Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the week: Whale in Norway Norwegian researcher and biologist Karl-Otto Jacobsen (49) took this photo of a lifetime in Tromsø, Norway. The 40 tonne humpback whale emerged from the water for a few seconds, performing a barrel-roll before crashing back into the icy seas.Picture: Karl-Otto Jacobsen/ Media Drum World

The United States: A Constrained Meritocracy

I was reading the latest analysis of of family income and graduation data in the Upshot, and it is as depressing as ever:

 Here’s another startling comparison: A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. In both groups, 41 percent receive a degree by their late 20s.

And even among the affluent students with the lowest scores, 21 percent managed to receive a bachelor’s degree, compared with just 5 percent of the poorest students. Put bluntly, class trumps ability when it comes to college graduation.

Poor students are increasingly falling behind well-off children in their test scores, as recent research by Sean Reardon at Stanford University shows.

That is, any poor children who manage to score at the top of the class are increasingly beating the odds. Yet even when they beat the odds in high school, they still must fight a new set of tough odds when it comes to completing college.

And here’s the very telling graph:


I was reading a really good article on liberal versus conservative views on meritocracy earlier this week (damned if I can remember where I read it), but basically, Republicans were arguing that since hard work is still rewarded, we have a meritocracy.  Truth is, though, in this country if given the choice to have your child born rich or smart, your child is much better off if you go with rich.  Of course, at every level of society, those who are smart and hard-working do better than those who lack these traits, but it’s pretty obvious that the mediocre rich tend to fare better in life, but all the smartest and hardest-working from among the poor.  That’s surely not my version of a meritocracy.

Sure, some people can escape and move significantly up the ladder to higher income/education/social status.  And some “deserving” even do fall significantly down.  But for the most part, that smart, hard-working kid in the ghetto (and I use the word intentionally), might end up being the manager at a Foot Locker, while the mediocre kid from the rich, white suburbs ends up in middle-management at a bank.  And the mediocre (or worse) kid from the ghetto?  You don’t want to be that.  In contrast, my FB feed of high school friends tells me that the mediocre kids (not that all my friends were mediocre, of course) from the rich, white Suburbs all do quite well thank you.  That’s the American “meritocracy” we live in.

Quick hits (part I)

n1) I’m going to put this great Amanda Taub, JD, piece about why you shouldn’t go to law school unless you really, really want to become a laywer #1, to make sure DJC doesn’t miss it.  Especially because she rejects law school as an all-purpose degree. Also, it is now officially required reading for any student who asks me for a law school recommendation.

2) There’s been much debate on Hillary Clinton’s popularity and what it means, of late.  I like Yglesias‘ take.  And especially Chait’s and his focus on negative partisanship.

. The most important force in American politics is “negative partisanship”— people forming nearly unshakable habits of voting for one party or the other based not on affirmative loyalty but on antipathy toward the opposing party. In a world of negative partisanship, high levels of popularity are nearly impossible, and/but also not required in order to win.

3) I’ve got a decent bit of faith in the progress of science and technology to prevent us from having the horror-show post antibiotic future described here, but it is definitely worth worrying about.  For what it’s worth, I expect dramatically new treatments that don’t rely on traditional antibiotics.  I think that approach will, of necessity, have to be replaced.

4) There’s much advantage to be gained by NC by continuing to invest in solar.  Of course, for our Republican legislature, investing in future energy sources is just silly hippy stuff.  Ugh.

5) Fascinated by the the SC decision in the Elonis vs. US decision this week.  How on earth is it okay for a person to communicate threats like that.  I guess the point is it’s not if you just have better jury instructions?  Garrett Epps take is the best I’ve seen.

6) Very much deserving of it’s own post, but… Laura Kipnis’ Kafka-esque Title IX investigation simply for writing an essay about campus sexuality and the culture of victimhood.  (If you can’t read that, Eric Wemple hits some major points).  Of course, Chait is on the case.  And David Brooks weighs in, too.

7) You bet it’s about damn time we reign in federal prosecutors.  Also, it strikes me as really, really stupid to put somebody in prison for life just because they were courier-ing a lot of cocaine.  You get a lot less time for your typical murder.

8) Truly bizarre story in NYT Magazine about a Russian agency that basically spends all its time in elaborate internet hoaxes, trolling, etc., in America.

9) Love Drum’s take on why libertarians are so overwhelmingly male:

So here’s the quick answer: hard core libertarianism is a fantasy. It’s a fantasy where the strongest and most self-reliant folks end up at the top of the heap, and a fair number of men share the fantasy that they are these folks. They believe they’ve been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious  and they’d naturally rise to positions of power and influence.

Most of them are wrong, of course. In a truly libertarian culture, nearly all of them would be squashed like ants—mostly by the same people who are squashing them now. But the fantasy lives on regardless.

10) Supreme Court makes logical, humane, decision about illegal immigrants.  Alito and Thomas hate it.

11) Jeb Bush is doing well in the fundraising part of the Invisible primary.  But the getting support from party insiders part (i.e., the part you need to do to win), not so much.

12) This story of largely failed attempts to spread toilets throughout rural India is a terrific example how so often making meaningful improvements in developing nations are not just a matter of money and resources, but overcoming deeply-engrained cultural practices.

13) Do I need to be kinder with introverts when it comes to class participation?  Maybe.  But I still think (and tell my students) there are students who hate writing but they have to do it anyway.  Those who hate speaking just have to suck it up and do it anyway.  Yeah, yeah, easy for me, I’m an extrovert.  And to be fair, I can tell when I have introverts who are really trying and definitely give them the benefit of the doubt.

14) I don’t think I give too much away by saying I really disliked last week’s Game of Thrones episode.  If I basically wanted to watch zombie battles, I would have stuck with The Walking Dead.  Alas, from the rapturous positive comments I’ve seen to this episode on-line, I’m in a small minority.  On the bright side, thanks to this Vox explainer, I understand what was going on.  But I still think it makes the GOT universe vastly less interesting.

15) Did NC Governor Pat McCrory break a campaign promise upon signing recent abortion legislation?  Uh…. yeah.  The only purpose of three days waits is to make it harder to get an abortion.  And also, sending a woman’s pre-abortion ultrasound photos to be archived by the state?  Seriously?

16) A billionaire recently gave Harvard a $400 million gift to name a school after himself.  Because, you know, Harvard needs the money.

And yet, Harvard and its elite peers are by far the biggest beneficiaries of the world’s giving. According to Moody’s, the 40 wealthiest colleges and universities suck up 59 percent of all charitable support devoted to higher ed. Last year, when U.S. colleges received $38 billion worth of contributions, according to the Council for Aid to Education, Harvard alone claimed $1.1 billion, or about 3 percent, of that total.

Malcolm Gladwell was not impressed.

17) A little-discussed Supreme Court case that could make life very, very tough for Democrats in trying to re-take Congress.  And, also, I’m not a fan of the implication that Members only represent voters, not residents.

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