Sunday, December 24, 2006
Occasionally, I bump into people who tell me they don't own a TV. Most of the time one gets the impression that they think you are supposed to be impressed by this -- it shows how cultural or high minded they are. Well, there is plenty of high minded stuff on TV and if you want to impress me do so positively, by how much you know, not by what you don't do.
Still, there are better and worse ways to watch TV. Recently, I found out how important a TIVO (or in my case a DVR) is to making use of the TV. It is at least as important an innovation as was the remote control, and that is saying something.
My TV with the DVR broke and so I was forced to watch TV without the DVR. It is enough to give up TV (just kidding). But it really did suck. The following features of the DVR seem essential:
(1) Being able to stop a live TV show at will (or to rewind it). Phone calls, interruptions, whatever -- they are no problem.
(2) Being able to fast forward through commercials. Some shows have an incredible number of commercials and it is ridiculous to have to sit through them -- or risk missing part of the show. No problem with the DVR.
(3) Being able to record any show with the slightest of ease and then to play it back, again, with the slightest of ease. You never have to watch anything you don't really want to watch. If you have a long list of shows recorded, as I do, you rarely get to most of them.
In fact, the DVR playback is so good that I record movies which I own on DVD. Playing a DVD is a pain. You have to get up, put the DVD in, then wait for a while until the menu loads, and then sometimes deal with commercials. I predict that as DVRs become more popular, DVDs will become more efficient, eliminating some of these annoying aspects.
So, if you don't have a DVR, buy one. You'll never go back.
Friday, December 22, 2006
The foreign policy establishment at the US Department of State often seems conventional and bureaucratic at best, and all too often positively James-Baker-like, which is far worse. So it's a pleasure to be able to praise the State Department's consular service at least. I've just applied to renew my US passport: a day or two after I sent in my application, I could log on to the State Department website, type in my name and social security number, and immediately be told that my application had been received, that it received such-and-such tracking number, and that I can expect the new passport by such-and-such a date: next week, in fact. Cool.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Glenn quotes an MSNBC article: "Moderate drinking may lengthen your life, while too much may shorten it, researchers from Italy report." This appears to be accurate but may not be the best way to put the point. Another way to put it: "Not drinking may shorten your life." Several people I know don't drink any wine and they (mistakenly) don't really think that they are harming themselves. The quote from the article contributes to this type of thinking.
Tyler Cowan writes what appears to be well-informed, nuanced and balanced view of Pinochet. Here is his bottom line:
Pinochet the man behaved so badly, both during his term and after, as to be morally indefensible. From second hand accounts I have heard, it is also not clear how much the man himself was personally responsible for the good economic policies. Still many good policies happened. We need a closer look at the Chilean economic legacy, which is a complicated story and by no means wholly negative.
If, when reading an article about the debate over Iraq, you come across the expression "the realist school" and mentally substitute the phrase "the American friends of the Saudi royal family," your understanding of the situation will invariably be enhanced.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Ilya Somin argues that the 10 percent plan is more harmful than traditional affirmative action. He makes a good case, although he does not really consider the special harms that flow from taking race explicitly into account in admissions decisions.
Of course, one wonders whether the 10 percent plan is even in accord with true colorblind principles, whether or not they are written into the Constitution, federal statutes, or state laws. If an actor cannot discriminate directly, then it is normally thought that it cannot adopt a facially neutral plan that is intended to have the same effect. Similarly, if a university cannot prefer minorities directly, then it would appear to be prevented from adopting a facially neutral plan simply in order to prefer minorities. It is true that a university is normally allowed to choose between different facially neutral admission methods, so long as none of them involve an intent to discriminate. But here the universities appear to be selecting admission methods solely or largely in order to benefit minorities. That seems problematic under color blind principles. What makes the case more complicated is that if the university had selected the 10 percent plan for permissible reasons -- for example, they believed it really got them the best students independent of race -- it would be proper. The situation is similar to cases from the 1950s when Southern states closed public swimming pools when told they had to integrate them. Southern states could have closed their public swimming pools down for neutral reasons -- to save money, for example, -- but not to avoid integrating them.
If the 10 percent plans are worse than traditional affirmative action, then may nonetheless be inconsistent with colorblind principles. Under this view, defenders of colorblind laws should not advocate the 10 percent plans.
Update: A couple of responses to the comments. First, a facially neutral plan or law would not, on its face or surface, discriminate on the basis of race. The 10 percent plans are facially neutral since they do not mention race. Facially neutral plans can be discriminatory if adopted for a discriminatory purpose. Second, it is claimed that "the Texas plan is a plan intended to diversify UT along a number of lines.
Blacks, latinos and rural whites are all advantaged by the plan." According to this description, race or ethnicity appears to be a dominant consideration. Even if it turns out that race is just one important consideration, I would think the plan would be doomed. If Southern States closed public pools both to save money and to prevent integration, the closure would still probably be illegal. But as the race based motive becomes less important, the less likely that the plan would be a problem.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
When I was in high school over thirty years ago, I received a number of checks from a woman who identified herself only as "Madame X." At least I assume that she was a woman; the checks arrived in the mail, so I never saw Madame X. And they were cashier's checks, so there was no name on them. All I can remember is that they were drawn on a bank in Springfield, Virginia. And I didn't know anybody who lived or worked in Springfield (although Springfield is not far from where I lived).
The checks came with a letter that said that Madame X had learned of me from one of my teachers and that the teacher had said that I was a deserving young student. I have no idea whether there was any truth to the letter. I am confident, however, that the money did not come from my mother or father. Beyond that I have no idea.
I never got a chance to thank Madame X, but it occurred to me this evening that maybe it wasn't too late. So thank you, Madame X. I'm not at all sure that I was all that deserving, but I did try to use the money wisely. Some of it bought the things I needed for college--sheets, pillows, hair dryer, canvas bookbag, down jacket. etc. The rest went to Northwestern University for room and board. Tomorrow I am going to a Christmas party at the home of a friend who teaches high school. Maybe she knows of someone who could use a little money for college.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Charles Krauthammer dismisses the report and says its absurdity gives Bush one last chance to win in Iraq:
A major objective of the New Diplomatic Offensive (as if pompous capitalization makes for substance) is to bring Arab-Israeli peace. Baker thinks that if only the Israelis would surrender to Arab demands, all would be well in the Middle East.
Okay. Imagine that there is peace between Israel and the Arabs. No, imagine an even better solution from the Arab point of view -- an earthquake that tomorrow swallows Israel whole and sinks it (like Santorini, 1650 B.C.) into the Mediterranean. Does anyone imagine that the Shiites stop killing Sunnis? That al-Qaeda stops killing Americans? That Iran and Syria work any less assiduously to destabilize post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? It's these obvious absurdities that made the report so dismissible.
Now that these 10 establishment sages have labored mightily to produce a mouse, the president has one last chance to come forward with a new strategy.
He must do two things. First, as I've been agitating for, establish a new governing coalition in Baghdad that excludes Moqtada al-Sadr, a cancer that undermines the ability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to work with us. It is encouraging that Bush has already begun such a maneuver by meeting with rival Shiite and Sunni parliamentary leaders. If we help produce a cross-sectarian government that would be an ally rather than a paralyzed semi-adversary of coalition forces, we should then undertake part two: "Double down" our military effort. This means a surge in American troops with a specific mission: to secure Baghdad and (with the support of the Baghdad government -- a sine qua non) suppress Sadr's Mahdi Army.
It is our last chance for success. Bush can thank the Iraq Study Group and its instant irrelevance for making it possible.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
UC President Richard Atkinson made headlines a few years ago by calling for "a more well-rounded approach to admissions decisions"–one that phases out the SAT and instead emphasizes what applicants "have accomplished during four years of high school, taking into consideration their opportunities."
Atkinson’s announcement of a "holistic" admissions policy that takes into consideration a whole range of things--from extracurricular activities to family income and structure--was called bold and courageous by newspapers all over the country. In fact, it was neither of these things. It was a reaction to political pressure–-much of it emanating from Sacramento--to increase the number of minority students at the UC. In that respect, it was a case of history repeating itself. During the 1920s, Ivy League colleges adopted admissions policies that purported reward "well-rounded" applicants of "exceptional character" even if their college board scores may not be as high as other applicants'. In fact, as a mountain of historical evidence demonstrates, it was nothing but an effort to exclude as many Jewish applicants as possible--one of the most unattractive chapters in the history of the Ivy League.
Unsurprisingly, the New York Times is among the newspapers to support the new "holistic" approach. Today, however, an interesting historical tidbit came to my attention. While the New York Times now suports de-emphasizing the SAT and other numerical measures of academic performance and aptitude, there was a time that it endorsed admissions policies that would rely solely on the numbers. On May 14, 1960, in editorializing about Ivy League admissions policies, it wrote: "Might it not be best for all concerned--the nation, the schools, and the applciants--if admissions were determined on a strictly objective basis--an average of entrance examination scores or the like--which would insure that the best minds are accepted and avoid any suspicion of unfairness or of bungling?" Oh well .... a different time and circumstance.