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The Roots of a Disaster

[ 8 ] 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

[ 7 ] 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


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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A Bad Obsession

[ 15 ] October 30, 2014 |

This will probably be the last post I write about #GamerGate for awhile. The truth is it’s taken up way too much of my time and way too much space in my brain. It reminds of the time I read an article in the Boston Globe about the busting of a ring of pedophiles. I actually could not make it all the way through the article (because it was so horrifying). But it still took up a lot of space in my brain, too much space. It was overshadowing things that were good–a moment of relaxation here or there, the enjoyment of my family and my art–and replacing those things with a sense of horror and despair.

#GamerGate, in many ways, has affected me in the same way. There have been times I have laughed, but it’s always been a bitter laugh because (moment of soul-baring honesty here) it depresses me that there are so many aggressively stupid knuckle-dragging, pants-shitting, fit-throwing, spittle-flecking little asshole misogynists in the world. I mean, sure, Gators are hilarious, but it’s a dark kind of hilarious, and the whole ugly… thing has finally taken it’s toll.

So why do I keep talking about it? Because I don’t know what winning means to these little butt boils, but I do know that I don’t want them winning. I don’t want these keyboard toddler-warriors learning the lesson that if they fling enough shit, throw enough fits and threaten enough women that they can cow corporations/people into doing their bidding (whatever that amorphous, bizarre bidding is). The idea of a GG “victory” makes me want to punch holes in my drywall.

So I am–you may all praise Satan now–taking a small respite from #GamerGate. Gosh, I’ve got a piece to finish and a Creature Feature to plan. But before I let you all take your Silkwood showers, I leave you with this: GGer’s are just–by and large–horrible human beings.

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Look, You Can’t Pretend To Care About Trivial Problems Without a Lot of Abuse Directed Almost Exclusively At Women

[ 40 ] October 30, 2014 |

Shorter Christina Hoff Summers: “It’s about ethics in gaming journalism.”

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Benghazi! By Michael Bay

[ 53 ] October 30, 2014 |

This will no doubt be the greatest film in history:

In a massive change of pace, Michael Bay is going from toy tentpole to a Benghazi political drama.

Bay is in negotiations to direct 13 Hours, the adaptation of Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the attack on an American compound in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens dead.

Chuck Hogan wrote the script adapting the book, which details how on Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U.S. State Department Special Mission Compound in Benghazi. The focus is on six members of a security team that valiantly fought to defend the many Americans stationed there. They only partially succeeded: Stevens and a foreign service worker were killed in one attack, and two contract workers were killed during a second assault on a CIA station nearby.

Erwin Stoff is producing the Paramount film.

Bay has spent the better part of almost a decade in the land of Transformers movies, which have budgets of more $200 million, if not $250 million, each. He also took time to do a passion project, 2013’s Pain & Gain, which had a budget of around $26 million. Sources say that 13 Hours would be budgeted in the $30 to $40 million range.

$30-40 million? Can Bay even shoot the scenes where the Obama Administration gives security information directly to Al Qaeda for that money?

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Happy 85th to the Great Depression!

[ 16 ] October 30, 2014 |

Black Tuesday was 85 years ago yesterday.

I went on the Rick Smith Show to talk about its legacy and how we are tearing down the institutions that ensured working people would not have their lives destroyed by corporate greed enacted in the following decades.

Listen to my interview here.

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What Causes Deforestation?

[ 17 ] October 30, 2014 |

The global deforestation problem is primarily one of a post-colonial economy, with rich nations importing the raw goods of developing world nations for their own luxurious lifestyles, leaving poverty and ecological catastrophe in their wake:

Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world’s forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won’t be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay.

“The trend is clear, the drivers of deforestation have been globalized and commercialized”, said co-author Martin Persson with Chalmers University of Technology.

“From having been caused mainly by smallholders and production for local markets, an increasing share of deforestation today is driven by large-scale agricultural production for international markets,” said Persson.

This means that much of the deforestation in question is actually driven by consumer demand from abroad.

“If we exclude Brazilian beef production, which is mainly destined for domestic markets, more than half of deforestation in our case countries is driven by international demand,” confirmed Persson.

The biggest importer of these deforesting commodities was China, linked largely to wood products (timber and paper) from Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia, as well as palm oil imports from the latter. The EU was the second biggest importer of the four commodities, due to imports of palm oil from Indonesia, beef from Brazil, and soy from Latin America. India came in third, largely due to palm oil imports from Indonesia.

The U.S. was not a major importer, mostly because it produces the bulk of its own beef and soy.

It is interesting that the U.S. is not a leading driver of this, but that’s only because we have own natural resources to use. Europe doesn’t and for their talk about being more green, which is in some ways true, cutting down tropical forests for palm oil is not exactly a sustainable national ecological footprint.

Obviously there are no easy answers to any of these problems. But problems they very much are indeed.

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Operation Record Private Republican Speeches Continues

[ 64 ] October 30, 2014 |

In the wake of Romney’s 47% comments in 2012, the much needed recording of private Republican speeches continues, this time catching Lindsey Graham making some choice remarks:

According to the CNN report Wednesday, Graham confirmed the veracity of the recordings. Graham was speaking to the Hibernian Society of Charleston, a charitable group with an all-male membership.

In the recording according to CNN, Graham is heard saying: “I’m trying to help you with your tax status. I’m sorry the government’s so f——- up. If I get to be president, white men in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.”

And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that this is Lindsey Graham speaking from his heart, such as it is. I have no doubt a Lindsey Graham presidency would be excellent for elite white men. And horrible for everyone else.

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Easy For You To Say

[ 31 ] October 30, 2014 |

Since Michelle Martin’s excellent essay produced expected victim-blaming reactions, it’s worth noting that Anna North is also excellent on the question of why victims of this kind of abuse feel they can’t come forward:

“Each of the women accusing Ghomeshi cite the case of Carla Ciccone as a reason they desire anonymity. Last year Ciccone wrote an article for the website XOJane about a ‘bad date’ with an unidentified, very popular Canadian radio host whom readers speculated to be Ghomeshi.

“In the days that followed, Ciccone received hundreds of abusive messages and threats. An online video calling her a ‘scumbag of the Internet’ has been viewed over 397,000 times.”

In her 2013 XOJane piece, Ms. Ciccone writes that a man she calls Keith, who “has a successful radio show in Canada,” repeatedly tried to touch her when they went to a concert together, even after she asked him to stop.

Those who speak up about sexual harassment or violence have long been subject to public scrutiny and criticism. But an onslaught of online abuse and threats has become a strikingly common response to women’s public statements — see for instance the threats Anita Sarkeesian and others have received when they speak publicly about misogyny in video games.

Brianna Wu, a game developer, details her harassment in an essay at XOJane, describing death and rape threats as well as threats to her career:

“They tried to hack my company financially on Saturday, taking out our company’s assets. They’ve tried to impersonate me on Twitter in an effort to discredit me. They are making burner accounts to send lies about my private life to prominent journalists. They’ve devastated the metacritic users’ score of my game, Revolution 60, lowering it to 0.3 out of 100.”

Of the effects of this abuse, she writes:

“I woke up twice last night to noises in the room, gasping with fear that someone was there to murder me. I can barely function without fear or jumpiness or hesitation. I’ve been driven from my home. My husband says he feels like he’s been shot.”

It’s easy for armchair warriors who aren’t in this kind of vulnerable position to demand courage from others. Easy, and wrong, and deeply offensive.


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A Partial Defense Of Martha Coakley

[ 27 ] October 30, 2014 |

Brother Pierce makes two eminently fair points here. First of all, while there’s no excuse for a Democrat losing a statewide election for federal office in Massachusetts, Republican governors have been more the exception than the rule in the Bay State. So, it’s entirely possible that she’s running a decent campaign this time in a way she didn’t in 2010; Charles says she is and I’m obviously in no position to contradict him.

In addition, none of my previous snark should be construed as an argument that Democrats should abandon Coakley or reflect any sympathy for the Globe endorsing her opponent. As Tomasky said in re: the 2000 campaign:

Second, some voted for Nader because they just weren’t inspired by Gore personally. Fine. But it should be obvious today that a candidate’s personality is one of the last things serious people ought to be thinking about…And that’s only the stuff you hear about. In every agency of government, at every level, there are political appointees who are interpreting federal rules and regulations and deciding how much effort will really be put into pursuing federal discrimination cases, for instance, or illegal toxic dumping. These are the people who are, in fact, the federal government. The kinds of people who fill those slots in a Democratic administration are of a very different stripe than the kinds who fill them during a Republican term, and the appointments of these people have a bigger effect on real life than whether Al Gore sighs too heavily or speaks too slowly.

Yes, yes, the stakes are lower in a state election. But a lot of people get hurt when Republicans are in charge of enforcing laws even if a Democratic legislature can limit the statutory damage.

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New Internet Film School column: Why good horror should damn near bore you to tears

[ 7 ] October 30, 2014 |


On the Japanese version of Ringu and why she’s having so much fun up there. Sample:

The most interesting visual element in this shot is the perspective implied by the camera placement. By partially obscuring the view of Reiko Asakawa, Nakata suggests that this might be a point-of-view shot, thereby planting in the minds of the audience the idea that perhaps she’s being watched—and that the audience might be sharing the perspective of whoever (or whatever) is doing the watching. The fact that the camera is perfectly still here adds to the unease, because that lack of movement alone suggests the watcher may (or may not) be in plain sight, yet is undetected and wishes to remain so. In classic horror fashion, Nakata wants his audience to inhabit the mind and perspective of a stalker.

And you know what? Being a stalker is dull…


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