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.

DON'T DO IT, BUDD

Posted in Quick Hits on March 18th, 2014 by Ed

There's nothing quite like a good on-air meltdown to highlight the kind of tension and drama that make live television so compelling. And this might be the most spectacular televised suicide since Budd Dwyer: some nitwit fronting a fake women's PAC in Texas explaining that women are "too busy" to need equal pay laws.

"We believe that Texas women want and deserve equal pay," Christman admitted. "But honestly, Jason, we don’t believe the Lilly Ledbetter Act is what’s going to solve that problem for women. We believe that women want real-world solutions to this problem, not more rhetoric."

But after Whitely asked Christman to provide a better solution for equal pay, the PAC leader stumbled with some awkward rhetoric of her own.

“If you look at it, women are… extremely busy, we lead busy lives,” she explained. “And times are extremely busy. It’s just — it’s a busy cycle for women, and we’ve got a lot to juggle.”

“And so when we look at this issue, we think, what’s practical?” Christman continued. “And we want more access to jobs. And we want to be able to go to get a higher education degree at the same time we’re working or raising a family. That’s common sense. And we believe that real-world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem.”

Where do they find these fucking people.

MONOPOLY

Posted in Rants on March 16th, 2014 by Ed

The conservative's answer to any and all complaints about working conditions and compensation is as familiar as it is invariant: "If you don't like it, quit." This is the kind of response that shows us the capacity (and fondness) for deep thought among the members of the Party of Ideas, the keenness with which they recognize the complexity of an issue and structure a response accordingly. For those of us who recognize that, you know, people usually have a job because they need it, issues about compensation, working conditions, and the like are not quite so black and white.

The remark reflects the central tenet of the conservative faith: that markets are efficient. Certainly the need to attract the best workers will drive wages upward, whereas if the job requires no particular skills the market will drive wages lower. Rather than debate the kindergarten-level simplicity of that worldview, I have a better question: If one's choices are reduced to working at a given job or being unemployed, is the labor "market" a market at all?

In a market, labor could choose among opportunities just as businesses choose among the labor pool. In the glorious New Economy, we are a nation full of people who know goddamn well that if they lose their current job it may be a very long time before they see another one. "If you don't like it, quit" makes sense in some ways if we assume alternatives; the guy who doesn't like what Ford pays can go to work for Toyota. If we replace that alternative with "Sit at home and go broke" or "Work for minimum wage in the service industry and not be able to support yourself anyway" then quitting isn't really a means of letting the market mete out some economic justice. It's a way of saying that your only option is to commit financial suicide.

I think about this a lot, and I hear it a lot from my (non-random sample of) friends and acquaintances in careers ranging from writing to food service to skilled trades to White Collar. The job I have right now took me four years to get. During that time I supported myself with temp work that barely kept me out of legally-defined poverty. If my employer treated me like shit (note: they don't) what would my options be, really? The odds of getting another job offer are statistically zero, even for the most successful people in this profession. I could choose between being gainfully employed or…quitting, and being unemployed. Alternatively, I could return to the herd of adjuncts making $11,000 per year. I'm fortunate to have a good job, but I have to be frank (Hi! I'm Frank!)…it really doesn't feel like I have any freedom, and the Job Market doesn't feel like much of a market at all. It feels like a thousand people in the water scrambling for 50 spots on a lifeboat. If you make it on board, someone else controls your fate. If you don't like it, you can always jump back into the water and drown.

I've never been one for broad conspiracies about a They that secretly controls all of our lives. It certainly is a better time to be an Owner than a worker bee, though. With the long-term unemployed numbering in the millions, most of us who don't live on a cushion of trust funds and inherited wealth cling to any stable employment we can find – and we're continually reminded that we should feel thankful to have it. In an actual market, an employee could do something about being underpaid or overworked or mistreated or stuck with a low standard of living. I'm no economist, but if that option is unavailable to all but a small segment of the labor force (bonus points for the first person who uses the comment section to brag about how you're in such high demand that you're sick of being offered jobs!) then the concept of market efficiency isn't even relevant. If you have one job and it's the only job you can get, you could be in a true market and very bad at your job. That's what we're encouraged to think. But that changes if we reject the flawed premise that the "Labor Market" is anything close to what its name suggests.

NPF: SCOOBY-DOO MYSTERY

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 14th, 2014 by Ed

Sometimes I start a post and fail to finish it before it ceases to be relevant, so it ends up in the trash. Other times I will write something and realize before completing it that it's not very good. And occasionally I look at an orphaned post fragment and feel fortunate that it was never completed, because everything about it that seemed intelligent at the time now seems quite foolish.

Last weekend I wrote half a post about the media coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, the main point being that what the media were attempting to sell as some great "mystery" was really just a mundane and predictable, if tragic, set of events. But after another week of following that story, I give up. I yield. This is ridiculous and fascinating. Each new detail that becomes public makes the story more bizarre instead of less.

If we can accept that a relatively new aircraft of a type with a nearly flawless safety record does not simply disintegrate in midair without provocation, then the range of plausible explanations is broad. Aside from the tantalizing details about stolen passports (which are as likely to be used for crimes like drug smuggling or illegal immigration as for terrorism) there is the revelation, apparently plausible, that pilots on this crew allowed passengers into the cockpit. Now there are claims that the plane flew for hours after communications were lost – I was under the impression that it was extremely difficult, although not impossible, for modern planes to have their transponders switched off and its means of external communication silenced.

Most baffling of all, though, is the idea that the plane could have flown around off-course for hours in radio silence without a single passenger using a mobile device to make a call, text, or post regarding the flights. In a much shorter amount of time, passengers on the 9/11 planes made dozens of attempted calls from the air. Even if we buy that the pilots somehow made the plane radio silent, how could the passengers be prevented from communicating?

Every time I think I have this one figured out the story gets more bizarre. My latest guess is that one or both pilots concocted an excuse for the passengers, switched off the transponder, and flew around over the ocean until fuel was exhausted in some kind of laborious act of suicide. In a few hours something else will probably seem like a better explanation. Half-cocked theories welcome in the comments.