With the price of oil having plummeted, there has been considerable discussion in the media and elsewhere about what will happen to the quantity supplied (pedantic note for colleagues and students: quantity supplied, NOT supply) of oil in the short run and in the long run.
This article in Slate has it almost right. The average costs per barrel of oil include considerable sunk costs that are unrecoverable. If the price of oil is expected to stay below these expected long-run average costs, then no more new wells will be started in those oil fields.
In general, if the price of oil is expected to remain below $65/bbl, then there won't likely be many new shale oil facilities that will make it beyond the planning stage. And if the price of oil is expected to remain down nearer to $50/bbl for a long period, no new projects are likely to be begun in the arctic, tar sands, or deep sea [graph from Slate link]:
But for the short run, very little if any of the existing wells will be shut down. Here's the Econ 100 explanation:
The cost of drilling those wells has already occurred. It is a sunk cost (both in jargon and literally, I guess). The only relevant decision for an oil company is whether the revenue from continued pumping will offset the extra costs of doing the pumping, transportation, and marketing. These extra costs are generally referred to by economists as marginal costs, but what we mean is "extra" or "incremental" costs. Accountants sometimes use the term "direct costs" to refer to approximately the same thing.
What are the extra costs of pumping an additional barrel of oil, and how do they compare with the extra revenue the firm gets from selling that barrel? In economics jargon, pump another barrel so long as the MR>MC. In the case of oil pumping firms, MR=P probably.
Here is a graph (also from the Slate link) of the marginal costs of pumping and selling oil from various sources. The graph labels these as "cash costs" but it means marginal costs:
This graph makes the point really well. So long as the oil companies are receiving enough to cover these marginal costs, they will keep pumping the oil. And that will occur so long as the spot price of oil exceeds about $40/bbl. Pumping oil at those prices will cover the variable costs of pumping andmake some contribution toward covering some of the overhead/fixed/sunk costs.
There is an exception not addressed in the article, however. If the costs of stopping and starting the pumping process are low, some oil companies may choose to stop pumping if they expect oil prices to rise in the future.
In this case, the marginal cost of pumping oil now is not just the extraction, transportation, and marketing cost; it is also the present value of lost higher revenues in the future, which of course depend on the expectations people in each oil company have about future prices for oil. If they expect prices to rebound in the near future, they may want to curtail some pumping; if they expect prices to remain low for the foreseeable future, they may decide to keep pumping.
Note, though, that this decision depends only on their expectations about future prices of oil and has very little to do with the marginal costs of pumping. Or, to put it differently, the marginal opportunity costs of selling oil for cheap now are the possible foregone revenues from waiting.
When I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, one of the things that struck me was how much it was like Lincoln, Nebraska, in one important aspect: fan and city-wide enthusiam for the local football team. Both cities are quite far from any other city that offers one of the four major-league professional sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) and football in both cities attracts fans from the entire state/province.
My first few game days in Regina, over four years ago, reminded me very much of what it was like driving through Lincoln, NB, on game day: People were dressed in team colours, and it wasn't just some of the fans going to the game. It was ALL of the fans going to the game and many who weren't. In Lincoln, there is a sea of red and white on game day; in Regina, it is a sea a green.
And this map from the NYTimes confirms my impression about Lincoln. The people in Nebraska (and Alabama as well, it turns out) reallylike NCAA football [the map is fascinating. It's worth a look]. That same devotion/fanaticism/support is what I see on game days in Regina, too.
This article in Time lists five myths of feminism [via Gabriel]. They comprise important misstatements about facts and misuses of statistics concerning what are typically referred to as women's issues.
The article does not pooh-pooh women's issues. Instead, it urges people to examine the facts and to have a better understanding of statistics.
Why do these reckless claims have so much appeal and staying power? For one thing, there is a lot of statistical illiteracy among journalists, feminist academics and political leaders. There is also an admirable human tendency to be protective of women—stories of female exploitation are readily believed, and vocal skeptics risk appearing indifferent to women’s suffering. Finally, armies of advocates depend on “killer stats” to galvanize their cause. But killer stats obliterate distinctions between more and less serious problems and send scarce resources in the wrong directions. They also promote bigotry. The idea that American men are annually enslaving more than 100,000 girls, sending millions of women to emergency rooms, sustaining a rape culture and cheating women out of their rightful salary creates rancor in true believers and disdain in those who would otherwise be sympathetic allies.
To read about the myths and the criticisms of them, read the entire piece.
Scott Sumner asks this question in a postscript to this post at The Money Illusion. Here is the postscript:
PS. If you insist on asking parents what they would think of their children doing something, then FOR GOD SAKE DON’T ASK AMERICAN PARENTS. Reason just ran this story:
A whopping 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.
What’s more: 43 percent feel the same way about 12-year-olds. They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).
Those are the results of a Reason/Rupe poll confirming that we have not only lost all confidence in our kids and our communities—we have lost all touch with reality.
“I doubt there has ever been a human culture, anywhere, anytime, that underestimates children’s abilities more than we North Americans do today,” says Boston College psychology professor emeritus Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, a book that advocates for more unsupervised play, not less.
I’ve talked to both European and Asian parents about this, and both seem to think American parents are utterly insane in their attitudes toward leaving children unattended. Do we really want to rely on the moral intuitions of crazy people?
So many of my friends and I had pretty much free rein as we grew up. We spent many unsupervised hours at the neighbourhood park, we rode the bus downtown a couple of times a week, and we rode our bikes all over creation. As Scott Sumner writes,
Do we really want to rely on the moral intuitions of crazy people?
I answered all ten questions on this GMAT-type quiz correctly [ht JR]. I wasn't completely thrilled with their explanations of the correct answers, though, particularly when they didn't explain the uses of infinitives and gerunds.
Note: the quiz seems to require that you provide your email address to see the correct answers, so you may not want to waste your time if you're unwilling to do that.
Bryan Caplan says he is a non-conformist who has succeeded in a conformist world. He is clearly very smart, but he has used his intelligence to help understand the world around him and sort the wheat from the chaff in many social and work situations. His advice for non-conformists applies equally (or in spades even) to conformists.
I highly recommend the entire piece, but here are a few of his points that I really liked:
1. Don't be an absolutist non-conformist. Conforming in small ways often gives you the opportunity to non-conform in big ways. Being deferential to your boss, for example, opens up a world of possibilities.
2. Don't proselytize the conformists. Most of them will leave you alone if you leave them alone. Monitor your behavior: Are you trying to change them more often than they try to change you? Then stop. Saving time is much more helpful than making enemies.
5. A non-conformist attitude toward education is dangerous because academic status is painfully linear and cumulative. To go to college, you must finish high school; to finish high school, you have to finish all the 12th-grade requirements; to finish the 12th-grade requirements, you have to finish all the 11th-grade requirements; and so on.
9. Most bureaucrats are deeply conformist, but bureaucratic (lack of) incentives are great for non-conformists. Think job security.
12. When faced with demands for conformity, silently ask, "What will happen to me if I refuse?" Train yourself to ponder subtle and indirect repercussions, but learn to dismiss most such ponderings as paranoia. Modern societies are huge, anonymous, and forgetful.
14. Spend the first year of any job convincing your employer he was right to hire you, and he'll spend your remaining years on the job convincing you not to leave. This advice is almost equally useful for conformists, by the way.
But allof his points are really good advice for everyone.
from PhD Comics via Brian Ferguson,
My favourite photo of me in my regalia is this one with former UWO President, Paul Davenport (note my Ricky Henderson-type crouch):
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal nails it. (via Art Carden)
And a reminder that I'm still available as a commencement speaker. From an earlier posting:
Invite me to give the commencement address at your school.
Here are some reasons you should invite me:
1. I have a cap and gown that have been described as cool or sexy (click here to see a photo). [that link seems to no longer work. Here's a photo:
2. I look very professional and academic with my gray beard [much grayer now than in this photo] and glasses.
3. I have considerable experience listening to bad commencement addresses, so I know what not to do or say.
4. I am an award-winning professor, with considerable acting and speaking experience.
5. I promise not to cuss (unless you want me to).
6. I will charge no fees (until the demand increases considerably)
7. I will pay (some of) my own transportation expenses, within reason
8. You have your choice of opening lines (and topics):
- "Never apply latex paint over glossy alkyd enamel."
- "There are no refunds for losing lottery tickets."
- "If you're going to save the world, do it yourself — don't ask the gubmnt to do it."
There are zillions of socionomology majors floating around, and the demand for them by employers is not very high. Consequently, socionomology majors don't earn much and, by implication, receive a low financial return on their investiment. From Lifehacker [via JR]:
Not surprising. And yet so many socionomologists refuse even to try to understand economics and end up complaining that because they have a BA and because they borrowed and spent so much money they somehow deserve better and more than the rest of world is willing to pay them.
However, as the article concludes, financial return on investment isn't everything.
A couple of years ago, The University of Western Ontario rebranded itself as just "Western University". The change cost a lot of money in planning, reprinting documents, etc. [my guess is that it was over $1m], and it was a ridiculous exercise.
The change formalized the name that people in Ontario and other places in Canada had already been using. In Ontario, "Western" has long been synonymous with "The University of Western Ontario".
But in Michigan, "Western" means "Western Michigan University"; and in Illinois, "Western" means "Western Illinois"; and for all I know in Belize, "Western" means "Western Belize". Or as one former colleague suggests, Western University might mean some place in Western Azerbaijan.
The point is that there was no reason to make the change. Everyone in Ontario (if not Canada) knew what you meant when you said "Western". But now what do you tell someone from another country about where you teach (or in my case, taught)? And what institutional affiliation do you list when you write something? In my case, I list The University of Regina and The University of Western Ontario; I don't say "Western University" because nobody has a clue what or where that is.
I asked them, and my former colleagues also list their affiliation as "The University of Western Ontario".
As Ms Eclectic often says, "Change for the sake of change..." A freakin' waste!
According to WaPo, one school district in New Orleans will close its traditional schools and rely on only charter schools to provide K-12 education. This decision means students (and parents!) will choose from among private providers of education. Some opponents, of course, worry that gubmnt bureaucrats will no longer have control of, or a say in, the education.
They should NOT worry so much. Successful profit-oriented charter schools will have to be open to parental input, will have to strive to provide good products, etc. Those that don't will lose students; those that do will grow and thrive.
Parents will have a choice. The marketplace is a stern disciplinarian for those who don't measure up.
When I look behind this article to see what is meant by level 3 competency, the results of this study do not surprise me. They are quite a condemnation of higher education in Canada. From Huff Post (via Jack):
From a Statistics Canada document, on which the article is based,
Adults scoring at Level 3: 39% OECD, 38% Canada.
Texts at this level are often dense or lengthy, and include continuous, non-continuous, mixed, or multiple pages of text. Understanding text and rhetorical structures become more central to successfully completing tasks, especially navigating of complex digital texts. Tasks require the respondent to identify, interpret, or evaluate one or more pieces of information, and often require varying levels of inference. Many tasks require the respondent to construct meaning across larger chunks of text or perform multi-step operations in order to identify and formulate responses. Often tasks also demand that the respondent disregard irrelevant or inappropriate content to answer accurately. Competing information is often present, but it is not more prominent than the correct information.
Students who cannot function at this level at the university level tend to be more likely to complain about "tricky" questions and to avoid trying to work through or figure out more complex arguments. I suspect they also are more likely to barely pass any courses that require much original writing.
What the Huff Post article doesn't include is that by similar measures 31% of university graduates might be considered innumerate, scoring only at level 2 or below. Here is what is required at level 2:
Tasks in this level require the respondent to identify and act on mathematical information and ideas embedded in a range of common contexts where the mathematical content is fairly explicit or visual with relatively few distractors. Tasks tend to require the application of two or more steps or processes involving calculation with whole numbers and common decimals, percents and fractions; simple measurement and spatial representation; estimation; and interpretation of relatively simple data and statistics in texts, tables and graphs.
Furthermore, 8% of Canadian university graduates cannot perform even at that level. And given my own more recent experience at several different universities, I'm surprised that number isn't higher.
In case you missed it elsewhere, here is the link to the collection that is being put together. The early Newsweek editorials, Capitalism and Freedom, and Free to Choose all played a role in my growth as an economist. A partial list of the collection, with links:
At one point, the UWO economics department was one of thirty economics departments claiming to be in the top 20 of all economics departments in the world. We were damned good. And by some metrics, we were in the top ten. David Laidler and Michael Parkin were two important reasons we were there, but so many of us had great publication and citation records then.
Look at the talent we attracted and turned out. And not just Steve and Tiff, but many others. And look at the influence the department had. The department went downhill from there for quite some time, but seems to be roughly among the top 50 now.
Addendum: let me just add that David, Michael and a few others could have built their careers at Never-Heard-Of U. UWO was lucky to have them.
The 2014 London Fringe Festival will be held June 4 - 13 during which Out Of Sight Productions is presenting a one-hour play, "Academia Nuts" by Paul Kinsella.
The play is a romantic comedy about a theology professor (me) who is on sabbatical leave. An attractive female Romanian graduate student (Tiffany Blom) wanders into his office looking for help with conversational English. Much hilarity, confusion, tenderness, frivolity, joyful awakening, and compassion ensue. For more about the play and about Out of Sight Productions, see this.
Academia Nuts, at The Spriet Theatre (second floor of the Covent Garden Market, London, Ontario), Identified as Venue #1 for the Fringe Festival:
- Wednesday, June 4, 5:30pm
- Friday, June 6, 5pm
- Saturday, June 7, 2:30pm
- Monday, June 9, 8pm
- Wednesday, June 11, 8:15pm
- Friday, June 13, 5pm
Because "Academia Nuts" is part of the Fringe Festival, it is likely you will need to purchase a button as well as a ticket to see the play, but there are typically quantity discounts for packets of tickets, so it might be fun to see 5 or 10 of the shows during the festival. Last year the buttons were $5, and the tickets were something like $10, but I have no idea what the pricing will be like this year.
If Brandeis University doesn't want Ayaan Hirsi Ali for their commencement speaker, and apparently doesn't want me (at least I haven't received a call or email from them yet), perhaps they should invite this man [ht MA].
[Alain] Finkielkraut, 64, the son of a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz, is retiring as a professor of philosophy and the history of ideas at the world-famous Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, a post he held since 1989. ...
Finkielkraut’s proud Jewish origins, his pro-Israel opinions and open Zionism, his critiques of Islamism and massive immigration to Europe, and of racism, have been for a long time controversial in the country, but much more since he published in late 2013 L’identité malheureuse (“The Unhappy Identity”), a book on the crisis of French (and European) identity.”...
He has been accused of Islamophobia (and of being an”agent of Sharon” after he defended during second intifada the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself – he participated to demonstrations for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, then a captive in the Gaza Strip).
Mark Steyn pulls no punches in a piece, "The Wretched Jelly-Spined Nothing Eunuchs of Brandeis". An excerpt from a conversation with Jamie Weinstein:
JAMIE WEINSTEIN: And people when they get honorary degrees, it's not like they only go to non-political people. Universities have awarded them in the recent past to people that want Israel to be wiped off the map and destroyed. Is that not right?
MS: Yeah, that's true. And that was Brandeis, a guy called Tony Kushner... I stand back and occasionally roll my eyes at the dreary left-wing hacks invited to give commencement speeches, garlanded with state honors, things that if you trend to the right side of the spectrum, you know you're going to be labeled 'controversial conservative', and you'll never get anywhere near. But this woman is a black, feminist atheist from Somalia. And so what we're learning here, which is fascinating, in the hierarchy of progressive-politics identity-group victimhood, Islam trumps everything. Islam trumps gender. The fact that she's a woman doesn't matter. It trumps race. The fact that she's black doesn't matter. It trumps secularism. The fact that she's an atheist doesn't matter. They wouldn't do this if it was a Christian group complaining about her, if it was a Jewish group complaining about her. But when the Islamic lobby group says oh, no, we're not putting up with this, as I said, these jelly-spined nothings at Brandeis just roll over for them.
I have sat through many, many convocation/graduation ceremonies. Steyn is right. Pronouncements from left wing, caring, elitist interventionists proclaiming moral superiority are common; among the most egregious at UWO was Maude Barlow. Only rarely are outspoken pundits from the right (e.g. Mark Steyn? or EclectEcon?) invited to such events.
Here. Some excerpts:
Those who talk of “role models” for young women can search the globe, and will not find a more dignified, accomplished and courageous exemplar. In the Netherlands she was constantly under siege from radical Islamists and others, but courageously continued her public life speaking for the rights and dignity of women — especially, as she saw it, for the rights of women trapped in Islam. ...
And students at the university, deploying the other cant formulation for unacceptable ideas — “hate speech” — collected 85 names from a 350-person faculty petitioning the offer be rescinded. Their petition carried the now-familiar prissy, hollow whines that some students would be “uncomfortable,” would “not feel welcome,” if Ali, with her learned views on Islam and women — derived mainly from her personal life experience, mind you — were to be honoured.
Is this what Western thought and philosophy at the university has come to — setting up intellectual quarantines lest the immature and frightened be made uncomfortable or to feel unwelcome? Is this university or daycare? Giving into such adolescent whimpering is despicable; giving in to in on a university campus is unforgivable. ...
Why in Aristotle’s name do institutions dedicated to higher learning tolerate these rags of verbal flannel — uncomfortable, unwelcome — from putative adults? Damn it, a university exists to unsettle, to throw down established attitudes, to shine the searchlight of reason on all ideas. Universities are supposed to be bold, confident, courageous institutions, whose biggest duty to their students is to expand the range and depth of their ideas, not confirm their prejudices.
Brandeis, on this account, is a failure. It cringed at the first criticism. It suggested Ali somehow offended its “core values” — and what would those be? Surrender at first fire, perhaps, and gaudy specious rationalizations afterwards? — and had the gall to talk of respecting debate....
Universities are losing their halo. They are now factories for reinforcing received opinions, what the market holds as right and true — so-called “progressive” ideas. They have a deep hostility to ideas and opinions that wander outside their small circle of acceptability. They choose which protests they endorse and which they deplore. Oprah can get 10 honourary degrees and a winsome reception for her third-rate psuedo-therapies. But a real warrior in the cause for woman’s rights — a woman who truly rose by virtue of her courage, intelligence and industry — must walk, shamed, away from the platform she was invited to.
Every other university on the continent should have something to say about Ali’s treatment, but very few will. Because they are all of the same timid herd: great trumpeters of intellectual freedom and courage, which when faced any real test of independent thought or challenge to comfortable assumptions are sheepish, intimidated, closed shops.
A tight prior: I believe so strongly that the creation story of Genesis is chronologically and factually correct that no evidence to date embodying physics, biology, chemistry, whatever can possibly sway me from my beliefs. So I'm not even going to study the alternative hypothesis.
And then there's ignorance in combination with tight priors, as in Oklahoma:
Much of the debate about evolution in public schools concerns the content of textbooks. But a new study points to another worrisome trend: teachers who have misconceptions about evolution might be passing those ideas along to their students.
Researchers surveyed Oklahoma high school biology teachers, and found that 23 percent of them misunderstand several key concepts.
From Wikipaedia, about Bo Burnham (about whom my granddaughter insisted I should learn):
Burnham's first experience with controversy regarding his music came on March 3, 2009, when fifteen Westminster College students (members of the campus' Gay-Straight Alliance, Black Students Association, International Club, and Cultural Diversity Organization) protested his concert there that evening. Of the controversy, he said, "It's so ironic because gay bashers were the ones labeling me in high school, [...] I try and write satire that's well-intentioned. But those intentions have to be hidden. It can't be completely clear and that's what makes it comedy." Despite the college's admission that they had booked Burnham while ignorant of his show's material, dean of students John Comerford praised the opportunities for discourse the controversy brought the school. [emphasis added]
Similar situation. In both instances, the admins claimed they were unaware of something others deemed worthy of protest.
In the Ayaan Hirsi Ali case, Brandeis University caved to the protesters. Here, the dean welcomed the opportunity to open up dialogue.
Addendum: Also see this, calling the Brandeis decision, "Rank Appeasement."
At Brandeis, of course, it’s fine to criticize Christianity and Judaism, and to savage America and Israel. Witness its presentation, in 2006, of an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, who has repeatedly expressed contempt for the Jewish state. (Critics of Kushner’s award were brusquely informed that “the university does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.”) That’s not all: Brandeis, as it happens, hosts one of the most active chapters of the poisonously anti-Israeli group Students for Justice in Palestine, which, under the tolerant eye of the university administration, invites terrorist sympathizers to speak at the school and disrupts campus talks by members of the Knesset. Until recently, moreover, Brandeis even had a cozy “academic partnership” with Al Quds University, a hive of fanatical Jew-hatred. But criticism of Islam—even by someone with firsthand experience of its systematic and brutal oppression of women—is off-limits.
Dear Brandeis University:
Here are some reasons you should invite me:
1. I have a cap and gown that have been described as cool or sexy (click here to see a photo). [apparently that link no longer works. see photo below]
2. I look very professional and academic with my gray beard and glasses.
3. I have considerable experience listening to bad commencement addresses, so I know what not to do or say.
4. I am an award-winning professor, with considerable acting and speaking experience.
5. I promise not to cuss (unless you want me to).
There are some additional points made in that original posting that do not apply in this case. For example, I would NOT promise to be silent about the Ayaan Hirsi Ali uninvitation. And I would seriously criticize those who favoured that uninvitation. But Brandeis, if you can live with this understanding, I'm your man.
Over the past year, Brandeis University worked on having Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak at the spring commencement and receive an honourary degree. Not surprisingly, given her outspoken criticism of fundamentalist religions that promote female genital mutilation, forced child marriages, wife-beating, and child-beating [notably Islam in many places], their decision was criticized.
Brandeis caved. What's worse nearly a quarter of their faculty members signed a letter asking that she be uninvited. I find that appalling, even unsettling.
In their most caring, open-mindedness, one person wrote,
...if I were a Muslim, I would be deeply offended by her comments against my entire religion. (Which I don't believe she has stepped away from.) Of course, she has the right to make those comments, but whether she deserves an honor like this in light of them is a different question."
Given what her former religion has done to her, I see no reason for her NOT to have made the comments she has made. And I would gladly cheer on any institution that has the, not strength or anything like that, the decency and the commitment to human rights and would invite her to be a commencement speaker. As others have responded,
"Brandeis has honored Tony Kushner and Desmond Tutu, who made similar comments about Jews, and without the factual predicate of being a victim of FGM and subject to fatwas. It wouldn't be too hard to find honorees who've criticized Christianity, I imagine. I'm deeply offended that a critic of Islam is considered beyond the pale of Brandeis."
"Would Brandeis shrink from offering an honorary degree to a prominent Western feminist who has used strong language to condemn Christianity's impact on Western society -- for instance decrying it as inherently patriarchal, racist, sexist, even fascist?"
Brandeis University, you are a bunch of illogical, disgusting, pandering, inconsistent, wimps. I hope this incident steers many good faculty members and students away from what otherwise could have been a fine institution.
When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called “honor killings,” and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.
What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles.
Just in case there is any question, the shaming is all on the shoulders of Brandeis, which should be deeply ashamed of its wishy-washy-ness and for its backhanded implicit approval of the very things Ali has challenged.
As most readers know, I am a gentile who strongly supports the continuing existence of Israel. And as many readers know, it can be difficult to distinguish anti-Israel arguments from anti-semitic statements. Robert Fine does a superb job of helping to distinguish the two here [via MA]. One of his key arguments, for me, is this:
The academic boycott fails to make a distinction crucial to all radical political thought: that between civil society and the state. The academic boycott punishes a segment of civil society, in this case Israeli universities and their members, for the deeds and misdeeds of the state. The occupation of Palestine [EE: the Palestine of the pre-1967 borders, I presume] and the human rights abuses that flow from the occupation are to my mind simply wrong, but there is something very troubling in holding Israeli universities and academics responsible for this wrong. Israeli academics doubtless hold many different political views, just as we academics do in the UK, but the principle of collective responsibility applied to Israeli academe as a whole sends us down a slippery path. ...
A selective academic boycott aimed only at Israeli academic institutions and not at universities and research institutes belonging to other countries with equally bad or far worse records of human rights abuse, is also discriminatory. I admit that the wrongs done by ‘my own people’, in this case fellow Jews, grieve me more than the wrongs done by other peoples, but this is a confession, not a principle of political action. An academic boycott directed exclusively at Israeli academic institutions generates a quite realistic sense that Israel is being picked on – not because it is different from other countries but because it is the same. Given the slaughter currently occurring in Syria, including that of Palestinian refugees, given the repression currently imposed by the military government in Egypt, given the slave-like conditions currently endured by migrant workers in Qatar, it is increasingly eccentric to select Israel alone for boycott.[EE: emphasis added]
Eccentric? Try anti-semitic.
I have a pretty strong a priori leaning in favour of charter schools. They increase choice for parents and students, and by providing alternatives, they increase the odds that at least some schools will creatively increase learning by students. Those that do not do this will (and often do) eventually fail, something that happens rarely (if ever) in the gubmnt-controlled public school system.
Marilyn sent me this posting from the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It provides a very good, intuitive summary of the evidence that people use both to attack and to defend the achievements of one particular charter school in New York City. Of course since it is written by a person who teaches at a charter school, it may not fully or fairly represent the views of education bureaucrats and teachers' unions, the strongest opponents to charter schools. But it seems to do a pretty decent job.
I'm sure there are more systematic studies of the value-added by charter schools vs public schools. I can imagine cross-sectional and time-series studies that include variables such as family income, family structure, parental education and IQ, and the student's IQ, et cetera, all to try to correct for what otherwise might be thought of as confounding variables that would also help to explain why some students do better than others. Here's a start with the Wikipaedia entry and the lengthy list of references included there.
A national evaluation by Stanford University found that 83% of charter schools perform the same or worse than public schools (see earlier in this article). If the goal is increased competition, parents can examine the data and avoid the failing charters, while favoring the successful charters, and chartering institutions can decline to continue to support charters with mediocre performance.
And that is the key to supporting charter schools. If they don't do the job, they don't succeed.
Some months ago, MA sent me this link, summarizing research that indicates UK youth are less numerate and literate than seniors in the UK and than youth in many other OECD countries.
Research by the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that 16- to 24-year-olds lag close to the bottom of global league tables in literacy and numeracy.
According to figures, England is ranked 22nd out of 24 western countries in terms of literacy and 21st for numeracy – being outperformed by nations such as Estonia, Poland and Slovakia.
In a damning conclusion, it was also revealed that levels of basic skills had effectively worsened over the last 40 years, with recent school leavers registering lower scores in tests than their parents’ or grandparents’ generation.
England was the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 performed better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24.
If the trend I have experienced at the university level in Canada is common, we are facing similar problems in Canada. Students entering university, on average, do not read or write as well as they did 45 years ago, and their basic math skills are slipping. The top 10% or so are still excellent students, well-trained and very capable. But those in the bottom quartile of university students are often seriously lacking in basic skills.
Here are two general examples from my more recent experiences:
Call it what you want, but students really do need more training in fundamentals.
Nearly three years ago, I wrote to the then Principal of Huron College, an affiliate of The University of Western Ontario, warning that their plan to accept $2 million to endow a chair in Islamic Studies was likely to lead to serious problems in the future, in large part because the source of the funding was questionable (see this, this, this, and this). I also pointed out that $2m is nowhere near enough to fund a chair and that clearly much of the funding for this "chair" would be drawn from the general funds.
Neither Huron College nor The University of Western Ontario heeded our warnings. They accepted the money and appointed Ingrid Mattson to the chair. Here is one less-than-supportive view of her credentials [via JT]:
Professor Mattson herself is a former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an organization that was named by the FBI as a Muslim Brotherhood front as early as 1987. In 2007, ISNA was designated as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a charity shut down by the U.S. government for financing Hamas. During the trial, the U.S. government listed ISNA as one of the “individuals/entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.”
Recently this professor offered a course in proseletyzing for the Muslim faith. A non-Muslim was allowed to sign up for the course as an auditor but was then removed from the course, ostensibly because he wished only to audit the course. However, the prerequisites have changed to indicate the course is open (only?) to Muslims. From the same link,
As Barbara Kay has written,
It should be noted that UWO’s own code of ethics precludes any inquiries into a student’s religion during interactions. So it would seem that, prima facie, 54-year old accountant Moray Watson has a strong case for his accusation of discrimination against Huron College.
Nobody, including Watson, has a problem with a course in public speaking about Islam being offered at a college if it is inclusive. He also has no problem with it being exclusive, but offered in a venue such as a mosque or a community centre or a seminary that is not tax-funded. It’s really quite a simple issue. Open up the course or shut it down.
The Elder of Ziyon has just posted a list of the US universities that have publicly rejected the American Studies Association [ASA] call for a boycott of Israeli academics. I am dismayed that my three alma maters are not on the list:
I am dismayed in part because I can readily imagine that too many students and faculty members at these institutions support the boycott. I hope they, too, will go on record opposing the boycott.
Here is the list:
Columbia now joins dozens of other universities who have denounced the ASA boycott.
The latest list from Avi Mayer:
The following is a list of institutions whose presidents or chancellors have publicly rejected the academic boycott of Israel in recent days. The Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities, which represents 62 top institutions in the U.S. and Canada, has also expressed its strong opposition to the boycott, as has the American Association of University Professors, which counts more than 48,000 members.