The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wasting no time

From the Lynchburg News & Advance:

It’s been just over a week since the school’s historic vote, and Randolph-Macon Woman’s College already is making plans to add four men’s sports teams next year.

The change is among several already in motion as the college prepares for its first class with men next fall.

R-MWC’s athletic department has decided to add basketball, cross country, soccer and tennis to its programs. Men also will be added to the riding team, which will be coed.

Is the opportunity to walk onto three or four varsity teams worth the poisonous atmosphere?

Incidentally, there's no need for the college to change its name, if this precedent means anything.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Toilet law?

I thought this was a bad life, until I saw this.

There is some advice to be culled from this: don't go into deep debt for anything less than a top-tier legal education.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Baby cuisine

Due to her rapid development, our daughter Aerin's palate has grown too sophisticated for the more conventional baby food varieties. We've had to scour the shelves for some more distinctive entrees.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Streetcorner Mentality

Suppose your community has a streetcorner where all of the local hooligans congregate. There, they loiter, cuss, smoke, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Just get rid of the streetcorner, and you'll do away with the hooligans, right?

Not many people think it's just that simple, of course. Won't the hooligans just go somewhere else? This point seems to get more obscured though when we deal with metaphorical hooligans, such as low-paying jobs. The single largest private American provider of low paying jobs, Walmart, has been much maligned and threatened, on this account. The mentality seems to be that if Walmart is no longer the largest provider of low paying jobs, then there will be that many fewer low paying jobs. To the extent that that's true, though, there are likely to be that many fewer jobs, period. You can get rid of the streetcorner, but you can't get rid of the hooligans.

I see a similar mindset among many far leftists. Capitalist societies, they'll say, are full of ambitious, greedy, and cruel people who think nothing of victimizing the less powerful. Maybe so, but will a socialist alternative solve this problem? Will abolishing capitalism do away with these people? Every society has positions of power, and they will attract the same bad elements. You can get rid of the streetcorner, but you can't get rid of the hooligans. You can only get rid of the corner shopkeeper who will shoo them away.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A bait and switch?

I'd like to spotlight an interesting comment in this earlier post. When I wondered whether Randolph-Macon Woman's College's decision to accept male applications might have been expected by prospective students, I didn't think it could be this bad:

Current students were not warned of the change. I am ashamed to say that I recruited students in my sophomore year at the college; those students are now juniors at the college, and they will have men as their classmates in their senior year. At the time I worked for Admissions, I had no idea that the college was contemplating the coed change.

One student this week spoke at a college meeting; she is a first-year, and when she visited campus only two months ago to decide whether she wanted to attend, she was informed that there was no possibility that the college would go coed before she graduated. She now faces three years as a student at a coed school, or the hassle of transferring to another women's college.

Students are not only upset about the change; they are upset at the sneaky, underhanded way in which the decision was made. I think the only just thing to do is to let the current students graduate before admitting men, but the college has already admitting one male applicant, and is reviewing other applications from men.

So is that all there is to it? I have no reason to doubt it, but I'd invite anyone with a different story to tell their side of it.

In any case, if I were the head of admissions at Hollins, I'd rent a biplane and drop transfer applications over the R-MWC campus. I'd even waive the application fee.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


This George Will editorial has gotten a lot of play on the internet. It's a scathing critique of the liberal case against America's most prominent institution.

Liberals should recognize a silver lining in one of Will's remarks. Evidently, only 325 of the 25,000 applicants for employment in the new Evergreen Park, IL Walmart were hired. Walmart managed to dupe only 1.3% of a vast applicant pool into prolonged serfdom.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Still going coed

The decision at RMWC has triggered quite an uproar. Hollins, beware!

I have to agree that something stinks about the timing of the announcement ("Now that all of your tuition checks for the academic year have cleared, we've got big news for you girls!").

Transferring schools, while a necessity for some, is a great upheaval for many. Many current students are contemplating this, and I suppose that the male enrollment will offset this loss (in the long run, possibly; I, for one, wouldn't be brave enough to attend next year!).

How many of the current students would have selected this school, having foreseen such an abrupt change? Very few, I imagine. I wonder whether prospective students were warned of this change as a distinct possibility. If they weren't, then can't they make the case for "grandfathering" the current student body?

It seems only fair that the school put off the admission of men until 2010, after the first year class has its standard four years to graduate. Every current student would get what they came to the school for: a four year college education in a single-sex environment. That's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's what induced these women to choose this school. If the administration needn't do this for ethical reasons, then it should do so for pragmatic ones. How else could they ever expect prospective students to take the school at its word?

Now, is my assumption incorrect? Were prospective and incoming students in recent years warned that this change was looming? If so, then never mind.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

David Hume, on why many academic philosophers are miserable

From The Epicurean:

But of all the fruitless attempts of art, no one is so ridiculous, as that which the severe philosophers have undertaken, the producing of an artificial happiness, and making us be pleased by rules of reason, and by reflection...

You pretend to make me happy by reason, and by rules of art. You must, then, create me anew by rules of art. For on my original frame and structure does my happiness depend. But you want power to effect this; and skill too, I am afraid: Nor can I entertain a less opinion of nature's wisdom than of yours. And let her conduct the machine, which she has so wisely framed. I find, that I should only spoil it by my tampering.

To what purpose should I pretend to regulate, refine, or invigorate any of those springs or principles, which nature has implanted in me? Is this the road by which I must reach happiness? But happiness implies ease, contentment, repose, and pleasure; not watchfulness, care, and fatigue.

Am I reading too much into this?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Happy birthday, Aerin!

She's my daughter, born one year ago today. She came a little earlier than expected. Actually, you can't be born much earlier than 14 weeks before your expected due date. She didn't just beat the odds, though; she trounced them.

Despite having spent the better part of her first three months in hospitals, she made it home for good before her original due date. How's that for determination?

Happy 1st birthday, big girl! Thanks for every single moment of the past year.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Going coed

My heart skipped a beat when I saw this headline on the Yahoo! main page. I expected to learn that Hollins University, which employed me in the 2004-05 academic year, had finally done the unthinkable out of financial necessity. Instead, I was to read that Randolph-Macon Woman's College will soon be one big lie.

That is, unless they broader their "vision for the future" just a tad further and consider a new name. Of course, they can't just become Randolph-Macon College, since there already is one; I've taught there as well. I will forward all suggestions to the proper authorities.

A number of traditionally all-female colleges have made the tough decision to go co-ed, despite intense opposition. Rumor has it that one person became the ex-president of Hollins University by daring to float the proposition. I suspect that if Hollins ever bites the bullet, it will be one of the very last to do so. On the other hand, I would expect that things will get better for the holdouts, as more single-sex schools go coed. While the demand for single-sex schools might have hit a historic low, there will always be a few students that will seek out such institutions. Now, Hollins has one less competitor.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Never mind

Just as I was planning to put together another rebuttal, I saw that this nonsense has been been shredded so thoroughly that there is a nary a scrap to pick apart further. I had been arguing that the figures in the map, even if they were accurate, did not support the grim conclusions being drawn. Now we see that even the premise of the argument is deeply flawed.

The credulity of supposedly trained critical thinkers we've seen here is astounding. You would think that if academic philosophy doesn't impart any practical knowledge, it would at least instill the practical virtue of skepticism.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Temps of the world unite!

Tom the Temp has been raising awareness of the plight of legal temps. For those of you who may not know, many large corporate law firms use small armies of temps to carry out what is known as "document review", the tedious examination and indexing of millions of reams of documents produced by litigating companies in the run-up to trial. Temps learn something they don't teach you in law school: the winning side in a major case is the one with more photocopiers.

Among the ranks of these small armies are paralegals, law school graduates, and even full-fledged members of the Bar. That so many seemingly qualified attorneys are doing the least desirable work of paralegals is an indication of how tight the legal job market has become, I suppose. Apparently, firms and temp agencies alike reap vast profits from these lawyers, since oblivious corporations are billed for their services are at exhorbitant rates.

I worked as a legal temp for a few brief stints years ago, on summer and winter breaks during grad school. The work was mind-numbingly tedious, but the pay was good, considering my qualifications (or lack thereof), and there was unlimited overtime, and free meals and car rides. Really, there aren't that many well-paying jobs you can grab quickly, work hard at, and then walk away from with no ramifications.

Anyway, it seems that I was very lucky, Tom is very unlucky, or conditions have generally just deteriorated since I last temped. Tom describes some pretty intolerable work conditions. What's more, Tom and his fellow travelers are not out earning extra cash during school breaks. This line of work is the only thing they can find in their field where they can earn enough to support themselves while they repay their burdensome law school debts. But for that debt, they could settle for something that is lower paying and a little less oppressive.

Well, now there's talk of action, mobilization, and so on. I expect to see the Crimson Permanent Assurance Building sailing up 6th Avenue any day now.

While seems to me that Tom is slowly transforming from a sympathetic, frustrated character to an unhinged radical, there's no denying that a lot of (present and future) law school graduates are looking at a problem. It's not necessarily that there aren't enough jobs for undistinguished graduates of undistinguished law schools; it's that there aren't enough well-paying, non-soul-crushing jobs for the debt-ridden.

Here's what I think could be done, aside from a counterproductive workers' revolution: someone should start offering law school loans that don't come due until a long time after graduation. Sure, the interest would have to be greater, but that would be an acceptable tradeoff for many law graduates. They need to be able to accept very low-paying positions. That would allow them to gain the experience they need to eventually land a decent job. Document review, on the other hand, seems to offer nothing that would enhance one's long-term professional prospects, other than a record of steady, insubordination-free employment. For now, it's just a catch-22 for those mired in permanent temping, until they can pay off those loans.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Median Incomes and Stay-at-Home Parents

Here is another tidbit that bears on the declining median income phenomenon: the share of stay-at-home parents in married households with children increased every year from 1999 to 2004.

Here are the percentages:

1999 - 20.79%
2000 - 21.25%
2001 - 21.88%
2002 - 22.76%
2003 - 23.64%
2004 - 24.69%

Presumably, the median household in this category saw a decline in income. That's a tradeoff, of course, and not nearly as much of a hardship as it might seem, given that a family with young children and a stay-at-home parent saves day care or nanny costs. And let's not even get started discussing the costs of meals and transportation for a household with two employed parents. Between the savings wrought and the nonpecuniary income provided by a stay-at-home parent, it might be an economically advantageous arrangement for many.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Declining Median Incomes?

Much is being made of figures indicating that median American household incomes have been declining in recent years.

KBJ points out that immigration could bring about such a decline, without making anyone worse off.

Let's also keep in mind that these supposed median income declines are based on household incomes. Every time a working couple divorces or separates, and one household becomes two, the median household income will drop.

When a college grad manages to land an entry-level job good enough to enable him to move out of his parent's house, the number of households increases, and the median household income (most likely) decreases.

It's possible that individual incomes in the lower income brackets have risen to a level such that a greater share of poor people can maintain their own residences, rather than living in cramped conditions with extended families. Is that a bad thing?

All sorts of factors bear on household demographics. No wonder, then, that hardly anyone who posts this map owns up to what it actually represents.