Archive for the ‘Ass-Clowns’ Category



November 12, 2010

This is so bad, I don’t even know where to begin:

I sometimes joke with my students that they should forget what they know, abandon all pretense to knowledge, and focus, instead, on the problems before them. Usually this is how I try to get them to see the inferential upshot of any given argument. Don’t debate the science. Grapple with the argument.

But this… this ridiculous relativism. Too much.



October 20, 2010

OMFG, is about the only word for this:

Beck denies evolution: “I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet”


Meatballs are Ideas

October 4, 2010

Or so says the Wonkette…

Much speculation and fapping has surrounded Delaware masturbation witch Christine O’Donnell. A lot of people say she is just a maniac, which is probably true, but also Christine O’Donnell is a scholar and enjoys intellectual pursuits and lifelong learning, according to some random grad student who taught Christine’s Postmodernism class at fake Oxford. But yes, a fellow named Griffin says Christine is “interested in ideas.” For example, we know Christine O’Donnell is interested in meatballs, and one could easily argue meatballs are “an idea” or at least “a convenient way to eat your anus burger, in ball-form.”

Read more at Wonkette: Summer School Teacher Says O’Donnell ‘Interested In Ideas’


Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen…

September 20, 2010

Oh how I love the comments to this article by Jeff McMahan, an accomplished and well-respected ethicist at Rutgers. They remind me so how not atypical my undergraduates are. (Say what? Yes, you read that correctly.) Here are some gems. Maybe on Monday I’ll actually address the content of the article:

Joe: “this is incredibly flawed, the world of animals and all organisms are only able to survive because of such brutal competition, if there was nothing to fight for, what would it be worth?”

The other guy: “I came away with the same feeling as when I first read Zeno’s “dichotomy paradox” in college, That is, “What was he smoking?” That was also the time in my sophomore year where I swore the stuff off.”

Erika: “The argument you present is offensive.”

Socrates: “Horrifying article.”

into the fire: “Unbelievable, but alas not surprising, that this could be written by someone paid to profess at Rutgers or Princeton.”

Peter: “Mr. McMahan is right to expect to be vilified when intelligent people see his article. It is the height of ignorance.”

Vance: “The amount of large words does not counter the fact that these arguments are from a child’s mind.”

Linda: “This is an astounding example of ivory tower thinking that is totally out of touch with the real world.”

They go on, dear readers! I’m only on page two. Love, love the comments. So wonderful.

Philosophers are crrr-azy!


The Money Tree

September 16, 2010

I’ll confess to being somewhat skeptical of the current batch of gripes regarding the cost of the modern university, conveniently distributed at exactly the same time as several books by the same authors on the same topic. Recently Mark C. Taylor has been attracting most of the attention, but there apparently several other mindless curmudgeons. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, both lost in the dark shadows cast by the sunset of their careers, also want in on the game.

On one hand, I agree that education has grown tremendously expensive, and perhaps unnecessarily so; but on the other hand, I’m not sure that the reasoning of these authors is correct. Here’s an article from the LA Times:

If you look at how that added revenue is being spent, it’s hard to argue that students are getting a lot of extra value for all that extra money. Why? Colleges aren’t spending their extra revenues, which we calculate to be about $40 billion a year nationally over 1980 revenues, in ways that most benefit students.

<snip, after some grousing about the expensive athletic programs of universities, with which I agree>

Another source of increased expense is administration. Since 1980, the number of administrators per student at colleges has about doubled; on most campuses their numbers now match the number of faculty. Here are some of their titles: senior specialist of assessment; director for learning communities; assistant dean of students for substance education; director of knowledge access services.

Needless to say, these officials claim that they offer needed services. Who can be opposed to ensuring access and assessment? But let’s not forget that tuition pays for all these deans and directors; having more of them means higher bills for students.

Okay, stop.

Part 1: True, university administration costs a pretty penny. Is it all money well spent? Probably not. Surely, cutting back on administrative costs would help to alleviate some cost burden. But we don’t actually get an argument about which administrators should go and why. We just get a blanket argument about the cost of administrators. That’s not a real argument; and it’s not clear that losing some administrators wouldn’t also cost in other ways. Or, put differently, it’s not clear that these administrators aren’t actually contributing substantially to the educational mission of the university. We just don’t know, and the authors don’t give us a reason to trust their reasoning.

Here’s another bold claim:

Added tuition revenue has also gone to raise faculty salaries. Yale’s full-time faculty members now average $129,400, up 64% in inflation-adjusted dollars from what they made in 1980. (Pay in other sectors of the U.S. economy rose only about 5% in this period.) Stanford’s tenured and tenure-track professors are doing even better, averaging $153,900, an 83% increase over 1980.

We’re told such stipends are needed to get top talent, but we’re not so sure. Faculty stars may raise prestige, but they are often away from the classroom, having negotiated frequent paid leaves and smaller teaching loads — underwritten, of course, by tuition. At Williams College this year, for example, three of seven religion professors are taking off all or part of the academic year.

Okay, stop.

Part 2: This is what I really wanted to address. First, whether the percent increase in inflation-adjusted dollars from a 1980 salary is a fair or unfair increase can’t be established simply on the basis of the percent increase. If they were making bupkes in 1980, for instance, this clearly doesn’t entail that there is any kind of injustice in a 69% increase. As far as I’m concerned, high school teachers and firemen should get a 69% increase from what they currently earn.

Second, their sample is insane. $129,000 does seem like a helluva lot for a full-time faculty member, but it’s roughly twice as much as I make, which seems to be pretty uniform across my university.  To draw conclusions from one of the best endowed universities in the country is extremely misleading. Yale pays its professors a lot of money. That’s no surprise. It is and always has been a school for the exceptionally rich.

Moreover, to clump all faculty into one category — assistant, associate, full, with distinction, emeritus — from all ranges of discipline — economics, business, particle physics, philosophy, and English — is absolutely asinine. Surprise! It takes more to buy an econ guy than a philosophy guy. Hard to figure out why that might be.

Fourth, on a slightly different point, that faculty stars are often away from the classroom is probably a good damned thing. It’s good for the school and good for the students to have people producing research, learning from one another, and staying ahead of the game. You don’t want to strap Martha Nussbaum to the classroom so that she can’t participate in the public discourse, for instance. That would be an incredible blow to the University. You don’t want to tell Peter Singer to stop making appearances on the Daily Show so that he can get back to telling students what he thinks. That would hobble your asset.

The authors imply that the religion professors at Williams are just taking the year off, as if they’re going fly fishing, or as if they’re off to drink cocktails on the beach. Nothing could be sillier. I have no information about what those professors are up to, but I’d put my money on research… research that will eventually be published and trickle back to the students in the form of networking, prestige, experience, current knowledge, and so on. Depending on the kind of school in question, that’s what professors are paid to do. At an R1 university like the University of Colorado, it’s explicitly written into our contract that 40% of our time is to go to research. Couple this with the fact that most of us teach in our areas of research (naturally), and you’re looking at much larger chunks of our time dedicated to research, all of which essentially enriches the educational mission of the University. Fancy pants professors work closely with grad students who are kept up to date on the latest greatest stuff; grad students work with undergraduate students who get a slightly filtered picture, but still deal with budding young academics. It’s a pretty reasonable system, all told.

What should be called into question is not necessarily where the tuition money is going, but whether the authors of this absurd article understand the first thing about academia. They seem to have no or little clue what goes into a good education…at least a good education at a major research university.

…to be continued.

Caveat Emptor: I haven’t read their book. I’ve just read the populist drivel in this article. It’s intolerably boring and predictable. I’m sure the book will sell, but it’s easy to sell completely stupid ideas so long as they reinforce common ideological tropes…and this position certainly does that.


A Grain of SALT

September 15, 2010

I’m probably more of a fan of Immanuel Kant than most folks at Colorado, and I certainly think the Groundwork in the Metaphysics of Morals is one of the great books of ethics (as well as the Critique of Practical Reason), but our dear Tea Party winner-of-the-hour Christie O’Donnell has taken this Kant stuff a wee bit too far.

Turns out, she’s the living incarnation of the great Professor. On one hand, she appears to believe that lying is wrong under all circumstances, even under extreme murderer at the door scenarios. Here she is on Politically Incorrect ten years ago:

Kant, famously, also believed that lying is wrong in all circumstances, and he explicitly addressed a murderer at the door case. Many non- and even anti- Kantians take this example as a core reason to reject Kant out of hand. As a consequence, many notable Kantians have since struggled to offer plausible responses to critics.

But more distressingly, O’Donnell thinks that masturbation is a form of self-aggrandizement akin to adultery. Kant, as well, appears to have believed something similar. Again, some people take this as clear evidence that Kant was a nutter. Here’s O’Donnell again in a PSA she made for an organization called the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT) from 1988:

Needless to say, what makes her crazy is not, strictly speaking, these crazy views. If Professor Awesome himself can defend the views — and I believe he can — then it is likely that they are not, strictly speaking, crazy views. What makes her crazy is that these views can’t readily be defended in any non-ideal way, which is what was primarily of concern to Kant. It’s not clear that O’Donnell is speaking of the ideal. She’s speaking of the non-ideal. Fact is, people get horny and people get bloodthirsty. Better to let the horny ones handle their drives in a productive way and to steer the bloodthirsty types away from the kids.


Fakes and Frauds

July 21, 2010

Boy, BP really stepped in it this time. This is a small matter, on one hand; but on the other, it’s unreal. Basically, BP has been photoshopping images of the gulf spill to make it look like they’re doing more than they actually are. Washington Post reports on it tonight. Gawker has the initial details. And here’s another, different, photoshopped photograph from BP.

Unbelievable. Seriously, if they photoshop widely distributed images, how on earth are we to trust them when they give us only numbers?


Bottomless Dumb

July 1, 2010

Here, enjoy this bit of mental distortion from the American Enterprise Institute on why soccer is for socialists.

Matt Yglesias responds, and his commenters slather the icing on.


Yes, America

June 29, 2010

Jonah Goldberg is an eediot. Not that you needed confirmation of this. (Straw men are fun. Whee!)


GMU Econ Professor Flunks Both Philosophy and Statistics

June 9, 2010

I had the pleasure of reading this gem from Nate Silver over at, where Nate friggin’ shit-cans the hell out of a libertarian ideologue from GMU. Silver’s is a response to a “study” done by economics professor Dan Klein, who is the author both of the aforementioned study and this op-ed in the WSJ, and who also just happens to be the editor of the journal in which his own study initially appears. Since I’m heading into the mountains for the next two days, I figure I’d better write something interesting tonight. Why not then feed my own boot heel to Herr Professor Dan Klein from the philosophical left. (Howard, this is for you.)

Here’s how Klein’s WSJ article begins:

Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents’ (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Actually, what he should write is that the left flunks libertarian economics 101, which isn’t all that surprising, since many on the left aren’t economically libertarian (though, actually, a surprising number are). If his respondents are playing the game correctly, only libertarians should do well at libertarian economics. It’s an idle curiosity that the “very conservative” ended up faring better than the libertarians.

Here’s a sample of one of his questions, pulled from his op-ed:

“Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Since this is the question that Klein himself cites, he presumably finds it representative of the strength of his study. But if this is his understanding of basic economics, he either needs to revisit his own discipline or, if this is what his own discipline holds, his own discipline needs to rethink its suppositions.

It should be patently obvious that all restrictions on housing development do not make housing less affordable. Some restrictions plainly can’t do that, like this restriction: a restriction on making housing less affordable. If you restrict making housing less affordable, then it cannot be the case that this particular housing restriction makes housing less affordable. Maybe it shifts resources in another direction, maybe making something else less affordable, but it doesn’t make housing less affordable. That’s not economics. That’s logic, which Klein apparently fails pretty miserably.

To add insult, some restrictions on housing development may even make housing more affordable, like this restriction: price stabilization and/or rent control.

Oh sure, it can be demonstrated that if you have price stabilization and/or rent control in one sector of the market, then you’ll have price inflation in another part of the market — or, alternatively, you may cause price inflation in a different market altogether, resulting in, possibly, price shifting throughout the market (so maybe cheese gets more expensive, or maybe the quality of the housing decreases) — but if you really stabilize housing prices, you’ll have stable prices, which will make housing more affordable. Ask any New Yorker living in a rent stabilized apartment whether their housing is more or less affordable with rent stabilization. Care to wager a guess at the answer?

I might be accused of switching from housing development to housing simpliciter here, but there are plenty of programs that require affordable housing development to accompany any other real estate development. If you have a requirement that every $5 million house built also pump in subsidies to 20 low-income houses, you’ve made housing more affordable.

So if some crackpot economist comes at you with some cockamamie bullshit about how rent control makes housing less affordable, or about how price controls or subsidies make that particular product less affordable, tell them that they don’t understand what they’re saying, that they don’t understand the nature of the mechanism.

This points to another problem with this question, and one that Nate only picks at loosely when he calls the questions “ambiguous.” The questions are not just ambiguous, they’re loaded. They’re written in such a way that if you support the unfettered free market, then you will fare well as knowledgeable about economics. If, for any reason, you support some sort of market intervention, even to correct for a market failure, you fail the question. As it happens, those who are proponents of some market interventions, maybe even to promote the general welfare, tend to lean left and therefore cannot do well on this exam.

I have many other criticisms of the piece as well, and there’s quite a bit more to say about most of the questions in the original “study,” but the night has gotten away from me and, alas, I have to attend a conference.

In other news, philosopher Brian Leiter asks this provocative question about a different economics professor:

Is David Rose the Most Ignorant Economics Professor in the Country?

Quite possibly:  “[C]onsequentialist moral reasoning has been gaining legitimacy since the 1930s and it began to heavily influence legal ethics after the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971.”

Frankly, I can’t hold economics professors too terribly accountable for their poor fielding of philosophical questions, and I personally might have given Rose a pass on this line (particularly given his slight qualifier a few lines down), but it does raise some questions about his understanding of the history of philosophy.