Posted by: clholoman | February 10, 2015


I bet you thought this blog was dead. Ha, no! It was only pinin’ for the fjords.

Two topics for your consideration. There has been an exchange between two distinguished scholars in the op/ed pages the last two days and it makes for a fairly painless way to learn some international relations theory, and to see how reasonable people can disagree. The subject is what to do about Ukraine. Yesterday, John Mearsheimer, a noted realist (some would say hawk) made the case for not arming Ukraine in the New York Times. Today, blog fav Dan Drezner over at the WaPo, points out some issues with Mearsheimer’s analysis (and perhaps inconsistencies with M’s own earlier writings, although I’m not convinced by that.) (Disclosure:  Mearsheimer was one of my grad school profs, but I was on the other side of IR–political economy rather than security studies.) I don’t know where I come down on this yet, but it’s fascinating both as a case study in progress and, unfortunately, because the stakes are pretty high, I think.

Second, I must pay tribute to Dean Smith. To those of us of a certain age living in North Carolina, much less for those of us who attended UNC, Coach Smith was one of the towering figures. Lots of amazing words written, but here are three excellent ones:

A terrific story from a professor.

From Charlie Pierce, one of the better sportswriters working today.

And this one by (Dukie) John Feinstein, with this great quote: “John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

I am glad Coach Smith has found rest.

OK, don’t get spoiled by two posts in two days. It’s just that there was one thing out this morning that had to get onto this blog, as it features at least three of our persistent themes (or sub-themes): Political Economy, maps, and visual presentations of data. Here is Vox’s Thirty Maps that Explain the Global Economy. A couple of them don’t really belong (and are a couple of them actually maps?) But on the whole, really interesting. I haven’t decided about Vox yet. I respect the founders and it seems to be kind of “buzzy” but a lot of their headlines seem fairly click-baity to me. (Maybe there’s a relationship there.) But I’ve added it to my “daily” set of tabs that I open first thing in the morning.

And here’s a piece from the Atlantic on Minerva University and is it the future of higher education. As I have said about similar articles on the blog, I dunno. This sentence from towards the end seems right: “Yet in some ways, the worst possible outcome would be for U.S. higher education to accept Minerva as its model and dismantle the old universities before anyone can really be sure that it offers a satisfactory replacement.”  The MOOC revolution never took off (although, in fairness, the article says the MOOC movement was a necessary part of Minerva’s development.)

And now, since we had movies yesterday, we’ve hit just about all the Big Topics for this blog except for college basketball. Oh wait, did you see Marcus Paige was named a pre-season All-American and a “popular pick for pre-season Player of the Year?”

Posted by: clholoman | August 25, 2014

Once more into the breach, dear friends

We began another school year today, a week earlier than historically. This was our fifth year opening with a Convocation ceremony. It’s nice, I think, in an informal, welcoming way. Anyway, I ran across this on Slate and it seemed like a perfect way to start the year. If you’ve been reading this blog you know I love movies and am a sucker for a good supercut. And here we have one on Deans (or Provosts!) losing it. Note that language is PG-13 or higher. And be sure to stay for a nice touch at the end.


Posted by: clholoman | July 28, 2014


It seems appropriate* to wake this blog back from the dead to feature an interesting article by blog favorite Dan Drezner, While we have been dark, he has taken his on-line presence from Foreign Policy to the Washington Post. Today’s post, to which a follow-up is promised, is a very nice piece on rival visions of what’s going on in the world today. This divide is reminiscent, but not identical, to the classic split between “realists” and those once labelled “idealists” and later more accurately, if clumsily, known as “neo-liberal institutionalists.” The question there is whether sovereign nation-states can be constrained by institutions. Also at play is another related, but not identical, fundamental question to IR scholars, as to how much account one needs to take of non-state actors. When I was an active IR researcher, I thought that institutions could constrain nation-states under some circumstances, but was less convinced of the need to include other non-state actors (like terrorist groups) in analysis. Obviously, facts on the ground right now seem to suggest (!) that that might be wrong.

*Appropriate because Drezner has published a well-received book: Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

And a shout out to anyone who found this after my presentation at Hilbert orientation last Friday. It was a great group and we are always excited to welcome our new students and their families.

Posted by: clholoman | November 22, 2013

We Are Family

Believe it or not, this blog still exists. This fall has been crazy at work, for reasons many of you are aware. But I stir again for a brief (and off topic [ed. note: there’s a topic?]) post.

I am blessed by a great family that are all accomplished in their own ways. Two of my three brothers blog, and one is very nice for today:

My oldest brother curates and contributes to a musicology blog and today offers a personal perspective on the Kennedy’s essential contributions to the arts:

For those of us who lived nearto, the Kennedys’ Camelot, where it came to good music, is as clear and true a memory as Leonard Bernstein and the Young People’s Concerts. A fond recollection of national intelligence and taste and beauty—yes, glamor. Something, indeed, of lasting consolation.

My younger brother also blogs about a variety of topics, some of particular interest to folks in our home town of Raleigh, where he still resides, others more general.

Caution: he posts with about the same frequency as I do:

They are both terrific writers (as is our other non-blogger!) and I am proud to have them all as brothers.

Posted by: clholoman | October 7, 2013

That time of year again

It is a (minor) tradition of this blog to note the opening of the new Supreme Court session, traditionally the first Monday in October. Well, here we are!

It looks to be an interesting term, with a lot of potentially interesting cases, but perhaps no real “blockbusters.” Adam Liptak has a nice rundown in the Times. But even this construction points back to one of the difficulties with reporting on the Supreme Court (or perhaps the law in general.) I’m not convinced that these cases are less “blockbuster,” but just that they require some more explication than some of the recent high-profile cases. They seem to me, as simply an informed layman, to have major implications, but turn on a less-than-obvious legal question or connection.

So, more than a lot of areas, it seems to me, we really rely on good reportage of the court (not to mention the fact that we can’t see what actually transpires in the courtroom.) And I sometimes think we are kind of at the end of a great era. As noted before, the two grand dames of SCOTUS reporting, Linda Greenhouse and Nina Totenberg, are, respectively retired but still writing, or still reporting but seem to be ramping back. Liptak strikes me as a solid reporter, but hasn’t really found a voice yet. Jeffrey Toobin does good work, but mostly in long form articles or books. (This good analysis is representative of the kind of background work that some of these big cases need.) My personal favorite, Dahlia Lithwick, has (like Greenhouse) broadened her scope, so can’t really be called a SC reporter anymore. (But be sure to read her very important article/preview about how many of the cases turn on how much the Court respects precedents (the concept of stare decisis) and the opinions of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in particular.)

But maybe we’re just entering into a new, not necessarily worse, period thanks to blogging, easier access to documents, etc. If you really care about the Supreme Court, you keep up with SCOTUSblog (and yes, they also have a twitter feed.) It’s practically real-time documentation and analysis of virtually everything the Court does. It’s really a microcosm of what’s happening in journalism more broadly.

Which (kind of) leads to one thing to note, if you haven’t already: as the Court itself has become more technologically sophisticated (and that’s a pretty low bar) it has succumbed to the problem of “link rot”: about half of the links to citations in opinions are broken. This is a non-trivial problem, isn’t it? (Here’s a nice Liptak summary.) This might lead one to broader musings on the nature of knowledge in the digital age.  Do things disappear from the internet, or do we just lose the index, if you will? Imagine how useless a big library would be without a filing system and a card catalog (and with none of the books having an index.)

By the way, have I complained yet about how ads have starting appearing in my blog? I have no idea why–I may have hit some threshold of “followers,” but rest assured, I didn’t do it and don’t get any revenue out of this (that’s a hilarious notion in itself). Sorry about them, though. I don’t like them, either, although I recognize their necessity (I guess.)



Posted by: clholoman | September 2, 2013

Farewell to a giant

How’s this for a life:

  • Have the most cited law review article of all time
  • Have a basic theorem named after you, pretty much inventing the field of “law and economics”
  • Win a Nobel Prize–the first law school faculty member anywhere to do so
  • Live to 102, and be productive, by all reports, up until close to the end

RIP to Ronald Coase.

Here’s a very brief summary of his most famous article with a link to the whole thing.

Here’s his faculty profile, not yet updated with his death.

Note that he also taught at UB for a bit and they gave him an honorary degree a few years ago. I will gladly ride his coattails as one of a fairly small group that have both UofC and UB ties.

Posted by: clholoman | July 26, 2013

MOOCs. part 2

Several smart columns also came out yesterday scaffolding (am I using that new jargon right?) off the Slate article. I’ll link them below.

So if MOOCs aren’t the answer to student learning or costs, what then? I think the right answer is access, but not necessarily in the way that term is usually meant. If you grant the premise that on-line delivery cannot (and therefore should not) completely replace more traditional models, then some of the grander claims of on-line fade. What I have in mind is more the ability to expand offerings within a traditional framework–providing access to coursework that colleges, especially small ones like ours, may have difficulty providing. And in a strange coincidence, as I have been writing this, an example of a sort has come into my e-mail. Around commencement season, there was a widely read editorial in the WSJ that suggested, among other things, that most college students would benefit from taking a coding course. (Thanks to colleague CD for finding the link.) This does seem like the sort of material that could be delivered effectively on-line, especially if, as at some schools, there is a local contact that might convene a group every so often and provide other support. And lo and behold this was in my inbox: Coding course finds ‘sweet spot’ between MOOCs and colleges. (Note that this model, if colleges have to hire the “mentors,” doesn’t necessarily save huge amounts of money, especially if they have to buy a license for the course, as seems to be the coming thing.) Some version of this is in our future, I think. It is nicely captured in Jeffrey Selingo’s new book College Unbound: the future of higher education and what it means for students. (My colleagues must think I get a cut of sales, given how often I’ve referenced this book recently.) As Selingo points out, colleges are one of the last purveyors of a bundled product and, like airlines, will be forced sooner, rather than later, to unbundle.

The difficulty, of course, is that, unbundled, the pieces of the college experience add up to much less than the sum of the parts. Higher education is about much, much more than a vehicle for collecting narrow competencies. And over and over again, employers report that it is precisely these “soft skills” (an odious term) that employers report they value most highly: communication, critical thinking, teamwork, ethics. What a surprise: we’ve ended up at the value of a liberal arts education! This is not to say, of course that we can’t do better–we can and must. MOOCs and on-line tools can be used to enhance face to face education. Faculty should be spending more time in facilitating discussion and other reflective and active experiences that allow students to gain the skills mentioned, not delivering lectures whose content can be made available in other ways. That’s our comparative advantage as we must exploit it to the fullest. (And we have to help our students realize this and be prepared for the job market.)

There’s obviously a lot more that could be said about this, but that’s enough for now. Here are some more links:

College Professors are about to get really mad at Obama

Are on-line classes failing America?

The MOOC that roared (interesting “success” story, except that Georgia Tech may be cannibalizing itself.)

We’re all to blame for MOOCs (“The widespread abandonment of the title “college” in favor of “university” demonstrates the preference to be perceived as “universal” and research-oriented rather than as a “collegium” drawn to a unique scholastic endeavor rooted in place and history. Higher education is becoming increasingly monocultural as demands for geographic (and market) expansiveness take precedence….a better path for those institutions that want not only to survive but to flourish, by refusing to go along with the monoculture. Those are the ones that have, or are seeking to recover, their distinctive institutional identities[.]”

Posted by: clholoman | July 25, 2013

We have met the enemy and he is …

me? At least according to one author. The issue is on-line education generally and MOOCs in particular. If you somehow have missed this development, an article in Slate today gives a nice background and, to me, accurate, albeit opinionated, view of the main issue–can these types of classes provide an effective student learning experience? (Although one sentence may be misleading: “The term was coined by a group of Canadian academics in 2008 to represent a recently invented type of online class that depends upon small group interactions for most of the instruction.” While I don’t have any reason not to believe that, it is certainly not the way the term has been used for the past several years. The author notes that the term has been “appropriated,” but doesn’t indicate how inaccurate that definition has become.)

Put another way, are MOOCs a solution, and if so, to what problem? I don’t think the answer is “student learning” at least not broadly defined. So far most of the data suggest that students fail to finish (the average completion rate for MOOCs is less than 5% right now) or don’t learn as much as in a traditional class. Much is being made of the result published last week that in a MOOC offered for credit at San Jose State, the failure rate was above 50%. (Note that the completion rate was very high, however–83% if I remember correctly–giving credence to the notion that most people don’t finish MOOCs because (a) they usually haven’t paid to take them and (b) there is not a tangible product at the end.)  Now, I do think that MOOCs and the like can be effective and have a role to play. We’ll return to that.

If not learning then, what? The obvious answer is costs. MOOCs are seen by some, at least in the myth, as a way of cutting costs and/or enhancing revenue. This article from the Chronicle yesterday is getting passed around a lot, it appears. It is in this version that I am the enemy. According to the author, on-line education is being rammed down the throats of faculty, students, and employers by administrators egged on by politicians: “Clearly, the online train that threatens to roll right over us has an administrator at the throttle, gleefully pushing the handle toward “full power.””

I dunno. The author is at a community college and leaders there face different pressures, especially direct interference from politicians, in ways that I am not familiar with. And we do need to control our costs–the demands to lower student debt, lower tuition, etc. are getting louder every day. But I have not heard many  of my colleagues looking to MOOCs as a significant solution to the cost problem.

This is only about half of what I want to say about this, but I will save the rest for tomorrow, but don’t look for a nice, clean answer.

Posted by: clholoman | June 20, 2013

Random cool stuff

I should probably add a new category for posts “stuff I think is cool” because there really isn’t another rationale for these items (although both have novel dynamic maps, and maps are a sub-sub theme of this blog.)

I wish I knew more science, but this blows my mind anyway. An animated map of the universe; each of those dots are GALAXIES!

The video is about 17 minutes long and some of the narrator’s English is a little hard to understand, but you can get the drift. And check out this blog post for the background.

Next, this very nice piece of journalism/storytelling. I have no real idea when this was published; not recently I don’t think. But I just stumbled on it yesterday. It’s a pretty interesting story, but it is really compelling, to me at least, as a great example of how to use multimedia. The video interviews don’t add a lot, but the animated maps that unscroll synchronized with your reading of the story is great. Again, this wll take you a while to work through.

And finally, this just came across while I was writing this. Steven Colbert’s touching tribute to his mom:

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