Saturday, July 28, 2007

For philosophy, they'll pay you!

From today's NY Times, public universities are more and more charging different tuition rates for different majors. Business, engineering, chemistry and journalism (really, journalism???) are the premium priced majors cited in the article and the University of Wisconsin, Kansas U, Arizona State U, U of Nebraska, U of Illinois are cited as price discriminators. Among the stated rationales are to offset high professor salaries in the premium fields and to help purchase specialized equipment.

No one quoted in the article appeared to be happy with the practice, which to me just kind of makes sense. A bureaucrat from U of Kansas put it this way:

“Where we have gone astray culturally,” he said, “is that we have focused almost exclusively on starting salary as an indicator of life earnings and also of the value of the particular major.”

(Is there a better single proxy for life earnings than one's starting salary??)

Mark Kushner, dean of Iowa State's engineering college weighs in thusly:

Mr. Kushner said he thought society was no longer looking at higher education as a common good but rather as a way for individuals to increase their earning power.

“There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low,” he said. “That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That’s no longer the perception.”

If that was the perception of the past, I don't think its very accurate to emphasize a significant public good dimension of higher education. It really is all about the Benjamins, isn't it?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Coincidence? Ouch.

At baseball camp yesterday, week long thing at a local high school, my son Brian (nickname at camp: Fluffmaster Flex, and no I have no idea why) got hit by a sailing fastball. Right in the left arm. Left bloody stitch marks on his tricep. Pretty cool.

Then, final game of regular season last night....first at bat....bases loaded. Brian's up. Kid throws a curve that didn't. (Curve, that is). Brian does as we have often discussed, with the bases loaded, and flinches just enough to make it look good. Hits him right in the tricep. HBP, take your base, RBI. Other team fusses a little, but nothing much.

Next inning, he bats again. First pitch (again), curve that doesn't. He actually tries to get out of the way. Hits him right in the tricep.

Fourth inning, he comes up. Two at-bats, two PITCHES, two HBP. First pitch is a fastball on the inside. He crushes it. Line drive, hits three feet in front of the 335 sign in left on the fly....six inches foul. Hit it plenty hard enough to go out, just foul and a little too much on the nose instead of getting under it. Second pitch of the at-bat....HITS HIM SQUARE ON THE LEFT ARM.

Four pitches, three HBP for the night so far. I'm yelling at the catcher, who is an old family friend, and who at 16 is an inch taller than I am, and very solidly built. "I know where your car is, Carl! I'll meet you in the parkin' lot, boy!" The ump is hiding his face in his chest pad, laughing.

Top of the last inning, we are up by one. Could use some insurance. Men on first and third. Brian comes up. And the pitcher nails him right in the butt with a fastball, first pitch. The ball park goes crazy. The Latino parents behind are screaming and laughing, "Cuatro veces! Cuatro veces!" Brian's coach, coaching third, has his hands on his knees and is obviously shaking with laughter. Carl the catcher yells to me, "I'm not callin' those. I am NOT callin' those!"

We score two runs and shut them down in the bottom of the inning, win the game. Brian has big bruises on his arm and butt cheek, and has been the main character in a night to remember.

His batting line for the night:

AB: 0 H: 0 W: 0 HBP: 4 RBI: 1
SB: 2 R: 2 SO: 0 Total Pitches Faced: 5
Avg: undefined Slg: undefined OBP: 1.000

I've never seen anything like it.

Made me wonder about HBP records. (My older son holds the career record for HBP at his middle school. You get on base. And the pitchers are throwing in the high 50s. Why not?)

The career leaders for the Majors?

Hughie Jennings--287
Craig Biggio--282*
Don Baylor--267

*still active

How about for a single game?

The record is 3 times in a game, record held by many.

How about for a single inning? Four guys have two HBP in an inning.
AL Brady Anderson Baltimore 05-23-1999 1st Inning
NL Willard Schmidt Cincinnati 04-26-1959 3rd Inning
Frank Thomas New York 04-29-1962 4th Inning
Andres Galarraga Colorado 07-12-1996 7th Inning

So, Brian takes his place up there among the immortals. 4 HBP in a one
seven-inning game: Well done, son. Way to take 4 for the team.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Worst Book I Ever Read

When I travel, I am paranoid about running out of reading material. Especially on a trip like the one we just took where we are out in the bush with little night life. So, rather than chucking it after the first 25 pages or so, I read the entire hideous mess that is The Kite Runner.

Holy Crap, where do I begin? First, it is a first person account of a great writer written by a crap writer. Example: "All my life had been spent in the company of men, but tonight I would learn what it is like to lie with a woman". In the words of one of my heroes (John McEnroe), you cannot be serious!!

Second, every single plot advancement is done by means of a virtually impossible, melodramatic, coincidence. I am not joking. Every single one. For example, the protagonist's life goes awry when he fails to prevent his servant/friend/half-brother from getting buggered by a blond haired, blue-eyed, Afghani neo-nazi boy who has just happened to trap his friend alone somewhere in Kabul on the most important day of the protagonist's life. And when the protagonist returns to Kabul to rescue the son of said friend, the head Talibani in charge is the SAME NEO-NAZI guy. And HE'S BUGGERING THE BUGGEREES SON!!!!! Its really quite mind boggling.

This book has over 1900 customer reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I just don't see how that is possible.


I am the lead plaintiff in a suit filed today against the state of North Carolina. Represented by NC Institute for Constitutional Law, the real moving force.

Some background on the GOOGLE package.

Just as Google has pushed the boundaries of its Internet business, it plays the real estate game aggressively. Beginning with an anonymous approach in late 2005, the company elicited a stream of promises from local and state officials in North Carolina, all frantic to lure a major tech company, even before they knew which one. During months of negotiations over Google's shifting requirements, the company never failed to remind those officials that it could go elsewhere. In the end, the North Carolinians agreed to a package of tax breaks, infrastructure upgrades, and other goodies valued at $212 million over 30 years, or more than $1million for each of the 210 jobs Google said it eventually hoped to create in Lenoir.

Had a press conference today, and some press even showed up. We'll see what happens.

Some early ink here and here and here.

My own view, summarized briefly:

This statement is Michael Munger’s alone, and does not necessarily represent the views of the other plaintiffs, or the views of the NCICL.

I. Why is this public payoff to GOOGLE the wrong thing for NC?

1. No public purpose. Private economic benefits to GOOGLE, and private political benefits to North Carolina’s elected officials. Nothing here for the businesses and taxpayers of NC. Government shouldn’t be in this business. It violates our constitutional principles, and violates a long tradition of separation of business and political activities. GOOGLE is being used as free political advertising for politicians, and taxpayers are being used as unwilling subsidizers of GOOGLE’s stock price.

2. Equal protection. You can’t single out a business for bad treatment, and tax them extra to benefit everyone else. But then you can’t tax everyone else just to benefit one business.

3. These programs don’t work. It’s a waste of money. Few jobs are created, at enormous cost. The cost to taxpayers will be double the “salary” of the “new” workers. And, more generally, businesses don’t make location decisions based on these kinds of subsidies. It’s just a pure political payoff.

II. Why do businesses make location decisions, over the long haul?

My work in economics and politics has convinced me that businesses make location decisions on three factors: (a) transportation system, (b) education system, and (c) the burden of taxes and regulation in the state. North Carolina is a wonderful place for business. We have good roads, a very solid primary and secondary education system, and our burden of taxes and regulations are better than that of many other states. People are moving to North Carolina from all over the nation, in fact all over the world.

Let’s let businesses focus on what is good about North Carolina, ALL of North Carolina, and not make political payoffs to a few high-visibility companies that aren’t going to produce many new jobs anyway.

I'll be writing about this pretty often, in the weeks to come.

And, welcome back Angus!!!!!

My favorite things Tanzanian

Robin and I are back from our trip to Tanzania and Rwanda, so let me sincerely flatter my blogging godfather (and marriage matchmaker) Tyler and tell you about our favorite things in Tanzania

1. Lake Tanganyika. The water, at least around Mahale Mountains National Park, is crystal clear, safe for swimming and turquoise like the Caribbean. We puttered around on a motorized dhow, and saw hippos wading under the boat, crocs on the shore and beautiful sunsets. The lake also has a fascinating military story from World War I that is well told in the book, Mimi & Toutou's Big Adventure, which I highly recommend (written by the guy who wrote Last King of Scotland, which was made into a movie where Forest Whittaker dazzled as Idi Amin).

2. Swahili. What a fun language! Phonetic, poetic and according to some Tanzanians we talked to, there are approaching 100 million Swahili speakers. Sweet! Wapi tembo leo?

3. The great migration. The books say 1.5 million wildebeests, but the guides we talked to swore that it is more like 3-4 million at this point. When we got to the western corridor of the Serengeti, the herd had split into thirds, but what we saw was stupendous. Mile after mile of wildebeests and zebras. The crocs on the Grumetti river were so fat when we got there, they were kind of just going through the motions, though we did see 3 wildees go down at their hands.

The one more academic/economic impression that we picked up was that people are well aware of corruption as an important issue and are pleased with their current president's anti-corruption stance. Several people told us stories, more or less unprompted, about previous types of routine corruption that had been eliminated or reduced due to government action.