Monday, January 26, 2004
I'm no psephologist-- I'll be the first to admit that, but I am worried about the possibility that Kerry might win the Democratic nomination this year.

Don't get me wrong: I'd be delighted to have Kerry as the US President. No issues with him really, except that I don't think he's electable. Here's why:

During only one election in the 20th Century (or 21st for that matter) did a person who had run for the presidency multiple times beat the incumbent administration-- that was Reagan, who won in 1980, despite having run in 1968 and 1976. The big ones that did provide an upset: Clinton in 1992, W in 2000 [setting aside the fact that he didn't really win], Roosevelt in 1932 were all new candidates that the public hadn't seen try and try again to win their own party's nomination. Check here if you want to see for yourself.

On the other hand, there are a few excellent cases of the also-rans (and ran again, and ran again) who eventually were given their party's nomination, only to fall at the final hurdle: Dole in 1996 is a great example, as is Mondale in 1984. I worry that Kerry's campaign will be automatically tainted in the eyes of swing voters who think that they remember his previous attempts to win the Democratic nomination. (Stay with me here...)

Unfortunately, no matter how the caucuses go, I am concerned that Kerry has already been branded a loser by crucially important voters, and not because of his own previous campaigns for president (of which there are none, despite flirting with the idea of running against Gore in 2000)-- but because people confuse him with Bob Kerrey, who ran once in 1992 and who also came very, very close to running against Gore in 2000.

So far, four people I know and respect have mentioned Kerry's track record in campaigns to me and I've been really shocked to hear them conflate John Kerry's reputation with Bob Kerrey's. Of course they're not the same person: you know that and I know that, but I really and truly think this is a potentially damaging problem.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Here's the problem with providing Christian morality-based reviews of television shows: there are so many opinions on what is moral and what is immoral (are aliens immoral? violence?) that nobody seems to be able to come up with any consistent scale. For example, according to this site, you should avoid 'Friends' because it is doing Satan's work, avoid 'Futurama' because it is a blasphemous little cartoon, and yet 'Absolutely Fabulous' only merits a rating of 'Caution'...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
What do you think it means that I read a book called 'Cruddy' and a book called 'Clumsy' during 2003?

Monday, January 12, 2004
I agree with some of David Callahan's argument-- that institutional cheating is on the rise, and that it poses a real ethical problem, especially for people growing up now. I also think that Callahan is wrong (but not too far off the mark) about the main causes of the New Dishonesty.

What I think is a much greater factor is the simultaneous rise in Anglo-American society of reliance on end-point metrics, the sort that define success narrowly as an increase in some score on some quantitative, high-stakes assessment. Though Callahan mentions the high-stakes part of this argument, he misses what is, I think, a more important problem: our growing faith in the power of the number.

When you (an individual, a company, a collective) are gauged simply by an evaluation that yields nothing more than a few numbers or a letter, there's really no disincentive to cheat. Your final score will never give you away as a liar, since it's just an extruded pellet of meaning, spit out by an algorithm-- nearly meaningless and decontextualised.

As we (as a culture) have become more reliant on quantitative results, we've lost the sense of what it means to produce a final assessment. It's no shock that people cheat when the process is devalued as entirely meaningless-- the tacit message is clear, 'Score high and don't worry how you do it.' So I don't believe that a greater focus on honour codes is going to improve anything, as Callahan suggests. In fact, his very thesis is that cheating has increased, even in places with honour codes... What I think we actually need is a new assessment literacy that enables decision-makers to take combined quantitative and qualitative data into account when making important evaluations. As the cheating scandals have proven, there's more than just the bottom-line to consider.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Things I was doing 10 years ago:

1. Teaching For America in inner-city Washington, D.C. (Anacostia, to be precise).
2. Living in the biggest apartment I've ever had.
3. Preparing to move to Paris for the summer.
4. Browsing the then-very-new World Wide Web on a Macintosh LCIII (a Mac, but with colour!).
5. Beginning to realise that I wasn't going back to restart my graduate studies where my first supervisor had abandoned everyone in our lab for a job in industry. (Thank goodness I got that M.S. along the way...)
6. Teaching a board-preparation course on endocrinology for medical students.
7. Slowly beginning to think of Washington as home.
8. Reading Omoo.
9. Learning to cook really surpassing chilli.
10. Visiting Assateague Island for the first time and getting ticks from the wild horses. But it was worth it.

Monday, January 05, 2004
"I am a circus performer and for years I have been embarrassed to pass gas on stage. People in the audience sometime thinks its part of the act but it isn't. Because of your wonderful product today my audience laughs at my gags and not my gas."

Oh my.

Thursday, January 01, 2004
Is it really January already?

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