Machiavelli, Master of Puppets

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Proust and causal process observations

Qualitative methodologists have argued that qualitative research cannot be properly understood within the rigid framework of quantitative analysis. For instance, qualitative scholars often rely on “causal process observations” (CPOs):

CPOs may be defined as diagnostic pieces of evidence that yield insight into causal connections and mechanisms, providing leverage for adjudicating among alternative hypotheses. CPOs are not part of a rectangular data set, and the decision to focus on particular CPOs is guided by the researcher’s theoretical framework, hypotheses, and substantive knowledge—and correspondingly, by the judgment that they have strong probative value in evaluating specific explanatory claims.

Critics have retorted that CPOs is just a new bottle for fine old wine. Well, it seems that CPOs date back at least to the early 20th century. Here’s the narrator of Proust’s Recherche desperately trying to figure out whether his girlfriend was having sex with women (Marcel Proust, Albertine disparue, Gallimard, pp. 95-96):

Et puis, un seul petit fait, s’il est bien choisi, ne suffit-il pas à l’expérimentateur pour décider d’une loi générale qui fera connaître la vérité sur des milliers de faits analogues? Albertine avait beau n’exister dans ma mémoire comme elle m’était successivement apparue au cours de la vie, que comme des fractions de temps, ma pensée rétablissant en elle l’unité, en refaisait un être, et c’est sur cet être que je voulais porter un jugement général, savoir si elle m’avait menti, si elle amenait les femmes, si c’est pour en fréquenter librement qu’elle m’avait quitté. Ce que dirait la doucheuse pourrait peut-être trancher à jamais mes doutes sur les moeurs d’Albertine.

(It turns out that Albertine wasn’t just showering in Balbec’s public showers.)

The most dangerous thing about an academic education

From a speech by David Foster Wallace:

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

Bonus tidbit:

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

Frontiers of French exceptionalism

Ils Sont Fous Ces Français

New York Times:

Here’s something you won’t hear on French television news today: “For more information on the U.S. trial of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, follow us on Twitter.”

French regulators have banned the words “Facebook” and “Twitter” from French TV and radio unless those words are used to refer to the companies themselves in news stories. The regulator, France’s Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, says that it is “clandestine” advertising to use the names otherwise, violating a 1992 decree stipulating that commercial enterprises should not be promoted on news programs.

Can the ban be explained on legal grounds alone? What other considerations might be involved in the French action?

I can’t imagine what those other considerations might be.

“Qaddafi is a villain straight out of ‘Star Wars'”

…writes Prospero, describing this stunning photo:

The photo is part of the book Power: Portraits of World Leaders by the New Yorker‘s photographer Platon, which collects 150 photos of international leaders taken during 72 hours at a United Nations General Assembly meeting. Looks like the perfect gift for a political scientist. (I’ve already ordered my copy, thanks.)

Best Dictator Award


So without further ado, I am pleased to present the award of Best Modern Dictator to Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, who topped a very competitive list of authoritarians. […] [W]hile there are many oppressive governments around the world, there is only one Qaddafi, who manages to mix Leader for Life status, an enormous quantity of oil wealth, an impressive wardrobe and just enough craziness to keep his enemies and opponents on their toes.

Which reminds me of the famous line in Annie Hall: