Elon Musk: World’s greatest pro wrestler? Or greatest human being?

Sadly, he is not a pro wrestler. But he is the CEO of Tesla Motors, and he just did something so awesome that he may qualify for greatest human being in the world. Let’s set the brilliant title of his post aside for a moment. (Okay, giggle for a moment or two at the title.)

Tesla renouncing all of their patents is more than just whipping it out and laying it on the table. Well, okay, whipping out their patents and laying them on the the table is exactly what they did. It is, however, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of every major motor vehicle manufacturing in the world. This is Tesla saying, to be bluntly, “our product is so awesome, that we will tell you how to make it, and you still won’t succeed.” It is also Tesla saying, “Yeah, we’re already super rich, but we think that better, safer, more reliable cars is good for everybody and good for the planet.”

Maybe you believe human caused global warming isn’t a thing. Maybe you think that fossil fuel dependency isn’t a big deal. I’m not judging you. I’m not sure either. However, let me share a story for a moment.

As long time readers know, I have been in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the past ten months. Russia has been in the news quite a bit in those ten months for violence both inside the country and outside. I’ve even had my wallet stolen. Yet the one time I felt most in danger was when I was in the car going from the airport to the hostel. Why? Because the air quality was so absolutely putrid (and I’m an asthmatic) that for a few moments here and there, I literally could not breathe.

That’s not good. While I’m generally a misanthrope, I would prefer that human beings not die for stupid reasons. I share DNA with them. So, auto companies: pick up the gauntlet. Mass produce the ever loving shit out of these fuckers. Bring the cost down to a level where the average citizen can afford one. You will make shit tons of money — humans like moving around. I’m pretty sure you like money. There is no downside.

Sorry, Mike Trout: should have gotten an economics degree

Regression is quickly becoming the most interesting site in the Deadspin network (if the least funny). A recent article actually quantifies a superstar General Manager as more valuable than the best player in the game.  You can get his actual paper here.

I’ve skimmed the paper — the writing itself could use some improvements, I would argue, but that’s a stylistic question — and it seems solid to me. Undervaluing things that should be overvalued and vice versa is a skill, perhaps a tradition, in MLB. (Hi RBI and Saves! We love you! Don’t change!)

Yet, while I agree with his conclusions, I raise a further point. Consider that an MLB roster consists of 25 players. Ideally, if all else is equal and nobody gets hurt, you will have 8 or 9 regular players, and five starting pitchers. So, the “meat” of an MLB roster should be 13 to 14 players (depending on league). The rest are injury replacements, situational players, and relievers. Okay. Ignoring the minor leagues for the sake of simplicity (although one could argue that a GM’s influence on the minors is as important, or more so, than the majors), that means he has 13 or 14 critical decisions to make where he can make an immediate, direct impact.

Now let’s look at the NFL. You have 53 players on a roster, and no minor leagues, so this comparatively easier to make sense of. You, nominally, have 22 starters in the NFL. However, unlike MLB, the depth chart doesn’t stay static because, especially on defense, players move around and formations shift. So, out of that 22 starters, I’d offer the following players as “true starters”, in the sense that they’d play every snap in a perfect world where injuries aren’t an issue.

— The quarterback

— The offensive line

— The #1 and #2 WR

— The #1 and #2 CB

— The safeties

— The middle linebacker (or two)

— The nose tackle

That means that an NFL team should reasonably expect these 14 or 15 players to play every snap. The other positions are situational (your defensive front seven will shift positions quite frequently and take plays off) or based purely on formation (absence or presence of a TE or FB or nickelback). That’s… about the same as MLB. You can even argue it’s fewer, because there are nose tackles who don’t play every snap (although few of them). According to Bleacher Report, the average NFL GM makes about $2 million a year. We could argue NFL GMs are undervalued, and I think that’s accurate, but given the number of impact decisions they have to make, but with a much larger roster (and therefore with more margin for error), they should be undervalued relative to MLB GMs.

Consider, finally, the missing element: player development. When you hire a GM in any sport, but particularly MLB and the NFL, the public thinks their job is to make the team better now. It’s actually to make the team better tomorrow. To do this, MLB has, at minimum, six teams (considering one AAA, one AA, High A, A, and two rookie league teams) are devoted to each major league team for this very purpose. In the NFL, you have the 53 man roster. That’s it. If you want to argue that the NCAA is the minors for football, I can’t argue on the whole, but recall that there’s no former affiliation and that talent is much more randomized in this sense.

When we add the player development aspect back into the equation, I would actually consider the NFL executive to have the more difficult job, strictly based on having fewer options to work with. Therefore, I think that if MLB executives are undervalued (and they are), NFL executives are more so, and also deserve some more cash for their trouble.

Women in gaming

Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the version of AC coming to PS4, XBOX One, and PC next year, does not have any female characters in co-op because “they don’t have enough time.” The idea of women in gaming is not a new one. There is a dearth of games with dominant female protagonists (excluding games like Mass Effect that let you choose your character’s gender). Bayonetta, Lara Croft, ironically the AC IV DLC, an AC portable game, the various Metroids, and a handful of others I’m sure I’m forgetting. At least, I hope that isn’t it. (Bioshock Infinite, depending on how you consider Elizabeth, would also count.)

Now, on the whole, this doesn’t bother me. I am, shockingly, a white male, and most of the games are about me or people like me. I am okay with this. I would rather have well developed female characters than female characters tacked on for no reason. But for something as simple as character models? For a AAA game with nine studios working on it? “We don’t have the resources” is bullshit. I have to call you out on that one, Ubisoft.

Prontra Kevin: more on tuition costs

Yes, prontra is a portmanteau of pro and contra, as I am both in favor of and against some of Kevin’s propositions.

The subsidies I described are going to the universities, not to the students, in exchange for a reduction in tuition. More like agricultural subsidies in this sense. I think his cause #3 is responding to the system, not to me, but I wanted to emphasize that part of my solution.

For Kevin’s causes, 1 and 1a I obviously agree with. Item 2 I agree to with reservations. Item 3 makes sense, but again, reservations.

I like the free market as much as anyone else. Probably a bit less than Kevin, but much more than the average guy. I do not like the idea of kicking accreditation out of the process entirely because not all degrees are created equally. If you can get a medical degree anywhere, you get hordes of Dr. Nicks flooding the streets. Yes, hospitals wouldn’t hire them (but what if they were really, really cheap?), but clinics? Maybe they would. The process could use fine tuning, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. A private institution for accreditation could work, but I’d have to see more evidence before I’d agree to it.

The argument with subsidies I would buy entirely if the student was making the buying decision. In some cases, he is (this applies to Kevin and I), but in many cases, he is not. This feeds into your other points — parents think college = more $ (which is true, on the average), college = more educated people (which is… sort of true — throw enough knowledge at somebody and some of it is bound to stick), and that college = better people (complete bullshit). I don’t think the problem is that students are overvaluing certain degrees, but that parents are.

I like Kevin’s solutions, but I see them as long term decisions. The culture needs to change. This will not happen overnight. However, among Kevin’s continued references to elementary education majors (I’ll take a liberty here and say he is railing not against the institution, but the absurdly low requirements and ease of graduations) lies a problem. How many people, gainfully employed in this profession, who may have done so out of a desire to be blacked out for the better part of four years, are going to tell our next generation that they made a mistake? If we are employing teachers who do not want to teach but just need a paycheck (the Miss Hoovers), all we do is see the cycle repeat.

Fewer high school graduates means fewer college entrants. Agreed, and it’s a direct solution to the problem, and we all know people who graduated high school who had no business doing so. Yet, if they’re bombarded by media that tells them blue collar work is worthless, regardless of pay, parents will scream and holler that their child’s future is being destroyed when those evil teachers flunk the little moron. So, before we make high school harder, the culture needs to change first.

So, set changing the culture aside as a long term ideal solution, but one we can’t fix right now. I’ve already talked about accreditation and subsidies. My solutions, as presented earlier, were focused on reducing debt burdens to students, but Kevin’s right that we absolutely need to address the roots of the cost. As Kevin correctly pointed out, the problem is one of demand. I’ll give you a concrete example. The largest university in the Russian Federation, Moscow State University, has about 40,000 students — and about 22,000 are undergraduates. (Note: the English version of the site incorrectly claims there are 7000 undergraduates; this is a typo.) The rest are graduate students or students pursuing “refresher courses,” or short term learning. The number of graduate students in Russia is slightly inflated because they have two doctorates, as in the British system: the second doctorate is roughly the equivalent of tenure in the United States. There are a couple of other universities with about that level of enrollment — St. Petersburg State is close, with around 35,000 students — but most tend to be quite small.

Compare this with the US. Kevin and I went to a university of around 10,000 students. About 80% are undergraduates, but again, consider the inflation rate of Russian graduate students. We also have to consider that the US has roughly double the population of Russia. Still, contrast this to the largest universities in the US. There are multiple universities with more undergraduates — just undergraduates — than Moscow State has students.

So, the best way to cut costs, as Kevin suggested, is to cut demand. As we can see, there is a lot of demand. How can we do this effectively and realistically?

1) Make it harder to get into college. The United States is the only country I know of that does not have entrance exams to pass to get into a university. Even a private university like the University of Dayton only required an application, an application fee, my scores from high school, and an essay. The ACT and SAT are not entrance exams and have their own problems: I’m talking about mandated exams to get into a university, determined by that university and the department they’re applying for. This should replace the entire entry system as it exists now. You pass the exam, you’re in. You don’t, try again next year. No other criteria for entry, apart from a high school diploma.

2) Force students to choose a major. The longer you go without a major in a university, the worse off you are. I can buy using year one to figure out what you want to do — I’d even argue for a relatively standardized sample of courses freshman year — but after that, you need to decide. No open option bullshit that lasts until the junior or even senior year. Changing the major is fine — go nuts — but pick one and stick with it.

3) Eliminate generic majors. This includes “General Studies” and “Liberal Arts.” Interdisciplinary is fine, but generic is not.

4) Promote associate’s degrees. This is a good compromise for making getting into college harder. An associate’s degree for a specific skill is a much better solution than a bachelor’s degree in “general studies.”

All of these, I think, would reduce demand in the short term, and if we work to change the culture too, we end up with a better education system at more affordable rates, which leads to a better America. Fuck yeah.