Random Musing

Athletic aid?  Do universities really subsidize their athletic departments in these hard times, and can they really make those subsidies back?  Phil Miller at Environmental Economics provided a link to data on athletic department revenues and expenses for most D-1 schools.  It is an interesting dataset, especially at a time when ever-contracting budgets make subsidies for athletic departments less and less attractive.  At the same time, I am a former college athlete (track and field, one of those sports that costs a lot more than it will ever make) and I don’t want to see athletic departments tossed entirely.  I wonder if public disclosure of these costs in such an easily accessible form will do anything in terms of public awareness and attitudes in a tough economy.  My guess is that the answer will depend on the school in question.  I assure you that no matter what the figures, even Tea Party central (or as you might call it, the state of South Carolina) is going to just keep supporting the athletic departments of Clemson and the University of South Carolina (where, in full disclosure, I should note that I am currently employed).

A quick glance at the data suggests that The University of South Carolina’s athletic department does quite well year-to-year.  When you subtract revenues from expenses, you get a profits of more than $2 million in 2008, a little over half a million in 2009, and nearly $1.6 million in 2010. This looks great, until you take the data apart a little.  In the good news column, the university has not paid any direct subsidy to the athletic department over the past three years.  However, they have been charging student fees to support the department.  A lot of student fees: in 2008, $1,987,931.  In 2009, $2,098,087.  And in 2010, $2,146,293.  That trend is probably going in the wrong direction, though not all that much.  But if we take the student fee subsidy (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) out of the revenue column, the figures don’t look that rosy:

2008: a tiny profit, less than $200k

2009: a loss of $1.6 million

2010: a loss of more than half a million.

Yep, over the past three years, the athletic department has lost around $2 million.  Now, to be fair, that does not include the revenues to branded merchandise that is not attributed to the athletic department (i.e. bookstore sales, which are huge) that went to the university general fund, which likely pushed this figure back toward revenue neutrality.


Now, let’s look up the road to our in-state rival, Clemson (also a state school, though a lot of people seem to be unaware of this).  Again, a quick look at the numbers suggests that Clemson ran in the black, making more than $870,000 in 2008, losing $500,000 in 2009, and rebounding to make $780,000 in 2010.  But if you take apart the numbers, it gets ugly quick:

In 2008, the school subsidized the athletic department to the tune of $2,435,268, and charged students an additional $1,501,216 in fees to support the department ($3.9 million total).  In 2009, it was a subsidy of $2,924,005 and fees of $1,535,940 (nearly $4.5 million).  Finally, in 2010, the numbers were $3,233,520 in subsidy and $1,585,556 in fees ($4.8 million).  This is a lot of money in a state that is more or less broke, and in which tuition and fees continue to rise.  The net?

2008: A loss of over $3 million

2009: A loss of $5 million

2010: Another loss of $4 million

Yeah, there is no way they are covering that with merchandizing, and given the relatively poor quality of the teams coming out of their program in recent years, I doubt this is spurring serious alumni donations.

Oh, and WTF is going on with Virginia’s (my old athletic department) numbers?  In 2010, they ran an $11 million dollar profit, but charged the students $12 million in fees?  This makes absolutely no sense . . . I have to assume the data here is screwed up somehow, as that would work out to around $870 per student (including grads and professional students)!  There is no way that flies there.  I can only assume we are looking at a lot of misreported fees – I mean, looking at dollars in and dollars out, why not just cut the fees down to $1 million and go for revenue neutrality?

This city is impressive – even more so from 61 stories up . . .


While this is somewhat off the subject of development and global change (well, I suppose revolution in a country as pivotal as Egypt could count as the latter), I feel a need to chime in with an opinion on the role of the Obama administration and recent events in Egypt.  It’s been noted all over the place that the administration has seemed behind the curve and ineffectual throughout the entire Egyptian revolution.  This, of course, is based on public statements that seriously hedged the American position and clearly responded/reacted to events on the ground as they developed – the result, was a series of statements that shifted rather dramatically from weak support for Mubarak to stronger and stronger support for his removal.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts here – and they are just thoughts.  I have no special sources or insights here, except as someone who works in the international realm and within the government and therefore has some familiarity with how things really get done.  I am not, however, suggesting that the following is in any way to be seen as me reporting on things that I know to have happened behind the scenes – simply put, my security clearance doesn’t go that high, even if I wanted to know.

Simply put, I don’t think the administration was as out of the loop and reactive as people think.  I’ve found it surprising that most who have noted the very close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries have largely limited discussion to noting that the Egyptians are armed largely with American weapons.  Oddly, nobody has really been talking about the information black hole that developed around the Pentagon over the past three weeks – they stopped talking, almost entirely.  That is unusual.  Further, it is clear that the Egyptian military wavered at least once during this revolution, and looked like it might throw in with the Mubarak regime, at least until the next election.  Yet they did not tip over – and surely part of this is because the military is drawn from a broad segment of Egyptian society, and was therefore very, very unlikely to fire on its own citizenry.  But does anyone think that the Pentagon wasn’t working full time behind the scenes through every communications channel it had to the Egyptian military?  In the end, the United States arms and offers training to the Egyptians, which gives us enormous formal and informal clout with their military.  Does anyone really think that, after the first few days of the revolution, the Pentagon wasn’t delivering the message that Mubarak had to go?  Did we have any other lever of change after the first few days?  The answer to all of the above, for me, is no.  We had no diplomatic lever to effect any change in Egypt after the first few days, once Mubarak turned defiant and started using the “foreign meddling” theme as a means of self-defense.  This is not Secretary Clinton’s fault – I’ve been deeply impressed with her work relative to more or less everyone who has occupied her seat over the past 10-15 years.  She just had no levers or influence once the diplomatic tide turned.  But our military always had pull . . . and I am certain that the administration knew this and used this, calibrating its public statements to stay off the toes of the informal, unacknowledged communications that were going on between the Pentagon and Egypt’s military leadership.  This is pragmatism at its finest – it doesn’t matter how it gets done, or who gets the credit, but I strongly believe that the Obama administration played this one about as well as it could, and was probably a lot more effective than most folks realize.

Someone will write a history of this 20 years from now, when the FOI requests are easier to fulfill, and we will have a much better sense of what really happened. I suspect the account will be kinder to the administration than much contemporary writing . . .

**Update** NASA tentatively identifies the metal as from an Indian launch

Sorry for the slow posts – it is a very busy week.  And the coffee maker broke this morning.  And my wife got lost on the way to the mall to buy a new one.  Tomorrow morning is going to be less than fun.

Anyway, to keep my work-and-caffeine related whining in perspective, I bring you METAL FROM THE SKY.  Mary Thompson, one of my Ph.D. students (you may remember her from hits such as this) is currently in Malawi, working around the Mt. Mulanje Forest Reserve to assess the use of the reserve by surrounding communities and the impact of a growing fortress conservation mentality on local livelihoods.  It’s a great project, and we have built into it some serious efforts to assess forest impact via transect walk sampling and some fun work with satellite imagery.

So Mary just posted to her Facebook page (<<in grumpy old man voice>> in my day, we didn’t have Facebook . . . we had nonfunctioning landlines that we could reach once every two weeks . . .) an amusing story and picture.

So, last night at about 11pm there was this loud rumbling noise coming from somewhere. I kept thinking that if this was thunder it is the longest lasting thunder I’ve ever heard. And it was clear out.  So eventually it stopped and didn’t happen again and I went to sleep. So this morning the people who work here said they think it was probably a small earthquake on the mountain or somewhere. Rare but not totally uncommon. I thought that was pretty cool and didn’t give it too much thought aside from giving my research assistants a lesson on how earthquakes work.

Then, we were leaving Monjomo village and passed a man that we knew from Likhubula on his bike and stopped him to ask the quickest way back on our bikes. He told us, and then said that he had just been to Chambe (a few miles up the road from where I live) where last night something metal had fallen from the sky and made the big noise everyone had heard and there was a rumor that another piece had been found at another village some distance away. So, of course we had to go check it out. we got there and there were hundreds of people hanging out for the excitement. This is very rural Sub-Saharan Africa, excitement here can be a little hard to come by. The police were there and had roped off a section of someone’s maize field (that had been flattened by all the people). In the center was a piece of metal a little longer than my arm that clearly belonged to some sort of machinery at some point. Since I’m a visitor (aka since I’m white and had a camera) they let me go under the rope barrier to take pictures. VIP UFO treatment for sure.

The chief of the neighboring village where I had been working for the past three months said she heard the loud noise and then her house was rattling and she thought it was a landslide from rocks on the mountain but she went outside and everything was lit up like electric lights (which they definitely don’t have) and she got scared and went back in the house.

I’ve never seen a plane over this area (doesn’t mean they don’t pass over from time to time), so who knows…

So, here is a picture of what fell from the sky:

OK gang, WTF is that?  I can see a hinge at top left, and what looks like shearing on the part of the object nearest to us in the picture.  The metal looks alloy, but what the hell do I know?  Ideas?  Anyone?

**Update 9 February**

Mary just sent me a message:

So, I emailed NASA’s Orbital Debris Program’s chief scientist and he said that the description and time fit well with an Indian rocket body that had been launched on the 2nd of Feb and reentered near this area on Feb 7th. I may change careers to UFO investigator.

the revolutionary potential of the working class has been greatly overestimated.  The latest evidence?

Yep, if this doesn’t provoke the revolution, nothing will.  Guess I’ll go watch what’s on TV . . .

From the comments section, something I had to manually spam:

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Now, like most bloggers, I have a spam filter on for my comments . . . so this had to be entered manually by someone able to deal with a captcha code.  This greatly limits the number of comments that could be left in a day . . . so instead, the spammer goes for the “I really need the money” tactic to hopefully raise the return on the limited number of comments.

Interesting how the spammer has mobilized the “help the poor” discourse of many aid agencies, though.  It would be interesting to see if this sort of tactic actually works . . .

For any of you who might have spent time in Ghana, you’ve likely heard that shout: “Oh, Ghana!”  It is a good-natured expression of frustration with the everyday annoyances that make life what it is in Ghana.  Power cuts out in the middle of a World Cup match? “Oh, Ghana!”  Traffic completely stops in Cape Coast because the local herd of cattle have gotten into the road? “Oh, Ghana!”  Anyway, you get it.

Well, today’s “Oh, Ghana!” moment comes courtesy of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills, who has taken a particularly depressing stance on the turmoil in Ghana’s neighbor, Cote d’Ivoire:

“Ghana is not taking sides,” he said, pointing out that “We have about one million Ghanaians living in Ivory Coast who could be victims of any military intervention.”

Super, the head of state of the most legitimate democracy in West Africa, and arguably all of sub-Saharan Africa, has decided not to cash in any of that legitimacy to help resolve a fairly clear electoral situation right next door.  Of course, this ignores the fact that there are many millions more Ghanaians living along the border with Cote d’Ivoire that could be affected if things go badly, or that cross-border flows of Ivorians trying to escape conflict could pour into Ghana, which lacks the capacity to adequately address their needs.  Further, Mills’ response to the crisis is . . . prayer.  Prayer is fine, but it is no substitute for working in this world for a solution.  No, Mills’ stance is a depressing bit of hedging one’s bets.

The good news, I suppose, is that there is nothing inherently Ghanaian about this attitude toward the situation in Cote d’Ivoire.  Nana Akufo-Addo, the New Patriot Party’s (NPP) presidential candidate in 2008 (and likely in 2012), issued a statement earlier this week that more or less addressed the absurdity of Mills’ position.

“Much as most of us Ghanaians believe in the efficacy of prayer, prayer cannot be a replacement of or substitute for an active policy of Ghanaian diplomacy and engagement. It is said that heaven helps those who help themselves.”

Amen.  Now go, Ghana.  Do something now.

Right, so George Clooney is part of an effort to use satellite imagery to cast a light on any atrocities that might take shape as the Sudan referendum goes forward.  In short, this project aims to use hig-res commercial satellite imagery, gathered on a pretty regular basis, to document evidence of genocidal or other criminal behavior.  The idea is, as they put it, to create a form of “antigenocide paparazzi” that will bring unwanted attention to atrocities.  As Clooney argues:

“This is as if this were 1943 and we had a camera inside Auschwitz and we said, ‘O.K., if you guys don’t want to do anything about it, that’s one thing,’” Clooney says. “But you can’t say you did not know.”

This is genius marketing, even if you dislike the idea (those of us with good ideas really do need to take marketing more seriously).  And a lot of people dislike the idea.  Blogger Laurenist has a critique under the hilarious title “In Space, no one can hear you say “WTF”?” (genius marketing, people).  A lot of this critique is focused on the fact that the imagery will probably not bring about the sorts of accountability necessary to actually get people to stop unwanted behaviors, at least in part because the imagery is fairly low-res.  Indeed, it is – actually lower-res than the article about the story quotes – 50 centimeter imagery is not 50 square centimeters, but 50 centimeters a side (I work with this stuff).  So it is hard to even see people in these images, unless it is at a time of day where you can pick up their shadows.  It is also focused on the fact that “just knowing” about a problem isn’t good enough to spur action – after all, it is now well documented that the international community was well aware of what was going on in Rwanda right before and during the genocide, and did nothing.  Fuzzy imagery certainly won’t change that.

I agree with this assessment.  However, there is a way to make lemonade out of this particular batch of lemons, because these images could be retasked for something much more useful.  One of the likely points of conflict post-referendum is along the corridors through which various groups move their livestock in the course seasonal migrations for food and water (if you want to drop a big word for it, say “transhumance”).  There are two things this sort of imagery can do for us – it can tell us about the biophysical situation in those corridors – are they still able to support this migration, are they ecologically unbroken or fragmented, are there barriers to movement?  Second, it can tell us how many people and animals are using these corridors, which we can use to measure local carrying capacity, and estimate the challenges that might emerge if these corridors are closed or otherwise challenged.  This would allow for effective humanitarian intervention in areas where these pastoral groups (who are typically left behind by aid and development, and hated by the state, because they won’t stay put and like crossing borders).  Hell, if they are going to drop big dollars on the images, we may as well use them for something useful and actionable.

George, you interested?  I can help set this up . . .

Yeah, most of twitter is mindless crap.  But there are a number of really smart, well-connected folks out there who are posting info in real time . . . which  is a great way to stay abreast of events and conversations relevant to one’s field.  And then there are the funny feeds.  I am currently losing my mind at bill_westerly.  Basically, the feed plays off of development economist Bill Easterly (who, interestingly, follows the feed) – but it takes on a sort of bizarro Easterly, if Bill Easterly was an Austrian-bodybuilder-governor-of-California.  For example:

  • broder @bill_easterly. let us swing duh axes togedder und bring doom to der army uff churnalists und girlymen egonomists dat oppose us?
  • hur hur hur. u call yurself egonomist? war gif der axellent market penetration @mattbish War is obsolete, you end up bombing your customers!

There is a lot of hidden insight in these tweets.  Then there is a whole series, linked to an extended discussion of expat aid worker behavior that is passing under the hashtag #stuffexpataidworkerslike

  • Monitorin der urban program in “der field” cos yur naad even vun hour from Florida club und Jomo Kenyatta
  • like jargon. luff akronyms uff dat jargon more…
  • gettin der intern to write cluster minutes so yoo gots time for snark bloggin bout volnteerz in aid
  • Kipling. #stuffexpataidworkerslike Akshully reading der Kipling#stuffexpataidworkersdontlike

And then there is the just completely random

  • mebbe is time fur twitter karaokes to build der courage und appetite to fight der turkeysaurus……..

Yeah, I find this funny.  Cope.

They put Ron Paul in charge of the subcommittee overseeing the Federal Reserve.  Really?  The man who wrote End the Fed?

Paul, in an interview last week, said he plans a slate of hearings on U.S. monetary policy and will restart his push for a full audit of the Fed’s functions.  (via Bloomberg)

Ah, let the overreaching begin.

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