As an appendix to my employment report, here is a ranking of all the law schools that reported employment data by their percentages of graduates finding full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required jobs. (Taste all the those hyphens.)

1. Columbia 92.6% 93.5% 0.9%
2. Virginia 91.6% 92.6% 1.1%
3. Duke 93.8% 91.4% -2.4%
4. Chicago 92.1% 91.3% -0.8%
5. Cornell 92.1% 90.8% -1.3%
6. New York University 88.6% 89.7% 1.1%
7. Northwestern 82.3% 89.5% 7.3%
8. Michigan 90.4% 89.3% -1.0%
9. California-Berkeley 88.2% 89.3% 1.1%
10. Pennsylvania 90.6% 88.9% -1.7%
11. Seton Hall 82.6% 88.6% 6.0%
12. Washington University 85.8% 87.6% 1.7%
13. Iowa 77.4% 87.2% 9.9%
14. Belmont 75.6% 87.2% 11.5%
15. Kentucky 79.6% 87.0% 7.4%
16. Washington and Lee 79.8% 86.7% 6.9%
17. Harvard 86.7% 86.1% -0.6%
18. Georgia 84.0% 85.6% 1.7%
19. Texas 79.2% 85.3% 6.1%
20. Stanford 82.7% 85.0% 2.2%
21. Baylor 82.3% 84.7% 2.4%
22. Vanderbilt 86.2% 82.7% -3.5%
23. St. John’s 72.0% 82.3% 10.3%
24. North Carolina 70.8% 82.2% 11.4%
25. Notre Dame 80.7% 82.0% 1.3%
26. Nebraska 74.0% 81.9% 7.9%
27. Georgetown 76.8% 81.8% 5.0%
28. Fordham 70.2% 81.4% 11.2%
29. Penn State (Dickinson Law) 67.2% 81.0% 13.7%
30. Minnesota 80.5% 80.7% 0.2%
31. Texas Tech 69.5% 80.6% 11.1%
32. Florida 75.9% 80.6% 4.7%
33. Boston University 75.6% 80.5% 5.0%
34. California-Los Angeles 79.1% 80.3% 1.3%
35. Colorado 76.2% 80.3% 4.1%
36. Southern Methodist 75.8% 80.0% 4.2%
37. Ohio State 76.4% 79.8% 3.4%
38. William and Mary 76.0% 79.7% 3.7%
39. Rutgers 76.8% 79.7% 2.8%
40. Louisiana State 81.3% 79.3% -2.1%
41. Illinois 78.2% 79.2% 1.0%
42. Southern California 85.6% 79.0% -6.6%
43. Tulsa 81.4% 79.0% -2.4%
44. Washington 68.9% 78.9% 10.0%
45. Villanova 75.5% 78.9% 3.4%
46. Hofstra 75.9% 77.8% 1.9%
47. Detroit Mercy 43.7% 77.7% 34.0%
48. Alabama 83.2% 77.5% -5.7%
49. South Carolina 68.1% 77.5% 9.4%
50. Nevada 75.8% 77.4% 1.6%
51. Wisconsin 74.2% 77.3% 3.1%
52. Yale 75.0% 77.2% 2.2%
53. Utah 76.1% 77.2% 1.1%
54. Temple 79.3% 77.0% -2.2%
55. Montana 74.4% 76.8% 2.4%
56. Willamette 67.0% 76.6% 9.6%
57. California-Davis 71.3% 76.3% 5.0%
58. Florida State 70.4% 76.1% 5.7%
59. Cardozo, Yeshiva 80.1% 76.1% -4.0%
60. Loyola (CA) 68.2% 76.1% 7.8%
61. Oklahoma 80.8% 76.0% -4.7%
62. Louisville 71.2% 76.0% 4.7%
63. Houston 66.2% 75.7% 9.4%
64. Drake 62.1% 75.5% 13.4%
65. Brigham Young 60.0% 75.4% 15.4%
66. Boston College 79.4% 74.8% -4.6%
67. Emory 71.9% 74.8% 2.9%
68. Florida International 72.3% 74.7% 2.4%
69. California-Irvine 75.0% 74.6% -0.4%
70. Connecticut 65.4% 74.4% 9.1%
71. Stetson 63.5% 74.0% 10.5%
72. Cleveland State 52.1% 73.9% 21.7%
73. Miami 75.4% 73.7% -1.7%
74. Drexel 71.0% 73.6% 2.7%
75. Arizona State 74.2% 73.6% -0.7%
76. Northeastern 69.7% 73.5% 3.8%
77. George Washington 69.8% 72.3% 2.6%
78. Albany 70.9% 72.3% 1.4%
79. Kansas 68.6% 72.3% 3.7%
80. Duquesne 63.5% 71.7% 8.2%
81. Indiana (Bloomington) 67.2% 71.6% 4.4%
82. Georgia State 69.6% 71.5% 1.9%
83. Liberty 63.8% 71.1% 7.3%
84. Pace 74.7% 71.1% -3.6%
85. Marquette 71.2% 70.9% -0.3%
86. Wayne State 57.0% 70.9% 13.9%
87. St. Louis 72.7% 69.9% -2.8%
88. Missouri (Columbia) 75.5% 69.9% -5.6%
89. Tulane 64.0% 69.9% 5.9%
90. New Hampshire 77.0% 69.9% -7.2%
91. Mercer 69.6% 69.7% 0.1%
92. Maryland 57.1% 69.7% 12.6%
93. Wyoming 67.1% 69.4% 2.3%
94. Tennessee 73.0% 69.3% -3.7%
95. Lincoln Memorial 76.5% 69.2% -7.2%
96. SUNY Buffalo 61.2% 69.2% 8.0%
97. Oklahoma City 65.6% 69.1% 3.5%
98. Penn State (Penn State Law) 71.9% 68.8% -3.1%
99. Creighton 68.3% 68.3% 0.0%
100. Regent 59.0% 68.2% 9.2%
101. Washburn 66.0% 68.0% 2.0%
102. Loyola (LA) 57.0% 67.9% 10.9%
103. Samford 62.3% 67.9% 5.6%
104. Pepperdine 59.6% 67.9% 8.2%
105. Michigan State 59.3% 67.5% 8.1%
106. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] 64.1% 67.4% 3.3%
107. Touro 68.0% 67.4% -0.6%
108. Brooklyn 71.7% 67.3% -4.4%
109. Wake Forest 75.1% 67.1% -8.0%
110. Syracuse 69.1% 67.1% -2.1%
111. City University 69.1% 66.7% -2.5%
112. Baltimore 60.3% 66.7% 6.4%
113. West Virginia 74.5% 66.3% -8.2%
114. Case Western Reserve 60.1% 65.9% 5.7%
115. George Mason 60.5% 65.7% 5.2%
116. Richmond 67.8% 65.2% -2.6%
117. San Diego 59.3% 65.2% 5.8%
118. Cincinnati 75.7% 64.4% -11.3%
119. St. Thomas (MN) 53.3% 64.4% 11.1%
120. California-Hastings 58.9% 64.3% 5.3%
121. Chicago-Kent, IIT 59.6% 64.2% 4.6%
122. Idaho 60.4% 64.2% 3.8%
123. Hawaii 58.3% 64.2% 5.9%
124. South Dakota 58.2% 64.1% 5.9%
125. Maine 55.4% 64.0% 8.6%
126. Gonzaga 62.6% 63.9% 1.3%
127. Denver 70.2% 63.1% -7.2%
128. Pittsburgh 63.0% 63.0% -0.1%
129. Lewis and Clark 56.3% 62.9% 6.6%
130. New Mexico 77.4% 62.5% -14.9%
131. Missouri (Kansas City) 74.1% 62.2% -11.9%
132. Quinnipiac 61.9% 61.8% -0.1%
133. Loyola (IL) 62.2% 61.7% -0.5%
134. Vermont 55.6% 61.5% 5.9%
135. Arizona 64.8% 61.5% -3.4%
136. New York Law School 51.0% 61.2% 10.1%
137. Arkansas (Fayetteville) 68.1% 61.1% -7.0%
138. St. Thomas (FL) 54.7% 61.0% 6.3%
139. Widener (Commonwealth) 59.0% 60.4% 1.4%
140. Howard 63.1% 60.2% -3.0%
141. Dayton 50.0% 59.0% 9.0%
142. South Texas-Houston 53.0% 58.6% 5.6%
143. Santa Clara 56.6% 58.5% 1.9%
144. Memphis 69.7% 58.3% -11.4%
145. Massachusetts — Dartmouth 55.1% 58.0% 2.9%
146. Catholic 55.0% 57.7% 2.8%
147. Ohio Northern 71.2% 57.6% -13.5%
148. St. Mary’s 60.2% 57.6% -2.6%
149. Roger Williams 54.1% 57.6% 3.5%
150. Southern Illinois 55.2% 57.3% 2.1%
151. Oregon 61.5% 57.1% -4.4%
152. Mississippi 62.2% 56.5% -5.7%
153. North Dakota 64.1% 56.5% -7.6%
154. Chapman 54.7% 56.0% 1.2%
155. Arkansas (Little Rock) 63.3% 55.9% -7.5%
156. Northern Illinois 60.0% 55.8% -4.2%
157. DePaul 54.8% 55.8% 1.0%
158. Ave Maria 39.5% 55.7% 16.2%
159. John Marshall (Chicago) 56.5% 55.1% -1.4%
160. Northern Kentucky 51.6% 54.8% 3.2%
161. Capital 53.8% 54.5% 0.6%
162. American 53.0% 54.2% 1.2%
163. Akron 59.2% 54.2% -5.0%
164. Indiana (Indianapolis) 55.2% 53.8% -1.4%
165. Toledo 55.3% 53.4% -1.8%
166. Seattle 57.9% 52.9% -5.0%
167. Suffolk 46.7% 52.9% 6.2%
168. Mitchell|Hamline 52.3% 52.5% 0.2%
169. North Texas-Dallas 51.5% 52.4% 0.9%
170. Concordia 62.5% 51.7% -10.8%
171. Elon 34.1% 51.4% 17.3%
172. Florida Coastal 40.8% 50.5% 9.8%
173. Campbell 62.9% 50.4% -12.5%
174. Nova Southeastern 57.1% 49.8% -7.3%
175. Pacific, McGeorge 47.3% 49.6% 2.3%
176. Widener (Delaware) 54.1% 49.1% -5.1%
177. Western State 43.8% 49.0% 5.2%
178. Southwestern 43.5% 48.1% 4.6%
179. Barry 46.3% 47.9% 1.6%
180. Charleston 44.5% 47.3% 2.7%
181. Mississippi College 51.6% 47.2% -4.5%
182. Southern University 45.6% 47.1% 1.5%
183. Texas Southern 59.4% 45.3% -14.1%
184. Faulkner 49.4% 45.0% -4.4%
185. Appalachian 52.4% 44.8% -7.6%
186. California Western 53.8% 44.0% -9.8%
187. New England 38.2% 43.7% 5.5%
188. Florida A&M 43.6% 39.7% -3.9%
189. North Carolina Central 30.1% 39.4% 9.3%
190. District of Columbia 26.8% 38.8% 12.0%
191. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 34.4% 38.1% 3.7%
192. Western New England 42.6% 33.8% -8.8%
193. Golden Gate 37.9% 32.5% -5.4%
194. WMU Cooley 30.7% 29.7% -1.0%
195. San Francisco 49.0% 29.0% -20.0%
196. Atlanta’s John Marshall 40.0% 25.6% -14.4%
197. Puerto Rico 20.5% 23.4% 2.9%
198. La Verne 31.6% 22.4% -9.2%
199. Thomas Jefferson 23.6% 19.4% -4.1%
200. Inter American 8.8% 10.1% 1.4%
201. Pontifical Catholic 0.7% 0.0% -0.7%
202. Valparaiso 38.4% N/A N/A
203. Whittier 29.5% N/A N/A
TOTAL (EXCL. P.R.) 67.2% 69.4% 2.2%
10TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 47.3% 49.0% 1.7%
25TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 56.6% 57.6% 1.0%
MEDIAN (EXCL. P.R.) 67.1% 68.5% 1.5%
75TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 75.6% 77.5% 1.9%
90TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 82.3% 85.3% 3.0%
MEAN (EXCL. P.R.) 65.5% 67.3% 1.8%

I don’t think there are any law schools missing from the list this year, but the ABA has a habit of removing closed law schools from its database retroactively, as though they never existed at all. Impressively, Arizona Summit and Western State reported their data to the ABA.

Here’s a list of all my employment reports:

17 Law Schools Didn’t Report Graduate Debt to U.S. News (’18)

Each year U.S. News & World Report lists law schools by the average indebtedness of their graduates. Importantly, the figures exclude accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these numbers are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here’s the debt table, ranked by the highest average debt of the most recent graduating class. A recurring problem in U.S. News’ debt data is law schools that misreport their graduating students’ annual debt as opposed to their cumulative debt, which is what the magazine asks for. Thus, I include last year’s numbers and the percent change to draw attention to wide swings and encourage ridicule of law schools that cannot follow basic survey directions, but I welcome corrections. Out of compassion, I omit the three law schools in Puerto Rico.


It’s 2019. Where’s My ‘Hyperinflationary Great Depression’?

[The following post first appeared on this site on January 1, 2012. What it said then still applies today, mutatis mutandis. Thanks for reading the blog and have a prosperous 2019!]

Behold, the curse of a long memory. Last January [2011], Google Alerts sent me an e-mail informing me that the National Inflation Association (“Preparing Americans for Hyperinflation”) issued a press release predicting that the higher ed bubble was “set to burst beginning in mid-2011. This bursting bubble will have effects that are even more far-reaching than the bursting of the Real Estate bubble in 2006.” The NIA press release then digressed into legal education (I’m guessing they’d just read David Segal’s first NYT piece a few days earlier), how evil lawyers are, how they produce nothing for society, and how 60 percent of the Senate and 37 percent of the House are lawyers who rig the economy to make jobs for lawyers. It editorializes:

“While everybody went to school to become a lawyer [really?], nobody went to school to become a farmer because Americans didn’t see any money in farming. With prices of nearly all agricultural commodities soaring through the roof in 2010 and with NIA expecting this trend to continue throughout 2011, the few new farmers out there are going to become rich while lawyers are standing at street corners with cups begging for money.”

The NIA would’ve been more helpful if it explained how lawyers could be a drain on society yet remain vulnerable to market forces. Also, one would think unemployed lawyers would try to find non-lawyer jobs instead of begging, but I think it’s important to note that agricultural prices weren’t “soaring through the roof” in 2010. They were growing, yes, but although the NIA was right that they continued to do so in 2011, (a) it’s stalled recently, and (b) they’re no worse than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Oh well. The NIA sternly concluded:

“We must work hard to educate America to the truth if our country is going to have the wherewithal to survive the upcoming bursting college bubble and Hyperinflationary Great Depression.”


I can’t say I’m quite as disappointed as the NIA undoubtedly is that we’re not seeing much inflation these days, and in mid-2011 I didn’t see many colleges cutting their tuition, laying off faculty, closing programs, or trying to retrench themselves. I also remain unconvinced that $1 trillion in student debt can be worse than $8 trillion in mortgage debt. True, student debt is not dischargeable (unlike mortgage deficiencies) absent a showing of an undue hardship, and it’s hampering the recovery and ruining lives, but it’s not worse in quantity than the housing bubble. As for the NIA’s paranoid ranting about lawyers, all economic evidence I’ve seen indicates that legal services have all but stagnated for much of the last two decades. Apparently, those 60 percent of lawyer-senators aren’t very good at creating work for themselves. I suppose the NIA should express appreciation.

Anyway, if anything, inflation would be a boon to underwater homeowners and student debtors because it erodes the real value of their debts, which grew significantly in the 2000s. Here’s household debt to GDP:

Importantly, I’m no macroeconomist but I’ve never heard of a “hyperinflationary depression.” The terms contradict each other. Depressions occur when people take on excessive debt and begin paying it down simultaneously instead of spending money on other things. This is deflationary because new credit isn’t being created, even by the government. By contrast, hyperinflation has only occurred in unusual circumstances, like when a government owes debts to foreigners in a different currency. Weimar Germany, for example, owed gold-dominated war reparations to the Allied powers, and to purchase the gold, it printed money, causing hyperinflation. Zimbabwe isn’t a good comparison either because it’s a small, HIV-ridden landlocked state with an undiversified, oligopolistic agrarian economy while the U.S. is a wealthy, continent-spanning super-state.

As for inflation fears generally, maybe it’s the fact that I have no memory of high inflation, but why isn’t there a “National Personal Income Association” (NPIA) that regularly celebrates increases in Americans’ per capita personal income?

“Per capita personal income has quadrupled since 1980! Prices didn’t even triple! Hooray! We’re rich! Fiat currency forever and ever! ‘You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!'”

I’m sure the NPIA wouldn’t’ve been too thrilled with 2008-09, but personal income is increasing again. The problem has just been that over the decades those gains haven’t been distributed equally. This isn’t a problem of inflation but one of wages and taxation.

Intuition tells me the NIA won’t spend early 2012 carefully discussing why the higher ed bubble didn’t burst in mid-2011 as it predicted, nor will it take the time to explain why Americans—many of whom are net debtors—should be concerned about inflation. Instead it will prophecy even more hyperinflation later. But here’s hoping the National Inflation Association won’t provide me entertainment come January 1, 2013. Such is the curse of a long memory.

Last Gen X American Book Review: Consider Phlebas

In the not-too-distant future

The 22nd century


The Culture made first contact

Now we live in post scarcity


But in the time of Kublai Kahn

A galactic war was going on

A Changer chose to fight

Alongside giant lizards and that’s not alright


Incidentally, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme has a very difficult meter.

Among my vices is only making time to read fiction on vacations, so on my recent holiday to New Mexico I chose to read Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, the first part of his “Culture” series.

My motivation was a conversation I had with a reader about whether Star Trek was a post-scarcity universe, a topic I discussed here. I said that it’s interesting that the Enterprise crew never bumps into an even bigger, more advanced Federation that absorbs them, to which he laughed, “Yes, they never run into the Culture.” So, I decided to read up on it.

Naively, I figured that Banks’ first novel was the best place to start as usually the first work in a series is the best. After reading Consider Phlebas and perusing some reviews and recommendations I realize that may’ve been a mistake because the book disappointed my expectations. To quantify it, I give Phlebas two out of four stars, though I admit that I’m not very versed in science-fiction literature to confidently assert that I didn’t miss any tropes that would raise my rating. (I’ll discuss the significance of the book’s title later.) Anyway, this review will contain spoilers, though the book was published in 1987, so really, this one won’t be water-cooler discussion anytime soon. (Although, I hear rumors that it will be made into a TV series or a movie soon, whatever.)

Plot Synopsis

The Culture is at war with the religiously fanatical Idirans, a race of giant, immortal, tri-pedal lizard monsters. Phlebas‘ protagonist Bora Horza Gobuchul (Horza), is a Changer, a humanoid shapeshifter, who is spying for the Idirans. They order him to recover a Culture “Mind” (sentient supercomputer) that crashed on a planet (Schar’s World) that a Trek-like energy-being race closed to all outsiders, except fortuitously for Changers like Horza. Schar’s World is a monument to its inhabitants, who annihilated themselves in an apocalyptic nuclear and biological war thousands of years ago. The planet is mostly frozen, but one of the factions built a tunnel system to protect its senior officials ala Dr. Strangelove. Presumably this is where the Mind hid itself.

Much of the story’s bulk, 496 pages in my library’s edition, consists of Horza escaping from one set-piece deadly situation after another. Notably, he falls in with a mercenary crew, assumes the identity of its leader, Kraiklyn, after murdering him, and then pilots their ship, the Clear Air Turbulence, to Schar’s World, taking his captured Culture foil, agent Perosteck Balveda, with him. He searches for the Mind in the tunnels, but a group of his comrade Idirans, who have no reason to trust him, beats him there. After believing he’s subdued the last two of them, they run amok, killing everyone but Balveda.


Let’s start with our protagonist Horza. His motivation for opposing the Culture, even if it means allying with xenophobic lizard monsters, is at least coherent. In his eyes, the Culture ruins everyone with machine-provided goods. It’s not an obvious mistake of fact on his part (certainly given what we know he knows), so it’s hard to view him as a tragic figure.

And if we’re talking about tragic figures, then we need to discuss Horza’s arc. If there is one, it’s not executed particularly well, or if I’m being chartable it isn’t executed conventionally. The first 308 pages of Phlebas are just a yarn of Horza’s adventures, backloading the only opportunity for character development to the 188 pages that take place on Schar’s World. (Credit to Banks for making the first 308 pages feel so much more epic than the remainder, I guess.)

At best Horza’s is a negative character arc of the “fall” variety. He wrongly believes the Culture is hollow and weak. He’s given the opportunities to see the truth of its resilience, but he nevertheless blindly marches forward to his doom. I’m not persuaded but I’ll give it its best case: Upon arriving on Schar’s World, Horza learns that the Idirans who preceded him killed his fellow Changers guarding the tunnels, including one who was his lover. Rather than take this as a clue that the Idirans are ruthless murderers (to say nothing of the fact that they would’ve killed him too had he not left to join the war), and even predicting that these Idirans wouldn’t believe that he’s on their side, he continues with his mission for them, blinded by his resentment towards the Culture. Later on, he catches up with them, loses two of his crew fighting them, and nevertheless chooses not to kill the one that is his prisoner, hoping to shame it later instead.

Those really are Horza’s only chances to avoid his fall because Phlebas then turns to outrageous bad luck and idiot plotting to thwart him. It just so happens that the one mutilated, mortally wounded Idiran Horza thought was dead wasn’t. It just so happens that it was able to start a train in the tunnels to slam into the one Horza and his crew happened to be working on—and where the errant Mind hid. It just so happens that it knew where to send it. It just so happens that the one computer screen in the station that monitored the train was broken, so Horza couldn’t learn what was happening.

At the same time, Horza spares the other Idiran, who plays dead and then attacks Horza’s crew, damaging crucial equipment. He even loosens its bonds at its request, and then it manages to escape by fooling the crewmember assigned to guard it by asking him—and get this—to scratch an itch in its right eye.

Wow that’s dumb. A rational Horza, even if he valued completing the mission for the Idirans over reassessing his allegiance to them, would’ve utterly destroyed both Idirans, and he would’ve probably schemed to kill Balveda, his other prisoner, knowing she couldn’t be trusted and had an ace up her sleeve, in this case a false tooth that could transform into a laser gun. Culture technology, ftw.

Okay, this may be idiosyncratic to me, but probably nothing breaks my immersion in a story more than idiot plotting. By the time I was working through this section of the book, I was throwing my head back muttering, “Oh, come on! Really??” It probably annoyed the airplane passengers around me.

If Horza had destroyed just one of the two Idirans, he would’ve had a chance at survival, if not success.

Returning to the discussion of Horza’s as a fall arc, I just don’t think there’s enough meat in it because the Culture’s ideology isn’t portrayed as the truth and he isn’t given enough opportunities to see it. One could instead turn to the subtle thematic aspects of Phlebas as an explanation of Horza’s character, either as a Changer becoming what he changes into or a meditation on leadership. Specifically, the Clear Air Turbulence‘s captain, Kraiklyn, never makes a good decision in the narrative, promising “easy in, easy out” missions that end up fruitlessly killing crewmembers. Sometimes this isn’t wholly his fault, but you can tell his star is falling. Horza, by morphing into Kraiklyn, essentially becomes him as well, condemning all who follow him to their deaths.

Meanwhile, at the other extreme we have the Culture, which is an ungoverened, leaderless society that is essentially run by a collection of Minds that in Horza’s estimation will eventually wipe out its useless human wards. In this tale, the humans who’ve abrogated their leadership to machines come out on top of wild-west libertarians who can chart their own destinies. Again, I don’t think there’s enough here to say “leadership” is the focus of the book.

Moving on, in stories with body counts as high as Phelbas, I wonder if the author simply has it in for his characters. Even our humanoid survivor, Balveda, ends up “autoeuthanizing” in the appendices on account of her experience on Schar’s World, and when one of the Clear Air Turbulence‘s crewmembers, Horza’s new lover Yalson, tells him she’s pregnant by him, I knew that one or both of them was dead. The detail plays no role in the story (tellingly, Yalson doesn’t even make the cut for my above plot synopsis) other than to increase the tension and manipulate the reader into wanting the characters to live. (By the way, the competent, non-ideological, furry Yalson is the only character in the book I had any hopes for, not that she was better developed than anyone else.)

I do sense some authorial sarcasm at the deaths of the characters in Phlebas, or at least some of them, and that’s problematic. But the answer is no, I don’t think Banks is throughout a juvenile sadistically chuckling at all the mayhem he can cause with the written word, and while I haven’t read the title’s namesake, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a little DuckDuckGoing tells us that in that poem Phlebas the Phoenician’s death by drowning is meant to remind us of our own mortality. This makes the book’s themes death, futility, and failure—especially on Schar’s World. Thus, I think there is a point to the violence.

Does it successfully deliver on these themes?

Yes, if you don’t mind its tasting bitter. Futility is a challenging theme to depict because it’s hard to care about characters whose actions will lead nowhere. Moreover, Phlebas‘ episodic structure until Schar’s World doesn’t create a stable set of characters to invest in. Had Banks fully developed Horza, I think he could’ve brought out these themes better. Another hurdle is the book’s length. I hold longer texts to higher scrutiny than shorter ones, and a long book about failure, death, and futility demands a lot of the reader’s energy just to say there wasn’t a point after all.

Good Bits?

Okay, I didn’t put the book down, so it can’t be that bad, but certainly by the time Horza found himself captured by a grotesque, obese, cannibal cult leader, I began wondering. But what can I say? Phlebas is a romp. It delivers Han Solo’s world with the crew from Alien. It’s entertaining, and while I’m sure the tropes of giant orbital habitats and spaceships are nothing new to science fiction, Banks serves them well. His galaxy is detailed, and he subtly takes on themes such as how sentient supercomputers would go about stochastically conducting a war, human nature in a post-scarcity society, and whether one person can make a difference in a cosmic war. Even the info dumps, though noticeable, weren’t clunky. I can’t say the book is bad if it’s still on my mind.

Again, I’m not that well read, but Phlebas‘ structure owes a debt to Dune, where the book’s narrative merely dramatizes the richer substance in its appendices. I may’ve cheated by reading them one third of the way into the narrative, but you learn that for all the destruction the Culture-Idiran war caused, it was a blip compared to the galaxy. In fact, my MST3K parody is based mostly on the appendices, not the story itself. So attention to them is warranted.

In the end, though, I gather that there are better books in Banks’ Culture series, notably Look to Windward (also based on that section of The Waste Land). I don’t know when my next vacation is, but I may double-down on the Culture series to see if I like it more.

My hope, though, is that someone comes up with Trek‘s final frontier when the Enterprise runs into not another species that challenges its values, like the Borg or the Dominion, but into something that embraces them all the more so as the Culture does.

Conclusion: Is Phlebas Fit for the Screen?

As written, decidedly not. True, the cliffhangers and eye candy can make for a good streaming series, but the characters are insufficient to create a good drama. I think audiences would be bewildered by the violence and darkness throughout Phlebas only to find that the point was that there was no point to what anyone was doing. A movie might work better, but as with Dune it’s hard to dramatize crucial material appearing in the appendices, and a lot of the story would have to be cut out. I think the same of the book itself, so that shouldn’t be too much trouble for the thoughtful screenwriter. I think the temptation (or producer interference) to tease out a happy ending would probably prove too great to overcome and would damage the story. I could see Phlebas still working if more characters survived Schar’s World, but I don’t see it helping the story if Horza’s beliefs and choices don’t matter more to the plot.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl Movie Matchup

For inexplicable reasons in the last couple months I saw three movies accused of featuring manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs), the most beloved and reviled of 21st-century stock characters. For those unfamiliar with the term, film critic Nathan Rabin defined it as a woman who, “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Rabin “retracted” the term in 2014 because, as one might expect, any trope leveled at female characters is rapidly deployed indiscriminately against all of them. But retractions be damned! For I write in good faith.

I thought it might be fun to stack the three MPDG characters together and see how they matched up. To be clear, though, these movies aren’t regarded as paragons of the trope, so this post is more of an exploration than indictment.

In chronological order we have:

  • Danielle – The Girl Next Door (2004)
  • Summer – 500 Days of Summer (2009)
  • Ramona Flowers – Scott Pilgrim Versus the World (2010)

Seasoned readers will undoubtedly predict that I would be partial to Scott Pilgrim for its ’80s fan service, but I’m on the level here: Bias is bad. Here are three brief, spoilerific plot synopses.

The Girl Next Door: High school overachiever Matthew (Hm.) is caught peeping on the slightly older, attractive Danielle, who is house sitting next door. She goads him into spending time with her—after tricking him into running naked in the street—and encourages him to skip school, trespass in other people’s swimming pools, and go to a party that disallows uncool kids like him. Matthew kisses Danielle, proving he is capable of impulsiveness.

Then for some reason the movie keeps going for, like, another 90 minutes, and we learn that Danielle is actually an adult film model who needs saving and whom Matthew saves. Matthew also gets into a load of trouble from which he claws his way out. (The movie is actually a soft remake of Risky Business (1983).)

500 Days of Summer: In a non-linear narrative, preppy architect-cum-greeting-card-writer Tom, a romantic idealist, meets Summer, the woman he believes is The One. He charms her at an office karaoke night, and after agreeing to be friends, she makes out with him in the office copy room, things progressing from there. Tom is happy, but months later Summer breaks up with him and changes jobs. Tom is miserable, but he serendipitously encounters Summer again on the way to a co-worker’s wedding. Summer declines to tell Tom about her new boyfriend and spends the wedding with him. She invites him to a party she’s throwing where, fantasizing about winning her back, Tom finds out she’s engaged. Embittered, Tom quits his job to try to be an architect again, but he runs into Summer one last time, and she tells him he was actually right to be a romantic idealist.

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Scott Pilgrim is an unemployed hipster bassist, who believes he’s blameless in all his past relationships’ failures. He falls for Ramona Flowers, whose seven evil exes ambush Scott one by one Street Fighter-style to prevent her from being with him. In defeating them, he learns that he’s actually been a jerk to everyone around him all along, particularly to his previous girlfriend, Knives Chau, whom he cheated on with Ramona and who spends most of the film trying to win him back. Scott finally wins over Ramona, even though it feels unearned and the movie never really establishes why she likes him.

So, let’s compare these MPDGs.

  • Are these characters really MPDGs, or are they false positives?

It’s a fair question because arguments are made that Summer and Ramona don’t fit the term; Danielle’s fate is pretty much sealed. To aid in answering, let’s establish who an MPDG is and what she does. As a person, the MPDG is a vaguely defined character. Where she comes from doesn’t matter; she frequently has no social or family life of her own (though this may be a common trope in romances); she doesn’t have many goals for herself. In the movie she must be the sine qua non of the male protagonist’s transformation from brooder into man with a destiny.

Danielle fits the term so well that she disappears for much of the last two thirds of The Girl Next Door after it’s revealed that she’s made adult films. She practically becomes a MacGuffin, and we spend more time with the film’s antagonist, Kelly, Danielle’s ruthless producer. Given audience perceptions of adult models, we don’t expect Danielle to have much more of a backstory, but she certainly doesn’t have her own ambitions. She is, however, definitely necessary for Matthew’s transformation.

Summer is introduced with a backstory, but it plays no real role in the movie. She moves to Los Angeles out of boredom. We’re told (and I’m not sure why) that she’s popular and radiant, but we don’t see her friends until the end of the movie, and it’s clear Tom never meets them when he is involved with Summer. Does she transform Tom? Actually, I don’t think so. In the penultimate scene he professes his cynicism and looks at her like she’s an unstable airhead for marrying a man she’s only known for several months. Yet in the final scene, Tom nevertheless musters the courage to ask out the architect with whom he’s competing for a job, Autumn. It may be that Summer lifts Tom out of his cynicism, in which case 500 Days defies the MPDG framework by depicting Tom as the soulful brooder in the middle of the narrative and not its beginning. Or the final encounter between the two central characters may just be coincidental.

Ramona moves from New York City to Toronto to escape the heartbreak from the last of her evil exes. Before then, she’s also a mystery. She has no friends, standing uncomfortably alone at the party where Scott first meets her, and she too has no goals. We only learn about her through flashback expositions about her exes. How does she affect Scott? She doesn’t really teach him to enjoy life but offers him a moral lesson on himself instead. If we broadened the definition of MPDG to include men who aren’t “broodingly soulful” then Ramona fits the definition better as a necessary agent of Scott’s growth.

  • How do the female characters’ MPDGishness disserve these movies as romances?

Danielle – Girl Next Door is so bad that it’s actually better when the movie focuses on just Danielle’s and Matthew’s MPDG romance. Danielle’s most cringeworthy moment is when she tells Matthew, “This is what I am,” referring to her adult modeling. Damsel, meet distress.

Summer – I didn’t really catch why Summer falls out of love (if that’s what you’d call it) with Tom. Their relationship just fizzles out on her end, and she moves on. Although the movie wants us to see Tom as unreasonably naïve, I found myself sympathizing with him more than Summer, who escalates a relationship with Tom knowing that he wants something more from her than she’s willing to offer. (Tom isn’t blameless because he lies by saying he’s happy to just be friends with her.) She then deceives him by not disclosing her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she marries after knowing for only a few months. If anything, I’m surprised Tom’s final encounter with Summer doesn’t reinforce his cynicism about romance. Summer becomes the caricature of naiveté that Tom is at the beginning of 500 Days.

Ramona – Scott Pilgrim‘s biggest failure is not including a montage scene showing Scott and Ramona falling for each other, something the other two movies did well. We don’t get why she likes him. Worse, as the plot progresses, we get the sense that Ramona treats men like disposable toys. Complicating the film even more, Ramona has the most power over the plot and does the least to change it. She doesn’t try to discourage her final evil ex, who’s their boss, from calling the others off from attacking Scott, nor does she break up with Scott just to save him. She adopts more of a passive-aggressive let’s-you-and-them-fight attitude. I’m left finding Knives Chau the most sympathetic character in the movie.

  • Despite their MPDGishness, what endearing qualities can we find in these romances?

Girl Next Door – The May-July age difference between the protagonists is what makes the first act of the plot believable. It gives Matthew a reason to feel intimidated by Danielle and willing to go along with whatever she asks.

500 Days – I think this one had the most believable romance with the least amount of cringiness. Too often romances don’t explain why two characters would be attracted to each other, especially the female participant. Tom dresses well, he shares interests with Summer, and subtly he’s fun to her too. I also appreciated that 500 Days kept the awkward, embarrassing male dialogue to a minimum. In fact, it gave some to Summer, e.g., “In college they called me Ms. Anal.” The line itself is juvenile, but few romances are willing to place their female protagonists in such an awkward light.

Scott Pilgrim – In a way Scott Pilgrim does a better job of achieving what 500 Days set out to do: Smack down the male protagonist for idealizing the woman he’s fallen for. We learn through the incessant attacks by each of her exes that Ramona really isn’t so stable herself. That Scott goes off with her at the end anyway is just bad writing.

I could write more, especially about how the female characters are established by their romantic (or pornantic) pasts rather than their other facets, but I’m going to stop here. As I said at the top, these films are not necessarily great examples of manic pixie dream girl movies, but they were all very different stories. Girl Next Door is a coming-of-age story, 500 Days is a romance, and Scott Pilgrim is an action flick. This genre breadth made this post interesting to think through.

However, none of these women compete with the best MPDG, Tyler Durden from Fight Club.

And you thought I only wrote about Star Wars movies. Ha.

Record 17 Law Schools Didn’t Report Graduate Debt to U.S. News (’17)

Each year U.S. News & World Report lists law schools by the average indebtedness of their graduates. Importantly, the figures exclude accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these numbers are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here’s the debt table. A recurring problem in U.S. News’ debt data is law schools that misreport their graduating students’ annual debt as opposed to their cumulative debt, which is what the magazine asks for. Thus, I include last year’s numbers for illustration and encourage ridicule of law schools that cannot follow basic directions, but I welcome corrections.

1. Thomas Jefferson $182,411 $198,962 9.1%
2. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] $190,842 $190,842 0.0%
3. San Francisco $167,671 $180,799 7.8%
4. New York University $167,646 $170,955 2.0%
5. American $164,194 $169,107 3.0%
6. Georgetown $166,027 $162,739 -2.0%
7. Harvard $153,172 $162,672 6.2%
8. Golden Gate $161,809 $158,857 -1.8%
9. Columbia $159,769 $158,348 -0.9%
10. Pepperdine $154,475 $157,527 2.0%
11. George Washington $145,240 $156,167 7.5%
12. New York Law School $157,568 $154,629 -1.9%
13. John Marshall (Chicago) $158,888 $153,520 -3.4%
14. Nova Southeastern $147,879 $151,505 2.5%
15. Santa Clara $149,940 $150,627 0.5%
16. Catholic $133,917 $149,158 11.4%
17. Cornell $158,128 $148,955 -5.8%
18. Seattle $139,745 $148,896 6.5%
19. Pennsylvania $156,725 $148,879 -5.0%
20. Marquette $142,601 $148,253 4.0%
21. California-Hastings $137,157 $146,150 6.6%
22. Loyola (CA) $146,494 $145,915 -0.4%
23. Pacific, McGeorge $144,431 $144,797 0.3%
24. Fordham $116,326 $144,168 23.9%
25. California Western $147,302 $143,592 -2.5%
26. Charleston $137,345 $143,105 4.2%
27. California-Berkeley $145,260 $143,049 -1.5%
28. Virginia $155,177 $142,906 -7.9%
29. Chapman $144,409 $141,533 -2.0%
30. Widener (Commonwealth) $129,016 $141,141 9.4%
31. Vermont $52,682 $138,991 163.8%
32. Denver $150,055 $138,513 -7.7%
33. Florida Coastal $158,878 $138,204 -13.0%
34. Loyola (IL) $88,588 $137,342 55.0%
35. Miami $149,580 $137,101 -8.3%
36. Northwestern $154,923 $136,532 -11.9%
37. Elon $153,347 $135,740 -11.5%
38. Chicago $134,148 $134,853 0.5%
39. Mercer $135,300 $134,317 -0.7%
40. Lewis and Clark $139,624 $132,419 -5.2%
41. Duke $137,829 $132,002 -4.2%
42. Hofstra $142,261 $131,957 -7.2%
43. Stanford $137,625 $131,745 -4.3%
44. Southern Methodist $126,172 $131,711 4.4%
45. Detroit Mercy $152,000 $131,421 -13.5%
46. Stetson $128,703 $131,200 1.9%
47. Seton Hall $125,300 $131,182 4.7%
48. Valparaiso $136,765 $128,221 -6.2%
49. Emory $120,804 $127,541 5.6%
50. Tulane $139,508 $127,113 -8.9%
51. Belmont $40,677 $126,272 210.4%
52. Drake $112,893 $125,438 11.1%
53. Michigan $146,309 $125,199 -14.4%
54. Western New England $121,367 $125,143 3.1%
55. Willamette $148,429 $124,350 -16.2%
56. South Texas-Houston $38,717 $123,715 219.5%
57. Oklahoma City $102,024 $123,256 20.8%
58. Notre Dame $123,924 $123,210 -0.6%
59. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] $115,405 $122,562 6.2%
60. DePaul $126,446 $122,290 -3.3%
61. Southern California $140,745 $122,192 -13.2%
62. Mississippi College $119,000 $121,000 1.7%
63. California-Los Angeles $118,291 $120,980 2.3%
64. Atlanta’s John Marshall $147,694 $120,744 -18.2%
65. Widener (Delaware) $135,151 $119,648 -11.5%
66. Suffolk $135,272 $118,725 -12.2%
67. Creighton $130,145 $118,552 -8.9%
68. Brooklyn $117,581 $118,519 0.8%
69. Vanderbilt $127,434 $117,992 -7.4%
70. Loyola (LA) $39,138 $117,746 200.8%
71. Maryland $113,927 $116,837 2.6%
72. St. Mary’s $118,583 $116,635 -1.6%
73. Capital $35,079 $116,612 232.4%
74. Roger Williams $126,334 $115,869 -8.3%
75. Dayton $108,724 $114,363 5.2%
76. Cardozo, Yeshiva $118,764 $114,085 -3.9%
77. Boston College $108,873 $112,868 3.7%
78. Samford $127,611 $112,662 -11.7%
79. California-Irvine $100,408 $112,429 12.0%
80. St. Louis $117,335 $112,142 -4.4%
81. Baltimore $108,328 $111,861 3.3%
82. Yale $121,815 $111,494 -8.5%
83. Regent $124,221 $111,268 -10.4%
84. St. John’s $117,572 $110,373 -6.1%
85. Albany $107,185 $110,225 2.8%
86. Boston University $104,755 $110,082 5.1%
87. Pace $124,317 $108,380 -12.8%
88. Washington $120,554 $107,975 -10.4%
89. Chicago-Kent, IIT $107,688 $107,540 -0.1%
90. Massachusetts — Dartmouth $98,730 $107,227 8.6%
91. George Mason $118,056 $106,642 -9.7%
92. Florida International $93,838 $106,596 13.6%
93. North Carolina $95,365 $106,514 11.7%
94. Gonzaga $109,692 $104,892 -4.4%
95. Colorado $100,499 $104,338 3.8%
96. California-Davis $103,811 $104,034 0.2%
97. Duquesne $108,414 $103,633 -4.4%
98. William and Mary $90,028 $103,318 14.8%
99. San Diego $127,693 $102,296 -19.9%
100. Syracuse $117,127 $101,983 -12.9%
101. Quinnipiac $101,371 $101,581 0.2%
102. Richmond $104,624 $101,296 -3.2%
103. Texas $103,417 $100,312 -3.0%
104. South Carolina $89,388 $99,862 11.7%
105. Washington and Lee $105,426 $98,512 -6.6%
106. Minnesota $106,436 $97,910 -8.0%
107. Missouri (Kansas City) $93,678 $97,419 4.0%
108. Pittsburgh $103,990 $97,239 -6.5%
109. Indiana (Indianapolis) $105,065 $96,941 -7.7%
110. Southern Illinois $87,634 $96,722 10.4%
111. Faulkner $18,434 $96,582 423.9%
112. Campbell $131,894 $96,215 -27.1%
113. New Hampshire $95,650 $95,312 -0.4%
114. SUNY Buffalo $90,546 $95,149 5.1%
115. Michigan State $91,014 $94,540 3.9%
116. Ohio Northern $104,284 $94,119 -9.7%
117. Indiana (Bloomington) $99,895 $93,978 -5.9%
118. Penn State (Penn State Law) $117,692 $93,406 -20.6%
119. Washington University $93,768 $93,141 -0.7%
120. Houston $97,246 $92,899 -4.5%
121. Northeastern $111,410 $92,051 -17.4%
122. Drexel $96,402 $91,744 -4.8%
123. Baylor $144,732 $91,679 -36.7%
124. Ohio State $88,301 $90,638 2.6%
125. Maine $89,513 $90,636 1.3%
126. Concordia N/A $90,607 N/A
127. Western State $119,382 $90,302 -24.4%
128. Southern University $89,552 $90,211 0.7%
129. Mitchell|Hamline $100,603 $89,469 -11.1%
130. Idaho $86,022 $89,018 3.5%
131. Florida $82,480 $88,409 7.2%
132. Northern Illinois $86,899 $88,081 1.4%
133. Villanova $99,736 $87,786 -12.0%
134. Arizona State $97,780 $87,612 -10.4%
135. Illinois $99,782 $87,559 -12.2%
136. Louisville $99,581 $86,110 -13.5%
137. Louisiana State $83,919 $85,703 2.1%
138. Arizona $84,601 $85,519 1.1%
139. Cleveland State $29,051 $84,764 191.8%
140. Case Western Reserve $102,370 $84,436 -17.5%
141. Nevada $97,361 $84,386 -13.3%
142. Hawaii $82,510 $84,295 2.2%
143. Oklahoma $83,433 $84,057 0.7%
144. Lincoln Memorial $89,779 $83,526 -7.0%
145. Kentucky $59,163 $82,905 40.1%
146. Wyoming $90,231 $82,749 -8.3%
147. West Virginia $82,683 $82,542 -0.2%
148. Texas Tech $80,087 $82,355 2.8%
149. Georgia $82,199 $82,191 0.0%
150. Penn State (Dickinson Law) $109,828 $81,718 -25.6%
151. Toledo $85,649 $81,626 -4.7%
152. Oregon $17,834 $81,211 355.4%
153. Utah $91,982 $79,813 -13.2%
154. Memphis $76,997 $79,363 3.1%
155. New Mexico $75,277 $79,199 5.2%
156. Washburn $81,528 $78,287 -4.0%
157. Wayne State $81,738 $77,993 -4.6%
158. St. Thomas (MN) $100,805 $77,875 -22.7%
159. Wake Forest $105,090 $77,712 -26.1%
160. Liberty $73,857 $77,077 4.4%
161. City University $78,523 $76,302 -2.8%
162. Florida State $88,732 $75,899 -14.5%
163. Connecticut $72,042 $75,383 4.6%
164. Alabama $75,577 $75,373 -0.3%
165. Tulsa $76,988 $73,987 -3.9%
166. Temple $86,937 $73,589 -15.4%
167. Iowa $74,128 $73,230 -1.2%
168. Kansas $88,809 $72,617 -18.2%
169. Arkansas (Little Rock) $65,931 $71,969 9.2%
170. Montana $75,470 $71,604 -5.1%
171. Akron $82,854 $70,670 -14.7%
172. Arkansas (Fayetteville) $67,758 $68,924 1.7%
173. Wisconsin $77,555 $68,050 -12.3%
174. Cincinnati $75,512 $67,028 -11.2%
175. Missouri (Columbia) $80,138 $66,944 -16.5%
176. North Dakota $66,917 $65,993 -1.4%
177. Tennessee $80,445 $65,107 -19.1%
178. Mississippi $67,539 $64,644 -4.3%
179. North Carolina Central $60,479 $63,300 4.7%
180. Florida A&M $20,500 $61,500 200.0%
181. South Dakota $56,609 $58,177 2.8%
182. Nebraska $62,888 $57,992 -7.8%
183. Georgia State $64,384 $56,710 -11.9%
184. Brigham Young $58,133 $53,237 -8.4%
185. Rutgers $56,173 $38,376 -31.7%
186. Whittier $179,056 N/A N/A
187. Charlotte $167,002 N/A N/A
188. Ave Maria $152,476 N/A N/A
189. Barry $151,479 N/A N/A
190. District of Columbia $105,330 N/A N/A
191. Northern Kentucky $74,190 N/A N/A
192. Howard $50,920 N/A N/A
10TH PERCENTILE $66,917 $73,230 -14.5%
25TH PERCENTILE $86,022 $84,764 -8.9%
MEDIAN $106,436 $106,514 -1.6%
75TH PERCENTILE $136,765 $131,200 3.9%
90TH PERCENTILE $153,347 $148,879 11.7%
MEAN $108,957 $108,333 9.1%

(U.S. News’ debt rankings can be found here.)

And per this post’s title, here’s the List of Shame: Law schools that chose not to submit their graduates’ debt information to U.S. News, along with their last-reported figures and the year in which they reported them. Thanks to the gainful employment rule, I was able to track down median graduate debt at three for-profits. As I am merciful, I exclude the three Puerto Rico law schools from this count. This year, I extend that mercy to Whittier, which in 2017-18 chose to cease accepting law students.

  • Arizona Summit [Phoenix] – $190,842 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Touro – $154,855 (2013)
  • Ave Maria – $152,476 (2015)
  • Barry – $151,479 (2015)
  • Southwestern – $147,976 (2011)
  • Thomas (FL) – $140,808 (2013)
  • Florida Coastal – $138,204 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • New England – $132,246 (2012)
  • WMU Cooley – $122,395 (2011)
  • Atlanta’s John Marshall – $120,744 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Appalachian – $114,740 (2011)
  • La Verne – $112,628 (2011)
  • District of Columbia – $105,330 (2015)
  • Texas Southern – $99,992 (2011)
  • Northern Kentucky – $74,190 (2015)
  • Howard – $50,920 (2015)
  • North Texas-Dallas – NEVER

These 16 law schools account for 2,605 graduates out of 34,478, or 8 percent of the total.

Compared to the graduating class from two years earlier, weighted-average private law-school graduate debt fell from $134,186 to $130,536 (-3%). For public law schools, debt fell from $94,602 to $91,218 (-4%). The weights are the percent of graduates who took out debt per U.S. News multiplied by the number of graduates according to the 509 information reports. The reason I compare ’17 to ’15 is that last year, U.S. News allowed law schools to report absurdly high percents of graduates with debt.

The unweighted averages, which alas are what’s commonly reported, fell as well over the two-year period. At private law schools, it went down from $128,694 to $123,785 (-4%). That’s $88,051 from $92,144 (-4%) at public law schools. Thus, these declines can be attributed to graduates borrowing less and not the percentages of graduates borrowing at each school. This is good news. However, there might also be an unseen composition effect of fewer people matriculating to high-debt schools. (By unseen, I mean, I’m not going to check.)

So the good news is that the class of ’17 looks more like the classes of ’12 or ’13 than more recent classes. The bad news is just how much law grads’ debt positions deteriorated after the Great Recession.

Finally, the observations:

  • A bunch of law schools bounced back from misreporting their graduate data last year, accounting for some big swings: Faulkner (423.9%), Oregon (355.4%), Capital (232.4%), South Texas-Houston (219.5%), Belmont (210.4%), Loyola (LA) (200.8%), Florida A&M (200.0%), Cleveland State (191.8%), Vermont (163.8%).
  • Other swings: Loyola (IL) (55.0%), Kentucky (40.1%), Fordham (23.9%), Oklahoma City (20.8%).
  • And finally the big raspberries: Baylor (-36.7%), Rutgers (-31.7%), Campbell (-27.1%), Wake Forest (-26.1%), Penn State (Dickinson Law) (-25.6%), Western State (-24.4%), St. Thomas (MN) (-22.7%), and Penn State (Penn State Law) (-20.6%).

Conclusion: It’s discouraging more law schools chose not to report their debt outcomes than before, but at least they didn’t grossly misreport them like last year. And yes, U.S. News should know better than to publish absurd numbers without actually looking at them. Finally, kudos to Concordia for jumping on the wagon with its first year reporting.

Entries on this topic from prior years:

Last Gen-X American Movie Review: Han Solo Writes the Google Memo

Watching The Last Jedi in the theater a few weeks back, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen The Empire Strikes Back, which Last Jedi resembles, in a very long time. I last recall watching it at a friend’s house in the summer of 2000, but we talked about women through the whole thing and may have even switched it off before the end. That means it may’ve been twenty years since I last paid attention to it, which would’ve been the special edition in the theater. So we’re looking at about half a lifetime.

Which is odd because Empire is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies. Really, how could I have seen every single prequel and sequel since and not revisit Empire? Yes, it’s a heavier film and not self-contained, but I’d rather not die knowing that I’d seen Jar-Jar more recently in the last two decades than, say, the carbon-freezing chamber. So, I put that particular affair in order.

So does Empire live up to its reputation after a jaded adult viewing?

Rather than answer with a 5,000-word essay, here are bulleted observations.

  • Empire begins with the following loose ends from Star Wars: (1) Darth Vader is alive and evil, (2) the Empire is still around, (3) Luke hasn’t been trained as a Jedi, (4) Leia is a single female character in a movie full of boys, and (5) we don’t know that Han has paid his debts to Jabba the Hutt, but it’s implied that he was able to.
  • The opening crawl says Luke is the leader of the rebellion. He’s not; the crawl lies.
  • Luke finishes scanning for lifeforms from his tauntaun and then is attacked by a lifeform.
  • For the theologians out there: Are Force ghosts one with the Force, or are they partly themselves and partly the Force? In other words, are Force ghosts homoousios or homoiousios to the Force? If they’re the same as the Force, then the Force on its own starts the plot in Empire, which is pretty cool.
  • Han has formally joined the rebellion, which is out of character. It would be more believable if he were just making cargo runs for it.
  • Han wants to pay off his debts, which is a fine motivation for his character, but it doesn’t make much sense. If the rebels can’t deter bounty hunters from capturing or killing Han, then they can’t be very threatening to the Empire.
  • What’s Leia’s job? She isn’t in charge of the rebellion because Han gives his notice to General Rieekan, not her. (Or is Han really that misogynistic?)
  • Leia’s only role in Empire is to be Han’s love interest. She only affects the plot at the end when her unearned Force powers give her a vision of Luke dangling from a Cloud City antenna. Aside from that, if she weren’t in the movie, most of Empire would have turned out the way it did (except Lando may not’ve bothered sticking his neck out for just Chewbacca and C-3PO). I don’t think movies need to pass the Bechdel test to have good female characters, but Leia is a central character and plays less of a role in Empire than any other Star Wars film.
  • Moreover, the overall Star Wars narrative is about the rebellion defeating the Empire, and the rebellion is Leia’s setting, so under-developing her is a big mistake.
  • Very little of Han’s and Leia’s arguing is romantic witty banter. At one point Han manipulatively ropes Luke in to his attacks on Leia, “I must’ve hit her close to the mark to get her all riled up, huh, kid?” High five, bro! She should’ve sent him to the front lines to face the AT-AT walkers. #MeToo
  • If Leia had been developed as the alliance’s leader, then Empire could’ve gone with the more plausible odd-couple romance. “What’s this piece of junk doing in my hanger, Solo?” she yells. Works much better and stays true to Star Wars‘ tendency towards sexually tilted dialogue.
  • Leia is my favorite character in Empire. She’s more Han-like than Biff Tannen Han. She gets some of the best character beats and sarcastic lines in the movie. “Would it help if I got out and pushed?” she asks Han when he can’t start the Millennium Falcon‘s engine. When its hyperdrive stalls, Han panics, but Leia just rolls her eyes—which is all she can do—asking, “Still no lightspeed?” When Vader puts Han into carbon freeze, she never turns away. My favorite beat happens before Han is frozen. The camera looks at Vader but then it cuts for a second to Leia, who glares at him with a look on her face saying, “I will fuck you up for this.”
  • What is Leia princess of? Alderaan’s new asteroid belt? She saw it blown up in front of her face and it never comes up again. Maybe she feels guilty? What a wasted opportunity to explore the character.
  • It’s too bad Leia forgets that planetary bases are easy targets for the Empire/First Order. Would’ve forced Disney to get creative with Force Awakens and Last Jedi. Even in Return of the Jedi the rebels operate from a mobile fleet. Dumbasses.
  • Giving the three protagonists privileges to do as they please and abandon the rebellion at their convenience works when you’re a kid but doesn’t make much logical sense, hence Empire‘s backgrounding of Leia.
  • Otherwise, Empire‘s beginning is solid. Lots of attention to detail as to how the rebel base works and the rebels’ contingency for evacuating it.
  • Han teaches us that nothing proves you’re an alpha ape by bullying a protocol droid.
  • C-3PO, for his part, is also inconsistent, suffering disrespect when he’s helpful and trivializing the other characters’ suffering when he’s not.
  • Han makes several decisions to advance the plot, of the rabbit-out-of-a-hat variety. They work for his character, but somewhat stunt the B plot.
  • Luke makes three decisions: (1) “borrowing” the Alliance’s X-wing to go to Dagobah, (2) abandoning his training to rescue his friends (Empire‘s fulcrum), and (3) choosing to fight Vader when he could try to escape.
  • Luke’s vision of his friends’ suffering on Cloud City is remarkable because it means the Force plays an active role in the narrative. We can rightly ask what the Force’s agenda is. (It also helpfully gives Luke the coordinates to Bespin.)
  • Vader’s seclusion pod is my favorite representation of Empire‘s theme of pockets of safety in a hostile universe. Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t really reflect the characters’ inner challenges.
  • Vader’s executions are fun, especially Admiral Ozzel’s, but in no way do they correspond to the victims’ merits:
    • Vader kills Admiral Ozzel for his exculpatory incompetence: Ozzel disobeys Vader by bringing the fleet in too close to the rebel base, even though the rebels are already alerted by the probe droid. More rebels would’ve escaped if Ozzel had followed orders.
    • Captain Needa is killed for his inculpatory competence: He wasn’t responsible for “losing” the Millennium Falcon.
    • Vader spares Admiral Piet for his inculpatory incompetence: Piet was supposed to disable the Millennium Falcon‘s hyperdrive and didn’t do a sufficient job.
  • How much time elapses in Empire? It feels like no more than a few days, which can explain why Luke gets steamrolled by Vader. However, there could be a big time gap between the Millennium Falcon heading to Bespin and Luke having his vision of its fate, but it’s not specified and impliedly contradicted when Lando says, “They [the Empire] arrived here just before you did.”
  • When Han lands the Millennium Falcon to the back of the star destroyer, I yelped, “Wait, that actually works??”
  • I love the (original) matte-painting backgrounds for Cloud City. They are way retro.
  • Timing error: Luke leaves Dagobah after the Millennium Falcon arrives at Bespin. It looks like it takes minutes for him to get there. On top of that, the narrative cuts to him approaching Cloud City twice. It messes up the pacing.
  • Why is Lando developed—and better than Leia? He could’ve just turned the protagonists over to the Vader right after they landed on Cloud City. He doesn’t help his case by rubbing his “deal” with the Empire in the protagonists’ faces right before handing them to Vader. He could’ve been shot by a stormtrooper and it wouldn’t’ve made a difference.
  • Boba Fett is only named in the credits, and just whom does he work for? If the Empire hired him, why does he get to take Han to Jabba the Hutt for a second reward? Why would the Empire bother handing Han over? Why does he shoot at Luke when Luke arrives? Not his monkeys. Whatever.
  • Cloud City’s dizzying interior is so cool. The agoraphobia really amplifies the tension.
  • Darth Vader’s plan for capturing Luke is not fully formed at the beginning of Empire but becomes more coherent over time. It might be lazy, and it’s common for adventure stories written from the protagonists’ perspectives to idiot-plot (or super-mastermind-plot) the villains. I think Vader’s incoherent plan in Empire works because it’s ambiguous, but it’s close.
  • I could write an essay on the consequences of making the Emperor a Jedi.
  • Vader has nothing to tempt Luke with to turn him to the dark side, which is a pretty glaring problem in Empire‘s A plot. If I were Vader, I’d scheme to put Luke in a situation where he has to tap the dark side to escape or die. Instead, it’s “Join me or die,” so Luke chooses to die. The end.
  • Why does Vader offer to rule the galaxy with Luke after he tries to freeze him and mutilates him? He’s not persuasive. It’s almost like Empire is looking for an excuse for Vader to not kill Luke.
  • Luke survives his plunge into the chasm, which is a neat death-rebirth trope, but it beggars belief.
  • Why does the Millennium Falcon fly toward the super star destroyer before R2D2 fixes its hyperdrive? The visual effect is awesome, but it sure looks like the movie doesn’t think we’ll buy Force telepathy at a distance but won’t object to Lando’s stupid piloting.
  • Amazing that Vader doesn’t give up on capturing Luke by the time the Millennium Falcon rescues him. Way more trouble than he’s worth.
  • Once they’re safe, why does anyone still trust Lando, let alone allow him to take over for Han?
  • Finally, it’s so sad that Leia ends the movie grinning over the phone with Chewbacca and not holstering blasters.
  • Empire is the only non-prequel to date in which the characters don’t infiltrate an Imperial base or impersonate Imperial soldiers.
  • I don’t think stormtroopers have any lines in Empire.

So, the verdict:

The Empire Strikes Back starts strong; its first act on Hoth is a tight, coherent tactical battle between Vader and Reeikan. But after Luke has his Force vision on Dagobah, the movie’s plot holes, timing errors, character problems, and multiple deus ex machina mechanics multiply to drag it down considerably. To be sure, Empire‘s third act is superbly executed and is visually stunning compared to Star Wars, and the Millennium Falcon‘s escape is probably my favorite scene in any Star Wars movie, notwithstanding the bizarre flaws noted above.

However, I’m not one to take fan consensus as truth. Empire badly needs a reason to tempt Luke to the dark side, and its failure to develop Leia is just malpractice. Maybe an intelligent reviewer can make the contrary case and explain to me what my plain, non-allegorical approach misses, but the emotional impact of Empire‘s plot reveals aren’t sufficient to carry it. For these reasons I now believe the original Star Wars is the better movie of the two.