by Kieran Healy on December 19, 2005

All over the U.S. at the moment, academics like me are complaining about end-of-semester woes like administering exams and grading papers. Cheer up! It could be worse. For instance, take this “despairing page”: put up by the economist “John Hey”:, who spends some of his time teaching in England, and the rest as Professore Ordinario at a University in Italy. Pretty nice gig, you might think — “except when”: it comes to exams:

The intention of this web page is to draw attention to large differences in the number of examinations in different countries of the world, with the particular intention of revealing Italy as an outlier. I also want to draw attention to an associated bureaucratic procedure called “verbalizzazione”:, which I do not think exists anywhere else in the world other than in Italy. … Here is a broad summary of the number of examinations in different countries of the world. …
* ONE exam per course each year with no right to resit: Canada, United States
* ONE exam per course per year with at most one resit: Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
* ONE exam per course per year with at most two resits: Austria, The Netherlands
* (Up to) TEN exams per course per year with the right to resit as often as you wish: *Italy*.

His page summarizing the “verbalizzazione”: business (what it takes, once you administer all those exams, to actually get the grade recorded) is enough to give a public choice theorist an aneurysm.

Spying at Home

by Kieran Healy on December 19, 2005

End-of-semester stuff has been piling up — Who knew that there was a well known social theorist named Marx Weber? Or that he developed the idea of the Protastic Ethic? — which means that I haven’t had enough time to digest the NYT report that “President Bush secretly authorized the NSA to spy on Americans without any legal oversight”:, or reactions to it. But from a quick perusal, it seems like both the Administration’s rationale and the response from supporters online is essentially the same as the effort to justify the arbitrary detention and torture of people (including U.S. citizens). In other words, choose any or all of:

# _Epochal Shift_: “9/11 Changed Everything and so the President can do whatever he likes.”
# _You Can’t Handle the Truth!_: Your “Jack Nicholson moment”:, viz: “Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? … I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it!”
# _Exquisite Regret_: “I fully appreciate the strength of the arguments (moral, practical, empirical) that you put before me about the evil nature of torture, arbitrary detention and spying on the very citizens from whom our claim to legitimate government derives. So believe me when I say that I have agonized over these decisions, lain awake at night, analyzed the hypotheticals in detail and now, with a great sense of the weight of the choice I am making, I will sign this piece of paper suspending the rights of anyone whom our staffers feel should be investigated.”
# _Rubber Stamp_: “We obtained a legal opinion from one of our own lawyers. He said it was OK and I believe him. He’s totally objective.”
# _World Weary_: “Oh, puh-leeze. This is nothing new. It’s been going on for years — Americans have no idea how little legal protection they have from arbitrary government surveillance. That’s why I became a libertarian. I still fully support the Government’s right to monitor, lock up, ‘render’ and torture anyone they declare is an enemy combatant, though. I absolutely still _don’t_ trust them to run a Social Security Program or redistribute taxes to the poor, obviously.”
# _Radical Empiricist_: I’m not sure we have all the facts about this, and we should “suspend judgment”: until either more real evidence becomes available or the black GM Suburban pulls up outside my house and bundles me off to a disused Soviet-era facility in Eastern Europe.

Mix and Match as appropriate.

_Update_: “Mark Schmitt”:, “Dan Koffler”: and “Ezra Klein”: have more comments. “Orin Kerr”: offers a detailed legal analysis.

Dark matter and Phlogiston

by John Q on December 19, 2005

Given the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to offer any policy response to the massive growth in the US trade and current account deficits, it is not surprising to observe a steady stream of theories explaining that such deficits can be sustained indefinitely.

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