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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments, Chock-Full of Linky Goodness
January 5, 2012 - 11:19pm

The Boy got a 1254 piece (honest!) milennium falcon Lego kit for Christmas. He disappeared into the basement at 2:00 on Christmas Day, and re-emerged six hours later with a fully built ship. This, after having spent the morning assembling two smaller Lego spaceships. Given that TB usually hates to be alone and almost never goes into the basement, this was pretty impressive. At this pace, by the time he’s fourteen I expect he’ll have a fully functional Lego nuclear reactor going in the basement.  

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Kevin Carey’s piece on higher education in California is a must-read.  His discussion of the relative impact of budget cuts on the various sectors, compared to the relative attention each has received, tells you much of what makes American politics so frustrating.  Small cuts at the top generate national outrage; turning away tens of thousands of people at the bottom generates a shrug.

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The Girl continues to amaze with her preternatural poise.  At one point, just before Christmas, the following conversation ensued:

TG: I wonder if Santa and the Easter Bunny know each other.

DD: Probably. I bet they share travel tips.

Grandma: They both have to cover the whole world in a day!

TG: Santa has a sleigh, but the Bunny just hops.

DD: How does the Bunny get across the ocean? Those are some big hops.

(pause)

TG: Maybe he hops on a ship!

I thought that was a pretty elegant explanation.

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This piece details what happens when you shut people out from community colleges, like California is doing.  Simply put, many of the frustrated applicants turn to for-profits.  From a taxpayer’s perspective, this is penny wise and pound foolish.  The students will graduate (or not) with significantly higher student loan debts than they otherwise would have, and much of the cost of the inevitable defaults will fall on the taxpayers.  Others will simply skip higher education altogether.  Some will prosper anyway, but in the aggregate, the opportunity cost of missed productivity gains will snowball.  

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Just before the break, I had a reality check in the gym. I was getting dressed after working out, as were a couple of other men.  One of them was a regular there.  I’d put him in his late sixties.  He’s big and blustery -- he talks in ALL CAPS -- and prone to conservative political rants.  He went off on a particularly spirited one, loudly opining that “we should just go down to DC and blow up the whole thing.”  I let him vent, having learned over time that there’s no point in engaging.  After he left, the other man, who looked twentysomething and probably Latino, looked at me and said matter-of-factly “if I said that, they’d put me in jail.”  It brought me up short, because he was right.  

There was a time when I would have disagreed.  Now, I really couldn’t.  It was a passing moment, but I haven’t been able to shake it off.  

Something has gone very wrong.

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This piece on banking is one of the more illuminating, and disturbing, that I’ve seen in a long time.  It basically argues that the opacity of the financial system is a feature, not a bug, and that too much transparency would destroy the entire economy.  The intimidating complexity of the system conveys a false sense of security, thereby encouraging people to take on systemically necessary levels of risk that they wouldn’t take if they actually knew what they were doing. Depending on your taste, you could read the banking system as Socrates’ “noble lie,” or you could compare it to Tinkerbell.  Or maybe the Easter Bunny, complaining about his taxes before hopping on a ship to St. Bart’s.

 

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