April 2009

The big news this morning is that Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Huzzah! If Al Franken comes through in Minnesota, the Dems. will have a filibuster-proof majority. This is earth-shattering news for a Republican party that's already coming apart at the seams.

Here's how Specter describes his decision:

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats… I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans. Since [the stimulus package vote], I have traveled the State, talked to Republican leaders and office-holders and my supporters and I have carefully examined public opinion. It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate."

And here's how Republicans responded. Michael Steele, the idiot at the helm of the Republicans ship said this:

"[Specter] didn’t leave the G.O.P. based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record. Republicans look forward to beating Senator Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don’t do it first."

John McCain, vying for the title of sorest-loser also said: "It’s pretty obvious the polls show him well behind his primary opponent." I don't doubt there's some truth to what the Republicans are saying. But this is the equivalent to responding to a witty, biting, true critique by saying 'I know you are but what am I!' or 'Your Mom!'. Steele, idiot that he is, basically just said what Specter himself said: Republicans are now the party of the extreme right. Specter is not an extreme right Republican, and because his ideology is so out of sync with the new (but old) Republican party, he also probably couldn't get re-elected. The two are one and the same.

I don't get it. Doesn't the GOP have a few extra bucks to hire a PR person to tell them when to shut up? How to respond to unfortunate events without sounding like a pissant 12-year old or throwing fuel on the fire? Honestly, an undergraduate intern would do fine.

I don't know, but I'm cracking up. FAIL Blog++.

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I've done a complete redesign of my website at technotaste.com. I'd be interested in any comments, critiques, ways to improve it. Thanks!

Slashdot has syndicated a story about some research claiming that Facebook use is correlated with getting worse grades in college. Apparently:

…Facebook user GPAs were in the 3.0 to 3.5 range on average, compared to 3.5 to 4.0 for non-users. Facebook users also studied anywhere from one to five hours per week, compared to non-users who studied 11 to 15 or more hours per week.

If this seems fishy to you, you're not alone. At least the author of the press piece communicates the researcher's note that correlation isn't causation. The researcher herself (a doctoral student from Ohio State named Aryn Karpinski) seems convinced what she's seeing is an unobserved variable problem. I think that's likely to be true, but I'd also guess there's a huge bias in this type of self-report data. I'm guessing that, on average, college students use Facebook about the same regardless of their GPA. But – and this is a big but – if you're a person who's getting good grades, you probably also carry around a set of social norms about what you should be doing with your time. So when someone asks you how much time you spend on a distraction you're likely to under-report your time on Facebook, and over-report the time you spend studying. That would be especially true for something like Facebook, which increasingly carries a stigma as a frivolous time-sink.

In fairness, the researcher in this case seems to have worked as hard as possible to communicate her findings, and had her story twisted through the popular press. Blogger Ted Shelton wrote a fairly snarky piece about her (OSU Researcher Discovers Dorks), to which she responded directly, and Ted posted the response (and an apology):

The main thing to remember is that this research is correlational, which the media does not seem to understand (no surprise). I am not saying that Facebook CAUSES poor academic performance. I am saying that the research shows that there is a RELATIONSHIP between Facebook use and academic performance. There are a host of third variables that need to be examined that are potentially influencing this relationship such as personality, work, extracurricular involvement, other distractions, etc. Also, I'm sure that if it wasn't Facebook it would be another distraction. See how they twisted my words? Fun fun…