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A Solemn Apology

[ 0 ] May 24, 2007 |

A TBogg commenter claims that d’s recent worst-American profile means that L, G & M has “jumped the shark.” And you know, I think he has a point; it was horribly unfair to John Wayne Gacy and Roy Cohn for d to compare them to Jewel. But it’s difficult to find someone who’s done precisely the same level of evil in every post, so cut him some slack…

Do You Hate the Rule of Law, Or Just Accountability?

[ 0 ] May 24, 2007 |

Good question:

Hiring for career positions in the Justice Department was being done on the basis of the political positions of the applicants. If you don’t think Gonzales deserves impeachment for this, is it because you think violating law and civil service rules to politicize law enforcement is no big deal, or because you think that it’s unreasonable to hold Gonzales responsible for what his aides do, or is there some third option I haven’t thought of?

Nope–it really is one or the other.


[ 0 ] May 24, 2007 |

Via Kay Steiger, an excellent COHE article about U.S. News and World Report‘s ludicrously arbitrary university ranking system. The rankings, created with formulae that have little internal logic, are worse than useless. First, because the apparent certainty of quantification gives them an authority they don’t remotely merit. And more importantly, because they’re so arbitrary they’re also easily gamed, causing universities to shift priorities to increase their (educationally meaningless but believed to be meaningful) rankings. The two pathologies work together in distorting the educational missions of institutions:

In other words, you have to act like Baylor. One of the first steps the university took, after appointing Van Gray, associate vice president for strategic planning and improvement, to oversee the efforts of all departments, was to tie money for new programs to the standards set forth in its strategic plan. Any official who wanted money beyond his or her budget for a new project had to fill out a form stating how that project would further the goals of Baylor 2012.

At Baylor, as at many other institutions, the admissions office plays a crucial role in improving the rankings because 15 percent of U.S. News’s formula is determined by measures of student selectivity, including scores on standardized entrance exams and the institution’s acceptance rate. To improve those numbers, Baylor increased its total scholarship offerings from $38-million in 2001 to $86-million in 2005 and created an honors college. Since 2002 applications have increased (from 7,431 to 26,421) and the acceptance rate has dropped from 81 percent to 42 percent. Over the last five years, the average SAT score of enrolling first-year students has risen 30 points, to 1219.

“We looked very deliberately at what kind of class we wanted because that’s an issue that’s somewhat controllable,” says Mr. Gray. “I believe we have attracted much higher-performing students as the direct result of this 10-year plan.”

While Baylor says the changes it is making are within the overall mission of the institution, colleges that are ranked lower and want to rise may need to change their very nature.

Take, for example, Chapman University.

Chapman, in the heart of Orange County, Calif., has long been known as a college that gave a second chance to underachieving high-school students who showed promise. When James L. Doti became president, in 1991, he says, Chapman essentially had no admissions criteria, other than the best judgment of the staff.

Students were “using Chapman like a community college,” he says. Only 42 percent of students graduated within five years. The university had one endowed chair. There was almost no money for merit-based financial aid.

So Mr. Doti dropped the athletics program from Division II to Division III, thereby eliminating all athletics scholarships.

“We took that $2-million a year in athletic aid and added it to the financial-aid budget,” he says. The institution increased its tuition one year by 25 percent, so parents and students would perceive that the college had as good a program as “the colleges we wanted to compete with.”

Mr. Doti decided to set a minimum SAT score required for admission. “It was 740, which is nothing great, but for Chapman, at least it was something,” he says. “The next year, it was 760. That lops off a lot of people at the bottom. Every year we went up another 10 or 20 points.” The university began a scholars program with grants for high-achieving students.

Almost all the changes were designed expressly to help the college rise in the U.S. News rankings. “I can quibble with the methodology, but what else is out there?” says Mr. Doti. “We probably use it more than anything else to give us objective data to see if we are making progress on our strategic goals.”

The liberal arts colleges who refuse to participate have the right idea.

Pajamas Media: The Good One

[ 0 ] May 24, 2007 |

I was happy to see that the annual Fistful Of Euros Satin Pajamas awards were up–I’m always happy to be introduced to new European blogs I wouldn’t otherwise see. I was then surprised and gratified to see that L, G & M has been nominated for best non-European weblog (although I think it was my French name that put me over the top.) Make sure to check it out.

On the Beach

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Reading this reminds me that I’m a bad coastal citizen since I don’t get beaches; I have no desire to go to one at all. I wouldn’t dream of a vacation to the Caribbean, say, when the money could be used to go to a real city. And I still have no desire to ever go to beaches even though a week in the Rhone Valley slightly softened my radical pro-urbanism. (I still don’t understand New Yorkers who use their wealth to acquire a house in the Hamptons, though. I mean, I’m sure that’s nice status and all, but presumably it entails leaving New York for significant periods of time to go to the Hamptons, which seems highly undesirable.)

The Vote Fraud Fraud: Potemkin Think Tank Edition

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Richard Hasen has a must-read article about the “American Center for Voting Rights,” which was ginned up to varnish bullshit Republican claims of widespread voter fraud and has completely disappeared. It’s a classic 21st century Republican story, featuring incompetence, junk science and abuse of the justice system in the service of vote suppression. Hasen makes another point I think is important, noting the source of registration (as opposed to voter) fraud the fruit of an Americna electoral system that is badly designed from A to Z:

Second, there’s no question that there’s a fair amount of registration fraud in this country, an artifact of the ability in many states to pay bounty hunters by the head for each new registrant. Some unscrupulous people being paid $3 to $5 for each card turned in will falsify registration information, registering pets or dead people or comic-book characters—none of whom will show up to vote on Election Day (with or without an ID). (I, for one, would turn the whole business of voter registration over to the government and couple a universal voter-registration program with a national voter-ID card paid for by the government—but that’s another story.

Many apologists for Republican vote-ID legislation point out that many other liberal democracies have such requirements. Which is true, but it’s all about context. I, like Hasen, would have no problem with a requirement to show state-provided IDs in a system in which the government actively and consistently ensured the enfranchisement of its citizens and facilitated their ability to vote. Have the government (rather than private individuals with the incentive to submit fraudulent names) be responsible for registration, provide funding to ensure that districts have enough voting machines for their population and don’t allow wealthier districts to have more reliable equipment, make Election Day a national holiday, etc. — the kind of actions taken by countries with much higher turnout — you’d get much broader participation and you’d have less possibility for fraud, disasters like 2000. Alas, such a comprise won’t work because these Republicans don’t care about vote fraud — they care about suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. As Hasen notes, the lack of Republican concern with absentee ballots — which are considerably more prone to fraud and abuse, but whose users happen to skew to Republican demographics — gives away the show.

Hilzoy has more.

Where Brain Cells Go To Die

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

Shorter Maureen Dowd: Al Gore is fat.

Hillman Awards

[ 0 ] May 23, 2007 |

I went to the awards ceremony (looking at the list of honorees, even as an indirect winner, my sense of things was pretty much “what the hell am I doing here?”) last night, although since I wasn’t a named winner I wasn’t charged with the task of speaking in between Spike Lee, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte. But Sam (flanked by 4 sharply dressed, corsage-appended colleagues) did a fine job. My feeling of being out of place did not really improve throughout the evening, although I was lucky enough to have chats with the brilliant journalist Rukmini Callimachi and (entirely in French) her Cameroonian boyfriend, as well as with Hendrik Hertzberg and a large number of other fascinating people. It was a surreal experience, but congratulations to Sam, Ann and my fellow bloggers for the honor.

Pre-Suffragate City

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Jill Filipovic points us to this Times article about the new strategy to justify using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies to term by claiming that women are too irrational to know what’s good for them, and offers a modest proposal. I would also urge you to read Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain (see also here.) Quite simply, these justifications are premised on 19th-century conceptions of women as not being rational agents. And such justifications evidently underpin a great deal of anti-choice discourse and policy (most obviously seen in the fact that the official Republican position is that abortion is murder but women who obtain them should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions.) At least Kennedy was decent enough to give away the show, admitting that these assertions are backed by “no reliable data,” leaving us with meaningless claims that some women may regret their decision to obtain abortions in retrospect. (If some women regret getting married, can we ban that too? How about anecdotal evidence about women who become depressed after becoming mothers, does this justify state-mandated abortions?) These arguments aren’t about women’s health; they’re about assumptions that women are incapable of making moral judgments, period. That this view is not only part of our national discoruse but has been endorsed by five Supreme Court justices at this late date is dismaying.

Bean connects the dots. See also Shakes, Jill2 and what Digby said.

[Also at TAPPED.]

History’s Greatest Monster

[ 1 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I think I could almost forgive Duke Cunningham sitting around naked in a hot tub filled with polluted water. (Admittedly, this is easier from a distance.) But this is far beyond the pale of human decency:

One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon — very well done — with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

Filet mignon well done? Hopefully this was brought up at the sentencing hearings; I believe federal guidelines require an extra three years for that.

Great minds think alike. Well, this joke will still be original to the three readers of this site who don’t also read Atrios…

JFK: Really, Let It Go

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I didn’t know that Salon founder David Talbot was a JFK conspiracy crank. According to Brinkley, his approach seems to be that JFK–like, er, every other president–had factions who did not benefit from his administration, one of them was probably responsible, but he doesn’t endorse any one theory because this would make it more easy to falsify. What I find especially annoying, however, are conspiracy theories that assume that a cautious, centrist president of unimpressive accomplishment was killed because he was some kind of dangerous radical, and this was a national tragedy because he found “some measure of greatness.” (Apparently the measure isn’t, say, consequential legislation passed under his tenure, idiotic wars not started, etc.) Really, can we please stop the Camelot mythologizing? Granting that he benefited from a halo effect, LBJ was also a more progressive and vastly more effective president. If the conspiracy that nobody can find evidence for killed JFK because he had “had made bitter enemies of conservative Southerners because of his embrace of the civil rights movement,” boy did they ever screw up.

Paging William Saletan

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

Shockingly enough, the “pro-life case for contraception” continues to fail dismally among actual pro-lifers, as the Missouri legislature (with the strong support of Missouri pro-life, natch) voted down restoring funding for contraception because “it would have amounted to an endorsement of promiscuous lifestyles.” Which will mean more unwanted pregnancies and–as a comparison of abortion rates in the United States with countries that permit both access to abortion and birth control will demonstrate–more abortions. But what matters is that somebody will be able send a message about how evil the banal sexual behavior of consenting adults that one doesn’t approve of is!

I often talk about the flagrant inconsistency of American “pro-life” groups. But, in fairness, they are perfectly consistent about one thing: if they have a choice between reducing abortion rates and regulating female sexuality, they’ll take the latter, as reliably as Carrot Top is unfunny. And to state the obvious, obstructing certain classes of women from obtaining abortions as part of a general campaign to say that single people having sex is icky is completely indefensible.