Two views of scale

The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word.


435 members of the House
100 members of the Sentate
1 occupant of the White House (unless he’s playing golf)
That’s 536 copies (at minimum) x 1,990 pgs each = 1, 066,640 pages!!!
Or 2,133 packs of standard printer/copier paper.
How many trees is that?

Wait a second – hasn’t MoMA already BUILT a condo tower?

Well, yes, but they’ve gotten another one approved.
And look at the picture for the proposal.
They get a 200 x 200 exhibition space out of this – that’s what 40,000 square feet means. That’s one floor? A floor and a half? 17.5% of the space is dedicated to the core function of art. 40,000 sq ft out of 700,000. I guess that hits some benchmark.

Have you ever lived under or over a mysterious neighbor?

The year or so I lived in Buckhead in Atlanta there was someone in the basement of the building who played the guitar – but only from about 10 a.m. to noon. I never did figure out who it was or what his or her life schedule was.
For a couple of years here in Geneva I lived under mysteriously flat-footed elephants. But they were only loud in one room – over the living room. I figured that one out the day they moved out and I saw their ping-pong table.
My current upstairs neighbors walk squeakily only in the room above my study/back bedroom. I have a renewed dedication to my home desk, so I’m hearing it. I never hear them above the kitchen – the other side of the wall. Or above the living room, though I know their apartment extends at least that far. I never hear them speak there – so what IS that room? Perhaps it is their kitchen, and I’m hearing them move back in forth in front of the sink and stove? It’s really not all that annoying, but when they move out (people on the 2nd floor of this building are considerably more transitory than the rest of us) I intend to go find out!

What the academy is up against

Here is an article that puts some numbers – both budgetty and human – on what’s going on with colleges and universities.

Stanford’s endowment fell 27 percent to $12.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31. Hennessy has suspended the school’s so-called smoothing formula, which spreads losses over five years. The university, located near Palo Alto, California, said it dismissed 412, or 3.2 percent, of its non-faculty workers, in the first eight months of 2009, postponed $1.1 billion in construction and will close its 58,500-volume physics library.
Stanford will now reduce the amount it withdraws from the endowment over two years, leading to deep cuts designed to speed the university’s financial recovery, Hennessey said in an interview. Stanford, which has the U.S.’s third-largest university endowment, relied on the fund for 29 percent of its operating budget in fiscal 2009, the school said. As a result, Stanford will recover faster and gain efficiency, he said.
“It is only in those crunch times that we really say, ‘Which things no longer make sense?'” said Hennessy, 57, Stanford’s president since 2000. “That’s a healthy process. Not a painless process, but a healthy process.”
By making steep cuts, Stanford will be able to return to normal hiring and growth sooner, he said. In a typical year, Stanford hires about 110 faculty members, said Lisa Lapin, a Stanford spokeswoman. For the 2010 fiscal year, the school froze about 50 faculty searches.

The Bloomberg article has some comparisons to some of the other really rich schools (Stanford is tied with Princeton for the 3rd largest endowment). Some of them are still spending less than 5% per year from their endowments (a luxury non-educational non-profits don’t have). We down here at the poor-but-honest end of the pack are living with lots of the same realities, though. There’s a presidential task force to look at everything and make suggestions of ways to close our deficit – or, as I think the Board of Trustees put it, to stabilize our budget. I’ve ended up on it for reasons that make some structural sense. We’re in one of those everything is on the table moments – though not everything is really on the table, of course – we’re far from declaring financial exigency and shutting down divisions.
“We got used to the fact that everything could get funding,” said Julia Brownell, 19, a student from Menlo Park, California. “Now, we have to get used to the idea that funding is hard to come by.” On a much smaller scale we had the same feeling – and getting used to saying and hearing “no” is hard. I’m glad the task force only has to make recommendations.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XXIV

Canto XXIV
Again, this canto starts with contrast – the last pocket was full of the deadly tired hypocrites, laboring under their lead cloaks. Dante himself is tired, and Virgil tells him:

…”You must
shake off your sluggisness,” the Teacher said,
  “for no one comes to fame who sits in soft
  pillows of down, or lies easily in bed,
And when his life is wasted utterly
  he leaves such traces of himself behind
  as smoke in air or foam upon the sea.

Virgil is preparing Dante not only to get through the Malebolge, but also “to climb a longer stair” (24.56), the mountain of Purgatory.
Dante gets busy and they climb out of the region of the hypocrites into the region of the thieves – a giant clutch of snakes. Ugh. Snakes. It really does sound like a moment in an Indiana Jones movie – snakes knotted around sinners in horrific detail. Certainly one of the punishments I’d rather not picture.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Grading woes

How do you find a NEW way to make your professor pull out his hair?
I’m finishing off the last round of European Studies 101 midterms this morning (yay!) and I hit one that doesn’t make sense. Oh, the answers are fine, it’s the math. I add up the column of figures and it’s too high – this lad is making 8s and 8.8s, an occasional 9, and even one 7, but I get 91.something or other. So I do it on my calculator. Same answer (which at least shows that the caffeine has kicked in and I can add).
THEN I check the column – there are eleven numbers! He did an extra question!
Yes, it’s my fault – I did one of those “choose 1” tests, and two of the groups had 3 possibilities and he did TWO.
So, drop the lower grade of those two and he hits an 83. Big sigh of relief.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XXIII

After all the noise of squabbling devils in Canti XXI and XXII, XXIII begins with silence.

Taciti, soli, sanza compagnia
  n’andavam l’un dinanzi e l’altro dopo
  come frati minor vanno per via.

Silent, alone, no escort at our side,
  we set out, one before and one behind
  as Friars Minor walk in single file.

The silence doesn’t last long, and the pilgrims end up fleeing devils coming back for more. Virgil grabs Dante and runs with him – and they tumble into the 6th ditch. There they find the hypocrites, walking slowly, wearing beautiful golden cloaks whose inside is all lead.
Dante runs into two Bolognese friars who recognize his Tuscan dialect. Tedious Guelphage and Ghibellinage passes. Esolen seems more tolerant – “Note how severely Dante condemns those who meddled in political affairs, even when the meddling benefited Dante’s own party” (464). Maybe it’s because my coffee hasn’t set in yet, but I figure Dante’s faction inside the Guelphs didn’t come out so well in the 1266 settlement of the 36 Good Men. Nevertheless, as Esolen points out in another note, all the named occupants of the Ditch of the Hypocrites are clergy in one way or another.
Just as Dante is about to abuse the friars he catches sight of a man crucified to the path where all the lead-weighed souls pass over him – and one of the two friars reveal that his father-in-law and the whole council of which they were a part suffer the same punishment.

“That soul you wonder at, who lies transfixed,
  advised the Pharisees that it was fit
  to martyr one man for the people’s sake.

This is Caiphas, who Esolen points out did not call directly for the death of Jesus, since that is not how hypocrites operate. “Yet thought hypocrites usually intend more than they will say, in this case Caiphas spoke more than he intended, and was the victim of his own irony. For Jesus was slain for the people, but not as the priest supposed…” (464).
Dante, as a medieval Christian, has no doubt about Jewish blood guilt for the crucifixion. He identifies that guilt as sown by these men – but he does not pardon it. One of the sad truths of the world is that great art does not heal. It can help, but Dante, the poet of individual responsibility, who finds people in Hell who no one else thought might be there and will find folks in Purgatory who repented great wickedness still believes in inherited group guilt for the Jews.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Obama insists he’s just getting started…

Well, it’s almost year now since he geared up his transition team. When do people stop believing him?

NEW ORLEANS – Insisting he’s “just getting started,” President Barack Obama defended his administration Thursday against complaints from some residents of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast that federal help in recovering from the 2005 disasters hasn’t improved much since he took office.
“We’ve got a long way to go but we’ve made progress,” Obama told a town hall at the University of New Orleans. “We’re working as hard as we can and as quickly as we can.”
As a candidate, Obama criticized former President George W. Bush’s response to Katrina, when the government showed up late and unprepared and the Federal Emergency Management Agency became the object of widespread scorn.

Oh – I forget, he’s Not-Bush.

“I expected as much from the Bush administration, but why are we still being nickeled and dimed in our recovery?” the man asked.

Yeah, yeah – vote for Hope and Change and what do you get? You get to keep hoping for change.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XXII

Canto XXII
Dante continues his devil-farce in Canto XXII. I’ll certainly have to come back to this and compare it to some of the devil-play in French farces, which I’ve spent some time thinking about in public. Certainly, Dante is closer in these two canti, with their sinners bobbing in boiling pitch, poked by demons, to modern popular conceptions of Hell.
The humor here is pretty broad – but the conclusion is actually funny – the devils begin fighting among themselves and fall in – and get stuck together with the tar. We could take this as a serious lesson about how there is no honor among thieves or mutual respect among devils, and that’s true, but it misses the point, I think.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.
(oh – sorry for the gap – it’s midterm and I’ve been grading)

Ah – midterms.

I am giving a midterm.
Yes, even as I type my European Studies 101 (Antiquity to the Renaissance) students are writing busily for 55 minutes.
I have the laptop with me and am watching them think.
This is a typical identify-the-quotation-and-comment test. What makes it mine, different from when folks from other departments teach it, is that there are 3 or 4 images on the test to consider either in their cultural context or in comparison to a specific text. For instance, we do a day (a day and a half, this year) on the Parthenon to go along with Pericles and the Melian Dialogue. It’s useful to see what those Athenians spent the treasure of the Delian League building – and to figure out how much MARBLE it would have taken.
Likewise, when we look at the Code of Hammurabi we look at the Stele of Hammurabi. Right up there at the top is Hammurabi receiving his authority (though not written tablets of the law) from Marduk. That’s a useful image to discuss.
Wish them luck!

Hilarious Harvard Exceptionalism

From the Harvard Crimson:

Indiana University Professor Elinor Ostrom and University of California at Berkeley Professor Oliver E. Williamson will be the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the prize committee announced yesterday–to the surprise of some members of the Harvard Economics Department.
. . .
This will be the twelfth consecutive year that Harvard has not been represented among the Economic Sciences category winners of the Nobel Prize since Professor Robert C. Merton won the prize in 1997.
Some of the more recent winners undertook their research at Harvard before receiving their prize while at other institutions.

via Marginal Revolution