Late Gen-X Nostalgia


Mellow is the Bubble

I’ve been putting in more overtime at the office, but that gives me a chance to listen to music!

Here’s Peach Kelli Pop, our space explorers:

And Skylar Gudasz covering Big Star:

At the end, if you look carefully you just might see the last gen x American as the camera pans right. I even contributed a whistle.

Gudasz’s original stuff is quite good too.

Last Gen X American Theater Review: Star Wars

I saw Star Wars last weekend. Not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I mean Star Wars, the original. As in, the opening crawl included neither “Episode IV,” nor, “A New Hope,” just “STAR WARS” and then text, signifying that this was indeed the 1977 version. Sometime in the mid-2000s, Lucasfilm caved and offered a limited edition of the original three Star Wars movies, which included bonus DVDs of the un-CGI-ed movies I grew up with—in widescreen. I haven’t so much as tested the “Special Edition” discs.

I think I’ve seen Star Wars twice in the last decade, with the last time being the uncut version (29:22!), so with some time to let it rest in my mind, and watching it with someone who’d never seen it before, I approached the movie with as fresh a mind as I could. I’m certain I watched it scores of times since childhood (once dubbed in Japanese, which was awesome), so I’m definitely unprejudiced. Here are my thoughts:

Luke Skywalker:

Luke wasn’t as whiny as I remember, but he didn’t have much of an arc. Sure he goes on the hero’s journey, but he’s never given an opportunity to opt out. Either he runs off with Ben Kenobi on a swashbuckling adventure, or he sweeps his relatives’ charred corpses into the ditch and becomes a moisture farmer. It’s not much of a choice: “Steinbeck in Space” would’ve been a hard sell.

Part of my problem is that the movie builds up to Luke rejecting Uncle Owen’s libertarian isolationism, but Luke is cheated of that moment. It would’ve more exciting if, rather than being murdered, his aunt and uncle cooperate with the Empire to recover the droids. Uncle Owen may’ve figured the droids weren’t worth his life. He would try to convince Luke to give the droids to the stormtroopers and Luke would’ve said no, perhaps knowing that his decision would doom his relatives.

It’s dark, but Star Wars paints Luke as released when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are killed, like lifting a great weight from him. He never pins a stormtrooper down and blaster-rifle-butts his face in screaming, “You killed my family, you bastards!” That would’ve even offered a motivation for him to experiment with the dark side of the Force.

Imperial Savagery:

Relatedly, Star Wars depicts the Empire as alternately incompetent and downright savage—off screen. Luke asks why the Empire would want to murder Jawas, but simply answering, “It’s the droids, dummy,” isn’t good enough. Sometimes people will answer your questions without needing to shoot them or even threaten them beyond showing up with a platoon of stormtroopers. They get the hint. The Jawas had no reason to resist the Empire either. They didn’t have the droids and they’d already been paid. It’s not like they owed customer confidentiality to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru.

As stated earlier, Luke’s relatives didn’t need to resist the Empire either. The stormtroopers had every reason to give them the, “Sir, can you call your nephew and tell him to bring those droids right back here? He’ll be in deep trouble if he doesn’t” treatment. Sure, the scene of Luke returning to his burning home is iconic and superbly executed, but it’s the easy way out for the character.

So, did the Empire kill every single person they came across on Tatooine who so much as looked at R2D2? I think not. Just when it was convenient.

Han Solo:

I chuckled when he shot Greedo. First. It was a great scene to establish the character. However, this time around I found him bizarrely reckless. His fearlessness is endearing, but he runs after some stormtroopers in the Death Star for absolutely no reason. Luke rightly cries, “Where are you going?” He also fires his blaster needlessly at times, e.g. at the trash compactor monster. It’s a wonder he wasn’t killed. At least he has more of an arc than Luke because he decides to go back and join the attack on the Death Star, but it isn’t particularly deep.

The Death Star:

Watching the Death Star scenes, both the interior and the final attack, a wondered, “Just how big is it?” I’d always thought it was colossal, crammed with military arsenals for all kinds of operations and hundreds of thousands of stormtroopers. Like, mind-boggling overkill in every dimension. Watching it this time, though, I think it’s either much smaller than I imagined (or its size varies depending on the plot). I’ve always been mesmerized by its surreal, endless shafts, and vertical lighting that emphasizes them, but nevertheless the characters have no difficulty whatsoever navigating it.

Maybe that’s a case of the saying I’m told is attributed to Aristotle, “It’s better to make the impossible plausible than the implausible plausible.” I can believe in a moon-sized space station that can blow up planets, but I can’t believe the protagonists can run around inside like it’s not the Minotaur’s maze. On the other hand, Star Wars is a heroic epic, and perhaps the genre enables heroes to wander around the Death Star. I’m confident that a movie made today with a location like the Death Star would not work without more explanation of how the characters can move around so brashly. Now, I’m wondering how big it was in Lucas’ head. In my mind, it’s now much smaller in size and scope.

Additionally, the trash compactor monster bit was much sillier this time around. Then again, the Death Star’s interior is a different universe than the rest of the movie.

The Force:

The other thing we have to accept is how much subtler the Force is in Star Wars than its successors. Only when Darth Vader chokes the Death Star’s commander do we have any reason to believe that the Force permits telekinesis, but even that appears as a kind of magic or spooky mind control rather than physical action.

To be honest, I prefer this Force to what comes after. Once Luke uses Force telekinesis to pull his lightsaber to him from the snow in The Empire Strikes Back, the nature of the Force goes downhill, becoming an object of manipulation available to the chosen few. But in Star Wars there’s a possibility that if you believe in the Force, you can tap it to a degree, yet it just happens that no one believes in it. Now it’s just a vehicle for video game power-ups.

Han can question the Force as “hokey religion” in Star Wars because it’s so unobvious, but once we see Jedis whisking stuff around, it’s difficult to be incredulous. I appreciate The Force Awakens‘ attempt to remind us of this “Force doubt” when Han confesses to Rey that it’s all true, but if Kenobi just yanked Han’s blaster from his holster in the original, the issue would’ve been moot. If Han is our window into the everyday person’s perspective of the galaxy, it’s strange that anyone would be incredulous or forget about the Force and the Jedi.

The Villains:

One reason I think Star Wars works so well is that it doesn’t end with the protagonists killing the ultimate villain, the emperor. In fact, the lead villain, Tarkin, isn’t killed in personal combat with any of the main characters. Only Princess Leia ever interacts with him—or Darth Vader for that matter. Most other movies would add a scene where the (male) protagonists meet the villains (whether they’re captured or not), learn their plans, and then conspire to foil them. However, Star Wars goes nowhere near that. Only Princess Leia conveys the villains’ plans to the male protagonists, and it doesn’t matter because she’s the one in charge of the rebellion. Han bails once he’s paid, and Luke was going to join the rebellion anyway. Luke wasn’t even tasked with leading the attack on the Death Star; he’s charged with supporting the experienced commanders and only attacks himself when they fail.

Meanwhile, Tarkin isn’t a portrayed as a Ming-the-Merciless warlord, he’s a ruthless general. His motivation is to serve autocracy, and he’s fine with that. He’s evil, but professional. More importantly, Darth Vader obeys him, which is more evidence of a weaker (and I think better) conception of the Force than in all the sequels.

Princess Leia:

…Is not really a damsel-in-distress character as I imagined, other than being a princess. She isn’t captured out of her incompetence. In fact, she’s almost as trigger-happy as Han. She initiates the plot by loading the Death Star plans into R2D2 and rescues the male protagonists by discovering the trash compactor. The biggest complaint against her is that she rushes to the rebel base on Yavin knowingly allowing the Empire to track her. The movie should’ve given her a chance to explain this decision. Again, to its credit, The Force Awakens hints at this omission when Han tells Finn and Rey that they need a clean ship because the Millennium Falcon is “hot.”

Leia’s problem is that she’s introduced at the tail end of her story in order to tell us about Luke’s journey to embracing his paternal origin as galactic actor rather than withdrawn moisture farmer. That’s Star Wars‘ gender problem. Disney will never make it, but a Princess Leia prequel could be quite good. We could see her become tough as nails as she’s forced to decide whether to sacrifice innocent civilians to free the galaxy. Leia Guevara would be overboard, but it could draw the character better than Star Wars does with Luke.

I still haven’t read Dune, but…

Rewatching Star Wars left me with a somber realization: No number of re-viewings will give me the experience of seeing Star Wars as a twelve-year-old in 1977. Perhaps the First Gen X American can write that one up, but everything I know about Star Wars‘ origins and proximate impact is second hand. What I did see was a well-paced reduction of baby-boomer icons: the wild west cowboys, Buck Rogers, and WWII air battles. I haven’t read Dune, and I haven’t seen Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, but I know they’re in there as well.

Cramming all this stuff together should fail for its cumbersomeness. Certainly the pacing, the editing (love the wipes), special effects that work with and not against the story, and undoubtedly the score lift it beyond just being good or entertaining.

Whether Star Wars endured because ’70s cinema was “boring” or “cynical,” redeemed the post-Vietnam American psyche, or arrived just in time for folks like me to rewatch it endlessly on VHS, I don’t know. But if a movie was going to become American pop-culture religion, there could’ve been worse candidates, and Star Wars itself could’ve been much worse.

Speaking of Grad PLUS Loans…

This weekend, the Times both accepted the Bennett hypothesis and chose not to condescend to us about the “paradox” of how underemployed law grads can refuse to work for people who can’t afford to pay them. That’s really remarkable. What more can I say?

Okay, one point, an emphasis. When I wrote that applying the gainful employment rule to all law schools would cause fifty to close in short order, I was clearly being conservative. $50,000 in discretionary income is a lot of money, even for law school graduates.

And since we’re on the topic of student lending, the Department of Education updated its student loan data through the 2014-2015 academic year. I’ve updated the Student Debt Data page accordingly.

The big findings are that (a) people are borrowing less money from the federal government:

Amount of Federal Loans Disbursed

…But (b), Grad PLUS borrowing hasn’t changed much in the last year.

In the last two years though, the number of Grad PLUS borrowers has grown (+2,540) while the total amount borrowed has fallen (-$140 million). It only amounts to about $500 per borrower, but who knows, maybe it’s due to fewer law students? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Finally, in the same week that I bought my first car I realized after years of listening that Galaxie 500’s “Blue Thunder” is about a man’s love for his car, and the Route 128 reference indicates it’s an homage to the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.” (I’m terrible at discerning lyrics; it’s usually not what I listen for in music.) I really dig how “Blue Thunder” denies the listener the chorus until the very end.

I prefer the album version, but how could I not post an ’80s video?



…Is what I think about now whenever someone brings up the economics of Star Trek. For those unfamiliar, the title refers to a character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tasha Yar, who grew up on a politically collapsed colony populated by … rape gangs! Think Mad Max only ham-fisted. It’s also a reference to the 2007 combined tour of the bands Ifihadahifi and Replicator, “IfIHadARepliTour.” Yup, a show I never saw was so memorably named it stuck in my head for eight years.

Today’s “Economics of Star Trek” adventure appears courtesy of The New York Times, “A ‘Star Trek’ Future Might Be Closer Than We Think.” Reporting on the upcoming book Trekonomics– I know, I know, I hear you groaning in agony at your screens.

Okay, so the Times interviewed one of the authors and claimed:

When everything is free, said Mr. Saadia, objects will no longer be status symbols. Success will be measured in achievements, not in money: “You need to build up your reputation, you need to be a fantastic person, you need to be the captain.” People will work hard to reach those goals, even though they don’t need a paycheck to live.

Wrong. When you have teleporters—and set aside the obvious philosophical issues of voluntarily walking into a disintegrator beam so a duplicate of yourself can be incarnated somewhere else—you will have crime, mass terrorism, mayhem, and social collapse. Come on folks, show a little realism about human motivation.

So, now that we’ve dismissed the subject on the merits, we can pick it for less entertaining reasons. Let’s look at Star Trek without transporters. Would objects no longer be status symbols? Would people live to work and not work to live? Would we have … “post-scarcity”?

Hardly. We’d squabble over all the stuff that we can’t replicate, just like today. That’s the rub with productivity: There isn’t a whole lot of difference between mass-producing stuff cheaply versus for free. However, stuff that can’t be produced or easily substituted, i.e. positional goods, won’t disappear. This is precisely why I believe the concept is so important and write about it so frequently. Indeed, Trekonomics‘ author’s assertion that everyone needs to be the captain proves my point and discredits his: We can’t all be the captain. Someone will need to clean up replicator spills, so the future looks more like Red Dwarf than Star Trek.

Consequently, you’re going to need to produce something more substantial than menial labor to afford the location costs to live in San Francisco, Star Trek‘s preferred Earth location. But if the landowners of Trek can get everything they want for free, then we’re back to the robots-substituting-for-workers problem that I’ve addressed before.

And don’t waste your time arguing that people can always leave Earth for more space. That’s just kicking the can forward and ignoring the fact that even when land is free, poverty still exists in urban centers. Henry George observed this in the 1870s (and he cut his chops in San Francisco). At some point, “post-scarcity” stories only work if you tap location values. Nothing less will do.

Ultimately, “Economics of Star Trek” discussions raise two questions. One is concerned with filling the gaps created by the showrunners’ (mis)understandings of political economy, and the other is applying existing social science knowledge to the show. The first question disserves the show. It’s aspiration, not social theory. The second question, going by the author’s quotations, still needs work. We’re a long way from the characters chatting about how in the 21st century people actually believed consumption taxes were a good idea.

Oh, and since I’m talking about Ifihadahifi, here’s its Scott Walker protest song:

No Bubble, Just ROCK!!! Vol. 12

Mellow is the Bubble

I’m trying to cheer myself up after I was laid off from my one day on the job at J.D. Premium Loan LLC yesterday, and since I haven’t done a music post since October—goodness!—I feel I should cheer all of us up.

David Kilgour’s, “Today Is Gonna Be Mine,” is great song for getting yourself together before heading out to work.

…But I’m more partial to the Dirtbombs’ cover of “Fire in the Western World.”


LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: February 2015 Edition


No. LSAT Takers, 4-Testing Period Moving Sum

20,358 people took the LSAT in February, up 859 (4.4 percent) from 2014. Notably, that’s growth in two consecutive testing administrations. Wow indeed.

This ends our LSAT year with 101,689 total LSAT takers, which is a record low going back to 1986. Back in those days, you said you were listening to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. or Heart’s eponymous album, but we all know you couldn’t take Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album and the soundtracks to Miami Vice and Rocky IV out of your tape deck. (Cultured readers from my age bracket will recognize how Rocky IV‘s villain’s theme closely resembles that of Unicron’s from the Transformers movie of the same period: Both were crafted by Vince DiCola.)

Back to less exciting 2015, I think there’s a little room left for LSAT takers to drop, but applicants aren’t shying away from law school as they were in the past. They’re down a mere 7 percent from this time last year.

No. Applicants Over App Cycle

It’s unlikely they’ll weigh in at fewer than 50,000, so it looks like we’re pretty close to the bottom if we’re not there already. Who knows, though, maybe it’s just people thinking they could get into elite law schools.

For some perspective on the law school crunch, here’re the trends since the 1960s.

Enrollment, LSAT, & Application Data

The only unobvious insight I can give you from this chart is how amazing it is that peak LSAT in 2009-11 just did not translate into peak applicants. Much of it is due to non-first-time test-takers, but it’s a real harbinger for how things will look going forward. We may be at the applicant trough, but folks, they ain’t coming back.

Site Update: ‘Law School Tuition Data Going Back to 1996’…

…Can be found on the “LAW SCHOOL COST DATA (1996-)” page.

Formerly called ,”Tuition Increases at All ABA Law Schools (1999-),” or something like that, I’ve revised this site’s renowned tuition data page. Biggest changes include:

  • Tuition data for each law school going back to 1996 and up to 2013
  • Percentages of full-time students paying full tuition at each law school
  • Percentages of full-time students receiving the median grant or more at each law school (as stated in the Official Guide)
  • Tuition levels discounted by the median grant at private law schools that aren’t Brigham Young
  • A bunch of carefully sculpted dispersion charts and tables showing changes in law school tuition since 1985 or 1996 with the annual Stafford loan limit
  • And no tuition projections. I know they were popular. I know they gave me easy page views, but I don’t think any forward projection based on past data will be accurate anymore given that tuition increases are slowing down now. Also, the necessary methodology page was truly boring to write, and if anything, you folks deserve more “No Bubble, Just ROCK!!!” posts than me being bored on my own blog.

Don’t worry though, the URL is the same as before, so anyone linking to it will find the same information.

Tracking this kind of information on the back end is becoming harder as law schools (a) are socialized by public universities (meaning a change in status), (b) change their names (sometimes to sound more “hashtaggy”), and (c) contemplate splitting into multiple campuses. I’m sure consolidations are on the way as well. As it is, gathering their exact, full names was easily the most tedious aspect of this update. Easily.

Like, law schools, if you can hear me, please put your complete, full name on your main pages. Not in logos, and definitely not ending in “[law school name] Law” as though your school’s name is in fact the title of a law. To pick on one example, when I read “Wayne Law,” I thought about The Wonder Years taking place in a Michigan law school with Fred Savage, Jason Hervey, and Danica McKellar, the awesomest mathematician alive.

Which reminds me: Law schools, I’m into women as much as the next gynephile, but you do realize you put a lot of women on your main pages. There’s a certain … lack of originality to seeing attractive young women on the law school Web sites.

Wait, what am I complaining about? Strike that.

Okay, I should add—and this is very, very, very important—because the data page is so long (which is by design and I have no interest in changing) it doesn’t load well in Mozilla Firefox. If you scroll down far enough, at some point the screen turns black and the numbers are unreadable. It doesn’t crash the browser, but it doesn’t make the site easy to read. It does, however, work in Google Chrome. I don’t know if it works well on other browsers. Frankly, I don’t care at this point. Chrome is free; I prefer Firefox; whatever; we’re done here.