some more on vioxx

Medical Examiner in Slate:
To test the thesis that Vioxx might help prevent bowel cancer, researchers sponsored by Merck launched a study of 2,500 patients during the course of which it became apparent that whatever the drug's effect on cancer risk, it clearly increased the risk of heart attacks and of stroke. As a result of these findings, Merck took Vioxx off the market, leading to an estimated loss of $28 billion in market value for its stock. (It's worth noting that this increased cardiovascular risk appears to be a class effect that applies to all COX-2 drugs, not just Vioxx.)
The NEJM study in question. (may require proxy or whatever)

There's a limit to how much I can tune out

And scott doesn't help much with his bizarre fascination with television. I hate it. He has these dumb-ass distractions on, which for the most part I can ignore, but then he likes to comment upon them as if I'm paying the slightest bit of attention. The present one, of course, is the end of american idol. The perfunctory Times article calls it a “monster-size celebration of mediocrity that, astonishingly, has not lost its hold on viewers even in its fifth season.”

future recipe: jeweled rice

A friend asked for thoughts on this, which didn't impress me all that much, but it did make me think of one of my favorite dishes, Persian jeweled rice.

The Great Yellow Hope

He does tend to repeat himself a bit, but Michael Pollan is dead-on about the grotesqueries of industrial agriculture (including industrial organic). Unfortunately you'll need someone's borrowed password for TimesSelect®™, but he's worth reading if you have one.
The way we grow corn in this country consumes tremendous quantities of fossil fuel. Corn receives more synthetic fertilizer than any other crop, and that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels — mostly natural gas. Corn also receives more pesticide than any other crop, and most of that pesticide is made from petroleum. To plow or disc the cornfields, plant the seed, spray the corn and harvest it takes large amounts of diesel fuel, and to dry the corn after harvest requires natural gas. So by the time your “green” raw material arrives at the ethanol plant, it is already drenched in fossil fuel. Every bushel of corn grown in America has consumed the equivalent of between a third and a half gallon of gasoline.

And that’s before you distill the corn into ethanol, an energy-intensive process that requires still more fossil fuel. Estimates vary, but they range from two-thirds to nine-tenths of a gallon of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol. (The more generous number does not count all the energy costs of growing the corn.) Some estimates are still more dismal, suggesting it may actually take more than a gallon of fossil fuel to produce a gallon of our putative alternative to fossil fuel.


yummm, wine.

wine label picture

The Bottom Shelf » Blog Archive » Honey Moon Viognier (I'll be enjoying some of this with the faux tandoori chicken, I think – I quite liked this wine's cousin, the Old Moon Zinfandel, also from TJ’s and also about $6.)

Jeff Krimmel’sThe Bottom Shelf” linked above is a neat blog anyway. It’s not clear what Jeff’s field is, but the site subtitle is “a graduate student opines on beer and wine.” That’s what I do!

desperately needed: statistical literacy

What do these confidence intervals show?This piece on Vioxx from NYT is interesting for a few reasons – none more so than for how crucial the interpretation of statistical evidence can be. Vioxx trials will involve people offering both the naïve intuition about confidence intervals (if they overlap, there's no difference; good for Vioxx) and the correct one (you need the full variance-covariance matrix to perform a hypothesis test).

I’ve long argued that basic statistics should be required in high school instead of either geometry or algebra II. It wouldn't make much difference in the case of tricky interpretations like this one, but I do think that people would be better served by a working knowledge of basic statistical theory more than by sines or Cramer’s rule.

My comps questions

Day 1: Choose one question from each section:

  1. Henry Teune and Adam Przeworski argue persuasively against the use of “most similar systems” research designs. Yet it is fair to say that most similar systems designs continue to dominate in small-N, cross-national research in comparative politics. Write an essay in which you evaluate the legitmacy/utility of most similar systems designs and attempt to explain their persistence in the face of T&P’s criticisms.
  2. Among the factors that make quantitative studies superior to case-based qualitative studies are their ability to deal with issues such as reliability, validity, omitted variable bias, endogeneity, and the like. But these advantages cannot be taken as a given; the authors must ensure that their research design overcomes potential pitfalls. Using the paper we have attached (Fearon and Laitin APSR 2003 [“Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War”]), critically evaluate whether their analysis suffers from these (or any other) weaknesses that would undermine their results. Tell us if you find their argument and explanation convincing, and if not, why not?
  3. Sophisticated tools for the statistical analysis of multi-level data have been used in political science to make sense of a variety of theoretical problems, but these methods seem to be underemployed inc omparative politics. What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of these methods? How can they aid our understanding of cross-country political dynamics? Can you think of research programs within comparative politics where these methods could prove fruitful?
  1. It is common to argue, after Schattschneider, that modern democracy cannot be understood save in terms of political parties. What might this statement mean? Under what conditions are political parties likely to bolster representation of societal preferences and reinforce mechanisms of accountability? Are there circumstances under which parties become a hindrance to democracy? In your answer, please draw from comparative research into political parties and party systems.
  2. Larry Diamond argues that the consolidation of a democratic transition
    is most usefully construed as the process of achieving broad and deep legitimation, such that all significant political actors, at both the élite and mass levels, believe that the democratic régime is the most right and appropriate for their society, better than any other realistic alternative their can imagine. Political competitors must come to regard democracy (and the laws, procedures, and institutions it species) as “the only game in town,” the only viable framework for governing the society and advancing their own interests. At the mass level, there must be a broad normative and behavioral consensus – one that cutts across class, ethnic, nationality, and other cleavages – on the legitimacy of the constitutional system, however poor or unsatisfying its performance may be at any point in time (Diamond 1999, p. 65)
    Do you agree with Diamond? Why or why not? What specific processes are implicit in the theory advanced by Diamond? That is, trace in some detail the connections between democratic consolidation and the beliefs of “political competitors.” Finally, provide and example of a transitional political system that either supports or refutes the priciple hypothesis of this theory
  3. Literature on comparative political development frequently refers to the capacity of the state (e.g. strong states v. weak states). What are the determinants of state capacity? What characteristics do strong and weak states have? What does it matter to theories of development? How have these capacities changed as a result of globalization

Day 2: Choose one question from each section:

[Really, for both of these blocs I thought, why bother with choices beyond (1)?]
  1. Some years ago the social movement literature was challenged by scholars who argued that in postindustrial societies, “new” social movements were more important. Today, however, newly democratic societies and developing countries seem to be experiencing social movements and conflict that fit the “old” social movement paradigm. How relevant is the “new” social movement literature today and where would you find it most appropriate? What conceptual leverage do we gain from the distinction between old and new?
  2. Scholars disagree about many aspects of inter-ethnic conflict, ranging from how widespread it is, to its origins, to its consequences for political systems. Take a position on these three issues (level of conflict, causes, and consequences) and analyze the relevant literature. Does effective democracy require and/or profit from cultural homogeneity? Explain how and why.
  3. On of the largest and most influential literatures in comparative politics has to do with interpersonal trust. Trust is often considered as a variable with broad consequences for most aspects of democratization. For example, some believe that such trust is a fundamental building block of democracy; others assert that a primary mechanism through which cultural heterogeneity impedes democracy is the breakdown of trust in multi-ethnic societies. Even institutionalists ascribe a large role to trust. Develop a theory addressing the importance of interpersonal trust within the context of attempted democratic transitions. Pay particular attention to the interplay, if any, between interpersonal trust and trust in institutions. Also address the importance, if any, of multiculturalism in this process. Be certain to identify the myriad ways in which trust has (or is thought to have) consequences for democratization.
  1. On May 1, 2004, the European Union expanded once again and now it is a political and economic union of 25 countries. While some scholars advocate the use of the comparative method to the study of the European Union, many leading EU scholars remain skeptical. Can comparative politics, with its focus on domestic political processes, fully capture the salient issues of EU political interaction? Be sure to cite specific approaches and scholars in your answer.
  2. In Hegemony and Culture, David Laitin speaks of “two faces of culture,” one face ordering political priorities and the other facilitating collective action. Laitin’s work aims to merge these two aspects. Do one of the following:
    • critize Laitin’s approach; or
    • identify another work of comparative politics that onlyl employs one of these aspects of culture and discuss how it could be enhanced through integration of the other face of culture.
    Support your answer with references to other studies of political culture whose approaches you regard as worthy of emulation, or avoidance



  • faux tandoori chicken
  • pizzas with peppers, onions, and garlic
  • gemelli with broccoli, peas, and ham
  • beef and vegetable chili over sweet potatoes
  • fish tacos
  • sweet thai noodle sauce, rice noodles; fried tofu with chili and garlic



  • Quiche with asparagus & bacon, salad with red onions
  • Stir-fried beef, ginger, bok choy, scallions, black pepper sauce
  • Something with a chicken, beet salad
  • Apple-lamb bratwurst, pumpernickel, salad


reason for blog decline

The firefox blogthis plugin is acting strange – my usual method of blogging is highlighting a nice quote, right-clicking, and going from there. However, the word-confirmation step is getting confused now and I don't know why. Hopefully the problem is some laziness on my part in updating firefox or the plugin.

grading makes me laugh

On this immigration exam one of the questions asks the students to integrate family immigration history with broader trends discussed in the class and in the literature.
Isaac was like many Eastern European Jews of his generation…. [His] love for education and his protestant work ethic … set the foundation for the future success of his family.


In a Tiny Queens Apartment, 70 Cats Gone, and 28 to Go - New York Times

In a Tiny Queens Apartment, 70 Cats Gone, and 28 to Go - New York Times:

"Although it is against Wiccan principles to put a harmful spell upon others, Ms. Neer said as she took out a special candle used for 'super-duper protection spells,' one may cast a boomerang spell on a harmful person to so that the harm comes back to him.

But while she has managed to stave off eviction thus far, the witchcraft is not working wonders on the cat front."