The University of Florida is eliminating its computer science department to save $1.7 million. The same university's athletic program increased $2 million from last year to this year. Clearly, this is an administration that is looking ahead to the economy of tomorrow.
James Fallows rightly points out the larger context of this decision, pointing out that the university is getting less and less funding from the state, and they're desperate. My own school (UCSD) is in the same boat as the other UC's, and as U of FL - fortunately for me, UCSD has no sports program to draw off the state's diminishing support. What's ironic is that there is literally no surer investment in a growing state economy than a good university, and yet somehow these are exactly the institutions that are getting cut.
There needs to be a clear, strong-message study or PR campaign showing how good universities = good economy. These kinds of stupid decisions are going to continue as long as the electorate values bowl wins over strong academic and professional programs.
It being 4/20 and all, this afternoon I decided to take a break and walk from my office over to Coffeeshop Blue Sky in Oakland - the outlet for Oaksterdam University. You may recall that Oaksterdam University, although completely in compliance with state law and in fact a revenue source for the city, was raided by armed Federal agents recently. (Why fight a legal battle when you can intimidate and drive out of business, right?) And when I was buying my espresso, Richard Lee, the founder and hero of the institution, happened to appear. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with yours truly:
When I asked him what private citizens could do, he named several organizations to support, among them LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and the California Medical Association, both of which are pro-legalization. The latter of course is of special interesting to me as a medical student. It's really strange that the public continues to tolerate lawyers ignoring the recommendations of medical professionals in ways that infringe their personal freedoms.
"...Americans increasingly defined themselves by what they bought rather than what they did, and this shift of emphasis proved deeply damaging over time." From Walter Russell Mead.
This is probably at least partly driven by the rise of youth consumer culture, allowed by increased disposable income. Kids and young adults are much more likely to measure and identify themselves by bands, clothing, and recreational equipment than by their grades, college major or productive pursuits. This continues in adulthood, more clothing, luxury cars and food, and sports teams. It's not new that we want something for nothing - in this case, high status without effort or merit - but what is new is that we can think we're getting it, at least in the short-term. This also might offer an explanation for why young people seem driven to more and more obscure bands and tastes - the more isolated your taste, the more secure your position in your self-defined status hierarchy.
This is certainly not a tirade against the possibility of mass production and the commercialization of experience - this process has without a doubt improved our lives and continued to improve our lives. The side effect is that consumerism has made us need instant gratification everywhere - even in our status hierarchy - and consumption can provide for this need.
Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of meeting Katja Grace and Robin Hanson in person, as well as the gracious host and several others who came to the meetup. The price of the evening was having my ass handed to me in the game Condotierre. Given my lack of facility in board games, I can console myself by saying that there is no honor to be gained by defeating the likes of me.
As I said during the evening, clearly I am trying to signal status in the blogosphere through afiliation.
Previously I asked whether it would be a good thing to have a software FDA - a central agency that made you go through a lengthy and incredibly expensive application process to determine if the code you'd just written was good enough and permissible to sell to the public. To most people, this sounds like a stupid idea - yet this is exactly what we have in medicine. The idea of course is to keep people safe, but there's a balance. Be too generous with approvals, and people will die from unsafe medicine.
This is no longer a thought experiment, although it's not software where we're seeing a proposed expansion of the FDA model. There is now a serious suggestion to have an FDA equivalent for financial products. Read more here.
Read about it here. If you think that you're in favor of states' rights and smaller Federal government, now is the time to sign up or shut up - because here are businesses that are completely legitimate by state law, being shut down by armed squads from the Federal government. If this doesn't bother you and you think you stand for small government, forgive us for not taking you seriously. If this doesn't bother you and you stand for reason-based laws and compassion for sick people - then you don't actually stand for those things.
Oaksterdam University dispenses medical marijuana and holds classes teaching people how to grow marijuana, and defend themselves legally. Note that Richard Lee, the founder and owner, is a completely above-board, legitimate businessman and community member. Lee led the Prop 19 drive in California, a legalization initiative which started off with a winning YES percentage and ended up getting 46%, still an amazing turnout. By the way, for a brave journalist, there has to be a story in there about how the Mexican cartels funneled money into the campaign to keep marijuana prohibition going, and their own profits protected.
And here's where the rubber meets the road. The Oakland dispensaries backed a successful measure recently to tax marijuana sales. Why would merchants do this? Because now they're part of always-broke Oakland's budget, that's why, so if something like this happens, now the Federal government is taking away Oakland's revenue base by shutting down businesses. (Again, so-called small government enthusiasts, where's your outrage? Why do we only hear crickets from the Tea Party if that's really what you're about?) So now I'm hoping that the California state government will finaly grow a pair, because the Feds are unlikely to respond to a single city's protests. Our nonsensical and tax-money-wasting drug laws are only going to be reformed by action from the states. Montana and Oregon, they're coming for you next.
It's worth mentioning that lots of us are wondering what the Obama administration is trying to accomplish. Between Eric Holder, the DEA and the IRS, this administration has come down harder on medical marijuana than Bush ever did. I can't imagine they're stupid enough to think that this will get the Religious Right to think he's a-okay come November, but no other motivations spring to mind.