MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Posted in Rants on April 7th, 2014 by Ed

Over time I've learned the futility of trying to interact with people in comment sections on the vast majority of websites. The odds of changing someone's opinion are so very low when the opinions they express are of the Thought Terminating Cliche variety or some subliterate expression of racism. Sometimes I wonder if the people commenting on news sites are even people as opposed to paid astroturfers or spamming software; it is only the doubt that a computer could be programmed to generate anything as stupid as the average Journal-Sentinel Online comment that convinces me of the human touch behind them.

(Seriously, the JSO has the worst comment sections I've ever seen. The three regions in Wisconsin are apparently Milwaukee, Madison, and 1950s Mississippi.)

There are only two comments I ever find myself tempted to make anymore. One is to point out during bitch sessions about lazy employees (usually Union Thugs) that the lard-assed white guys making these comments are most likely at work browsing the internet and posting inane comments on the company dime. The second is to ask people why they have not quit whatever job they have in order to become teachers. Because boy oh boy, to listen to right-wingers tell it, teaching is the sweetest, cushiest, most lucrative racket posing as a career ever devised by man. And part of me always wants to ask these people what keeps them from boarding this mighty gravy train. Summers off! Enormous salaries! Cadillac health care and retirement packages! No real work to do, just glorified babysitting! Ironclad Union Thug protection! Teaching is just a big pot of gold delivered in installments.

Since regional shortages of K-12 teachers are real and demonstrable, there are only two reasons that the average internet commenter / AM Radio Caller would not take advantage of such a sweet deal. One is that they are so professionally successful that even the gold plated deal given to teachers can't hold a candle to their wealth. Since these people are sitting around during business hours posting barely coherent comments on the internet, I will assume that this is not the case for most of them. The second is that they lack the intelligence or attention span required to get a Bachelor's Degree and a teaching certificate.

For a very small percentage of these blowhards there might be a third reason: in the back of their minds they realize exactly how miserable and thankless being a high school teacher is in 2014. They realize while making snide comments about "planning periods" and "summers off" that teaching K-12 is a life of ten-plus hour days, taking work home every night and weekend, surrogate parenting the dozens of students who have effectively no adult guardian, and opening up the newspaper to read about how teachers are Public Enemy #1 in post-Koch Brothers America. All that for a starting salary in most states just north of $30,000 and the incessant interference of every Teabagger and young Earth creationist who manages to talk the local car dealerships into buy him into the state legislature.

Sure, teaching is a blast. And it's super easy as long as you never have to make a lesson plan, grade a stack of 50 poorly executed assignments, listen to screaming parents, talk for six or seven hours per day to an audience that bores almost immediately, and quasi-parent the seven year old who's wearing shorts during a blizzard because his mom disappeared on a bender a couple days ago and he doesn't know where his clothes are. Do all of that without losing your temper, drinking at lunchtime, punching a student (or coworker, or parent), or forgetting that people in the capitol want to tie your salary to your students' grades.

When teaching at the college level feels difficult, my colleagues and I like to remind ourselves that, well, at least we don't teach high school. Our hats tip to the people who do and don't have the luxury of telling a student "You're an adult, I don't care if you do this or not" or seeking cover behind a law that prevents us from dealing with whiny parents. But perhaps I have it all wrong and the life of a middle- or high school teacher is all breaks, handing out worksheets, and sitting on the beach all summer eating bon-bons. I encourage more people who believe this is the case to sign up for the World's Easiest Job and try their hand at it.

NPF: BEAT ON THE BRAT

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 4th, 2014 by Ed

When I need to make a joke about white trash – and believe me, the last 12 years spent in Indiana, Georgia, and central Illinois have made this necessary on more than one occasion – my go-to cultural reference point is the Chevrolet El Camino. If I'm feeling punchy I can sub in the Ford equivalent (the Ranchero) or, to test the depth of automotive knowledge of the intended audience, the El Camino's identical clone the GMC Caballero. I'm sure these were fine vehicles in their day and in some parts of the world the "ute" body style is quite popular (I'm looking at you, Australia). There is just something about the unholy wedding of a pointlessly large 1970s American sedan with the bed of a pickup truck, however, that screams "Both humans and animals have been conceived in the bed of this vehicle." If you see any of these vehicles on the road today, you can rest assured that the family of six shoehorned into its single bench seat is on the way to pick up some scratch-off tickets.

Is that mean? Yes. That is very mean. But for whatever reason, the Coupe Truck idea did not attract a very high class clientele in the American market.

Despite the jokes that they invite, there is something lovably silly about these vehicles. They look so ridiculous and mis-proportioned that it becomes endearing. Not so, however, with Japan's response to the late 70s/early 80s car-truck conglomeration craze: the Subaru BRAT. That's supposed to stand for "Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter", which lets you know right off the bat that nothing good is going to come of this. Basically Subaru designers hacksawed the rear end off a Leone sedan and made…this:

brat2

The best part, however, is that Subaru engineers and bean-counters collaborated to circumvent a 25% U.S. import tariff on trucks (the known in the auto industry as the "Chicken Tax"). They did this by classifying the BRAT as a passenger car, which they achieved by…bolting two seats into the exposed bed of the truck. Look at these and try to envision any scenario in which the "backseat" passengers would survive an accident. Or normal driving over 30 miles per hour.

brat

Note the plastic sled-type handles affixed to the seats. So your odds of remaining in the vehicle at speed were a function of grip strength. Awesome.

Fortunately Subaru forewent plans to weld the seats to the bed in favor of bolting them in place, so with ordinary tools a buyer could (and almost all immediately did) remove the seats. But in promotional photos, Subaru was legally obligated to play along with the conceit that this was a four-passenger car; hilarity ensued.

brat3

Yeah, good luck with that guys.

Like all horrible things from the 70s and 80s the BRAT is celebrated for its awkwardness by today's irony hungry hipsters. Jonny Lieberman at Motor Trend is polarizing – some people find his videos unwatchably annoying, while others appreciate his silly enthusiasm – but I would recommend giving his five-minute jaunt in the BRAT a viewing if you're bored. It's fun, it takes the car at face value, and if nothing else we learn that because the gearshift attaches to the transaxle through a crude hole cut directly into the floor of the cabin, illegal drugs can be slipped out of the vehicle during a traffic stop.

Subaru produced a more modern but equally ridiculous version called the Baja from 2002-2006 before finally admitting that the American market simply isn't, uh, ready for this type of car. However, given our fondness for all things retro it wouldn't be surprising to see some manufacturer resurrect this idea again in the future.

NO LIMIT SOLDIERS

Posted in Rants on April 2nd, 2014 by Ed

To the surprise of many people who just emerged from an underground bunker and haven't read the news since 1960, the Supreme Court struck down on Wednesday limits on federal campaign contributions. In other words, it struck down a law that will affect primarily House races; 2012 showed that all bets are already off in the presidential race and this ruling is unlikely to make that situation any more ridiculous. "Slouching toward plutocracy"? You must have fallen asleep in the passenger seat, friend. We reached plutocracy four years ago.

The following is a sentiment I have used this forum to express previously but it bears repeating: there already exists no meaningful limit to the amount of money an interested party can pour into federal elections. There are no billionaire donors who were foiled in 2012, for example, by any existing laws. All of the money is already getting in, and in the special case of the presidential race it has reached the point of diminishing returns. There is only so much spending a campaign can do and the marginal benefit of running a commercial 8000 times in the Dayton media market instead of 7000 times is vanishingly small. In that spirit, the recent decision may be a useful reminder that the Supreme Court is firmly under right-wing control until someone does us the favor of dying. What it does not do is make a meaningful difference in the amount of money that will be spent in congressional races. They're already obscenely expensive and everyone who wants to pour in more money already has plenty of available options for doing so.

When it comes to campaign financing, the presidential and congressional races are a distraction from the real problem – money being poured into state and local races in which huge infusions of outside cash can and do alter outcomes. Throwing an additional million dollars into a Senate race is the equivalent of pissing into Lake Michigan. However, pouring $100,000 into ten state legislative or judicial elections – elections in which the amount of money spent is comparatively low – can be decisive. Increasing Hillary Clinton's war chest by 0.1% makes no difference; tripling the war chest of some yahoo Sunday School teacher from Bargle County running for the State House on an anti-Sharia plank does.

No right we have is completely without limits, and that includes the 1st Amendment under which campaign spending (as "political speech") falls. What this Court will consider an acceptable limit on this right appears to be so small and mysterious as to be inconsequential in practice or theory. Under these circumstances, the presidential and congressional campaign finance situation is beyond saving. Just forget about it. The amount of money being spent has doubled every four years for the last several decades and will continue to do so. The problem is that the money is starting to pour into low-attention races at an alarming rate. Worse yet, the Court's position hampers any state-level efforts to pass meaningful regulations.

This is bad and it is going to get worse.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Posted in Rants on March 31st, 2014 by Ed

There is nothing so ridiculous as the stereotype of the College Professor held by individuals who have never been to college. As with most stereotypes it takes a tiny kernel of truth (Yes, we are, on balance, more liberal than conservative) and takes it to an extreme so ludicrous that only a true dolt would mistake it for reality. And there are no bigger dolts than the people who sit around typing up apocryphal yarns that become memes and chain emails that you will eventually be forwarded by your Aunt.

Gawker is drawing some attention to "Marine Todd", a mind-numbingly stupid fake anecdote that has been around since the dawn of the internet and probably earlier. In it, a Marine college student shows his libtard atheist ACLU member professor who's boss by knocking him unconscious in the middle of class. It's your classic impotent white redneck revenge fantasy, a condensed meme version of the entire Death Wish series. Don't Christians believe in not physically assaulting people? Never mind.

Because a substantial number of Americans are dumb enough (or motivated enough) to believe such nonsense, I feel compelled to tell you what the daily life of a college professor is actually like here in the ol' Ivory Tower. My experience may not be applicable to every professor or institution, but I hope it is informative nonetheless.

The average class begins with the singing of the Communist Internationale or, when I feel like punching things up a bit, "Solidarity Forever." On most days I'll start off with reminders of the usual stuff they've heard a million times – God is gay and evil and also does not exist. Then I force students to reveal their religious affiliations and dress them down for being stupid enough to believe in the opiate of the masses. Around this time I will start a fire with Bibles and nativity scenes and all of the girls will burn their bras; male students are paired off and forced to kiss. I give extra credit if they go farther but "Heavy Petting" is the minimum level of Gay for anyone who expects to pass the course. Which course? It doesn't matter, this is how they all go.

Next I do the armpit hair check on the female students to make sure that they are not secretly using razors on their body hair – the final exam is braiding armpit hair into several required patterns. Then we do some Man-Hating and study the blueprints of Ed Begley's solar car. The male students occupy themselves making dresses and then modeling the dresses for one another. If the weather's nice we'll go outside, sit in a circle on the Communal Tarp, and pray to Gaia for a few minutes to end the class on a positive note. If there's any time left we'll admire Andres Serrano's masterpiece Piss Christ and discuss reasons why taxpayer dollars should be funneled into the perverted or blasphemous arts.

In really large lecture-type classes I make some adjustments, of course, spending more time talking about the ACLU and looking at Mapplethorpe's work and a bit less time on cross-dressing. When we get far enough into the semester that the entire course has renounced God and religion, I force them all to convert to Islam. The whole course, though, is really designed to lead up to the final exam, which is to perform an abortion and a gay marriage simultaneously. There is also an essay component to explain why no one should be allowed to say "Merry Christmas."

All in all, being a college professor is nothing like most Americans think. It's a rather unexciting and repetitive process of making sure students reject Christianity and pledge their lives to secular humanism and Allah. I wouldn't describe it as an easy job, but it is highly rewarding to reach the end of a semester and see a classroom full of man-hating lesbian ACLU members where bright-eyed Patriots once sat.

That's when I know I've made a difference.

BARREL-SCRAPING

Posted in Rants on March 30th, 2014 by Ed

No matter how hard we try to change them, some things in life reek of inevitability. When you and your friends can't think of anything to do, you're going to end up sitting around getting drunk. When you can't decide what you want to eat, you're going to order the chicken. After auditioning everyone else on the planet, the Cowboys will go with Tony Romo again. And no matter how hard anyone tries, Jeb Bush is going to be the Republican nominee for president at some point. If not 2016, then 2020. If not 2020, then 2024. If he dies soon, then it will be one of his awful children. It's as if the nomination of Jeb Bush was foretold by a goddamn prophecy; absolutely nothing can be done to stop it.

Anointing a "Candidate of Inevitability" didn't work out terribly well in 2008 when we were all assured that the Democratic nomination was a mere formality on the path to coronating Hillary. Historically, though, Republican primaries tend to be much more predictable. Much as all the sound and fury in the world couldn't alter the inevitability of John McCain or Mitt Romney, the end of the brief love affair with Chris Christie has the GOP staring at a familiar set of options: they can nominate a total lunatic or they can go with an empty vessel, a rich, old white guy who sorta Looks President-ish and won't say anything completely insane into a microphone.

The push to "draft" Jeb is starting in earnest just as the gaggle of space-fillers shuffled off to Las Vegas to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ass in the hopes of being 2016's candidate who gets a blank check from the aging billionaire to stay in the race no matter how badly and often they lose. Perhaps the combined effect of seeing all of these losers in one place made the lightbulb go on for the seven-figure donors. Any hope that Christie will stop being a political liability was dashed by…Christie:

Invoking a 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel, Christie recalled in the speech: "I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day."

That's what a smart man says to curry favor with billionaire right-wing ultra-Zionists.

Whatever the reason, a handful of these people apparently have enough contact with reality to realize that there are no winning horses in this stable. And so the inevitable is on its way:

Many if not most of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s major donors are reaching out to Bush and his confidants with phone calls, e-mails and invitations to meet, according to interviews with 30 senior Republicans. One bundler estimated that the “vast majority” of Romney’s top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.

Suddenly the only thing standing between America and eight years of Jeb Bush or, god forbid, Rand Paul is a 66 year old woman with health problems and almost equal numbers of people who like and despise her. There's no way this ends well.

BUSINESS IS BOOMING

Posted in Rants on March 27th, 2014 by Ed

Having grown up in (and returned to, like a bizarro-world Prodigal Son) the Midwest I am all too well acquainted with dying cities. All of the signs of torpor, the economic drain-circling, and the post-industrial malaise of the Daytons and Fort Waynes of the world are well known to me by this point. Or at least I thought I could spot them all; in the past year I've discovered a new Big Red Flag: boasts about the growing "health care sector" of the economy. It turns out that a booming health care sector is a way of saying "All the young people have left and someone has to care for our elderly, dying population."

Visit the website of any derelict Rust Belt city and search for references to the number of hospitals or the strength of the health care sector. It won't take long to find them. It turns out that along with local government and, of course, prisons, hospitals are one of the few things that remain open when everything else closes. They may not have jobs anymore, but someone still needs to lock 'em up and occasionally stitch 'em up. The hundreds of Fast Company-style articles in the business media over the past few years proclaiming nursing as THE NEXT BIG THING in the job market always puzzled me…is it really a sign of the strength of our economy when the best job (supposedly) is to take care of the rapidly increasing number of dying old people? There's reason to be alarmed when reading things like this:

Americans spent $2.6 trillion on health care in 2010 — ten times more than in 1980. That revenue boost has, in turn, driven job growth; the health care industry last year created more than 540,000 jobs in Michigan alone, making it the largest private employer in the state, according to the Detroit News. The trend holds true at the national level too, with the health care industry remaining one of the few reliant drivers of job growth in the aftermath of the financial crisis, according to The New York Times.

Hear that, Michigan? The auto industry may be gone but there's a good buck to be made sticking tubes and needles into the people too old, too poor, or both to flee the state. What is a quote like this other than an admission that our population is aging and, given our level of material wealth as a society, staggeringly unhealthy? We're number one! …in elderly diabetics.

No one seems to know what we'll do with all of these nurses and "home health care professionals" when the Elder Care Bubble bursts; thinking that far ahead has never been our strong suit. If the best thing that can be said about the economic condition of a city is that it has a lot of hospitals – you know, because a lot of its residents are on the verge of dying – then that city might not have a lot going for it. On the national level, if the best thing we can tell college students and adult job-seekers is that America is going gangbusters at generating sick people, we might want to step back for a moment and ask if that's the kind of growth industry that defines a strong economy.

SHAMEFUL JOY

Posted in Quick Hits on March 24th, 2014 by Ed

Full disclosure – not like you couldn't figure this out on your own – some of my less than laudatory attitude toward Nate Silver stems from professional jealousy. He is living quite literally a dream life and I am a professional failure who is going to die in rural central Illinois in one of those "We noticed a funny smell coming from the apartment" scenarios. He was smart enough, however, to realize that most people in the media and the public are ignorant about how math works and therefore they are likely to be extremely impressed by relatively basic statistical analysis. Yet despite the fact that what Silver does is not complicated to anyone who has some training in stats, it's often more complicated than it needs to be. It's an old academic trick – make something just complex enough that your audience won't be able to understand it and they will assume that you're correct because you're clearly smarter.

So it was that a man who called two of the easiest, least competitive presidential elections in the last few decades came to be seen as a modern oracle.

It is with no small amount of schadenfreude , then, that I watch the impending failure of his new, independent FiveThirtyEight website / media company. Proving once again that the New Media is about hits, hits, and trolling for more hits, Silver has elected to give an audience to a climate change "skeptic" to ensure plenty of outraged attention is directed toward his site devoted to "data-driven analysis." The shit has already hit the fan among some of his more high-profile liberal allies like Paul Krugman. What better way to emphasize one's slavish devotion to Data than to hire someone who has a decade long track record of consistently cherry-picking and manipulating climate data.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks, he might have been an artist at some point; if so, now he's just another set of holes at the capitalist gangbang. He'll find that making money without resorting to this kind of hackery will be considerably more difficult than, you know, calling a presidential election that one candidate ends up winning by 70 Electoral votes.

BRAND DILUTION

Posted in Rants on March 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Back in the early Aughts higher education administrators dreamed of online degree programs as the cash cow of the future, the goose that would never stop laying golden eggs. Universities everywhere, from community colleges to the lowliest four-year institutions to Top 50 AAU schools, began setting up online "extension" programs. These were marketed aggressively to non-traditional college students – working adults who might have a Bachelor's or Master's standing between them and a promotion or pay raise. Of course online education has grown exponentially since then, largely targeting the same audience (Drive around any major city and count the billboards with some combination of the terms Nursing, MBA, and Online and you will get some sense of just how big the industry of selling degrees has become). For the most part, however, after some brief forays at the insistence of the more profit-driven members of their administrations, Good schools have withdrawn from the market.

The obvious problem is that the quality of a Good school is linked to its reputation and, to a lesser extent, its selectivity. Part of the value of a Michigan or a Yale degree is that not any asshole with a credit card and a GED can buy one. And while online education programs are cheap to run – in almost any instance the instructor is a grad student or unemployed PhD working as an adjunct and earning as little as $1000 on a per-course basis – they are also terrible and generally target a population that requires the best (not the cheapest and least effective) teaching to succeed. Adult learners, by the numbers, rarely finish degree programs that they begin online. Poor and lower-class students attracted to online programs by low prices are the least likely to be able to self-direct through college with next to no guidance or one-on-one instruction.

But the greatest sin from the perspective of elite universities is that online programs cheapen the brand. Fairly or unfairly, an online degree program reeks of Cheap. It screams "rinky-dink." And if your school has an online program that gives it something in common with the Billboard Schools hawking Executive MBAs in as Little as Nine Months, then it becomes harder to attract traditional students to the much more expensive Brick & Mortar experience. Part of convincing parents and students to cough up $200,000 for four years of undergrad is being able to sell an image, and online degrees do not fit that image. Top-ranked universities can't sell degrees online for the same reason that Mercedes-Benz doesn't sell a $10,000 compact hatchback with plastic hubcaps and 80s-style vinyl seats; it doesn't change the fact that the $150,000 Mercedes S-Class is an amazing vehicle, but it sure changes the way people look at the brand.

The key, then, for university administrators has been to find a way to sell a substandard product that is cheap to produce but doesn't degrade the image of the school by handing out suspect degrees. That, my child, is where "lifetime learning" programs come into play.

I'm willing to bet you've never heard of Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI), but it has programs at over 120 universities right now ranging from elite private schools like Northwestern to run-of-the-mill state schools. OLLI is a program that offers courses to the elderly and/or retired – their mission statement says anyone over 50, but in practice the program attracts people of traditional retirement age, i.e. 70 and over – but does not give grades, assignments, or degrees. The students complete no work and get no credit for the class. It is, from what I imagine to be the students' perspective, an interesting way to fill some time. From the schools' perspective, it's a way to get people to pay tuition without having to give them a grade, credit, or a degree in return. And it looks great to the marketing department because it's, you know, Community Engagement and Outreach or whatever.

While not every university has an OLLI-affiliated program, hundreds of other schools have similar programs operating under a different acronym. And this market will only continue to grow in the future as higher education demands more Revenue Streams without increasing costs or making it more difficult for the school to attract 18 year-olds to the tune of $25,000+ per year. Adult programs like OLLI are ideal because they are invisible, making no mark on the school's enrollment or graduation figures and often meeting on nights and weekends at off-campus locations. The traditional undergrads, in many cases, won't even know the programs exist.

There's nothing intellectually dishonest about the idea; the elderly students know up-front that they are not receiving anything but a set amount of class time in exchange for their money. And that is precisely why programs like this will spread like wildfire in the next decade. The school looks good and makes money. The alumni and traditional students are unaffected even in the abstract. The older people who enroll get to learn something or go on rants before an audience or simply be entertained. It takes the original aims of adding online degree programs – generating revenue far in excess of the overhead costs by targeting students that aren't likely to finish what they start – and does away with even the pretense of seeking or awarding a degree.

Now when you see what looks like an airport shuttle bus with a university name and logo painted on its sides parked in front of a retirement home you won't have to wonder.

NPF: READING INTO

Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on March 20th, 2014 by Ed

In one of my previous lives I was paid small amounts of money to write things about football. Specifically I wrote about NFL draft prospects; I was an early adopter of Draft Mania that has overtaken sports publications and networks in the last ten years. In the late Eighties and early Nineties there was none of the circus you see today. Mel Kiper was some schmuck who hawked an annual draft guide in ads in Pro Football Weekly. It was a spiral-bound packet of black-and-white copier paper, the kind you make at Kinko's.

When I began grad school in 2003, I had to let the draft writing go by the wayside. I didn't have the time to commit to it anymore and it's not possible to write anything useful or accurate without investing the necessary time. The thing is, I used to be not-bad at it. Sometimes I see the overwhelming amount of space networks like ESPN devote to the NFL draft today and I wonder if I made a bad career choice (Hint: I did). But in any case, I've been planning to come out of retirement for day because of a player in this year's draft class who is attracting the attention of people who ordinarily don't give two shakes about football: Michael Sam.

The amount of media attention being focused on this guy right now is completely unfair, but could have been predicted in advance of his announcement on ESPN (He had told his college teammates privately and without fanfare about a year ago). And now the NFL is getting scrutiny from a lot of places where the football side of what's about to happen is not well understood. Based on events of the past few weeks, Sam is likely to be a late-round draft pick. And I'm pretty sure that when it happens, "It must be because he's gay" is going to be a most common response. It's a little more complicated than that.

The day before Sam made his announcement, he was likely to be a mid-round (3rd/4th) pick. These guys are usually productive college players who lack ideal size or speed to impress the NFL or guys who are physically gifted but who never really did much in college. Sam is the former. The day after he made his announcement, he was still a mid-round pick. That's not naive; NFL executives and coaches are under intense pressure to win now and they would draft a guy who wore pink panties and had two dicks growing out of his chin if they thought it would help them win. I'm not so naive to think that everyone in the league is open and accepting of gay people, but if they think this guy can take down quarterbacks they'll put up with a lot of baggage (as they define it).

The problem is that Sam went to the NFL Combine (a tryout camp, basically) and took a major dump. For a pass-rusher without great size, he ran a very slow 40-yard dash (4.92) and put up a pitiful 17 reps on the bench press. By normal human standards he's a phenomenal athlete, but those numbers are basically those of a player who isn't good enough to get drafted at all. In fact, it's only because he showed such good production on the field at Missouri that someone will take a shot at him in the late (5th-7th) rounds.

Sam improved upon those numbers just a bit on Thursday at a workout on the Missouri campus but he looks like the classic "tweener" – a guy who isn't big or strong enough to overpower NFL players and not fast enough to compensate for the lack of size/strength. If you're gonna be small, you have to be fast. If you're gonna be slow, you better have superhuman strength or size. "But he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year!" Yes, he was. Tons of guys who are great college players flop in the NFL. Despite what whacko SEC fans might tell you, the SEC is not the NFL. The players are smaller and slower than even the least competent players Sam will face in the NFL.

So what NFL coaches are looking at in Sam is a guy who is going to bring a media circus with him (through no fault of his own) and has "Tries hard but just isn't good enough" written all over him. A step too slow, a bit too small, etc. Of course, the draft is always a crapshoot – Sam could become the best player in the NFL for all we know. However, the track record of players like Sam isn't great. My best guess is that Sam will be something like a 5th round pick, based on his on-field success at Missouri, for a team like the Bears or Saints that uses traditional ends in a 4-3 front. If he's drafted there (or later) we should avoid reading too much into it. No one can deny that he was a great college football player, but he's just not that exciting as an NFL prospect and that's all there is to it. The attitude and college production say Great Player while his overall athletic ability says Warm Body.

STUNNING!

Posted in Quick Hits on March 19th, 2014 by Ed

Surprising statistics from the Department of Education; it turns out that for-profit higher education, the tip of the spear of the Online Teaching Revolution, is comparatively terrible.

Students at for-profit colleges represent about 13% of the total higher education population, but a disproportionate number of federal student loans — about 31% of all loans –go to such schools, which are popular with adult students and veterans trying to launch careers. Nearly half of all college loan defaults are from students enrolled in such programs, according to Department of Education statistics.

Half – HALF! – of all loan defaults come from the 13% of students at for-profits. The dirty secret throughout this boom is that the Phoenixes and Kaplans and Strayers are really, staggeringly bad at educating students. I don't mean that only in the "online classes are terrible" sense (although god knows they are) but in terms of basic measures like student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation success. When 20% of your students are graduating compared to 55% across all public universities and nearly two-thirds at privates, you're barely a university.

It's refreshing to see the administration take some (baby) steps toward reining in this mess of an industry – and yes, the exact same standards and penalties should be applied to brick-and-mortar not-for-profit universities. If a four-year public school is graduating something like 5-10% of enrolled first-time students, the state legislature and university system need to consider, in a serious, non-condescending way, whether that student population could be better served by a two-year or technical school.

And while we're at it, why don't we stop requiring degrees for jobs that don't actually require a degree to do. And encouraging everyone to go to college even if they have neither an idea of why they're going nor a desire to go. And moving government employees up the pay scale based not on their good performance but on whether they buy a Master's Degree from some ludicrous online diploma mill. And allowing economic and political elites to use "Go to college!" as some kind of blanket solution to a crippled economy when what they really mean is "Hide out for four years, amass debt, and…maybe things will be better by then?"

But those are arguments for another day.