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Culture Wars and Studying History (I)

[ 96 ] February 18, 2015 |

Oklahoma is moving to reject Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum because it doesn’t believe the new standards say that America is awesome enough:

State Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced a bill at the beginning of the month that keeps the state from funding AP U.S. History unless the College Board changes the curriculum. The bill also orders the state Department of Education to establish a U.S. History program that would replace the AP course.

Since the College Board released a new course framework for U.S. history in October 2012, conservative backlash against the course has grown significantly. The Republican National Committee condemned the course and its “consistently negative view of American history” in August. Numerous states and school districts have now taken action to denounce the exam.

Fisher said Monday that the AP U.S. History course emphasizes “what is bad about America” and complained that the framework eliminated the concept of “American exceptionalism,” according to the Tulsa World.

The House Common Education Committee voted for the bill 11-4, with all Republicans voting for the legislation and all Democrats voting against it.

During the hearing on the bill, state lawmakers also questioned the legality of all AP courses, comparing them to Common Core, which Oklahoma has repealed. According to the Tulsa World, lawmakers were concerned that College Board courses could be seen as an effort to create a national curriculum.

Given that conservatives (or for that matter most university administrations) see the study of history as basically irrelevant for education in the 21st century, the real point of it (for conservatives at least) is as a cudgel in the culture wars that have centered history education over and over again in recent years. Thus emphasizing Native Americans or Japanese internment or labor unions takes away from the need to learn about the awesomeness of Ronald Reagan, how Joe McCarthy was right, and how Martin Luther King would have opposed affirmative action because he had a dream.

Part II of this short series on Culture Wars and Studying History will come later tonight if I can get some work done. It concerns a bizarre essay by a very famous U.S. historian.

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Don LeDuc, superstar

[ 34 ] February 18, 2015 |

Wolfcastle: The film is just me in front of a brick wall for an hour and a half. It cost $80 million.
Jay Sherman: How do you sleep at night?
Wolfcastle: On top of a pile of money, with many beautiful ladies.

If law school scamming were a slam dunk competition, this would be Western Michigan Thomas Cooley Law Dean Don LeDuc’s entry in the competition:

LeDuc, who got paid $1.9 million by the school between 2011 and 2013, and who did such a superb job handling the institution during this time that it only had to fire 59% of its full-time faculty last August, has launched an intellectual assault on the pernicious and deeply unscientific notion that LSAT scores could be used as predictors of future bar passage rates:

Is the use of an LSAT score for any purpose other than law school admissions proper?

Unequivocally, no. The LSAC’s cautionary policies say “[t]he LSAT was designed to serve admissions functions only. It has not been validated for any other purpose.” How much clearer can it be?

Jimmy: Dean LeDuc, I have a crazy friend who says that low LSAT scores correlate with low bar passage rates. Is he crazy?

Dean LeDuc: No Jimmy, just ignorant!

Those asserting that an individual will be unable or unlikely to pass a bar examination because that person’s LSAT score is below a certain level should be held to account. The LSAC has declared that the LSAT has not been validated as a predictor of future bar results. Anyone claiming that there is a relationship between an LSAT score and bar passage should be called to account and required to provide supporting evidence. And the burden should be on the person making the assertion, since the LSAC cautionary policy has already established that the LSAT has not been validated for that purpose.

Hey kids, let’s do a Scientific Study of this extremely complex issue.

First, let us select two law schools at random. Let us compare the bar passage performance of the graduates of the nation’s second-ranked law school with that of graduates of the tenth-best school in the land:

Because the scientific method requires controlling for confounding variables, such as the relative difficulty of the bar examination in different states, we will use bar passage rates of graduates in the two states (New York and California) in which a statistically significant number of graduates of the two schools took the bar between 2011 and 2013:

Yale: 427 takers, 403 passed (94.3793911007258%)

Thomas Cooley: 330 takers, 138 passed (41.818181818181%)

Do these rates correlate with the LSAT scores of the graduates? This is a more difficult question to answer, as we must use the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile LSAT scores of matriculants at the two schools as a proxy for the LSAT scores of the individual bar examinees, which are unknown.

Cooley matriculants in the classes of 2008-10 had LSAT scores of 144, 146, and 150 at the cut points. These scores represent the 23rd, the 30th, and the 44th percentile of test takers respectively.

Yale matriculants in those classes had LSAT scores of 170, 173, and 176, representing the 98th, 99th, and 99.6th percentiles.

While it is true these numbers are suggestive of some sort of correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates, the Scientific Method requires considering alternative hypotheses.

For instance, we know nothing about the LSAT scores of matriculants above the 75th and below the 25th percentiles at the two schools. It is statistically possible that the Cooley graduates who took the New York and California bar examinations had LSAT scores that were higher than the Yale graduates who sat for those bars (the Cooley graduates who took those examinations represent less than 25% of the school’s graduates in those years).

It is also possible that Yale Law School is nothing but a straightforward three-year bar review course, while Cooley students fill up their time taking seminars on what the text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would have looked like if it had been drafted by Schopenhauer and Jay-Z, after they had spent three weeks in a Mexico City hotel room drinking some cheap crap called choco and reading Finnegans Wake while listening to the White Album, which is to say that the pedagogic methods employed at the two schools could well explain all of the difference in bar passage rates, because as everyone should have learned in Statistics 101, correlation is not causation.

Teach the controversy!

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“It is hard to substantiate or refute this, because it is not even an English sentence…”

[ 57 ] February 18, 2015 |

Stephen Moore’s hilariously inept would-be ACA takedown might have the highest words-to-facts ratio since Christopher Caldwell’s would-be Obama takedown.

Evidently, the utter botch of facts is instructive but not surprising — it’s Stephen Moore. Perhaps the even more important point is that Moore seems honestly unable to understand when the ACA is intended to accomplish. This is one reason that so many Republicans jumped on board the Moops-inavaded-Spain train despite the transparent falsity of the argument. It’s easier to understand how false the argument is when you understand not only what Congress was trying to accomplish in this case but how New Deal/Great Society cooperative federalism works in general. When a contemporary reactionary tries to explain this, it’s like listening to someone trying to read words in a language they’ve never encountered phonetically.

In related news, Nicholas Bagley has a good summary of the standing issues in King v. Burwell and urges the Court to ask for supplemental briefing. The plaintiffs might be able to get by legally, with the one who hasn’t been conclusively proven to lack standing making up for the 3 (including the lead plaintiff) who pretty clearly don’t have standing. But it remains striking to me how much trouble the very well-funded anti-ACA fanatics had coming up with someone who can actually claim a direct injury from the ACA. It’s instructive for critics of the ACA from both the right and the left that they weren’t able to find anyone who would actually have to buy insurance from the exchanges willing to bring a lawsuit to wreck them. Oddly, it seems as if “better you go without health insurance than anybody make a profit selling you insurance” is an argument with considerably more appeal to people already getting good (probably for-profit) coverage from their employer than to people dependent on the exchanges for obtaining insurance.

…via Erik, this SCORCHING HOT TAKE makes it even harder to explain why the ACA troofers are having so much trouble rounding up plaintiffs with actual standing. Why, the sheeple want to be subject to the concentration camp of health insurance coverage!

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David Attewell: The Scary State of Play in Greece

[ 136 ] February 18, 2015 |

(I’d like to introduce you to my brother, David Attewell, who’s just completed his MA in European Affairs at Sciences Po and will be starting as a PhD student in the fall, who I turn to for all things foreign policy)

Is this the showdown we’ve been waiting for between Greece and its creditors?

First, a quick recap of the current landscape. A month ago, Syriza swept into victory on a program including demanding a haircut on Greek debt by EU creditors, restoring electricity to poor families, reversing minimum wage and pension cuts, and instituting a large public employment plan. Unsurprisingly, the Eurogroup has in broad strokes insisted that the Greek government pretend the election didn’t happen, and continue with the austerity terms of the previous bailout.

Read more…

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Game of Thrones podcast: Season 1, Episode 9 — “Baelor”

[ 13 ] February 18, 2015 |

Attewell and I are back with a Game of Thrones podcast. We’re going to finish up the first season this week and ram right through the second in anticipation of the beginning of the new season in April.

Here are links to the posts Steven discusses in the podcast, and as usual, be forewarned — they contain spoilers for all five books:

  • Eddard XV (noir existentialism, why Varys’ offer is bad, and what he’s up to, the death of Richard of York)
  • Catelyn IX (Walder Frey is full of it, Machiavellian theory on keeping faith with bad actors)
  • Jon VIII (what the sword represents, Aemon’s political theory, and more)
  • Dany VIII (the power of taboo)
  • Tyrion VIII (The Battle of the Green Fork and why Roose Bolton threw it)
  • Catelyn X (The Battle of the Whispering Woods and its political consequences)
  • Arya V (Arya encounters poverty, the power of rumor, the execution of Ned Stark)
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Birth of a Nation

[ 86 ] February 18, 2015 |

100 years ago today, D.W. Griffith showed his racist epic film “Birth of a Nation” at a private White House screening for President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson called it “history written with lightning,” and said lightning strike sparked the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which in its late teens and early twenties form became a gigantic nationwide organization of conservative white men marching and organizing against not only African-Americans but all sorts of perceived threats ranging from women with short hair and the theory of evolution to Jews and socialism. When it declined in the late 20s, it wasn’t because of federal oppression or a rejection of the KKK’s ideas. Rather, it was because of widespread corruption in the organization’s leadership, including the the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan’s trial for the brutal rape and murder of a teacher named Madge Oberholtzer on a train.

I was first exposed to Birth of a Nation as a college student. While I did watch it for a class my senior year, it was my sophomore year that I actually first saw it. I worked for the AV department in college and this was long enough ago that films in class were being shown reel to reel (the switch to VHS capability in classrooms was taking place while I was in college). One quarter I had the job of running the previews of the 100-level intro to film course for the professor. Saw a bunch of weird stuff–Un Chien Andalou, The Gold Rush, and Notorious are three I distinctly remember. But none shocked me like Birth of a Nation, as I had never heard of the thing. I never forgot the shock of what I was seeing.

And if you haven’t seen Birth of a Nation, it really is must viewing, both in spite of and because of its racism. As a film, it’s great. As social commentary, it’s repulsive.

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The Inevitable Inequities Of Criminalizing Abortion

[ 33 ] February 18, 2015 |

Justice Ginsburg could not be more right here:

GINSBURG: Inaccessible to poor women. It’s not true that it’s inaccessible to women of means. And that’s the crying shame. We will never see a day when women of means are not able to get a safe abortion in this country. There are states – take the worst case. Suppose Roe v. Wade is overruled. There will still be a number of states that will not go back to old ways.


CARMON: Well, now there’s lots of legislative activity, right? And it’s mostly in the direction of shutting down clinics, creating new barriers –

GINSBURG: Yes. But –

CARMON: – in front of women.

GINSBURG: – who does that- – who does that hurt? It hurts women who lack the means to go someplace else. It’s almost like – remember the – oh, you wouldn’t remember, because you’re too young. But when most states allowed divorce on one grounds, adultery, nothing else. But there were people who went off to Nevada and stayed there for six weeks. And they got a divorce. That was available to people who had the means, first to get themselves to Nevada, second to stay there for some weeks.

Finally, the country caught on and said, “This isn’t the way it should be. If divorce is to be available for incompatibility, it should be that way for every state.” But the situation with abortion right now, by all the restrictions, they operate against the woman who doesn’t have freedom to move, to go where she is able to get safely what she wants.

The ability that affluent women inevitably have to obtain safe abortions should be extended to all women. The end.

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Tuesday Linkage

[ 39 ] February 17, 2015 |

Things for the reading of:

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Fun Facts About Ben Tillman

[ 22 ] February 17, 2015 |

I just finished reading Steven Kantrowitz’s book from 2000, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. Tillman, the South Carolina politician who became nationally famous for his public defense of lynching and secession and his use of violence and violent language in the Senate and during public speeches, was one of the most loathsome political figures of the Gilded Age, but also one of the most influential. A man from an elite plantation family, after the Civil War, he recast himself as a man of the people who could lead South Carolina whites back into the reinstatement of white supremacy, even though as Kantrowitz discusses, he never accepted poor whites as equals and really wanted to recreate the class and gender relations of the plantation world, as well as the racial relations.

Anyway, two pieces of trivia about Tillman. Which is less surprising?

1) Tillman’s older brother murdered a man in a fight over gambling in 1856. He was indicted for murder. His response was to flee and join William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua to capture it, legalize slavery, and establish a relationship to the United States that would make bring it within the orbit of American slave owners.

2) Tillman’s personal attorney was Strom Thurmond’s father.

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Before the Party of Lincoln Was the Party of Calhoun

[ 96 ] February 17, 2015 |

Between yesterday’s presidents thread and the fact that I’m teaching Pam Brandwein’s Rethinking the Judicial Settlement of Reconstruction in my semimar today, I was compelled to look up Garfield’s inaugural address. Pretty interesting:


The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with a patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have “followed the light as God gave them to see the light.” They are rapidly laying the material foundations of self-support, widening their circle of intelligence, and beginning to enjoy the blessings that gather around the homes of the industrious poor. They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws.

The free enjoyment of equal suffrage is still in question, and a frank statement of the issue may aid its solution. It is alleged that in many communities negro citizens are practically denied the freedom of the ballot. In so far as the truth of this allegation is admitted, it is answered that in many places honest local government is impossible if the mass of uneducated negroes are allowed to vote. These are grave allegations. So far as the latter is true, it is the only palliation that can be offered for opposing the freedom of the ballot. Bad local government is certainly a great evil, which ought to be prevented; but to violate the freedom and sanctities of the suffrage is more than an evil. It is a crime which, if persisted in, will destroy the Government itself. Suicide is not a remedy. If in other lands it be high treason to compass the death of the king, it shall be counted no less a crime here to strangle our sovereign power and stifle its voice.

It has been said that unsettled questions have no pity for the repose of nations. It should be said with the utmost emphasis that this question of the suffrage will never give repose or safety to the States or to the nation until each, within its own jurisdiction, makes and keeps the ballot free and pure by the strong sanctions of the law.

Obviously, this would be better without the discussions of voter ignorance, although Garfield does go on to make clear that the solution to the alleged problem is quality universal education, not disenfranchisement. But, still, in the context of 1881 this is pretty powerful stuff, and as Brandwein says it wasn’t just guff. Prosecutions of voting rights violations increased substantially, and while Arthur was a machine hack without Garfield’s history of support for the rights of African-Americans he continued to make efforts to protect the ballot. And despite the assumptions of many (including, until recently, yours truly) that Cruikshank and Reese made federal voting rights enforcement effectively impossible, the Supreme Court in fact upheld federal indictments of both state actors and private terrorists in broad language that suggested something very close to a federal police power to supervise federal elections. The traditional view that the selection of Hayes was the end of any Republican efforts to sustain Reconstruction isn’t really right. As Brandwein puts is, the Republican Party of the 1880s wasn’t what it was in 1870, but it wasn’t what it would become either. And it was Republican elected officials, not the Supreme Court, that were primarily responsible for the full Republican retreat from civil rights after 1891.

I’ll probably have a follow-up to the presidents thread, but while we’re here I wanted to make a point about Grant (who I’m inclined to agree Yglesias is probably overrating, although I’ll grant I don’t have a great alternative for #4 myself.) I do think blaming Grant for the Redemption that occurred while he was in the White House involves no little anachronistic Green Lanternism. You have to remember that Grant had nothing like the resources of the modern federal government available to him, and this goes double after the horrible economic depression created by the Panic of 1873. I suppose he didn’t do absolutely everything he could, but given both his limited enforcement resources and a media that was able to minimize the scope of Klan violence, I think he did about as well as could have been reasonably expected in terms of civil rights enforcement.

The contrast with Eisenhower is interesting. Ike, who found school segregation personally unobjectionable, never said a word in defense of Brown v. Board and schools in the South were essentially as segregated the day he delivered his (admittedly excellent) Farewell Address as the day he was inaugurated, despite the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. And, yet, Ike gets enormous credit for his reluctant, one-off decision to send the Screaming Eagles into Little Rock. Grant did more with vastly fewer resources at his disposal against even more brutal opposition, and remains widely derided as ineffective. I don’t get it. When Yglesias ranks Grant over Eisenhower, I think he has a point.

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Tuesday Links: Poe or No Edition

[ 72 ] February 17, 2015 |
  • Brianna Wu, game developer and non-shutting-up woman has been the recipient of several death threats, but this may be the most the bizarre one. I hope Brianna stays safe. I shudder thinking what these high-profile #GamerGate detractors must go through.
  • Our own Barry Freed sent me this link. My Poe radar is completely broken; GamerGate’ll do that to you, but…this woman thinks that dinosaurs never existed.
  • N_B wants to you read this blog entry titled “A Non-PC View on Architecture?” Well, he’s a polar bear; there’s no accounting for his taste.
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Another sad story

[ 23 ] February 17, 2015 |

Now sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.

Well, not really.

In the summer of 1995, Joel Seligman left his position on the University of Michigan law school faculty to become dean of the University of Arizona’s law school. I had dinner with him that fall at his new Tuscon home — it was my idea of a mansion — and went to an Arizona football game with him the next day. Seligman was pitching his new school, and he spoke of his hopes of getting a “transformational gift” from the father of someone who had just graduated.

His hopes were realized three years later, when James Rogers pledged the mind-boggling sum of $115 million to his own and his son’s alma mater. It was at the time by far the largest gift anyone had made to a law school.

When you have as much money as I do, you can’t spend it on yourself,” said Rogers, 60, owner of the Las Vegas-based Sunbelt Communications media empire. ”After investing in your own business, giving money to education is the best investment you can make. If everybody did what I did, we would be the best educated people in the world.” . . .

The main objective of Rogers’ gift is to hold down the cost of attending the law school, while bolstering its faculty with more top-level legal scholars, said Joel Seligman, UA law school dean.

UA is 40th among American law schools, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 1998 ratings.

Its tuition – $4,538 per year for Arizona residents and $11,490 for non-residents – is among the five lowest of the top 50 law schools.

”We’ll soon have the lowest tuition in the top 50. We’ll be the best value in legal education,” said Seligman, who announced yesterday that he plans to step down.

How’d that work out?

It worked out great for Seligman, who parlayed his fund-raising coup into the deanship at Washington University St. Louis’s law school, and from there to the presidency of the University of Rochester, where three years ago his compensation was just under one million per year.

It worked out nicely for Rogers, who got the law school named for him (“look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”), and then went on to be appointed the chancellor of the entire Nevada university system, although his four-decade-long post-law student background in higher education consisted solely of having given immense piles of cash to various institutions. (BTW Rogers made his fortune the old-fashioned way, by acquiring property rights in the enormous income stream generated by a government-created and protected monopoly, in the form television broadcasting licenses).

As for future law students at the University of Arizona, who were supposed to benefit from Rogers’ largesse in the form of cheap tuition and increased institutional pre$tige . . .

Amazingly (this is a rhetorical device, there’s really nothing surprising about it) resident tuition began to skyrocket at the law school almost before the ink was dry on Rogers’ gift, doubling over the next five years, and then doubling again in the next five after that, so that by 2009 it had risen from $4,538 to $20,895. Non-resident tuition also went through the roof, albeit not quite as quickly in percentage terms, rising from $11,490 to $35,807.

2008 and 2009 were the years of the Great Recession, so the university’s administrators decided to give students a break by . . . raising tuition even faster, so that by 2012 resident tuition was $27,272 — six times higher than thirteen years earlier, when Rogers made the largest gift in the history of American law schools in order to keep tuition at the school affordable — while raising non-resident tuition to a cool $42,283.

What did all this activity do to the law school’s revenue streams? Well in 1998 the school was generating about $2.5 million per year from tuition along with another few hundred thousand in gift income.

By 2012, massive tuition hikes, along Rogers’ gifts and those of others (he gave $50 million over 20 years, along $15 million in matching gifts to those from other donors, and he left a $50 million endowment bequest in his estate), had increased the school’s annual revenue from tuition and gifts alone to around $15 million.

Of course the other intended effect from the opening up this immense faucet — really more of a water-cannon — of cash flow was that it would rocket the law school toward the top of the national rankings:

Yale, Stanford, Harvard and . . . Arizona?

Communications mogul James E. Rogers hopes the University of Arizona will be mentioned among those elite law schools after he more than doubled his gift to UA yesterday to $130 million.

”This will put Arizona’s law school on the map,” Rogers said yesterday. ”It will signal that it’s a law school on the move.”

Oh well.

Arizona’s ranking actually fell between 1998 and 2012, from 40 to 43, and it never rose higher than 38th at any point during these years. In effect the school’s ranking didn’t move at all, nor did the entrance qualifications of its students, or their bar passage rates, or really anything else that’s measurable, other than the school’s radically enhanced revenue stream, and its faculty-student ratio, which went from 14.2 to 10.5 to 1. (I suspect the school’s administrator to student ratio improved much more drastically, but that information isn’t publicly available).

What happened? Did the university’s central administration decide to use the income from Rogers’ gifts to replace some or all of the school’s share of the university’s state tax support? That’s possible, but note that, despite being in a very right-wing state, the University of Arizona’s state appropriations rose from $259 million in 1998 to $362 million in 2007 and $464 million in 2012. So if the university was cutting the law school’s tax subsidy, it was doing so in a context in which the university’s overall subsidy was growing — which would have been a very audacious move, given that $50 million of Rogers’ gift was in the form of a bequest, and could thus be revoked by him at any time. (He died last summer).

In any case, the massive increase in the school’s operating budget, enabled by the combination of radical tuition hikes and Rogers’ gifts, resulted in nothing tangible for the school’s students beyond greatly increased debt loads that averaged, with accrued interest, more than $100,000 in 2013.

Indeed, reacting to plunging applicant numbers, in 2013 Arizona became the first ABA law school in memory to actually cut tuition, from $27,292 to $24,396 for residents, and from $42,902 to $38,856 for non-residents. This apparently didn’t move the needle much, at least in regard to non-residents, as the school slashed non-resident tuition by 30% last spring.

Anyway, this series of events illustrates nicely how empty the administrative rationale is that law schools, at least, have to constantly jack up tuition and grovel before robber barons in order to “compete” in the “rankings.” It also illustrates how little of what is called “affordability” by higher ed administrators has to do with the degree to which higher ed costs are subsidized, since more money just means more spending, at least until the marks customers students actually start to rebel.

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