2018: ABA Publishes Hot Tuition Garbage Instead of Usable Numbers [UPDATED]

It’s been two weeks since the ABA released its 509 information reports and accompanying spreadsheets. Lazy as I am I didn’t get to the tuition figures until last night, when to my astonishment I found that the tuition data were an excrementitious string of Arabic numerals. Seriously, the ABA has been doing this for five years, and while one or two law schools always fail to report their costs (because it’s, so, so hard to do the same thing once a year) I’ve never seen it publish numbers that were so clearly wrong.

I count seventeen law schools without any tuition numbers. I can understand why Valparaiso and Arizona Summit wouldn’t bother supplying them, but the rest is inexcusable. Even Stanford is on the list of shame.

The next seven reported bizarre three-digit numbers. A year of law school costs $35 at Washburn in Kansans. I have no idea where that came from, but a few public schools (Indiana-Indianapolis, Missouri-Columbia) look like they supplied their costs per credit hour rather than their annual charges.

Then I count 128 (!!) law schools that appeared to supply either semester or trimester tuition costs. There all off by 40-67 percent, clustering at 50 percent.

So more than half of the ABA law schools either supplied bad numbers to the ABA, which didn’t QC any of them, or the ABA messed up. Wow. RIP data transparency.

[Update: Per a reader comment, it appears in the 509 information reports themselves, the ABA now tracks tuition by semester, which will necessitate annualizing the numbers manually. Yes, I’d looked at these but didn’t see that change. However, instead of 128 law schools incorrectly sending semester numbers, that leaves 51 that misreported annual tuition instead of semester tuition. So while 128 law schools appeared to have reported correct numbers, 73 (less Arizona Summit and Valparaiso) did not. The ABA should still do a better job of QCing the data and ensuring law schools are completing forms correctly. I’ll try to come up with a new post that fixes all this.]

Here’s my table of proof:

Arizona Arizona Summit Private $45,284 $0 -100.0%
Arkansas University of Arkansas Public Res. $16,117 $0 -100.0%
Arkansas University of Arkansas (Little Rock) Public Res. $15,732 $0 -100.0%
California Santa Clara University Private $48,916 $0 -100.0%
California Stanford Private $60,270 $0 -100.0%
California Whittier Law School Private $44,370 $0 -100.0%
Florida Florida International University Public Res. $21,806 $0 -100.0%
Idaho Concordia University School of Law Private $30,343 $0 -100.0%
Indiana Valparaiso University Private $41,522 $0 -100.0%
Kansas University of Kansas Public Res. $21,996 $0 -100.0%
Michigan Cooley Private $51,370 $0 -100.0%
Missouri University of Missouri (Kansas City) Public Res. $19,040 $0 -100.0%
Nebraska University of Nebraska Public Res. $15,645 $0 -100.0%
New York Brooklyn Private $50,706 $0 -100.0%
Oklahoma University of Oklahoma Public Res. $20,903 $0 -100.0%
Pennsylvania Drexel University Private $44,340 $0 -100.0%
Texas University of Houston Public Res. $31,021 $0 -100.0%
Delaware Widener University (Delaware) Private $48,920 $60 -99.9%
Pennsylvania Widener University (Commonwealth) Private $44,548 $60 -99.9%
Kansas Washburn University Public Res. $21,588 $35 -99.8%
Illinois John Marshall (Chicago) Private $48,600 $275 -99.4%
Ohio University of Dayton Private $33,739 $209 -99.4%
Indiana Indiana Unversity (Indianapolis) Public Res. $28,631 $547 -98.1%
Missouri University of Missouri (Columbia) Public Res. $21,407 $894 -95.8%
Illinois University of Chicago Private $62,865 $21,766 -65.4%
Texas Baylor University Private $60,050 $20,807 -65.4%
Ohio University of Akron Public Res. $24,214 $11,323 -53.2%
Puerto Rico Pontifical Catholic University of PR Private $16,418 $7,869 -52.1%
Hawaii University of Hawaii Public Res. $23,142 $11,196 -51.6%
Florida Florida A&M University Public Res. $14,132 $6,838 -51.6%
Minnesota University of Minnesota Public Res. $44,066 $21,420 -51.4%
Kentucky University of Louisville Public Res. $21,392 $10,598 -50.5%
Ohio Cleveland State University Public Res. $27,360 $13,605 -50.3%
California UC Los Angeles Public Res. $45,657 $22,800 -50.1%
California UC Davis Public Res. $47,763 $23,861 -50.0%
California Western State College Private $43,350 $21,675 -50.0%
Georgia Georgia State University Public Res. $17,050 $8,525 -50.0%
Maine University of Maine Public Res. $23,640 $11,820 -50.0%
Ohio University of Cincinnati Public Res. $24,010 $12,005 -50.0%
Oklahoma University of Tulsa Private $25,254 $12,627 -50.0%
Texas Texas Southern University Public Res. $20,418 $10,209 -50.0%
Tennessee University of Memphis Public Res. $19,197 $9,599 -50.0%
Illinois Northern Illinois University Public Res. $22,178 $11,090 -50.0%
Virginia George Mason University Public Res. $25,351 $12,677 -50.0%
New Hampshire University of New Hampshire Public Res. $37,401 $18,703 -50.0%
Illinois University of Illinois Public Res. $38,098 $19,059 -50.0%
Florida Florida State University Public Res. $20,683 $10,347 -50.0%
Georgia University of Georgia Public Res. $19,696 $9,854 -50.0%
Nevada University of Nevada Public Res. $26,973 $13,511 -49.9%
Tennessee University of Tennessee Public Res. $19,638 $9,837 -49.9%
Vermont Vermont Law School Private $47,998 $24,127 -49.7%
North Carolina Wake Forest University Private $45,110 $22,680 -49.7%
Louisiana Loyola University New Orleans Private $44,330 $22,290 -49.7%
Oklahoma Oklahoma City University Private $35,340 $17,815 -49.6%
Alabama Univeristy of Alabama Public Res. $23,720 $11,960 -49.6%
Kentucky University of Kentucky Public Res. $23,783 $12,023 -49.4%
North Carolina North Carolina Central University Public Res. $18,533 $9,369 -49.4%
Illinois Loyola University Chicago Private $48,406 $24,481 -49.4%
North Carolina University of North Carolina Public Res. $23,889 $12,086 -49.4%
Florida Ave Maria Private $41,706 $21,103 -49.4%
Virginia Regent University Private $36,140 $18,310 -49.3%
California University of San Francisco Private $49,130 $24,910 -49.3%
South Carolina Charleston Law School Private $41,548 $21,067 -49.3%
New Mexico University of New Mexico Public Res. $17,147 $8,699 -49.3%
Minnesota Mitchell|Hamline Private $42,816 $21,730 -49.2%
District of Columbia Howard University Private $33,630 $17,097 -49.2%
Illinois Illinois Institute of Technology Private $46,822 $23,822 -49.1%
Michigan Michigan State University Private $43,400 $22,100 -49.1%
Ohio Ohio State Universtity Public Res. $30,264 $15,424 -49.0%
Illinois DePaul University Private $47,230 $24,083 -49.0%
New York Touro College Private $48,830 $24,900 -49.0%
Texas University of Texas Public Res. $35,015 $17,857 -49.0%
New York Cardozo Private $58,764 $29,970 -49.0%
Virginia Washington and Lee University Private $48,375 $24,678 -49.0%
Tennessee Belmont University Private $43,480 $22,235 -48.9%
Massachusetts Suffolk University Private $46,932 $24,045 -48.8%
South Carolina University of South Carolina Public Res. $28,858 $14,804 -48.7%
Missouri Saint Louis University Private $41,025 $21,077 -48.6%
Ohio Case Western Reserve University Private $50,666 $26,035 -48.6%
Maryland University of Baltimore Public Res. $31,084 $15,977 -48.6%
Texas South Texas-Houston Private $31,500 $16,200 -48.6%
Texas Southern Methodist University Private $52,586 $27,047 -48.6%
California Pepperdine University Private $54,260 $27,915 -48.6%
Michigan Wayne State University Public Res. $31,956 $16,441 -48.6%
New York Syracuse University Private $49,966 $25,711 -48.5%
New York Hofstra University Private $57,510 $29,607 -48.5%
Pennsylvania Villanova University Private $45,195 $23,268 -48.5%
Minnesota University of St. Thomas Private $40,247 $20,721 -48.5%
New York City University of New York Public Res. $15,113 $7,782 -48.5%
Wisconsin Marquette University Private $44,830 $23,085 -48.5%
New York Albany Law School Private $46,072 $23,725 -48.5%
Utah Brigham Young University Private $25,360 $18,506 -48.5%
Massachusetts Northeastern University Private $49,224 $25,350 -48.5%
Oregon Lewis & Clark College Private $45,020 $23,185 -48.5%
Texas St. Mary’s University Private $36,310 $18,705 -48.5%
North Carolina Campbell University Private $39,900 $20,565 -48.5%
California Golden Gate University Private $48,500 $25,000 -48.5%
Alabama Faulkner University Private $38,000 $19,592 -48.4%
Massachusetts New England Law | Boston Private $47,992 $24,744 -48.4%
Virginia College of William & Mary Public Res. $32,964 $17,000 -48.4%
New Jersey Rutgers University Public Res. $27,492 $14,179 -48.4%
Connecticut University of Connecticut Public Res. $29,410 $15,169 -48.4%
Georgia John Marshall (Atlanta) Private $42,628 $21,993 -48.4%
California University of the Pacific Private $49,720 $25,656 -48.4%
Iowa University of Iowa Public Res. $26,456 $13,671 -48.3%
Washington Seattle University Private $45,054 $23,293 -48.3%
District of Columbia American University Private $54,832 $28,362 -48.3%
Massachusetts Boston University Private $53,236 $27,538 -48.3%
New York St. John’s University Private $57,480 $29,740 -48.3%
Massachusetts Harvard Private $62,792 $32,489 -48.3%
Nebraska Creighton University Private $38,744 $20,048 -48.3%
District of Columbia Catholic University of America Private $49,800 $25,780 -48.2%
Florida University of Miami Private $50,578 $26,195 -48.2%
Massachusetts Boston College Private $52,850 $27,375 -48.2%
Georgia Emory University Private $55,336 $28,674 -48.2%
Louisiana Tulane University Private $54,568 $28,286 -48.2%
Illinois Southern Illinois University Public Res. $21,754 $11,282 -48.1%
Illinois Northwestern University Private $62,084 $32,201 -48.1%
New York Fordham University Private $58,196 $30,203 -48.1%
California Loyola Law School Private $55,110 $28,615 -48.1%
Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania Private $63,364 $32,902 -48.1%
District of Columbia George Washington University Private $58,520 $30,395 -48.1%
Pennsylvania Penn State University (Dickinson) Public Res. $48,686 $25,291 -48.1%
Pennsylvania Penn State University (Penn State Law) Public Res. $49,070 $25,492 -48.0%
Colorado University of Denver Private $49,022 $25,471 -48.0%
California University of La Verne Private $30,024 $15,604 -48.0%
North Carolina Duke University Private $62,247 $32,361 -48.0%
Oregon Willamette University Private $42,680 $22,190 -48.0%
Ohio Ohio Northern University Private $28,010 $14,580 -47.9%
Mississippi University of Mississippi Public Res. $15,882 $8,275 -47.9%
Tennessee Lincoln Memorial University Private $35,340 $18,420 -47.9%
Michigan University of Michigan Public Res. $57,262 $29,881 -47.8%
Oregon University of Oregon Public Res. $33,922 $17,709 -47.8%
Florida Barry University Private $35,845 $18,715 -47.8%
Alabama Samford University Private $38,448 $20,075 -47.8%
Indiana Indiana University (Bloomington) Public Res. $34,073 $17,794 -47.8%
Massachusetts Massachusetts-Dartmouth Public Res. $27,291 $14,263 -47.7%
Wisconsin University of Wisconsin Public Res. $22,496 $11,759 -47.7%
Florida St. Thomas University Private $40,282 $21,095 -47.6%
Pennsylvania Duquesne University Private $42,844 $22,472 -47.5%
Michigan University of Detroit Private $42,140 $22,110 -47.5%
Kentucky Northern Kentucky University Public Res. $19,370 $10,166 -47.5%
West Virginia West Virginia University Public Res. $22,878 $12,042 -47.4%
Ohio Capital University Private $36,112 $19,145 -47.0%
Idaho University of Idaho Public Res. $19,748 $10,493 -46.9%
Utah University of Utah Public Res. $26,641 $14,177 -46.8%
South Dakota University of South Dakota Public Res. $15,668 $8,472 -45.9%
Texas Texas A&M University Public Res. $28,504 $15,500 -45.6%
Ohio University of Toledo Public Res. $20,004 $10,948 -45.3%
Virginia Appalachian Private $31,700 $17,750 -44.0%
Texas Texas Tech University Public Res. $22,996 $13,420 -41.6%
North Carolina Elon University Private $36,667 $22,275 -39.3%
Florida University of Florida Public Res. $22,299 $21,803 -2.2%
Colorado University of Colorado Public Res. $31,989 $31,898 -0.3%
Florida Florida Coastal Private $46,171 $46,068 -0.2%
California UC Irvine Public Res. $45,155 $45,099 -0.1%
California UC Berkeley Public Res. $49,364 $49,325 -0.1%
Arizona Univeristy of Arizona Public Res. $25,826 $25,826 0.0%
California UC Hastings Public Res. $44,326 $44,326 0.0%
California Thomas Jefferson Private $49,500 $49,500 0.0%
Wyoming University of Wyoming Public Res. $16,350 $16,350 0.0%
Mississippi Mississippi College Private $35,500 $35,510 0.0%
New York SUNY Buffalo Public Res. $28,016 $28,075 0.2%
Puerto Rico Interamerican University of PR Private $16,603 $16,645 0.3%
Arizona Arizona State University Public Res. $27,388 $27,584 0.7%
Connecticut Quinnipiac University Private $48,805 $49,540 1.5%
New Jersey Seton Hall University Private $53,046 $54,090 2.0%
Georgia Mercer University Private $37,962 $38,716 2.0%
California Chapman University Private $52,086 $53,124 2.0%
New York New York Law School Private $50,718 $51,732 2.0%
Iowa Drake University Private $40,612 $41,512 2.2%
Pennsylvania University of Pittsburgh Public Res. $34,008 $34,834 2.4%
Louisiana Louisiana State University Public Res. $23,083 $23,660 2.5%
District of Columbia University of D.C. Public Res. $12,516 $12,838 2.6%
Florida Stetson University Private $42,646 $43,880 2.9%
New York Pace University Private $47,210 $48,614 3.0%
Virginia Liberty University Private $35,782 $36,862 3.0%
Massachusetts Western New England University Private $40,954 $42,218 3.1%
California University of San Diego Private $52,571 $54,280 3.3%
Connecticut Yale Private $62,170 $64,267 3.4%
Florida Nova Southeastern University Private $39,830 $41,200 3.4%
New York Columbia University Private $67,564 $69,916 3.5%
New York Cornell Private $63,327 $65,541 3.5%
California University of Southern California Private $62,711 $64,908 3.5%
California California Western Private $50,670 $52,470 3.6%
Maryland University of Maryland Public Res. $32,492 $33,651 3.6%
Missouri Washington University Private $55,423 $57,445 3.6%
Indiana Notre Dame Private $56,292 $58,358 3.7%
New York New York University Private $63,986 $66,422 3.8%
Pennsylvania Temple University Public Res. $26,103 $27,103 3.8%
Virginia University of Richmond Private $43,000 $44,700 4.0%
District of Columbia Georgetown Private $59,850 $62,244 4.0%
Texas North Texas-Dallas Public Res. $8,748 $9,107 4.1%
Virginia University of Virginia Public Res. $58,300 $60,700 4.1%
Louisiana Southern University Law Center Public Res. $15,802 $16,490 4.4%
California Southwestern University Private $51,890 $54,166 4.4%
Tennessee Vanderbilt University Private $55,083 $57,558 4.5%
Washington University of Washington Public Res. $34,311 $35,988 4.9%
Montana University of Montana Public Res. $12,562 $13,177 4.9%
Washington Gonzaga University Private $38,715 $40,665 5.0%
Rhode Island Roger Williams University Private $34,833 $36,815 5.7%
Puerto Rico University of Puerto Rico Public Res. $7,383 $7,852 6.4%
North Dakota University of North Dakota Public Res. $12,232 $13,023 6.5%

Ugh. Disgusting. Makes me feel bad for the schools that clearly did everything right, like they’re supposed to each year. [Commented retracted for meanness. Apologies to the 128 law schools that correctly reported semester tuition, raspberries to the rest and the ABA for not ensuring consistency.]

Information on this topic from prior years:

2018: Total Applications Up, But Only for the Top Half

By October 2018, there were 37,052 enrollees at 200 ABA-accredited law schools not in Puerto Rico. This is up 1,290 (+7.9 percent) from 35,762 in October 2017. (Last year, the initial reporting had 35,381 enrollees, so there’s been significant upward revision.) This year marks the first “clean” comparison between two enrollment cycles because the ABA adopted the October-October standard last year. In 2018, one law school, Valparaiso, dropped to zero enrollees. It had 28 last year. Miraculously, Arizona Summit submitted a report. It had 65 applicants and 17 enrollees (49 last year). Thus, neither of these law schools hampered the upward trend in enrollments much.

Moving on to applications…

Predictably, with more applicants acceptance rates are lower this year. The median law school accepted just less than half of everyone who applied.

Applicants showed more interest in some law schools than others this year. The Gini coefficient for applications among all 200 of these law schools is now 0.442, which is 1.4 points higher than last year (0.427). By contrast, back in 2011 it was only 0.357. (You can read about what that means here.)

Some of this increased application inequality is even visible in my modified Lorenz curve, a measure that typically measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the recipient of the smallest amount to the largest. Usually researchers use the distribution of income among households. I’ve modified the Lorenz curve according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the previous year because the rankings are an independent measurement of law-school eliteness as seen by LSAT takers and applicants roughly at the time that they apply. Here is what I could cobble together going back to 2011.

Last year, I asked, “Will unheralded law schools benefit from the bump, or will our idealists apply strategically to top law schools?” The answer appears to be no followed by a yes. The U.S. News rankings can be quite volatile further down, but not so much between chunks of 50, at least for this year. It appears that the average top-50 law school received 14 percent more applications than in the 2017 October cycle. The next 50 reaped a 12.7 percent increase, but the remaining saw almost no benefit of the Trump bump on average. In short, for law schools below 100 it’s business as usual, i.e. slow.

That’s all.

Information on this topic from prior years:

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.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: September 2018 Edition

It appears the LSAC backed down after I—and my very powerful allies—intimidated it into publishing its test-taker-volume information. Now I can discuss the number of test takers since last summer thanks to the LSAC’s return to transparency.

Okay, okay. Enough with the silliness.

In June, July, and September of 2018, the LSAC administered 62,931 LSATs. (I have no idea how many unique test takers there were during this period.) This is down 2.8 percent from the June and September administrations in 2017 (64,752). In 2016, the number was 56,614, so interest in the LSAT is still elevated thanks undoubtedly to the Trump bump.

Here’s the chart going back to the late 1990s. The July 2018 administration is interpolated between the June and September ones because there is no moving sum to base it on.

The LSAC is also now including first-time test takers in its data tables. This is one of my favorite datasets, but until now it only came out infrequently. Good on the LSAC for publishing it regularly. What we learn is that 41,104 people took the LSAT for the first time this summer. By contrast, in June and September of 2012 (the last year for which I have data), as many as 42,490 new faces took the test.

I’m not sure if we should read too much into that because of the expanded administration dates. First timers accounted for about the same amount of total test takers in June 2018 (69.2 percent) as in June 2012 (71.1 percent), and in July it was about the same as well (68.9 percent). Meanwhile, September first-time test takers differ quite a bit: 65.0 percent in 2012 and 60.8 percent in 2018. In fact this year the percentage of first-time test takers in September is the lowest on any records I have, and given that there were more than 10,000 fewer overall test takers in September of this year than last year, it’s a good bet that 0Ls are shifting their habits to July.

I’m glad to be able to use these data going forward though. Again, good on the LSAC.

In other news, law-school applicants and applications are continuing their climb. As of the end of the third week of November (the 21st of 2018), 16,071 people applied to a law school, submitting 82,012 applications. The data for the early period of the application cycle tend to be erratic, but this is 9.6 percent more applicants than in 2017-18 and 5.6 percent more applications. Last year (that is, November 21, 2017), these percentages were in the double digits, indicating the Trump bump is waning this year.

You can see charts of this on the LSAC’s Web site.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Peace.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Readi- Wait, What The-

I patiently waited for the LSAC to update its Web site so I could report on the start of the 2018-19 LSAT-administration year. And I waited. Then I waited. Then I saw that the LSAC’s Web site was revamped and was all excited to post about the number of people who took the LSAT, including first-time test takers, which was displayed for the first time ever.

Then I procrastinated a bit.

Then the LSAC locked its Web site from the peasants.

Seriously? The number of LSAT takers per administration has been publicly available in some form for decades, and now it’s too important for the public to know? Why? Since it’s been trending upward, why would the LSAC not want to publicize it?

Office of Management and Budget: +$845 Billion in Direct Loans by 2028

Nearly every year in July the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publishes its Mid-Session Review (MSR) of the federal budget, which includes the Federal Direct Loan Program, and projects its future. These direct loans consist primarily of federal student loans, but there are a few other programs in there as well. However, it does not include private student loans, but these are a small percentage of all student loans and smaller still of new student loans. Thus, the MSR measure is both over- and under-inclusive of all student loans, but it covers most of them.

The OMB classifies direct loan accounts as financial assets totaling $1.281 trillion in 2017, but careful readers of these reports will find that OMB has now combined direct loans with “Troubled Asset Relief (TARP) equity purchase accounts.” No reason is given, and these items don’t appear related. In prior years TARP amounts have been negligible, so I’ll continue this series, assuming these TARP accounts make no impact. According to the office’s projection, by 2028 this figure will grow to $2.126 trillion—66 percent growth.

(Source: OMB FY2018 Mid-Session Review (pdf))

As with previous years, the current (2017) direct loan balance is below the OMB’s past projections, but not by much. For example, in FY2012, it predicted the balance would be $1.593 trillion by 2017, $312 billion (24 percent) higher than what actually occurred. Here are the OMB’s direct loan projections going back to FY2010.

As with last year, the OMB projects less student lending than during most of the Obama presidency. At the time, I noted that the projection came in much lower, but now it’s trending back upward. By 2028, federal student loans will reach $2.126 trillion. Because the OMB expects GDP to grow as well over this time period (we’d have bigger problems than student loans if it didn’t), the ratio of direct loans to GDP will level off below 7 percent over the next decade.

The OMB’s measure of direct loans is the net amount owed to the government, and the annual changes to that amount are not the same as the amount lent out each year to students. The Department of Education tracks its lending, which I discuss on the Student Deb Data page.


Past coverage of this data series:

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.