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Archive for October, 2011


[ 47 ] October 31, 2011 |

Inspired by Grand Poohbah Berube, this week’s best choices:

  • Has there ever been a more overrated quarterback than Peyton Manning?
  • The new Google Reader — a great idea brilliantly executed.
  • Bill Belichick has never coached a better pass defense than the 2011 Patriots.
  • If you had to bet your life on the South Carolina Republican primary, you’d obviously go with Jon Huntsman.
  • If you’re going to see one movie the rest of your life, make it Mickey Blue Eyes Jack and Jill.

The Edge of the American West is back!

[ 7 ] October 31, 2011 |

One of my old haunts, The Edge of the American West, is back to producing the high-quality blog-commentary you’d expect from somewhere I’m not writing.

Fort Monroe

[ 9 ] October 31, 2011 |

One way Obama’s lands policy has frustrated many in the environmental community is that, unlike most other Democratic presidents in memory and many Republicans for that matter, he has been reticent to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to create new protected lands. This is part and parcel of his centrist lands policy, personified in the Ken Salazar-led Department of Interior.

Finally, Obama has moved to use the act to create Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia
, a clear and worthy addition to the National Park system that will center on Civil War and African-American history.

One can certainly question whether we should be adding to the parks when we have underfunded them for so long, but at the very least, this move provides permanent protection for a valuable piece of American history.

Now if only Obama would use the Antiquities Act to protect some of our western lands in danger of mineral development. Unlikely.

The gold’s gonna be good.

[ 36 ] October 31, 2011 |

UCI recommends that one or twice a year every instructor should record him- or herself teaching and sit down with a pedagogical counselor and go over the results. It’s a harrowing experience, but useful in the extreme because it helps temper some habits that’ve become so fixed they don’t register as extreme anymore. It’s an exercise in becoming painfully self-aware of how one behaves in a classroom, and I’d recommend it to anyone who teaches … and Rick Perry. Because there was this one time I was all hopped up on the caffeine before my session and I came into class and it went something like this:

You start with a bang, hitting your buzz words, but you slowly peter out, start checking your notes, and begin rambling before rousing yourself momentarily as you prepare to crash again. It’s a poor performance, hilariously so, but I can sympathize. It must be tiring trying to remember all that tripe.


[ 24 ] October 31, 2011 |

If you are going to retire, might as well do it on top.

One of the greatest managers in baseball history. I would say that I care that he is a Teabagger, but almost all professional athletes are right-wing jerks. LaRussa just talks about it.

The Most Racist Team in Professional Sports

[ 27 ] October 31, 2011 |

Michael Tomasky’s excellent piece on the Washington Redskins, a team whose owner, George Marshall, made the team identity his own virulent racism, is well worth a read. The Redskins were the last team in the NFL to integrate, in 1962 when Marshall was also openly supporting southern segregationists against the civil rights movement. Moreover, the person responsible for its integration was, of all people, Stewart Udall, who forced Marshall’s hand when he wanted Department of Interior land to build a new stadium.

A Note

[ 130 ] October 31, 2011 |

Hey, I’m a long-time Doug Flutie fan too. So before anybody in our comments section compares Tim Tebow to Flutie again, there should be evidence that he’s better than JaMarcus Russell first.

Money for nothing

[ 48 ] October 31, 2011 |


This story in the Economist does a good job of capturing the broad outlines of a crisis that’s been building in higher education for a generation now: that is, ever since colleges and universities realized they could expand their financial operations via tuition paid by federally-guaranteed loans, that could be issued with little or no consideration given to whether those who took out the loans would be able to pay them back.

The government employs all sorts of accounting strategies to keep the real default rate on student loans looking lower than it actually is, including generous deferment options, very long delinquency periods before loans are declared in default, and Income-Based Repayment, which for most people who employ it is likely to result in default in all but name. Even so, with the current putative delinquency rate already over 10%, and sure to climb much higher as various deferment options stretching back to 2008 expire, this trillion-dollar mountain of debt is becoming a front-burner political issue (the Occupy Wall Street protests are surely playing a role in the issue’s sudden prominence).

Last week the Obama administration announced it was moving up various changes in IBR previously slated to take effect in 2014 to next year (the most significant is that the period of government-financed peonage will be reduced from 25 to 20 years). And Ron Paul is highlighting the extent to which funding higher education through student loans ensures massive inefficiencies in the market for that service.

Now obviously it goes without saying that Ron Paul is crazy. (Interestingly, people who do any serious questioning of a status quo from which the economic elites benefit always turn out to be “crazy.”). But consider the effect that limiting federal educational loans to a maximum of say $10,000 per year for tuition would have on, to pick an example at random, law school tuition. Is it possible to provide a “quality” legal education for $10,000 per year?

Given that 30 years ago many private law schools were charging no more than this in 2011 dollars doing so at present would not seem to require any innovations on par with the invention of the microprocessor or the 99-cent gordita. Indeed, given the staggering advances in information technology over the last 30 years, it ought to be far cheaper to provide the same quality of legal education that was being provided for $10,000 in 1981 for much less, or to provide a higher quality of education for the same price law degrees were being sold at the dawn of the Age of Reagan.

Anyway, if public money for tuition were limited to $10,000 per year, does anyone seriously doubt that dozens and dozens of law schools would soon discover that it was possible to operate with precisely that annual tuition? Instead, these schools are charging four and five times that, for the simple reason that they’re being allowed to, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. (Another outcome of this change is that USNWR would suddenly discover that it doesn’t make sense to reward law schools for achieving the maximum possible financial inefficiency, which they do now by using expenditure per student as a proxy for quality).

Indeed, it would make far more sense, in terms of both financial efficiency and economic justice, to simply give law students $10,000 per year of government money to spend on their education, than it does to allow them to borrow $70,000 per year, as many now do, in high interest non-dischargeable government loans.

Again, law school costs as much as it does only because of a system of debt financing that allows those costs to be decoupled almost completely from any rational calculation regarding its benefits. It’s true that law students borrow absurd amounts of money to go to law school because law schools publish phony placement and salary statistics that make those borrowing decisions seem far less reckless than they are. But we shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which the government’s remarkable willingness to allow law schools to charge literally whatever they want at the (eventual) expense of the American taxpayer also plays a role in signaling to those students that borrowing $200,000 in high-interest non-dischargeable debt to go to a non-elite law school is not as insane a decision as it would otherwise appear to be.

So That’s What the Kids Are Calling it These Days

[ 10 ] October 31, 2011 |

I remember the first time I tried barleywine. I was really unusually expressive that night

7 Billion

[ 41 ] October 31, 2011 |

As the world’s population reaches 7 billion sometime today, it’s worth remembering that while overpopulation is an important environmental issue that needs addressing, it is a vastly lesser problem that the consumption of the planet’s resources by the wealthy. I don’t know if there’s any kind of conversion mechanism on the internet, but the purchase of an SUV, the heated backyard swimming pool, and the transatlantic flight each cause tremendously more damage to the climate and to resource depletion than that family of 12 in Chad or Bangladesh. Westerners bemoaning population growth are usually shifting blame from their own responsibilities and blaming poor and brown people for our environmental crisis.

The War On Social Security

[ 58 ] October 31, 2011 |

The Washington Post can always be counted on to be leading the charge.


[ 22 ] October 30, 2011 |

I’m not going to say, exactly, that this story affects Cain’s chances of getting the nomination. I think this changes them from zero to zero. But it certainly doesn’t help.

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