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Backfire!

[ 3 ] October 31, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat highlights some recent work on how the Tu-22M Backfire affected US and Soviet naval doctrine:

The Tu-22M Backfire bomber entered service in 1972, with the Soviets eventually producing almost 500 aircraft.  Theories about the plane abounded (some argued that it represented the USSR’s most serious foray into a strategic nuclear bomber force), but eventually it became clear that the most important use for the bomber would come as a maritime strike aircraft.  The Backfire gave the Soviet Navy a supersonic aircraft that it could use in mass to fire anti-surface missiles against U.S. carrier battle groups.

Cited in the article, but if the topic interests please read the five part series (I, II, III, IV, V) on the subject at Information Dissemination, as well as the original Naval War College Review article.

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The First Look Mess

[ 44 ] October 31, 2014 |

I never really understood what Pierre Omidyar was doing with his non-Intercept project, which seemed to involve hiring interesting writers and not letting them write anything. Now we know:

Matt Taibbi, who joined First Look Media just seven months ago, left the company on Tuesday. His departure—which he describes as a refusal to accept a work reassignment, and the company describes as a resignation—was the culmination of months of contentious disputes with First Look founder Pierre Omidyar, chief operating officer Randy Ching, and president John Temple over the structure and management of Racket, the digital magazine Taibbi was hired to create. Those disputes were exacerbated by a recent complaint from a Racket employee about Taibbi’s behavior as a manager.

The departure of the popular former Rolling Stone writer is a serious setback for First Look in its first year of operations. Last January, Omidyar announced with great fanfare that he would personally invest $250 million in the company to build “a general interest news site that will cover topics ranging from entertainment and sports to business and the economy” incorporating multiple “digital magazines” as well as a “flagship news site.”

One year later, First Look still has only one such magazine, The Intercept.

It’s obviously hard for an outsider to judge. It obviously wouldn’t be the shock of the century if Taibbi had gender-related management issues, and it certainly sounds like the meddling from upper management was intolerable:

Taibbi and other journalists who came to First Look believed they were joining a free-wheeling, autonomous, and unstructured institution. What they found instead was a confounding array of rules, structures, and systems imposed by Omidyar and other First Look managers on matters both trivial—which computer program to use to internally communicate, mandatory regular company-wide meetings, mandated use of a “responsibility assignment matrix” called a “RASCI,” popular in business-school circles for managing projects—as well as more substantive issues.

Ugh. Hopefully Alex Parene will be employed by someone who’s actually paying him to write things soon.

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Heroes of the day

[ 30 ] October 31, 2014 |

Kaci Hickox and Judge Charles LaVerdiere. LaVerdiere:

“We would not be here today unless Respondent generously, kindly and with compassion lent her skills to aid, comfort and care for individuals stricken with a terrible disease. We need to remember as we go through this matter that we owe her and all professionals who give of themselves in this way a debt of gratitude.”

I know that after decades of the wars on terror and (some people who use some) drugs, the notion that the evidence used to justify restricting basic rights should actually have to meet some kind of quality standards might seem rather quaint. But it’s not quite dead yet, despite the mendacious, lazy, and casually racist stupidity of ebolanoia and those who pander to it.

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A Conservative Halloween

[ 156 ] October 31, 2014 |

Conservatives are such fun people. They can’t let a holiday go without turning it into part of the culture war. The American Spectator clearly planned this one for awhile:

Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers kill kids rushing to become adults. Is it too much to ask of the ghoulish trio to apply their talents toward adults rushing to become kids?

The grownups who have decimated the ranks of trick-or-treaters by aborting 10 million of them in the last decade offer penance for their sins against Halloween by dressing up in place of the missing children. The National Retail Federation estimates that adults will spend $1.4 billion on their own Halloween costumes this year. That’s $1.4 billion that they could have spent on man-cave clubhouses, a huge birthday party, a collection of Care Bears, or some other pastime recently favored by adults.

Whining about adults spending money on costumes instead of doing what Real Americans are supposed to do–breed and raise new conservatives–is the height of how to connect with the broader public.

Meanwhile, this does not make sense:

Society appears beset by myriad identity disorders and too eager to label the clear-headed confused. A recent story highlighted the alleged racial confusion of well-mannered, well-spoken, well-educated Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Men now dress up earnestly as Milton Berle once did for laughs. But age, not race or sex, plays as the role that confuses the culture most.

But the real problem is, of course, abortion. Because we kill all our fetuses, we have to compensate by staying children ourselves. Or something:

The decimation of the ranks of children leaves us with fewer kids and more adult imitators. The lucky ones protected in the womb grow up overprotected outside of it. An adult-surveilled childhood responsible for structured playdates, chauffeured trips to school, and digital babysitters shielding youngsters from the fresh air may also be responsible for the delayed childhoods of adults earlier denied them. It’s also hard to not conclude that a society mired in gadgets and amusements quite naturally favors frivolity. And marriage, an institution known to quickly mature its partners, elicits more “I don’ts” than ever.

Surely the National Parent sets a bad example here. Pajama Boy, that cradle-to-grave sponge “Julia,” and the health-care act regarding 26-year-olds as dependents entitled to coverage from their parents’ insurance plans all recast adolescence long beyond its biological boundaries—25 is the new 12.

Yes, nothing shows the depravity of our abortion culture like allowing 25 year olds to have health insurance!

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Vote Suppression Laws Suppress Vote

[ 22 ] October 31, 2014 |

How about that — racially discriminatory poll taxes have the effect of stopping eligible voters from voting:

A Texas voter ID law considered to be one of the most restrictive in the country is doing exactly what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned it would do: stopping Americans from voting.

A disabled woman in Travis County was turned away from voting because she couldn’t afford to pay her parking tickets. An IHOP dishwasher from Mercedes can’t afford the cost of getting a new birth certificate, which he would need to obtain the special photo ID card required for voting. A student at a historically black college in Marshall, who registered some of her fellow students to vote, won’t be able to cast a ballot herself because her driver’s license isn’t from Texas and the state wouldn’t accept her student identification card.

There are plenty of stories like this coming out of Texas in the early voting period leading up to Election Day. Texas’ tough voter ID law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, requires voters to show one of seven types of photo identification. Concealed handgun licenses are allowed, but college student IDs are not, nor are driver’s licenses that have been expired for more than sixty days.

Republicans will stop at nothing to stop imaginary voter fraud, except anything that might affect significant numbers of Republican voters.

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The 25 worst people of the day this Halloween

[ 65 ] October 31, 2014 |

I’ve got say — watching my friend and colleague David Ferguson bang this out yesterday was an unqualified pleasure. Sample:

4. Bill Maher

Why he’s scary: His agenda appears to be sliding further and further to the right and now he’s even flirting with Rand Paul. We’re concerned that by spring thaw he will have gone full Dennis Miller and be appearing on Fox News.

Our tribute: Smoking a bomber joint while sexually harassing a stripper in a mosque.

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The World’s Worst Living Architect

[ 164 ] October 31, 2014 |

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It’s hard to argue against the point that Frank Gehry is a terrible architect:

Gehry long ago stopped pursuing any interesting material or tectonic experimentation—and he used to be an interesting architect!—to become the multi-billion dollar equivalent of a Salvador Dalì poster tacked to the wall in a stoned lacrosse player’s dorm room, an isn’t-it-trippy pile of pseudo-psychedelic bullshit that everyone but billionaire urban developers can see through right away. What’s particularly frustrating about Gehry’s career is that he’s somehow meant to be cool, a kind of sci-fi architect for the Millennial generation, a Timothy Leary of CAD; but he’s Guy Fieri, his buildings hair-gelled monsters of advanced spatial douchebaggery.

His work is badly constructed, ravey-balls hair metal, a C.C. DeVille guitar solo that cannot—will not—end until the billionaire clients who keep paying for this shit can be stopped. Worse, no matter how much diagrammatic handwaving someone like architectural theorist extraordinaire Peter Eisenman can do—and he can do an awful lot of it—to convince you that Gehry is, or was once long ago, on to something interesting, these buildings are not even compelling from a theoretical standpoint. So, yeah, he used software normally found in airplane design—great. That’s awesome. I can imagine amazing things coming out of such an irreverent mixing of design tools.

But the results are just crumpled Reynold’s Wrap on an otherwise white-bread interior, a boring, room-by-room grid surrounded by hair spray, like some lunatic version of Phyllis Diller blown up to the size of a city block and frozen mid-stroke.

I was talking about this on Facebook and DJW pointed out this Gehry monstrosity in Prague:

Dancing-House-Czech-Republic

I believe the architectural theory behind this is called “I’m going to take a huge dump on your historical neighborhood.” I mean, it’s mostly well-established that modern buildings can coexist with historical buildings in a pretty seamless way, but ultimately they still have to respect what is already there. This, in my humble opinion, fails miserably on this account. This building is all ego. Although if someone was paying me this much to build this kind of thing, I would too.

And to Gehry’s credit, a union friend of mine says that he demands the use of union labor in all his buildings. Which is great but like a Pontiac of the 1970s, it’s necessary to remember that it’s not the workers’ fault for the poor design.

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“We’ve Talked to You a Lot Since the War Began about Gonorrhea and Syphilis”

[ 15 ] October 31, 2014 |

This Halloween, let me give you as your treat this 1918 U.S. government pamphlet about venereal disease given to soldiers returning from World War I.

Trick or treat indeed.

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High Fashion Smog Masks

[ 9 ] October 31, 2014 |

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I’d laugh at this Beijing fashion show having the models wear designer smog masks if it wasn’t so bloody depressing.

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The Roots of a Disaster

[ 52 ] October 31, 2014 |

Path dependence in Mississippi:

Where they existed, public services were sparse and utterly segregated. Anything public had to be kept separate from blacks, or degraded, if that wasn’t possible. To get a sense of the scale of white resistance in Mississippi, consider this: During the civil rights movement, white supremacists built a network of state and private agencies to wreak havoc on black activists with surveillance, economic reprisals, and extreme violence. One of them was the Mississippi Citizens Council, and it, writes historian Joseph Crespino, “[P]oliced a white racial authoritarianism that ran roughshod over the civil and political rights of white and black Mississippians both. Because of the Council’s influence, no place in the United States … came closer to resembling the repressiveness of apartheid South Africa than did Mississippi.”

More than a half-century later, and all of this is dead. But the ideas and culture it built are not. And why would they be? For nearly a 100 years, Mississippi was a white supremacist police state. Of course this made a mark on its culture. Of course these ideas of exclusion—and specifically, of racial hostility to outside interference and public goods—are still embedded in the structure of its politics.

Today, Mississippi is politically polarized along racial lines. Whites are Republicans, blacks are Democrats, and the former controls state politics. Public investment isn’t just disdained, it’s attacked as racially suspect.

Which makes it all the more awesome that one of our two major parties is currently organized around the principle of bringing the Mississippi Miracle to the rest of the country.

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Jon Dee Graham

[ 3 ] October 30, 2014 |

Last night, I went to see the great Jon Dee Graham at a bar in Newport, Rhode Island. I used to see Graham all the time when I lived in Austin. The gravelly-voiced songwriter is maybe the not greatest singer in the world but he is witty and funny and cranky and writes some outstanding songs. Soon after I left Texas, Graham was driving home to Austin from a show in Dallas, fell asleep, wrecked his car, and nearly died. But he’s back, albeit with about 50 more pounds on him than he had a few years ago. What this show was for me was a lesson in the difficulties of being a lifer on the road. This bar is an excellent beer bar, one of the best in Rhode Island. It was also way, way too loud for a show like this because there was no cover and most of the people didn’t care. This was just background music for them. When you are playing an acoustic guitar, that has to be incredibly frustrating and indeed it was for Graham, even though he’s probably played this kind of show 200 times. Still, he soldiered on and as the people who didn’t care about the music petered out, things got better for him and for the show. It wasn’t the same as seeing him on Wednesday night at the Continental Club performing before James McMurtry’s famed midnight sets, but it was as good as it’s going to get in Rhode Island.

Below is a clip of his most famous song. Mike June, with whom I was unfamiliar, accompanies him here. He also opened last night to a crowd that cared even less and was even louder than when Jon Dee played.

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More on the Infilaw racket

[ 22 ] October 30, 2014 |

My article in the Atlantic on Infilaw’s law school operations has elicited a response from Ken Randall, formerly dean at Alabama, and currently President of Infilaw Ventures, which Infilaw describes as an effort to “extend education to the under-served nationally and internationally, focusing on student needs and outcomes.”

Randall’s reply consists largely of hand-waving, since the main points of my article — that all the Infilaw schools feature terrible employment outcomes, and absurdly high educational debt loads, which I estimate at more than $200,000 on average per graduate — aren’t open to dispute. Randall does claim that Florida Coastal, at least, has had great success in getting graduates with abysmal LSAT scores to pass the bar, although, as I point out in my response, he doesn’t provide the necessary data to test this claim.

I noted in the article that until very recently, Florida Coastal admitted relatively few such students (barely 10 percent of applicants with sub-145 LSAT scores were admitted in 2009; more than half of applicants with such scores were admitted last year). This means that the members of those Florida Coastal classes with large numbers of sub-145 matriculants have yet to attempt to pass the bar.

(A 144 LSAT represents the 23rd percentile score among all test-takers).

Coincidentally, within a few days of the publication of Randall’s letter, bar results for the July 2014 exam became available in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, where Infilaw’s three current schools (the consortium is now trying to acquire Charleston Law School, in the face of strong opposition from alumni and others) are located.

The 2014 bar exam results are particularly significant because, with the matriculation of the class of 2011, the Infilaw schools began to relax what admission standards they had maintained up until then, and they have continued to slash them even more radically in the years since. (The entering classes of 2011 made up almost all of the first-time takers of the 2014 bar from the three schools). Here are the 75th, 50th, and 25th LSAT scores for the entering classes at Florida Coastal, Arizona Summit, and Charlotte.

Florida Coastal

2009 153 150 147

2011 151 147 145

2013 148 144 141

Arizona Summit

2009 154 151 148

2011 151 148 146

2013 148 144 141

Charlotte

2009 153 151 148

2011 151 148 145

2013 149 144 141

Here is a percentile conversion chart for LSAT scores. While it is true that it’s important not to overstate the significance of the LSAT as a measure of overall intelligence, or as a predictor of an eventual ability to practice law at an acceptably competent level, it’s also true that there is a genuinely massive difference between an LSAT score in the low 150s and the low 140s.

Indeed, as I noted in my original article, while relatively little correlation can be found between LSAT scores and bar passage rates at higher levels, a strong relationship begins to appear as scores dip toward the 150 range. Prior to 2011, the Infilaw schools clearly strove to keep the median LSAT for their matriculants in the 150s, and to admit relatively few applicants with scores in the 140s, and especially in the low 140s. As the statistics above indicate, three years ago that policy started to give way to the need to keep sending large sums of money to Sterling Partners, the Chicago-based private equity firm that owns Infilaw, and the trend has accelerated since then.

In the article, I predicted that Infilaw graduates would soon begin to fail the bar in large numbers, since what little data existed regarding graduates with LSAT scores in the mid to low 140s (there was little data because until about three years ago only a tiny number of law graduates had such scores) suggested that even turning law school into a three-year bar review course — a pedagogical approach which has less than zero intellectual value, and no practical value for anything other than passing the bar — won’t be able to produce reasonable bar passage rates among these graduates.

The 2014 bar results for the three Infilaw schools provide grim evidence for this prediction. Up until this year, all three schools had mostly managed to maintain bar passage rates roughly similar to the average passage rate in their respective states. For example, Florida Coastal graduates who were first-time takers of the Florida bar passed the exam at rates of between 74.2% and 76.0% between 2010 and 2012 (the passage rate for all first-time takers in the state was between 77.6% and 80.0% during those years). Results were similar for Arizona Summit and Charlotte

This July, FCSL’s first-time passage rate fell to 58% — and that percentage was apparently the highest of the three Infilaw schools. July results for Arizona Summit revealed that 54.4% of first-time takers passed (compared to 89.2% and 88.6% of first-time takers from the state’s other two law schools). Meanwhile, 55% of Charlotte graduates passed the July, 2014 North Carolina bar.

Keep in mind that these results are for 2011 matriculants (and some 2010 part-time matriculants). In other words, there’s every reason to expect these terrible results — imagine graduating from law school with $200,000 in non-dischargeable educational loans and no law license — to get much worse, as the entry standards for the matriculating classes of 2013 at these schools were substantially worse than those for the classes of 2011.

Note too that Infilaw is going to considerable extremes to artificially pump up even these terrible numbers:

In addition, after the article’s publication, a former member of the school’s faculty revealed to me that Florida Coastal is now paying selected graduates $1,200 a month for seven months, if they agree to take bar-review and career-preparation courses for six months (!) rather than attempting to pass the July bar exam subsequent to their graduation.

(I was told last week that at least one of the other two Infilaw schools is employing a similar program).

All this adds up to what appears to be a decision on the part of Infilaw (and, ultimately, Sterling Partners) to engage in the higher educational equivalent of a bust-out scheme. Indeed, I was told recenlty by a faculty member at one of these schools that, during the 2010-11 application cycle, Infilaw made it quite explicit to the school’s faculty that they would no longer have any real say in admissions decisions, after some faculty members warned the school’s administration that many of the students the administration was choosing to admit during that cycle would have little or no chance of ever passing the bar.

And to those who ask why “the ABA” isn’t doing something about this, the answer can be found readily enough by considering the extent to which the ABA’s Section of Legal Education provides a textbook example of regulatory capture:

As [Randall's] letter illustrates, InfiLaw has pursued an aggressive strategy of purchasing the services of prominent figures in the ABA regulatory apparatus, such as himself, Jay Conison, and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who is currently both the chairman of InfiLaw’s National Policy Board and the head of an ABA committee charged with studying the financial structure of legal education.

This is not, in other words, what one would call a subtle operation.

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