HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN

Posted in Quick Hits on April 9th, 2015 by Ed

After years of stop-starting various endeavors related to this website I have decided to go all in on the New Republican Bible project. I am re-writing the Gospels and other highlights of the New Testament with Jesus as a modern Republican in the vein of Scott Walker or Sam Brownback, hopefully to be completed by Christmas 2015. It will make the perfect gift. God willing, it will be available in print and electronic formats. The foreword will be written by Jesus himself.

Though I am on record as anti-crowdfunding and though it would be entirely within reason to call me a hypocrite, I've set up such a page. My goal isn't to solicit donations but rather to get pre-sale/pre-order numbers high enough, potentially, to interest a publisher. I certainly don't consider self-publishing beneath me but ideally I can get someone interested in this who isn't me. If you think you are a person who would buy such a thing, why not go ahead and do it now?

With any luck – which, of course, is not something that seems to apply to my endeavors in most cases – this will work. It's just ridiculous enough to.

THE TOWN LOS ANGELES DRANK

Posted in Quick Hits on April 7th, 2015 by Ed

On the heels of last week's post about California and the strain on our water resources, here is a great if lenghty piece delightfully titled "The Town Los Angeles Drank." It goes into a great deal of detail on just how complex, costly, and increasingly audacious the plans and infrastructure necessary to meet the giant state's water needs are getting.

Aside from the obvious relevance to the current drought and long term questions about the availability of water, the article touches on just how timid governments are these days to propose anything ambitious…anything at all, really. The 20th Century was defined by massive, expensive public works, and where would California be without them (think Hoover Dam)? The 21st is unfolding as an era in which everything the government does is Bad, anything it tries to do with fail, and the only acceptable Big Programs are the ones that take public funds and hand them over to private industry (Bush's prescription drug program or the ACA come to mind). And businesses, of course, know how to do things The Right Way. The only problem is that the free market is incapable of incentivizing them to solve unprofitable problems, meaning that the role of government is to slop enough money into the trough to spur them into action.

If that seems backward and inefficient to you, or if basic questions of accountability are coming to mind, you're a communist.

Fortunately California is a little less beholden to articles of right wing ideological faith than, say, Kansas but they've had their moments over the years. This is a state that made it illegal for its legislature to raise taxes, invented the Three Strikes law, and shat Ronald Reagan and Bob Dornan upon the rest of the nation. When the staggering cost of keeping the water flowing to the state's megacities as well as its agricultural backbone becomes clear, will the state pony up or will the process of governing be derailed by another idiotic ballot proposition? Based on the state's recent history, it could go either way.

CAN THIS 900 POUND GORILLA PAY TUITION?

Posted in Rants on April 6th, 2015 by Ed

Another week, another "Why does college cost so damn much?" article, this time in the NYT. The author discounts the argument that states have slashed funding for higher education by emphasizing that adjusted for inflation, state support is much more extravagant today than prior to 1980. Instead, as I have suggested in the past, he blames:

the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

This argument is irrefutable. The number of administrators in higher education today dwarfs any previous era. Moreover, their penchant for paying themselves lavish salaries is a big part of the problem. What does it tell you that among mid-career academics it is often tempting to make a push to go into administration? It's not that anyone thinks it's a good idea to quit being useful as a teacher to become another soul-crushing bureaucrat, but when you realize that the people who do the least work make 250% of your salary it has some appeal.

That's not the whole story, though, and everyone in higher education is terrified to talk about the rest. Some of the administrative bloat is pointless. The rest of it is a result of two legitimate problems. One is that competition for students is intense (at private schools, "desperate" doesn't go far enough to convey the enrollment situation these days) and colleges increasingly look to compete by turning the experience into a playground. Not only do they need to spend billions collectively on creature comforts – elaborate Rec Centers, luxury student housing and food, etc – but they have to hire countless paper pushers to administer the programs intended to keep students entertained. A gym is more than throwing up a building and filling it with treadmills. There have to be group fitness classes, semester long programs in whatever is trendy, a calendar full of events, and anything else you'd find on a cruise ship or resort.

The second part is the one people only whisper about. More and more students are going to college over the past two decades, partly driven by the availability of loans and the inability to enter most fields without a degree. The end result is that moreso than any time in the past, today there are huge numbers of students flocking to college who have zero ability to succeed there. Universities of course want to retain these students, and in order to do so they have to create a massive bureaucracy of support services. Any skill tangentially related to completing college level work now has a lavishly staffed support center devoted to it on campus. A writing center, a study skills program, tutoring services, a math helpdesk, a massive bureaucracy devoted to the shockingly large share of students diagnosed with various disabilities, and anything else you can imagine.

If you want to stay open, you have to admit a certain number of students. In an ideal world you accept only students who can succeed given the nature of the school. In reality you end up taking a lot who probably can't. And if you accept students who do not know how to write sentences in English, you better have someone ready to hold their hand if you expect them to last longer than a semester. That costs money – a lot of money.

When you add up the cost of huge salaries for presidents, provosts, deans, and deanlets, recreational facilities that resemble theme parks, athletic programs (a competitive D-I football program costs a small fortune), shiny new buildings, and an army of functionaries tasked with guiding students who sometimes lack even high school level academic skills through college coursework, it makes sense why costs are exploding. Those of you who went to college in the ancient past can attest to how austere the accommodations were, how barebones the support services were, and how little "fun" universities paid to provide.

There definitely are too many administrators and they have a terrible habit of paying themselves too much. But some of the growth has been of necessity, as more and more students need more and more help to have any hope of succeeding at this academic level. That isn't cheap. College costs a lot more than it used to. But "used to" didn't include paying half a million bucks to bring Katy Perry to campus and having to teach high school graduates how to do math involving fractions.

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NPF: TORA! TORA! RAY?

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 2nd, 2015 by Ed

When remembering and retelling the story of World War II and the destruction of Pearl Harbor, Americans tend to forget that Hawaii wasn't even a state at the time. It was, to paraphrase a great account of the attack, essentially a colonial pineapple plantation / naval base. The weather was probably as much of a draw as it is today, but in 1941 Hawaii must have felt considerably more…backwater-ish. Located in the literal middle of nowhere before the days of rapid, safe, affordable air travel, when the natural splendor and nice weather wore off the American transplants in Hawaii must have found themselves with little entertainment beyond what they created.

A mainland American lawyer named Ray Buduick filled his spare time by restoring and flying a private plane – the flimsy, open, Red Baron type that was still popular at the time. One Sunday morning near Christmas in 1941, Ray and his teenage son took off a little after 7 AM to kill some time with an aimless flight around Oahu with the airspace all to himself. I can see the appeal of that, certainly. After straying farther out over the Pacific he was surprised to see in the great distance what appeared to be other airplanes. A lot of them. He was curious and flew toward them until it was unmistakable that not only were they airplanes but hundreds of them. No sooner had he and his son realized this that they heard strange sounds like something was whipping past their tiny plane at high speed. That mystery solved itself in short order when several bullets struck their right wing.

Turned out that random lawyer Ray Buduick and his teenage son Martin had, quite without meaning to, entered the United States into World War II.

They had stumbled upon a gaggle of Japanese fighters loitering over the ocean as they waited for the larger, slower bombers in the attack squadron to catch up. As they turned toward Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, Buduick took a perpendicular route away from the attacking planes and hoped that none of the Japanese would bother to break away and follow him. Then, with the attack in progress, they circled back and somehow landed their damaged POS safely.

It might not be technically correct to say that Ray Buduick started the Pacific War, but since I assume that any heirs who could sue me for libel have passed on or do not read things called Gin & Tacos let's be real clear: Ray Buduick totally started the war. Alright, perhaps it is more fair to say that while he may not have started it in the geopolitical sense, he was the first American to come under attack from Imperial Japan, all because he decided to take up flying rather than, say, woodworking. It wouldn't have been exciting but at least he wouldn't have been shot at by Japanese fighter planes for building a credenza in his garage.

AHH, MEMORIES

Posted in Quick Hits on April 1st, 2015 by Ed

It has been a long time, but just in case you feel like reliving the anger and amazement at the howling stupidity of your fellow citizens all over again the CIA declassified the ration of shit / document used to justify the Iraq War.

I don't see why this would be especially newsworthy. It's not like there's anything to be learned from that experience.