La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Spiritual leaders and big guns

On our way to the Emory library (from which I'm writing this), we saw the Dalai Lama's motorcade leaving campus. Brian spotted him in a sleek four door sedan, while I was too busy staring at his security. He was followed by at least two SUVs: one with big security guys in suits facing outward and another in which commando-style guys were sitting in front of each open window (including the rear window) facing outward with some of the biggest automatic weapons I've ever seen in real life. Pretty intimidating.

We've seen the Pope's procession before. Though this one was smaller, it clearly had more firepower.

posted by Michelle @ 12:23 PM, 1 comments

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Analyze this

Since graduate school, I have periodically had stress-related dreams in which I'm racing to the airport to catch a plane and have invariably forgotten my suitcase, passport, etc.

Last night, I had a new type of stress-related dream. I was on my way to work, but it was like Disneyland and along a river walk. The bus let me out on this little finger of land (about 2-3 people wide) that extended over the middle of the river. There was a crush of people.

Just as I was turning around to walk away from the edge of the finger and to take the long way around to the edge of the river, a party boat for a loud morning radio show passed under the finger and exploded a bunch of silly string on all of us. The crowd on the finger tightened and surged.

I decided to just jump into the river and swim to the edge, since that would be the shortest route to work.

Once I was in the water, however, I realized that I had my laptop bag and another bag filled with research-related papers on my shoulders. I worried that my data would be lost. I decided to swim more quickly.

As I neared the edge, I noticed someone else swimming and having a time of it. Like Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire, I had to decide whether to save my data or this person. I decided I was strong enough to save both and with one last burst of energy pushed myself and the other person to the surface.

Once on the sidewalk next to the river, I opened my laptop bag to discover that my laptop was only a little wet and booted up fine (though Windows in my dream was very Disney--imagine puffy fonts and bright colors) and my papers were half soaked, but salvageable and not disintegrated.

So everything was o.k. I gathered my things and continued my way through the crowds to work.

So what's that about?

posted by Michelle @ 10:14 AM, 2 comments

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's in the mail...

Actually, it's already on the editor's desk.

Yesterday, I sent off my book manuscript on the development of welfare in Mexico since the 1920s. You can browse chapters online. (Of course, I'm willing to send hard copies to anyone willing to give me feedback!)

Of the most interest to my Mexican readers will probably be the very-up-to-date discussion of the ISSSTE reform in March 2007.

Yesterday, I also re-estimated some equations (with some alternative measures to those we used in the first version--and the new results are even better!!) for a joint paper with one of our grad students and typed up some of the response-to-reviewers for a very simple R&R at JofLAS. I'll finish the revisions/response today.

And then, it's on to the next--the R&R at CP, which essentially is only cutting/tightening the literature review. It should be done by Friday, which is good because tomorrow I meet again with my RA to run the data for my new project with Andrew Roberts. He's going to present a first iteration of the project next month at a small meeting at TAMU. So all weekend is likely to be consumed with "fun with Stata." Oddly enough, I'm totally looking forward to it. (It sure beats formatting a 30+ page bibliography!)

I'm also sitting on some revised figures to insert into the paper Vicki Birchfield and I presented in early September in Florence. Once she sends me the revised text, I can do some touch-ups to the discussion of the methods, insert the new figures, and it's off to a journal. Another fun project for this weekend.

posted by Michelle @ 1:13 PM, 2 comments

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why EndNote has a new customer

I have spent probably 20+ hours over the last three days correcting, checking, finding AOL, and formatting bibliographic and interview entries for my 300+ page book manuscript. Talk about tedious.

posted by Michelle @ 4:59 PM, 2 comments

Monday, October 08, 2007

Democracy and the quality of legislation

I've read lots of Mexican social security law. Lots. I couldn't tell you if it's really getting that much better, but I can certainly tell you that it's getting a lot longer.

In the days of the PRI, social security law was vague, like a set of suggestions for benefits and practices.

The 1995 Social Insurance Law (Ley del Seguro Social or Ley del IMSS) was a little bit more detailed and longer.

The 2007 Social Security for State Workers Law (Ley del ISSSTE) is downright tedious. It's long and filled with lots of legalese and technical language that just wasn't there before.

On the one hand, perhaps you might argue that privatized pensions require more detailed legislation. But, even PAYGO systems are still pensions and probably deserved or required just as much detail in the legislation.

On the other hand, I suspect that the changes in (this piece or type of ) legislation have more to do with two recent trends. First, the authors of the laws have changed; this law was drafted by a bunch of economists in the Ministry of Finance, rather than party or union leaders. Second, now politicians want to use laws to "lock in" certain types of transparent or narrow behaviors, whereas the PRI wanted laws to be vague and flexible.

I'm less familiar with other types of legislation in Mexico or even legislation in other Latin American countries that have experienced dual transitions (in this case, the rise of neoliberal economists/technocrats and democratization). But, I wonder if this trend is occurring in other legislative domains and in other places? And how would you measure the "quality" of legislation? You could certainly measure its length. You could maybe use some form of discourse analysis to compare the types of language used. You could probably come up with some dimension of narrow versus flexible (or open-to-interpretation) legislation.

I believe some researchers on American politics have analyzed patterns of legislation and may offer some methodological and theoretical insights. In countries like Mexico, I would expect the changes in the form legislation takes to vary over time due to increased democratization and efforts to tie the hands of future elected officials. I'd also expect the changes in legislation to vary across types of legislation, with laws related to structural reforms and political liberalization to be more detailed and constraining.

It's not something I have time to research now (being neck deep in the ISSSTE privatization...) but it's curious.

posted by Michelle @ 11:43 AM, 1 comments

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Adventures in OSS computing

Time to get both R and WinEdt installed and working properly on my Vista laptop: 2+ hours.

I'm guessing it will be another 5 to produce the scatterplot with confidence intervals that has led me to R in the first place.

I've never listed statistical software on my CV before. I always assumed that folks would know that I'm proficient at various packages if I use various methods in my research and teach a graduate level baby-stats course. But, if my progress with R goes how I think it is likely to go, I can now understand the temptation to add it to your CV--that is, something that takes so much time should get its own line.

Update: I gave up. I found a package in Stata that will do what I need. Also, I discovered that the iTunes download of Season 3 of Veronica Mars is what ate all my laptop disk space--a mystery that has been plaguing me for a couple of weeks.

Update 2: I am the Stata graph master!

posted by Michelle @ 2:17 PM, 1 comments

Friday, October 05, 2007

Amazing tidbit of the day

The 2005 proposal to privatize government pensions in Mexico defined one of the family beneficiaries as:
"El conyuge, cualquiera que sea su genero, o a falta de este, el varon o la mujer con quiern, segun sea el caso, la Trabajadora o el Trabajador o el Pensionado o la Pensionada ha vivido como si fuera su conyuge durante los cinco anso anteriores o con uien tuviese uno o mas hijos(as), siempre ue ambos permanezcan libres de matrimonio." [apologies for the lack of accents]

The clause, I think, is meant to say that a female worker can cover her husband and count him as a beneficiary. In the IMSS system, female workers can only cover her husband if he is unable to work. (I don't remember off-hand the rules under the 1983 ISSSTE law.)

However, the way the clause is written, it seems to me, could open the door to same-sex couples claiming benefits.

I wonder if this has happened yet?

Update: It seems this loophole was found and closed in the final version of the law.

posted by Michelle @ 9:58 AM, 0 comments

Mexico City slideshow

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