Sunday, April 20, 2014.

October 25, 2012

Thinking about Math Class

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 24, 2012

The Burden of Overcriminalization

One of the most important political issues to most Americans that you will never hear mentioned by either of the major party Presidential candidates.

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October 19, 2012

A Plan for World Peace

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 18, 2012

Designing the Universe

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 17, 2012

Russ Roberts on Why Experts Get it Wrong

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October 16, 2012

How DNA was discovered

Posted by Tom at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) |

October 15, 2012

Buying Happiness

Posted by Tom at 5:26 AM | Comments (0) |

October 12, 2012

The Future of Education?

Posted by Tom at 12:53 AM | Comments (0) |

October 11, 2012

What's 3-D Printing all about?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 9, 2012

Doctors and Drugs

Posted by Tom at 12:41 AM | Comments (1) |

October 6, 2012

Making sense of maps

Posted by Tom at 12:19 AM | Comments (0) |

October 4, 2012

Friedman on Myths and Economic Reality

Posted by Tom at 12:14 AM | Comments (1) |

September 15, 2012

Lincoln

Posted by Tom at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) |

September 14, 2012

The Politics of Travel Guides

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

September 12, 2012

Powerpoint for State Bar of Texas Advanced Business Bankruptcy Course

Download Powerpoint here

Link to online edition.

Posted by Tom at 9:59 AM | Comments (0) |

September 10, 2012

The Tyranny of the Majority

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September 3, 2012

Creating proteins that solve human problems

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August 30, 2012

Lessig on the obligation of scholars

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August 29, 2012

The Occupy Movement, Simplified

Posted by Tom at 7:41 PM | Comments (0) |

August 23, 2012

The bias against negative outcomes

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

August 22, 2012

The thin line between sanity and insanity

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

August 21, 2012

Clues to a Great Story

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August 20, 2012

Thinking That We Know

H/T Farnam Street

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August 17, 2012

Law and the Food Movement

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August 9, 2012

Unaccountable

"Unaccountable" Book Trailer from Bloomsbury Press New Releases on Vimeo.

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August 8, 2012

Nanny State run amok

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August 2, 2012

The Free to Choose Project

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August 1, 2012

Einstein's Big Idea

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July 30, 2012

Simplifying Complexity

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July 26, 2012

The Crisis of Distraction

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July 24, 2012

Open Source Security

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July 20, 2012

Governmental promotion of obesity

Following on Peter Attia's lecture from earlier this week, Gary Taubes lucidly explains in ten minutes how bad science led to poor governmental policy on nutrition.

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July 19, 2012

Innovations in treating psychosis

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July 18, 2012

Sixty Years of Nutritional Ambiguity

When you have a spare hour, this Peter Attia, M.D. lecture on how dubious governmental dietary policies arose from research that was not based on well-controlled science is well worth a listen.

Dr. Peter Attia: The limits of scientific evidence and the ethics of dietary guidelines -- 60 years of ambiguity from Peter Attia on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 17, 2012

Larry Lessig on The Problem

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July 11, 2012

The Special Interest State

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July 10, 2012

How should we live?

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July 8, 2012

Beethoven and disruptive technologies

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July 7, 2012

This is Our Planet

Croatia-based photographer Tomislav Safundžic provides a remarkable trip around Earth through use of photos taken on the International Space Station. Enjoy.

This is Our Planet from Tomislav Safundžić on Vimeo.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 6, 2012

David Dow on lessons from death row inmates

University of Houston Law Professor David Dow talks about the death penalty.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 5, 2012

E.O. Wilson's advice to young scientists

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July 4, 2012

Schizophrenia, from the inside

The remarkable story of Elyn Saks.

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July 3, 2012

Last Train Home

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June 24, 2012

The Science of Creativity

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June 22, 2012

Drug prohibition is a failed policy

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June 6, 2012

The Stand-up Economist Strikes Again

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June 1, 2012

Improving Cancer Care

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May 16, 2012

The mathematics of history










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May 6, 2012

A Sweet Addiction

Part IV of Dr. Robert Lustig's and UC-San Francisco'svery good series on the alternative hypothesis that obesity is a growth disorder in which fat accumulation is determined not simply by the balance of calories consumed and expended, but by the effect of specific nutrients on the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

May 2, 2012

A 50-year energy plan










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May 1, 2012

A chat with Hans Rosling

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April 30, 2012

Jack Kruse on Cold Thermogenesis

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April 28, 2012

Poetry Technology










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April 26, 2012

Charles Murray on Coming Apart

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April 25, 2012

The Skinny on Obesity

Clear Thinkers favorite Dr. Robert Lustig eloquently explains in these videos the increasing scientific evidence supporting the alternative hypothesis that obesity is a growth disorder in which fat accumulation is determined not simply by the balance of calories consumed and expended, but by the effect of specific nutrients on the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism.

Here is Part I:

And Part III:

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April 18, 2012

Private schools serving the poor

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April 4, 2012

The Paradox of Choice

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March 24, 2012

Listening to Shame

University of Houston professor Brené Brown follows up her popular first TED lecture with a second one -- Listening to Shame.









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March 21, 2012

Why you will fail to have a great career

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March 20, 2012

The power of introverts










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March 16, 2012

Copyright Math










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March 13, 2012

Lessons Worth Sharing

the launch of Ted-Ed.

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February 23, 2012

How your brain tells you where you are










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February 9, 2012

What good talks have in common

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February 7, 2012

Five Myths about Free Markets

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February 6, 2012

Reinventing Physicians

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February 5, 2012

Crackberry'd

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February 3, 2012

Printing organs for clinical trials

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February 2, 2012

Dr. Lustig on obesity

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January 29, 2012

Gary Taubes on Big Fat Lies

Posted by Tom at 12:45 AM | Comments (0) |

January 27, 2012

The culture of denial in medicine










Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

January 19, 2012

Online attacks on privacy










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January 17, 2012

Reinventing health care

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January 13, 2012

The genesis of good ideas










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January 12, 2012

The importance of ancient wonders










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January 11, 2012

Tyler Cowen on suspicious stories

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January 10, 2012

Engineering a Kidney

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January 4, 2012

"Living healthy was killing me"










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January 2, 2012

Advances in non-invasive surgery










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December 25, 2011

Larry Ribstein, R.I.P.

lribstein_136My friend and Clear Thinkers favorite Larry Ribstein died unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 65. I convey condolences and deepest sympathies to Larry's wife Ann and their daughters, Sarah and Susannah.

Larry was a teacher who understood precisely what his life's purpose was and pursued it with an endearing combination of intellectual curiosity, vitality, humanity and good humor. Although I will miss Larry deeply, I feel blessed to have known him.

Larry and I came across each other in 2003, early in our respective blogging careers. The particular case that brought us together was that of Jamie Olis, which involved many of the issues about which Larry wrote passionately over his eight-plus years of blogging - criminalization of agency costs, over-criminalization generally, prosecutorial misconduct, anti-business mainstream media business reporting, etc. 

But Larry and my friendship really ripened during the Enron case. Inasmuch as Larry and I both blogged frequently on business generally and business law issues specifically, we both watched in horror as the Enron case exposed many of the worst flaws of the American criminal justice system.

Larry and I were initially two of the only writers in the blogosphere who contended that most of the Enron-related criminal prosecutions were based on appeals to juror prejudice against business executives rather than true crimes, so we fast became blogging colleagues and commiserated often, eventually not only on Enron, but on a wide array of business law cases that arose after that seminal case.

Stephen Bainbridge, Ted Frank, Ilya Somin, Geoff Manne and others have already posted fine remembrances of Larry, whose academic contributions were prodigious. However, I believe that Larry's most important contributions were his blog writings, which - along with those of Professor Bainbridge - have done more to improve the legal profession and general public's understanding of complex business issues than any other information source over the past eight years.

To get a taste of Larry's insights, just take a moment to review the dozens of Clear Thinkers posts over the years in which Larry's research and observations are highlighted. The breadth and depth of his body of work is truly remarkable.

Beyond his special intelligence and intellectual honesty, though, the trait that drew me most to Larry was his humanity. Although he decried how our government's senseless criminalization of business was destroying jobs and hindering the creation of wealth, Larry cared even more deeply about the incalculable damage to executives and their families that resulted from the absurdly-long prison terms that were often the product of such dubious prosecutions. When family members of wrongfully prosecuted executives came upon Larry's writings, many of them would reach out to Larry for support, which he generously provided to them.

And I will never forget Larry's touching note to me after he read a blog post that I wrote on the death of Bill Olis, Jamie Olis' father. Larry understood in his big heart what it takes to be a loving father.

Larry Ribstein - husband, father, lawyer, teacher, scholar, colleague, writer, counselor, friend.

A fine legacy, indeed.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 21, 2011

Understanding Consciousness










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December 15, 2011

Inspiring action










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December 14, 2011

Experiments in self-teaching

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December 11, 2011

Fueling the Age of Enlightenment

H/T Greg Mankiw.

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December 10, 2011

The Gift of Water

[AC] Haiti Orphanage from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

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December 7, 2011

The amazing story of Dr. Terry Wahls

The University of Iowa internist tells her fascinating story on battling M.S.

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December 2, 2011

How toilets can change the world

Watch live streaming video from techonomy at livestream.com

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November 21, 2011

Tory Gattis' Open City of Opportunity

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November 20, 2011

Salman Khan on reinventing education through video










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November 11, 2011

Mapping the Brain










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November 8, 2011

Giving away the secrets of cancer research

Harvard researcher Jay Bradner discusses his approach to open-source cancer research.









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October 29, 2011

Colbert and that entertaining form of corruption

Stephen Colbert provides his amusing spin on the corruption of big-time college sports by interviewing Taylor Branch, author of the e-book The Cartel, which is an expanded version of Branch's cover story from the October issue of The Atlantic, The Shame of College Sports (H/T Jay Christensen).

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

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October 12, 2011

Your web presence after death

Adam Ostrow: "By the end of this year, there'll be nearly a billion people on this planet that actively use social networking sites. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they are going to die."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

October 6, 2011

The promise of the driverless auto

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October 4, 2011

The Genomic Revolution

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September 30, 2011

Battling Bad Science

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September 26, 2011

The Generosity Experiment

Sasha Dichter: The Generosity Experiment from NextGen:Charity on Vimeo.

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September 20, 2011

Niall Ferguson on The Great Divergence

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September 15, 2011

A masterful piece on that entertaining form of corruption

USC Song Girls 2Regular readers of this blog know that I have regularly commented on the corrupt nature (see also here) of big-time college football and basketball.

Although corrupt, big-time college football and basketball resist comprehensive reform because - let's face it - they are a very entertaining form of corruption.

But as this masterful (and quite long) Taylor Branch/Atlantic article explains, that resistance to reform is being challenged:

A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news. We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table. But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.

Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes--and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.

And one of those lawsuits is by a former Rice student-athlete!

For anyone interested in the future of big-time college football and basketball, this is a must read. A series of short interviews of Branch are associated with the article and provided below:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

September 7, 2011

On unintended consequences

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August 15, 2011

The latest from the Standup Economist

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August 10, 2011

The power of stories

Chris Seay is the pastor of Ecclesia, the innovative inner-city Houston church that has been the subject of previous posts here and here.

In the engaging TedXHouston video below, Chris insightfully talks about the power of stories in defining and directing our lives. Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 4, 2011

The transforming nature of language

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July 22, 2011

Deskbound Physical Therapy

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July 1, 2011

The Minimalist Grills

grillingJust in time for the 4th of July weekend, Mark Bittman of the NY Times provides a lucid and comprehensive overview on how to grill a variety of popular foods.

Enjoy!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

June 29, 2011

Math isn’t just computation

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

June 16, 2011

Tyler Cowen on the Great Stagnation

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May 4, 2011

Technophysio evolution

Darwin2_mNobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel has been leading a research project over the past 30 years analyzing the changes in the size and shape of the human body in relation to economic, social and other changes throughout history.

As this NY Times article notes, the conclusions being reached from the project are fascinating:

"The rate of technological and human physiological change in the 20th century has been remarkable," Mr. Fogel said .  .  . "Beyond that, a synergy between the improved technology and physiology is more than the simple addition of the two."

This "technophysio evolution," powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of Homo sapiens as well. [.  .  .]

To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

Across the Atlantic, at the time of the French Revolution, a 30-something Frenchman weighed about 110 pounds, compared with 170 pounds now. And in Norway an average 22-year-old man was about 5 ½ inches taller at the end of the 20th century (5 feet 10.7 inches) than in the middle of the 18th century (5 feet 5.2 inches). . .

Despite this accelerated physical development over the past 150 years, one factor that the researchers did not anticipate is threatening to derail the progress:

One thing Mr. Fogel did not expect when he first started his research was that  "overnutrition" would become the primary health problem in the United States and other Western nations. Obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and some cancers, threatens to upset the links in the upward march of size, health and longevity that he and his colleagues have spent years documenting.

And as this recent post notes, that "overnutrition problem" is not going to be an easy one to solve.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

April 16, 2011

Simon Sinek on inspirational leadership

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April 1, 2011

I miss Milton Friedman

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (4) |

March 25, 2011

The Father of Golf Instruction

John JacobsWhile the saga of Tiger Woods' latest swing change plays out on the PGA Tour, Golf Digest's Jaime Diaz interviews the oracle of golf swing instruction, England's John Jacobs.

"The golf swing has only one purpose: to deliver the head of the club to the ball correctly, and to achieve such impact repeatedly." With that statement, the 86 year-old Jacobs really hatched the profession of teaching the golf swing during the 1950's and 60's, and then served as a mentor to many of the best golf instructors of the past generation, including Houston's Jim Hardy.  The entire interview is essential reading for anyone interested in the golf swing, in particular, or teaching, in general. The following are just a few of Jacobs' pearls of wisdom:

"Ben Hogan's The Modern Fundamentals of Golf kept me in business.  .  .  .  The book should have been called How I Play Golf, and it would have been a great anti-hook book. But the title suggested it was good for everyone."

"The feeling of wanting to take the club straight back, rather than on an arc, is intuitively human, but it's the core of many faults. We think the longer we can make a straight line, the straighter the ball will go. But golf is a side-on game with the ball on the ground, so it's the opposite."

"The hardest thing about golf is that the natural correction is wrong. Slicers see the ball go to the right and aim farther left. It only makes their slices bigger."

"Although it worked wonderfully for them, I think the team of Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter set a bad precedent for players becoming too dependent on instructors. I preferred that players work alone and ring me when they had a problem.  .   .   . I would say Jack Nicklaus had the right formula with Jack Grout: Meet once a year, with occasional visits for emergencies."

"When Tiger's mind was clear, he was probably as good as Jack, but I wouldn't say better. Jack was not as well equipped in his short game, so he had to be better internally, and that's where Tiger is being tested now. Tiger hits more bad shots than Jack did, but he has saved them with his putter and short game. Going forward, he should be focused on hitting fewer bad shots and needing his putter less."

Which, interestingly, appears to be what Woods is currently attempting to do.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

March 20, 2011

Elie Wiesel on the perils of indifference

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (3) |

March 10, 2011

Khan on Education

The remarkable Salman Khan -- the founder of the popular Khan Academy -- talks about using video to reinvent education. Enjoy. H/T Paul Kedrosky.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

February 20, 2011

An English Lesson

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

January 19, 2011

The wisest health care finance investment

healthcare-reform2009-06-18-1245364138Three articles caught my eye recently regarding America's health care dilemma.

This LA Times article reports on the declining quality of the end-of-life period of many Americans:

Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing. According to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago. [.  .  .]

According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity - which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility - has increased in the last two decades. For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. That number fell to 43.8 in 2006. For women, the expected years of life without a serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade. [.  .  .]

"There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease or the physiological changes that are linked to age," the authors wrote.

Meanwhile, a part of that problem is the result of the fact that many Americans have no idea what - or how much - they are eating:

Nearly 90% of respondents to a Consumer Reports telephone survey thought they were eating right -- saying that their diet was either somewhat (52.6%), very (31.5%), or extremely healthy (5.6%).

But when they were asked about what they actually eat, far fewer seemed to be in following a healthy diet.

For instance, of the 1,234 people surveyed, only 30% said they eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, just 13% step on the scale every morning, and a meager 8% monitor their daily calorie intake. [.  .  .]

bout a third of those who said they were a healthy weight actually had a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range (30% and 3%, respectively).

"It's likely that Americans are thinking about health more, and that's a good thing," said Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Still, nine out of 10 think they're doing pretty well, and to that, I'd say let's talk again."

So, asks this Dana P. Goldman/Darius N. Lakdawalla article, what would be the best investment to generate significant improvement in the health of Americans?:

The first step is to invest--not in the healthcare system, but in education. We should take the $120 billion it might cost for universal coverage, and use it, instead, to provider earlier education and to improve the quality of education. Better-educated people live longer, are less likely to be disabled, and engage in healthier behavior.

For nearly 40 years, distinguished health economists led by Michael Grossman have observed that more-educated people have much more powerful incentives to protect their own 'investments' in education by practicing healthier habits and reducing their risks of death. They also are better at self-managing chronic diseases. And, unlike universal coverage, more education has other valuable benefits to a person and to society. Less crime, less divorce, and higher earnings--can universal health insurance promise that?

The second place to invest is prevention. Primary prevention has the capacity to slow or reduce the rising prevalence of chronic disease, and simultaneously attenuate the downstream spending that is associated with it. Equally importantly, however, prevention leads to a life with less disability and more years of an active lifestyle. It simply makes a lot of sense to avoid disease in the first place, rather than try to treat it later.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

January 17, 2011

I Have a Dream

No question about it, Martin Luther King could flat out give a speech.


And here is Robert F. Kennedy's moving tribute to Reverend King immediately after his death:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 8, 2010

Art DeVany on The New Evolution Diet

Clear Thinkers favorite Art DeVany (previous posts here) is preparing for the release of his new book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness and Aging (Rodale Dec. 21, 2010), so he presents his basic ideas on nutrition and exercise in the trailer for the book below. Russ Roberts' longer audio interview of DeVany from earlier this year can be listened to here and Patrick Kiger provides an excellent overview of DeVany's ideas on nutrition and exercise here.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

October 12, 2010

Continuous Chest Compression CPR

Check out the University of Arizona College of Medicine's well-done video and discussion (see also here) of a new approach to CPR.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

October 6, 2010

An entertaining form of corruption

USC song girls As I've noted many times over the years, big-time college football is an entertaining form of corruption, but corruption nonetheless.

Several recent articles reminded me of this corruption and the almost pathological obsession of the mainstream media to avoid addressing it, particularly during the highly entertaining football season.

First, there was this Joe Draper/NY Times article on how the highly valuable Big Ten Network is changing the financial landscape of college sports. Not once is it mentioned in the article that the people who are actually creating most of that value - i.e., the young athletes - are forced to compete under a system of highly-restricted compensation while some bastions of higher learning profit from the value that they create. In their honest moments, how do the academics rationalize that sort of exploitation, particularly when much of it involves undereducated, young black men?

Meanwhile, this breathless Pete Thamel/NY Times article reports on how the regulator of this corruption - the NCAA - is really cracking down now on coaches who have the audacity of attempting to provide to the athletes a pittance of the compensation that the bastions of higher education are preventing them from receiving. Not once in the article is it mentioned that the system is exploiting these athletes for the benefit of the NCAA and its member institutions.

Finally, this William Winslade-Daniel Goldberg/Houston Chronicle op-ed thoughtfully points out the ethical issues that arise as a result of exposing young athletes to serious and often undisclosed risk of injury and loss of potential future compensation.

So, what is it about football that generates such cognitive dissonance when young professional athletes in other sports such as golf, tennis, and baseball are not subjected to such arbitrary restrictions in compensation?

Are we concerned that the sacred traditions of college football might change if the current system is altered to compensate the young athletes fairly for the risks that they take and the wealth they create? Are those traditions truly worth the perpetuation of such a parasitic system?

There is nothing inherently wrong with universities being involved in the promotion of professional minor league football if university leaders conclude that that such an investment is good for the promotion of the school and the academic environment. Allow the players who create wealth for the university to be paid directly, allow the universities to establish farm team agreements with NFL teams, and cut out the hypocritical incentives that are built into the current system.

Not only would such a system be fairer for the players who take substantial risk of injury in creating wealth for the universities, it would obviate the compromising of academic integrity that universities commonly endure under the current system.

So, why are the leaders of our institutions of higher learning not leading the way toward a fairer system?

Perhaps they really are not leaders at all?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (7) |

September 28, 2010

“A powerful and alarming documentary about America’s failing public school system”

That's what this NY Times reviewer calls Waiting for Superman, the much-anticipated documentary on the failure of the U.S. public school system. Here are the John Heilemann/New York Magazine, the Lloyd Grove/Daily Beast and John Nolte/Big Hollywood reviews (h/t Craig Newmark).

Watch and think about this one, folks. It's for our children and grandchildren.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

September 7, 2010

Preparing for Life

john-grisham I've never been a fan of John Grisham's novels, although I concede that a couple of them have been made into entertaining movies.

But after reading this Grisham/NY Times op-ed, I'm a big fan of John Grisham:

I WASN'T always a lawyer or a novelist, and I've had my share of hard, dead-end jobs. I earned my first steady paycheck watering rose bushes at a nursery for a dollar an hour. I was in my early teens, but the man who owned the nursery saw potential, and he promoted me to his fence crew. For $1.50 an hour, I labored like a grown man as we laid mile after mile of chain-link fence. There was no future in this, and I shall never mention it again in writing.

Then, during the summer of my 16th year, I found a job with a plumbing contractor. I crawled under houses, into the cramped darkness, with a shovel, to somehow find the buried pipes, to dig until I found the problem, then crawl back out and report what I had found. I vowed to get a desk job. I've never drawn inspiration from that miserable work, and I shall never mention it again in writing, either.

But a desk wasn't in my immediate future. My father worked with heavy construction equipment, and through a friend of a friend of his, I got a job the next summer on a highway asphalt crew. This was July, when Mississippi is like a sauna. Add another 100 degrees for the fresh asphalt. I got a break when the operator of a Caterpillar bulldozer was fired; shown the finer points of handling this rather large machine, I contemplated a future in the cab, tons of growling machinery at my command, with the power to plow over anything. Then the operator was back, sober, repentant. I returned to the asphalt crew.

I was 17 years old that summer, and I learned a lot, most of which cannot be repeated in polite company. One Friday night I accompanied my new friends on the asphalt crew to a honky-tonk to celebrate the end of a hard week. When a fight broke out and I heard gunfire, I ran to the restroom, locked the door and crawled out a window. I stayed in the woods for an hour while the police hauled away rednecks. As I hitchhiked home, I realized I was not cut out for construction and got serious about college.

Many of us had similar experiences to Grisham's before finding our life's work. In talking with young folks these days about their uncertain futures, I find myself often advising them that uncertainty is, for most of us, an unavoidable part of life. Although often difficult at the time, those experiences help define our character and spirit.

I decided to go to law school while working on a loading dock on Produce Row in Houston. I'm eternally grateful for that loading dock. What was your loading dock?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

September 5, 2010

John Cleese on Creativity

Find a way to avoid the distractions, at least for a little while (H/T Presentation Zen).

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 19, 2010

Sidewalk Socrates

Sidney Morgenbesser.jpgIn several respects, my mentor and dear friend Ross Lence was similar to legendary Columbia philosophy professor Sidney Morgenbesser -- a consummate teacher and witty thinker who didn't care much for academia's preoccupation with publishing.

So, I enjoyed reading this James Ryerson/NY Times Magazine profile (H/T Al Roberts) of Morgenbesser that reminded me of a funny philosophy story involving Morgenbesser that Professor Lence had passed along to me with relish many years ago:

In the academic world, custom dictates that you may be considered a legend if there is more than one well-known anecdote about you.

Morgenbesser, with his Borscht Belt humor and preternaturally agile mind, was the subject of dozens. In the absence of a written record of his wisdom, this was how people related to him: by knowing the stories and wanting to know more.

The most widely circulated tale -- in many renditions it is even presented as a joke, not the true story that it is -- was his encounter with the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin.

During a talk on the philosophy of language at Columbia in the 50's, Austin noted that while a double negative amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative.

From the audience, a familiar nasal voice muttered a dismissive, "Yeah, yeah."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 16, 2010

On the future of education

Jesse Schell, who teaches game theory at Carnegie Mellon, provides his spot-on observations regarding the future of teaching and education. (H/T Jon Taplin).

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 2, 2010

Rational Optimism

The%20Rational%20Optimist.jpgMatt Ridley supplies a dose of good end-of-the-week vibes with this article based on his new book, The Rational Optimist (Harper 2010):

When I set out to write a book about the material progress of the human race, now published at The Rational Optimist, I was only dimly aware of how much better my life is now than it would have been if I had been born 50 years before. I knew that I have novel technologies at my disposal from synthetic fleeces and discount airlines to Facebook and satellite navigation. I knew that I could rely on advances in vaccines, transplants and sleeping pills. I knew that I could experience cleaner air and cleaner water at least in my own country. I knew that for Chinese and Japanese people life had grown much more wealthy. But I did not know the numbers.

Do you know the numbers? In 2005, compared with 1955, the average human being on Planet Earth earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children and could expect to live one-third longer. All this during a half-century when the world population has more than doubled, so that far from being rationed by population pressure, the goods and services available to the people of the world have expanded. It is, by any standard, an astonishing human achievement.

We invent new technologies that decrease the amount of time that it takes to supply each others needs. The great theme of human history is that we increasingly work for each other. We exchange our own specialised and highly efficient fragments of production for everybody elses. The division of labour Adam Smith called it, and it is still spreading. When a self-sufficient peasant moves to town and gets a job, supplying his own needs by buying them from others with the wages from his job, he can raise his standard of living and those he supplies with what he produces. [.  .  .]

So ask yourself this: with so much improvement behind us, why are we to expect only deterioration before us? I am quoting from an essay by Thomas Macaulay written in 1830, when pessimists were already promising doom:

They were wrong then, and I think they are wrong now.


Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

June 17, 2010

Michael Shermer on Self-Deception

Stick with this interesting lecture to the end.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

June 16, 2010

The state of cancer research

cancer-ribbon Following on these recent posts on the state of cancer research, John Goodman provides this timely and lucid post on the problems with as well as the direction of - cancer research:

Why so little progress [in cancer research despite the large amount of money spent on  it]?

Some researchers believe we have been using the wrong model. Weve been trying to combat cancer the way we fight an infection initiated by the common cold. But cancer is very different from ordinary infections and colds.

Suppose you have strep throat. Your doctor prescribes an antibiotic and the drug immediately goes to work fighting it. Lets say the antibiotic manages to kill 95% of the germs. Thats enough damage to allow your bodys natural defenses (white corpuscles) to take over and complete the clean-up job.

Now suppose we try to fight a cancerous tumor the same way. Lets say that through chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, doctors manage to kill 95% of the cancer cells. In this case, the white corpuscles wont be able to pull off the clean-up, however. Once cancer cells multiply and become lethal, its an all-or-nothing proposition. As long as even a single cancer cell remains, it will eventually multiply again. And it will continue multiplying until the fight must be initiated all over again. Eventually the cancer will metastasize (spread all over your whole body), which is a virtual death sentence.

Unlike ordinary germs, therefore, in fighting a carcinogenic tumor you have to kill (or remove) every single cell. If even one cell survives, the cancer will return and become lethal again.

Strange as it may seem, cancer appears to disable the human immune system in much the same way as a fertilized egg in a womans womb. Why doesnt the bodys immune system treat a fertilized egg as a foreign invader and try to attack and kill it? Because somehow the immune system is turned off. Cancer cells are able to do much the same thing. Although the ability of women to carry a fertilized egg is pro-life and cancer is anti-life, it seems likely that both phenomena act in the same biochemical way.

Somehow, cancer turns off our bodys natural defenses. Many researchers believe the most promising response, therefore, is to find a way to turn those defenses back on. By way of encouragement, consider that nearly everyone by middle-age or older is riddled withcancer cells and precancerous cells that do not develop into large tumors. Somehow our bodys natural defenses are keeping them at bay. Could those same defenses be employed to take on more challenging tasks?

That is a good way of thinking about the two new drugs that were announced last week. Rather than fight cancer the way we fight ordinary infections, fighting cancer by liberating the bodys natural immune system seems to have much greater promise.

By the way, in case you missed it, U.S. News & World Reports annual survey of U.S. hospitals recently ranked the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houstons Texas Medical Center as the no. 1 cancer hospital in the country. Texas Childrens Hospital, which is literally across the street from M.D. Anderson in the Medical Center, is ranked as the no. 5 pediatric cancer hospital in the nation.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

June 15, 2010

On Leadership

drking2 If you read just one article this week, make it this one (H/T Mike at Crime & FederalismWilliam Deresiewiczs lecture to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point last year. A snippet:

Thats really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running thingsthe leadersare the mediocrities?

Because excellence isnt usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until its time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why theyre done. Just keeping the routine going.

I tell you this to forewarn you, because I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader. And I tell you for one other reason.

As I thought about these things and put all these pieces togetherthe kind of students I had, the kind of leadership they were being trained for, the kind of leaders I saw in my own institutionI realized that this is a national problem. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution. Not just in government. Look at what happened to American corporations in recent decades, as all the old dinosaurs like General Motors or TWA or U.S. Steel fell apart. Look at what happened to Wall Street in just the last couple of years. [.  .   .]

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but dont know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but dont know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether theyre worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we dont have are leaders.

What we dont have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Armya new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

June 9, 2010

The futility of regulating failure

failure-300x300 David Warren makes a remarkably lucid point about the dubious notion that governmental action is the proper remedy to any wrong:

Politicians try to pass laws against it; to create rules and regulations so complex and cumbersome that (as we saw in the BP disaster) an easily-corrupted "judgement call" bureaucracy must grant exemptions from them, in order for anything to function at all. When disaster strikes, they add more rules and regulations.

But more profoundly, the rules and regulations -- once they pass a point of irreducible complexity -- create a mindset in which those who should be thinking about safety are instead focused on rules and regulations. To those who see danger, the glib answer comes, citing all the safety standards that have been diligently observed.

From what we already know, this appears to be exactly what happened aboard Deepwater Horizon, and will not be rectified by the U.S. government's latest, very political decision, to use means both fair and foul to prosecute British Petroleum, and punish the rest of the oil industry for its mistakes.

Let me mention in passing that President Barack Obama was in no way responsible for the catastrophe, and that there is nothing he can do about it. He is being held to blame for "inaction," as wrongly as his predecessor was held to blame over Hurricane Katrina, by media and public unable to cope with the proposition that, "Stuff happens."

In a sense, Obama is hoist on his own petard. The man who blames Bush for everything now finds there are some things presidents cannot do. More deeply, the opposition party that persuades the public government can solve all their problems, discovers once in power there are problems their government cannot solve.

Alas, it will take more time than they have to learn the next lesson: that governments which try to solve the insoluble, more or less invariably, make each problem worse.

I like to dwell on the wisdom of our ancestors. It took us millennia to emerge from the primitive notion that a malignant agency must lie behind every unfortunate experience. Indeed, the Catholic Church spent centuries fighting folk pagan beliefs in things like evil fairies, and the whole notion the Devil can compel any person to act against his will -- only to watch an explosion of witch-hunting and related popular hysterias at the time of the Reformation.

In so many ways, the trend of post-Christian society today is back to pagan superstitions: to the belief that malice lies behind every misfortune, and to the related idea that various, essentially pagan charms can be used to ward off that to which all flesh is heir. The belief that, for instance, laws can be passed, that change the entire order of nature, is among the most irrational of these.

Sheer human stupidity is the cause of any number of human catastrophes -- including the stupidity of superstition itself. We need to re-embrace this concept; to hug the native incompetence within ourselves, and begin forgiving it in others.

Amen.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) |

June 8, 2010

So, what have you done for me lately?

Rayner Noble What on earth is University of Houston Athletic Director Mack Rhoades thinking?

With UH already being an afterthought in the ongoing negotiations over the reorganization of big-time college athletics, Rhoades this past Friday fired the best coach that UH has had over the past 20 years, baseball coach Rayner Noble.

Not exactly the way to inspire confidence in the alumni base, Mr. Rhoades. 

Only in his late-40's, Noble is already an institution at the University of Houston, where he has spent most of the past 30 years.

Noble initially came to UH in 1980 as an exceptional player from Houston's Spring Woods High School, where he was the ace of a pitching staff than included Roger Clemens. He became the first freshman in Southwest Conference history to start as a pitcher and in centerfield. In 1983, he won 12 games and posted a 1.32 ERA while becoming the first UH pitcher to be named a consensus All-American and the first UH player to win Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors.

Noble was drafted by the Astros in the 1983 Major League Baseball Draft and quickly moved up the Astros farm system. But after developing chronic tendonitis in his pitching elbow at the Triple-A level, Noble decided to go into coaching, initially as an assistant for long-time UH baseball coach Bragg Stockton and then helping Rice coach Wayne Graham in the early 1990's lay the foundation of the ultra-successful Rice program. During an era in which UH administrators were not making very good decisions, UH unexpectedly made the good decision to hire Noble as head baseball coach in 1994.

UH has been richly rewarded for that decision. Over the past 16 seasons, Noble guided the UH baseball program to three NCAA Super Regional berths over a four year period from 1999-2003, eight NCAA Regional appearances, three Conference USA regular-season titles and three C-USA Tournament championships. In so doing, he chalked up a 551-420 record, including a record-breaking 48 wins in both the 2000 and 2002 seasons.

With the exception of Leroy Burrell's elite UH track program, no other UH coach comes even close to Noble's accomplishments during that period.

But what made Rayner Noble truly special at UH was that he loved and understood his alma mater. Playing in an inferior conference and without comparable financial resources, UH could rarely compete with programs such as Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor or local powerhouse Rice for elite players coming out of high school. Consequently, Noble specialized in recruiting players who he could develop into solid college players.

In so doing, he developed a large number of excellent players, such as pitchers Ryan Wagner and Brad Sullivan, who in 2003 were the first UH players selected in the first-round of the MLB Draft.

Moreover, given his experience as a professional player, Noble understood the vagaries of fashioning a successful college career into a spot on an MLB roster. Thus, Noble always emphasized to his players the importance of completing their college education. Noble's players were true student-athletes - if a player didn't attend class, he didn't play for Rayner Noble. Several UH professors confided to me over the years that Noble was by for the easiest coach that they ever worked with in regard to an academic problem of a student-athlete. Not surprisingly, Noble was highly-respected and well-liked by most UH faculty members and administrators.

So, what was that performance, integrity, loyalty and wisdom worth when Noble's teams suffered back-to-back losing seasons over the past two seasons?

Apparently, not much.

Make no mistake about it, the firing of Rayner Noble is a sad commentary on the state of intercollegiate athletics. Rather than looking at the big picture and the enormous contributions that Noble has made to student-athletes and the school, AD Rhoades and UH made a decision based narrowly on short-term results at a time when UH athletics desperately needs to be thinking for the long term.

Without the financial resources of the other major Texas universities, the University of Houston used to stand for unusual commitment to its coaches. Bill Yeoman, Guy V. Lewis, and the late Dave Williams were examples of the long-term excellence that UH used to achieve in intercollegiate athletics as a result of that commitment.

The firing of Rayner Noble reminds us that UH dispensed with that wise policy long ago.

As a result, the University of Houston has just lost much more than a baseball coach. The university lost a part of its soul.

UH will find another baseball coach.

But that lost part of UH's soul will be much harder to replace.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) |

June 1, 2010

Can psychiatry be a science?

menand_bw

Louis Menands New Yorker article earlier this year that reviewed a couple of new books on psychiatry in the context of the confusing state of psychiatric literature posed the compelling question that is the title of this post:

You go see a doctor. The doctor hears your story and prescribes an antidepressant. Do you take it?

However you go about making this decision, do not read the psychiatric literature. Everything in it, from the science (do the meds really work?) to the metaphysics (is depression really a disease?), will confuse you. There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it. Virtually no scientist subscribes to the man-in-the-waiting-room theory, which is that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, but many people report that they feel better when they take drugs that affect serotonin and other brain chemicals. [.  .  .]

.  .  . As a branch of medicine, depression seems to be a mess. Business, however, is extremely good. Between 1988, the year after Prozac was approved by the F.D.A., and 2000, adult use of antidepressants almost tripled. By 2005, one out of every ten Americans had a prescription for an antidepressant. IMS Health, a company that gathers data on health care, reports that in the United States in 2008 a hundred and sixty-four million prescriptions were written for antidepressants, and sales totalled $9.6 billion.

As a depressed person might ask, What does it all mean?

Following on that provocative article, Russ Roberts' essential EconTalk series this week presents this fascinating interview of Menand on the state of psychiatric knowledge and the scientific basis for making conclusions about current therapeutic approaches of battling it.

Although hard and fast conclusions are few, Menand is asking the right questions about a subject that desperately needs better societal understanding. His article and interview are valuable contributions to improving that understanding.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) |

April 15, 2010

Milton Friedman on poverty

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) |

March 26, 2010

The epic story of technology

Publisher of the Whole Earth Review and former Wired executive editor Kevin Kelly weaves the fascinating tale.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

March 24, 2010

Longhorns Inc.

College Football3 More than a few tongues are wagging around Texas Longhorn athletic circles this week over this blistering Texas Observer op-ed on the UT football program authored by UT professor Tom Palaima, who just happens to serve on the UT Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets and is UTs representative on the Big 12 steering committee of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics. Heres a flavor of the article:

The NCAA program at the University of Texas at Austin generated $138 million in revenue last year, $87 million from football. Yet its profit margin is less than $2 million. The programs cumulative debt and debt service are in the high-risk neighborhood.

Longhorns Inc. has wrapped its tentacles around the now-hemorrhaging academic budget. The athletics department gave a $2 million raise to head football coach Mack Brown as colleges across the university are laying off staff. In foreign languages alone, $1.6 million was cut. The head of the student union recently announced the closure of the Cactus Caf, a historic music venue, to save just $66,000 over two years.

Worse, the university has ceded trademark and royalty revenues. Longhorns Inc. keeps 90 percent of this income, roughly $10.6 million last year. The yearly debt payment on building bonds for the nearly $300 million in stadium expansions since 1998 is $15 million. The debt run up by the athletics department has risen from $64.4 million in 2004-05 to a staggering $222.5 million in 2008-09.

Unfortunately, Palaima main criticism is how well the UT athletic department and its personnel are doing financially in comparison to the UT academics, whose average salary has increased by only 30 percent over the past 20 years or so.

Somehow, however, Palaima utterly misses the most corrupt aspect of big-time intercollegiate athletics. That is, the perverse and discriminatory regulatory scheme that restricts compensation to the players mostly young black men whose talent actually generates most of the wealth for the athletic departments.

As Ive noted many times, big-time college football and basketball is an entertaining form of corruption. Too bad that someone as bright as Professor Palaima fails to understand the true nature of that corruption.

By the way, below is a video of a lively debate between Professor Palaima and longtime UT Law professor Lino Graglia over college football in which Palaima is actually the defender of the entreprise (a colleague asked Palaima DeLoss Dodds must have given you priority seating at [Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium]. The transcript of the debate is here.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

February 26, 2010

David Agus on the state of cancer research

University of Southern California University professor David Agus provides a particularly lucid 24-minute lecture for the TED conference on the state of cancer research.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

February 18, 2010

Jamie Oliver’s TED Nutrition Talk

Jamie Oliver eloquently discusses the dire impact of our abysmal teaching about nutrition in the U.S. Check out also this lengthy Byran Appleyard/TimesOnline article on Art DeVanys continuing research on the integration of good nutrition with sound exercise protocols. Good information for increasing the chances of enjoying a healthy life.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

February 12, 2010

Milton Friedman on freedom, capitalism and colonialism

Got to love the way Friedman ignores the contentious introduction to the questions and maintains the integrity of intellectual discourse. H/T Almost Chosen People.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

November 26, 2009

Turkey Day Carving

carve-650

For all you turkey carvers, check out the instructions above, this interesting article and this great NY Times video to get the most meat out of your turkey.

Carve away!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

September 9, 2009

Innovative teaching

Ritter Bunker Having been raised by one, I've always been drawn to great teachers wherever I find them.

Jeff Ritter is a young golf teaching professional in the Phoenix area who combines excellent analytical ability with formidable communication skills to provide some of the best golf swing instruction that I've seen on the Web.

In this 10-minute video, Ritter shows how, over the course of a week, he improves the swing of a low-handicap amateur golfer who had come to Phoenix to work with him. In so doing, Ritter takes a good golf swing and turns it into a very good one.

Here are some more Ritter teaching videos, generally 1-3 minutes in length, that focus on various aspects of the golf swing. This is a wonderful example of how a talented teacher is using the Web in innovative ways to reach thousands of students who would not otherwise have access to his insight.

Some other sites in which to discover great teachers:

Top 7 Places to Watch Great Minds in Action

100 Incredible Lectures from the World’s Top Scientists

One Day University

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 29, 2009

The Five Minute University

Food for thought from Father Guido Sarducci to collegians starting the new school year.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 16, 2009

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field

I watched this video enlarged on my 27-inch HD monitor. It is incredible. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 27, 2009

The power of info visualization

Check out this elegant example of information visualization focusing on the changes in life expectancy and wealth over the past 200 years.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (4) |

March 27, 2009

Collision

Here is the trailer for Collision, the new Darren Doake-directed documentary about the series of debates and conversations between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over the existence of God. Interestingly, Hitchens and Wilson became quite good friends during their travels and debates. The early reviews of the documentary indicate that it is even-handed and very well done.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

January 19, 2009

An entertaining upcoming week in Houston

ribstein No one in Houston this week can complain about lack of opportunity for intellectual stimulation.

First, well-known legal blogger and Clear Thinkers favorite Larry Ribstein will be lecturing on Thursday afternoon from noon to 2 p.m. at the University of Houston Law Center as the first speaker of the semester in UH Law Professor Lonny Hoffman's “Colloquium” course that brings noted legal scholars from around the country to UH each year to give presentations on the scholar's work in progress.

Great teachers are a popular topic on this blog (see here and here), so I'm particularly pleased that Professor Ribstein is taking the time out of his busy schedule to visit Houston. As regular HCT readers know, Professor Ribstein is one of the premier business law scholars in the country.

The holder of the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair at the University of Illinois College of Law, Professor Ribstein's widely-read Ideoblog has been at the forefront of the blawgosphere's enormous impact on legal analysis and education, literally pushing legal scholarship from what had been mostly closed conversations between fellow academics into a hugely valuable resource that is now readily available to anyone over the Web. Already the leading expert in the U.S. in the area of unincorporated business associations, Professor Ribstein is also one of the blawgosphere's most insightful thinkers on corporate governance issues and the effects of regulation on markets and business. His blog has contributed as much to the understanding and appreciation of business law issues over the past five years as any resource of which I am aware.

Professor Ribstein's talk on Thursday will be on this paper that he co-authored with George Mason University law professor Bruce Kobiyashi that examines the empirical factors that influence limited liability companies' choice of where to organize. Seating for the talk is limited, so contact Professor Hoffman at Lhoffman@central.uh.edu or 713.743.5206 as soon as possible to reserve a seat. The lecture will be held in the Heritage Room of the UH Law Center.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday from 11:30-1:30 p.m., popular author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell will be giving a talk on his new book, Outliers, at the Hilton-Americas Houston hotel (Chron article here). Tickets are $75 and include a copy of the book and the luncheon, which is co-sponsored by Inprint, the Greater Houston Partnership and Brazos Bookstore. Contact Jill Reese at 713.844.3682 or jreese@houston.org to make reservations, the deadline for which is noon on Tuesday.

Finally, author and former Houstonian Larry McMurtry -- the pre-eminent Texas writer of the past 30 years -- will be giving the lecture on Wednesday evening from 7-8:00 p.m. in Rice University's Distinguished Lecture series. The lecture will be held in the Grand Hall of Rice's Ley Student Center and is open to the public.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

November 2, 2008

Phillip G. Hoffman, R.I.P.

Phillip HoffmanPhil Hoffman, inarguably one of the most important university presidents in the history of the University of Houston, died Wednesday at the age of 93. The Chron's Lynwood Abram penned a nice article on Dr. Hoffman here.

When Dr. Hoffman took over the presidency of the University of Houston in 1961, UH was a sleepy, segregated city college of about 12,000 students. By the time Dr. Hoffman retired 16 years later, UH had become a fully-integrated university system of four campuses with an enrollment of over 30,000 students. Two years after taking over at UH, Dr. Hoffman led the legislative effort to have the university accepted into the Texas state university system.

Although the Chron's article on Dr. Hoffman's death notes the foregoing, the fact that UH is a far younger institution than the other two main Texas university systems -- the University of Texas and Texas A&M University -- is largely ignored by the Chronicle and the rest of the mainstream media. Given the far inferior resources that UH receives from the state relative to UT and A&M, UH is currently providing the best bang-for-the-higher-education-buck of the three systems. That is an impressive part of Dr. Hoffman's formidable legacy.

A memorial service is scheduled for Dr. Hoffman at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the First Presbyterian Church in the Museum District, 5300 Main.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

October 30, 2008

A good idea, but . . .

New Picture The Chron's top-notch Medical Center reporter Todd Ackerman reported yesterday that two venerable Houston academic -- Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University -- are in preliminary discussions regarding a possible merger (the Chron's excellent Science reporter Eric Berger also comments here).

This makes sense on many levels. Baylor and Rice are located near each other in the Medical Center area, so sharing faculty members between the two institutions would be a snap from a logistics standpoint. Indeed, the attraction of being able to teach and research at both institutions would be a valuable perk for both schools to attract talented teachers and students. Both schools have excellent academic reputations, so it's a good match from that standpoint, too.

But Ackerman zeroes in on the main problem with the merger. As usual, it involves money:

Rice is the more affluent of the two institutions. As of June 30, its endowment was $4.6 billion. As of Sept. 30, Baylor's was $954 million. [.  .  .]

One Rice professor said the key issue from the university's perspective will be making sure there's a firewall between Rice's endowment and Baylor's.

A "firewall" between the two institutions endowments? Come on, one of the main reasons why the merger makes sense is that Baylor would have access to Rice's superior capital. The benefit from Rice's standpoint is the association with a fine medical school that, with access to a better-capitalized endowment, may well propel itself into the best medical school in the country. That is precisely the type of academic excellence that Rice should be pursuing.

Which reminds me of a conversation that I had years ago with a member of the University of Houston Board of Regents. Given the need of Houston and Texas for more Tier 1 research institutions, I observed to this UH regent that I thought it was a good idea for the UH system to merge with the Texas A&M University System.

One one hand, the merger makes sense from UH's standpoint because it would provide the chronically-undercapitalized UH (endowment about $750 million or so) with access to capital (A&M's endowment is between $6-7 billion) that is the biggest obstacle in UH's path to Tier 1 status.

On the other hand, the merger makes sense from A&M's standpoint because UH would provide A&M with the urban presence that it has always lacked and UH's central campus in Houston that A&M could use as a carrot for attracting better teachers and students. Moreover, A&M for years has desired a law school and UH would deliver a very good one.

So, I asked the UH regent, such a merger makes sense, doesn't it?

The UH regent proceeded to give me a half-dozen reasons why the proposed merger would never work, most of which were tied to the fact that he would no longer be a member of an independent university system board if such a merger were consummated.

That is precisely the attitude that has placed Texas behind states such as California and New York in the development of Tier 1 research institutions and all the benefits that such universities provide to the state and its communities. Here's hoping that similar attitudes don't scuttle what appears to be a very good idea for Rice, Baylor and Houston.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

September 3, 2008

Assessing priorities at TSU

rudley 090208This Jeannie Kever/Chronicle article follows up on new Texas Southern University President John Rudley's efforts to find a place for the institution within Houston's changing marketplace for university education (prior posts on TSU are here).

Beyond academic programs that remain on probation and terrible financial problems, TSU's core problem is that its former role as Houston's open admissions university has been superseded by the University of Houston-Downtown, which is a far superior to TSU at this point in time. Rudley has brought over a team of administrators from the University of Houston to straighten out TSU's thorny administrative and financial issues. But the even greater problem is that Houston may simply not need two open admissions universities, particularly in light of the growth of Houston Community College and various suburban community college systems over the past decade or so.

Although Rudley appears to be the type of administrator that TSU needs if it is going to survive, the following portion of this Ronnie Turner Chronicle blog interview with new TSU Athletic Director Charles McClelland reflects the entrenched mindset that Rudley will have to overcome if he is going to redefine TSU's place in the local education marketplace:

RT: At what stage are you in negotiations with the Dynamo on a partnership for a football stadium?

CM: Well, we're still in the same stage with the Dynamo. We have all of our talking points. We've brought in a consultant to help us close the deal with the Dynamo to ensure that we have all of our t's crossed and i's dotted. Once that's done, we'll have to get it to our board for approval. My understanding is that the Dynamo have moved forward on their end to help get the funding that's needed, and we're still extremely optimistic that the stadium will generate the type of notoriety, revenue and resources (needed) for us to take our football program to the next level. We're extremely excited about the opportunity with the Dynamo.

As noted earlier here, unless the terms of TSU's proposed deal for use of the soccer stadium are changed radically in TSU's favor, no responsible TSU administrator or trustee would ever approve the deal. However, rather than pursuing such a dubious deal, shouldn't TSU administrators and trustees really be asking themselves why a financially-strapped institution such as TSU is continuing to support notoriously unprofitable intercollegiate athletic programs at all?

Good luck, President Rudley. You're going to need it.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 5, 2008

CNET visits the JSC

lunar rover CNET's Road Trip 2008 blog visits the Johnson Space Center in the Clear Lake area of Houston (photos here). The article and accompanying photos are a good primer for the always interesting visit to the JSC.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

June 23, 2008

Clear thinking to begin the week

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 31, 2008

I would have never guessed

albertusmagnus 053108 That, according to this handy database, this person would have given the most commencement speeches during this current season of university graduation ceremonies.

Similarly, I would not have guessed the city in the world that is home to the most billionaires.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 28, 2008

Hope on the horizon

hope on the horizon Following up on this post from awhile back, don't tell the folks at MIT that the prospects for mankind are gloomy. Check out this MIT News article that resulted from the institute's news office asking a collection of MIT faculty and researchers for their thoughts on the potentially life-altering technologies that are just around the corner.

Despite what the presidential candidates say, it's not all that bleak out there, folks!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 1, 2008

Neuroscience and the Law

Neuroscience and the Law I am always on the lookout for creative and interesting Continuing Legal Education seminars. This one clearly fits the bill:

Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law is proud to announce its 2008 Conference. This conference showcases talks from experts in several aspects of neurolaw. Topics include responsibility, punishment, prediction, rehabilitation, brain death, genetics, competence, intention, and ethics – all with an eye toward understanding how cutting edge neuroscience will touch the current practice of law.

The conference, which is worth 3.5 hours of CLE credit, will take place on Friday, May 23, 2008, from 1-5 p.m. at Baylor College of Medicine (Room M321) in the Texas Medical Center. One of the speakers for the conference is Daniel Goldberg, a local attorney and former Texas Supreme Court clerk who is currently working on his PhD at the University of Texas Medical Branch while serving as a Research Professor at Baylor's Initiative on Neuroscience and Law and as a Health Policy Fellow at Baylor's Chronic Disease Prevention & Control Research Center (Daniel is also a frequent commenter on health care and health care finance issues on this blog). The preliminary agenda for the conference is here. Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

April 24, 2008

UH Law Center gets it right

Ray Nimmer 042408 Ray Nimmer is truly one of Houston's treasures. The Leonard Childs Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, Ray is one of the nation's leading authorities on business and bankruptcy law, computer information licensing, e-commerce, and related intellectual property issues, all of which he has addressed in the 20 or so books and numerous articles that he has written over his superlative 30+ year teaching career.

However, even more importantly, Ray is a gifted teacher who has taught a remarkably broad variety of courses at the UH Law Center over the past 30 years, including Contracts, Contract Drafting, Evidence, Bankruptcy, Corporate Reorganization Law, Internet Law, Electronic Commerce, Secured Financing Law, Negotiable Instruments, Copyright Law, Information Law, Sales, and Licensing Law. Somehow, Ray has even found the time to maintain a blog

For the past couple of years, Ray has been serving as the Interim Dean at the law school, where he has done an excellent job of patching things up after the divisive resignation of the previous dean, Nancy Rapaport. As noted in this post from when Ray was appointed Interim Dean, I couldn't think of a better choice for the new permanent dean than Ray. Thus, I was happy to see this UH press release Wednesday confirming Ray's appointment to that position (Mary Flood's Chron article on the announcement is here). Ray released the following statement to friends, alumni and students:

As many of you know, in 2006 I agreed to serve as interim dean of the Law Center while a nationwide search for a permanent dean was conducted. That search has now been completed – and today I have accepted the position of Law Center Dean offered to me by Dr. Donald Foss, the provost of the University of Houston, subject to the approval of the UH Board of Regents.

In many ways, it remains business as usual at our school. Two years ago, this is what I told my team when I stepped in as interim dean:

Here’s what you can expect from me. I am pragmatic, oriented to understanding and explicating the role of law and lawyers in society, and I am committed to leading a team that will distinguish our Law Center as being among the best in academia and a major factor in the practical practice of law. I believe in action and achievement. I applaud people who target goals—and invest the necessary work to achieve them. And I am determined to give our highly skilled faculty, administrators and students the support they need to maneuver and achieve.

That’s been my approach over the past two years as we energized the Law Center and continued the “pursuit of excellence” in everything we do. Our momentum is reflected in our 15-point improvement in national rankings, two “Top 10” specialty programs, and record-high LSAT scores for our newest class.

I took the job of interim dean for a simple reason: because I believed the Law Center was on the cusp of great achievement, and I wanted to help my school reach that goal. Today, I am accepting the position of permanent dean for the same reason, and I am 100% committed to pushing us higher into the top echelon of Tier 1 law schools.

It is an honor following the seven men and women who previously served as permanent dean and contributed to the greatness of our school. With help from the entire Law Center community, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Congratulations to Ray for the much-deserved appointment and to the UH administration for making the right decision.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

February 28, 2008

I'm shocked, shocked! There is academic cheating in big-time college football!

claude rains in casablanca145 The entertaining hypocrisy of big-time college athletics continues at Florida State University. (H/T Jay Christensen). Just like Rick's Cafe, everybody knows what's going on, too.

So, what level of embarrassment in regard to "academic integrity" is it going to take to prompt university presidents to reorganize big-time college football into the professional minor league business that is its true nature?

This imbroglio reminds me of an insight into academia that my late mentor, Ross Lence, passed along to me years ago. As regular readers of this blog know, A Man for All Seasons -- the story of Sir Thomas More's conflict with King Henry VIII -- is one of my favorite movies and it was one of Ross' favorites, too. Ross particularly enjoyed the scene early in the movie when Sir Thomas attempts unsuccessfully to persuade his student, Richard Rich, to eschew a political appointment for a teaching career. After rejecting Sir Thomas' advice, Rich takes a political appointment from Henry's henchman, Thomas Cromwell, in return for agreeing to betray Sir Thomas.

"Sir Thomas knew that Rich had a corrupt heart and would never be able to resist the corrupt temptations of politics," Ross observed to me once with a chuckle. "So he recommended that Rich become a teacher." Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Ross posited the question for discussion:

"But was Sir Thomas suggesting that a corrupt heart is not a problem for an academic?"

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) |

February 25, 2008

Re-defining TSU

Robertson StadiumLeave it to new Texas Southern University President, John Rudley. He's not wasting any time before trying to shake things up at the chronically-troubled public university (previous posts here):

Texas Southern University's new president wants to end the school's long-standing practice of accepting all applicants, no matter their academic background, saying the policy contributes to its alarmingly low graduation rate.

President John Rudley said the change is necessary to remake the state's largest historically black university, which has been on the ropes recently because of management missteps, sliding enrollment and bad press.

As noted in this recent post, Rudley has his worked cut out for him in re-defining TSU's mission. The University of Houston-Downtown Campus has far surpassed TSU as the favored open-enrollment institution in the Houston area. Consequently, TSU must redefine itself or face becoming irrelevant. It's not clear to me Rudley's plan is the best one for TSU, but I admire him for his vision. It's badly needed at TSU.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

February 22, 2008

Compensation through resort privileges

Disch-Falk%20Field.jpg
Check out the renovated digs for the University of Texas baseball team at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin.

Even the most defensible big-time intercollegiate sport is now funneling compensation to its players through "resort privileges." The renovated locker room at Disch-Falk looks better than most university faculty lounges that I've seen.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

February 6, 2008

The First and Last 100 Days?

uh%20fountain.pngOver at the University of Houston, the university is celebrating the arrival of its impressive new Chancellor and President, Renu Khator. As a part of that celebration, the university has posted this interesting website entitled Building Our Future: The First 100 Days that solicits ideas from the university and Houston communities on the direction of the city's primary public university. Check it out and participate in an exciting time for UH.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the optimism scale, the desperate state of Texas Southern University continues. Ubu Roi over at blogHouston.net provides this good overview of the daunting challenges facing new TSU President, John Rudley (previous posts on TSU are here). As Roi points out, one of TSU's better schools -- its law school -- is at risk of losing its accreditation, and that news comes on the heels of a regional accrediting body recently placing the entire university on probation. Meanwhile, President Rudley is wrestling with the legislative requirements for obtaining $40 million in emergency funding that the institution desperately needs just to keep the lights on.

As noted earlier here, here, and here, TSU is a once-essential institution that is at serious risk of becoming irrelevant. During the era of segregated education in Texas, TSU was arguably Texas' best university for minority students. The institution educated many of Texas' finest minority leaders, including Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland. However, over the past 20 years, TSU has been bypassed by both the University of Houston-Downtown Campus and Houston Community College as the preferred open admissions alternatives for the Houston area's college students.

At this point, a merger of TSU with one of the other university systems probably makes the most sense, but even that alternative is not easy. Merging UH-Downtown and TSU would serve the purpose of largely consolidating Houston's open admissions institutions, but the UH system does not have sufficient endowed capital to absorb TSU, a shameful legacy of Texas' underfunding of UH's endowment in comparison to the other two major public university systems in Texas, the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems. Texas A&M already has an open admissions university in its system at Prairie View A&M and UT probably has little interest in increasing its investment in the Houston area given the UT Health Science Center's huge presence in the Texas Medical Center. So, TSU is not a particularly good fit for those far wealthier systems, either.

Thus, at least for the time being, TSU will continue to muddle along. But don't be fooled. TSU is on life support and the emergency measures for keeping it alive are are inadequate to provide the long-term vision that the university needs. It's well past time for state and community leaders to put their parochial interests aside and come up with a long-term plan for TSU that provides the institution with a specific purpose within the framework of college alternatives for Houston area residents. Sadly, dangling $40 million in front of TSU to keep the lights on is not going to accomplish much of anything in defining TSU's purpose.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

February 3, 2008

WinkingSkull.com

WinkingSkull.com.jpgCheck out WinkingSkull.com, a worthy counterpart to the Visual Medical Dictionary (noted earlier here) in better understanding anatomy and medical conditions.

Along those lines, did you know that "the bacteria count in the plaque on human teeth approaches the bacteria count in human feces?" (H/T Kevin, MD)

Still biting those fingernails? ;^)

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

January 21, 2008

Visual Medical Dictionary

Visual%20Medical%20Dictionary.pngThis is quite interesting.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

January 8, 2008

YouTube for eggheads?

bigthink_logo.gifThis looks as if it has great potential. The NY Times has the background story on the project.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 18, 2007

Kling on GMU Economics

GMU_PLogo_RGB.jpgArnold Kling provides this interesting TCS Daily op-ed on the innovative George Mason University Economics Department, whose members have done a remarkable job over the past several years promoting the understanding of economics issues through the blogosphere. As Kling noted earlier here:

I like to put it his way: at [the University of] Chicago, they say "Markets work well. Let's use markets." At MIT, they say "Markets fail. Let's use government." At GMU, they say "Markets fail. Let's use markets."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 12, 2007

Thinking about think tanks

AEI.jpgOn the announcement of his retirement next year as president of the American Enterprise Institute, Chistopher DeMuth provides a large dose of common sense in this OpinionJournal op-ed:

Think tanks are identified in the public mind as agents of a particular political viewpoint. It is sometimes suggested that this compromises the integrity of their work. Yet their real secret is not that they take orders from, or give orders to, the Bush administration or anyone else. Rather, they have discovered new methods for organizing intellectual activity--superior in many respects (by no means all) to those of traditional research universities.

To be sure, think tanks--at least those on the right--do not attempt to disguise their political affinities in the manner of the (invariably left-leaning) universities. We are "schools" in the old sense of the term: groups of scholars who share a set of philosophical premises and take them as far as we can in empirical research, persuasive writing, and arguments among ourselves and with those of other schools.

This has proven highly productive. It is a great advantage, when working on practical problems, not to be constantly doubling back to first principles. We know our foundations and concentrate on the specifics of the problem at hand. We like to work on hard problems, and there are many fertile disagreements in our halls over bioethics, school reform, the rise of China, constitutional interpretation and what to do about Korea and Iran.

Think tanks aim to produce good research not only for its own sake but to improve the world. We are organized in ways that depart sharply from university organization. Think-tank scholars do not have tenure, make faculty appointments, allocate budgets or offices or sit on administrative committees. These matters are consigned to management, leaving the scholars free to focus on what they do best. Management promotes the scholars' output with an alacrity that would make many university administrators uncomfortable.

And we pay careful attention to the craft of good speaking and writing. Many AEI scholars do technical research for academic journals, but all write for a wider audience as well. When new arrivals from academia ask me whom they should write for, I tell them: for your Mom. That is, for an interested, sympathetic reader who may not know beans about the technical aspects of your work but wants to know what you've discovered and why it makes a difference.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

September 14, 2007

Not an advertisement for Vista

Vista%20logo.jpgDon't look for Warren Meyer to be a spokesman for Microsoft Vista any time soon:

The laptop I bought my kids 6 months ago is rapidly becoming the worst purchase I have ever made. Not because the laptop is bad, but because of a momentary lack of diligence I bought one with Vista installed. It has been a never-ending disaster trying to get this computer to work. [. . .]

Vista is rapidly becoming the New Coke of operating systems. I have had every version of windows on my computer at one time or another, including Windows 1.0 and the egregious Windows ME, and I can say with confidence Vista is the worst of them all by far.

Read Meyer's entire post, which he backs up quite well. Meanwhile, sales of Vista continue to lag badly behind those of XP.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (3) |

August 15, 2007

Criminalizing the Dean's Office

Belushi_in_Animal_House.jpgThe seemingly insatiable desire of American prosecutors to criminalize as many ordinary and law-abiding citizens as possible has now reached the Dean's office:

A pair of schools officials, including the dean of students, and three students from Rider University have the campus community stunned after being charged with aggravated hazing in the death of a freshman student that died following a night of binge drinking at a fraternity house late last March, authorities said Friday. [. . .]

"The ramifications of this for colleges and universities in New Jersey, and across the country, is that it will send some kind of message that the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully," Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. told the Associated Press.

Bocchini didn't mention that he could have also obtained the indictment of a ham sandwich if he had asked the grand jury for one. I'm looking forward to hearing about the "evidence" that the Dean had anything to do whatsoever with the alleged hazing incident that led to this young man's unfortunate death. If, as I suspect, there isn't any, then what exactly is the message that Bocchini is sending?

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) |

June 14, 2007

Probably not the best spokesman for home schooling

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (3) |

Banning the live bloggers

Live%20blogging.JPGThe National Collegiate Athletic Association's dubious regulation of intercollegiate athletics has been a frequent topic on this blog, but I must admit that this absurd example of overwrought regulatory control from last weekend's NCAA Super-Regional baseball series surprised even me:

Everybody can watch a game on TV and put their musings online. But don't try blogging from a press box at an NCAA championship.

After the NCAA tossed Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Brian Bennett for doing just that at an NCAA baseball tournament game Sunday actually revoking his media credential during a Louisville-Oklahoma State super regional game it said Monday that it was just protecting its rights.

Like rights to live game radio or TV coverage, suggests NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson, live coverage online is a longstanding "protected right" that is bought and sold. Blogging reporters can report about things such as game "atmosphere," he says in an e-mail, but "any reference to game action" could cost them their credentials.

Christianson says those online "rights" were packaged into media deals with CBS and ESPN which aired the game. Monday, ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said "our rights are the live TV rights. We didn't ask them (to take the reporter's credential.) And they didn't ask us."

A similar incident occurred at the Rice-Texas A&M Super-Regional in Houston.

Howard Wasserman analyzes the speech restriction issues, while Rich Karcher reviews it from an intellectual property standpoint. And the NY Times is reporting today that the Courier-Journal is weighing whether to mount a legal challenge to the NCAA's action on First Amendment grounds.

What on earth are these NCAA-types thinking?

By the way, not everyone is pleased with the way in which Rice won the Houston Super-Regional.

Posted by Tom at 4:05 AM | Comments (1) |

June 1, 2007

Nothing changes at TSU

tsu053107.gifAs bad as Texas Southern University's chronic problems are, they can be resolved through a combination of forceful leadership and common sense. However, intractable local and state political forces prevent TSU's problems from being addressed effectively. Consequently, it is somehow appropriate that the first act of the new board of trustees of TSU to address TSU's financial problems is taken against the folks least capable of resolving those problems -- i.e., the students:

Texas Southern University's regents approved a new round of tuition increases Wednesday, with students paying 8 percent more at the historically black institution this fall. [. . .]

The tuition hike follows a 22 percent increase last year. The university had tried in previous years to hold off increases because of the potential hardship for students, many of whom are working adults or recent high school graduates from low-income families.

Regents said they voted reluctantly for the tuition increase, but the university's financial problems required the additional revenue.

TSU's tuition is now higher than Houston's other open-admissions university, the University of Houston Downtown Campus, which does a better job of educating its students than TSU.

I put the over/under for the next scandal at TSU at three years.

Posted by Tom at 4:04 AM | Comments (1) |

May 24, 2007

Proof that Texas legislators don't have enough to do

phys%20ed.jpgThe lead in to this Ft. Worth Star Telegram article is a dead giveaway that Texas legislators are in a "throw the money around" mood as they near the end of the legislative session:

Many Texas students are too fat, experts say, and face future health problems because of their poor fitness. This week, the Legislature may weigh whether a new annual fitness test can help whip them into better shape. Fitness guru Dr. Kenneth Cooper of Dallas teamed up with Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, to author legislation that would require schools to monitor students' health to prevent childhood obesity . . .

According to the bill, students in kindergarten through fifth grade must have moderate or vigorous" activity for 30 minutes each day. Students in grades six, seven and eight must have physical activity 30 minutes a day for four semesters. Additionally, schools must annually assess the physical fitness of students in grades three through eight. Under the legislation, the Texas Education Agency would be asked to adopt a testing tool that measures aerobic capacity, body composition, muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.

According to the bill, the TEA must also analyze the data for a correlation between physical fitness and academic achievement, attendance, disciplinary problems and obesity . . .

The wording in the bill that describes the required testing tool mirrors language on the Web site for Cooper's FitnessGram, developed in 1982 to measure health and fitness levels of children . . . The FitnessGram would cost about $230 for each child when purchased from its distributor, Human Kinetics. The nonprofit Cooper Institute receives $30 from each sale.

Sandy Szwarc nicely sums up the skimpy clinical evidence upon which the above-described legislation is based:

The bottom line was that [Harvard School of Public Health] researchers were not able to clearly establish a direction between fitness and overweight. Meaning, the slightly lower levels of athleticism among heavier children didnt necessarily point to that as being the cause for their size, nor that trying to turn them into better athletes will make them slimmer.

There is no credible evidence that the levels of physical activity and fitness among fat children are less than thinner kids to explain their diversity in sizes. There is no credible evidence that school or after-school physical activity programs reduce obesity among children. The medical evidence long ago demonstrated that heredity and genes account for aerobic capacity, upper body strength and athletic prowess. Researchers have also found that different children have different physical aptitudes, just like academic and artistic abilities. Research, for example, in the journal of the North Association for the Study of Obesity, Obesity Research, found that obese and nonobese school kids had similar levels of physical activity, while nonobese boys engaged in more sports. The fat children did poorer on propulsion tasks, but showed greater grip strength and similar scores with the other kids on overall fitness.

Posted by Tom at 4:05 AM | Comments (0) |

May 21, 2007

"Superstar historian"?

doug%20brinkley_large.jpgPlease excuse three straight posts bashing various Chronicle articles, but this Chronicle/Allan Turner reads like a press release from Rice University regarding the institution's hiring of former Tulane University history professor, Douglas Brinkley:

The man who once took a busload of college students on a madcap tour of the nation's historic and natural wonders, including the Grand Canyon and author Ken Kesey's farm, may be just what Rice University's austere public policy think tank needs to make itself a household name.

That, at least, was the hope on Thursday as university officials explored the possible benefits of their latest faculty hire New Orleans superstar historian Douglas Brinkley might bring to Rice and its Baker Institute of Public Policy.

A protege of best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose and a regular commentator for CBS News, Brinkley is renowned for his ability to make complex ideas understandable. He is a prolific author, and his 700-plus page tome chronicling Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast will receive the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Book Award later this month.

Brinkley, said Baker founding director Edward Djerejian, could be "a bridge between the world of ideas and action," helping the institute spread its policy recommendations to the general public.

"He's going to bring us a huge amount of visibility," added Rice humanities dean Gary Wihl.

"Superstar historian"? That characterization of Brinkley is certainly not shared by all in the academic community, as noted in this earlier post regarding this William McCrary review of Brinkley's Hurricane Katrina book:

Let me confess that I haven't read all of the writings of Douglas Brinkley. I doubt that anyone -- perhaps not even Mr. Brinkley himself -- has ever done that. He is a veritable ... deluge of literary productivity, with books to his credit on a dizzying array of subjects, ranging from Beat poetry to Jimmy Carter, and from Henry Ford to, most recently, the failed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Indeed, the range of his literary productions is so wide as to seem indiscriminate. But his bestknown writings seem to have three things in common.

First and foremost is their relentless mediocrity. I cannot think of a historian or public intellectual who has managed to make himself so prominent in American public life without having put forward a single memorable idea, a single original analysis, or a single lapidary phrase -- let alone without publishing a book that has had any discernable impact. Mr. Brinkley is, to use Daniel Boorstin's famous words, a historian famous for being well-known.

For what it's worth, I have read both Brinkley's book on Hurricane Katrina and Jed Horne's Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great Ameican City (Random House 2006). Horne's book is a good read and far superior to Brinkley's book, which is borderline unreadable.

Moreover, this skeptical view of Brinkley's academic talent is not new. Back in 1999, Slate's David Platz penned this well-know article about Brinkley taking advantage of his friendship with John F. Kennedy, Jr. to publicize himself after Kennedy's death in a plane crash:

According to the Washington Post, Brinkley cut a $10,000 deal with NBC for a week of exclusive Kennedy commentary, but then agreed to provide it pro bono. Editors at George [Kennedy's magazine] are reportedly so annoyed about Brinkley's death punditry that they have dropped him from the masthead.

Even amid this week's staggering hyperbole, Brinkley's emotional profligacy has distinguished him. He is, as he rarely fails to remind his audience, 38 years old like Kennedy, a vegetarian like Kennedy, and a Sagittarius like Kennedy. That identification with Kennedy accounts in part for Brinkley's tenuous proposition: that Kennedy's death is the signal event of his generation, the moment Gen X lost its innocence. In the opening paragraph of his New York Times op-ed, Brinkley opined: "It's as if suddenly, an entire generation's optimism is deflated, and all that is left is the limp reality of growing old." Kennedy's death may have affected his friend Brinkley this way. I am not sure anyone else outside Kennedy's circle was so moved.[ . . .]

Brinkley's sunniness and ardor are appealing, but his public history has its shortcomings. His idols, Ambrose and Schlesinger, have won the admiration of the academy and the public. Brinkley has won the public but has not wowed the academy. Some of his colleagues' dismay is simply jealousy of his entrepreneurship, but some is more substantive. His books read like good journalism--and that's no insult--but they are not great history. "He has made no analytical contribution at all," says one Ivy League historian who professes to like Brinkley.

I am glad that the Chronicle considers Rice's hiring of a history professor is newsworthy. However, for the Chron article not even to mention the well-known doubts about the academic merit of Brinkley's work is the type of cheerleading usually reserved for the Chronicle sportspage.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

March 9, 2007

Levinson and Balkin on the Dred Scott case

dscott.jpgLongtime University of Texas Law Professor Sandy Levinson has teamed up with Jack Balkin of Balkinization fame to author a new SSRN paper, 13 Ways of Looking at Dred Scott. For a provocative abstract, check the following out:

Dred Scott v. Sanford is a classic case that is relevant to almost every important question of contemporary constitutional theory.

Dred Scott connected race to social status, to citizenship, and to being a part of the American people. One hundred fifty years later these connections still haunt us; and the twin questions of who is truly American and who American belongs to still roil our national debates.

Dred Scott is a case about threats to national security and whether the Constitution is a suicide pact. It concerns whether the Constitution follows the flag and whether constitutional rights obtain in federally held lands overseas. And it asks whether, as Chief Justice Taney famously said of blacks, there are indeed some people who have no rights we Americans are bound to respect.

Dred Scott remains the most salient example in debates over the legitimacy of substantive due process. It subverts our intuitions about the relative merits of originalism and living constitutionalism. It symbolizes the problem of constitutional evil and the question whether responsibility for great injustices lies in the Constitution itself or in the judges who apply it.

Finally, Dred Scott encapsulates the central problems of judicial review in a constitutional democracy. On the one hand, Dred Scott raises perennial questions about the judicial role in cases of profound moral and political disagreement, and about judicial responsibility for the backlash and political upheaval that may result from judicial review. On the other hand, the political context of the Dred Scott decision suggests that the Supreme Court rarely strays far from the wishes of the dominant national political coalition. It raises the unsettling possibility that, given larger social and political forces, what courts do in highly contested cases is far less important than we imagine.

Posted by Tom at 4:47 AM | Comments (0) |

February 25, 2007

Larry Ribstein's big day

ribstein.jpgGreat teachers are a popular topic on this blog (see here and here), so I would be remiss if I didn't note that the University of Illinois College of Law conducted the investiture ceremony earlier this week honoring Clear Thinkers favorite Larry Ribstein as the holder of the Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair at the school.

The blawgosphere has undergone such explosive growth over the past several years that we are still too close to it to realize the full extent of the seismic shift that it has caused in the area of legal research and analysis. But make no mistake about it, Professor Ribstein has been at the forefront of this sea change, literally pushing legal scholarship from what had been mostly closed conversations between fellow academics into a hugely valuable resource that is now readily available to millions over the Web. Already the leading expert in the U.S. in the area of unincorporated business associations, Professor Ribstein has become one of the blawgosphere's most insightful thinkers on corporate governance issues and the effects of regulation on markets and business. His Ideoblog blog has contributed at least as much to the understanding and appreciation of business law issues over the past three years as any Web resource of which I am aware.

The video of Larry's investiture ceremony is here. Larry's acceptance speech begins at about the 14 and a half minute mark of the program and is essentially a review of the impact that the study of markets has had on his marvelous career. Having the opportunity to watch a top notch academic at the top of his game is always an enjoyable experience, so pull up a chair and watch Larry's speech. Besides, unless you watch the video, how else are you going to learn the story of how Larry's blog is really the result of failed entrepreneurial ventures involving hamsters and an animal cemetery?

Posted by Tom at 4:07 AM | Comments (0) |

February 22, 2007

Off to the Advanced Business Bankruptcy Conference

Business%20Bankruptcy%20Course%20pic.gifI'm buzzing up to downtown Dallas for the day to participate in the State Bar of Texas CLE's 25th Annual Advanced Business Bankruptcy Conference at the Adolphus Hotel. If you happen to be in downtown Dallas today and have some free time, then come on by and say hello and perhaps even take in a part of the conference. This is consistently one of the State Bar's best prepared and most informative continuing legal education programs.

The conference brochure is here, and the updated outline for my talk -- Business Bankruptcy Blogs -- is here.

Posted by Tom at 4:56 AM | Comments (0) |

February 7, 2007

Institutionalized fanaticism

signing%20day.jpgIf your friends or co-workers who follow college football closely are acting a bit stressed out today, then it's quite likely that the source of their anxiety is a 17 or 18 year old who they have never met.

Yes, today is that day of the absurd dubbed "National Signing Day" when we are deluged with the rather odd spectacle of grown men fawning over high school football players to induce them to come take advantage of their university's resort facilities rather than their competition's resort facilities. And, oh yeah, if they can earn a few "tips" from well-heeled alums while enjoying those resort facilities, then that's alright, too.

Indeed, this NY Times article already suggests that the University of Illinois' inexplicably strong recruiting class this year may be the result of cheating. With the proliferation of the blogosphere over the past couple of years, a host of blogs follow the recruiting wars closely and often with keen wit. The following are a few of the interesting posts on this year's recruiting season that I've stumbled across:

The Wizard of Odds explains why all of this competition over the quality of recruiting classes is largely meaningless;

The Sunday Morning QB examines the strange system in which all of this has evolved;

The House that Rock Built explores the ripple effect of recruiting decisions;

Every Day Should Be a Saturday reveals how recruiting foretold Rex Grossman's mediocre Super Bowl performance (just kidding);

A widget that displays a map reflecting where a school's recruits are coming from; and

The College Football Resource page has more information than you should ever want to know about this year's top recruits and where they are going.

Meanwhile, as university presidents continue to dither over this fundamentally flawed system of regulating rents, this post from a couple of years ago suggests that a better system is readily available so long as the colleges forsake being the NFL's free minor league system, a position with which Malcolm Gladwell agrees. As noted earlier here, big-time college football as presently structured is hopelessly corrupt, but it's a pretty darn entertaining form of corruption. Adopting a structure much closer to college baseball would likely minimize the corruptive elements of college football while not affecting the entertainment value of the sport much. But it's going to take leadership and courage from the top of the universities to promote and implement such a reform.

What are the chances of such leadership emerging? Probably about the same as Rice knocking off Texas next season in Austin.

Posted by Tom at 4:25 AM | Comments (0) |

February 2, 2007

Make sure they serve coffee

lawschool.jpgNorm Pattis over at Crime & Federalism isn't impressed with the following offering by the University of Connecticut School of Law this semester:

Seminar: Therapeutic Jurisprudence 692

Professor: Robert G. Madden, LCSW, JD

Course Description: Therapeutic Jurisprudence is an interdisciplinary approach to law that focuses on the impact of legal rules, processes and institutions on people's emotional lives and psychological well-being. Using this perspective, the course examines recent developments in several areas, including collaborative divorce law; creative problem solving; the establishment of drug treatment, domestic violence, mental health and other specialized courts; preventive law; procedural and restorative justice; and alternative dispute resolution. Readings include materials from psychology, criminology, social work, and other disciplines. The course is designed to emphasize how therapeutic jurisprudence may enrich the practice of law through the integration of interdisciplinary, non-adversarial, nontraditional, creative, collaborative, and psychologically-beneficial legal experiences.

Imagine the implications for courtroom exchanges during courtroom testimony:

"Objection, your honor."

"What's your objection?"

"Contrary to sound social policy."

Posted by Tom at 5:20 AM | Comments (1) |

January 27, 2007

Update on university endowments

U%20of%20H%20Alumni%20Center%20Exterior%20Signature.jpgThe financing of public universities (see here and here) and college education generally (see here) have been frequent topics recently, so this National Association of College and University Business Officers publication ranking the 765 top endowments of U.S. universities is timely (last year's ranking is here). Here are the rankings of some universities that will be of interest to most Texans:

1 Harvard University $28.9 billion
2 Yale University $18.0 billion
3 Stanford University $14.0 billion
4 University of Texas System $13.2 billion
10 Texas A&M University System $5.64 billion
19 Rice University $3.98 billion
55 Southern Methodist University $1.22 billion
57 Baylor College of Medicine $1.0 billion
62 Texas Christian University $1.0 billion
65 University of Oklahoma $960 million
73 Baylor University $870 million
80 Trinity University (San Antonio) $815 million
100 Louisiana State University System $593 million
116 Texas Tech University $540 million
135 University of Houston System $454 million
190 Southwestern University (Georgetown) $280 million
217 Abilene Christian University $228 million
297 St. Mary's University (San Antonio) TX $135 million
315 Austin College (Sherman) $120 million
325 Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Austin) $110 million
362 Hardin-Simmons University (Abilene) $88 million
375 Houston Baptist University $82 million
389 Angelo State University $77 million
419 University of North Texas $66 million
437 Texas State University-San Marcos $61,596
449 Texas Lutheran University (Seguin) $58,524
466 St. Edward's University (Austin) $54 million
472 McMurry University (Abilene) $53 million
494 University of St. Thomas (Houston) $48
497 East Texas Baptist University (Marshall) $47 million
510 University of Dallas $45 million
515 Howard Payne University $44 million
523 University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio) $42 million
524 Schreiner University (Kerrville) $42 million
580 Texas Wesleyan University (Ft. Worth) $32 million
763 Laredo Community College $1.9 million

Houston's problem-laden university -- Texas Southern University -- does not even make the list. Meanwhile, the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Rice University continue to maintain top 20 endowments, but the University of Houston continues to provide the most bang for the educational buck of any university system in Texas. Which is all the more reason why the state and the Houston area should be exploring ways to supplement UH's endowed capital in connection with elevation of the UH-Central Campus to tier I research university status.

Posted by Tom at 6:40 AM | Comments (0) |

January 26, 2007

What to do about TSU?

TSU.gifEarlier this week, the discussion in Texas education circles was the University of Houston's proposal to establish a third medical school in the Texas Medical School in conjunction with The Methodist Hospital and Cornell University. Today, the discussion turns toward one of chronic problems of the Texas system of public universities -- what to do about Texas Southern University?

Turns out that former TSU president Priscilla Slade's spending habits are the least of TSU's problems. TSU cannot come close to paying its current and projected liabilities, which include the following:

Deferred maintenance on buildings -- including daily pumping of water out of the school's administration building -- totaling $54 million over the next 10 years;

Missing purchase orders and outstanding payables from past years to vendors of $1.7 million owed without purchase orders and another $900,000 owed with purchase orders that were not budgeted;

Shuttle service and parking garages do not collect enough fees to support debt service on $34 million in construction projects. Who thought that they would?;

The athletics department has a $2 million operating deficit even though it is subsidized primarily with student fees;

The institution's computer and information technology is obsolescent and needs to be overhauled at a short term cost of more than $500,000, which is also not budgeted; and

There is a $1.2 million debt service shortfall on two new dorms that are not even fully occupied.

Governor Perry's office issued the usual strong words about TSU needing to fix its problems immediately. But, really. What the heck is the TSU board of regents to do in the short term? Hold bake sales to raise money?

Texas Southern's financial problems are chronic and are not going away absent a re-evaluation of its place among Texas public universities in general and the Houston area's need for multiple open admission institutions, in particular. Although it provided an important service to Texas in the days of segregation, TSU has been largely overtaken in providing the open admissions service to the Houston area by the University of Houston-Downtown, which does a better job of educating its students and, over the past decade or so, has grown into a larger institution than TSU. Of course, it helps that UH-D has access to the University of Houston system's relatively modest endowment, a distinct advantage that TSU has never enjoyed.

So, what to do with TSU? Well, it's clear that providing minimal emergency funding for its short-term financial problems -- the usual response -- is akin to throwing money on a dormant campfire. TSU needs to be merged into one of the major university systems -- the UH system probably makes the most sense at this point -- and then the legislature needs to provide realistic short-term and long-term funding while UH absorbs TSU, probably into a second UH-D campus. But however TSU is reorganized, one thing is clear -- providing funding for its current financial problems without a long-term plan for reorganizing the institution and redefining its purpose would be a failure of leadership, something that Texans have endured for far too long in the funding and administration of their public universities.

Posted by Tom at 4:16 AM | Comments (0) |

January 25, 2007

Thinking beyond the UH Medical School

TMC-arial.gifBlogHouston.net's Kevin Whited notes this Chronicle/Todd Ackerman article about the University of Houston floating a proposed new Texas Medical Center-based medical school in a collaborative project with The Methodist Hospital and Cornell University's Weill Medical School.

Unfortunately for UH, the proposal has zilch chance of floating for much more than a few minutes amidst the shark-infested waters of Texas educational politics. Heck, the political forces in Texas cannot even agree to provide adequate funding of UH's uncriticizable goal of becoming the state's third tier I research university. The University of Texas, Texas A&M University, and Baylor College of Medicine -- Methodist's former longtime partner -- are just a few of the powerful political forces that would almost certainly line up against the UH-Methodist proposal.

Yet, the UH-Methodist proposal has merit, so here's a proposed modification. Rather than start another medical school from scratch, let's merge the University of Houston system with the Texas A&M system and have A&M expand its fledgling medical school into the Texas Medical Center from its current central Texas outpost. From a broader standpoint, the merger makes sense because it gives the A&M system something that it desperately needs -- a major urban presence -- while also giving UH something that it has always lacked -- that is, access to adequate endowed capital. Such a merger would also provide A&M with the law school that it has always coveted and would greatly facilitate UH's elevation into a tier I research institution, which is something that would substantially benefit the Houston area.

While the University of Texas would almost certainly oppose such a merger, perhaps a deal could be struck at the same time to merge the Texas Tech University system into the UT system while organizing the remainder of Texas' non-affiliated public universities into a third university system for funding and administrative purposes. Such a structure would give Texas a similar structure to that of the reasonably successful California model, which has generated far more first rate, tier I research universities (10) than the current dysfunctional Texas system (2). Indeed, almost anything would be a huge improvement over the current Texas system, which allocates a disproportionate amount of endowed capital to the UT and A&M systems while starving the remainder of Texas' public universities.

Make sense? You bet. Chances of happening? Probably not much. But just as UCLA and Cal-Berkeley co-exist productively in the same university system in California, UH and A&M could do the same in Texas. And just as two major university systems work side-by-side together to educate Californians, a similar structure would be a substantial improvement in the educational system of Texas.

Posted by Tom at 4:54 AM | Comments (1) |

January 24, 2007

The sad story of Denice Denton

Denice%20Denton.jpgDenice Denton grew up in the Houston area, went to MIT to study engineering, won a number of research awards and eventually signed on in 1987 as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, where she was the only female faculty member in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the time. She continued to excel at Wisconsin and by 1996, Denton was hired at the age of 37 as the first female engineering dean at a major US research university in the U.S. (the University of Washington's College of Engineering).

Thus, it was not particularly surprising that Denton was named as chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2004, the youngest chancellor in the UC system. Less than two years later, an embattled Denton went on medical leave and checked herself into the Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital at the University of California at San Francisco. On June 24, 2006, after checking out of the hospital, Denton committed suicide by leaping from a high-rise apartment building in San Francisco.

This Paul Fain/Arts & Letters Daily article covers the final few weeks of Denton's life, and it's fascinating look into the intersection of depression, political correctness, anti-political correctness, and the byzantine world of academic politics. Definitely not a life for the faint-hearted.

Posted by Tom at 5:49 AM | Comments (0) |

January 18, 2007

The Murray education series

rice_5.jpgThe American Enterprise Institute's W. H. Brady Scholar, Charles Murray, completes today a provocative three-part series in the WSJ's OpinionJournal on education in America (earlier installments are here and here.

As with Murray's many books and this earlier piece on reforming welfare, Murray presents his thoughts on education in a compelling and provocative manner, urging us to modify our thoughts and societal prejudices regarding education and intelligence. Murray's emphasis on IQ as a standard for tailoring education puts some people off, which is unfortunate. As he concludes below, Murray's purpose is to provoke discussion on changing attitudes and prejudices that undermine productive and sensitive reforms in our educational system:

The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.

Don't miss this series. The three installments are as follows:

Intelligence in the Classroom: Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them.

What's Wrong With Vocational School? Too many Americans are going to college.

Aztecs vs. Greeks: Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise.

Posted by Tom at 4:22 AM | Comments (2) |

January 16, 2007

The Admiral of San Antonio

David%20Robinson_vi.jpgOne of my sisters, Mary, is a pediatrician who lives in Boerne and works in San Antonio.

Although sister Mary couldn't care less about professional sports in general and professional basketball in particular, she knows who former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson is and admires him a great deal. This NY Times article explains why.

Robinson made a lot of money in San Antone while playing for the Spurs, embraced the community during his playing days and decided to stick around and give back to the community after his playing career was over. Bully for him.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

January 10, 2007

Those pesky dealbreakers

kill-all-lawyers.gifIn this TCS Daily op-ed, Professor Bainbridge weighs in on a problem that businesspeople invariably complain about in connection with the handling of contractual matters relating to their business -- those damn dealbreakin' transactional lawyers:

In his book, The Terrible Truth About Lawyers, Mark H. McCormack, founder of the International Management Group, a major sports and entertainment agency, wrote that "it's the lawyers who: (1) gum up the works; (2) get people mad at each other; (3) make business procedures more expensive than they need to be; and now and then deep-six what had seemed like a perfectly workable arrangement. Accordingly, I would say that the best way to deal with lawyers is not to deal with them at all."

Pretty depressing stuff, especially if you hope to make a living as a transactional lawyer.

Bainbridge sums up by providing wise advice not only to transactional lawyers, but to any lawyer attempting to make a living resolving business issues:

All of which is why both legal education and the apprenticeship served by young associates must emphasize not only legal doctrine but also economics and business. It may still be possible for someone lacking any knowledge of finance and economics to be a successful mergers and acquisitions lawyer, but I doubt it. As Mark McCormack observed, "when lawyers try to horn in on the business aspects of a deal, the practical result is usually confusion and wasted time." Transactional lawyers therefore must understand the business, financial, and economic aspects of deals so as to draft workable contracts and disclosure documents, conduct due diligence, or counsel clients on issues that require business savvy as well as knowing the law.

Posted by Tom at 4:38 AM | Comments (1) |

January 4, 2007

The most valuable college football programs

ohio_stadium2.jpgThis post from awhile back addressed the widespread insolvency in big-time college football. However, as this Forbes article on the 15 most valuable college football programs points out, a few big-time programs do quite well, thank you. Notre Dame's program tops the list at a value of $97 million, while the University of Texas' program slides in at second at $88 million and Texas A&M's program checks in at no. 15 with a value of $53 million. By the way, Notre Dame remains the most valuable program despite being consistently the most overrated program on the big-time college scene these days. With last night's loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl, the Irish have now lost nine straight bowl games since beating Texas A&M 24-21 in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.

A couple of surprises: Ohio State is only sixth on the list at $71 million, while the USC on the list is not the University of Southern California. Rather, it's the University of South Carolina at no. 14 with a value of $57 million. As you might expect, only teams from the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten Conference and Big 12 Conference made the Forbes list because those conferences have the most lucrative television deals with CBS, ESPN and ABC.

Finally, despite the value of these big-time programs, it is still decidedly minor league -- most NFL franchises are worth at least 10 times more than the most valuable college program.

Posted by Tom at 4:25 AM | Comments (0) |

December 22, 2006

A remarkable Aggie resource

Aggie complaint.gifDespite Desmond Howard's gaffe earlier this week, Texas A&M University is a fascinating and indelible part of Texas culture. Recognizing that stature, Texas A&M's Cushing Library has undertaken a remarkable project entitled "The Historic Images Collection--Historic Images and Photographs of the Texas A&M Community."

The collection is a treasure trove of interesting photographs, such as this one of a pre-1900s baseball squad. Another early baseball team is here, while this 1923 picture includes in the back row, second from left, King Gill, the original A&M 12th Man, and in the middle of the back row, Pat Olsen (the tallest one), a former major leaguer for whom the A&M baseball stadium is named. Finally, this picture of Aggie great Jacob Green from the 1970's shows the Emory Bellard-era striped shoulder football uniforms.

This is only a fraction of the photos in this remarkable collection, so take a few minutes to peruse the archive. Aggies take quite a bit of ribbing in Texas for their dogged adherence to tradition, but that respect for tradition is a big part of what produced this wonderful collection.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (1) |

December 19, 2006

Tributes to a marvelous teacher

lence (1).jpgToday is the birthday of the late Ross M. Lence, one of Houston's finest teachers of the past generation. On Dec. 1st -- the final day of classes for the fall semester at the University of Houston -- I was privileged to be one of the speakers at the University's memorial service for Ross at the A.D. Bruce Religion Center on the University's central campus.

As with most anything that involved the reasonable Dr. Lence, the service was a joyous affair, alternately hilarious and moving. Bill Monroe, one of Ross' colleagues at The Honors College, had one of the best cracks of the day when he passed along another colleague's observation about the notoriously difficult-to-pin-down Dr. Lence:

"A colleague and mutual friend said that, for over a decade, he thought Lence was a liberal Jew from Chicago, only to discover that he was a libertarian Catholic from White Fish, Montana."

After a festive reception at the UH Honors College, many of those who attended the memorial service walked across campus to Robertson Stadium to attend the Conference USA Championship game between the Houston Cougars and the Southern Mississippi, which the Coogs won in stirring style. All in all, a wonderful afternoon paying tribute to a dear friend and then an enjoyable evening of college football on a beautiful fall day in Houston.

The following are pdf's of the tributes to Ross delivered at the memorial service. Take a moment to read a bit about a great teacher and fine man who influenced the lives of thousands of Houstonians over the past 35 years:

The program for the memorial service is here;

Bill Monroe's opening and closing remarks are here;

Susan Collins, one of Ross' colleagues in the UH Political Science Department, gave this tribute and also passed along this tribute to Ross for PS Magazine that Susan wrote with former UH Political Science Professor Donald Lutz, who was instrumental in bringing Ross to the University of Houston;

Ed Willems, a UH Professor Emeritus of Psychology and a longtime teaching partner with Ross, gave this heartfelt tribute entitled "Ross Lence: He taught students and me."

Andy Little, one of Ross' longtime students and a student advisor in The Honors College, read Ross' moving essay On Teaching;"

My tribute to Ross is here, Harris County Treasurer-elect Orlando Sanchez's tribute is here, and the tribute of Jeff Dodd, a partner at Andrews & Kurth who specializes in corporate securities law, is here; and

Finally, Honors College Dean Ted Estess was scheduled to reprise his moving eulogy that he originally delivered in July at Ross' funeral mass, but he chose instead to pass along extemporaneously several anecdotes and observations about Ross, a couple of which brought the house down with laughter.

Inasmuch as Ross often used to help needy and deserving students financially, The Honors College has established a scholarship fund in Ross' name. Donations to that fund may be sent to the Ross Lence Scholarship Fund, The Honors College, University of Houston, 212 M.D. Anderson Library, Houston, TX 77204-2001.

Posted by Tom at 4:49 AM | Comments (0) |

December 17, 2006

The University of Houston Master Plan

UH stadium district.jpgThe University of Houston has been making some big plans recently, and this Matt Tresaugue/Chronicle article reviews them:

UH leaders intend to transform the campus with more housing, more restaurants, more shops and other places to be outside the classroom.

The goal, campus leaders said, is to create an environment that attracts the best scholars and encourages them to stick around. [. . .]

The plan also calls for doubling the usable square footage of classroom and office space, replacing parking lots with garages and closing part of Cullen to create a tree-lined pedestrian walkway by 2020.

What's more, the campus would meld with the surrounding Third Ward while reducing blight and encouraging more retailers to move in. University officials already are talking with private developers about a "town center" with shops and restaurants on both sides of Scott between Holman and Alabama.

Campus leaders do not know how much everything would cost but estimate the first five-year phase at $300 million, and largely at the university's expense. The redevelopment plan will be a key piece of an upcoming fundraising campaign, officials said.[ . . .]

The new plan would establish five themed precincts on campus, reflecting the "smart growth" trend elsewhere, with dense housing, retail and office space in village configurations.

The interior of the campus would be almost untouched.

To the north, campus leaders envision an arts village with a sculpture garden, outdoor amphitheater, cafes, galleries and housing, including loft apartments, on what are now parking lots.

About 1.6 million square feet of academic buildings and housing for graduate students would be added to the so-called professional precinct, to the east of the campus core.

Another area, the Wheeler precinct, would be devoted to undergraduates, with plans calling for low-rise residence halls to blend with the nearby University Oaks neighborhood.

To the west would be a Robertson Stadium precinct with 1.9 million square feet in new academic buildings, housing and retail near two proposed Metro light rail lines.

The University's summary of its master plan -- with renditions and video -- is here.

Despite the story on the ambitious UH master plan, the Chronicle still ignores the more important story about UH. As noted in this this previous post, UH in many ways is the most remarkable major public university in Texas. Started in 1927 as a junior college, UH grew quickly during its infancy while being endowed entirely with philanthropic contributions from generous Houstonians, which was made all the more remarkable by the fact that, at the same time, Houstonians were also contributing substantial amounts to the Rice University endowment. Inasmuch as bustling UH did not even become a state university until 1963, UH has received only a fraction of the endowed capital that the state has provided to its two older public university systems, the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. As a result, UH provides a comparable contribution to Houston and the state as UT and A&M while operating with far less capital than those two institutions, which prompted my earlier observation that UH provides "more bang for the educational buck" than either UT or A&M.

With the recent expansion of the MD Anderson Library into the centerpiece of the central campus, along with the development of innovative programs such as the Honors College, UH has already become an increasingly attractive choice for Texas students. Implementation of the master plan is the next logical step in that evolution. It's good that the local newspaper is noticing that, but it makes one wonder how much more benefit UH could contribute to Houston and the state if its endowed capital were on par with that of UT or A&M? That's a story that needs to be examined, and here's hoping that the Chronicle eventually tackles it.

Posted by Tom at 4:57 AM | Comments (1) |

November 28, 2006

Bainbridge Cubed!

s_bainbridge_5_x_7.jpgA month or so ago, Clear Thinkers favorite Stephen Bainbridge took some time off from blogging while revamping his blog site.

Now, he's back. And he's tripled!:

Professor Bainbridge's Business Associations Blog

Professor Bainbridge's Journal (Politics, Religion, Culture, Photography, and Dogs)

Professor Bainbridge on Wine

Posted by Tom at 4:16 AM | Comments (0) |

November 27, 2006

The UH Memorial Service for Ross M. Lence

RossLencet.jpgIn a fitting tribute on the final day of classes for the fall semester, the University of Houston will host a memorial service for its late and beloved Professor, Ross M. Lence, at 1:30 p.m., this Friday, December 1 in the AD Bruce Religion Center on the UH campus. Dr. Lence died this past July after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

UH Honors College Dean Ted Estess and several of Ross' colleagues, former students and friends (including me) will give short remembrances of Ross during the service, which will also include music performed by Honors College students. A reception will follow the service at the Commons of the the Honors College, which is a short walk from the Religion Center. Later that day at 7 p.m., the University of Houston football team will play Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship game at Robertson Stadium on the UH campus, a game that Dr. Lence would not have missed.

Ross Lence was one of the most gifted teachers of our time and a selfless mentor to hundreds of students and colleagues. If you were touched by Ross or simply want to pay tribute to a treasure of our community, then come by the service and reception on Friday afternoon. You will be inspired.

Posted by Tom at 4:45 AM | Comments (0) |

November 13, 2006

The Blind Side of big-time college football

Blind Side2.jpgLast week, the resignation of my friend, Iowa State head football coach Dan McCarney, prompted this post reflecting on how the pressures of big-time college football prompted a resignation that is quite likely contrary to the long term ability of Iowa State to remain competitive in big-time college football. As if on cue, George Will, in this NY Times book review, provides his view on the new book by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

In Moneyball, Lewis explored how the small-market Oakland Athletics were able to remain competitive against far richer clubs in Major League Baseball by emphasizing objective evaluation of players and, in so doing, introduced sabremetric statistical analysis to the general public. As Will notes, Lewis is advancing a new genre of journalism that shows how market forces and economic reasoning shape the evolution of sports. Lewiss latest book involves big-time college football, which -- as noted earlier here -- has long been a means by which universities in the U.S. have compromised academic integrity to rent athletically-gifted young men to serve as cash cows for the institutions. As noted in my earlier post, the National Football League reaps the fruits (as if those teams really needed it) of an effectively free farm system that college football provides, while the vast majority of the universities -- including Iowa State -- either lose money or barely eke out a profit in their football programs.

Moreover, Lewis examines how the winds of change ripple down from the NFL to big-time college football and dictate the course of the college game. One case in point is Lawrence Taylor, who singlehandedly changed the nature of professional football by becoming the prototype of the huge, athletic and extraordinarily fast outside linebacker who could increase the pressure on the quarterback. At about the same time as Taylor was wreaking havoc on QB's, Bill Walsh's West Coast offense was spreading the field, which made it even more important for teams to find agile offensive linemen to block the likes of Taylor. Most important was to protect the QB's blind side, so the position of left offensive tackle increased in importance and, as a result, the position's economic value skyrocketed.

As demand increased in the NFL for the colleges to produce another kind of freak of nature to play what had been an obscure position but now was now one of the most important positions on the field, Lewis explains that the colleges were more than willing to compromise any notion of academic integrity to admit athletes who project to have the physical stature and talent to play the demanding left tackle position. In short, it's not just the star QB or running back who gets the royal treatment from the institutions in this day and age -- potential left tackles are now included, too. Lewis' book describes one of those freaks of nature, a freshman tackle at the University of Mississippi with an I.Q. of 80 who bounced from foster home to foster home as a youth.

Just as we should not be surprised that many folks enjoy betting illegally on college football, neither should we be shocked with the corruption in college football that Lewis examines in his book. One of my uncles who played SEC football during the late 1920's used to tell me how much money he was paid under the table even in those days. Moreover, there is no question that big-time college football -- even as corrupt as it is -- is a pretty darn entertaining form of corruption. As noted in my previous post, there is a model that would likely minimize the corruptive elements while not affecting the entertainment value of college football much, but it's going to take leadership and courage from the top of the educational institutions to promote and implement such reform.

Unfortunately, those considerations were not on the minds of the Iowa State administrators last week as they began figuring out how to replace a very good football coach who had just left one of the most difficult jobs in his profession. Similarly, my sense is University of Miami president Donna Shalala will not be contemplating those matters when she begins her search to replace Larry Coker later this month as head coach of one of the most storied programs in all of big-time college football. That seems to be the tunnel vision that is generated from the sponsorship of professional football by U.S. academic institutions.

Posted by Tom at 4:35 AM | Comments (0) |

November 10, 2006

A good football coach steps down

Dan McCarney.jpgDan McCarney, the "dean" of the Big 12 Conference football coaches, resigned under pressure on Wednesday as head football coach at Iowa State University after 12 seasons. The announcement barely made a blip in the local Houston media, but Coach Mac's resignation highlighted many aspects of the troubling direction of major college football, a topic that has also been touched on here, here, here and here.

I am biased about Coach McCarney, who is called Coach Mac by most everyone. As regular readers of this blog know (see here and here), Coach Mac and I have been friends since growing up together in Iowa City, Iowa, where we played together on City High School's championship football team in 1970. I moved to Houston with my family shortly after finishing high school and Mac went on to play football at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, but we remained in contact over the years as I went to law school and began a legal career in Houston and Mac went on to the Iowa coaching staff after graduating from undergraduate school. When Hayden Fry was hired to revive the downtrodden Iowa program in 1979, Coach Mac was one of the only coaches who Coach Fry retained from the previous coaching staff. As with most of Coach Fry's personnel decisions, retaining Coach Mac was a good one.

For the following decade, Coach Mac was a part of an extraordinary Iowa coaching staff that not only revived Iowa's football fortunes, but also produced such outstanding head coaches as Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and South Florida's Jim Leavitt. In 1990, Coach Mac followed Alvarez to Wisconsin, where they took over a 2-9 Badger program and, by 1993, had the team winning the Big Ten Conference championship with a 10-1-1 record, which included a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA. The next year, Iowa State came calling for Coach Mac and the native Iowan was off to Ames for his first head coaching job.

Over the years, Mac and I have laughed many times about the fact that neither of us really had a clue of what he was getting into at Iowa State. We both knew that the university had long been a coaching graveyard and had eeked out a barely-winning record only a couple of times in the previous 15 years. Ames is nice little college town, but it is in north central Iowa, pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the opinion of most good college football players. As a result, the football program has always struggled to attract good football prospects, who usually have sexier alternatives to living in central Iowa for four years. The physical facilities of Iowa State's football program were poor and the entire football budget at the time was just over $3 million, which was by far the smallest of any public school in the then newly-constituted Big 12 Conference that included such far better-funded programs as Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, just to name a few. To make matters worse, Iowa State was a clear second fiddle in the state of Iowa to the University of Iowa, which has a far superior football tradition and an athletic budget more than twice as large as Iowa State's. Most folks assume that Kansas State was the toughest head coaching job in the United States before Bill Snyder resurrected it in the 1990's, but I think a good case can be made that the Iowa State job was even more difficult before Coach Mac took over.

To Mac and Iowa State's credit, they agreed at the outset that turning Iowa State's program around was going to be a long-term project. As he did at Iowa and Wisconsin, Mac literally threw himself into the job of rebuilding the Cyclone football program, taking on any speaking engagement and going anywhere to promote Iowa State and its athletic teams. An outstanding recruiter, Mac and his coaching staff began to expand Iowa State's traditional Midwestern recruiting base to such football hotbeds as Texas, Florida and California. Mac began to challenge Iowa's traditional toehold on the best recruits in the state of Iowa. The progress was slow, though -- Mac's teams lost 42 or their 57 games during his first five seasons.

However, by the 2000 season, Mac and his staff had built a solid foundation for the program. Behind QB Sage Rosenfels (yes, the Texans' backup QB), Iowa State went 9-3 during that season and won the university's first post-season bowl game in the university's 108-year football history (over Pitt in the Insight.com Bowl in Tucson). That started a 40 game run where Mac's teams were 25-15, a remarkable feat considering that Iowa State was competing in the brutally-tough Big 12 Conference and playing tough Iowa each season (Mac's teams won six of their last nine games against their in-state rival). By the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Coach Mac had his teams on the cusp of the Big 12 North Division title both seasons only to lose them in an excrutiatingly close final game in each season. Nevertheless, after Iowa State had gone to only four bowl games in its history before Coach Mac's tenure, Mac took the Cyclones to five bowl games in six years, winning two of them. Coming into the 2006 season, optimism was high that the Cyclones would again contend for the Big 12 North Division championship and go to yet another bowl game.

Alas, the 2006 season did not turn out as planned. First, the Cyclones faced one of the toughest schedules in the country, including an initial stretch of Big 12 games at Texas, at home against Nebraska, at Oklahoma and at home against Texas Tech. Iowa State lost all four and were battered in the process, losing six senior starters to season-ending injury. Lack of depth is a chronic Achille's Heel at a place such as Iowa State, so a thin and deflated Cyclone team was smoked over the past two weeks by mediocre Kansas State and Kansas teams. That brought out the "what have you done for me lately" crowd in full force, many of whom were calling on Iowa State to fire Coach Mac despite the fact that few of them have any idea how difficult it is to win consistently at the top levels of major college football.

Suddenly, a little over a year after one of Mac's best wins as a coach, Mac concluded it was not right for him to become a divisive issue for the university. Understanding Spike Dykes' advice that "you lose 10% of your support each season" as a college football coach, Mac understood that he was 20% in the hole at Iowa State based on that formula. So, he elected to resign as head football coach at Iowa State, a difficult job that he would have gladly continued to perform for the rest of his coaching days. Take a moment to watch his performance during the press conference (click the video camera icon on the left side of the page) to announce his resignation -- Mac exudes the class and passion with which he handled all of his duties at Iowa State. In this age of cold-hearted and businesslike coaches who are constantly posturing for the "better" job, it is refreshing to watch someone such as Mac, who wears his big heart and humanity on his sleeve.

Thus, 12 years after arriving at Iowa State, Mac leaves the football program in far better shape than he found it. The football budget has quadrupled in size under Mac, but it remains the smallest of any public institution in the Big 12 Conference (Texas and A&M's football budgets are at least 4 to 5 times larger than Iowa State's). Mac worked behind the scenes continually to improve Iowa State's facilities and they have improved substantially during his time there. However, Cyclone athletic department officials are now attempting to raise another $135 million for facilities upgrades in an effort to keep up with the seemingly endless arms race of major college football. In one of the more bizarre aspects of Mac's resignation, that imminent capital funds campaign was one of the key pressure points that prompted the resignation of the best fundraiser in the history of the Cyclone football program. So it goes in trying to keep up with the Joneses in the wacky world of college football.

After coaching the Iowa State team in its final two games this season, Mac will kick back for a few days, but then I suspect that he will back out looking for another opportunity. His motor is always running and he has a passionate love for coaching. Inasmuch as Mac is widely popular among his fellow coaches, I am confident that he will land on his feet.

However, I am not so sure about Iowa State. The institution is caught in the proverbial rat race of attempting to compete with far-better funded programs and the gap between Iowa State's resources and those of programs such as Texas and A&M are likely to get even larger. The pressure of that competition has now prompted Iowa State's administration to take what appears to be a huge risk that the program will decline from the solid foundation that Mac painstakingly built over the past 12 years.

Does Iowa State think that it is going to hire someone who will magically recruit better athletes to Ames than Mac? That's highly doubtful as Mac is one of the best recruiters in the business and Ames is always going to be a difficult sell to all but a few of the best football prospects. Does the institution think that it is going to hire someone who will coach better than Mac? Maybe, but Mac is a pretty darn good coach and how many more wins does Iowa State really believe it can achieve through slightly better coaching methods? And even Iowa State officials readily concede that it is highly unlikely that they will ever be able to find someone who can match Mac's tireless enthusiasm for promoting the institution and the football program.

The bottom line is that seasons such as the one that the Cyclones and Mac are enduring this season are inevitable at a program such as Iowa State's. That is one of the costs of attempting to compete with limited resources at the highest level of major college football. That's not a particularly pleasant reality, but it's dubious decision-making to take big risks based on an emotional reaction to a disappointing result that is inevitable. That appears to be precisely what Iowa State is doing in letting Mac get away. Wouldn't embracing a good coach who understands the institution's limitations and has competed effectively in spite of them be far less risky and much more likely to result in continued success?

Ironically, the Cyclone family now finds itself looking for a new head coach who has the depth and characteristics of . . . well, Dan McCarney. Iowa State will be extremely fortunate if they find one.

Posted by Tom at 4:44 AM | Comments (4) |

October 18, 2006

Hanging out at Rice University

Rice lovett Hall.jpgRuth Samuelson, an intern with the Houston Press, and a senior at Rice University, reports on David Jovani Vanegas, a 20-year old fellow who showed up about a year ago at Rice as a student and hung out for a year. However, it turns out that he was never actually enrolled at Rice as a student:

On September 13, Rice police arrested Vanegas for criminal trespass. Turns out he wasn't an actual Rice student but a 20-year-old impersonator. Starting last September, Vanegas began eating in Rice's dining halls, hanging out with students and attending classes. Some nights, he crashed in friends' dorm rooms when he was too tired to go home. [. . .]

. . . Within the next few weeks, campus administrators alleged that Vanegas had taken close to $3,700 worth of food from Rice cafeterias. On September 28, the district attorney's office filed felony charges for aggregate theft. Bail was set at $2,000. [. . .]

So why did Vanegas keep coming day after day for three semesters? He told police officers that he hadn't gotten into Rice, but it would have broken his mother's heart for him not to attend. Attempts to reach Vanegas were unsuccessful.

Read about the entire bizarre episode. There is a Marching Owl Band skit in this story somewhere.

Posted by Tom at 4:41 AM | Comments (2) |

October 9, 2006

The talented Mr. Munitz skates free

munitz14.jpgAlmost lost amidst the media firestorm over California Attorney General Bill Lochyer's decision to prosecute former Hewlett Packard board chairperson Patricia Dunn was this news item that Lochyer's office has decided not to sue or prosecute former Getty Trust president and former University of Houston president Barry Munitz (prior posts here).

Lochyer's office had been investigating Munitz over misuse of trust money for his wifes travel, using employees for personal errands and making improper payments to a graduate student from trust funds. Lochyer's office concluded that no legal action was advisable because Munitz's actions were authorized by the Getty board and that his settlement with the Getty Trust when he resigned exceeded the value of what the state could recover from Munitz in a civil action or a prosecution.

In other words, Lochyer concluded that there was no need to prosecute Munitz because he had done the right thing in settling up with the Getty Trust. That decision in regard to Munitz makes his decision to prosecute Ms. Dunn all the more curious. Perhaps Ms. Dunn should have done lunch with Lochyer?

Posted by Tom at 5:35 AM | Comments (0) |

August 17, 2006

Politics of academia run amok

Machiavelli.gifMy late father treasured his career in academic medicine, but he did concede that the politics of academia were rather byzantine at times. However, even my father didn't expect those politics to get this brutal:

The dean of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has temporarily stepped down, three weeks after her husband was mugged in the aftermath of announced layoffs at the school.

Dr. Valerie Parisi will "focus her attention on personal and family members" until Oct. 1, said a news release on UTMB's Web site Wednesday.

Parisi had led reorganization efforts that include layoffs of about 1,000 employees and a change in professors' salary structure moves that have roiled the campus.

Soon thereafter, on July 27, Parisi's husband, Gary Strong, was attacked by three masked men while walking his dog. One of the men told Strong his wife "doesn't know who she's (expletive) with," leading police to believe the attack may have been related to the layoffs.

Sheesh!

Posted by Tom at 5:27 AM | Comments (0) |

August 9, 2006

Houston's ambassador of learning

lienhard.gifOne of the many people that make Houston such a remarkable place is John Lienhard, the longtime University of Houston engineering professor who is the author and voice of the popular KUHF radio series -- Engines of our Ingenuity -- which is carried across the nation by more than 40 National Public Radio affiliates. As Professor Lienhard describes it, Engines is "a mix of history, engineering and science. The programs describe the machines that make civilization run, and the people who devise them."

Lienhard recently completed his 2,000th segment of Engines, so the Chronicle's science writer Eric Berger used the occasion to interview Professor Lienhard. A part of the interview is here, and Eric's podcast of the entire 30-minute interview is here. The following is Professor Lienhard's response to Eric's inquiry as to what he considers the greatest invention:

I don't like to identify "greatest inventions." I think inventions flow and swirl and intertwine with one another. There was a wonderful piece by Salman Rushdie where he described stories as flowing like different colors in a great sea, and what you do is dip in and pull out one of those stories. But they're intermixed and intertwined with other stories. There's the constant flow and ebb of stories, and the same is true of invention. And there's another reason. In the book I finally say we're in trouble when we talk about inventions. The airplane was not an invention. It was something else. I give it a word, multigenium. ... They are these accrued inventions that we finally point out and say this is the final thing, like Wright Brothers' airplane, or Morse's telegraph, which followed something like 70 years of working with electric telegraphy. We call that thing in a finished form the invention, but it's not an invention.

Posted by Tom at 5:25 AM | Comments (0) |

August 6, 2006

Say what?

dutton.jpgAccording to this Chronicle article, State Representative Harold Dutton chose the keynote address at the summer commencement ceremonies of Texas Southern University to declare who is truly responsible for the recent scandal involving former TSU president, Priscilla Slade:

Along with the usual advice and good wishes for graduates, State Rep. Harold Dutton delivered some pointed criticism of Texas Southern University's Board of Regents during his keynote address at the school's summer commencement ceremony Saturday.

"You (regents) are directly responsible for the unsuccessful management and government of TSU," Dutton said in his speech, with the regents arrayed on the platform behind him.

In an interview later, Dutton, D-Houston, said he was referring to the "dark clouds" looming over TSU because of the regents' handling of the investigation, dismissal and subsequent indictment of former university president Priscilla Slade and their current dispute with the school's radio station. [. . .]

Dutton, an alumnus of the university, said that although the controversy centered on Slade, he felt that the regents were just as much to blame because it is the board's responsibility to oversee TSU's fiscal management. He said the regents acted so poorly he considered them "co-conspirators."

"I don't think you just look to Priscilla Slade for the reason why, I think you have to look at all the board members," he said. "She may be in the spotlight, but I don't think she's the only one responsible for the mess we're in."

H'mm, let's see here. The TSU regents hire Slade, who by all accounts did a good job as TSU president, except for that little problem with managing her expense accounts, which is hardly something that regents of a university should be using their time to oversee. Yes, TSU has chronic financial and related management problems, but this and this has a lot more to do with those problems than the efforts of regents who donate their time to deal with the mess.

In short, Representative Duncan, you and the parochial nature of Texas education politics are much more responsible for TSU's problems than the TSU regents or even Ms. Slade.

Posted by Tom at 7:41 AM | Comments (3) |

July 20, 2006

The Abbeville Institute's tribute to Dr. Ross M. Lence

Lence Abbeville.gifThe late Dr. Ross M. Lence of the University of Houston was a founding member of board of directors of the Abbeville Institute in Atlanta, which is an association of scholars devoted to the critical study of philosophical nature of the Southern tradition in the United States. Upon his death last week, the Abbeville Institute issued this endearing tribute to Dr. Lence, which -- as is always the case in discussing the indomitable Good Doctor -- provides several amusing anecdotes, including this classic:

Once at a seminar with other academics, Ross was challenged by an especially obnoxious participant who, rather than confront his arguments, hoped to end the argument by saying that Ross had not read Locke carefully. Ross calmly replied (he was always calm) with that wry smile of his that if the gentlemen would tell us the paragraph number of the Second Treatise that interested him, he would quote it from memory and then attend to what the gentleman thought he had failed to understand in it.

The entire Abbeville Institute tribute is below.

Dear Colleagues, Students, and Friends,

It is with sadness that I inform you that Professor Ross M. Lence died on July 11th, 2006. Ross was a founder of the Abbeville Institute and a member of its Board of Directors. Much of what we stand for was exemplified by his teaching and character.

Ross studied at the University of Chicago, Georgetown University, and the British Museum before completing his Ph.D. at Indiana University under Professor Charles Hyneman. He greatly admired Hyneman who became his mentor and friend. Ross often quoted him and had a portrait of him prominently displayed in his office at the University of Houston over a table set with bottles of whiskey and sherry for the refreshment of his visitors.

Ross tells the story of how, as a raw graduate student, he first met Hyneman. Ross appeared in his office, confronting the abrupt question, what do you want? Ross replied, to study American political science. Hyneman asked, have you seen it? Ross answered, seen what? America, Hyneman replied. If you want to see it, meet me tomorrow morning. They spent the next few summers traveling around America observing its life in small and large towns, villages, and out of the way farming communities.

This story expresses a truth Ross learned from Hyneman and which he embodied in his own work; that theorizing about political things must be rooted in a connoisseur's understanding of practice. Unhappily this essentially Aristotelian wisdom is missing from much of American political science which has not freed itself from an ideological style of theorizing.

Ross also thought one had to have a detailed knowledge of classical political texts. He could quote Locke's Second Treatise and The Federalist from memory. Once at a seminar with other academics, Ross was challenged by an especially obnoxious participant who, rather than confront his arguments, hoped to end the argument by saying that Ross had not read Locke carefully. Ross calmly replied (he was always calm) with that wry smile of his that if the gentlemen would tell us the paragraph number of the Second Treatise that interested him, he would quote it from memory and then attend to what the gentleman thought he had failed to understand in it.

His knowledge of political theory and of political things was broad and deep. But he wore his learning lightly. It never intruded pedantically in conversation. It was there as a cultural inheritance which he had worked hard to make his own and from which flowed his disarming Socratic questions; his refusal to accept facile answers even when they favored his own position; his insistence on clarity; and all of this carried on with a wit that was both piercing and lovable.

These qualities made him a great teacher. It is no exaggeration to say that he must be included in a handful of the greatest teachers in the America of our time. He joined the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston in 1971. Over the years he won many teaching awards within and outside the University. In the late 1990's hundreds of students established an endowment for a chair in his honor. In 2001 Ross was appointed to the Ross M. Lence Distinguished University Teaching Chair. For over twenty years he regularly taught at the Women's Institute of Houston. Ross was one of the earliest, and a frequent participant in Liberty Fund Colloquia, a private foundation devoted to exploring the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals. He was devoted to "Liberty," the ideal of an older federative America which today has largely been replaced with talk of "democracy," and "freedom" both of which typically reduce to "equality." By liberty he meant the right of individuals and communities of human scale to govern themselves. He lectured at the first Abbeville Institute summer school, 2003, which was recorded on video. So we are fortunate to have a film of his lectures.

Ross was a leading scholar on the philosophy of John C. Calhoun whom he saw as embodying much of what he loved in the ideal of liberty. He edited the Liberty Fund collection of Calhoun's writings Union and Liberty in 1992. He never published much. Learning for him was inseparable from character, and was a way of life best communicated through face to face knowledge. He not only gave of his time freely to students, he in time acquired an informal reputation at Houston as one to whom students could turn for counsel.

His last year was an ordeal of serious illness and suffering, made more bearable by the great numbers of current and former students and friends who gave their love, respect, and gratitude, and assistance. Few people will leave the world more loved than Ross. And so the Abbeville Institute salutes for the last time our never to be forgotten friend, mentor, and colleague with the words he always used in parting: Gaudeamus!

Posted by Tom at 4:52 AM | Comments (0) |

July 19, 2006

Ted Estess eulogizes Ross M. Lence

Ted Estess2.jpglence3.jpgAs noted in this post from last week on the funeral services for one of Houston's finest teachers, Dr. Ross M. Lence of the University of Houston, Dr. Ted Estess -- Dean of the University of Houston Honors College and one of Ross' closest friends -- gave a superb eulogy during the Requiem Mass for Ross.

Ted has kindly allowed me to post the text of his eulogy (pdf here), the quality of which is surpassed only by Ted's moving delivery of the eulogy during the funeral mass. Take a moment to read this touching tribute from a dear friend to a teacher's teacher who has left an indelible mark on Houston:

Farewell to Our Teacher and Friend

I begin with the salutation that Ross himself used most often: Salutem in Domine.

Our teacher and friend Ross Lence was well known and loved for many things: certainly for the clarity and sharpness of his intellect; for the generosity and gaiety of his spirit; for his indefatigable dedication to his students.

In his early years, he was known for the briskness of his step across campus, such that admiring students hurried to keep up; throughout his years, we knew him for the garish colors and shocking patterns of his ties and suspenders.

But perhaps above all, our friend and brother Ross was known and loved for the quickness of his wit; for the merriment and laughter that he bestowed on any gathering, effortlessly, with grace, bite, and kindness. If his greeting was Salutem in Domine, his farewell was Gaudeamus Rejoice! Take pleasure in life! Enjoy!

A spirit of hilaritas and felicitas thats what our friend gave us. Thats what we gladly remember, what we shall sorely miss.

So it is not surprising that every one of Ross students has some story to tell. One student received his first paper back from the Good Doctor, only to read this comment: Young man, if we are going to communicate, we are going to have to settle on a common language. I prefer English.

This morning, we have no difficulty finding a common language. And I am not speaking of English. What we hold in common what holds us in common is gratitude, respect, and affection for Ross himself.

For you see, Ross Lence had an extraordinary capacity to dispose persons in a common direction, and to constitute community. The means by which he did so was conversation; for conversation, practiced with Ross wit and generosity, binds persons together. It builds and manifests community.

Anyone who visited Ross in the hospital this past weekend, or anyone who saw him during the year of his illness, witnessed that community. Last evening and again this morning, that community gathered in abundance, present and palpable. Graybeards from the early 1970's are taking interest in current Honors students; graduates from the 1980's are interacting easily with Lencians from the 90's all of them, students, faculty, and alumni from four decades, immediately connecting, telling their own stories about their outrageous and beloved teacher and friend.

One Lencian tells of the student who, having been late or absent from class a number of times in the semester, walked up to turn in her final exam. His back turned to her, the Good Doctor was writing something on the board, as she said: Dr. Lence, you are a horrible teacher, and I want you to know that because of the way you teach, we havent learned a single thing this semester. And without so much as turning around, Ross replied: Yes, madam, and you are empirical proof of that.

Circero helps us understand the charismathe spirited giftsof Ross Lence when he says, The essence of friendship consists in the fact that many souls . . . become one.

The collegial community of friends that arose around Ross Lence owed much, of course, to his own altogether distinctive qualities: his personality was as winsome and energetic and engaging as one is ever apt to find. Donald Lutz Ross close colleague of thirty-five years and a master teacher himself got it right when he told me earlier this week, Every thing that Ross did had a little bit of magic about it. He was a chariot of fire, a visitor from another place, a gift of God.

Ross was our chariot of fire, our celebrity teacher, the one we showed off, the one whom we sent out to the community, the one in whose radiating light we like to stand, as if to suggest, We are a bit like him ourselves. He was our high star (High Star was the street on which Ross lived in Houston for some thirty years), the one by whom we charted our course and calibrated our compass, pedagogically, intellectually, and morally.

But not always politically. Ross was sometimes well, often heard to complain about the state of political affairs in the country he so dearly loved. He would snort, In America, anything is permitted between and among consenting adults except the shooting of firecrackers.

Those of you who studied Greek philosophy with Ross certainly learned that we can measure every art, including the art of teaching, by its product. The monument to the artist is what he creates.

If we would see the monument to Ross Lence, we need only look around this morning at the community that he, as artist and midwife, brought into being.

Ross would of course want me to say that he had much help in his life and his work, most notably that of his mother, Nickie. Big Momma, he sometimes called her. One needs only to meet Nickie to see the source of many of her sons gifts. Over the years, literally thousands of students came to her house to see her son and to eat her food. They also came for the beer.

Our friend Ross, of course, was a teacher of virtue, a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. But he was, as well, a lover of sights and sounds, and of all things beautiful. His offices at the University were appointed more stylishly than mine and other facultys offices. And I have to say it: he was an impulsive shopper. Once he told me, Ted, the only things I regret are the things I didnt buy.

To be sure, not all students took to Ross some were unhappy because he wouldnt tell them what they should think. He wouldnt even tell them what he thought.

Other students were unhappy because Ross was irreverent. He said things that would get any other faculty member fired. He talked about cannibalism and goats, and you were never quite sure why. He certainly was a trickster. Some students, and probably one or two colleagues and an occasional dean, suspected him of being a diabolical Machivel. This made him especially happy.

But in reality, the wellspring of Ross irrepressibility, of his merriment and generosity, the ground bass of the songs that he sang, was religious. To him, teaching itself was a religious vocation.

I am speaking of religious in the root sense of the word: re-ligio, a binding together again, as ligaments connect and bind. Ross was bound, first of all, to life itself; to reality and to the structure of the real; but also to country, family, and friends and to the religious tradition that nurtured him from his mothers arms to his dying day.

The inclination of Ross Lence toward the religious is evident in words that he wrote several years ago to the parents of an Honors student who had suddenly, and tragically, died. As was his custom when people were in trouble and Ross did such things an untold number of times over the years Ross reached out to those parents. He visited them in their home, attended the funeral service of their son, called them several times, and wrote a note, a portion of which I, in closing, want to share with you. As is often the case with what a teacher says, these words of Ross return now to their source:

How I wish that some faint words of mine could erase the sorrow in your hearts. All of us wish for a little more time to reflect and to love life. But God will never abandon those who love him.

I am reminded of the immortal words of Catullus on the death of his own brother: atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale and so for all eternity, brother, hail and farewell.

Posted by Tom at 4:36 AM | Comments (0) |

July 16, 2006

"On Teaching" by Ross M. Lence

lence2.jpgThis has been a weekend of reflection for me as I contemplate the life of one of Houston's finest teachers -- Professor Ross M. Lence (previous post here) of the University of Houston -- who died this past week.

Over a hundred former students, colleagues and friends gathered this past Thursday evening to laugh, cry and reminisce about Ross at the visitation, and then those friends and hundreds more gathered on Friday morning for the Requiem Mass for Ross at St. Anne Catholic Church. The mass was profoundly moving, with St. Anne's soloist Kay Kahl providing beautiful singing and UH Honors College Dean Ted Estess -- one of Ross' best friends and closest colleagues -- absolutely hitting the ball out of the park with a poignant eulogy that conveyed perfectly Ross' extraordinary combination of teaching brilliance, humor and humanity. The Chronicle here, the UH student newspaper here and UH Dean of Political Science Harrell Rodgers here chimed in with thoughtful tributes.

A particularly nice touch of the services for Ross was his family's decision to provide a copy of one of Ross' essays to everyone who attended. The essay -- entitled "On Teaching" -- was writted by Ross a decade or so ago while collecting his thoughts on teaching in connection with the effort of his former students and friends to raise the funds that eventually endowed the Ross M. Lence Distinguished Teaching Chair at the University of Houston. Ross never published "On Teaching," but by passing it along below (pdf here), I hope that each teacher who happens upon this special essay will take a moment to read and reflect on it, and then use it as inspiration to provide the type of warm, thoughtful and rich mentoring to their students that is Ross Lence's legacy to his:

I shall not shock anyone, but merely subject myself to good-natured ridicule, if I profess myself inclined to the old way of thinking that the primary concern of teaching and teachers is the student.

While such an observation may seem elementary, it should be noted that for those who define the function of a university as the discovery, preservation, and transmission of knowledge, the role of teaching (presumably the transmission of knowledge) is formulated in such a way as to avoid mentioning either the teacher or the student. Indeed, when confined to the transmission and preservation of knowledge alone, teaching would seem to be little more than the transmission of decaying sense, entombed in that graveyard of knowledge, the notes of the teachers students.

Teaching necessarily involves the highest forms of discovery, the awakening of the students minds and souls to the world of creativity and imagination. A good teacher challenges students to join in the continuous, meticulous, and solitary questions of the mind. I myself prefer important questions partially answered to unimportant questions fully answered.

Who could doubt that those students were blessed who witnessed the phenomenal mind of Enrico Fermi as he unleashed the power of the universe on that cold, winter day under the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago? There, with only the assistance of a slide rule and his hands, Fermi managed to do what it now takes two computers to replicate: to produce mans first nuclear reaction. There, a great teacher, who in the tongue of his native Italy and understood by hardly anyone present, managed to convey to his peers the desperate need to insert the carbon rods into the nuclear mass, thereby saving not only themselves, but the city of Chicago.

No doubt everyone remembers the teacher who most influenced his or her thoughts, person, and soul. No one is perhaps more aware of the best teachers than teachers themselves. That person who most influenced my own thinking was the Sage of Goose Creek, Charles S. Hyneman, Indiana Universitys Distinguished Service Professor and President of the American Political Science Association. That man did for me something that few teachers have ever done for a student. In a desperate effort to teach this kid from the wilds of Montana about the American Regime, Charles Hyneman took me on a 15,000 mile, 5-year trip across America, where he introduced me to every site where an Indian had died, every sausage factory in American and even Alvin, Texas, home of Nolan Ryan.

Today I attempt to lead my students on such a journey of the mind. Some days are good; some days are not so good. But every day I remind myself that teaching is like missionary work, and that I am the messenger, not the message. I constantly strive to bring others to see the excitement, as well as the limits, offered by the life of the mind. I encourage all students to be bold in their thoughts, moderate in their actions, and courageous in their pursuit of truthwherever it is and however it can be known.

As I now come to my own golden age, I often think of my teacher. Of his incredible kindness, his depth of soul, and the power of his imagination. My real hope is that I, too, will be remembered by those who come after me with the same fondness.

This, then, is my philosophy of teaching: teachers love their own teachers, and they are loved in turn.

Ross M. Lence
Houston, Texas

Update: Ted Estess eulogizes Ross and the Abbeville Institute provides a touching tribute.

Posted by Tom at 6:55 AM | Comments (1) |

July 15, 2006

Agency costs of big-time college football

auburn.tigers.jpgCollege football is a big and competitive business, so it's no surprise that the issue of agency costs has reared its head with frequency over the past century of the sport. This NY Times article reports on the latest incident of apparent academic fraud -- an Auburn University sociology professor arranged to have 18 members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, take a combined 97 hours of the "directed-reading courses" which required no classroom instruction whatsoever. More than a quarter of the students in the professor's directed-reading courses were Auburn University athletes. The usual NCAA investigation is to follow while serious academics at Auburn must be shaking their heads over it all.

As noted in this previous post, big-time college football and basketball are caught in a vicious cycle of uneven growth, feckless leadership from many university presidents and obsolescent business models. As the previous post notes, it's an unfortunate situation because big-time college football and basketball would likely not suffer a bit from reform that required universities to compete with true student-athletes, as opposed to minor league professional players. Given the hyprocrisy of many state universities subsidizing minor league football and basketball at the same time as grappling with funding issues for core academic programs, one would think that expensive and mostly unprofitable system of big-time college football and basketball would be ripe for reform. However, powerful and wealthy special interests continue to support the current system despite the implications to the universities' academic responsibilities.

Is there any hope for true reform of intercollegiate athletics as well as minor league football and basketball? Or is the current system so entrenched in concentrated wealth and regulation that it is impervious to reform?

Posted by Tom at 9:36 AM | Comments (0) |

July 12, 2006

Ross M. Lence, R.I.P.

Ross Lence.jpgA grand and far too rare experience in life is learning from a great teacher. I have been blessed in my life to have been mentored by two wonderful men who were extraordinary teachers. The first was my father, Dr. Walter M. Kirkendall, who died around this time in 1991.

The other was Dr. Ross Marlo Lence, who died on Tuesday morning, July 11 in Houston at the age of 62 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer (Chronicle obituary here). With Ross' death, Houston has lost a genuine treasure.

Ross was one of Houston's finest teachers of this generation. Over a phenomenal 30 plus-year teaching career at the University of Houston, Ross taught classic and American political philosophy to scores of eager students and citizens. Utilizing a marvelous intellect that was refined at the Universities of Chicago, Georgetown and Indiana, Ross was a master craftsman in the art of teaching and was an unparalleled expert in the Socratic method. Ross deployed a delightful mixture of insightful philosophy, passionate oratorical skill, and self-deprecating humor to ignite and stoke a passion for learning in his students ("Be bold in thought, precise in speech, moderate in action," he would continually urge). When I once asked Ross to confide his primary goal as a teacher, he replied with a wry smile:

"Tom, my goals are modest. All I want is to teach my students how to think, and the difference between right and wrong."

As a result of Ross' outstanding talent and dedication to the University of Houston (he served on virtually every academic committee at the University over his career), a large group of his students over a decade ago raised funds to honor him by endowing a chair in his name in the political science department at the University of Houston. Accordingly, as of his death, Ross was the original holder of the Ross M. Lence Distinguished Teaching Chair at the University of Houston. How many professors have an endowed chair funded and named in their honor during their lifetimes? Such was the excellence of Ross Lence.

Ross was also a John and Rebecca Moores University Scholar at the University of Houston, where he was continually honored with numerous awards for his teaching, including the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award, which annually honors the most outstanding teacher in the state of Texas, (1987), and the Henri Stegemeier Award for the Outstanding Faculty Advisor in North America (1987).

In addition to his superlative teaching talent, Ross' selfless heart and humanism attracted students like a magnet. His office had the quintessential open door and always resembled a scene from a Robert Altman film with students and colleagues milling in and out carrying on multiple conversations with Ross and each other on the various subjects of the particular day. Inasmuch as he dedicated his life to teaching and his students, Ross never married, yet he has the largest family of anyone that I have ever known. To enter one of Ross' classes was literally to be drawn into Ross' huge family of students, former students, colleagues and friends. The devotion of Ross' family members was surpassed only by Ross' devotion to them and his wonderful mother, Nickie, for whom he cared lovingly over the past 25 years.

What was it that made Ross' life so fulfilling? An experience that I had several years ago with Ross provides some insight into the answer to that question. I had the privilege of helping Ross coordinate a strategy in regard to a legal matter that had a political component, the details of which are not particularly important. Suffice it to say that it was serious and could have adversely affected much of what Ross had worked for during his professional career. Due to the nature of the problem, we had to work quickly in devising and implementing our strategy.

With but a few phone calls, we were able to put together a legal team of over a half-dozen prominent Houston attorneys, each of whom had been a student of Ross and were instantly willing to provide their services on a pro bono basis (Ross took great pleasure in reminding his university colleagues of his personal legal team, the aggregate hourly billing rate of which was in excess of $2,000). As we devised and implemented our strategy to resolve the matter, Ross never exhibited even a moment of personal despair over the seriousness of the matter and instead relished the opportunity to engage his old students and friends in matters of legal and political intrigue. Even when we resolved the matter favorably for Ross after a couple of weeks of intense posturing and negotiation, Ross' main goal was to arrange the post-resolution party where he could dissect and analyze what had occurred, and revel in the success of his crack legal team.

You see, it was not the reward that he received from the successful resolution of the matter that drove Ross, although he certainly appreciated it. Rather, it was the reward of renewing and deepening the relationships with his former students and old friends -- even during one of the most threatening moments of his professional life -- that was most rewarding to Ross. What a special gift it was to have my old mentor and friend remind me of the true source of happiness in his richly-rewarded life.

Ross was diagnosed in August, 2005 with pancreatic cancer, which is particularly pernicious. So, the final 11 months of his life have been draining physically for Ross, although his mother's loving care undoubtedly extended his life by at least several months. Consistent with his remarkable nature, Ross used the experience of dealing with terminal illness to provide a remarkable lesson on faith, which he exhibited in a series of confidence-boosting email messages to his extended family over the past 11 months. I have accumulated those email messages in chronological order here -- they are an inspiring reflection of the true nature of this fine man, who was literally a conduit of God's grace.

As regular readers of this blog know, A Man for All Seasons -- the story of Sir Thomas More's conflict with King Henry VIII -- is one of my favorite movies, and it was one of Ross' favorites, too. Ross particularly enjoyed the scene early in the movie when Sir Thomas attempts unsuccessfully to persuade his student, Richard Rich, to eschew a desire for a political appointment and become a teacher. After rejecting Thomas' advice, Rich takes a political appointment from Henry's henchman Cromwell in return for agreeing to betray Thomas.

"Sir Thomas knew that Rich had a corrupt heart and would never be able to resist the temptations of politics," Ross observed to me once with a hearty laugh. "But is Thomas suggesting that a corrupt heart is not a problem for a teaching career?"

As I have talked and corresponded with hundreds of Ross' friends, colleagues and former students over the past several months leading up to his death, I was reminded continually that Ross Lence's life is proof of the truth of Sir Thomas' advice to Rich during their exchange that Ross so enjoyed:

Sir Thomas: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

Yes, my dear friend Ross, "not a bad public, that." Your job has been extraordinarily well done. Rest in peace, friend.

A visitation will be held for Ross at the the Settegast-Kopf Co. Funeral Home at 3320 Kirby Drive (77098) beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 13 to be followed by a Rosary service at 7 p.m. A funeral mass will be held for Ross at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 14 at St. Anne Catholic Church at the corner of Westheimer and Shepard. It is my understanding that the University of Houston is planning a memorial service for Ross later this year after the beginning of the fall semester.

Update: "On Teaching" by Ross M. Lence, Ted Estess eulogizes Ross, and the Abbeville Institute provides a moving tribute. Finally, the Chronicle's obituary on Ross includes this online guest book that includes dozens of tributes to Ross from his students, former students, collegues and friends.

Update II: The University of Houston's Memorial Service for Ross.

Posted by Tom at 4:15 AM | Comments (2) |

July 5, 2006

Golf 101

HCC logo.jpgLet's see now. Suppose you are a trustee of the Houston Community College system.

You are confronted with a chronically underfunded system that is operating in a region where golf courses are overbuilt and will do most anything to attract customers.

What would you do?

Well, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be approving the construction of a three-hole, par 3 golf facility to provide "a new and unique opportunity for residents of northeast Houston to learn or improve skills in the age-old sport of golf."

The Houston Press' Richard Connelly has the story.

Posted by Tom at 4:52 AM | Comments (0) |

May 11, 2006

Lawrence Sager named UT Law School Dean

sagerlaw.jpgLawrence Sager, the holder of the Alice Jane Drysdale Sheffield Regents Chair at the University of Texas Law School and a noted scholar in the theory of Constitutional Law, has been named the new dean of the UT Law School.

Sager, who is 64, replaces William Powers Jr., who recruited Sager to UT four years ago and and is now president of the university. UT Law Professor Brian Leiter, who was a member of the search committee for the new dean, comments here and here.

Sager taught for more than 25 years at New York University's law school before coming to the UT Law School. He was selected from a field of finalists that included a federal judge from California and legal scholars at the University of Virginia, Boston University, Cornell University and Yale University.

Posted by Tom at 4:32 AM | Comments (0) |

March 29, 2006

And I thought it was because of those two big guys down on the blocks

George Mason.jpgAlex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution blog fame and colleague Peter Boettke author this Slate.com piece that places the unlikely NCAA Basketball Tournament Final Four appearance by George Mason University in the context of an overall renaissance that is occurring at the university as it copes with competition in the marketplace of ideas:

What's remarkable is that GMU's freewheeling basketball team and its free-market academic teams owe their successes to very similar, market-beating strategies. GMU has excelled on the court and in the classroom by daring to be different. . . .

GMU remains an underdog in both basketball and economics. But Coach Larranaga has a plan to succeed in the long term and so do GMU's professors. Click here to read about how GMU is seeking out different new kinds of undiscovered geniuses.

Are you listening, University of Houston?

Posted by Tom at 6:10 AM | Comments (0) |

February 22, 2006

Baylor -- the Notre Dame of Protestants?

notredame2.jpgBayloy Bear.gifAccording to this Baptist Standard op-ed, Baylor University in Waco has a model for what type of university it should aspire to be, but I don't think the model is the one that Martin Luther had in mind -- the University of Notre Dame:

Since former university President Robert Sloan led the school to adopt its Baylor 2012 long-range plan and open its Institute for Faith & Learning, supporters have pointed to Notre Dame as an example of a religiously affiliated school that successfully integrates faith and learning.

They maintain Notre Dame generally has accomplished what Baylor wants to achieverecognized status as a top-tier university without surrendering to secularism. . . .

Baylor could come become the kind of national university that the best and brightest Protestant students will dream of attending, said Doug Henry, director of Baylors Institute for Faith & Learning.

Baylor can have the same sort of image for Protestants that Notre Dame has for Catholics" . . . Henry said. It can become the most intellectually interesting place to be, and a place where serious, smart Protestant and Baptist students will want to come. . . . Id say were about 30 years behind Notre Dame in terms of endowment, facilities, faculty and national prestige.

Make that more like 75 years behind in terms of the football team, though.

Posted by Tom at 4:32 AM | Comments (2) |

December 16, 2005

What Starts Here Changes the World

UT Tower_beacon.jpgThe University of Texas is on quite a roll these days, and in more ways that simply its national championship-caliber football team.

UT just rolled out its innovative new advertising campaign, a series of nine 30 second commercials with the theme What Starts Here Changes the World narrated by former CBS anchoman and UT alum Walter Cronkite. The ads -- which were developed by UT's Office of Public Affairs and the Center for Brand Research in concert with GSD&M Advertising -- emphasize how the UT and Austin communities "together forge a dynamic, creative and diverse community that few American cities can match." UT will use the ads primarily during televised NCAA sporting events, where the networks provide the participating universities some free air time in each such telecast.

My favorite: "Breakfast Tacos."

Posted by Tom at 6:42 AM | Comments (1) |

May 25, 2005

Thoughts about Texas university endowments

Rice.jpgThis handy document ranks the size of the 741 largest university and college endowments in the United States. Although most of the largest endowments are held by well-known institutions, there are surprises even among the biggest endowments. Not many people realize that little Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa has the 34th largest endowment in the U.S. at almost $1.3 billion.

Here are some entries of interest to Houstonians:

1. Harvard University $22.1 billion
2. Yale University $12.7 billion
3. University of Texas System $10.3 billion
10. Texas A&M University System $4.375 billion
17. Rice University $3.3 billion
52. Baylor College of Medicine $972 million
56. Southern Methodist University $914.5 million
57. Texas Christian University $869 million
78. Trinity University $673 million
79. Baylor University $672 million
125. University of Houston System $402.5 million
129. Texas Tech University $392.5 million

Given the institutions' relative contributions to the welfare and economy of the State of Texas, does it really make sense for the University of Houston to have an endowment that is only roughly 4% the size of the University of Texas endowment and only 10% of that of Texas A&M? Ah, the legacy of the Permanent University Fund. At least UH is providing some serious "bang for the buck" in furnishing a quality educational resource for the State of Texas and Houston at a fraction of the endowed capital of UT and A&M.

On the other hand, one way to ameliorate the effects of the disproportionate size of the endowments would be through merger. How about turning UH into the University of Texas at Houston (UTH) and Tech into Texas A&M University at Lubbock? Or vice versa, in that it actually might make more sense to merge UH with A&M, which is more in need of an urban presence than UT. Inasmuch as it is in the interests of Texas for UH and Tech to achieve Tier I university status, a merger into either the UT or A&M systems would give both institutions access to endowed capital that would facilitate such an effort.

By the way, don't worry. Both UH and Tech could retain their football teams after the mergers. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 5:19 AM | Comments (3) |

March 9, 2005

Thoughts on legal education

A good time was had by all yesterday evening as I helped my old friend Randy Wilhite teach his Family Law class at the University of Houston Law Center.

Randy is one of the best family law practitioners in Texas, and he provides his students with a broad and useful curriculum of the myriad issues that they will confront in family law cases. The subject of this particular class was the impact that bankruptcy law and the risk of insolvency have on divorce cases, which is always a lively topic. Most of the students in the class had not yet taken bankruptcy law, but they caught on quickly and asked quite insightful questions regarding the interplay of insolvency and divorce law. You can download my PowerPoint presentation for the class here, which provides a basic introduction of bankruptcy law principles for Texas divorce cases.

Teaching the class yesterday reminded me to pass along a bang up new continuing education resource called Ten Minute Mentor, a free series of Web lectures that the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the Texas Bar CLE launched on March 1st with the well-thought out sales pitch of "Concise. Practical. Free." Moreover, the program is not limited in any way and is available to lawyers and interested laypersons everywhere.

The Ten Minute Mentor is a library of short video presentations by some of the state's best-known experts in various areas of law, firm management, and professional development. For example, longtime Houston trial lawyer Harry Reasoner describes how to structure a legal argument, while plaintiff's lawyer extraordinaire Joe Jamail articulates his view of a lawyer's role in society. The TYLA is actively adding to the video library, which already includes over 100 videos on various topics and can be searched by either speaker or category.

The Ten Minute Menton is another outstanding addition to the Texas Bar CLE's continuing education program, which is becoming a model for such programs. Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 8:46 AM | Comments (2) |

February 21, 2005

Black markets are in everything

Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolution points out that students at at Austin High School in Austin have given school administrators a lesson in the economics of "candy" prohibition:

When Austin High School administrators removed candy from campus vending machines last year, the move was hailed as a step toward fighting obesity. What happened next shows how hard it can be for schools to control what students eat on campus.

The candy removal plan, according to students at Austin High, was thwarted by classmates who created an underground candy market, turning the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca. . .

During the prohibition, one student, who asked not to be identified, said that he sold candy at the school and made as much as $50 in a day.

"It's all about supply and demand," said Austin junior Scott Roudebush. "We've got some entrepreneurs around here."

The Austin High administration, which won't elaborate on how much or little it knew about the candy black market, has since replenished the vending machines with some types of candy.

Posted by Tom at 5:38 AM | Comments (0) |

February 14, 2005

Thoughts on the regulation of minor league football and basketball

Several developments over the past month or so have prompted me to think about the National Collegiate Athletic Association's regulation of minor league football and basketball. Although it is an unincorporated association that includes many of the best universities in America, the NCAA has developed into a hulking and bloated bureaucracy that is the poster child for ineffective and misguided regulation.

One of the developments that triggered my thinking was the disclosure this past week that one of the best players on each of the University of Texas' basketball, football and baseball teams had been declared academically ineligible for the spring semester. That's not much of a return on the astounding $1.6 million a year that UT is currently spending on academic assistance for its athletes.

This UT academic problems come on the heels of the announcement last month that the NCAA -- whose rules and regulations manual already resembles the Internal Revenue Code in terms of size and complexity -- approved the first phase of a "landmark" academic reform package under which about 30 percent of Division I football teams (including UT's) would lose scholarships if the reforms were to be implemented immediately. The demand for professors with expertise in developing basket-weaving curricula is going to increase at more than a few NCAA member institutions in response to this latest NCAA initiative.

Meanwhile, partly as a result of the NCAA's strict regulation of compensation that can be paid to athletes in intercollegiate football and basketball (i.e., essentially scholarships), salaries for college coaches skyrocket at the same time as a black market for compensating college football and basketball players continues to run rampant, despite the NCAA and now the government's efforts to curtail it.

Finally, a college baseball game in Houston over the weekend between Rice and Texas A&M during the Minute Maid Classic Baseball Classic drew almost 20,000 fans. That's right -- a college baseball game, in February, drew almost 20,000 fans.

What are we to make of all of this?

Well, a bit of historical perspective helps. For all of its faults, Major League Baseball is the only one of the three major professional sports (football, basketball and baseball) that has capitalized and subsidized a thorough minor league development system. Oh, the NBA has its development league and the NFL has NFL Europe, but both of these ventures pale in comparison to the depth and success of baseball's minor league system. As a result, it's relatively rare for a baseball player to play in the Major Leagues without spending at least some time playing minor league baseball. In comparison, relatively few of the players in the NFL or the NBA ever play in NFL-Europe or the NBADL.

The reason for this is not that professional football and basketball players do not need to develop their skills in a minor league. Rather, the reason is that professional football and basketball simply rely on a ready-made minor league systems to develop most of their players -- that is, intercollegiate football and basketball.

This odd arrangement arose partly as a result of how professional sports developed in America over the past century. On one hand, professional baseball was already well-established in the late 19th century when intercollegiate football and basketball started taking root. Thus, MLB developed its minor league system as a necessary means to develop its players decades before intercollegiate baseball became popular on college campuses. Intercollegiate baseball has only become a source of player development for professional baseball over the past couple of decades or so, and it is still rare for a college baseball player to go straight from playing college baseball to playing in the Major Leagues.

On the other hand, despite the popularity of the NFL and the NBA today, the success of of those professional sports is still relatively recent in comparison with MLB's business success over the past century. Until the 1960's in regard to football, and the 1980's in regard to basketball, neither professional sport was particularly vibrant financially or as popular with the public as their intercollegiate counterparts. Thus, until relatively recently, neither the NFL nor the NBA has been in a financial position to capitalize a minor league system of player development similar to MLB's minor league system.

However, now that the NFL and the NBA owners have the financial wherewithal to subsidize viable minor league systems, they have little economic incentive to do so. Inasmuch as the NCAA and its member institutions have transformed intercollegiate football and basketball into a free minor league system for the NFL and the NBA, the owners of professional football and basketball teams have gladly accepted the NCAA member institutions' generosity.

The arrangement has been extraordinary successful for professional football and basketball owners, who have seen the value of their clubs skyrocket over the past two decades. A substantial part of that increase in value is attributable to avoiding the cost of developing a minor league system, as well as taking advantage of liberal public financing arrangements for the construction of new stadiums and areanas. That latter point is a subject for another day.

In comparison, the NCAA member institutions' acceptance of minor league professional status has not been nearly as successful. Yes, the top tier of intercollegiate football and basketball programs have had been successful financially, but the athletic programs of most NCAA member institutions struggle financially.

Moreover, almost every NCAA member institution compromises academic integrity at least to some extent in order to attract the best players possible to play on the institution's football and basketball teams. As a result, respected academics such as UT Chancellor Mark Yudof regularly have to endure troubling scandals (in Yudof's case, as president of the University of Minnesota) that underscore the tension between the business of minor league professional sports and the academic integrity of NCAA member institutions. The NCAA member institutions' reaction to these conflicts has generally been to increase regulation with usually unsatisfactory results.

So, what is the solution to this mess? Well, it's doubtful that more regulation of college football and basketball is the answer. Rather, my sense is that the model for reform is right in the front of the noses of the NCAA member institutions -- i.e., college baseball.

Due to MLB's well-structured minor league system of player development, a baseball player emerging from high school has a choice: Do I accept a moderate compensation level to play professional ball in the minor leagues in the hope of developing to the point of being a highly-paid MLB player? Or do I hedge the risk of not developing sufficiently to play at the MLB level by accepting a subsidized college education while developing my skills playing intercollegiate baseball?

This simple choice is the key difference between intercollegiate football and basketball, on one hand, and intercollegiate baseball on the other. Except for the relatively few high school basketball players who are sufficiently developed to be able to play professional basketball in the NBA or Europe immediately after high school, high school football and basketball players' only realistic choice for developing the skills to play at the highest professional level is college football or basketball.

Consequently, each year, the NCAA member institutions fall over themselves trying to accomodate a large pool of talented football and basketball players who have little or no interest in collegiate academics. Rather than placing the cost and risk of these players' development on the professional football and basketball clubs, the NCAA member institutions continue to incur the huge cost of subsidizing development of these players while engaging in the charade that these professional players are really "student-athletes."

In comparison, most top college baseball teams are generally comprised of two types of players -- a few professional-caliber players combined with a greater number of well-motivated student-athletes. That is an attractive blend of players, and the tremendous increase in popularity of college baseball over the past decade reflects the entertaining competition that results from such a player mix. Heck, the college baseball system is structured so well that even a small academic institution can win the National Championship in college baseball.

Nevertheless, transforming the current minor league system in college football and basketball into the college baseball model is going to take fundamental reforms within the NCAA. Primarily, it's going to require the courage and resilience of the presidents of the NCAA member institutions, who need to stand up and quit being played as patsies by the NFL and NBA owners who prefer to foist the risk of funding and administering minor league systems on to the NCAA member institutions.

Moreover, such a transformation of college football and basketball from entrenched minor league systems will be risky. The quality of play in college football and basketball will suffer a bit, even though the competition likely would not. In time, such a transformation would force both the NFL and the NBA to expand their minor league systems to develop the skills of the pool of physically-gifted athletes who prefer to develop their skills as minor league professionals rather than as college students. Competition from such true minor league football and basketball teams might result in a decrease in popularity of college football and basketball.

However, such a transformation would remove most of the galling incentives to compromise academic integrity and to engage in the black market for compensating players that are rife under the current system. Likewise, once viable professional minor leagues in football and basketball exist, football and basketball players will have the same choice coming out of high school that has generated the well-motivated mix of players that has made college baseball such an entertaining intercollegiate sport over the past decade.

Now that type of choice -- rather than the choice of which basket-weaving course to take in order to remain eligible -- is the kind of choice that NCAA member institutions should be encouraging.

Posted by Tom at 6:30 AM | Comments (4) |

February 4, 2005

Markets and college sports

Before moving to Houston 33 years ago, I was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa where my late father was a longtime University of Iowa Medical School faculty member.

As with most young folks who grow up in Iowa City, I became immersed in the rather remarkable culture of the University of Iowa Hawkeye sports programs, particularly the football and basketball programs. From 1960 through 1971, I attended virtually every Iowa home football and basketball game. Although I have not found much of a market for my services in this area, I remain one of the relatively few experts on those Iowa programs from that era.

What brings all this up is an interesting situation that has been playing out with regard to the Hawkeye basketball team over the past week. Pierre Pierce, who has started something like 82 or 84 games during his three season career at Iowa, was dismissed from the team because of a squabble with a girlfriend that has resulted in a police investigation. Pierce has not been charged with a crime, but the probable reason that Pierce was dismissed from the team rather than suspended pending the outcome of the investigation is that he had been effectively suspended for a season (i.e., red-shirted for a season) a couple of years ago after copping a plea bargain in connection with aggravated sexual assault charges that had been leveled against him.

In this post, Professor Ribstein -- from Hawkeye arch-rival, the University of Illinois -- makes the point that markets were already making the UI athletic administration's job somewhat easier in dismissing Pierce:

It must be tough to drop such a player. A team's success has huge financial implications for a big-time sports school. But it is, still, a school, and discipline of misconduct is an important part of the educational mission. So there's a conflict of interest at all management levels (not just the coach), because of conflicting criteria for judging their performance. This sounds to me a lot like the corporate social responsibility debate -- profits vs. society.

But I've argued that markets sort out these conflicts in the corporate area, and markets seem to be working here, as many at Iowa were expressing displeasure with the school's failure to act against Pierce.

Professor Ribstein is correct in his analysis, although it is just part of the story. Attendance at Hawkeye basketball games -- which has been a tough ticket in Iowa for over 50 years -- has diminished to the lowest levels in decades this season, despite the fact that the Hawkeye team is a Top 25 team and, as Professor Ribstein mentions in his post, took number one ranked and undefeated Illinois into overtime last week before losing a close game. As with most markets, a variety of factors is contributing to the declining attendance at Hawkeye basketball games, but no one who knows anything about the Hawkeye culture doubts for a second that the primary reason for the decline is many Hawkeye fans' disdain for Pierce and his primary supporter, Hawkeye basketball coach Steve Alford. The fascinating element to this is that the Hawkeye fans' disdain may be as much based on Coach Alford's limitations in evaluating Pierce's playing ability as it is on Pierce's apparent character flaws.

Coach Alford was hired at Iowa six years ago with the promise that he was going to take the traditionally very good Iowa basketball program to the "elite" level of college basketball programs. Unfortunately for Coach Alford, the program has actually gone in the other direction during his tenure, and the latest chapter in the Pierce saga is probably going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back in pushing the UI administration to buyout his contract and bring in a new coach.

Regardless of whether Coach Alford's decision to support Pierce was based on alturistic "everyone is entitled to a second chance" principles or more grizzled "the team really needs him" principles, the market for Iowa basketball has firmly rejected Coach Alford's decision. And interestingly, the market is at least partly rejecting Coach Alford's competence as an evaluator of basketball talent because, as this excellent analysis points out, the reality is that Coach Alford overrated Pierce as a basketball player and Iowa's team is likely not going to miss him much:

Pierre Pierce was clearly the focal point of Iowa's offense through its first seven conference games. Since he scored in such an inefficient fashion, his absence in the offense probably won't be the crisis some are making it out to be. The team going forward will be more balanced and made up of more efficient scorers, so they should be able to pick up the slack from the fallen star.

Stated simply, Pierce is like the .300 hitter in baseball whose on-base average is only .310 and whose slugging percentage is only .320. Because the non-experts in player evaluation believe that a .300 batting average equates with good hitting, the general public is deceived into thinking that the player is a good hitter despite the fact that the less well known but more important on base average and slugging percentage statistics reflect that the player is far below average. Pierce has a relatively high scoring average because he shoots frequently, but his poor shooting percentage and high turnover rate hurt the team more than his high scoring average contributes to it.

So, not only does the Pierce story intersect, as Professor Ribstein points out, the business of college sports and university corporate governance, it also points to the rather remarkable power of markets in effecting change in the entertainment business. The market for Hawkeye basketball recognizes that Coach Alford's decision to make the overrated Pierce the focal point of the Hawkeye team reflects his limitations as a coach who will be able to fulfill the market's expectation that the Iowa program remain at least the traditionally very good program that it has been over the past 50 years. That market is demanding a new (and hopefully better) coach, and it will likely get it.

Meanwhile, the market for Hawkeye football is quite strong as Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz has just hauled in a top recruiting class on the heels of three straight major bowl appearances and Top Ten finishes. Interestingly, Coach Ferentz's turnaround of the Hawkeye football program has been performed essentially by following the football model of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, which emphasizes teamwork and making no player the focal point of the team. Call it the "low risk with high upside" model of building a football program.

Yes, markets truly are in everything.

Posted by Tom at 7:36 AM | Comments (4) |

December 9, 2004

A refuge from family rejection

This NY Times article tells the interesting story of a heartbreaking conflict within a family and the Point Foundation's efforts to attempt to mitigate the damage that such conflicts can cause. Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 6:40 AM | Comments (0) |

September 28, 2004

Trouble in Cambridge

How can anyone on the Harvard faculty or in the Harvard administration not view as a troubling trend this latest episode of, at best, academic sloppiness? To make matters even more dreadful, I'm not sure what's worse, Tribe's plagiarism or Dershowitz's disingenuous defense of it.

Meanwhile, the Harvard Plagiarism Archive has popped up to keep us abreast of these developments.

Posted by Tom at 8:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 8, 2004

The futures market for books

Bill Clinton's autobiography may be hot, and the Harry Potter series continues to set records, but this National Endowment for the Arts survey indicates that such books are becoming an aberration. The study describes a precipitous downward trend in Americans' book consumption and a particular decline in the reading of fiction, poetry and drama.

Among its findings are that fewer than half of Americans over 18 now read novels, short stories, plays or poetry; that the consumer pool for books of all kinds has diminished; and that the pace at which the nation is losing readers is accelerating; and that the downward trend is occurring in virtually all demographic areas.

The survey also makes an interesting correlation between readers of literature and those who are socially engaged, noting that readers are far more likely than nonreaders to do volunteer and charity work and go to art museums, performing arts events and ballgames. Of literary readers, 43 percent perform charity work while only 17 percent of nonreaders do.

The Census Bureau study upon which the survey was based measured the number of adult Americans who attended live performances of theater, music, dance and other arts; visited museums; watched broadcasts of arts programs; or read literature in the past year. The survey sample ? 17,135 people ? is one of the largest studies ever conducted on the subject of arts participation, and the data was compared with similar studies from 1982 and 1992.

In the literature segment of the study, respondents were asked whether they had, during the previous 12 months, without the impetus of a school or work assignment, read any novels, short stories, poems or plays in their leisure time. Their answers show that just over half ? 56.6 percent ? read a book of any kind in the previous year, down from 60.9 percent a decade earlier. Readers of literature fell even more dramatically, to 46.7 percent of the adult population, down from 54 percent in 1992 and 56.9 percent in 1982. Although the number of readers of literature is about the same now as it was in 1982 ? about 96 million people ? the American population has increased by almost 40 million.

Last month the Association of American Publishers released worldwide sales figures for 2003, indicating that total sales of consumer book products increased 6 percent for the year. Much of the increase can be accounted for by sales of audio books, juvenile titles and nonpaper e-books that are sold online. Adult hardbound books, adult paperbacks and mass-market paperbacks all showed relatively flat revenues in spite of price increases. Interestingly, the one category of book to rise markedly was that of religious texts, with total sales of $337.9 million, 36.8 percent over the previous year.

Posted by Tom at 7:18 AM | Comments (0) |

July 6, 2004

The shell game of college education finance

Read about it here.

Posted by Tom at 6:11 AM | Comments (0) |

June 3, 2004

UT regents elect James Huffines chairman

This Austin American-Statesman article reports on the University of Texas System Board of Regents selection of James Huffines, an Austin banker and behind-the-scenes Republican powerbroker, as chairman of the UT Board of Regents on Wednesday. Mr. Huffines succeeds Charles Miller, a retired Houston money manager, who resigned the chairmanship but will continue to serve as a regent until Governor Perry appoints his replacement.

Posted by Tom at 7:32 AM | Comments (0) |

April 11, 2004

Building a better educational system

This NY Times article explores the Finnish educational system, of which Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution points out:

1. Finnish children do not start school until they are seven years old. Most Finnish children do start day care from about the age of one, given that most mothers work.

2. Educational spending is a very modest $5,000 per student per year.

3. There are few if any programs for gifted children.

4. Class sizes often approach 30.

5. "Finland topped a respected international [educational] survey last year, coming in first in literacy and placing in the top five in math and science."

6. Finnish teachers all have a Master's degree or more.

7. Finnish teachers all enjoy a very high social status.

8. Reading to children, telling them folk tales, and going to the library are all high status activities.

9. TV programs are often in English, and subtitled, which further supports reading skills. (This should also serve as a jab to those who complain about the global spread of American TV shows.)

Mr. Cowen's post includes a number of good links to other sources reflecting the success of the Finnish education model, and then he provides the following insightful observation:

The United States performs remarkably well when it harnesses status and approbational incentives in the right direction. We have done this for business entrepreneurship, but we are not close when it comes to education. When it comes to economics, we have to move away from our near-exclusive emphasis on monetary incentives.

Given the tradition of local control over public schools in the United States, is it possible for the federal government to initiate and sustain the policies necessary to create the incentives necessary to improve public education in this country?

Posted by Tom at 9:23 AM | Comments (0) |

April 7, 2004

UT Law attracts top business law prof

Brian Leiter reports in this post that Bernard Black, the George E. Osborne Professor at Stanford Law School and a leading figure in corporate law and law and economics, has accepted an offer to teach at the University of Texas School of Law.

Posted by Tom at 7:46 AM | Comments (0) |

April 3, 2004

Enterprise status for public universities

Skip over at The Sports Economist posts this interesting story about how the scandal involving the University of Colorado football team is emboldening the economist-president of the University to push the University's Board of Regents and the Colorado State Legislature to grant the University "enterprise status," which would make it a semiprivate institution with more independence over financial matters such as raising money and setting tuition rates.

Skip comments insightfully on this development as follows:

This issue is not unique to Colorado. The University of Virginia is a well known example where state funding has become a small percentage of operating expenditure. Clemson has the same problem. The issue is not just "managing finances," but having the freedom to make autonomous decisions on numerous margins which affect the university. Given the dry well in public funding, schools want to be released from regulatory constraints on what they do. Increasingly, good state universities are obtaining a more private character. Schools that do not move in this direction will surely suffer in the national competition for quality students and faculty.

This is a development in public school financing that we Texans should be watching closely. Public financing of universities in Texas has long been a controversial issue, with the University of Texas and Texas A&M University long enjoying an absurdly and unjustifiable favored financing status over all other public universities in Texas. As a result, leaders of Texas public universities in areas of great fund-raising potential (three examples would be the University of Houston, North Texas State University, and Texas Tech University) would be well-advised to follow the "enterprise status" initiative at the University of Colorado. It may well be a way for those universities to break out of the politically imposed financial limitations that have constrained their overall advancement for many years.

Posted by Tom at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) |

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