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Students at Amherst protest outbreak of free speech, demand offenders undergo “training for racial and cultural competency”

[ 396 ] November 13, 2015 |

free speech

Students protesting at Amherst College have issued a list of demands to administrators that includes making them apologize for signs that lament the death of free speech.

A group calling themselves the Amherst Uprising listed 11 demands they want enacted by next Wednesday. Among them is a demand that President Biddy Martin issue a statement saying that Amherst does “not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters.”

The latter posters called the principle of free speech the “true victim” of the protests at the University of Missouri.

Going further, the students demand the people behind “free speech” fliers be required to go through a disciplinary process as well as “extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

The protests at Amherst come on the heels of protests at the University of Missouri, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College. At Mizzou, officials resigned after criticism of how they reacted to alleged racist incidents on campus. Students at Yale protested an email sent by a college administrator about Halloween costumes, saying it made them feel unsafe. And at Claremont McKenna, a class president resigned her post after appearing in a photo with two students dressed in ponchos and sombreros.

Amherst students also asked administrators to excuse them from coursework and classes so they could participate in protests and sit-ins—and they want the school to warn alumni that racist or critical responses of the protests will not be tolerated.

The full statement from the Amherst Uprising is here.

I’m currently working on a long piece regarding the goings-on at Missouri and Yale, so I’m not going to respond at this time to any of the questions that were raised in the 500+ comment thread accompanying my earlier, admittedly cryptic, post. Many of the responses provided further impetus for writing the piece, which I appreciate.


Identity politics and the erasure of class from American political discourse

[ 537 ] November 11, 2015 |


Submitted without further comment:

“I already feel like campus is an unlivable space,” said Butler, who is African American. “So it’s worth sacrificing something of this grave amount, because I’m already not wanted here. I’m already not treated like I’m a human.”

University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement that his “heart is heavy” with concern for Butler’s health, and agreed that “racism has deep roots at our university.” He promised to “find solutions” to “make our university an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.”

Washington Post, November 6th

[Butler] is a member of a prominent Omaha family. The newspaper says that Butler’s father is Eric L. Butler, executive vice president for sales and marketing for the Union Pacific Railroad. His 2014 compensation was $8.4 million, according to regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 11th

Wage Statistics for 2014

Total wage earners: 158,186,786

Total earning more than $8.4 million: Approximately 5,080

Total earning less: Approximately 99.997%

What are the odds of a right-wing freakout over Google’s Veteran’s Day doodle?

[ 161 ] November 11, 2015 |


Looks like we’ve got maybe one white guy among the seven veterans pictured, although he looks suspiciously Mexican to me.

This isn’t as bad as Starbucks literally* putting an image of Satan on this year’s Christmas season cups but it’s pretty bad.

*In the sports broadcaster’s sense of literally.

. . . So ten seconds after posting this I googled “veterans day google doodle white men” and:

Well over 99% of those that have ever given their lives in service to the United States were white males, yet the only one featured on the doodle is an elderly man off to the left in the back. Are you serious? We have two African Americans, a Hispanic man, an Asian man and three women, yet one white guy (with a darkened skin tone at that)? Why not just wipe your asses with their memory? This PC nonsense is getting pathetic. At least 75% of the current army is comprised of white men as well. What reality do you live in? If you put up a picture of the globetrotters with mostly white guys the internet would flip shit, however, we know google would never ever do that.

And we’re off.

Also, too, I thought the white guy was the third person from the right (click on link for whole image). But apparently my initial suspicions were correct and he’s actually Mexican, according the demographer above anyway.

The Other White America and the Hispanic Paradox

[ 34 ] November 11, 2015 |

trump rally

I have a piece on a particular aspect of the new Case-Deaton study showing a a sharp decline in life expectancy among middle-aged less educated whites: the study’s illustration of the so-called Hispanic paradox in public health:

One aspect of the Case-Deaton study that has gone largely unnoticed is the extent to which it reveals an ongoing intensification of the so-called “Hispanic paradox.” The paradox is this: Normally, socio-economic status, as reflected in education levels and income, correlates well with health outcomes, as indeed it does among the whites in their study. American Hispanics have far less formal education, and make considerably less money, on average, than white Americans. Middle-aged white Americans are three times more likely to have college degrees than middle-aged Hispanics, and are 55 percent more likely to have graduated from high school. Median household income for whites is 46 percent higher than it is for Hispanics.

Despite these differences, which would ordinarily produce far better health outcomes for the more educated and wealthier group, American Hispanics now have longer life expectancies than whites. Indeed, the Case-Deaton study found that, among middle-aged Americans, this gap is growing at a fast pace, as mortality rates among Hispanics continue to drop rapidly, while they are actually rising among whites. The result is that mortality rates for middle-aged whites are now 54 percent higher than for Hispanics.

An even more startling contrast can be found between the mortality rates of Hispanics, and of whites with no more than a high school education. Since approximately 80 percent of middle-aged Hispanics never went to college, the educational credentials of this group largely overlap with those of white Americans with high school degrees or less. Yet the middle-aged members of the Other White America now have a mortality rate that is an astonishing 173 percent higher than that of their Hispanic peers.

. . .

The Hispanic paradox is essentially a paradox about social class. Why are Hispanics now enjoying better health outcomes than whites, and in particular drastically better health outcomes than whites of the same education and income levels? The answer, I suggest, has much to do with the very different social trajectories of the white and Hispanic working classes.

While it is always dangerous to generalize about as diverse a group as American Hispanics, it is safe to say that much of the Hispanic working class in America is made up of families that immigrated relatively recently from Mexico and Central America. For these people, the United States is still a land of remarkable opportunity: a place where it is likely that they, and their children, will end up much better off than their families were in their countries of origin.

For working class whites, by contrast, the situation is almost precisely the opposite. The members of the Other White America live in a world that, by most standard economic and cultural measures, has gotten worse for them than it was for their parents and grandparents. Working class whites and Hispanics may have similar income and education levels, but they are communities moving in starkly different directions. The starkly different direction the literal health of these two groups is taking is, it seems, a reflection of these larger patterns.


Mortality rate for 45-54 white non-Hispanics in 2013: 415 per 100,000

Obesity rate for white non-Hispanics 40-59 in 2012: 38.6%

Mortality rate for 45-54 Hispanics in 2013: 269 per 100,000

Obesity rate for 40-59 Hispanics in 2012: 46%

The discreet obscure charm of Marco Rubio

[ 170 ] November 10, 2015 |


Jeet Heer asks a question which I’ve been wondering about myself: Why is Marco Rubio considered by so many well-informed people (including some LGM luminaries) to be by far the most likely winner of the GOP nomination battle? Rubio is a distant third in the polls, he’s been losing the fundraising battle so far to several other candidates, and he doesn’t have a lot of endorsements, at least not yet, from the party bigwigs.

Echoing Ross Douthat, Heer says the answer is that he’s the survivor of a sort of deductive game of elimination:

Trump and Carson are viewed as too extreme and inexperienced not to crash and burn. Cruz is the darling of the Tea Party base, but hated by Republican officials and his colleagues in Congress. Fiorina lacks political experience, money, and organization. Bush is thrashing around like a turkey afraid it’s about to become Thanksgiving dinner. John Kasich, Christie, Huckabee, and Rand Paul are slowing sinking, though their demises have been less dramatic than Bush’s. And you have to remind yourself that Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Lindsay Graham are still in the race. So, simply by crossing out the names of every other candidates for one reason or another, all you have left is Rubio.

But at some point, voters will have to agree. The process-of-elimination argument works better as a deductive scenario than as an account of how voting actually works. The idea that Rubio will triumph in the end is partly founded on the last two GOP presidential races, both of which had the narrative arc of a soap opera. In both 2008 and 2012, the Republican Party acted like a wealthy heiress who threw herself into wild flings with wild scoundrels (Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich) before finally settling down with a respectable mate (John McCain, Mitt Romney). Douthat explicitly draws the analogy with Romney, suggesting that the GOP will settle for Rubio just as it entered into a largely loveless marriage with the former Massachusetts governor. The problem with this analogy is that both McCain and Romney were more substantial figures than Rubio: They could flash not just impressive resumes (McCain as war hero, Romney as governor and business leader), but also a genuine popularity with large constituencies in the GOP. Romney never sank below 20 percent in the polls in 2012, a figure Rubio has yet to even remotely touch.

I suspect that among GOP pundits the belief in Rubio’s eventual victory is largely a reflection of wish fulfillment. Among political scientists, that belief has the much more solid foundation, in an analysis that assumes that, based on historical precedents, early polls don’t necessarily mean a lot, that somebody like Trump or Carson just can’t win a majority party nomination, and that Rubio is the most likely of the candidates who are acceptable to the money men and other power brokers who are ultimately calling the shots.

We’ll see.

What’s going on at Missouri?

[ 204 ] November 10, 2015 |


A few observations regarding the latest developments:

(1) It’s not a good thing when anti-racism becomes an excuse for an assault on a journalist who is doing his job in a legally-protected way.

(2) This also goes in the not good category:

In an email that was flagged by several Missouri-based journalists, the MUPD asked “individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech or actions” to call the department’s general phone line “to continue to ensure that the University of Missouri campus remains safe.” They suggest that students provide a detailed description of the offender, their location or license plate number, and even to take a picture if possible.

In the email, MUPD readily admits that hurtful or hateful speech is not against the law. But, they write, “if the individuals identified are students, MU’s Office of Student Conduct can take disciplinary action.”

(3) While it should go without saying that attempting to educate all students from all backgrounds in the most effective way possible is the university’s primary reason for being, it should also be of some concern that the rhetoric of “diversity and inclusion” now so beloved of university administrators, is straight out of the business school corporate-speak playbook — and that this is no coincidence (as a commenter notes, now ex-president Tim Wolfe was a corporate lifer with no academic experience after his undergraduate days). Here is a completely random example:

We believe that creating a work force and a workplace that values diversity and fosters inclusion is pivotal to promoting innovation and increasing productivity and profitability. Our goal is to continually support and nurture the large number of Northrop Grumman employees whose backgrounds, characteristics and perspectives are as diverse as the global communities in which we reside. We are committed to leveraging our organizational diversity through teamwork, cross-functional collaboration and joint ventures to help us meet and exceed our business goals and ensure our role as a leader in our industry.

We are very proud of these efforts. We hope you will find the information on this Web site useful and informative, and gain a better understanding of why diversity and inclusion are part of Northrop Grumman’s core values.

As Northrop Grumman continues its expansion into the global marketplace, it is imperative that we embrace and commit to a culture of inclusion that respects the cultural norms where we do business. This commitment helps us achieve and sustain our top performance goals. By leveraging diverse teams with different work styles, problem-solving techniques, ideas and local cultural norms, we create innovative solutions and superior products that maintain our leadership in technology worldwide.

It’s also worth noting that, besides telling the cops to ask people to report instances of “hurtful” speech, the most concrete step Missouri administrators have made to address whatever problems do exist in regard to racist acts or speech on campus has been to create yet more administrative positions, and require everyone to undergo further corporate-style human resources department “training,” (which needless to say will also require more administrators to be hired):

As the two resignations were announced, the Board of Curators unveiled a slate of new initiatives to address racial tensions on campus, including hiring a diversity, inclusion and equity officer for the entire University of Missouri system. The university will also provide additional support to students, faculty and staff members who experience discrimination; create a task force to create plans for improving diversity and inclusion; and require diversity and inclusion training for all faculty, staff members and incoming students.

Whether all this administering, training, and policing will produce tolerant and edifying institutions is something that ought to be considered with skepticism. It seems likely, however, to play a role in the continuing corporatization of the American university.

Yes I realize this is pointless, but the Yale classroom where Ben Carson took an exam with 150 other people holds 28

[ 93 ] November 9, 2015 |

room 203

Room 203 William L Harkness Hall

Further evidence of the miraculous nature of the events I suppose.

Is Ben Carson a scammer, crazy, a crazy scammer, or something else?

[ 278 ] November 9, 2015 |


Scott linked to Jon Chait’s rather convincing argument that, rather than engaging in a genuine presidential campaign, Carson is just running a new-fashioned grift, which exploits the GOP presidential nomination’s potential to bring in millions of dollars worth of free advertising. I looked a little more into Saturday’s very strange WSJ story about Carson’s fake psych exam at Yale. Below are some thoughts:

What’s wrong with Ben Carson? Carson’s candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination is on its face something between a bad joke and an outright grifting operation, but now that his strong poll numbers are causing real attention to be turned to the man, a disturbing picture is starting to appear.

Carson is an extraordinarily accomplished brain surgeon, but the question that now needs to be asked is whether he suffers from some sort of significant neurological impairment himself.

For example, this weekend the Wall Street Journal revealed that a story Carson tells in his autobiography Gifted Hands, regarding a supposed incident from his undergraduate days at Yale, appeared to be fabricated. Yet the Journal gave a very incomplete and somewhat inaccurate account of the story Carson tells in the book, which is in fact far more disturbing than a normal instance of self-aggrandizing fabrication would be.

The story Carson tells is actually two connected narratives. In the first, during his sophomore year, he is so broke that he doesn’t even have enough money for the bus fare he needs to attend church. He wanders about campus, praying to God to at least send him enough money for bus fare. Eventually he realizes he’s standing in front of a campus chapel. He looks down at the bike racks in front of it and sees a crumpled ten-dollar bill.

The next year, he again finds himself without any money, so he walks across campus to the chapel, praying again for divinely delivered funds. None are forthcoming. That very day, however, deliverance comes in an unexpected form:

Lack of funds wasn’t my only worry that day, however. The day before I’d been informed that the final examination papers in a psychology class, Perceptions 301, “were inadvertently burned.” I’d taken the exam two days earlier but, with the other students, would have to repeat the test.

And so I, with about 150 other students, went to the designated auditorium for the repeat exam.

As soon as we received the tests, the professor walked out of the classroom. Before I had a chance to read the first question, I heard a loud groan behind me.

“Are they kidding?” someone whispered loudly.

As I stared at the questions, I couldn’t believe them either. They were incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Each of them contained a thread of what we should have known from the course, but they were so intricate that I figured a brilliant psychiatrist might have trouble with some of them.

“Forget it,” I heard one girl say to another. “Let’s go back and study this. We can say we didn’t read the notice. Then when they repeat it, we’ll be ready.” Her friend agreed, and they quietly slipped out of the auditorium.

Immediately three others packed away their papers. Others filtered out. Within ten minutes after the exam started, we were down to roughly one hundred. Soon half the class was gone, and the exodus continued. Not one person turned in the examination before leaving.

I kept working away, thinking all the time, How can they expect us to know all this stuff? Pausing then to look around I counted seven students beside me still going over the test.

Within half an hour from the time the examination began, I was the only student left in the room. Like the others, I was tempted to walk out, but I had read the notice, and I couldn’t lie and say I hadn’t. All the time I wrote my answers, I prayed to God to help me figure out what to put down. I paid no more attention to the departing footsteps.

Suddenly the door of the classroom opened noisily, disrupting my flow of thought. As I turned, my gaze met that of the professor. At the same time I realized no one else was still struggling over the questions. The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“A hoax,” the teacher said. “We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.” She smiled again. “And that’s you.”

The professor then did something even better. She handed me a ten-dollar bill.

The Journal reported that all the students other than Carson “walked out” of the exam, making their behavior sound like some sort of mass protest, but the actual story Carson tells is far less plausible, and indeed completely bizarre. The Journal revealed no class with that name was ever offered at Yale, nor is there any record in the Daily News’s archives of such a photograph. Yet even if we didn’t have this information it would still be obvious that this story as told couldn’t be true.

Carson is asking readers to believe that all the other 150 people taking the exam decided individually to cheat, and to cheat on it in an utterly preposterous way, by claiming that they didn’t see the notice announcing the exam, even though the professor handed the exam out to them. (“Like the others, I was tempted to walk out, but I had read the notice, and I couldn’t lie and say I hadn’t”).

The story then ends with yet another weird and wildly improbable twist, as the professor gives Carson a ten-dollar bill – thus precisely replicating the earlier miraculous fiscal manna – while bringing along a Daily News photographer to document Carson’s spectacular triumph over temptation.

So what really happened? The true story, it turns out, bears almost no resemblance to Carson’s inspirational tale. In January of 1970 (when Carson was a freshman, not a junior), the Yale Record, a student-produced humor magazine, printed a parody issue of the Daily News, that included an item reporting that series of exams for a psychology course had been destroyed, and that a make-up exam would be held on the evening of January 14. According to a report next day in the Daily News, “several” students fell for the hoax, and showed up to take the fake exam, which the pranksters took the trouble to produce, and that closely resembled the actual exam, which had been administered two days earlier.

Incredibly (a word that is difficult to avoid using repeatedly when discussing Ben Carson) the eminent Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon posted a reproduction of the Daily News report on his Facebook page yesterday, as proof that the Wall Street Journal was incorrect when it suggested that Carson had fabricated the story told in Gifted Hands.

But of course Carson’s “proof” strongly suggests that the story he tells in Gifted Hands is false in practically every detail, except for the fact – if it is a fact, as we have only Carson’s word on the matter – that he fell for a hoax.

When one remembers that the point of Carson’s elaborate fabrication was to emphasize his exceptional honesty, the question arises whether Carson is a pathological liar, that is, someone who lies compulsively, and in ways that are so excessive and out of control that they seem unconnected to any practical purpose. (Carson’s real life story is compelling enough that concocting bizarrely improbable tales of this sort seems both totally unnecessary and potentially self-destructive).

It’s also possible that Carson is so severely narcissistic that he is actively delusional, and is no longer capable of distinguishing his fabrications about his past from his actual past. In other words, by now Carson’s transformation of a trivially embarrassing incident into an elaborate story of providential delivery and personal triumph may be so complete in his own mind that he has literally forgotten that he made it all up.

That someone whose behavior raises such questions is as of now a leading contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination is a grim comment on the political pathologies driving that process.

The Carson grift goes south

[ 192 ] November 7, 2015 |


All right, forget the long con. If the fool tips, you’re caught. You’ll do time. Never do time.

The Grifters

Scott pointed out a few days ago that the Carson presidential campaign is pretty much just another Armstrong Williams-managed griftathon, although I think there are legitimate questions about the extent to which Carson himself is one of the marks.

Anyway, this particular carnival is probably about to be moving on down the road.

In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class—identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301—that their final exam papers had “inadvertently burned,” requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out.

“The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,” Mr. Carson wrote. “ ‘A hoax,’ the teacher said. ‘We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.’ ” Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.

No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.

That’s from the well-known left-wing propaganda machine the Wall Street Journal by the way.

In the wake of one this past summer’s research projects, I’ve become a bit of an aficionado of the obviously bullshit story told to an all-too credulous audience, and this one is just a beautiful example of the genre.

Inspirational story becoming somewhat less so

[ 257 ] November 6, 2015 |


Updated below

Gifted imagination.

Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The academy has occupied a central place in Carson’s tale for years. According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.

West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.
“In 1969, those who would have completed the entire process would have received their acceptance letters from the Army Adjutant General,” said Theresa Brinkerhoff, a spokeswoman for the academy. She said West Point has no records that indicate Carson even began the application process. “If he chose to pursue (the application process) then we would have records indicating such,” she said.

When presented with this evidence, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.

The stuff about how he was a budding gangsta is probably made up too.

To me this is all oddly reminiscent of Alice Goffman’s hyper-active imagination. In both cases, the narrators had legitimately interesting stories to tell, but the urge to sex up the narrative with a healthy dose of truthiness got the better of them. It will be interesting to see if the same sorts of defenses (“sloppy with details,” “mostly true,” “critics are racist/sexist”) will be deployed for the benefit of the good doctor.

. . . survey says — YES!

I guess this will actually end up helping him, because the POLITICO story was slightly inaccurate (he never claimed to have applied, he just claimed to have been offered a full scholarship without applying, which when you think about it is an even more impressive accomplishment).


[ 51 ] November 4, 2015 |

k street

Spanish has a useful word, sinverguenza, which is often employed to mean something like “someone so utterly without shame to an extent that cries out for public condemnation.” (In addition to not being a noun, “shameless” in English doesn’t have anything like the same force).

This word has come to mind a couple of times in the last few days. The law school has a small kitchen area on the fourth floor, where all the tenure track faculty offices are located. Somebody set up a little fundraiser for the local high school orchestra, which consisted of 15 chocolate bars, and a piece of paper that asked people to put a dollar for each bar they took, in a coffee cup that had provided for the purpose. The next day there were three chocolate bars left, and five dollars in the cup.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has published some letters in response to its editorial on the law graduate debt loads. Here’s one from the dean of George Washington and president of the AALS, the former dean of Georgetown and executive director of the AALS, and the dean of the University of Washington and president-elect of the AALS. In other words, these people are the official representatives, to the extent there is such a thing of American legal academia:

The New York Times fails to make its case on law school debt. Law students borrow more than undergrads, but most are able to repay, and do. The graduate student default rate is 7 percent versus 22 percent for undergrads.

Many law schools are downsizing to maintain standards. Since 2010, first-year enrollment has dropped from 52,500 to 37,900, a level last seen in 1973 — much smaller and the rule of law may begin to fray. Our country needs lawyers, prosecutors, defenders and judges, not only lawyers in big cities and big law firms.

If you pay attention to this kind of thing, it’s difficult not to end up comfortably numb to the sheer dishonesty of people who are supposed to be actual academics, as opposed to PR hacks or K Street prostitutes. Still:

(1) The Times editorial was addressing the problem of law schools, and especially for-profit schools, raising prices and cutting admissions standards, to the point where lots of their graduates wouldn’t be able to repay their federal educational loans. Citing default rates as evidence that “most” recent and soon to be law graduates are repaying their loans is “very disingenuous” (polite collegial version) or really sleazy bullshitting (Harry Frankfurt version). “Most” federal educational loans aren’t in timely repayment at the moment. What percentage of recent law graduates are in timely repayment, on either the standard ten or 25-year extended repayment plan? The answer is that nobody knows outside of the DOE, and they won’t reveal this information. It seems probable that large percentages of recent grads, given the massive disparity between their loan balances and their salaries, are in various soft default income-based repayement plans, that will result in them not paying back much or in some cases all of the money they’ve borrowed.

But again, my distinguished colleagues are simply bullshtting: they don’t know that “most” recent and soon-to-be law graduates (the focus of the editorial) are able to repay their loans, because they don’t have the necessary data to make this claim. Academics, it’s apparently necessary to repeat constantly, are people whose entire job is resist the temptation to just throw out halfway plausible sounding but unverified claims when it’s convenient to their self-interest to do so. And again, the authors of this letter are the formal face of the American legal academy.

(2) “Many law schools are downsizing to maintain standards.” Unlike the claim regarding repayment rates, which is in Frankfurt school terms bullshit, this is just an outright lie, assuming for the moment that the authors cared enough to check. The number of schools that have downsized to maintain standards can be ascertained, and unless the term “many” is defined to mean “none,” the statement is false.

Plenty of law schools have downsized in the last five years, plenty have slashed their admissions standards, but no school has cut its class size and maintained admissions standards. This is easy to check, and to be fair to the letter writers I have to admit it’s quite possible that they may again be simply bullshitting as opposed to lying, in that they didn’t bother to check, because they just don’t care whether their statements are true or not. (This is a nice example of Frankfurt’s point of how the will to bullshit is in some ways more inimical to truth than actual lying, since a liar has to care enough about the truth to bother to determine whether his statements are in fact false, otherwise he wouldn’t know he was lying, which is a necessary prerequisite to the act).

(3) As for the threat that the “rule of law may begin to fray” if only 37,000 people are enrolling in law school each year, there are about 1.5 million Americans with law degrees, of which around 1.2 million have law licenses, while maybe 750,000 are actually practicing law. The American legal system is at present generating around 20,000 jobs for new lawyers per year for those 37,000 matrics, counting both outflow and (cough) “growth,” so a collapse into a post-apocalyptic lawyer-free landscape does not seem imminent.

An invisible catastrophe

[ 213 ] November 3, 2015 |


Is it not time for my pain-killer?
Ah! At last! Give it to me! Quick!
There’s no more pain-killer.
HAMM (appalled):
No more pain-killer!
No more pain-killer. You’ll never get any more pain-killer.
But the little round box. It was full!
Yes. But now it’s empty.

Samuel Beckett, Endgame

Anne Case and Angus Deaton have just published a paper full of some stunning public health data. The title is “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century,” which is a bit misleading. What the paper chronicles is a genuinely shocking decline in the health of lower-SES white American adults between the ages of 30 and 64 over the past 15 years. (I”m assuming here that education levels can be used a good rough proxy for SES).

This decline been so steep that it has actually produced rising mortality rates for the entire cohort of 45-54 year old American whites over a 15-year period, which, if you follow public health statistics, is an almost unbelievable development, utterly at odds with what is happening in the population as a whole, not only in the US, but throughout most of the rest of the world, and in particular in other developed economies. (For example, mortality rates for all Americans between the ages of 45-54 declined by 44% between 1970 and 2013).

Moreover, Case and Deaton have identified the main drivers of this rise. More than half of it is accounted for by just three causes: “poisonings” (this means drug and alcohol overdoses, including prescription drugs, primarily pain-killing opioids), suicide, and chronic liver cirrhosis, which is usually a result of long-term alcohol abuse.

Here are some numbers from the paper:

Between 1998 and 2013, all-cause mortality for white non-Hispanic Americans (WNHAs) rose from 382 to 415 per 100,000. For WNHAs with a BA degree or more it declined from 235/100K to 178/100K. For WNHAs with some college but no BA it went from 291/100K to 287/100K.

For WNHAs with a high school degree or less, mortality rose from 601/100K to 735/100K — a 22.3% increase in mortality, in an overall social context in which mortality rates for almost all other groups are dropping by an average of around 2% per year.

For WNHAs with no college education, the annual suicide rate rose from from 22 to 39 per 100K, deaths from liver cirrhosis rose from 27 to 39 per 100K, and overdose deaths rose an astonishing 314%, from 14 to 58 per 100,000 per year. All told, middle-aged WNHAs with high school degrees or less experienced 135 more deaths per 100,000 per year in 2013 than in 1998.

To put that number in context, the doubling of the homicide rate in the US between 1960 and 1990 — a development that played a key role in the construction of the prison-industrial complex — resulted in about four and half extra deaths per 100,000 Americans per year. At its peak in 1990, the AIDS epidemic produced about ten extra deaths per 100,000 per year.

Case and Deaton focus on the 45-54 year old cohort of WHNAs, but the same trends are almost as pronounced in every five-year cohort between the ages of 30 and 64 (see Fig. 4 in the paper).

I have some thoughts on what all this says about what has been happening in America over the past couple of decades, and what consequences these developments have had for the current political landscape, but for now I just want to present Case and Deaton’s numbers, which (and this too is significant) don’t seem to be getting anything like the attention they should, Gina Kolata’s coverage in the Times and Paul Starr’s story in the American Prospect notwithstanding.

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