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Education and Value

October 5, 2012

The Washington Post published an interesting article today on a new database from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia  that measures and compares the income of graduates from universities in Virginia across schools and majors. There are a few big pieces of data missing from the database: The population of students who went right to graduate school is excluded, as are people who went into federal service and the military, nor does it control for variations in cost of living across Virginia. Nonetheless, this database still contains a massive amount of important data, and it’s something that will likely help shape the future of undergraduate admissions and concentration of majors across the state–and probably across the country.

There was one part of the article that made me uneasy, though:

“Students and their families should have this information at their fingertips so they can make better-informed decisions about where to enroll, what to major in and how much debt they might comfortably take on relative to their likely earnings,” Mark Schneider, vice president of the nonprofit American Institutes for Research, told Congress last month.

This quote is bittersweet. Half of me agrees with it, but the other half believes there’s a better solution to solving the bang-for-your-buck education-career quandary without shoving everyone into one particularly successful major at one university that’s particularly good at that one major. The supply/demand/price considerations of that are daunting. Maybe it might be more sensible to, I don’t know, equalize pay across various majors instead of pushing students into certain majors over others. Just a thought, but that requires changing normative values of some degrees over others, right? The irony of this previous sentence is that I’m using sociological jargon that I got from my degree at a Virginia school to analyse this phenomenon, knowing full-well that sociology majors are probably not the lucrative-earners from Virginia schools.

My larger hope for this study is what I’ve mentioned above: allowing more than just a few degrees to valuable while the rest are tossed by the wayside. But I also hope that this study delves a bit more into nuance away from just majors and schools and income. There are particular skills that all employers are looking for these days, and these skills aren’t necessarily tied to specific majors. Maybe a degree in computer science from Virginia Tech is very valuable in terms of income, but maybe a psychology degree from William and Mary is also very valuable–as long as the person with that degree has also taken one or two classes learning HTML and Java.

Once more data are plugged into this database, we’ll be able to see trends forming on schools, majors, and success rates. But hopefully we’ll be able to see deeper trends: what do these majors have in common? What does this school have that’s better than the other school with the same program? Are General Education Requirement classes creating more well-rounded students because they give everyone a background in science and math? I guess we’ll see soon enough.

In the meantime: learn how to program in any code–even if you’re not a CompSci major. Trust me.


Big Chamomile Hunter

November 4, 2011

photo via funpics47 on Flickr

So I thought about something this morning. There is no clear front runner in the GOP. The field is pretty evenly divided. Lots of candidates are having shit flung at them, and nothing seems to be deterring their popularity (or unpopularity, however you feel it applies). There seem to be two bases at play: Tea Party and older-school GOP conservatives. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, Cain and Romney lead those two packs.

How unlikely would it be if BOTH Cain and Romney ran, Cain as and independent, and Romney winning the GOP nomination? I feel like this primary season will be much tighter than the 2008 one between Clinton and Obama, and this scenario is a distinct possibility (considering that Romney will most likely win, and considering how much very influential aspects of the conservative base dislike Romney. ahem.)

I have a hunch that Obama may not win the majority of the popular vote, but he might win a plurality and enough electoral votes while the GOP’s votes are split on two candidates. 100 years ago in the 1912 election, we saw Wilson get elected thanks to Bull Moose Teddy taking away Taft’s votes. Is the Tea Party the new Bull Moose?

I’m not saying that any of the candidates (conservative or otherwise) are as popular as Teddy Roosevelt, but they may be just as principled or at least suffer from the same hubris.

I’m Back! With Terrible Analogies!

May 7, 2011

So it has been a really long time since I blogged about anything. Lots of tweeting. Lots of reading. Lots of writing for work and school. My creative outlet and hobby fell by the wayside.

But it’s the weekend! And I’m done with exams! Unstructured free time is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that it reminded me that I could start blogging again! It might take me a while to pick it back up even semi-regularly, but I figure I’ve got to start somewhere.

That somewhere is a bunch of terrible analogies. The human brain likes comparing things to other things so you can better file away senses of familiarity and understanding in your squishy gray matter. I had 3 NBA-related analogies pop into my gray matter this week. I’ll relay the first two here, and the third in a later post.

Every Marvin Williams backdoor cut off the glass is 2 pair on the river, when he was only in the hand because he was big blind.

So the first one came during the first half of Bulls/Hawks game 2. Inspired by Matt Moore’s commentary of the Hawks erratic-yet-unexpectedly-effective play, I tried to think of a situation where erratic and unpredictable behavior produced effective results against more competent and inspired opponents. So I came up with the fact that the playing against the Hawks must be a lot like being an experienced poker player that plays against a novice: you have absolutely no idea how to gauge their talents, abilities, and skillsets. And you have no idea how to measure your own talents, abilities, and skillsets against theirs.

“Oh hey look! I have 2 pair! Is it better when the pairs are the same?”

“Oh cool! I win again. That fifth card that gets laid down seems to help me every time. I keep getting 7s AND 2s!”

“Sweet, another win! That’s funny. I was only in this hand because I was blindest. I mean big blind! Silly me!”

Now think about that every time you see Marvin Williams score a bank shot off the glass, while backdoor cutting Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Then Josh Smith taking an ill-advised-post-jog 3pointer. Then Jeff Teague crossover Derrick Rose.

So my second terrible analogy is also Hawks-related, but it came after watching game 2. A hoops-head friend of mine at work were discussing the game and talking about the various levels of contribution one sees out of the big men in this series. Then we both started gushing about Al Horford. Great on offense. Great on defense. Underplayed. Underpaid. Undercomplains, even though he’s on a team with a bunch of guys with “meh” attitudes, that has an owner who is currently trying to sell their arena and partner hockey franchise. Distractions? For normal people, maybe. But not for Horford.

So here’s my terrible analogy for Horford: He’s like that one roommate in college that hangs out all night at a house party. Everyone seems to like him enough, but no one pays much attention to him or hangs out with for a long time. In a short while, everyone gets wasted. The apartment is trashed. The other roommates pass out, and then they wake up in the morning. Horford has cleaned the whole apartment, taken out the trash, and bought bagels and coffee for everyone before they’ve even woken up. Sounds awesome, right? Well he does that after EVERY party, so at this point, the other roommates are just used to it and don’t even notice. He doesn’t get any thanks, but he doesn’t ask or want to be thanked either.

He does all the dirty work so his “roommates” can stay in every game. While Josh Smith is passed out on the coach, and Joe Johnson’s unconscious with Sharpie drawings all over his forehead, Horford’s on his way to drop off 3 bags full of empty beer cans at the local recycling plant.

He doesn’t get plays run for him but scores. He sets screens. He gets offensive rebounds. He doesn’t complain. He just goes out there every night with energy and does what needs to be done. That might make him an enabler, though. Maybe if he didn’t clean up after everyone, they’d realize how terrible they were and strive to make an effort themselves. But for now, all we can do is try to pay attention to Horford, appreciate his talents, and hope that someday he gets surrounded by teammates/roommates that pass him the beer bong the night before, and buy him some coffee the next morning.

Iranian Political Legitimacy Redux

October 5, 2010

OK folks, bear with me here. I’m trying something new. I’ve got a handful of short writing assignments for my grad program that I’ve been churning out, and a lot of them are relevant to international politics today. So with that said, I’m going to start posting them here. Oh, and here’s some info on my professors, Marc Lynch and Mohammad Tabaar.  (I promise I’ll talk about the NBA, too. Whether you want me to, or not.)

It seems as though crises of legitimacy in governance are a uniquely Iranian occurrence. Indeed, Iran’s Shi’a heritage (however manufactured by the Savavids) is based in the argument that Ali was the legitimate successor to Mohammad. In 19th century Iran, the Constitutional Revolution went to great lengths to take state control out of the hands of the inept Qajar ruler and into the “legitimate” hands of the Iranian people through a popularly elected Majles. We saw this same battle for legitimacy in the end of the Qajar dynasty and the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty under Rezashah, then again with the fall of Rezashah and the ascendance of Mossadeq. Mossadeq’s fall was orchestrated by attacking his legitimacy—by accusing him of being a puppet of foreign powers—because influential parties inside and outside Iran knew that his popular support would wane in such a crisis. Of course, the Islamic Revolution was perhaps the most salient example of this crisis in modern Iranian history.
The assessments of legitimacy in the clergy-state dichotomy within the Islamic Republic in the Roy and Vakil articles continue this tradition. In both of their discussions of Abdolkarim Soroush, the authors present a growing schism in the ruling elite of Iran. While the principles of the revolution stressed a pivotal role for the clergy in state affairs, the rise of Khamenei to the VF position—along with the 1997 election of Khatami, who was not favored by Khamenei—has proven that the only person who embodied a legitimate confluence of clergy and state was Khomeini. Without Khomeini, the state’s claim on religion and religion’s claim on the state cannot be reconciled.
Soroush’s argument, which certainly resonates today within the Green Movement and the Iranian Reformist community, is that legitimacy can only be restored to both government and Islam if the two are separated in a democratic system that stresses human rights and freedom of religion. Since the 1980s, many Ayatollahs—spanning the gamut from conservative to liberal—have been in accordance with Soroush’s idea of the separation of clergy and state for the preservation of the legitimacy of both. Certainly since the 1997 election of Khatami and especially the disputed 2009 reelection of Ahmadinejad have reemphasized that mentality this schismatic mentality in Shi’a clergy. And as Iranian and Shi’a history have proven time and again: when there exists a crisis of legitimacy in governance, a populist rectification of the ruling class is all but inevitable.

Gladwell’s (and My) Thoughts on Revolution

September 27, 2010

Gladwell's a cool guy (H/T: Tommy Craggs & Deadspin for the pic)

If you know me (or are at least marginally familiar with me), then you know I like to talk about 3 things:

1) The NBA

2) The Internet/technology

3) Iran

In June of 2009, I joined Twitter. I’d been thinking about joining for a while, but I resisted because I thought it would dangerously enhance my Internet addiction (it did). Since graduating from college, I’d been getting more into reading about sports online (particularly the NBA), and a lot of the bloggers and columnists I liked to read were on Twitter. As were some non-sports news journalists I liked. But at the time, I was relying on my Google Reader, and I thought that was just fine for me. Now that I’m actually on Twitter, I spend a lot of time reading/talking about sports and politics. A lot of time. Probably too much time. But I digress.

But yeah, back to June 2009. Big month last year. Lots of famous people died. Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy “OxyClean” Mays. And lots of not-so famous people died, too. A bunch of those not-so famous people were some ordinary Iranians. Well I guess that’s not true: 1) they weren’t so ordinary and 2) they became pretty famous (especially a girl named Neda). These people, mostly university students, poured into the streets to protest the rigged re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One of the ways information about the protests was getting out of Iran was through Twitter and the #iranelection hashtag. You all probably know this already, because that’s probably how you heard about it.

When I saw all this stuff happening (reading articles, reading blog posts, watching videos), I thought to myself, “If my family wasn’t lucky enough to move to the US back in the late 1980s, I would be one of those kids on the street, getting beat up and shot at. There’s got to be something I can do to help them.” I mean, I still have family back there: there had to be something I could do to try to make sure they’d be OK (in the short run and the long run).

So that’s when I joined Twitter. I knew at the time it wasn’t much, but it was something. I checked the news every hour. I checked #iranelection every minute. If I saw something that I thought people should know about, then I re-tweeted it. At the time, I had my Facebook account linked to my Twitter account. My Facebook network was much larger, and I thought it if I wanted people to know what was going on, I should throw some information at people who could match my face to that cause.

Malcolm Gladwell just penned a piece for The New Yorker called “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted.” You should definitely read it; Gladwell is a really intelligent person, and a fantastic writer. But I think he’s missing some big points in his article.

He doesn’t outright use this term, but Gladwell alludes to Facebook and Twitter “slacktivists.” These are people who see minimal cost in their participation in a social movement and feel validated that their involvement (however miniscule) is serving some greater purpose, or maybe just alleviating their guilty consciences.

While he’s correct in saying that the Iranian protests weren’t dependent on Twitter (thus even with Twitter’s help did not become fruitful), he doesn’t point out that Twitter did make a difference. Iran is arguably one of the most enigmatic and isolated countries in the world. Yet for the past year, MILLIONS of non-Iranians have been made aware of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. Is this worthless? After 30+ years of mischaracterization and Orientalist rhetoric being thrown against a monolithic Iranian identity, people from all over the earth learned that Iranians are young, intelligent, powerful, tech-savvy, and hate their crooked government as much as the rest of the world does.

Gladwell also doesn’t touch on the fact that another form of social media–text messaging–DID have a huge role in the campaign. While people in other countries weren’t being constantly getting text message updates like they were with Tweets, Iranian activists in Iran used this technology to organize rallies, slogans, and marches. They used it to tell each other where NOT to go. They used it to help each other. The government did what it could to bog down the communication networks (both the Internet and SMS), but people both inside and outside Iran made strides in creating work-arounds to the blocks, like secure server space outside of Iran for use in protest-organizing message boards.

Many scholars have previously touched on themes of the role of civil society in fomenting change in authoritarian societies through these expansive networks. Keck’s and Sikkink’s (1998) seminal work Activists Beyond Borders goes into great detail about the ability for interconnected civil societies in domestic and expatriate/diasporic communities to create visible political action. The Boomerang Pattern, as they deem it, occurs when political action fails in a domestic sphere, but it gains new life in a transnational civil society network. The civil society in the domestic sphere relays the information to its partners in the expatriate community, and that expatriate community uses its influence to stress its host government to apply pressure to the original “offending” authoritarian government. In this situation, technology–like Twitter and Facebook–can facilitate communication within that network, thus increasing the speed with which domestic political actors can circumvent traditional domestic mechanisms of protest and bring about change from the outside. I don’t think Gladwell gives this aspect of social media enough credit.

I also think Gladwell’s comparison to the protest movements in Iran and Moldova to the American Civil Rights Movement, while thought-provoking, is problematic in one crucial, yet overlooked, assumption: While both eras exhibited these people actors fighting for a just cause, the United States was, and continues to be, a functioning democracy. There exists popular and legal recourse for injustice. Moldova and Iran can claim all the democratic structures they want: their governments are cronyist and corrupt.  They don’t have the luxury of the government listening to them at any point down the road.

A final issue I have with the piece is the final anecdote about the lost “Sidekick” (from Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody). Aside from the fact the contrast belittles the efficacy of transnational sociopolitical networks, the juxtaposition of the “successful” retrieval of the person’s lost cellphone screams “racial undertones.” I just thought that was disturbing to have in the same article where the bulk of it was spent discussing the harrowing trials of Blacks in the 1960s.

Since last June, a lot of scholars and writers have discussed the effectiveness of electronic social media and revolutionary activity. Gladwell is another in the “it’s not going to get the job done” camp. I have no doubt that they’ve all done extensive research on the topic before coming to their conclusions. And really, there was no revolution in Iran. Therefore, it failed to help. Right? Well, according to this “slacktivist,” if you think social media was worthless, you weren’t paying attention.

Counterpoint: The Cavs Should Stay Away from JR Smith

August 23, 2010
Yesterday, Brendan posted a really well-reasoned piece about why the Cavs should go after JR Smith if he is, indeed, available. A quick overview of his points:
  • Young, yet a 5 year veteran
  • Versatile scorer
  • Can score on the break
  • Friendly contract
Brendan also notes that Smith brings a lot of baggage with him, but that his output on the floor outweighs whatever else he drags through the door behind him.
OK, let me start by saying that I don’t think JR Smith is a bad guy. I don’t think he’s crazy. He’s got a few too many neck-tats for my liking, but that’s just because neck-tats tend to weird me out. I admire the guy for acknowledging his bad lifestyle choices in the past.
But here’s the thing: The Cavs are going through one hell of a transformational year. They lost a once-in-a-generation franchise player. And they had to deal with their own player baggage with the Delonte West episode all of last season. So Smith’s baggage, however well he’s dealing with it, is not for a team that’s trying to expel any bad mojo. The Cavs need to avoid all drama, and work with a clean slate.
JR’s also pretty notable for dropping 40 points in a game every now and then, which inevitably involves sinking a few ill-advised 3s. So here’s my next issue: yes he’s a versatile (and at times volume) scorer, but he’s a play-breaker and jacks up a ton of shots. Sometimes the team would score, but he would mess with the offensive flow. His career PER is 15, which is exactly average (he peaked 2 seasons ago with 18+, when the Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals). And I know the situation would be different in Cleveland, since he would probably be the first option. But would that make him more or less efficient? Do we want another year of watching one guy dominate the ball the whole time? Fans were wary of it when LeBron did it, and he’s like 50x (rough estimate) better than JR.
Blogger extraordinaire Matt Moore said to me that the Cavs’ #1 priorities next year, if they are serious about rebuilding quickly (which they should be) is to make Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao look awesome enough to trade for some picks. Picks are about the only thing that have currency after the new CBA, and right now the Cavs have a ton for the future, but they need a few more if they are going to go the Seattle-OKC-rebuild-with-a-young-and-talented-core route. JR Smith, as Brendan noted, would become the #1 option and would take away attention from those other pieces. How much he’d do that is debatable, but he would definitely be the go-to scorer on the team.
Here’s my biggest problem with a guy like JR Smith coming to the team. And by “guy like” I mean a play-breaker. Mike Brown was fairly-or-unfairly criticized for his unimaginitive offense. I think he could be equally criticized for his inability to control when LeBron would break plays and work LeIso. A lot of times, it worked. But really, even if Mike Brown wanted to stop him, he would be fearing for his job. The point I’m trying to make is that the Cavs, with the Byron Scott hire and the team of young, versatile, and moldable athletes they’ve assembled so far are making a statement: Scott is in charge. There are leaders on the team, sure. But Scott is going to be the authority. And if you have a guy like JR who will break plays and undermine the coach, it will degrade Scott’s integrity in front of the rest of the players. And after all, that’s what did in Mike Brown. And that’s what did in Scott in New Orleans. If as a coach, your players don’t listen to you, you have no chance of reaching the goals you set for yourself as a team.
I know it would theoretically only be 1 year with JR, but that could be enough to ruin Scott’s hold over the youngsters on this team for good.

When in Doubt, Ask @LarryCoon

July 30, 2010

Larry Coon knows everything about the NBA CBA. Everything. He writes for,,, and He has also been known to rock a wicked mustache from time to time. I believe now is regrettably NOT one of those times, but every stock photo ESPN has of him says otherwise.

And for some benevolent reason, he’s decided to make himself accessible to us miscreants on Twitter. He answers questions right and left. Even the questions he’s answered over and over again.

“What are Bird Rights?”

“How do teams use Trade Exceptions?”

“Don’t you think Luke Ridnour is as good as Kobe, thus why wouldn’t LA do that trade?”

And so on.

I’ve asked him questions from time to time, most recently today. Usually his answers are very informative, and today was no different. However, today’s answer was depressing (to a Cavs fan) as well. Here is our exchange (Larry’s answer is condensed from 4 tweets into 1):

@azv321: What’s the best move the Cavs can make with their TPE? Package it with Jamison at deadline for picks, youth, and $$?

@LarryCoon: The problem with a big trade exception is that it’s mainly useful just to bring in a big salary–a salary another team wants to get rid of, at that. A team that needs to blow it up & rebuild (which the Cavs need to do) don’t want to acquire salary that another teams wants to get rid of. Maybe use it to bring in couple smaller contracts, but I don’t think the Trade Exception will fix all their problems.

Looking gloomy in Cavalier Nation, folks. Not horribly gloomy. Probably average cloudy day in Cleveland gloomy. Let’s see how the management plays this one.

As always, thanks Larry!