FREEWHEELING

Posted in Quick Hits on March 15th, 2016 by Ed

In political science, 2016 will go down as the election in which the political parties – which used to exercise unchallenged control over the nomination – have seen their control of the process decline to near zero. With the withdrawal of Marco Rubio the GOP field is down to Kasich (who isn't going to win anything other than Ohio), Ted Cruz (who literally everyone hates), and a frontrunner about whom establishment Republicans are literally kept awake at night trying to think of ways to prevent him from winning.

On the Democratic side the party establishment is on the verge of getting exactly what it wants, of course. It is difficult to say whether that is because of the influence of the party or spurious to it; perhaps Bernie Sanders wouldn't have the juice to win the nomination regardless of whether the party supported him explicitly.

At least on the GOP side it is fair to say that the heavy hitters have had no influence on the outcome this year. The Koch Brothers' candidate didn't even make it to Iowa. Sheldon Adelson swung and missed, as did the other big money men who poured money into failing Bush and Rubio campaigns, among others. Republicans with the highest name recognition, people like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, have done everything but beg party voters to reject Trump. The RNC has not lifted a finger to assist him but has given considerable support to other campaigns that have failed. The diminution of party influence, which began with the Democratic Party after the debacle of 1968, seems to have crossed the partisan aisle to reach its zenith.

IS THERE A DOCTOR ON THE PLANE

Posted in Rants on March 13th, 2016 by Ed

It's hard to have anything other than mixed feelings about the success of protesters in Chicago and St. Louis in shutting down Trump rallies. In one column we have all the usual arguments about how violence is never the answer, Trump has a right to express himself, etc and etc. In the other, it's refreshing to see that some people correctly perceive that this is something much different than the ordinary Republican presidential campaign. This is the coming together of the worst that American society has to offer, of people who think violence literally is the answer to everything and whose conception of ideology and beliefs is to keep current a lengthy list of things they hate.

To watch these protests escalate and grow, though, is to have the increasingly uneasy feeling that none of this will end well, and I don't mean it will end with Trump getting elected. Call me alarmist, but it feels like only a matter of time until someone gets shot.

I have a student who announced in class his intention to go to the anti-Trump rally in Chicago. I told him to be careful, and although the line produced a mild giggle from the class I very much meant it. Trump supporters are people who think George Zimmerman is a hero and who long to someday get their own chance to shoot a black person. How many violent, stupid, blind-with-rage gun enthusiasts can gather in one place to be egged on by their idiot king before a protester shoves one of them who immediately thinks, "This is the big moment I've been waiting for"?

Remember, these are people who believe with all their might that carrying a concealed handgun makes them safe, and that they possess the judgment to know when and how to use it appropriately. These are wannabe vigilantes, every one of them, waiting for an opportunity to make their own Rambo fantasies a reality. When people interrupt Trump during rallies he has the extremely disconcerting habit, as we would expect of someone with a brain the size of a peanut and an aversion to thinking before he says anything, of yelling out nonspecific commands like "Get 'em out of here!" to no one in particular, which makes every individual member of his audience think, "Time for me to be the hero!" in a roomful of people who consider punching a teenage black girl a heroic act.

A responsible person might tell the crowd to relax because security is going to handle the situation, or direct any comments to the police present. This is why flight attendants get on the intercom when a passenger is sick and say "Excuse me, is there a doctor on this flight?" instead of "Oh shit, somebody help this guy!"

None of this is surprising as the culmination of eight long years of "Take America back" rhetoric, the answer to the question "From whom?" remaining unspoken but easy enough to derive by implication – from the blacks, the Latinos, the homos, the bitches, the Jews, the librul media, the unions (???), the ivory tower academics, and everyone and anyone else who aspires to be something other than a meatheaded, bigoted loser pretending that the reason they never accomplished anything with their lives is that racial and cultural Others usurped what was rightfully theirs.

I'm hardly the first person to suggest that this is not going to end well, but I'll add myself to the chorus nonetheless. If you thought Obama derangement was bad, wait until you see the meltdown these people have when Trump gets blown out in November. We'll be living among millions of vigilantes forced to endure yet another humiliation at the hands of people smarter than them, staring at their guns and wondering what else they can do to Take Their Country Back.

ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 23: PROSECUTOR'S FALLACY

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on March 9th, 2016 by Ed

Though I try my damndest to make all of the material interesting when I teach – that's where the 100,000,000 anecdotes and random facts come in handy – it's inarguable that some topics of academic interest (and curricular necessity) are a bit dry. Teaching statistics is a challenge in this regard. In my view, probability is the easiest thing to talk about. Probability and chance and randomness are fascinating. The problem is that very few people understand how to evaluate risk, odds, and probability correctly. It's very easy to mislead people with definitive-sounding statistics if one is so inclined.

In conversation this is an annoyance. In courtrooms it is a life-or-death issue. Juries don't understand statistics. Judges don't either. Hell, the lawyers and witnesses citing statistics in court probably don't.

Say you are on trial in Chicago and evidence is presented by the prosecutor indicating that you match DNA found at the scene. Your specific DNA profile is declared "1 in 2,000,000." The prosecutor uses this statistic – and the jury most likely hears it this way without prompting anyway – to imply that your guilt is 1,999,999/2,000,000 certain, or 99.99995% certain. You're going away for a long time.

The problem is that having a 1-in-2M DNA match does not in fact means nothing more than that in any randomly selected sample of 2 million people, 1 will have your profile. In Illinois' population of 13 million, this means six people have that profile. Adding in the bordering states' population within a short drive of the Chicago area, that's four or five more people. Add in the billion people around the world with access to fly into and out of O'Hare Airport on any given day and you have a veritable horde of DNA Twins out there. But limiting it to the Chicago area only, there are, statistically speaking, 10 individuals who match your DNA profile.

That means that it is not 1,999,999/2,000,000 percent likely that you are guilty. It would be more accurate to say that it's about a one in ten chance. And that doesn't even include the rates of false positives and human errors on DNA tests, which are both small but relevant in a large sample.

Here's another (real) example. During the OJ Simpson trial the prosecution unwisely downplayed its physical evidence and instead spent two weeks detailing the football star's lengthy history of violent abuse of his wife. Defense attorneys (Yes, they can use the trick too) then told the jury that about 1 in 3000 people who abuse a spouse or partner go on to murder that person. Therefore, they said, the tales of abuse were regrettable and true but totally irrelevant since the odds were so small (0.03%). Unfortunately, the only thing irrelevant is that statistic. The relevant question is not "What percentage of men who abuse a woman will go on to murder her?" but "What percentage of women who are murdered are murdered by the person who abused them?" According to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data, somewhere between 70-80% of women who are murdered and had been abused are murdered by the person who abused them – not exactly a lead pipe cinch, but damning enough to establish that abuse can turn into murder to the jury.

The misleading statistic of 0.03% reflects nothing other than that murder isn't very common under any circumstances. A vanishingly small percentage of any defined category of people will ever commit murder. But at the trial that was not relevant, because the murder had happened. That the abuse happened was also established. So the question of how likely it was to happen is not relevant. It did.

Think of it this way. Say a plane crashes and Boeing is on trial arguing that the cause was not mechanical failure, citing that, "Only 1 in every 100,000 planes will ever have this particular mechanical failure leading to a crash." Probably true, but who cares? The question you want answered is, of planes that do crash, what percentage had that mechanical failure? It might not be a large number, as there are many possible causes of a crash, but it sure as hell will be larger than 1 in 100,000.

Once you're aware of this and begin to notice it, you'll be amazed at how often you encounter this fallacy in everything from advertising to news to your performance evaluations at work to casual conversation. You're welcome.

LIES, DAMN LIES, ETC.

Posted in Quick Hits on March 8th, 2016 by Ed

When I have to watch cable news networks present and "discuss" polling results I feel the way doctors must feel when they watch E.R. or lawyers would feel watching a cut rate Law & Order knockoff courtroom procedural show. The urge to yell "THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS" at the TV screen borders on overwhelming at times.

When CNN assaulted the data from their Nevada Caucus Entry Poll to declare "Trump wins Latino vote in Nevada" any freshman student in math, statistics, or survey research could tell you what's missing from this picture:

caucusnv

Gee those are some nice lookin' percentages. By the way, how many Latinos voted in the Nevada Republican caucus? Because I'm guessing it was about 80.

That's an exaggeration, of course, but common sense dictates that it isn't going to be very many, what with Barack Obama winning 76% of the Latino vote in Nevada in 2012. Furthermore the NV Caucuses were a legendary shitshow that descended into chaos in more than a few locations, so the question of the validity of those Entry Polls certainly cannot be assumed. Who showed up, who actually voted, and who was some asshole Trump supporter who thought it would be funny to pretend to be Latino are all open to interpretation. Given the low turnout in the NV Caucus overall and the small number of Latinos identified – about 100 – by the polling agency suggest that statewide no more than 2000 Latinos, an estimate that appears generous, participated.

Nevada has at least 750,000 voting-age Latino residents according to the Census Bureau. It might have been helpful to point this out when declaring that Trump "won" a tiny subset of a small polling sample, or perhaps to have one person working at the network on election day who has some idea of how numbers work. But who cares as long as it sounds alarming, right?

RADICAL SOLUTION

Posted in Rants on March 7th, 2016 by Ed

As much as I might like it to be the case, being a political scientist does not make me 100% informed about everything that can happen in American politics. We all have areas of expertise and beyond that the depth of what we know is not necessarily greater than any interested non-academic. Deep congressional procedure, for example, is a mystery to me. If you ask me about the Byrd Rule and the steps necessary to consider an omnibus bill under reconciliation. I have people for that, and without exception they can be taken out in public only infrequently and only at great risk.

That preemptive mea culpa is to admit that party nominating procedures are not something about which I have universal, all-encompassing knowledge. However, I've taught and worked with the topic enough to be comfortable with it. So I'm going to attempt to explain why the GOP is going to have a very, very difficult time setting up a "brokered convention" to stop Trump.

Brokered conventions are to politics what surprise witnesses are to the legal process – they're largely a narrative device used to create interesting scenarios, not a thing that actually happens in real life. They make good water cooler talk but the parties both have rules and procedures in place specifically to preclude them.

I'll keep this as basic as possible. Candidates compete in primaries, caucuses, and conventions in each state (and territories, oddly enough) to win delegates. Delegates are awarded on either a winner-take-all or a proportional basis. The early contests – the ones completed so far – must by Republican rules be proportional. The Democrats do it differently, but let's disregard that for now. Later GOP contests are mostly winner-take-all. The GOP used to do all W-T-A contests but changed recently when they realized that one candidate who did well for the first two weeks of contests would essentially wrap up the nomination. So this stretches the process out and generates more competition, because candidates who do not win the state still can win delegates under proportional rules.

Delegates are either committed (Republicans tellingly prefer the term "bound") or uncommitted ("unbound"). Committed delegates must vote on the first ballot at the national convention for the candidate that won said delegate in a primary. Uncommitted delegates can vote for whichever candidate they want. Some states award only committed delegates, and some states award only uncommitted. It's a very confusing system and all fifty states have unique rules. When a candidate wins committed delegates and then drops out of the race, those delegates become uncommitted.

What is not complicated is this: The GOP awards the nomination to whichever candidate gets a simple majority of available delegates. 50% + 1 of the current delegates is 1,237. Trump currently leads with 384 to Cruz's 300. The proportional system has treated Ted Cruz well, as you can see. Despite winning only four contests so far he is not terribly far behind Trump. If any candidate gets to 1,237 committed delegates, the race is essentially over.

There are two relevant internal rules in the GOP that must be understood here. One is a requirement that no candidate can be nominated who did not win a majority of delegates in at least eight states. That is crucial here. They can't nominate Mitt Romney at the convention no matter what. Nor, as things currently stand, could they nominate Cruz (four wins) or Rubio (one win) or anyone else (zero wins). The second important rule is that the Party can alter its own rules at the national convention without waiting until the next before any changes take effect.

So for a "brokered convention" one of two things must happen. First, the non-Trump candidates could win enough delegates to prevent Trump from reaching 1,237. If no candidate entered the convention with a majority, the first ballot (remember the committed rule) would be unlikely to produce a victor and then all bets would be off. Second, they could change any and all of the rules mentioned here, essentially blowing the whole thing up in a sort of anti-Trump Thermopylae; a last ditch, scorched Earth play. Cut off the limb and suffer in the short term to save the brand in the long term. And no, Trump could not mount an independent campaign at that point because in almost every state the deadline to get on the November ballot will have passed.

In short, to have a nominee other than Trump if and when he crosses 1,237 delegates would require the GOP to change its rules to disregard the entire primary process and let party insiders hand-pick a candidate. You can imagine how well that would go over with Trump supporters and Republicans in general. Then again, they might judge that to be worth it compared to letting Trump not only go down in flames but also to take god knows how many down-ballot candidates with him.

Finally, June 7 is likely to be a significant date, with California's 172-delegate, winner-take-all primary taking place. It's the last date for primaries and caucuses and if Trump has not secured 1,237 delegates already by then he will at least be in striking distance so that California would put him over the top.

Off the cuff it seems unlikely that the Republican Party would do anything as drastic as changing its rules at the convention to render moot everything that has happened in the nomination process to that point. It all depends on how effective the powers that be inside the party are at convincing themselves that Trump won't be so bad. The other issue is that the candidate best situated as a Trump alternative may be even more strongly loathed within the party.

Good. Times.

A VERY STUPID ARGUMENT GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on March 3rd, 2016 by Ed

Rarely am I moved to revive the FJM Treatment these days, as it tends to be very labor-intensive to write and it's not often that I have the time. But when Mike Konczal – Those of you who have been around forever remember him, and those who haven't probably know his current work – shared this article with the baiting tagline, "Algebra II Has To Go", I felt the urge stirring inside me. Understand two things: One is that I realize I am falling for Outrage Bait here; sites like Slate push this stuff purporting to be "edgy" mostly in the hopes of getting people to share it socially and vent about how dumb it is. The second is that Mike approached this from the perspective of someone who has taken a lot of very high level math in his academic life and no doubt accurately points out that much of it has never been useful beyond college.

The problem is that this article isn't about high level math. It's about algebra, and its author Dana Goldstein has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the arguments of one person with an agenda to sell books about "curriculum reform" that only excite administrators looking to boost retention by identifying and then justifying the elimination of whatever courses are too difficult for students to pass. As a faculty member, I see this very differently because the motives are very transparent to me. I read a noble proposition like "What's wrong with improving the curriculum to include more useful math?" as a stalking horse that quickly ends up pressed into service of the least noble motives. Are you ready? It has been a while, but hopefully you'll agree that it's time. Some of this is excised for length and irrelevance.

In his new book The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions, political scientist Andrew Hacker proposes replacing algebra II and calculus in the high school and college curriculum with a practical course in statistics for citizenship (more on that later). Only mathematicians and some engineers actually use advanced math in their day-to-day work, Hacker argues — even the doctors, accountants, and coders of the future shouldn’t have to master abstract math that they’ll never need.

*RECORD SCRATCH SOUND*

Algebra II is "advanced math"? Nobody needs to know Algebra unless they're designing a rocket engine or mapping the human genome? Isn't a sequence in Algebra, like, a rather basic component of math education? Gee I'd hate to think the authors are using an argument – a valid argument – against taking advanced calculus as a red herring here.

I showed the book to my husband, Andrei, a computer programmer who loved math in school. He scrunched up his face. “People don’t use Shakespeare in their jobs, but it’s still important for them to read it,” he said.

I like Andrei. Andrei seems to understand the educational system and its purpose.

“It’s not the same,” I told him. “Reading fiction builds empathy.”

“Math helps us understand the world around us!” Andrei replied. “Like how derivatives demonstrate change over time.” He smiled, and I could tell that for him, it was all clear and beautiful.

But I had no idea what he was talking about. In high school, I found math so indecipherable that I would sometimes cry over my homework. I don’t think I ever understood what a derivative signified 15 years ago, when I was struggling my way to a low B in calculus—a class I was convinced I had to take to pad my college applications.

Oh good. I'm glad we're establishing from the outset that the basis of this article is "I don't get it, so it's not necessary."

*EXAGGERATED FOREHEAD WIPE*

So Hacker’s book is deeply comforting. I’m not alone, it tells me—lots of smart people hate math. The reason I hated math, was mediocre at it, and still managed to earn a bachelor’s degree was because I had upper-middle-class parents who paid for tutoring and eventually enrolled me in a college that doesn’t require math credits in order to graduate.

This is impressive self-awareness. The author recognizes that she finds this argument appealing not because it has merit but because she hates math and thought math was hard. Glad we're all on the same page now.

For low-income students, math is often an impenetrable barrier to academic success. Algebra II, which includes polynomials and logarithms, and is required by the new Common Core curriculum standards used by 47 states and territories, drives dropouts at both the high school and college levels. The situation is most dire at public colleges, which are the most likely to require abstract algebra as a precondition for a degree in every field, including art and theater.

*CAR CAREENS OVER CLIFF*

How many colleges require anything beyond the most basic type of two-course math sequence, one or both of which can be satisfied by having taken "college level" math courses of dubious rigidity in high school? I guess Slate doesn't make its writers look up numbers on these things. My experience has been that what college level math is required is often required with some kind of massive loophole such as the ability to fulfill the obligation with specially created, easy to pass "Math for Poets" type classes designed to keep the tuition dollars students enrolled.

“We are really destroying a tremendous amount of talent—people who could be talented in sports writing or being an emergency medical technician, but can’t even get a community college degree,” Hacker told me in an interview. “I regard this math requirement as highly irrational.”

Community college math classes are too difficult? Hmm. That would point to getting very little math in high school, not too much, Mr. Iconoclast. This literally differs not one bit from arguing that someone would make a great EMT if only they didn't have to take some stupid class they can't pass about Shakespeare or psychology or hey this is fun you could put the name of any course in here and the appropriately-surnamed Hacker's argument works!

Unlike most professors who publicly opine about the education system, Hacker, though an eminent scholar, teaches at a low-prestige institution, Queens College, part of the City University of New York system. Most CUNY students come from low-income families, and a 2009 faculty report found that 57 percent fail the system’s required algebra course. A subsequent study showed that when students were allowed to take a statistics class instead, only 44 percent failed.

"When these students had to take a basic math course, slightly over half failed. When we let them take another course that for all anyone knows was designed to be easier to pass so we could keep our retention rates up…slightly under half failed." Sounds like Hacker is an "eminent scholar" in some field that isn't statistics. Oh wait, he's a political scientist. So he should be well aware of how stupid this argument is. And he has taught at the university level for quite some time, so he also knows how deceptive it is. And that he's basically just arguing "We should let them take statistics because apparently it's easier for them to pass," which is the worst possible argument for why they should take statistics instead of math.

Math in this case, just to remind you, is algebra.

Such findings inspired Hacker, in 2013, to create a curriculum to test the ideas he presents in The Math Myth. For two years, he taught what is essentially a course in civic numeracy. Hacker asked students to investigate the gerrymandering of Pennsylvania congressional districts by calculating the number of actual votes Democrats and Republicans received in 2012. The students discovered that it took an average of 181,474 votes to win a Republican seat, but 271,970 votes to win a Democratic seat. In another lesson, Hacker distributed two Schedule C forms, which businesses use to declare their tax-deductible expenses, and asked students to figure out which form was fabricated. Then he introduced Benford’s Law, which holds that in any set of real-world numbers, ones, twos, and threes are more frequent initial digits than fours, fives, sixes, sevens, eights, and nines. By applying this rule, the students could identify the fake Schedule C. (The IRS uses the same technique.)

In his 19-person numeracy seminar, the lowest grade was a C, Hacker says.

Wow. Where to start. OK, so this "civic numeracy" course, designed by Hacker himself and which based on the examples he chose to give involves nothing beyond addition, subtraction, division, and the ability to read English and numbers, produced 19 passing grades when Andrew Hacker taught said class (and awarded the grades, so you know it was super objective because he certainly had no motivation to prove his point, right?). Does anyone know if 19 is a sufficient sample size? I guess they didn't cover "sample size" in "civic numeracy."

Look, I'll be the first one to agree that a class where students learn how to read and interpret statistics is valuable. I teach this very material in a Political Science Research Methods course. It's important. And it is in no way an argument against the value of taking actual math. The sole motivation behind requiring it instead of math is that too many students now are failing math.

Or are they? Who knows, neither the author of this article nor apparently the shittiest social scientist on Earth bothered telling us if students are failing math more regularly today than in the past. That would be important to establish, right? Or else he/she have no argument, right?

Hacker’s previous book, Higher Education? How Universities Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids, took a dim view of the tenured professoriate, and he extends that perspective in The Math Myth. Math professors, consumed by their esoteric, super-specialized research, simply don’t care very much about the typical undergraduate, Hacker contends.

Ahh, OK. Finally we've established that Hacker makes his living publishing (presumably not without compensation) books pissing on academia. I know this type well. Bet he's real popular with his colleagues between his open minded approach to curriculum and his outstanding argumentation skills.

Math professors, consumed by their esoteric, super-specialized research, simply don’t care very much about the typical undergraduate, Hacker contends. At universities with graduate programs, tenure-track faculty members teach only 10 percent of introductory math classes. At undergraduate colleges, tenure-track professors handle 42 percent of introductory classes. Graduate students and adjuncts shoulder the vast majority of the load, and they aren’t inspiring many students to continue their math education. In 2013, only 1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded were in math.

None of this is remotely relevant to the value of making students take basic algebra. Not even a little. These numbers are here to distract you. I thought we were making a "should" argument about the value of stats-as-math-alternative? Now we've progressed to simply grousing about academia.

“In a way, math departments throughout the country don’t worry,” Hacker says. “They have big budgets because their classes are required, so they keep on going.”

This is the least true thing anyone has written today, and today was the day after Donald Trump all but secured the GOP nomination. What's actually happening, not that Hacker would bother to do any research here, is that math departments are piling more courses on tenured or tenure track faculty (not necessarily introductory courses – note the key adjective he uses) to save money, and also hiring more adjuncts to teach the less demanding courses to save money.

What an excellent example of how to deceive with numbers. Is this in the "civic numeracy" book?

After Hacker previewed the ideas in The Math Myth in a 2012 New York Times op-ed, the Internet lit up with responses accusing him of anti-intellectualism. At book length, it’s harder to dismiss his ideas.

I'm dubious.

He has a deep respect for what he calls the “truth and beauty” of math; his discussion of the discovery and immutability of pi taught me more about the meaning of 3.14 than any class I’ve ever taken.

I bet he does, and I'm sure it did. That's not saying much, per the author's opening comments.

As a longtime education reporter, I know that American teachers, especially those in the elementary grades, have taken few math courses themselves, and often actively dislike the subject. Maybe I would have found abstract math more enjoyable if my teachers had been able to explain it better, perhaps by connecting it somehow to the real world. And if that happened in every school, maybe lots more American kids, even low-income ones, would be able to make the leap from arithmetic to the conceptual mathematics of algebra II and beyond.

Well, a decent social scientist could tell you that since K-12 teachers are so regularly and viciously shit on, not to mention underpaid and regularly threatened by state legislatures with further reductions in benefits and pay, nobody really wants to major in Education. So Education gets the students – Sorry, but if we're going to generalize here, this is accurate… – who can't succeed in any other major. And it gives them a 4.0 in courses specifically designed to be passed by students who are not very academically capable.

Search your heart. You know it to be true.

Of course, if math teachers are to help students understand how abstract concepts (EDIT: Examples omitted) function in the real world, they will have to understand those abstractions themselves. So it’s not reassuring that American teachers are a product of the same sub-par math education system they work in, or that we hire 100,000 to 200,000 new teachers each year at a time when less than 20,000 people are majoring in math annually.

OK so, to recap: Math is too hard because most K-12 students get a bad math education because teachers don't take much math in college, so let's require even less math in college.

Goddamn brilliance.

Could better teachers help more students pass algebra II? Given high student debt, low teacher pay, and the historically low status of the American teaching profession, it would be a tough road. In the meantime, it’s probably a good idea to give students multiple math pathways toward high school and college graduation—some less challenging than others. If we don’t, we’ll be punishing kids for the failures of an entire system.

Wait, what? So this isn't about offering a better alternative at all, then. It's explicitly about offering something easier. Easier and Better are very different, just FYI. "Poor kids have a disadvantage, so let's teach them less and lower the bar for them because the system failed them." Because the system failed them, obviously the system must fail for them. Makes sense.

Make no mistake about this whole trainwreck of an argument, folks: This is about retention rates and tuition dollars. The vast majority of postsecondary institutions in this country are under enrollment and financial stress right now and they are desperate to both attract and retain students. The internal pressure to lower subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly the bar to keep another paying customer in the fold is consistent and nearly universal outside of the top 0.01% of elite institutions. We need bodies and we need revenue. That fact doesn't make higher education Evil. The bad part would be pretending we're changing the curriculum for the students' benefit when in reality we are doing it to extract more revenue out of them. This is nothing but marketing speak for lowering the standards while pretending that we're not doing exactly that.

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I AM A CRACKED MACHINE

Posted in Quick Hits on March 1st, 2016 by Ed

It appears that America is going full "Here, hold my beer. I'm gonna try somethin'…" with this election. After Tuesday it will be very, very hard for the non-Trump Republicans (and Bernie Sanders for that matter) to claim that they are in position to win the nomination. A chance remains on the GOP side if the entire party apparatus and its money men throw their heft behind one candidate. Unfortunately it appears like they cannot decide whether that candidate is Cruz or Rubio (hint: It's Rubio, but they're stupid).

The only thing that I find legitimately interesting about Trump as a candidate – not "Hey check out that flaming dumpster" interesting, not "How bad can Batman & Robin really be" interesting – is the way that he has paralyzed the media that just can't stop paying attention to him. They're ratings- and click-driven, so it's hardly a surprise that they do so. But our media have self-censored their coverage of politics in general and Republicans in particular to the point that they have literally no idea how to handle someone that lies as baldly and as often as Trump.

Our media has become a slick, well-organized Both Sides Are Valid machine. They have gotten into the habit of stenography to the point that they no longer appear to have a procedure in place for telling viewers when something is false. Twenty solid years of "We'll let the viewers decide" has culminated in a candidate who lies so outrageously that even he bursts into giggles half the time at his own bullshit and yet the media are paralyzed about how to challenge him or correct him. It isn't fair to say that one candidate is lying without also saying the same about the other, creating a vortex of False Equivalency and nonsense from which there is no escape.

By understanding their job as writing down what the candidates say or letting the candidates talk into the camera unchallenged and then passing that along to consumers, the media collectively – even Fox, if you can believe it – look like a deer in headlights as Trump maximizes his strategy of simply making shit up so quickly and in such quantity that the fact-checking couldn't keep pace even if it tried. And there is no real evidence that it's trying.

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