2008, 12:01 am


B has a great post up at her place. You want a little taste? Well, the first one’s free:

When people with PhDs (or in graduate programs) talk about doing something other than professing, we always do so in terms of their “leaving” or “quitting” academia. When I left my tenure-track job, I talked abut it in terms not only of leaving a job, but possibly of leaving the profession, though that’s not really what I wanted to do…

But the truth, I think, is that part of what’s so painful about “leaving” academia is that we usually aren’t leaving by choice. More often, academia is leaving us, and all we’re doing is having to slowly come to the point of acknowledging that we’ve been left alone in this big apartment full of books, maybe with a cat or two, and a big pile of bills on the counter. Academia, that bastard; he just up and walked one day, and it took us a while to realize he wasn’t …

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December 9, 2008, 8:32 am

Happy birthday.

To cogitamus. And also to donkeylicious, two cogitamus alums’ new blog. So what if I’m a bit late? It’s the thought that counts.

December 3, 2008, 12:31 pm

Too rude?

Kieran sent me this. I am sorely tempted to use it when people email me to ask, what is your telephone number, mailing address, and email? (Stop snickering; it actually happens.) But that would be rude, wouldn’t it? Please tell me, O readership.

[polldaddy poll=1162237]

November 18, 2008, 4:16 pm


Discussion of cabinet-staffing yields:

You don’t want the camel pissing in the tent.

True, but not unproblematic. There are of course two tent metaphors: better inside pissing out than outside pissing in, and the problem with letting the camel get his nose in the tent is, pretty soon you get the rest of the camel, too.

And these metaphors have, it seems to me, opposite implications for cabinet-staffing.

October 30, 2008, 11:12 am

Of thumb.

Ari and I covered some basic material with graduate students yesterday, and I ended up having three guidelines for social science analysis in my notes.

  1. Anecdote is not the singular of data.
  2. If you found something surprising, you’re probably wrong (but conversely:)
  3. Don’t believe everything you think.

Feel free to add your own in comments, or to dispute these, or whatever pleases you, as long as it’s nothing to do with the election.

October 27, 2008, 12:05 am

Happy birthday to EotAW.

I remember well how, on this day in 2007, I logged in to WordPress and started a new blog. Then, fatefully, I let Ari have the keys. In fairness, though, it was mostly Ari’s idea. The rest of this post is pure self-indulgence and a stab at one or two FAQs so I’ll put it under the fold.

October 24, 2008, 7:15 am

Some (more) perils of public intellection.

Yesterday afternoon I talked to a very kind and pleasant reporter and camera crew from CBS News for three hours about the Great Depression and New Deal, both as history and as compared to the present crisis, as far as one can. This was for what they called a “turnaround” documentary—i.e., one commissioned quickly for quick production—to appear on the History Channel.

About halfway through I began thinking, boy, I thought live interviews are bad: but maybe tape is worse! In a live interview you might say something dumb because it’s live; in a taped interview—especially one that goes three hours and in which they ask you to recall myriad facts and figures off the top of your head, without telling you which they might be in advance—you’re guaranteed to say something dumb at some point. Probably several somethings.

October 21, 2008, 3:31 pm

How about that.

It looks like the post below on “Understanding the Financial Crisis” was our 1000th post. Stupid balloon drop never works right.

October 6, 2008, 6:23 pm

The greatest of these.

As of yesterday, I am entitled to wear this shirt. Many thanks to all of you, including anonymice and pseudonymice, who pledged money to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center of Oakland. I’m sure they’ll get after you pretty soon. And thanks especially to my friend who swam too and realized about halfway through she could, in fact, swim a lot faster than me. This left me with an official time of 26 minutes, which I think was rounded down; on my own watch it was about 26:29 but still a lot faster than all my earlier times, clocked without a competitor.


September 21, 2008, 9:47 am

Woke up this mornin…

At 2:45am I awoke with a refrain in my head.  “The rain in Spain soaks mainly John McCain.”  Then I went back to sleep.

Someone has to do a parody of My Fair Lady.  Maybe teaching Palin to follow the teleprompter or the talking points?

September 20, 2008, 5:59 pm

Backwards in high heels (which make her look like a porn star!)

Hmm, this seems to me to be wrong,

I get what she’s trying to say, but here’s Hillary Clinton: “I think you have to ask yourself and it’s a little exercise I’d like everybody in the press, and really all of us, to go through: Would the same thing be said about a man in a similar position and the answer 99 times out of 100 is no. I think it’s been a long time since anybody covered what Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or John McCain wear or their hairstyle or any other personal characteristic like that.”

Yes, you have to go all the way back to 2007, when the press spent a month talking about John Edwards’ $400 haircut.

… Wait, no, you don’t have to go that far back. On September 1st, a network news reporter told Barack Obama that he doesn’t like beer.

… Whoops not even that far. This Monday, Jon Decker said Joe Biden does not “help[] his case when he’s making the argument on economic…

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September 11, 2008, 12:56 pm


It is possible, when text messaging with the auto-complete function enabled, to foul up the spelling of ‘philosophy’ so badly that one ends up writing ‘silosorgy.’

As in ‘are you going to the silosorgy talk later?’

I need a phone with a QWERTY keyboard.