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.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Haven't done this in a while

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Luckily, "teacher/professor" is listed as an appropriate job. Unfortunately, W is apparently the same personality type. But, then again, so are Lucy and Leia.

Back to work.

posted by Michelle @ 11:06 AM, 0 comments

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Returned to the office today to find R&Rs from CP and the J of Latin American Studies waiting for me. This is in addition to R&Rs from PS and J of Policy Modeling that I received earlier this summer.

Oh...and there's that ~$40K grant that Andrew Roberts and I got this summer, too.

Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy.

Posting will be light for the next 7 weeks as I crank out lots of work.

posted by Michelle @ 1:46 PM, 5 comments

Happy Valley, PA

I just returned from this summer's PolMeth meeting at Penn State. Burt and Suzie did a great job hosting the meeting. This was my 5th Polmeth conference, second as a faculty member. This year the format changed to allow more people to attend and participate. I heard rumblings among some of the younger core of polmethers about the new format. Understandably, some of the core group of methodologists resent the presence of those they perceive as interlopers who make the conference too big and impersonal for their tastes. True, this year's presentations sometimes lacked the humor, inside running jokes, and quick wit of presentations from earlier conferences. At the same time, as one of the applied methodologists (or interlopers) who attends the meetings (and by the way, pays my Polmeth dues regularly), I'm grateful for the opportunity to attend what amounts to a 4 day seminar on cutting edge methods. Further, it seems that the old core is busy replicating the smaller polmeth experience with small meetings in the bay and NYC areas, which should placate those who resent the growth in popularity of the summer meeting.

From my perspective, if you want applied methodologists and the discipline in general to adopt more sophisticated methods (i.e., you want to proselytize to the masses), you have to let the masses join your flock and attend your church.

posted by Michelle @ 1:27 PM, 0 comments

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I've been working 12+ hour days the last few days. Today, I'm the only one in the building and have been here since lunchtime. For the last hour, the network, including internet and printing, has been down and the statistical software I've been using (HLM) has been refusing to run commands, either fatally terminating the program or just not running the options/tests I've requested.

I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, and Sally is there to pull it away at the last minute.


Does this mean I can stop for the day and go see Harry Potter instead?

posted by Michelle @ 6:11 PM, 0 comments

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The night is young

I spent the last seven hours troubleshooting SPSS syntax files. I finally got them all recoded and merged into one megafile of almost 400K respondents from 15 multinational surveys between 1985 and 2004.

[Finally got that one file to work, though I'm not sure how. I removed all blank spaces in the file and coded all variables as scaler, and then it worked. Thanks Chris!]

Now, I'm back home with three new Buffy DVDs from Netflix (Discs 2-4 from Season 6) and a chocolate frosty from Wendy's. I'm ready for what Brian called a "Stats Party"! Let the fun begin!

posted by Michelle @ 10:23 PM, 3 comments

Monday, July 09, 2007

I hate...

... debugging data analysis syntax files.

In particular, I hate the following SPSS error message, for which I can find no explanation:

>Warning # 511
>A division by zero has been attempted on the indicated command. The result
>has been set to the system-missing value.

>Command line: 58 Current case: 11444 Current splitfile group: 1

The offending code:

*Re-code for education*.
RECODE educyrs (93 thru 99=SYSMIS) (0=SYSMIS).
AGGREGATE OUTFILE = edumeans.sav
/sdedu = SD(educyrs)
/meanedu=MEAN(educyrs) .

I've gone to the case where the problem begins and there's data there. I've double-checked the system missing codes. I've looked at the group means, etc. I've done everything but pull my hair out.

posted by Michelle @ 6:55 PM, 8 comments

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Closing the Pride of the East Side?

It appears the Texas Education Agency has ordered the closing of my former high school due to unacceptable academic standards and progress.

My initial reaction was one of disappointment. The first year that I attended was the first year that mandatory busing was not used to integrate the school. Instead, they opened a Liberal Arts Academy, which has since been moved to another East Side campus.

Ironically (or perhaps not so ironically), my freshman year was also the first year that students from my neighborhood would be bused to Johnston, 10 miles away. Though another high school was geographically closer, it was just on the West side of I-35, which meant it was a world away. I always thought that it was strange that they ended busing for integration only to bus a bunch of minority kids from a low income area to a low income area on the East Side, rather than busing us to a school on the West side. But I digress....

When I attend Johnston, the dropout and retention rates were high, though test scores, including those for minority students, were not too bad. The high dropout rates were most evident at the football pep rallies, where the freshman always won the spirit stick for yelling the loudest. The freshman class was always 800+; my graduation class had just over 200--at least 70 of them high achieving Academy kids. It seems the test scores were pretty bad back then, too.

However, once they moved the LAA to Johnston, even voluntary integration ended at Johnston. The percentage of white students fell from 20% when I was a Junior in 1991 to 1.9% in 2005. Some of that drop was due to the opening of a new high school in 2000 (?) to serve students in Southeast Austin, so they were no longer bused to Johnston as I was. Since I graduated in 1992, this campus has seen a steady stream of new school administrators, almost every year.

I'm still annoyed that the AISD abandoned Johnston and ended integration--which surely made a resource-poor school even worse off. (I remember that teachers would put plastic garbage cans in the hall to catch water in the numerous places that the roof leaked...) On the other hand, Johnston had failed to serve its core population for a long time, and in some ways, the 'integration'--voluntary or otherwise--only hid, by inflating test scores and other school success indicators, the real failure of the school and the school district to educate and prepare kids on Austin's East Side.

So if current Johnston students are spread far and wide throughout Austin high schools, I may be saddened by the closing of my old school, but at least I'll be hopeful that those students will get the attention and resources they deserve elsewhere.

posted by Michelle @ 12:59 PM, 0 comments

Friday, July 06, 2007

10th anniversary of the Mexican pension privatization

Earlier this week marked the 10th anniversary of the implementation of Mexico's privatized pension system. El Norte ran a couple of stories on the issues facing the pension system, including these two in which I am quoted.

This front page story appeared next to a photo of one of my favorite players on the Seleccion Mexicana, second only to Oswaldo. Since they both play for the Chivas, I might have to realign my futbol allegiances. Thank goodness they don't play for America because I don't think I could handle that.

For a couple of days, the first story was among the 5 most emailed stories on the Reforma website.

posted by Michelle @ 12:53 PM, 1 comments

Monday, July 02, 2007

When it rains...

It pours.

That's all.

PS. If any reader has access to the news stories on pensions in El Norte that appeared July 1, I'd be super grateful for an email copy (

posted by Michelle @ 2:52 PM, 2 comments

Mexico City slideshow

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