Saturday, 11/4/17

  1. The New College Try
  2. Weak, stupid, highly emotional men
  3. Reddit Jihadism
  4. Politicizing tragedies
  5. Consenting Adults
  6. John Piper is too lax
  7. False flags: not just for Lefties
  8. NAHB Wins big (and ugly)

1

If you think being “conservative” precludes doing unprecedented things, then you’ll surely think, contrary to consensus, that Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is no conservative.

In none of his public life has Daniels been a timid, business-as-usual guy, as when he sold Indiana’s toll roads to a private consortium of some sort. But maybe his boldest move ever has been to lead Purdue University in acquiring Kaplan University, a for-profit, largely online institution, last April. It’s timely again because it’s much in our local news.

Here’s part of the the PR version of it from Purdue’s internal news service:

“Nearly 150 years ago, Purdue proudly accepted the land-grant mission to expand higher education beyond the wealthy and the elites of society,” President Mitch Daniels said. “We cannot honor our land-grant mission in the 21st century without reaching out to the 36 million working adults, 750,000 of them in our state, who started but did not complete a college degree, and to the 56 million Americans with no college credit at all.

“None of us knows how fast or in what direction online higher education will evolve, but we know its role will grow, and we intend that Purdue be positioned to be a leader as that happens. A careful analysis made it clear that we are very ill-equipped to build the necessary capabilities ourselves, and that the smart course would be to acquire them if we could. We were able to find exactly what we were looking for. Today’s agreement moves us from a standing start to a leading position.”

To launch the new university, Purdue will acquire Kaplan University and its institutional operations and assets, including its 15 campuses and learning centers, 32,000 students, 3,000 employees, and decades of experience in distance education. All existing Kaplan University students and faculty will transition to the new university, which will use the Purdue name in some fashion not yet identified.

“Kaplan and Purdue share the critical mission of expanding access to education,” said Donald E.Graham, chairman of Graham Holdings Co. (NYSE: GHC), the parent company of Kaplan Inc. and Kaplan University. “Purdue takes its land-grant mission very seriously, and I’m deeply impressed by this great university’s commitment to meeting the needs of non-traditional students.”

The Wall Street Journal adds detail:

Purdue President Mitch Daniels said the school wanted to stay true to its land grant mission of educating as many people as possible, but he recognized it couldn’t build an online presence alone.

“We took a long build-or-buy analysis and came to the honest recognition that we would be very unlikely to succeed building it ourselves,” said Mr. Daniels.

The venture highlights the shifting higher-education market as public funding declines, tuitions rise and college students grow older, busier and more indebted. These broad changes come as attaining some sort of post-secondary education grows increasingly critical to earn a middle-class salary.

The deal is still subject to approvals from the U.S. Department of Education, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission, which already accredits Purdue and Kaplan. Graham Holdings said in a securities filing Thursday that it doesn’t expect to get all those approvals until the fourth quarter of 2017.

Trace Urdan, an independent analyst who follows for-profit colleges, called the Purdue acquisition “wild” but said he doesn’t expect it to be the last such deal in the sector.

Purdue has a history of nontraditional moves, especially with Mr. Daniels—a two-term Indiana governor who took over the school in 2013—at the helm. The school in 2016 launched an income-share agreement that allows students to pay back tuition costs with a percentage of their future earnings.

Mr. Daniels has also instituted a string of tuition freezes, lowered room and board costs and partnered with Amazon to reduce textbook costs for students.

The Washington Post also covered it as did Inside Higher Ed in original and followup stories.

My take is:

  • Conservatism should start with reality, changing it (howsoever gradually that may need to be) when reality is bad, or going with the flow if reality is morally good or neutral.
  • The move is a good faith effort to fulfill the University’s land grant mission in a changing educational environment.
  • Daniels, not being a bashful sort, has an eye cocked toward the proverbial camera. Big deal. Motives are never unmixed, and Daniels wanted and got a compensation package that included performance-based bonuses, most of which he earns by meeting benchmarks.
  • The amount of debt many students are taking on for a conventional four-year degree starting at age 18 is unjustifiable and unsustainable (James Howard Kunstler has one of his worst-ever podcasts on the topic, which I abandoned near the middle) and this offers a path to education financed as-you-go.
  • David Sanders, former Faculty Senate President, is worried about what this will do to Purdue’s rising prestige. I’m not unconcerned about that, but I’m more concerned about whether Purdue is pursuing its proper mission.
  • If this pans out, Daniels will belong in some Educational Hall of Fame. If it doesn’t work out, he should still get credit for the old new college try, (and I suspect he will).

2

Peggy Noonan returns to print after one of her periodic disappearances (presumably for vacation):

In 2001 I thought it would be a suitcase bomb, a homemade nuclear device, not airplanes going into buildings. I’d felt something coming, had written of it, but that day, amid all the grief and carnage, I felt a lurking relief. I’d feared worse—tens of thousands gone, parts of the city rendered uninhabitable.

I feel a version of that relief now, after Tuesday’s truck attack downtown, within the shadow of the Freedom Tower …

For months and then years after 9/11, we feared al Qaeda would hit us again, harder. Sixteen years later what we see is a series of single, random-seeming acts by weak, stupid, highly emotional men who read propaganda sites and become excited in the way of the weak, stupid and highly emotional. Their attacks are low-tech, limited.

Graeme Wood had a smart piece for the Atlantic hours after the attack. “The details strongly suggest that the man was a complete idiot,” Mr. Wood wrote of the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov. “I harp on Saipov’s apparent stupidity for one reason: As long as Islamic State’s attackers are idiots like Saipov, our societies can probably handle them. . . . The Idiots’ Crusade is a manageable problem. Much less tolerable would be a campaign of competent terror—the kind of mayhem enabled by training, like the 2015 Bataclan killers in Paris had, or by patient planning, as Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas did.”

3

Whenever someone suggests in the wake of one of these shooting that there is something wrong in a country in which it is possible to obtain quasi-military-grade firearms and massive amounts of ammunition, he is accused of a gross “politicization” of a tragedy. Meanwhile, to make passive-aggressive insinuations about immigration and dash off think-pieces about what it “means” for Brexit or the fortunes of Europe’s right-wing political parties whenever someone is shot in Paris or Nice by a Muslim is sober disinterested political analysis.

We need to stop pretending that Reddit jihadism is some kind of coherent philosophy and that any murderer who can be shown to have once read an article about ISIS is some kind of de facto “operative” working on behalf of the caliphate. Disenchanted young people, often under the influence of drugs, read all kinds of gibberish on the internet. Some of them later decide for reasons that we will never understand to get hold of weapons — guns, homemade bombs, motor vehicles — and commit murder. Are the motivations underlying the hijacking of a pick-up truck in order to plow down random pedestrians any more coherent than the ones that led an antisocial lunatic dressed up as a Batman character to unload on a movie-theater audience with tear gas and an arsenal’s worth of guns and to rig up a bomb that was fortunately defused? How much more likely is an immigrant from Syria or Uzbekistan to commit any crime, violent or otherwise, in comparison with a pale white kid born in Wisconsin?

(Matthew Walter, There’s no such thing as “terrorism”) I’m pretty sure that title is hyperbole, but anyone who, like me, has misgivings about quick resort to the label “hate crime” ought logically to have misgivings about quick resort to the label “terrorism.”

4

David French reminds me why, despite a low signal-to-noise ratio, I added a National Review tab to my browser startup:

[T]he vast majority of politicians, pundits, and Twitter warriors who demand that we not “politicize” a tragedy are really begging, “Don’t make me talk about my political opinion in an unfavorable environment. Let’s wait until the news cycle passes, and the public moves on.” But perhaps moments when the public is energized and interested are among the best times for politicians to make political arguments. Do it tactfully. Respect the fallen. But make your case.

There’s not a fact in that opinion capable of being fake, so I’m pretty confident I’m not being played.

5

Peggy Noonan continues on a different topic, that of sexual harassment:

I close with a point that may grate on those who, like me, are glad at what has happened and wish to see just revelations continue.

The challenge is to pursue justice while keeping a sense of humanity. Human-resources departments terrified of costly lawsuits will impose more and stranger rules that won’t necessarily thwart bad guys but will harass good men ….

My favorite commentary on the sordid flurry of stories about powerful sexual predators came from David French, who quite consciously upped the ante, calling for rethinking sexual morality:

Last week, as the grotesque Harvey Weinstein sexual-assault scandal burst into public view, I was struck by this tweet, from my friend Andrew Walker:

Is there any issue that the church has been more defensive about — and retreated more from — than its biblical sexual ethics? Time and again the message to the culture is “join us anyway.” Or, worse, the message to members of the church has been “You don’t really have to obey.” The church retreats, and the sexual revolution advances. But why retreat? As we can now see with blinding clarity, the alternative sexual morality is oppressive. It’s destroying lives.

That alternative sexual morality is “consenting adults define their own moral norms.” But

people don’t walk around broadcasting their desires. We don’t have a flashing “yes” or “no” that hovers over our heads. So someone has to make the ask. Someone has to make the move. Consent is determined by the request, and in a completely sexualized culture, the request can come at any time, anywhere, and from any person you encounter — regardless of the power imbalance or the propriety of the location.

And for powerful people in particular, the ask so often has fruitful results — sometimes out of genuine desire, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes out of a sense of intimidated resignation — that the ask quickly blurs into expectation, and expectations can yield demands. But the pressure of course doesn’t simply come from those with corporate or political clout. Power is defined by more than wealth or fame. People who seek companionship and love feel sexual pressure to initiate or preserve relationships. Sometimes people want to simply fit in with the dominant culture, to feel included rather than excluded.

(Emphasis added)

There are some things you just cannot un-see, and I think David French’s insight into the reductionism of “consenting adults” is one of them. I’ve been carrying it around for three weeks now, unfaded.

6

The Spacey accusations, along with the many other allegations coming out about other leading men in Hollywood, have me rethinking [my] position [of tolerating dark themes because they aren’t “real life”]. Specifically, they have me wondering if John Piper was right all along.

Piper, you might remember, has said on multiple occasions that he refuses to watch any movie that has nudity in it because, while other things in movies can be “faked,” in the sense that it is a person playing a part, the nudity is real:

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).

Brothers, that is serious. Really serious. Jesus is violent about this. What we do with our eyes can damn us. One reason is that it is virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by nudity to an act of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” But this means the entire Christian life is threatened by the deadening effects of sexual titillation.

(Jake Meador, Sex in Movies: Was John Piper Right All Along?) I think Piper’s zero tolerance for nudity should spill over into near-zero tolerance for violence and bad language. I’ll make an exception in principle for depictions of historic wars. It’s virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by gut-smut to “beholding the glory of the Lord,” too.

7

Do you remember those times when people painted false flag swastikas or “the N word” and then demanded that the university act to create a safer environment? Well that’s not just for the Left any more. Trump supporters, for instance, created “Rape Melania” protest signs to try to discredit opponents.

Presumably, they then plastered photos of those waving signs on social media, execrating the “animals” who would do such things.

The unreliability of the “news” one gets on social media (compounded by Russian and other partisan influences and false flag operations) underlines for me the enduring importance of professional journalism—the kind you may need to pay for.

8

I generally don’t comment on current legislative proposals unless they are blatantly unconstitutional, but the Republican tax bill has one feature that jumps out at me: the home mortgage interest deduction.

• Current law: Itemized deduction on loans up to $1 million

• Proposed: Itemized deduction for loans up to $500,000 on new home purchases

(Wall Street Journal)

The National Association of Home Builders is a very powerful lobby, and the mythic power of universal home ownership is great. But it seems to me that this is going to be a very heavy thumb on the scale in favor of buying new homes over older homes, and thus fostering (a) continued suburbanization and (b) tearing down fine existing city homes to make room for McMansions. I’d rather they abolished the deduction entirely (unlikely to happen; I think NAHB will defeat that) or keep it entirely.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

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