It looks like law school applications are finally declining precipitously. The specific issue here is that it’s not necessarily easy to leverage a non-elite law school degree into a lucrative career (see the bimodal distribution of law school graduate pay) which makes servicing student loans (which can not be wiped out by bankruptcy) manageable. This is layered on top of the fact that many non-elite law schools seem to have been engaged in de facto marketing fraud in cooking-the-books on the prospects of their graduates for years. There have been many who have criticized Paul Campos of The Law School Scam, but I have plenty of anecdata to support his assertions in a qualitative sense. If you lack quantitative skills but have above average, but not stellar, verbal skills then loading up on $100,000+ debt in law school is not a path to riches (assuming you lack connections and are not on track to simply take over your family firm).
After last week’s post on e-books I started reading some of the interactions that Nicholas Carr was having with others. This post, which mostly consists of exchanges between Carr and Clay Shirky has to be read to believed. Shirky’s comment “as usual your remarks defy a simple reply” encapsulates my own reaction to Carr. The more I read from him the less persuaded and the more skeptical I become of his contentions. Carr deploys analogies like a lawyer holding forth to a dull jury in classic cinematic fashion. Upon further inspection the point is often facile, but there is a superficial gleam of plausibility which might convince those not so mentally endowed and eager to swallow the tendentious propositions whole.
Nicholas G. Carr, purveyor of high-brow neo-ludditism and archeo-utopianism, has a piece out in The Wall Street Journal, Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay. The subtitle is “The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages.” Here are some of his rancid chestnuts of un-wisdom:
… Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.
What’s more, the Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That’s still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.
The initial e-book explosion is starting to look like an aberration… 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have “no interest” in buying one.
From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales…Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.
Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf.
…In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.
Having survived 500 years of technological upheaval, Gutenberg’s invention may withstand the digital onslaught as well. There’s something about a crisply printed, tightly bound book that we don’t seem eager to let go of.
I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday with some friends. It’s been 20 years since I last read The Hobbit, and even longer since I watched the television film from the late 1970s. So I really didn’t notice all the differences between the three hour film and the original novel. Two quick comments:
1) I didn’t pick up on all the big technological changes. I suspect this is something movie reviewers are going to focus on, because they have such a good grasp of the technical element. But for the average person it’s not as obvious. Some of the 3D was well done, but much of it was a little excessive for me.
2) I wasn’t too bored, but a two hour film would have been more than sufficient. Someone behind me literally fell asleep, judging by the persistent snoring.
I’d give the film a B-. This wasn’t in Jar Jar Binks territory.
A sharp decline in deaths from malnutrition and diseases like measles and tuberculosis has caused a shift in global mortality patterns over the past 20 years, according to a new report, with far more of the world’s population now living into old age and dying from diseases more associated with rich countries, like cancer and heart disease.
In the West declinism has set in, for legitimate reasons. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t getting better in the rest of the world. They are. What irritates me is that some of my acquaintances who fancy themselves cosmopolitan internationalists nevertheless engage in declinism, despite their avowed concern for the well-being of humans as a whole. Yet their fixation on the decline in the relative status of their own societies, and their own status, reveals the transparent false signalling nature of their cosmopolitan internationalism.
Mind you, I think it is legitimate to worry about your own, and your society’s, position the relative order of things. But to constructively address this issue you need to not confuse your own station with that of the aggregate whole.
Lake Placid, credit: Wikimedia
If you accept the thesis reported by Charles C. Mann the great eastern forest which the American settlers turned into farmland was actually secondary growth. The consequence of the depopulation of vast swaths of North America of its indigenous population due to disease which preceded the expansion of Europeans (recall that until 1800 whites hugged the Atlantic coast, leaving the interior to indigenous people by and large). And yet by 1900 that great forest was gone. Now it’s back again. A piece in The Wall Street Journal highlights how incredibly robust the recovery has been, America Gone Wild:
Slate has a respectful take on Ursula K. Le Guin‘s oeuvre by Choire Sicha up. By way of surveying her contributions to the domain of fiction the author takes issue with those who would elevate ‘literary fiction,’ a term whose boundaries seem to lack distinction or clarity, above ‘genre.’ In this case Le Guin’s career has been marked by extensive forays into the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and speculative fiction more broadly. But while we’re castigating the narrowness or particularity of the aficionados of literary fiction, it should be admitted that Le Guin herself does not always deny the value of parochialism.
Her Leftist politics pervades many of her works, implicitly and explicitly (just as one can not but help sense Jerry Pournelle’s conservatism in the texture of his narrative). But perhaps more subtly important for the character of her fiction Le Guin has emphasized her lack of interest in the details of the physical sciences which suffuses ‘hard science ficiton.’ Rather, her creations manipulate and tease apart filaments of the social assumptions and values we take as normative (e.g., how many other science fiction writers would admit to being influenced by post-structuralism?). This is not so surprising from the daughter of the ‘Dean of American Anthropologists.’ I only point this out to suggest that it is not coincidental that Ursula K. Le Guin often comes up for special praise outside of genre circles, as she is not a crafter of the prototypical science fiction or fantasy.* For a piece of literature which more reflects the garb of conventional science fiction, but written with attention to style and psychological depth, I might suggest Gregory Benford’s depressing Great Sky River.
The above infographic from The New York Times article For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones, was titled “1027-asians” when I tried to save it. No idea why, but I think that’s an amusing file name. My offensively titled post is inspired by the cliche reference to Confucianism in the piece. As my previous posts on “Tiger Mom’s” indicate I am not a big fan of the “Asian” way of obtaining academic laurels through brute force alone. In places like South Korea a cram-school bidding war has distorted the culture. The single-minded focus on a specific test means that the whole society has to shift to keep up with the innovators in the educational “arms race.” Think of it as the analog to the doping scandal in cycling. And it’s an irony that the term innovation is being used here by me, because this sort of “education” destroys the creativity, flexibility, and originality which is the engine which motors modern civilization. Sufficient for producing engineers, but I doubt fruitful as the seedbed for an individualistic scientific culture which aims to shift paradigms.
Fifteen years ago John Horgan wrote The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age. I remain skeptical as to the specific details of this book, but Carl’s write-up in The New York Times of a new paper in PNAS on the relative commonness of scientific misconduct in cases of retraction makes me mull over the genuine possibility of the end of science as we know it. This sounds ridiculous on the face of it, but you have to understand my model of and framework for what science is. In short: science is people. I accept the reality that science existed in some form among strands of pre-Socratic thought, or among late antique and medieval Muslims and Christians (not to mention among some Chinese as well). Additionally, I can accept the cognitive model whereby science and scientific curiosity is rooted in our psychology in a very deep sense, so that even small children engage in theory-building.
A few days ago I was having drinks with some friends, and it came up that some of them had only recently become conscious of the fact that I leaned more toward the Republican party than the Democratic (I had remarked that my wife preferred that I keep my sideburns, as otherwise I would look too much like a Republican…though I sort of was one!). More shockingly for them was that I did not consider myself a liberal. I was somewhat bemused by the whole situation because it isn’t as if I’m particularly shy about expressing my various politically-incorrect opinions on any specific topic at work or play (these are people who I have met within the past ~2 years).
I assume that the problem here is that I violated a cognitive schema: liberal people are smarter than conservative people. Since I was conservative, they were, logically, smarter than me. The reality is probably not so convenient for the theory in this case, generating some dissonance. In the course of conversation I expressed frankly what I actually do hold to be a rough & ready approximation of my attitude toward discussion: I have almost no interest in persuading anyone of the truth of my particular views on any issue. This was relevant in that context because on occasion people try and draw me out as to the details of my disagreement with the consensus on an array of topics, when I often have no interest in expending the mental energy to do any such thing. It isn’t that I’m worried about getting into any argument with everyone else in the room. My friends are mostly natural scientists so I am very confident that I can alone hold my ground on any topic having to do with history and quantitative social science. Rather, the problem is my worry as to the point of it all. Who exactly is being edified by such exchanges? I never learn anything, as I am well acquainted with the standard arsenal of conventional Left-liberal talking points, while my interlocutors are often too amazed as my incomprehensible existence (i.e., not stupid, but not right-thinking) to really take in anything I’m saying.
Will Saletan has has published a piece making a traditionalist American absolutist case for free speech. He points out that in most Western nations there are in fact curbs on speech which is considered offensive, disturbing, and perhaps dangerous. Therefore, Muslims who point to Western hypocrisy have a point. I agree with this argument without reservation. But, I do want to reiterate the putative targets of offense are illustrative of a divergence of values in and of themselves. Though I wouldn’t criticize non-Western Muslims for pointing out the existence of laws banning denial of the Holocaust, I do have issues when Western Muslims bring this point up even innocuously. The reason is simple: the Holocaust concerns the systematic state-sponsored murder of millions of human beings. This is a far more serious issue than the reputation of the prophet Muhammad. Of course that statement reflects my particular values. And, whether you accept the idea of hate speech or not I suspect most Westerners would accept the validity of this proposition.
More generally a major thread running through conflicts about speech is globalization and technology. Today communication and propagation is nearly frictionless, and government curbs on speech either have to be very robust (e.g., Saudi Arabia or China), or, they have to be nominal and selective. The great thing about American free speech absolutism is that the implementation is relatively easy and clear. The problem with speech laws in other nations is that it seems that they are enforced sporadically and at the pleasure of the authorities. This may seem coherent in nations with heavy censorship, but it seems peculiar and out of place in those nations where censorship in the exception and not the rule.
Apparently when he was a consultant Mitt Romney would praise the merits of ‘wallowing in data.’ I agree with this, you can’t get more data than you need. Therefore I highly commend Public Religion Research Institute‘s survey of the “white working class.” More specifically, do read the full PDF. It’ll take you some time, but just trade that in for commenting on a weblog! Of course the results are strongly contingent upon the definition of what the white working class is. In this survey they fix upon the white population which does not have a college education (though may have some college) and is not employed in salaried labor. This seems like serviceable definition. The incomes range from low to lower upper middle class, with a mode in the lower middle class, so you get a broader cross-section of non-elite white America than Honey Boo Boo, which is to working class white America what the “ghetto life” is to working class black America.
Planet Money recently did a report on the difficulty of maintaining high economic productivity in southern Italy. I won’t rehash the specifics of the story, but, I think it is important to get a visual sense of just how large the contrast between the south and north of Italy is. Too often we speak of nation-states. Nation-states are real, and they are important, but they are often not comparable. Just like comparing the USA to Sweden is only marginally informative, so comparing a small nation like Ireland to a more substantial one like Italy is deceptive. Here is a 2008 regional GDP map with sub-national breakdowns. Though some of the values are certainly lower now (basically, everything outside of Germany and Sweden), the relationships still hold.
A Pew Research Center study, “The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household,” published long before the most recent, even higher census figures, revealed that in 2008 a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1 percent of the country’s population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation.
Those figures, according to that Pew report, represented a significant trend reversal that started right after World War II. In 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in a multigenerational home (my mother-in-law, in fact, grew up sharing a house with her aunt, uncle and cousins), while in 1980, only 12 percent did.
Officials said that nearly half of the more than 250 students in the class were under investigation by the Harvard College Administrative Board and that if they were found to have cheated, they could be suspended for a year. The students have been notified that they are suspected and will be called to give their accounts in investigative hearings.
“This is unprecedented in its scope and magnitude,” said Jay Harris, the dean of undergraduate education.
Administrators would not reveal the name of the class or even the department, saying that they wanted to protect the identities of the accused students. The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, reported that it was a government class, Introduction to Congress, which had 279 students, and that it was taught by Matthew B. Platt, an assistant professor.
Anyone have opinions on this? I know plenty of readers are in the local area in various capacities. My working assumption is that these kids will get off with a slap on the wrist. The meritocracy does not eat its own young. With such widespread cheating in this course this not a matter of intellectual incompetents, but very smart kids who simply wanted to push their advantages on the margin. This is the university that was sending half its graduates to investment banks a few years ago, so what’s new?
Seeing the workings of the hyper-elite probably turn the average person in two directions. If they lean Right, it’s guns & gold. If they lean Left, some sort of Red revolutionary urge. There’s a reason history goes in cycles….
Peter Turchin has basically implied that it’s 1970 again, and we’re in for a new age of disturbance. I’m rather skeptical…but, today a co-worker pointed out that I have “70s hair.” My sideburns, yes, but that’s just Gen-X irony or whatever. But she argued that there was a notable pre-1980 shagginess to my hair. Off to the barbershop! And yet…look at the mops that One Direction is sporting. When I last spoke about this group I wasn’t even aware that the group is already big in the United States! Am I old enough now that the styles of my pre-conscious age are now creeping back into fashion? Though I would still bet against polyester and plaid, perhaps David Frum’s unread book about the 1970s will start selling a few copies soon.
It has been 40 years since he last human being set foot on the moon. I was not alive when this occurred. The Whig views history as a progression. When we recall the past we remember, perhaps pity, a less developed age.
Overall I disagree with declinists who simplistically portray our age as one of silver, that perhaps we live in the modern Western equivalent of late antique Rome. Certainly there is greatness all around us. And one can argue that the “space race” was driven not by ennobling sentiments, but rather the raw competition between the United States and Soviet Union. Be as that may be, could we soon look back to the 1960s as the ultimate high point in the spirit of the West? Perhaps we do live in a fallen age in a sense, unable to rouse ourselves and recapture past glories, and even surpass them. The Hellenistic Greeks were a civilized people, who were more advanced than their Classical predecessors in particular details of science and engineering. Yet most scholars would suggest that there was something derivative and unoriginal when compared to the ferment of Athens’ golden century.
I wonder. Did Neil Armstrong ever consider when he set foot on the moon that humanity would not return for the last four decades of his life?
One of the positive aspects about interacting with the rest of the world in more than a professional or nerd capacity is that sometimes I find out what’s happening in popular culture. Therefore I’m now clued in to the fact that a new generation of boy bands seems to be rising up, born at the turn of this century, tempered by pop doldrums, disciplined by a hard and bitter ascendance of hip hop. We’ve all seen this before, haven’t we? And we’ll see it again.