Archive for December, 2009

I got a “5” on the performativity exam!

| Gabriel |

So apparently high schools are encouraging huge numbers of kids to take advanced placement tests. If you’ve ever seen one of those surveys where 40% of high school kids think Obi Wan Kenobi was one of the founding fathers, you’ll be able to guess that the outcome is that very few of them pass the test. In a rare triumph of reason in things having to do with education, there is now a backlash against this. I find this interesting for two reasons:

1. I actually know something about this topic. Although I never published it, one of my two youthful forays into ethnography was at a high school college counseling office in the late 90s. One of the main things going on there was the struggle to organize the AP exams. When kids took AP classes they were obligated to take the AP exam in the spring. However in part because the school had a dismal track record of AP passage and in part because the kids themselves had to pay the AP fee, the students resisted taking the exam. This put the counselor in an adversarial relationship with the students as she tried to coerce and cajole them into paying for and taking the exam, which they (but not she) recognized was a humiliating waste of time and money.

2. Apparently the main driver of AP creep is that some high school ratings algorithms count how many kids in a high school take the AP rather than, oh, I don’t know, pass the AP. This of course is consistent with the typical nonsense you see of highly institutionalized sectors measuring performance by inputs rather than outputs. Likewise, here in California the CSU and UC have long had the concept of a weighted GPA where an AP class adds a full letter grade such that a lot of my friends in high school had GPAs of 4.2. High schools pander to these magazine rankings / college admissions criteria by adding more AP classes than they have competent students to fill. This ratings performativity is well familiar to economic sociologists thanks to work done recently on law school ratings by Espeland and Sauder. Likewise, McArdle has had two posts (part 1, part 2) recently on the development and now perfection of CBO-scoring gamesmanship.

December 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm 3 comments


| Gabriel |

I knew this was coming but it’s still cringe-inducing to see rapping by any person who doesn’t usually rap, especially if that person’s real job involves using phrases like “aggregate demand.” This rule should not be violated for any reason, ever. Let the economy fall into structural deficits and/or a liquidity trap, but for the love of all that is decent and holy, do not rap about macro!

December 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm 3 comments

The higher stoopidity

| Gabriel |

I recently listened to Donald Kagan’s Intro to Ancient Greek History (itunes link) course and really enjoyed it. Kagan is of course well-qualified to teach the course (he wrote the book on the Peloponnesian War). In addition, he’s witty and has a definite point of view (he describes Rousseau as a “cancer on humanity”) and the course is in dialogue with issues in other disciplines, like the question of “balancing” in IR poli sci. The most obvious thing (especially in the intro and conclusion lectures) about which Kagan is opinionated is that Western civ a) derives from the Greeks and b) is the ultimate source of, such on-the-whole beneficial things as (lower-case “l”) liberalism, “the tragic vision,” and rationalism.

Putting aside Kagan’s opinions about the “hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go” question, Kagan’s most interesting lens is a methodological tendency that he calls “the higher naivete.” By this he means that we ought to give a heavy presumption in favor of the ancient sources even when they are speaking of things somewhat distant from the ancient writer’s direct knowledge. So if the ancients believed that there was a Trojan War, a Dorian invasion, a historical Homer, etc, then we ought to believe them unless we have good evidence to the contrary, rather than being skeptical of the written sources and demanding confirmation from archaeology. He’s not completely credulous though, for instance (like Plutarch) Kagan thinks that Lycurgus may have been a historical Spartan politician, but didn’t actually create the entire Spartan political-social system whole cloth. More controversially, Kagan reads Thucydides skeptically, seeing him as an apologist for Pericles against a prevailing anti-Pericles consensus for which we have no surviving history but of which we can find hints in Aristophanes. [According to Kagan, the ancient controversy centered on whether Pericles was right to demand that the Megarian decree be decided by arbitration since simply giving into Spartan demands to drop it outright would have been appeasement. There were also accusations against his personal character].

This is interesting in its own right, but in a weird way reminds me of pop music. To paraphrase Tertullian, you might be asking what hath Herodotus to do with (newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers) Abba? Well, last year I saw Jenn do a paper on the “rockism” critical perspective in which “pop” and other genres are disdained as less serious than rock. When I was younger and really seriously into music (as a fan, not a scientist) I was very much an ardent rockist, but now I’ve achieved what you might call the higher stoopidity. So for instance, when I was in college I thought “Enema of the State” was a disgraceful cheapening of punk rock (which of course is supposed to be really serious), whereas now it’s one of my favorite albums and I haven’t listened to “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” in years.

As I see it, rockism is really a special case of romanticism, seeing the artist as an autonomous actor whose work expresses his soul. With the exception of guitar-playing, it denigrates craft, especially when that craft is outsourced to short-term collaborators like songwriters or producers. Both simply aging and a deeper scientific understanding of art as a collaborative process has convinced me that a) craft is really hard and autonomy is a romantic myth and b) self-serious pop music is ridiculous.

David Galenson provides us with a typology of experimentalists (i.e., crafts) vs conceptualists. Although he is mostly interested in 20th century painters, you can apply the method to pretty much any type of art. The original context is interesting though because (unlike Galenson) I hate conceptualist visual art. Once you start thinking about it in a context like that you appreciate that there really is something to craft, including in the much maligned Tin Pan Alley and it’s heirs in Swede-pop (“Tin Pan Fjord”?). You can appreciate the craft with which something is put together even if it doesn’t transcend conventions, genre or otherwise. I mean, Blink-182’s “Don’t Leave Me” is just a beautifully crafted pop song that (like about half the songs on the album) is both musically catchy and lyrically expresses a fairly subtle and ironic take on romantic love.

Likewise from a variety of work — Howard Becker’s Art Worlds, Lena and Peterson’s ASR, Uzzi et al’s work on Broadway, my own work with Esparza and Bonacich on the Oscars — we see that artistic production is inherently and irreducibly collaborative. Once you undermine the autonomous artist you undermine romantic inspiration and the contrast between inspired breakthroughs and hack work starts to look a lot less tenable.

I don’t claim this is a professional opinion so much as a matter of aging, but I also have an increasingly low opinion of pop music that takes itself really seriously. A lot of people like to make fun of Allan Bloom’s essay “on rock music” as the musings of a clueless old snob, but I think he nailed it in criticizing the “infinite seriousness” with which we talk about rock music and its “three great lyrical themes: sex, hate, and a smarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love.” All three of these Nihiline themes were perfectly captured in the video “Do Something” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and especially the “Sodomize Intolerance” sign he holds up at one point:

One of the most self-serious bands of my youth was Rage Against the Machine, who even went so far as to include a reading list in one of their liner notes. Their politics can broadly be summed up by the “arm the homeless” sticker on Tom Morello’s guitar and more broadly as “let’s fantasize about revolutionary violence to eliminate inequality.” [gee, what could possibly go wrong with that?]. Even if rock songs were a coherent means of articulating a political philosophy, and Rage did do a pretty decent job of it,  the kinds of politics they are best suited to express tend towards nihilism. The don’t-fuck-with-me ideologies of Mikhail Bakunin or Franz Fanon (or on the right, Robert Nozick) are really compelling and energizing which is why they can make for great pop music. In contrast it’s hard to imagine a really exciting and angry song advocating a centrist ideology of a basically liberal economy as overseen by sensible regulation and a moderate welfare state. (Now climbing to the top of the pop charts is the Wonks’ hit single “let’s make a revenue-neutral swap of the payroll tax for a pigovian carbon tax” from the album “Unintended Consequences”). The only examples I can think of for political but centrist pop music are Dropkick Murphys (center-left) and Oingo Boingo (center-right), but I think it’s noteworthy that this kind of thing tends to be rare and these bands aren’t nearly as focused on politics as bands with extremist politics like Dead Kennedys.

I mean, take Nirvana, which was probably the most critically acclaimed band of my youth. At the time I thought their best songs were really artsy-fartsy stuff like “Heart-Shaped Box” whereas “Sliver” was basically just pop candy, but in retrospect I see the former as an unstructured amalgam of pretentious imagery (see Dylan, Bob) and the latter as the perfect distillation of the subjective experience of childhood (or maybe it’s that my toddler recently pulled the “grandma take me home!” act).

I think this works in fine art too. This may be a minority opinion, but I think John Adams is at his best when he’s not trying to be hugely political (e.g., “Death of Klinghoffer” and “Nixon in China”) but when he’s evoking primal myth. I found “El Nino” to be incredibly moving largely because (if you ignore the didactic film Sellars shot to accompany it) it’s not meant to make any point other than to evoke the mythic power of the Christmas story (which makes for not just a great opera, but also a great movie).

I’m not entirely down on political art — I like “Nixon in China” in part because it expresses something really important about American character and foreign policy that’s hard to articulate in nonfiction. Nonetheless I see it as a higher stoopidity to embrace Abba and look forward to the day when Blink-182 and Beyonce take their places in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

December 17, 2009 at 4:28 am 1 comment

Diacriticals in Lyx

| Gabriel |

I just learned a good way to set diacriticals in Lyx. I just type ctrl-x to bring up a Lyx function command line, then type the function, which for the accents is simply “accent-type vowel.” So to type “Michele Lamont” in proper francophone orthography, I’d type “Mich”, hit ctrl-x, type “accent-grave e”, hit return then ctrl-x, and type “le Lamont”.

Previously, I had been inserting ERT and typing the raw LaTeX for the accent. For example “Mich(ERT=\`e)le Lamont”. This is actually fairly quick to type and it renders properly in the PDF, but it’s distracting in Lyx to have ERT boxes sprinkled through the document.

December 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm 2 comments

Stata shell “command not found” errors

| Gabriel |

I like to use the shell command to pipe commands from Stata to the OS and/or other programs. For instance, graphexportpdf pipes to the Ghostscript command ps2pdf. Unfortunately I pretty often get error messages like this
/bin/bash: ps2pdf: command not found

Sometimes just restarting Stata works, but I’ve found that the only 100% reliable way to get shell to work properly is to execute the script in Stata console instead of You can do this from the Terminal as

exec /Applications/Stata/

December 14, 2009 at 4:20 am 3 comments

Stata2Pajek w vertice colors

| Gabriel |

[updated 6/29/2010, added option for “missingcolor” instead of always defaulting to yellow. also introduced commented quotes so as to make TextMate’s syntax parser happy]
My Stata program stata2pajek let’s you export an edge list or arc list from Stata to Pajek. However I recently wanted to make color-coded vertices and this required tweaking the syntax a bit. Because this is a relational database problem (and Stata likes flat-file), I do it by merging in a vertice level file on disk. Although I’ve written it to merge on colors it should be fairly easy to rewrite to deal with other vertice-level variables. Unfortunately the syntax is pretty awkward, which is why I’m forking it and posting it to the blog instead of updating the main stata2pajek file at SSC.

Note that the script assumes that nodes which appear in the arc list but not the vertice attributes file should be color-coded yellow. If you want yellow to have a substantive meaning you should change line 61 to be something else.

The syntax is the same as stata2pajek except there are a few more options. If you omit these options it behaves just like stata2pajek classic:

  • attributefile() — the file where the vertice level variables are stored
  • attributekey() — the merge key, defaults to “ego”
  • color() — the variable storing the color-codes

For instance, to color-code a graph of radio stations based on when they first played “My Humps” (yes, really), I use this command:

stata2pajekalt ego alter, filename(ties_bounded_humpcolor) attributefile(humps_color) attributekey(ego) color(color)

It says to treat the data in memory as an arc list, to merge on station-level data on adoption time where the station name is stored as the variable “ego” in the file “humps_color”, and to write out the whole mess as a Pajek formatted text file called “”.

*1.4 GHR 6/29/2010
*forked from stata2pajek 1.2 (available at ssc)
capture program drop stata2pajekalt
program define stata2pajekalt
	version 10
	set more off
	syntax varlist(min=2 max=2) [ , tiestrength(string asis) filename(string asis) EDGEs attributefile(string asis) attributekey(string asis) color(string asis) missingcolor(string asis)]

	tempfile dataset
	quietly save `dataset'
	gettoken ego alter : varlist
	local starchar="*"
	if "`filename'"=="" {
		local pajeknetfile "mypajekfile"
	else {
		local pajeknetfile "`filename'"
	if "`attributekey'"=="" {
		local attributekey "`ego'"
	if "`missingcolor'"=="" {
		local missingcolor "Yellow"
	capture file close pajeknetfile
	file open pajeknetfile using `pajeknetfile'.net, write text replace
	use `dataset', clear
	drop `ego'
	ren `alter' `ego'
	append using `dataset'
	keep `ego'
	contract `ego'
	ren `ego' verticelabel
	drop _freq
	sort verticelabel
	gen number=[_n]
	order number verticelabel
	if "`attributefile'"!="" {
		ren verticelabel `attributekey'
		merge `attributekey' using `attributefile'
		drop if _merge==2
		ren `attributekey' verticelabel
		drop _merge
		keep number verticelabel `color'
		sort verticelabel
	tempfile verticelabels
	quietly save `verticelabels', replace
	local nvertices=[_N]
	file write pajeknetfile "`starchar'Vertices `nvertices'" _n
	if "`attributefile'"=="" {
		forvalues x=1/`nvertices' {
			local c2=verticelabel in `x'
			file write pajeknetfile `"`x' "`c2'""' _n
	else {
		forvalues x=1/`nvertices' {
			local c2=verticelabel in `x'
			local colvalue=`color' in `x'
			if "`colvalue'"=="" {
				local colvalue "`missingcolor'"
			file write pajeknetfile `"`x' "`c2'" ic `colvalue'"' _n
	use `dataset', clear
	ren `ego' verticelabel
	sort verticelabel
	quietly merge verticelabel using `verticelabels'
	quietly keep if _merge==3
	drop _merge verticelabel
	ren number `ego'
	ren `alter' verticelabel
	sort verticelabel
	quietly merge verticelabel using `verticelabels'
	quietly keep if _merge==3
	drop _merge verticelabel
	ren number `alter'
	order `ego' `alter' `tiestrength'
	keep  `ego' `alter' `tiestrength'
	local narcs=[_N]
	if "`edges'"=="edges" {
		file write pajeknetfile `"`starchar'Edges"' _n
	else {
		file write pajeknetfile `"`starchar'Arcs"' _n
	sort `ego' `alter'      
	if "`tiestrength'"~="" {
		forvalues x=1/`narcs' {
		        local c1=`ego' in `x'
		        local c2=`alter' in `x'
		        local c3=`tiestrength' in `x'                   
		        file write pajeknetfile "`c1' `c2' `c3'" _n
	else {
		forvalues x=1/`narcs' {
		        local c1=`ego' in `x'
		        local c2=`alter' in `x'
		        file write pajeknetfile "`c1' `c2'" _n
	file close pajeknetfile
	*ensure that it's windows (CRLF) text format
	if "$S_OS"~="Windows" {
		filefilter `pajeknetfile'.net tmp, from(\M) to(\W) replace
		shell mv tmp `pajeknetfile'.net
		filefilter `pajeknetfile'.net tmp, from(\U) to(\W) replace
		shell mv tmp `pajeknetfile'.net
	use `dataset', clear
	disp "Your output is saved as"
	disp "`c(pwd)'`c(dirsep)'`pajeknetfile'.net"

December 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm 9 comments

sudo apt-get install reconciliation

| Gabriel |

In the 16th century the Norman aristocracy paid to have the Rouen Cathedral renovated so they could eat butter during Lent (this is back when the Catholic church had a hardcore vegan Lent of the style still practiced by the Ethiopian church). More recently, my fellow members of the new class have taken to paying third world peasants to remain third world peasants in order to assuage our guilt about using air travel. In a perfect demonstration that if it was a good idea before Martin Luther, then it remains a good idea now, the Vatican has gone carbon neutral. Of course this isn’t very hard for a 108 acre country whose main carbon emission is some pope smoke every decade or so.

Anyway, the latest innovation in the logic of indulgence is the bad code offset. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s going to take code purgatory at least a few centuries to compile my soul. I’m hoping to avoid most of that by diverting some of my grant money to buy a few thousand lines of code offset.

December 9, 2009 at 4:50 am

The Cambridgiad

| Gabriel |

Goddess, sing of the sublime and funky love of Brother West,
celebrated, hyped, that cost Harvard many grad students,
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Summers lord of Cambridge and brilliant Brother West

Professor Hopkins, priestess of MIT,
approached the scholars to move up her daughter’s defense date,
and send her onto the job market, then flourishing
at private schools with reckless investments,
and at state schools with tax windfalls.
The king dismissed her, “Never again, old bitch,
let me catch you west of Beacon Street!
The girl–I won’t give up the girl. Long before that,
old age will overtake her in my office, in Littauer Hall,
far from the grad housing, slaving back and forth,
at the computer, forced to co-author my papers!”

Hopkins was terrified and nearly fainted. She obeyed the order,
taking the T back to Kendall Square.
Moving to a safe distance she called the New York Times,
“Hear me Gray Lady! Voice of the conventional wisdom,
who strides central Manhattan sacrosanct.
If ever I got back to you with a quote when you were on a deadline,
Pay the scholars back–your op-eds for my tears!”

Nine days the barbs of the pundits rained down through the scholars.
On the tenth day Brother West called the tenured faculty to muster.
Once they’d gathered, crowding the faculty senate,
the poetical Brother West rose and spoke among them:
“Scholars, now we are humiliated, I fear our prestige is lost,
how can we ever recruit grad students, or junior faculty,
when we can scarcely show our faces at cocktail parties!
Conventional wisdom is enraged because the king spurred Hopkins,
he refused to let his grad student defend,
he refused to write a letter of recommendation,
That is why the pundits send us pain and will send us more,
not til we send the girl to the job market,
and create a hundred new diversity initiatives,
then we can calm the pundits, and only then appease them!”

Summers–furious, his aspy heart filled to the brim,
“Now, again, the pundits’ wrath,
assume for the sake of argument,
it is brought on by my keeping the girl.
Indeed, I want her in my lab! I rank her
higher than my faculty co-authors.
But I am willing to let her defend, even so,
if that is best for all. What I really want
is to keep our US News ranking,
not see us displaced by Yale.
But I shall raise our rankings again,
by meeting regularly with the university professors,
to see that they are still writing scholarly works,
and not just recording mediocre pop music,
or appearing on television.”

A dark glance
and the headstrong philosopher answered him in kind: “Shameless–
armored in shamelessness–always shrewd with arrogance!
What do you care? Nothing. You didn’t write Race Matters.
And now you threaten to strip me of my dignity–
that I fought for long and hard, working in
theology and philosophy.

No more now–
down go I to Princeton. Better that way by far,
to journey to my doctoral institution on the Acela.
I have no mind to linger here disgraced,
monitored like a miscreant grad student!”

But the lord of men Summers shot back,
“Desert, by all means–if the spirit drives you home!
I will never beg you to stay, not on my account.
Go home with your colleagues and grad students,
lord it over the Jerseymen!
You are nothing to me–you and your overweening agape!”

So Brother West wept and prayed,
the proud philosopher groaned: “You know, you know,
why labor through it all? You know it all so well …
I wrote Race Matters once,
I saw it translated into Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese.
I wrote The American Evasion of Philosophy once,
and it was translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Italian.
My book Democracy Matters was translated into Spanish,
and printed a hundred thousand fold —
there’s also an edition that’s selling in the French-speaking world.
All nineteen of my books are still in print,
with the exception of the two that won the American Book Award in 1993.
But when called to appease the Times,
Summers takes from me my dignity, my autonomy.
But you, Jesus, if you have any power at all,
protect your son! Go to DC, plead with US News and World Report,
persuade them somehow to bring Yale up in the rankings,
to let students choose Yale over Harvard,
to let the scholars see their grants rejected,
let there be nary an NIH R01 at HMS!
So all can reap the benefits of their king–
so even mighty Pinker can see how mad he was,
to disgrace Brother West, the best of the faculty!”

December 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm 2 comments

the missing e(se) return matrix

| Gabriel |

One of the weird things with Stata’s postestimation returns is that it gives you the betas no problem, but there’s no obvious return for the standard error. The closest thing it gives you is e(V), the variance-covariance matrix, which you have to process to get standard error.

sysuse auto, clear
reg weight foreign length
* save the return matrices
matrix betas=e(b)
matrix varcovar=e(V)
*take the root of the diagonal of var-covar
mata: st_matrix("se",sqrt(diagonal(st_matrix("varcovar")))')
*combine and label the beta & se vectors into a single matrix
matrix results=betas\se
matrix rowname results = beta se
matrix list results

(Note: I’ve just discovered the “sourcecode” WordPress format, which should avoid some previous problems I’ve had with putting code directly in posts].

December 8, 2009 at 4:52 am 2 comments


| Gabriel |

  • One of the several intersections between social movements, cultural soc, and econ soc is the “repertoire,” which is basically a special case of the cultural toolkit as applied to activism. The fun thing is that they are culturally specific and usually tie into some broader institutional logic. Here’s a Slate story on the roadblock protest. The story describes it as peculiar to Argentina, but I know of similar protests in France and in Mexico there was even a longstanding airport-runway-block protest.
  • Talk about the socialist calculation problem, Marginal Revolution describes a project by the Allende government to create a central planning computer (complete with a control center that looks like the original queue for Space Mountain).

December 7, 2009 at 2:36 pm

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