Re: Residue

1

Agreed, esp on the last point. It seemed when I read this that the way to reconcile his earlier "I almost punched a guy then David Carr told me I'm stupid" stuff with the claims in the current piece is to lean heavily on (in)dependence of culture and white supremacy, but that makes the whole thing less interesting.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:23 AM
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"sharpening my own sword"

Having not yet read it, this is about masturbation, yes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:26 AM
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Having now read that line, yes, yes it is.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:27 AM
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I often sharpen my sword to Jon Chait. Don't judge me.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:28 AM
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I am pretty sure that disliking Coates' style, and disliking it more and more as he incorporates on y va et hoc genus omne, makes you racist.

In any event, conflicts between worldviews of diagnosis and prescription are always awkward and usually counterproductive.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:32 AM
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So, like I said the other day, lots of thoughts on this piece. First of all, and I know this is a contentious, and well-belabored point, but it's hardly just about Black America, is it? Come ride the bus with me and you will see every sort of sadness and depravity exhibited by white folx, Native people, Chicanos, Asian-Americans, Black people, etc. "The true complexion of the neighborhood is 'poor'" as the Micranots rapped. And it's not just poverty per se, but the combination of poverty and street culture. Rural poverty produces its own somewhat overlapping set of pathologies. That said, obviously there are specific aspects of African-American lifeways that shape and are shaped by the specific experience of white terrorism that Coates references. At the root, however, I think we need to look always and first at the lived experiences of individuals. People are always talking about "achievement gap this" and "generational poverty that", but as a graduate of an urban public school system, and one that has a reputation as notably liberal, let me tell you that day to day interactions between teachers and students are still constantly marred by racism. When you grow up as a Black person in this country and EVERY FUCKING DAY you see your white classmates (or Asian, or Hispanic) treated differently and better than you, how can that not have an effect? I'm kind of sick of that "micro-aggressions" buzzword, 'cause I think it elides and occludes a lot of what actually goes on. People -- mostly white people -- make conscious political decisions to be racist and support white supremacy every day. Not by looking cross-eyed at a Black person, but by denying Black people equal protection under the law, denying them work and housing and access to knowledge, denying them the opportunity to change anything. Before we worry about "micro-aggressions" or "cultural residue", let's hammer home the point that individuals have to stop being actively racist! Specifically, individuals in positions of power, who guide institutions to be racist as well.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:48 AM
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Coates is making a useful point that is too often forgotten: Social and political conditions right now today, even absent historical racism, have a huge impact on outcomes. I think he is generally right that even progressives underestimate this.

Leave aside historical conditions and just fix the stuff that's wrong today - discrimination in the legal and labor systems, most obviously - and you do a huge amount to solve the so-called "cultural" problems of the black community.

Even among liberals, there's a tendency to think that we've solved this racism thing, and the major remaining task is to deal with the hangover from past racism. That's incorrect.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:51 AM
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I had more to say about this when I read it on Friday.

Am I correct that "on y va" is basically "And so it goes"? Surely no one thinks Vonnegut was cringeworthy? The fact that it's in French doesn't faze me much, because French has been more or less his full time job for a few years now. Expecting him not to incorporate it into his writing would be like expecting a rising programmer not to blog about his app.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:58 AM
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One interesting thing that maybe everyone except me has always known is that Brown v. Board of Ed was about a school system where only the elementary schools were segregated, so the black students were given inadequate resources and instructional materials, though I hear there were good teachers, and then put into racially integrated high schools where they were expected to "naturally" do worse.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 6:59 AM
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9: I didn't know that!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:03 AM
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Am I correct that "on y va" is basically "And so it goes"? Surely no one thinks Vonnegut was cringeworthy?

ASSUMES FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:05 AM
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I agree with 7. Also, without digging into the details, ai heartily distrust Chait on any race issue because he used to write for the New Republic. Which, maybe until recently (I haven't read it in a while) was kind of the flagship magazine for squirmy, pompous white guys who were nominally liberal but terrified of black men. I don't know that there's nothing there but 98% of "black problems are caused by culture" arguments are bullshit and that figure goes up to 99.99% when made by white kids from the suburbs.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:05 AM
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"On y va" was pretty annoying though, I'll give you that. As "ai" would have been in my comment above, were it intentional.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:07 AM
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Re: 7.2 -- Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and you'd do a huge amount to solve the problems of the Black community. Plus a bunch of other communities.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:07 AM
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Anyway, I don't think Ogged identifies a real self-refutation, because Coates' point isn't that cultural residue washes right off; it's that it's much thinner (less sticky? Please help me escape this metaphor) than one might expect, as evidenced by the fact that slaves embraced (let's say) bourgeois values as soon as physically possible, and that, while Coates' worldview is shaped by the milieu of his youth, in no way has that milieu defined him - not in the simplistic cause-and-effect way that the "cultural residue" implies.

I don't know that Coates would agree with this précis, but I think the basic argument comes to this (with a hat tip to Natilo above): all impoverished communities tend towards the same pathologies, because impoverishment is punishing and does not reward "good behavior"; blacks in America have been impoverished more completely, relentlessly, and ruthlessly than any other group, and so the pathologies of poverty are more apparent. Which means that the pathologies are the symptom, not the disease, and addressing them is secondary to curing the disease (which, again per Natilo, is to stop white America from impoverishing black America).

To break the analogy ban in a way that may break the blog, it's rather like the newish slogan that preventing rape isn't up to women; it's up to men.

PS - I swear I was not trying to use Frenchy words


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:09 AM
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And, yes, 7.2 and 14 are right and kind of end the story. Fix the basic economic and structural problems first and only then let's all spin whatever bullshit we want about culture. Also the metaphor of Barak Obama as black America's "coach" was ridiculous, especially coming from a white dude.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:12 AM
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Fucking spelling. I blame a culture of entitlement.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:16 AM
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Surely no one thinks Vonnegut was cringeworthy?

Even in high school I hated Vonnegut. You can't go for the death-of-the-ball-turret-gunner tone on every page without seeming hysterical, dude.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:20 AM
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Actually, I went through the cycle of "this is amazing" and then "this is a bit much," but lately when I read passages of his, I'm kind of back to amazing. Maybe it doesn't hold up for a full book (or maybe it only does in his best books), but the guy had an eye and a hand and style and heart.

Anyone ever read his son's memoir of back to the land hippie freakout? Really intense.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:23 AM
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I've read "Cat's Cradle", and seen the inexplicable phrase ""And so it goes." - Kurt Vonnegut" in a million pretentious people's lists of pretentious quotes from Jim Morrison et al, so I think I know something about Kurt Vonnegut, you guys.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:26 AM
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How does the post-CW embrace of those values square with the current statistics? Not a troll, I was confused by the foner detour wrt what I took to be Coates' main point.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:27 AM
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I thought it translated as, "Here we go."


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:27 AM
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Or possibly, "Let's go."


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:28 AM
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Although that's more likely to be, "Allons-y."


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:29 AM
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Haters of Vonnegut might as well be haters of Twain. The idea that Americans - and especially white Americans - aren't required to be assholes remains a novel idea that doesn't get enough exposure.

19.2: Mark Vonnegut's book was indeed very good - probably misguided in its actual medical prescription for mental illness, but very good in evoking a time and place nonetheless.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:35 AM
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Haters of Vonnegut might as well be haters of Twain.

I've read Tom Sawyer, Detective.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:43 AM
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I know what "On y va" means in French, but have never seen it in English before. Did he mean it as a reference to New Orleans or something?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:46 AM
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Tom Sawyer, Detective

Tom Sawyer may be one of the few well known 19th century fictional characters left who hasn't been reworked as a vampire slayer or zombie hunter.

Better jump on the opportunity before someone else does.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:47 AM
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28: Tom Sawyer is in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:51 AM
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29: +The


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:51 AM
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Huckleberry Finn, of course, was retconned into the Strawberry Shortcake mythos.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:53 AM
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21: Single motherhood society-wide has increased radically since the CW. Specifically in the black community, we've thrown, what, 1/4 of marriage-aged black males into prison, so I'd say the pool has been reduced.

I think the point of the Foner tangent/diversion was that you've got 3 ways of explaining the state of black America:

1. cultural residue - white supremacy fucked up blacks so much that they can't get their shit together post-supremacy

2. cultural pathology - blacks are inherently stupid/lazy/immoral

3. the intersection of current white supremacy with social factors that affect every poorer part of society.

The post-CW era more or less disposes of both 1 and 2 - in the aftermath of incredible and direct attacks on black society, there was plenty of community cohesion, and if blacks had their shit together in the past, under more trying circumstances, it's hard to argue that, as a people, they're incapable of getting their shit together. Which leaves 3, which I'm pretty sure is THC's point.

I suppose the racist counter-argument is that blacks only had their shit together under the threat of white violence, and while nobody in respectable society would say it, maybe that's the subtext of conservative talk on race. That's certainly the conservative position on parenting (children will only behave under threat of corporal punishment)


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:54 AM
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Typo + spellcheck turned "corporal punishment" into "cop oral punishment". I'm sorry I fixed it.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:55 AM
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@29 Didn't know that. Who's left? I guess Anthony Trollope's characters are still available.

"Plantagenet and Glencora Palliser: by day they're liberal aristocrats; by night, they fight crime!"


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:55 AM
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On topic, the Moynihan Report has a lot to answer for in terms of providing respectable liberal cover for the whole crypto-racist "cultural pathology" line of argument.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:58 AM
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Have there been any Raffles reboots? What about a series where Denis Hayland Smith and Fah lo Suee are married and their children are all conflicted about stuff, in the 40s?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 7:58 AM
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29, 30: Only the movie version.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:01 AM
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I don't really think ogged's response works, because a "residue" is what's left by something that's in the main gone—all that's left is a residue, see—and Coates' point in the paragraphs following "I have spent the past two days searching for an era when black culture could be said to be "independent" of white supremacy. I have not found one." is that the thing principally at fault, that would leave a residue if it were otherwise all gone, is not otherwise all gone at all. It's not a claim that black culture is dependent on white supremacy in the sense that the latter, way back when, gave rise to the conditions that currently shape the former, but that the latter has been and still is an active and pernicious influence on the latter. So to be able to point to some influence on Coates specifically and say, "see, residue", seems to be missing the point, to me.

Surely no one thinks Vonnegut was cringeworthy?

I have some bad news for you.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:02 AM
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"Plantagenet and Glencora Palliser: by day they're liberal aristocrats; by night, they fight crime!"

If "the Duke of Omnium" isn't a pluperfect supervillain's name, I'm Marjorie Meriwether Post.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:02 AM
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There were only nine comments when I started writing that.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:02 AM
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38: Counterpoint: Independence is declared, not observed.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:05 AM
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41: counter-counterpoint: it's hard to just declare yourself independent of your material conditions, the social conditions in which you're situated, the power others have over you, etc., or, to put it in words you might better understand, "something something bad faith something existential hero is bullshit something something".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:07 AM
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#36 - Viz's long-running Raffles the Gentleman Thug.


Posted by: Richard J | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:08 AM
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The political metaphor of declaring oneself independent of something hardly seems apropos for an observation about the independence of phenomena, anyway, even social phenomena; you can't declare your way out of socially sustained things.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:09 AM
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44: Really? I had the impression that a profession of independence of political, social, cultural, even physical* phenomena was a sine qua something of the minority self-consciousness.

* "And you can take that to our local bank, get a decent 3% return in a money market account or something like that and then use the compound interest to purchase pen, ink, stationery and postage to send a message to those fat cats all the way back east in Washington that we don't want them interfering in this state/city/town/valley/holler/orthogo-universe!"


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:16 AM
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Since Obama was elected president, America has been independent of racism.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:16 AM
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46: See?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:17 AM
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Am I correct that "on y va" is basically "And so it goes"?

No, it's more like "Off we go" or "let's go". As a question, it's "shall we go?" "Allons-y" is similar but more imperative sounding. In the context of the essay, it's misused.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:29 AM
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Debating material conditions vs. culture kind of strikes me like a milder form of the genes/environment debate -- there are all kinds of forms of mutual causation and vicious/virtuous cycles operating there, to the point that it's something like a false dichotomy. Cultural impacts of oppression last a long time because they are linked to material deprivation that in turn reinforces the negative cultural effects. Where and how to intervene to intervene in the cycle is to some degree a pragmatic question. Thinking that a vigorous lecture is the solution is obviously idiotic, but air-dropping bales of money on the ghetto hardly recommends itself either. Although the idiotic lecture solution is the one that actually gets tried because cheap and gratifying to the self-righteousness of the lecturer.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:29 AM
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but air-dropping bales of money on the ghetto hardly recommends itself either.

Air dropping decent paying jobs might work, however.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:36 AM
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but air-dropping bales of money on the ghetto hardly recommends itself either.

I would like to see this tried. Certainly Natilo has it right in 14.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:37 AM
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Although the idiotic lecture solution is the one that actually gets tried because cheap and gratifying to the self-righteousness of the lecturer.

Also reinforces the idea that it's the oppressed people's own fault -- they just aren't smart/civilized/self-disciplined enough. That's what fuels Coates' anger.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:38 AM
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With some misgivings, I claim 52.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:39 AM
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On reading above, mostly what JRoth said in 15.

A couple of other thoughts -- when barriers were really cleared aside and the broader economy was supporting mobility, black populations were very responsive. I'm thinking, immediately post Civil War, the 'Great Migration' period to the North in the 40s through mid-60s, immediately after the Civil Rights movement in the South from the mid-60s to mid 70s. You can see increases in income, employment, education, pretty quickly then. The big mystery is why things seemed to go so wrong in the North especially starting around the mid/late 60s, even before the Reagan years. There is some mix of deindustrialization, mass incarceration, etc. that accounts for it (and of course intensifies post-1981 recession due to mass incarceration plus the fundamental inequality-producing shifts in the economy). But I do actually give some creedence to the conservative idea that the general cultural liberalization of the late 60s/early 70s had a particularly negative impact on poor minorities -- divorce and crime soared across the board for all groups in that period, it could hit the poorer groups particularly hard.

Also, the U.S. discussion of slavery, oppression, and impacts on culture is quite parochial around the black American experience. I think over half the (pale, white, blond) Russian population were serfs, essentially enslaved, for a roughly similar historical period as black Americans. The white British working class (and more so, Irish) had a brutal time of it in the 19th century. You can still see very familiar 'culture of poverty' effects in those countries, particularly when reinforced (as in Russia) by continued deprivation over the years.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:39 AM
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In the context of the essay, it's misused.

OK, that was part of my confusion; I had an approximation of a literal translation, but the context misled me.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:40 AM
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Air dropping decent paying jobs might work, however.

But that's the thing -- jobs are *not* a material-only solution, they are a material-cultural solution (the classic material-cultural solution if you do them right). Things like workfare, which might seem like a 'job', are not good solutions because they don't bring the cultural growth of a real job.

I don't think any material-cultural solution works without jobs, because there is no dignity in our society without work.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:43 AM
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Air dropping decent paying jobs might work, however.

This was actually the idea behind "Opportunity Zones." I was reading somewhere (Pierce?) that, for all his flaws, Kemp was rare among conservative Republicans in being genuinely non-racist. Not just personally, but in the more important sense that his poverty-related proposals were legit attempts to alleviate poverty, not back-handed dog whistles.

AFAIK most Opportunity Zones didn't do much good, partly because they needed more work to set up than actually happened*, and partly because of ongoing deindustrialization. Combine OZs with tariffs or offshore labor/environmental standards (or labor standards in the South), and you'd actually get somewhere.

*that is, taking 6 square blocks of ghetto and declaring them tax-free isn't nearly sufficient to make business location there competitive. Aside from the temptation to the easy solution, I think there's also an element of tax revolt delusion at work: if only taxes were lower, businesses will perform miracles!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:46 AM
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there is no dignity in our society without work.

I wonder if this norm is at a breaking point. Robots continue to be more and more useful, relative to humans. In all the right-wing jibber-jabber on Facebook in response to ideas that inequality is bad, I'm not seeing a lot of "Get a job". More like "It's your fault that you will never, ever get a job, because you made a mistake". Even people who hate the poor and working class realize there are not enough jobs to go around.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:47 AM
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Things like workfare, which might seem like a 'job', are not good solutions because they don't bring the cultural growth of a real job.

Doesn't this depend on the nature of the workfare? I never heard of any participants who considered the WPA or CCC as fake jobs.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:47 AM
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because there is no dignity in our society without work.,/i>

That may be correct, but there is also very little dignity in our society with work.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:49 AM
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I didn't mean to imply that there is some easy way to create jobs, although "Cut taxes --> Magic!" clearly doesn't work.

I was just noting that when stable decent paying employment is available, this "culture of poverty" stuff tends to start mysteriously fixing itself. Go figure.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:51 AM
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Very true, although remember CCC was outdoor work for young men in work camps. Not really a career job. I guess I was just trying to get at how it's difficult to design work programs, because they need to integrate into the cultural life of the community in the right way. How that works will vary by time and population.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:52 AM
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54.2 (although 54.1 makes a strong point): don't forget the lead. By 1970 you had a brain damaged generation raising brain damaged children and, as Drum pointed out, lead poisoning doesn't just lead to crime: it leads to an entire suite of, well, pathologies (impaired intelligence, impulse control, etc). And of course it has knock-on effects - crime rates go up, men are thrown in jail, people become crime victims, less wealth is generated, etc. And of course lead poisoning was concentrated in inner cities.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:52 AM
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air-dropping bales of money on the ghetto hardly recommends itself either

Tell it to the Brooks World Poverty Institute.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:52 AM
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56. Workfare provides a way to verify to a potential employer that you can show up for a shift every day for a while, which is definitely a start. The problem is the missing next rung on the ladder, that is there are hardly any low-skill jobs that pay OK and also have some prospect for promotion.

Possibly shale gas and China getting richer will help.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:54 AM
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I started reading the article on BART and then got to work so I'm not done but my first thought was "I love I-know-a-language frippery like 'on y va'" and then it looked like maybe he uses it over and over and it probably gets annoying or at least gets stuck in one's head comme ca:

on y va
on y va
on y va
Les aristocrats a la lanterne

I will read the rest of the article and maybe even pay attention to the actual substance of it.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:59 AM
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62: OK, sure. I agree that make-work isn't a long term solution. Staying in one shitty job for life is bad enough, but when that job is make-work....

As Atrios always points out, there's lots of jobs that need doing, and that people wish were being done, but we refuse to tax ourselves enough to pay people to do them. Probably every economically diverse city in America would benefit from more street cleaning, parks maintenance, road repair, hell, crossing guards. That would represent who knows how many jobs nationwide - surely a million or three. You'd bring dignified (if not follow your passion!) jobs right to residents who need them and you'd raise everyone's standard of living, but we won't even fucking tax ourselves to pay teachers.

Stupid goddamn Americans.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 8:59 AM
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Oliver Twist vs. Springheel Jack
Horatio Alger's "Ragged Dick and the Mummy"
Queequeg and the Tikis of Doom
Weird Sister Carrie
The Portrait of a Lady Werewolf

See, plenty of possibilities left!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:10 AM
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Or maybe one might imagine it as French for "gurl, I went there."


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:12 AM
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"Let's roll"


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:14 AM
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we won't even fucking tax ourselves to pay teachers.

If the money went to the "good teachers" people would be falling over themselves to pay their share. But sending ever increasing amounts of cash go to idiots with zero tolerance policies about everything seems counterproductive.

What's a "good job"? They can't dishwashers in North Dakota because everyone is heading to the oil patch.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:19 AM
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If you can't dish washers, who can you dish?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:22 AM
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Ack! Keep dishwashers. As in the people washing dishes, not major appliances.

How much of the incarceration ends with decriminalization of pot? Too early to come to any real conclusion in CO, but did I ready millions in taxes already collected?


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:30 AM
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On topic, the Moynihan Report has a lot to answer for in terms of providing respectable liberal cover for the whole crypto-racist "cultural pathology" line of argument.

Coates has argued that the Moynihan report read as a whole is actually in full agreement with the argument he is making in the linked post, and that it's an out of context selective misreading of the Report that's responsible for the popular image of the report.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:42 AM
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Nosflow's 38.1 gets it right.

54: The big mystery is why things seemed to go so wrong in the North especially starting around the mid/late 60s, even before the Reagan years.

I've mentioned before Khalil Gibran Muhammad's The Condemnation of Blackness.

There's a recent Jamelle Bouie piece on how we (white people) built the ghettos: things going wrong in northern black communities mid-century was in significant part due to deliberate narratives and policies designed to pathologize / criminalize / impoverish urban blacks.

In short, redlining forced blacks into particular areas and then starved those areas of affordable capital. Combined with widespread job discrimination--which barred blacks from public employment and forced them into low-wage labor--you had neighborhoods that were impoverished by design.

The whole thing -- not terribly long, with bonus links and references to the excellent work that's been done on this topic -- is very much worth a read, as a corrective to any notion that surely blacks should have been able to just bootstrap themselves out of oppressed circumstances. (And since they didn't, it must have been the lead? I do buy Drum's story on that, but it somewhat distracts from the point of structural poverty.)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 9:54 AM
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Isn't the lead thing (a) only about crime (b) while a very promising hypothesis, not even close to being well enough established to have people going around saying lead lead lead lead it's all lead lead lead lead.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:00 AM
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76 (a): no
76 (b): "not even close" is a bit much--depends on your threshold for accepting the theory. Even then "all" lead is not correct.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:03 AM
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38 and 75 gets you there or thereabouts, I think.

Satisfying to extrapolate from this thread *exactly* how irritating my lazy mish mash of Franglais must be to so so many of you.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:06 AM
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What can we do to change the culture of whiny white writers who are afraid of black dudes?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:09 AM
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79 -- Tell them to pull them selves out of it by their bootstraps? The cure, unfortunately, seems to be embalming fluid.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:11 AM
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60 - If you read this article from Monica Potts on a job skills program in West Baltimore, you can see that (from the view of a dude in the program) the only thing worse than not being socialized to eat shit and smile in a crap job is not being socialized to do it and therefore unqualified for even a crap job. America is a broken and depressing place.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:16 AM
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Coates on the Moynihan report . Makes sense to me. The Urban Instiute, The Moynihan Report Revisited .

Isn't the lead thing (a) only about crime (b) while a very promising hypothesis, not even close to being well enough established to have people going around saying lead lead lead lead it's all lead lead lead lead.

yes yes yes yes


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:18 AM
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12: Also, without digging into the details, ai heartily distrust Chait on any race issue because he used to write for the New Republic.

To be fair to Chait, he left that place in a bit of a huff and a raised middle finger.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:18 AM
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His heart is in the right place, and he should listen to Coates on this matter; it would be no shame to him to back down gracefully on some points. Several people, otherwise credentialed progressives, have been saying that Coates is unconvincing on this matter, but I think they're not really listening.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:22 AM
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America is a broken and depressing place

Chicken-fried steak says you're wrong, nabob.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:33 AM
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there is no dignity in our society without work.

I wonder if this norm is at a breaking point. Robots continue to be more and more useful, relative to humans.

You know who wrote a pretty decent little "sci-fi" book on this fairly far back in the day?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:33 AM
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Hitler?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:37 AM
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Dante. The Paradiso.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:39 AM
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Re no dignity in make-work: see the vastly overwhelmingly disproportionate US military. This could cut either way, of course. Either it proves the vast array of policing of discourse necessary to maintain a broad social consensus that clearly pointless labor is unquestionably noble, or it shows we can damn well do it.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:40 AM
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Satisfying to extrapolate from this thread *exactly* how irritating my lazy mish mash of Franglais must be to so so many of you.

It never reads as lazy to me.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:41 AM
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Sub pretentious! I'm easy!


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:44 AM
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86: A lesser work, to be sure, but probably better than Tom Sawyer, Detective.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 10:50 AM
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A lesser work, to be sure, but probably better than Tom Sawyer, Detective

Although it pales in comparison with Esther Summerson, Vampire Hunter.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:02 AM
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Knut Hansen's Hunger Games.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:06 AM
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see the vastly overwhelmingly disproportionate US military

Blowing shit up is make- work?


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:13 AM
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95. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22_Raptor


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:16 AM
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If the money went to the "good teachers" people would be falling over themselves to pay their share. But sending ever increasing amounts of cash go to idiots with zero tolerance policies about everything seems counterproductive.

That's the rhetoric, but I think that, in practice, parents tend to be aware that massive layoffs due to state budget cuts are a bad thing (among other things, they're never* going to be targeted at only "bad" teachers, so everyone will know of a "good" teacher who got laid off). A big part of my evidence for this is Dickhead Gov. Corbett, whose first move on gaining office was to gut funding for public education, and whose popularity has AFAIK never been above 50% since. This year's Dem field is full of contenders because everyone knows that whoever is on that November ballot with a D next to his/her name will be the next governor. Considering that PA weathered the recession better than most states, he's been breathtakingly unpopular, a de facto lame duck for ~42 months.

I think the rhetoric above works at the margins, where nobody quite realizes that last year's 3 days/week of art/music/enrichment is now down to 2 because the District cut 1 of the 5 teachers in that rotation - that is, nobody quite draws the line from "cut bad teachers" to "they're cutting my kid's education" because the thrill from believing the first (every parent imagines their least favorite teacher will be the target) overwhelms the dislike for the latter except when the latter is large scale and obvious.

*In the presence of teachers' unions, seniority rules; in their absence, dickhead administrators rule. Plus, there's actually very little evidence that bad** teachers make up a big percentage of the workforce - I've seen numbers in the mid single digits, which means that you could fire 1 teacher in 20 with an 80% accuracy rate, and you'd still have a number of bad teachers left, plus a number of good teachers gone.

**In the sense of actively malign - the average kid basically learns nothing all year, and below average kids get fucked


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:18 AM
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76; The evidence for lead is as strong as for any other hypothesis. Any other hypothesis requires considerable mumbling over the timing.

Lead poisoning causes brain damage, so it seems unlikely that the only consequence would be an increase in crime.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:18 AM
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Yes, I get the point in 38: you can't focus on culture because the material forces are still at work. I made a similar point back in the day. But Coates isn't just saying that (if he were, it would be, like Labs says, much less interesting). It seems like he wants to deny entirely that the culture is warped. His attempt to do that is unconvincing.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:19 AM
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The line you quote is "a cultural residue that impeded success". I think he's got room to acknowledge that there could be things about low income minority culture that are imperfect, while strongly opposing the idea that those imperfections are a serious driver of continued inequality.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:24 AM
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I think he's got room to acknowledge that there could be things about low income minority culture that are imperfect

And there's also the big question-- "who are you to judge us?"


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:27 AM
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56: I don't think any material-cultural solution works without jobs, because there is no dignity in our society without work.

Here "work" is defined as "job," which I take to mean "real job," paying work outside the home. There is, of course, plenty of dignity in work that doesn't fit the "job" format.

We have a problem in that those whose work doesn't fit the job format are routinely penalized in various ways for that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:28 AM
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101.2 For those of you who the good fortune not to live in my brain, that question is meant to be sung by Marvin Gaye.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:29 AM
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103: add "have" .


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:30 AM
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Isn't the lead thing (a) only about crime (b) while a very promising hypothesis, not even close to being well enough established to have people going around saying lead lead lead lead it's all lead lead lead lead.

A. Well the evidence is mostly (not iirc "only") about crime, but that's because crime is tracked very closely, and most criminals belong to a narrow age range, so it's easy to associate the crime rate with certain birth cohorts; it's not generally possible to associate, say, poor household budgeting with rates of brain poisoning. But we know with absolute certainty that lead poisoning has malign effects beyond "making more people break the law." As Atrios has noted, the effects of lead poisoning is to generally make people into assholes - stupid and belligerent, with reduced ability to consider long term consequences. It would be really weird if turning everybody into assholes had no effects broader than a higher crime rate.

B. I haven't seen anyone believably dispute the evidence or the conclusion. You get a lot of "Yes, it's lead, but it's complicated*", and a lot of changing the subject, but I think that we're actually witnessing the start of something that could either be a fact recast as conspiracy theory, a la GM vs. trolleys, or a gradual consensus, a la plate tectonics (the latter of which was a live debate for a couple decades right up until my birth, but then taught as obvious fact from when I was 4 or 5 and first watching PBS shows on underwater volcanoes).

*which, duh, but istm that this is one of those things where "it's complicated" is deployed mostly so that we don't have to look at the ugly truth. Free markets = teh awesome is also an "it's complicated" thing, but no one in American politics hesitates to praise free markets


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:31 AM
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acknowledge that there could be things about low income minority culture that are imperfect, while strongly opposing the idea that those imperfections are a serious driver of continued inequality

And we'd all agree with him completely.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:36 AM
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95: I suppose it depends on how you define "make-work". It seems to me that a basic starting point would be to define it to include maintaining a vastly overwhelmingly disproportionate military.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:40 AM
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It seems like he wants to deny entirely that the culture is warped. His attempt to do that is unconvincing.

Obviously you don't have to be convinced by anything you don't want to be, but as LB says, the point isn't that there's zero warpage; it's the the warpage is effect, not cause. White supremacy* doesn't just keep blacks from rising, it steals their money and teaches them that (for want f a better term) non-warped culture does them no good. It's simply not the case that, if every black kid in America started "acting white" tomorrow, they would have outcomes equal to whites, because the system is designed to prevent that outcome. The subprime scam specifically targeted responsible blacks who were accumulating wealth. Maybe there was no evil Grand Wizard behind that system, but it's not some weird fluke that it happened that way.

*again, still in effect; look at all the studies showing a white ex-con gets more job chances than an African-American with no record, look at how preschool children are treated (just in Raw Story by SEK), look at how sub-prime was specifically targeted at blacks (A-As who qualified for prime were directed to subprime in order to steal their wealth - and nobody went to jail for this).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:41 AM
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105: I had an encyclopedia whose entry on mountains predated plate tectonics. I remember being very confused reading these very complicated descriptions of "orogeny", when I already knew from TV that most mountain ranges resulting from tectonic plates smashing together.

For some reason one of the lessons I'm preoccupied with teaching my children is that science is a process, not a conclusion, so I always tell her when they first discovered something. With plate tectonics I get to tell her that they only agreed on it right around when I was born.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:49 AM
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97: It seems to have hit home in my enwhiteled Republican hometown, where they were threatening to cut music and some of the foreign languages and the art curriculum. You mean tax money pays for these things?!? One hopes the lesson will stick around for the next election.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:51 AM
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We have a problem in that those whose work doesn't fit the job format are routinely penalized in various ways for that.

Most prominently in that they don't get paid very much.

The article in 81 sure is depressing.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:56 AM
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the warpage is effect, not cause

But no one denies this. Even so, surely it's not the case that there's nothing blacks can do to improve their lot, even given systemic racism. I haven't read his Cosby piece, so maybe there he says, "Hey, Cosby, instead of dumping on your own people, why don't you use some of your credibility (until all that rapin') to tell whitey that things are still fucked up." But in this piece, it's "The Black Man rose like a phoenix from the ashes of slavery, therefore...something."

I should stop arguing about this. Kill whitey.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 11:59 AM
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97, 110: I said the other day that we're probably cutting some for next year because we couldn't justify keeping music & art but getting rid of the school counselor or vice principal or behavior interventionist. And I'm really going to be proud of myself if I get through the week without cutting any of the people on the neighborhood listserv talking about how inadequate and sucky our schools are and so thus the state should allow families to pull the state funding and apply that to other "better" schools.

I think it's really difficult to talk about complexities of black community dynamics in short pieces like the one linked, which is necessarily just a response to one sort of rhetoric. I have a lot of thoughts, but I'm not sure I can put any of them together coherently.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:04 PM
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It seems like he wants to deny entirely that the culture is warped.

Coates' argument is that once the boot is lifted from the neck of African Americans, we can talk about which parts of "culture" are damaged by ongoing racism, and which parts are a function of historical racism. In no way that I can tell does he deny that there are problems with "culture" - he's just arguing that it's foolish to frame it that way because the problems aren't caused by the culture as much as the culture is caused by the problems.

Here's how he says it:

The "structural conditions" Chait outlines above can be summed up under the phrase "white supremacy." I have spent the past two days searching for an era when black culture could be said to be "independent" of white supremacy. I have not found one.

Talking about black culture in the absence of white supremacy is entirely a counterfactual exercise, he's saying - and this is something that well-meaning liberals fail to recognize.

Now once we're performing that counterfactual exercise, we can come up with different answers. Coates takes an extreme but entirely plausible position: When the massive intervention in black culture ceases, black culture ceases to have a problem (relative to other cultures).

PGD aptly compares the debate to nature/nurture debates. Someday, I truly believe that people are going to have something reasonably definitive to say on the subject of the innate differences of men and women. I believe such differences exist.

But the vast majority of current speculation on that subject is bullshit, because it incorrectly assumes that we're in an environment where on a wide variety of issues, American women (and men, for that matter) are able to express their essential nature.

Similarly, while I probably wouldn't sign on to Coates' view completely, it's wrong to talk about some essential "black culture," separate from current white supremacy.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:07 PM
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112 The way I try to help incompetent family members is quietly. It's pretty hard to discuss what amount to private problems with someone hostile. Shouting isn't surprising.

The thing about this conversation that always seems off to me about this topic is that nobody wants to talk about immigrants, of any complexion, except in the most hostile (either to immigrants or to African Americans) and antagonistic way. While dislocatoins and family prejudice are a complex web of blah blah blah, everybody has problems, some of those problems are similar, maybe there is something to learn or to say.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:11 PM
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If the money went to the "good teachers" people would be falling over themselves to pay their share. But sending ever increasing amounts of cash go to idiots with zero tolerance policies about everything seems counterproductive.

I think you'll find that zero tolerance policies are put in place by administrators, not teachers. Also, do you have some scheme for distinguishing between bad teachers and teachers who are assigned to teach the most difficult kids?

Related, Lean on Me was on TV the other night. I couldn't help thinking what a totally poisonous legacy that whole spate of "all teachers are apathetic drones except for a few superheroes" movies left behind. I notice that Teach for America got started right around the same time those movies were coming out.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:12 PM
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I think you'll find that zero tolerance policies are put in place by administrators, not teachers

Exactly. More money has meant more administration and more bullshit, not more teachers.

IME with our local public school the teachers were routinely excellent, but administrators deserved to be slapped daily. Different job, I know.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:17 PM
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IME with our local public school the teachers were routinely excellent, but administrators deserved to be slapped daily

You've isolated the problem. When the school district has extra money they use it to hire people to slap the adminstrators instead of hiring more teachers.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:28 PM
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112: Even so, surely it's not the case that there's nothing blacks can do to improve their lot, even given systemic racism.

This is blithering, I'm afraid, dear ogged. There is not monolithic "blacks" -- many black people assuredly have done things to improve their fortunes -- and at this point the discussion, or debate, needs to observe what any number of commentators all over the place have mentioned: stop talking as though "blacks" are a characterizable group any more. The tone of this discussion is becoming grievous. I don't want to talk about "them" in any way that suggests that they are all black people.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:31 PM
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Millions for administration slapping, but not one cent for teaching. Not that catchy, but maybe.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:31 PM
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but administrators deserved to be slapped daily

It's funny, it's long been obvious to me that, at least in elementary schools*, quality of principal is pretty much the defining factor of school quality - good principals engage teachers, sideline poor teachers to the extent possible, engage parents, keep an eye on kids who need it, etc. And bad principals undermine good teachers, play petty power games, and mostly focus on kids in order to punish them.

But AFAICT, this isn't conventional wisdom, and I'm not sure why. Is it simply that teachers are the direct interface, so they get blamed for everything? Is it a satisfying thing, where most principals in well-supported schools are adequate, so parents don't notice the correlation? How much does the whole union thing play into it (since conservatives have positive reason to make common cause with principals to denigrate teachers)?

It would be a very positive development if there were a broad backlash against school administrators at all levels (since they've become such leeches at the university level).

*possibly higher grades as well, but I've not gotten the same sense of primacy, possibly because the schools are generally bigger, the class structures more complex, and the nurturing role starts to dissipate.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:36 PM
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I don't want to talk about "them" in any way that suggests that they are all black people.

Ok, let's talk about stuff white people like.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:39 PM
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102, 111:

Sarah Jaffe had what I thought was a good article* on the left needing to organize more around making casual, contract and part-time work pay more and designing the social safety net with the pervasiveness and permanence of that kind of work in mind.

*With the exception that I can never quite get behind the idea in a lot of leftist discourse that if a class of jobs is low-paying then a large explanation for that is that we socially devalue the kind of work involved in it (or that the low pay is explained by the fact that we socially devalue the people who tend to do that kind of work). What we certainly socially devalue is entitling people to a decent living independent of the market value of their labor.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:46 PM
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114 gets it right, but it could be shorter and have more profanity. Here's the shorter: Fuck you, pay me, get off my back, and then and only then can you be a squirmy pompous white dickhead about the .05% of any remaining problems that are cultural. Also, boring practical advice that my Dad might give to straighten up and fly right isn't quite so meaningful when it comes from the President of the Motherfucking United States. The President of the Motherfucking United States should be doing a fuckton more than just giving basic good advice to work hard and play by the fucking rules, like I dunno maybe actually working to fix the poverty and exclusion and systemic treatment that is the real fucking problem at a systemic level.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:46 PM
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122: That might be better, to be honest. I wish there were some black people around here, too; then this place might manage not to sound like a bunch of patronizing assholes.

Ahem. Anyway. White people like worrying about their retirement investments. White people like really really crappy food. White people think they're the only people on earth.

I dunno how this white people thing works, really.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:48 PM
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Fuck you, pay me, get off my back, and then and only then can you be a squirmy pompous white dickhead about the .05% of any remaining problems that are cultural.

I accept this amendment.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 12:57 PM
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I agree with 124, and yet find the Coates piece bad. But, in the immortal words of our ex-president, who cares what I think?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:04 PM
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Ogged, if you can manage to say in clearer terms why you find the Coates piece bad, that would be helpful.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:25 PM
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Nah, let's be done with it. I have to go sharpen my sword.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:28 PM
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129: like they do at Benham, Logan, Adams, Cumberland, Urpel, Lincoln, Aaronson, Schmidt, Donaldson, Ingersoll, Conlon and Karp.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:30 PM
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Meanwhile, I'm concerned about the current Supreme Court Hobby Lobby case (and Conestoga Wood, etc.) and would appreciate an independent post/thread about it.

Word is that it's not looking good at the moment. That frankly shocks me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:34 PM
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it incorrectly assumes that we're in an environment where on a wide variety of issues, American women (and men, for that matter) are able to express their essential nature

This is what the pop version of ev psych is remedying, right?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:39 PM
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131: Why on earth would that shock you? Have you seen our Supreme Court? But I also don't think the outcome is at all predictable from today's argument. It'll almost certainly be a 5-4 decision (at least on the core question; I suspect there might be a larger majority on RFRA standing for for-profit corps); which way Kennedy will come out on the RFRA violation is not so clear.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:47 PM
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133: On review, no, today's argument is not complete, so any initial impressions are not decisive. I'm shocked if this ultimately goes against all good sense, as well as against precedent, chiefly in the Smith case. I actually am interested in what Scalia would do to counter his previous decision in that case.

I gather this comes down to whether government can show a compelling interest as required by the RFRA. But this is me speaking before catching up on what more informed persons have to say. Armando is explaining things.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 1:59 PM
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134.1: The Smith case is not controlling here, so Scalia doesn't need to go through any contortions to get around it. After Smith was decided, Congress wasn't happy, and passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to (more or less) put everybody back in the pre-Smith world. It's more complicated than that, but really, Smith is not an obstacle to this case coming out against the govt.

134.2: Showing compelling interest alone wouldn't suffice. There are a number of ways in which the govt could (in theory) prevail, but will have to explain later if nobody else has by then.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 2:18 PM
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I could explain more but why bother. Parsimon, just go read Marty Lederman's posts on this on Balkinization if you're actually interested.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 2:21 PM
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This is what the pop version of ev psych is remedying, right?

I think the opposite: I think this is what the pop version of ev psych is promulgating. But certainly there are popularizations on this topic that aren't stupid.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 3:11 PM
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It would be a very positive development if there were a broad backlash against school administrators at all levels (since they've become such leeches at the university level).

There's a lot of this sort of thing around, and it's pretty much just exactly as helpful as demonizing teachers as a group. There are plenty of bad administrators, just like there are a lot of people who are bad at pretty much any other job you can think of. But devaluing the work and the people who do it isn't a good strategy for fixing that.


Posted by: DaveL | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 4:16 PM
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I agree with 124, and yet find the Coates piece bad.

Oh sure, you accept the argument when it's made by a white guy...


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 4:33 PM
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I agree with 138. It seems like people think all the money in higher education is going to "deanlets", imagined as people in sort of political patronage jobs who are proliferating exponentially because of cronyism. But when you look into which people other than faculty are increasing in number, it's computer administrators, grant administrators, people monitoring compliance with regulations, etc. It's the same complaint as "My taxes just go to government bureaucrats".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-25-14 5:25 PM
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138: Well, "backlash" is strong, and I don't favor actual demonization, but I think an implicit stance of "Why should I listen to you, and why should I pay you so much?" applied towards administrators (and CEOs for that matter) would be salubrious.

140: The top 50 university presidents are all making north of $940k a year, topping out at $3.3M. That's worth between 20 and 70 administrators at the level you discuss. I don't think the latter are the ones starving teaching of resources, and I suspect that uni presidents aren't the only ones making surprisingly big salaries- if the top 3 people at big universities are pulling down $1.5-$4.5M/year, it's a misappropriation of resources, and one that might shift under some public pressure.

Granted, these assholes aren't the reason e.g. Clarion University is closing its teaching program, but it is symptomatic of a system that pushes limited resources into unproductive places.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-26-14 10:23 AM
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141: So is it your view that large, complex organizations don't need management, or just that it's so easy that anyone can do it? I'm not looking to defend Gordon Gee's salary, but I'm less outraged by his than Jamie Dimon's.


Posted by: DaveL | Link to this comment | 03-26-14 11:10 AM
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Ogged turns out to be Chait. Oh my god. It was you all along.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 6:38 AM
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141: The statistic from a few years ago, which is probably worse now, was that there were 40 administrators at the Univ. of Minn. who made more than the governor. Which, admittedly, is only ~$120K, but still.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 6:53 AM
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I am a huge fan of low/midlevel administration. Yay, departmental staff! Yay, well run offices of sponsored research and disability services and whatever sainted people are currently shepharding us through preparations for the next round of accredidation! But upper-level administration spending deserves pushback. There's always the sports question, too. Aren't lots of schools carrying big money-losers in athletic programs?


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 6:57 AM
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Now that I think about it, maybe it was like "more than twice as much as the governor" or something, 'cause $120K really doesn't buy you that much administering nowadays.

I think one thing that the proliferation of administration tends to mean is more useless initiatives -- changing the accounting system ever 5 years, flashy new marketing campaigns that don't actually build the university's brand, extra layers of approvals for processes that worked fine without them -- and thus while the new hires may be nominally doing something "useful" in terms of QA on a new system, or developing a new website or whatever, the ultimate benefit to students and faculty is nonexistent (or is, in fact, a detriment).


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 6:59 AM
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The best parking lot at the University -- underground, easy access to the main admin buildings -- is always full of Mercedes, Jaguars, BMWs, Volvos, etc. Someone is clearly making too much money.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:01 AM
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How, one wonders, do the salaries of university presidents compare to the salaries of CEOs of corporations with an equivalent number of employees? It is obviously the case that the salaries for elected representatives lag way behind private sector salaries (and should!), but 1. those are short term jobs 2. a lot of people who get them, at least on the national level, are already rich. Insofar as there is a meaningful difference between somebody who is capable of being the CEO of a very large, heterogeneous enterprise and somebody who isn't, you want to be competing in the same pool as the private sector. Which is just a long-winded way of saying that the problem is income inequality generally, not income inequality on college campuses specifically.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:04 AM
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Yeah, that's the conventional argument in favor of highly-paid administrators, but it breaks down in the face of actually comparing universities to corporations. Corporations don't have faculty senates & student governments. Universities don't have shareholders. Corporations are for-profit, universities are non-profit. Most corporations aren't fixed to a single (with a few satellites) geographical location. Neither do they have a built-in customer base the way a land-grant university does.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:12 AM
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148 - Gordon Gee's salary at Ohio State was "slightly less than" $1.9 million, although he's a particularly disgusting and rapacious case. There's 21,000 staff and 6,000 faculty; Gee earned roughly twice as much as Thomas Pike, the CEO of Quintiles, which is literally the first private company I found searching for companies with 27,000 employees.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:13 AM
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Ohio State did really well against Michigan during Gee's second time around.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:16 AM
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Yeah, that's the conventional argument in favor of highly-paid administrators

Actually it was an argument against highly paid CEOs, but anyhow.

150: interesting, and not what I would have predicted.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:17 AM
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That fucking Gordon Gee.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:18 AM
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On the other hand Twitter (with, admittedly, twice as many employees) was paying its CEO $11 million (and its director of engineering $10 million) pre-IPO.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:20 AM
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But, I mean, Ohio State's not hurting -- how much is being bled off into unproductive administrative salaries when you look at a troubled institution like SUNY Albany (which closed its French department; presidential salary $385,000), or University of Southern Maine (firing and demanding the resignation of tenured faculty; presidential salary $200,000). In a lot of these cases, if the presidents can shake money out of the legislature, they're probably worth it and then some (although I've heard troubling things about the amount of money being spent in the Maine system that doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the acts of teaching or scholarship), but it's hard to escape the notion that there are vultures feasting on the corpse of the idea of a liberal education in America.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:20 AM
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True story: I once saw Gordon Gee walking across the oval with an aide carrying a life-size photo of Gordon Gee.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:21 AM
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I'm skeptical that the private sector has exhausted our supply of competent administrators.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:21 AM
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This was pre-Brown.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:21 AM
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USM's biggest problem is probably the governor, and asshole state legislators. My sister's favorite prof is getting laid off there, total bullshit.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:22 AM
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152: He's making less at WVU, which is a surprisingly un-Gee-like gesture to make, but I suppose even Gee has to adjust his expectations after getting fired for making a joke about Catholics with donors still on the line.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:23 AM
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USM's biggest problem is probably the governor, and asshole state legislators. My sister's favorite prof is getting laid off there, total bullshit.

I believe there's a fresh new provost brought in to "clean house," too. Nice.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:23 AM
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My current institution is getting so little from the state that they are threatening to go back to being private.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:25 AM
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Like, here's the former president of USM:

Botman said Thursday that the "no confidence" vote did not spur her decision, but rather "a confluence of interests" arose.
"Over the last four years, I have had the privilege of leading USM, and I'm so proud of the accomplishments we have made at this university. It's fiscally sound, it's student focused, it has deepened its ties to the community, and it is poised to take its next step," she said.
Botman began her position of USM president on July 1, 2008, starting at an annual salary of $203,000. With Monday's action, she is scheduled to move into the job of "special assistant to the chancellor for global education," where she said her annual salary will remain at $203,000 and where she said she's committed for a year.

Well then! Special assistant to the chancellor for global education sounds like a really necessary job to have for a regional school in Maine that is firing tenured faculty and laid off 100 staff employees, so I'm surprised that they're not paying her more.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:26 AM
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In a lot of these cases, if the presidents can shake money out of the legislature, they're probably worth it and then some

Yeah, I mean as far as "unique set of skills" goes, that's really the nub. They have to be able to move sophisticatedly in a lot of clubby-yet-hostile worlds simultaneously. They (probably) need friends in the legislature, friends in the faculty, friends in the press, friends in the business community, friends in the federal government, ideally all of whom owe favors. Which is its own kind of bad in a way that transcends even issues with income inequality in the private sector, but come on, let's not pretend that you just need somebody who can hire and fire and keep the campus shuttle running on time. Which is part of why it ends up such a weird patronage job/valedictory appointment for an operator with a lifetime of successful graft on behalf of powerful peers, but it's not like it's trivial to figure out how to avoid that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:27 AM
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Yeah, I mean as far as "unique set of skills" goes, that's really the nub.

Yes, though clearly lots of actual college presidents lack those unique skills. If you've got them, your crazy salary is paying for itself. If you don't, though... And the layer where special assistants to the chancellor for global education hang out doesn't work on the same economy.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:32 AM
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At my college the president certainly seemed to be nothing more than a fundraiser. Which requires you to be a member of the social elite, I guess, so fair enough.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:33 AM
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I mean, it's like what Steve Jobs got paid for bringing Apple back from the dead to being the largest company in the world (an absurdly large amount of money, but probably not what he was actually worth). If the president of USM could get the Maine legislature to actually fund them to offset their decline in tuition dollars, she'd be worth twice as much. Ruth Simmons made half a million dollars a year at Brown, but she was able to shake $100 million donations out of two separate plutocrats, which strikes me as good ROI. But is there any evidence that these people are doing that? And then you have entirely untenable situations, like paying someone in a dying university $200,000 for a makework job* (or law school deans getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars while everything goes to hell).

* Although as rfts notes, the presidential salary for being special assistant in charge of Second Life is probably an artifact of losing a vote of no confidence four years into a five-year contract.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:36 AM
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On the other hand, it would be nice if a college could find a member of the social elite with ties to the college, who'd be willing to be president for the prestige and a nominal salary. And if you're the University of Southern Maine and you don't have any notable alumni with ties to potential massive donors, might as well give up and promote one of the deans.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:41 AM
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165: sure. But given how hard it is to actually figure out who has such skills, and how much leverage people who might have those skills can bring to bear, then you have something akin to the NBA draft, where some tiny number of people are going to be bargains and some much larger number are going to be thoroughly overpaid busts. In the NBA they work that out by basically running the union-busting playbook against a bunch of nineteen year olds who really don't have other terribly good options; potential college presidents all have other options.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:44 AM
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Inspired by this discussion, I took a look at the Wiki entry for the president of my alma mater. It's really just amazingly detailed and extensive, compared to, say, the entry for a federal judge we discussed yesterday. "Special skills," indeed.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 7:55 AM
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156 is fantastic. Question: how can we cause Gordon Gee to be photographed with an aide carrying a life-sized photograph of Gordon Gee with an aide carrying a life-sized photograph of Gordon Gee?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 03-28-14 8:08 AM
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