Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Yglesias is pretty much correct

He says that stuff doesn’t matter very much.

James Kwak on The Baseline Scenario has a new post, titled beyond crazy, making the case that simple attempts to measure professorial productivity are rather counterproductive. It’s in line with what I was saying earlier.

I like Austan Goolsbee

More like this, please:

More on R&D from Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein says only 9% of our companies are innovating, according to an NSF study. There is a link in his article to an article by Michael Mandel, which is where Ezra got his info.

This underscores the need for universities to do R&D, and thus, not to be run like businesses whose clients are the students.

Treating universities like businesses

I saw a link in Steve Benin’s Political Animal blog saying that Texas Governor Rick Perry wants to treat universities like a business, but that he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Reading the article, they’re right. He has no idea what he’s talking about, but that’s not the point I took. The article mentioned that Perry had a policy agenda that “treats universities as businesses whose customers are students”.

I’ve heard this before, most recently at KU, where I spent the majority of my professional career. It’s ridiculous. First off, many universities have multiple missions other than educating students. The main one for many universities is doing research. Research coming out of universities is very important and is only tangentially related to educating students. Not every university is a research university, but for those who are, it’s a very important part of their mission.

It is, of course, up to states to decide how they want to fund their state-run universities, but they should be aware that there are consequences to not funding research. For one thing it makes the university less attractive to the brighter students, and for another it makes the state less attractive to industry.

Ultimately, though, research and education are public goods, and putting a monetary value on such things is not something that we’re good at. Some large corporations, of course, also fund research, mostly in line with their main business product, e.g. the oil companies funding certain types of geological research, communications companies funding various kinds of computing and electronics research, etc. They are able to put a monetary value on the research because of the engineering products that come from it, and the kudos that results from published papers is good PR, and worth a certain amount for that.

But universities do research in every area, and we need that. It can’t really be valued in terms of money, though any university only has so much money and must make decisions as to how best to allocate it. But to act as though a university is just a sort of advanced technical school turning out educated workers is a profound misunderstanding of a university’s role, and a profound short-changing of the future.

Not with a bang…

So Michael Lind of Salon has a column in Salon saying what I’ve been saying for the past twelve or so years. We’re moving from a Republic to a Principate.

I would add that the executive branch has been figuring out ways to get more power pretty much from the beginning of the Republic, with crises fueling the power grabs. Usually, Congress gets some of its power back some years after the crisis passes.

The problem is that for various reasons, Congress isn’t always very responsive to the needs of the country, and the needs are more pressing in some senses than perhaps they were in the beginning.

Voters Bill of Rights

Gail Collins says, among other things:

Maybe the citizenry should demand a Voter Bill of Rights.

Article One: Freedom from being forced to choose between two dreadful candidates when the temperature is higher than 90 degrees.

Article Two: Candidates cannot talk about their childhood beyond attesting that they had one.

Article Three: Candidates are required to list all the really serious issue disagreements they have with their party. If they reach six, they should find a different ticket.

Article Four: Less talking about mosques.

Article Five: More cat stories.

Reason vs fear in Daily Kos by Mark Sumner

Mark Sumner had an interesting post today in the Daily Kos. He makes some points that I’ve thought about for some time, that the current “right wing” in the US has become the party of anti-reason demagogues that do not necessarily even believe what they are saying.

I’ve thought this for some time. I’ve read quite a bit in history and although the reasons that the Roman Republic gave way to the Empire are not exactly analogous to our situation, there are nevertheless similarities.

Rome had a government designed to prevent tyranny and to govern a city state. It worked well enough as they dominated Latium and later the whole of Italy, but it began to break down as they ended up conquering the entire Mediterranean region and beyond. (I won’t comment on the lack of a city police force in the Republican period, but it’s amazing that a city that size lacked one.)

What Augustus did was to reorganize the government, preserving the forms of the Republic while gutting its substance. He basically turned Rome into a monarchy, with a civil service responsible to him rather than to the Senate. At the time, that may have been the best that could be done with an empire, and not all that dissimilar to what the Persians had done centuries earlier.

This “principate” phase of the Empire lasted for a couple hundred years and then began breaking down because of other pressures, both internal and external, and was replaced with a “dominate” phase under the Diocletian reforms in the late third century CE.

I’ve been thinking for the last decade or so that the US is doing much the same thing. We have a government designed for the late eighteenth century to handle the fears of a group of newly independent states of any one region or person dominating the government. Our constitution, designed at a time when the population was just under 4 million people, was almost immediately amended to fix some glaring issues, but in the main, lasted until the civil war, when we then got the 13th and 14th amendments, fixing some civil rights issues, though we still have some problems there.

But our population is now over 300 million. Instead of 13 states we have 50. Instead of being a largely agrarian nation hugging the coast of a continent, we are now an empire occupying a large swath of a continent and economically and militarily dominating the planet.

Leaving aside the question of whether these are reasonable things for us to be, our form of government doesn’t seem to be working all that well at addressing the issues of the decade.

I’m not in favor of a revolution, because lots of people suffer during them and I and those I care about would likely be among them. I’m not in favor of a new constitutional convention because I don’t think we have the statesmen that we were damned lucky to have in 1787. We would end up with an even worse system than we have now, I fear.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I would suggest that we could start with a reformation of Senate rules to make it more responsive. The House of Representatives has gone through periods of being dysfunctional and has come out of them with rules changes. I think the same could be said of the Senate.

But a deeper problem is that we have no way currently to handle informing the public. Our current news media including the Internet, aren’t serving us well. Information gets out, possibly better than it ever has, but it is drowned in a sea of hogwash. How do we get a media that actually informs people so that decisions are made based on reason instead of inflamed emotions?

I don’t know. I could go on, but I’m tired.

Newt Gingrich vs. The United States of America

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has a good post here on Newt Gingrich’s recent statements about the proposed “Cordoba House” Muslim community center in lower Manhattan (aka the ground zero mosque). My favorite part was:

Newt Gingrich writes:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

In this context, “double standards” means that the United States maintains a more pluralistic attitude toward religious minorities than Saudi Arabia does. Now, you could make the same kind of argument about any repressive policy in a place like Saudi Arabia. If women are not allowed to walk around freely in Saudi Arabia, then men should not be allowed to walk around freely in the United States!

I love it!

Chait goes on to make more points following this, and the post is worth reading in full. (Gingrich’s original comments are also worth reading just because they are so typically Newt and so typically absurd.

BTW, I’ll just say that I’m no fan of Islam or, indeed, any organized religion, but Cordoba House is a very good name. The heyday of Muslim Spain is a good example of a time and place where, for a brief time, Islam was a tolerant religion.

Interesting post about privacy from James Fallows

So James Fallows posted “Avatar” Life in the Digital Age on his Atlantic blog. He quoted a college student (“Will S.”) he knows as saying:

My existence on the internet might be with my real name, but my suspicion is that the vast majority of people are creating Avatars of themselves on the internet, untagging Facebook photos and writing blog posts to fit the image they wish to project. Weigel is jobless because he chose not to maintain the avatar.

There is probably quite a bit of truth to this. I have chosen not to use names other than my own and not to have any avatars of myself on the web. If you find “khuxtable”, “kahuxtable”, “Kathryn Huxtable”, etc., it’s either me, or someone else with my name or initials. (There are several Kathryn Huxtables online. I was the first, since I was working at a university when the internet expanded.) If you find a different sort of name, it is not me.

I’m unlikely to pay for this in any real way unless we turn into the Republic of Gilead, in which case I’m heading for Canada.

I’ve chosen not to tag photos or to join lots of groups online, but that’s more because I find the associations resulting from them to be annoying.