Friday, January 19, 2007

The unlicensed CV Doctor

Dear academic job applicants,

There are circumstances in which it's important to be able to specify the software packages which you can operate. Entry-level stats scholars, for example, often do specify whether they work in SAS, SPSS, etc.

Under no circumstances is "Microsoft Word" a skill worth listing on your C.V. Neither is Power Point or Excel.

Unless you're a certified sys admin, under no circumstances is any version of Windows or a Mac operating system a skill worth listing on your C.V.; it means "I know how to turn my computer on."

And-- really, truly-- under no circumstances is your ability to e-mail or to operate a web browser a skill worth listing on your C.V.

These things aren't just weighted at zero. They make you look ridiculous.

Some things end up weighted at zero-- if the OS you list is Unix or Linux, I don't actually care, but it shows enough tech cred that I understand why you want to list it. Similarly for LaTeX; at the end of the day it's your word processing software and I think it's silly to list, but it's not actively embarrassing. But why bother? Someone with higher tech standards than I might well view it as the equivalent of listing Word, and you'll do yourself damage.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Montreal winters and grad school

At the indispensible P.H.D.

(No, it's not really set in Montreal, but it could be.)
It's time for a holy war

I now have a heresy named after me. (See background here and here.)

But I see no reason to accept the designation, for the reasons I offer in that last link; it's the pagan DeLong who's proposing to do away with an obviously canonical text.Will no one rid me of this troublesome apostate? Where are my Fremen legions to fight my jihad?

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the following does count as a heresy on my part, and I won't pretend it's an orthodoxy. I finished readin Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? yesterday-- my first time to read it or any Phillip Dick. (Embarrassing, I know.) And: Blade Runner is almost incomparably better. Not only are the characters richer and deeper and better-developed; not only are every one of the major plot changes made by the movie clear improvements over the book; and not only is the mood and environment and sense of change over time better set with "blade runners" and "replicants" than with "bounty hunters" and "androids." But also the core Dickian themes of identity confusion, memory confusion, and not knowing which way reality lies are explored in a (I'm going to get attacked here) pretty tedious and plodding fashion in the book, whereas the movie (the Director's Cut, I mean) successfully spins the viewer around and brings him or her in to the characters' confusion and uncertainty.

I think it's worse than that. I think I just didn't like the book very much. It was only the search for glimmers of the movie's greatness that kept me going through it at all; on its own it was entirely flat. The couple of scenes of ostensible head-trippy confusion about identity just inspired in me a reaction of, "Oh, OK, I guess that's what's going on. Oh, no, that's what's going on. Ah."

I can't think of a time when I've thought a movie so outshone its source book; and I can't imagine how people saw such potential for a movie in such an ordinary story. It turns out the potential was there, but I think that most of what makes the movie interesting (e.g. Roy's and Rachel's struggles with their limitations, the pathos of J.F., the Deckard-Rachel dynamic, even the kind of future that's being inhabited) was not even incipient in the book. The accomplishment was that of Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher, Vangelis, and Syd Mead and David Steiner, much more than that of Phillip K. Dick.

All right, I'll now go peacefully to my burning.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Today's reading assignment

Simon Blackburn on Bernard Williams in TNR. Get ye hence.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Not sure what I can possibly add to this.

France proposed U.K. union, papers show

January 15, 2007
Associated Press

LONDON – Would France have been better off under the Queen?

The revelation that the French government proposed a union of Britain and France in 1956, even offering to accept the sovereignty of the British Queen, has left scholars on both sides of the Channel puzzled.

Newly discovered documents in Britain's National Archives show that former French prime minister Guy Mollet discussed the possibility of a merger between the two countries with then-British prime minister Sir Anthony Eden.

"I completely fell off my seat," said Richard Vinen, an expert in French history at King's College in London. "It's such a bizarre thing to propose."

Eden rejected the idea of a union but was more favourable to a French proposal to join the Commonwealth, according to the documents. One document added that Mollet "had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty (Queen Elizabeth II)."

While the two countries, separated by a thin body of water, have been bitter rivals since the Middle Ages, the two EU partners now concentrate on trading tourists rather than arrows. What animosity remains has been relegated to world culinary name-calling.

Proposals for Anglo-French unity are not necessarily new. English royalty claimed the title of "King (or Queen) of France" into the 19th century.

Winston Churchill, in a last-ditch attempt to keep France on the side of the Allies in Second World War, appealed for a full union of the two countries in June of 1940.

After the war, Ernest Bevin, Britain's foreign secretary, also toyed with the idea of a "Western Union," a European and African bloc led by Britain and France.

The proposals all shared an element of desperation, said Kevin Ruane, a historian at Canterbury Christ Church University, England. ``It's so impracticable an idea that it has only been raised in extreme situations," he said.

Threatened by an Arab revolt in French Algeria and hobbled by instability at home, France was desperate to maintain its independence from both the Soviet Union and the United States, Ruane said. Eden, who fought in France during First World War and spoke the language fluently, might have seemed particularly approachable to Mollet, a former English teacher.

But even under the circumstances, the suggestion that France accept the British Queen struck historians as bizarre.

Mollet was a Socialist, and left-wing Frenchmen looked to the execution of French King Louis XVI as one of the crowning achievements of the French Revolution. They would have been unlikely to welcome a foreign monarch with open arms. "It must have been some kind of eccentric gesture," Vinen said.

The former French leader's memoirs showed nothing about the proposal, said Francois Lafon, a history professor at La Sorbonne in Paris and a Mollet biographer. Lafon suggested it was probably a political tactic to pressure the British to firm up their role for the imminent attack on Egypt.

A year after Britain turned down France's proposed merger, the French joined the Common Market, the European Union's predecessor. By the time Britain tried to join seven years later, the tables had turned.

Charles De Gaulle had brought a new order to French political life and largely revived its international standing, even as Britain's economy continued to stagnate. De Gaulle vetoed Britain's attempts to join the European Economic Community, twice.

"In retrospect, the irony of this was that the losers were the British," Vinen said. "Maybe we'd be in a better position being ruled by Charles de Gaulle in 1965 than Harold Wilson."

Not all Frenchmen were so sure.

"Can you imagine?" said Jose-Alain Fralon, author of "Help, the English are invading!" "What would the English tabloids do if they could no longer tell stories about the froggies, and what about those French who blame everything on the English?"

The British, he added, are "our most dear enemies" and "we would lose all of the saltiness in our relationship" had the two countries merged.

Still, he said, the two peoples complement each other marvelously.

"Roast beef and frogs don't go together in the same dish. But frogs legs as a starter and a good roast beef as the main dish – c'est merveilleux," he said.

The documents, which have been declassified for over twenty years, were found by a BBC producer late last month.


Immigration as a topic makes people say and do stupid things.

Mr. Ramirez, 20, received his change in American coins and said he liked the chain’s new “Pizza por Pesos” promotion. He had been in the United States for 15 days — his home is in Guanajuato, Mexico — and he wanted to spend the last of his Mexican currency.

“I just arrived,” he said in Spanish, smiling nervously. “It’s my first time here.”

The employees at this Pizza PatrĂ³n in East Dallas, one of 59 in five Southwestern and Western states, were still puzzling over the conversion rates almost a week after the chain started accepting peso bills on Jan. 8.

But the promotion has already hit a nerve in the nationwide immigration debate. The company’s Dallas headquarters received about 1,000 e-mail messages on Thursday alone. Some were supportive, but many called the idea unpatriotic, with messages like, “If you want to accept the peso, go to Mexico!” There were even a few death threats.[...]

Just before 8 p.m., the phone rang with another boycott announcement. “Next thing you know, we’re going to be raising Mexico’s flag,” the caller complained.

Where to begin?

Many smart businesses on both sides of the Canada-US border have accepted both currencies for decades. And not only tourism-intensive businesses; tat the supermarket where I worked as a teenager, some 200 miles south of the Canadian border, we accepted up to a dollar in coins at face value and then were supposed to check for an exchange rate after that point.

Business establishments all over the world accept the U.S. dollar under a variety of conditions.

Airports often function in multiple currencies, and there doesn't seem to be any reason to restict that convenience to people who travel by air.

As someone who hops back and forth across a border a fair amount, I instantly recognized the pizza place's rationale:

“It’s for convenience,” Mr. Palacios said. “Most of Mexico’s people, they go in December to Mexico to celebrate and be with family. They come back and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got 200 pesos; what do I do with it?’

The default answer is "stick it in a dresser drawer and hope you remember to get it out before your next trip" (just like all my old Washington MetroCards)-- at which point you'll spend it in the other country. What's the dimension on which it's worse for the U.S. to have people buying an extra pizza in the U.S. than hoarding their money and spending it in Mexico? The amounts are too small for it to make sense to go to a currency exchange; the commission would eat it up. So the options are spend pesos in the U.S., spend them in Mexico, or don't spend them.

I know, I know, it's supposed to be all "symbolic."
“It’s a trivial example, but Hispanics now have their own pizza chain,” Mr. Krikorian said. “It’s a consequence of having too many people arrive from a single foreign culture, and may well reflect a kind of cultural secession"

But it's an act of interpretation, not a natural fact, that makes this a symbol of "cultural secession." And it's a particularly bad synecdoche. Why not treat it as symbolic of the cleverness of Mexican-American entrepreneurs, and their canniness at combining currency trading with pizza delivery and thereby speeding up their pursuit of the American Dream? Or, for that matter, why not express appreciation to the consumers who are spending their had-earned pesos north of the border rather than south, and keeping the local economy that much stronger?

I'm surprised that the massive remittance economy hasn't ever been demagogued; seems ripe for it. But this is effectively the reverse of remittances. Weird.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Brad DeLong complains:

Oh S--- It's Cold!
Headed out the door at 7:15 AM with the Labrador. Sun rises at 7:20. It felt like... Labrador: 22F.

This isn't supposed to happen in San Francisco.

I am not, repeat not, moving to Canadia anytime soon.

My gloves are inadequate. I can't find my facemask with the neoprene mouth covering. I'm not evolved for this.

To which I reply in his comments:
Well, the day that it was 22 in the beautiful Bay area it was 39 here in New France. This climate change thing has worked out well for my first winter in Montreal-- very mild overall, milder than I remember New Hampshire winters of my youth. Took the chien for a 2-hour bike ride yesterday.

On the other hand...

On the other hand, the good times may be ending. Highs in the next week are predicted at 18, 14, 8, 30, 31, 13, 4. (I can think in kilometers and kilograms and liters but *cannot* think in celsius.) So, yes, if 22 frightens you, you might want to hold off on joining us in Canadia.
Bad signs, good signs

It's a bad sign-- of incipient middle age, or senility, or old-dogness, or just falling into caricaturable absent-mindedness-- when seven years of "Tuesday-Thursday 1:30-2:50" schedules leave you so programmed that, on just the third day of class at your new university, you show up half an hour late to your own 1-2:20 lecture.

It's a good sign-- that your students are highly dutiful and responsible, or reliable and eager, or maybe even interested in hearing your wars of religion lecture-- that almost all of them are still there when you arrive.