Video of the day

Arrested Developments will love this.  Non AD fans may find it mildly amusing.  If you are in the latter category, consider joining the former.

Quick hits

Lots of interesting open tabs in my browser today:

1) Love, love, love this brilliant satire on MOOC’s, seemingly beloved by college administrator’s every where.

As colleges begin using massive open online courses (MOOC) to reduce faculty costs, a Johns Hopkins University professor has announced plans for MOOA (massive open online administrations). Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty, says that many colleges and universities face the same administrative issues every day. By having one experienced group of administrators make decisions for hundreds of campuses simultaneously, MOOA would help address these problems expeditiously and economically. Since MOOA would allow colleges to dispense with most of their own administrators, it would generate substantial cost savings in higher education.

2) Nice EJ Dionne column on Gatsby economics:

I confess: I love any economist willing to say straight out that luck plays a large part in how well we do [Steve– me too!!]. The prosperous are especially disinclined to acknowledge that however hard they worked or ingenious they were, they were also lucky. The role of good fortune in determining success provides a powerful moral underpinning for more egalitarian policies.

As the song goes, it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll, and Krueger points out that the three decades or so after World War II — when the United States firmly established itself as the global economic leader — were a time of greater economic equality than we enjoy today.

He argues that we need to grow again “from the middle out,” not from the top down. This is the theme of a symposium in Democracy, a journal I’m involved with, and the “middle-out” idea needs to be our era’s answer to inequalities rationalized since the 1980s by supply-side economics.

“We have reached the point where inequality is hurting the economy,” Krueger insists. “Today, a reduction in inequality would be good for efficiency, economic growth and stability.”

3) Damn it sucks to be a woman academic.  Or at least one who wants a family life.  It’s really quite unfair according to the data:

A new book I co-wrote with the team at Berkeley, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, draws on several surveys that have tracked tens of thousands of graduate students over their careers, as well as original research.

The most important finding is that family formation negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, academic careers. For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer. And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high price…

Men and women retire at about the same age, but women have less income to rely upon in retirement; their salaries at retirement are on average, 29 percent lower.  This is partly the result of parenting responsibilities: For women, each child reduces her pay. This is mostly as a cumulative effect from time and money lost earlier. But children have no such effect on men’s salaries.


4) Really interesting piece on the racial disparities in drowning:

“Before the Civil War, more blacks than whites could swim,” Lynn Sherr, the author of Swim: Why We Love the Water, said in an interview. “There are many stories of shipwrecks in which black slaves rescued their owners.”

But as Ms. Sherr learned from Bruce Wigo of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, segregation destroyed the aquatic culture of the black community. “Once whites discovered swimming, blacks were increasingly excluded from public pools and lifeguarded beaches,” Mr. Wigo told her.

As a result, many minority parents never learned how to swim. Adults who can’t swim often fear the water and, directly or indirectly, convey that fear to their children.

I found that particularly interesting as my college roommate, a Black man, did not actually learn until he took a swimming course in college.

5) Really nice piece on privacy vs. the security state from fellow OSU Political Science PhD, Bill Ayers:

Yet the existing surveillance apparatus — as massive as it apparently is — was not enough to stop two young guys with no experience from blowing up bombs that killed three and injured more than 250. The net which the NSA and others have cast isn’t foolproof.

And this is very much the point. We can spend billions upon billions of dollars, and disaffected 20-somethings will still be able to blow up bombs in public places. We’re not going to get perfect security from terrorism — and in the broader context, terrorism is one of the least of dangers in our society anyway (well behind alcohol-induced car accidents, murders, suicides, industrial accidents, and many other things).

So in order to answer the question about how much privacy we’re willing to give up in exchange for security, we have to decide how much security do we expect? If the answer is “a reasonable amount, but we know it’s never going to be perfect,” then the massive data-gathering the government is engaged in is probably a significant overreach. We could obtain the same result with far less effort, and far more privacy.

The problem, of course, is that politicians don’t do rational calculations — because we don’t let them. Any politician can be vilified, anytime something goes wrong, for “not having done enough.” Michael Dukakis was raked over the coals — and ultimately lost his bid for the White House — in part because one criminal was paroled and went on to commit a crime.

Real-world reality dictates that we accept some level of vulnerability, and some number of deaths, just as we accept a certain level of car accidents, homicides, and other things. How many accidental gun deaths committed by children have occurred in the last month?

But political reality — on the singular issue of terrorism (but not road accidents, or gun violence) — says to the politician, you must leave no stone unturned, no action untaken. You must be able to say, “we did everything we possibly could.”


Public Opinion on arming Syrian rebels– we don’t really know

I was somewhat intrigued by the headline “Public Remains Opposed to Arming Syrian Rebels” of a recent Pew survey as my sense is that the public is far too clueless on the issue to support or oppose.   I suspect what the average America knows about the complexities of arming (or not) the Syrian rebels is incredibly minimal.  I’ll admit to hardly paying attention myself but due to elite cue-taking, rather than laziness, I’m going to assume that if Obama thinks it’s a good idea, than it’s probably not a horrible one.  I suspect that it is what the administration thinks is the “least bad” idea.  Anyway, here’s the data from Pew:


And why should the administration not be the least bit concerned to seemingly be opposed by a full 70% of the public?  Here’s why:


That’s probably less interest than in Kim Kardashian’s baby.

Honestly, my biggest problem with this survey is that “don’t know” is a voluntary response, rather than an offered choice.  I think that is a huge mistake on an issue with such little interest.  My supposition is that with a more honest question wording that included, “or do you not know enough about the situation to have an opinion?” we would have a much more realistic assessment where “don’t know” was actually a plurality winner.  One of the ongoing pervasive mistakes in public opinion is implicitly encouraging people to choose a “know”ing response option even when there’s reason to believe many people just don’t know or care enough.  Unless (appropriately) encouraged otherwise, most respondents want to give a main response category.  Pew knows this and should take it into account.

Of course, on its own, this is not so horrible, the problem is that all the news headlines are going to present this as if Americans have a clear consensus on the subject.  Absent better question wording that takes into account Americans’ lack of interest on the subject, I think that is not a fair conclusion.  I should also mention, this is a major theme of David Moore’s The Opinion Makers (an excellent and highly readable book for the layman that I assign for my Public Opinion course) on how public opinion in the run-up to the Iraq War was largely mis-understood and mis-reported.

Photo of the day

So, I was looking at this cool set of photos of New York City building a new subway line and it had a link to the MTA Flickr page.  Actually found the photos there more interesting, like this one:

Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

Kids in prison

Who would’ve guessed– it’s actually a really bad idea to send juveniles to prison.  Geez, locking up kids with other criminally-minded people instead of making meaningful attempts at rehabilitation, etc., leads to bad outcomes?  Could have never predicted that.  Anyway, intuitively obvious as this is, we now have a nice study to demonstrate the fact (via Wonkblog):

new paper by economists Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. offers strong evidence that juvenile detention is a really counterproductive strategy for many youths under the age of 19. Not only does throwing a kid in detention often reduce the chance that he or she will graduate high school, but it also raises the chance that the youth will commit more crimes later on in life…

So, to figure this out, Aizer and Doyle took a look at the juvenile court system in Chicago, Illinois. The researchers found that certain judges in the system were more likely to recommend detention than others — even for similar crimes. That is, it’s possible to identify stricter and more lenient judges. And, since youths were assigned to judges at random, this created a randomized trial of sorts.

What the researchers found was striking. The kids who ended up incarcerated were 13 percentage points less likely to graduate high school and 22 percentage points more likely to end up back in prison as adults than the kids who went to court but were placed under, say, home monitoring instead. (This was after controlling for family background and so forth.)Juvenile detention appeared to be creating criminals, not stopping them.  [emphasis mine]

Okay, it’s only one study, but given the quality of the methods and how it jibes with what we understand about incarceration, this should really be taken seriously.  Sadly, though, I’m not counting on that among policy-makers.  Better to just “lock ’em up.”

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