One year ago today, Cersei Lannister sent the greatest memo of all time

Tonight is the beginning of Game of Thrones, Season 5, and thus it also marks the anniversary of when Cersei Lannister circulated what was perhaps the greatest memo ever written in Westeros. Titled, “issues with various Houses,” it noted in passing that basically none of House Lannister’s unification and pacification efforts were working well, and asked Grand Maester Pycelle to solve all the problems:

TO: Grand Maester Pycelle

FROM: Cersei Lannister

SUBJECT: Issues w/Various Houses

We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Greyjoy and Bolton. If they mess up the North, it will delay bringing our troops home.

We also need to solve the Tyrell problem.

And Dragonstone doesn’t seem to be going well.

Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?


Needless to say, we are all very excited to see how none of this will get solved this season.


A Game of Filibusters

In honor of Wendy Davis.

We Do Not Sit

For details.

Designing Social Research

This post’s title has nothing to do with research design. Instead, I want to talk about graphic design. Specifically, I want to propose a fun game/topic of debate.*

Which field’s top journal has the best design, layout, and formatting?

Because I’m asking, I’ll let each field pick two journals as the “top” (Sociology has 2, so this makes my job easy). Neither AJS nor ASR are amazing, though I kind like ASR’s title pages. The motivation for this game is the new issue of APSR (including several very interesting articles for sociologists, especially this one on a political theory of the corporation). I have to say, for a two column format, I think APSR has ASR beat.

So, academic design snobs, which journal will reign supreme?

*And by fun I mean incredibly nerdy.

Pulp-O-Mizer Your Dissertation, Article, or Book!

If you have a bit of free time this Saturday afternoon and you are trying to figure out how to spend it, I highly recommend the Pulp-O-Mizer. It lets you design your own pulp science fiction cover… or make your dissertation seem a whole lot more entertaining.

Inventing the Economy Pulp Image 2013

Making Up Numbers About Money: An Up-Goer Five Study

Some of you have likely seen the amazing comic where former NASA employee Randall Munroe explains the Saturn V rocket using only the one thousand most common English words: Up-Goer Five.* This turned out to be so much fun, Since then, the game of explaining research using basic words has taken off, aided by the Up-Goer Five Text Editor. In that spirit, here’s an attempt at a dissertation title and abstract based on my own work.

Making Up Numbers About Money

I study how people think about money. I am really interested in why we think about money the way we do now, and how the way we think now is so different from how we used to think about money. Before, we didn’t have so many numbers to use for thinking about money, but now we have all sorts of numbers. We pay a lot of attention to some of these numbers, but only a little attention to others. I want to know why we focus on these numbers and not others, and what changed because we focus on these numbers.

*Notably, Dr. Seuss did something similar to write “The Cat in the Hat,” but with just 225 common words.

The Material and Social Construction of Michigan Time

Attention Conservation Notice*: If you aren’t at UM, or someone who cares passionately about the intricacies of University scheduling policies, you might not care about this post.

The University of Michigan, like all Universities, must construct its own temporality. That’s a really fancy way of saying that Universities have to schedule things: classes, meetings, exams, vacations, semesters and so on. Michigan, like most of its peers, produces an “Academic Calendar” that translates the dominant calendar into one that fits the logic of the organization, producing “Academic Years”, “Semesters” and so on. Similarly, Michigan transforms the 24 hour day into time slots for courses.

As with most constructions, there is variation across sites. Michigan’s calendar is different from Michigan State’s, and so on. And as with most arguments about social construction, the goal here is to point out how Michigan’s system works, how it could work differently, and suggest that maybe it should (cf. Hacking 1999). Michigan’s temporal order (so to speak) has two especially notable features, one of which I absolutely love, and one of which is very frustrating.

First, Michigan uses a semester system. In itself, this is not remarkable. What is lovely is the names that Michigan attaches to each semester. The September-December semester is called “Fall.” The January-April semester is called “Winter.” This is an incredible piece of truth-in-advertising. The Fall semester wraps up in the middle of December, just as Winter is kicking into gear. At some places, the January-April term would be called “Spring.” This would be incredibly misleading in Michigan, which routinely snows and is dark and cold through March, and sometimes April. So, hooray for accurately named semesters.

Second, every school has to deal with the “passing time” problem. Students need a few minutes to move between courses scheduled back-to-back in different buildings. The two obvious solutions to this problem are to end classes slightly before the hour (or half-hour) or start them slightly after. Michigan uses the latter system; a 1pm class actually starts at 1:10pm. This practice of beginning class 10 minutes after the hour (or half hour) is known colloquially as “Michigan Time.”

The problem comes from the way Michigan time is materially or technologically represented inside the enrollment system and schedule of classes – or more accurately, how it isn’t represented. Instead of listing classes as starting at say 1:10pm or 1:40pm, the system lists these classes as starting at 1pm or 1:30pm. Since students and faculty all “know” that they really start 10 minutes later, this doesn’t create a big coordination problem around classes proper. It does however create a problem for other meeting times that are not courses. For example, a review session or exam scheduled in the evening may or may not start on the hour exactly. A professor’s office hours may or may not start on the dot. And so on. So here’s where the “and maybe it should be different” part comes in. If the schedule of classes unambiguously listed the start time of courses as 10 minutes after the hour (or half-hour), then “Michigan time” would not have an ambiguous carry-over into other activities that are related to, but distinct from, courses themselves. A professor who needed the 10 minutes to get to their office before office hours would simply list them as starting at 1:10pm instead of 1pm. If a meeting was supposed to start exactly on the hour, it would be listed as such without any confusion. The current system create ambiguity by requiring interpretation on the part of students and faculty about whether Michigan time “applies” to a given event.

*A concept shamelessly stolen from Cosma Shalizi.

Paul of House Ryan, First of His Name

Presented without further comment.

Announcing the New Theme of ASA 2013!

During a chance encounter with our Dear Leader, ASA President Erik Olin Wright, I learned that the theme for ASA 2013 has been revamped. Following the immense success of this year’s Real Utopias, next year’s theme will continue Sociology’s collective speculation on the various futures of humanity. Here’s a sneak peak at the theme and logo:

ASA 2013 Theme

Logo design by Evan Hensleigh

When asked for his thoughts on next year’s somewhat darker theme, NU Sociologist Jim Mahoney commented “Brainnnns.”

Edit: New information, just in! Three “Unreal Dystopia” sessions have been announced. Political Scientist Charli Carpenter will give a keynote address entitled “Robot Apocalypse: Could it Happen Here?” Sociologists Tina Fetner, Brayden King and Theda Skocpol will lead a panel discussion on “President Palin’s America.” Finally, quantitative methodologists Morgan and Winship will lead an afternoon workshop, “Cyclical Graphs: The Darkest Timeline.”

99 Problems but the Fourth Amendment Ain’t One

When my best friend was studying for his exam for a police procedure law school class, he asked me to give him some hypothetical situations for him to analyze. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was Jay-Z’s classic traffic stop situation in 99 Problems. Apparently, I am not the only one to think that this case would be useful for understanding legal complexities of police procedure. Scatterplot just linked to a cute 2012 article in the St. Louis Law Review by Caleb Mason: JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS. Here’s a sample of the analysis:

“In my rearview mirror… I got two choices …” The calculation Jay-Z has to make is whether, knowing that the car contains concealed contraband, he’s better off trying to flee or hoping that the police won’t find the drugs during the stop. This may be the hardest choice perps face (until they have to decide whether or not to cooperate), but there’s only one answer: you are always better off having drugs found on you in a potentially illegal search than you are fleeing from a potentially illegal search and getting caught. The flight will provide an independent basis for chasing and arresting you, and the inadequacy of the quantum of suspicion supporting the initial attempted seizure will not taint the contraband discovered if there is an intervening flight. Law students: practice explaining the preceding sentence to a layperson. Smugglers, repeat after me: you have to eat the bust, and fight it in court.

Important life lessons, to be sure.

EDIT: After finishing the essay, I actually learned two important things. The first is that Jay-Z is slightly wrong: the cop does not need a warrant to search his trunk or glove compartment, but the cop does need probable cause (which he likely does not have): “If this Essay serves no other purpose, I hope it serves to debunk, for any readers who persist in believing it, the myth that locking your trunk will keep the cops from searching it. … in any vehicle stop, the officers may search the entire car, without consent, if they develop probable cause to believe that car contains, say, drugs.”

The second, far more important, thing is that “the bitch” Jay-Z refers to is apparently the police dog that is not present at the stop. Footnote 91, “JAY-Z, supra note 3, at 61 (“In this verse, the bitch is a female dog, the K-9 cop coming to sniff the ride.”); Id. at 56 (“At no point in the song am I talking about a girl.”).” If a cop delays someone simply to wait for a K-9 unit without probable cause, that constitutes an illegal delay, and any contraband discovered in the search may be ruled inadmissible. So, the fact that the cop didn’t already have a K-9 with him when he stopped Jay-Z is actually legally and practically relevant, and justifies Jay-Z’s claim that he has 99 problems but “a bitch ain’t one.”

Pirate Sociology

[Warning: These jokes are bad.]

What’s a pirate’s favorite stats package?

What’s a pirate’s favorite goodness of fit statistic?
Arrrr squared!

Who’s a pirate’s favorite world-systems theorist?
Giovanni Arrrrighi!

What’s a pirate’s favorite post-structuralist methods text?
Arrrrchaeology of Knowledge!

What’s a pirate’s favorite journal editorial decision?
Accept. Pirates need pubs too!

Add your own – or any other sociology-related jokes – in the comments.