Tuesday, August 31, 2004


I asked this question two years ago, but I still don't know the answer: Has anyone anywhere come up with an explanation for how a Palestinian kid could predict both the World Trade Center attacks and the American Airlines 587 crash?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

African American?

A fascinating story on who counts as "African-American."
For a moment, the Ethiopian-born activist seemed to melt into the crowd, blending into the sea of black professors, health experts and community leaders considering how to educate blacks about the dangers of prostate cancer. But when he piped up to suggest focusing some attention on African immigrants, the dividing lines were promptly and pointedly drawn.

The focus of the campaign, the activist, Abdulaziz Kamus, was told, would be strictly on African-Americans.

"I said, 'But I am African and I am an American citizen; am I not African-American?'" said Mr. Kamus, who is an advocate for African immigrants here, recalling his sense of bewilderment. "They said 'No, no, no, not you.'"

"The census is claiming me as an African-American," said Mr. Kamus, 47, who has lived in this country for 20 years. "If I walk down the streets, white people see me as an African-American. Yet African-Americans are saying, 'You are not one of us.' So I ask myself, in this country, how do I define myself?"

American 587

Isn't this interesting:
A captured al-Qaeda operative has told Canadian intelligence investigators that a Montreal man who trained in Afghanistan alongside the 9/11 hijackers was responsible for the crash of an American Airlines flight in New York three years ago.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents were told during five days of interviews with the source that Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian citizen also known as Farouk the Tunisian, had downed the plane with explosives on Nov. 12, 2001.

The source claimed Jdey had used his Canadian passport to board Flight 587 and "conducted a suicide mission" with a small bomb similar to the one used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, a "Top Secret" Canadian government report says.
This may not be a reliable source, but Debka reportedly came to the same conclusion about two years ago.

Friday, August 27, 2004


This Geitner Simmons post caused me to wonder: What is it that journalists have against astroturf? That is, the common practice whereby a website (say) that supports Bush (or Kerry) will provide ready-made paragraphs to paste into a letter to the editor.

The common objection is that astroturf is somehow unfair or dishonest, in that someone is merely "pretending" to be the author of a letter that was mostly (or wholly) written by someone else.

OK, fair enough. But what about authors of op-eds? Newspapers run op-eds all the time that are really written by someone other than the named author -- a research assistant, intern, etc. Whenever you see an op-ed by a Senator or Cabinet member, for example, chances are that the "author" functioned more as an editor for one of his or her staff members. Why should newspapers suddenly pretend to have such pristine standards when the subject is a mere letter to the editor?

And what's wrong about it anyway? Throughout life, people sign their names to words or speeches written by others. Presidents do it. Congress does it. Heads of business do it. Within my own profession, I don't think it's any secret that people often sign briefs or motions where someone else (even someone from another law firm) did most of the writing. None of this is deemed objectionable or even suspect. As long as you agree with the final product, you can sign your name to it even if you were too busy to write it yourself. After all, what most readers really care about is not whether the main author really wrote every word, but whether the main author agrees with and takes responsibility for the words that were written.

So again, why such purist standards only for the little guy?

UPDATE: Let's think methodically about what distinctions might be made here.

1. Perhaps it's OK for Senators to hire writers because it's an employment relationship, while astroturf doesn't involve the "author" employing the real writer. But that's a bogus distinction -- how could an exchange of money change the morality of signing off on someone else's words?

2. Perhaps the difference is that it is common and well-known that important people employ writers/staff, whereas it is not well-known that a letter to the editor might use someone else's words. But this problem is easy to solve: Put a sentence on the editorial page noting the possibility of astroturf.

3. Perhaps the difference is in the ranking of expertise. If a Senator has one of her staff members write an op-ed, perhaps she still retains the greater expertise that enables her to say, "I like that point, but not that one," etc. Whereas the letter "writer" who uses astroturf probably has less expertise, and is just mouthing someone else's words because he is too ignorant to think of his own ideas. But I think this distinction is mostly false. Senators (etc.) probably don't have more expertise on any given issue than their staff. The opposite is probably true, given that a single Senator cannot possibly master every issue under the sun, while her staff members have the freedom to specialize. The staffer who advises the Senator on Social Security or health care or whatever probably knows that issue much more thoroughly. So the relationship is roughly the same: The person who has less expertise is taking words from someone with more expertise.

4. Perhaps the distinction lies in the fact that astroturf pretends to be something it's not, in that it is meant to give the impression that there is a large grassroots movement of people who are knowledgable fans of some politician or another. Since the grassroots movement is artificially stimulated, astroturf gives a false impression. But again, I'm not sure that this is much of a distinction. As noted above, a Senator might sign an op-ed or deliver a speech written by a staffer with much greater expertise on the particular issue. True, the Senator isn't creating the impression of a grassroots movement, but he is doing something equally as misleading: He is speaking or writing with the air of authority, as if he had written those words from a deep wellspring of knowledge and expertise. Given that the Senator might, with this false pretense of authority, affect the beliefs of far more people than a mere letter-writer, isn't this a worse problem than astroturf? (If it's a real problem at all, that is.)

Using a Cellphone? Don't Drive.

A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver

University of Utah
University of Utah
University of Utah

AEI-Brookings Joint Center Working Paper No. 04-13

We used a high-fidelity driving simulator to compare the performance of cell-phone drivers with drivers who were legally intoxicated from ethanol. When drivers were conversing on either a hand-held or hands-free cell-phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on the cell phone. By contrast, when drivers were legally intoxicated they exhibited a more aggressive driving style, following closer to the vehicle immediately in front of them and applying more force while braking. When controlling for driving conditions and time on task, cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers. The results have implications for legislation addressing driver distraction caused by cell phone conversations.

The Personal Heresy

Why doesn't anyone publish the little book containing a debate between C.S. Lewis and E.M.W. Tillyard, titled The Personal Heresy? I read it in college (the University of Georgia had a wonderful library), and would like to get a copy, as it's one of the few Lewis books I don't have. But Amazon didn't have it at all, and at the one place that had a few copies, the prices ranged from $59 to $395! What explains this? I can't count the number of editions I've seen of other C.S. Lewis works. Why doesn't any publisher take up this one?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Two Interesting Papers

These look interesting:
The Rise of the Skilled City

Harvard University - Department of Economics; The Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School - Real Estate Department

Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2025

For more than a century, educated cities have grown more quickly than comparable cities with less human capital. This fact survives a battery of other control variables, metropolitan area fixed effects and tests for reverse causality. We also find that skilled cities are growing because they are becoming more economically productive (relative to less skilled cities), not because these cities are becoming more attractive places to live. Most surprisingly, we find evidence suggesting that the skills-city growth connection occurs mainly in declining areas and occurs in large part because skilled cities are better at adapting to economic shocks. As in Schultz (1964), skills appear to permit adaptation.

Opportunities, Race, and Urban Location: The Influence of John Kain

Harvard University - Department of Economics; The Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics

Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 2030

Today, no economist studying the spatial economy of urban areas would ignore the effects of race on housing markets and labor market opportunities, but this was not always the case. Through what can be seen as a consistent and integrated research plan, John Kain developed many central ideas of urban economics but, more importantly, legitimized and encouraged scholarly consideration of the geography of racial opportunities. His provocative (and prescient) study of the linkage between housing segregation and the labor market opportunities of Blacks was a natural outgrowth of his prior work on employment decentralization and housing constraints on Black households. His more recent program of research on school outcomes employing detailed administrative data was an extension of the same empirical interest in how the economic opportunities of minority households vary with location. This paper identifies the influence of John Kain's ideas on different areas of research and suggests that his scientific work was thoroughly interrelated.
For some reason, I was surprised to see Glaeser and Hanushek as co-authors. I was familiar with Glaeser's work on urban housing prices, and Hanushek is most famous for his many articles on school performance.


An awful lot of websites have seized on the following quote from Bush as a sign of a "messiah complex," or even as grounds for invoking Hitler. Here's the quote:
'I'm the commander,' [Bush] told journalist Bob Woodward for the book, Bush at War. 'See, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.'
The quote is almost always reprinted with the implication that Bush was referring to the American people in general. But he was simply referring to the manner in which he conducts Cabinet meetings. Here's the full context from the original Washington Post story (as available on LEXIS, or as reprinted here):
Bob Woodward, A Course of 'Confident Action'; Bush Says Other Countries Will Follow Assertive U.S. in Combating Terror, Washington Post, Nov. 19, 2002, at A1.

* * *
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, just two weeks after the terrorist attacks, Bush surprised his war cabinet, which had been debating when to begin the bombing of targets in Afghanistan, by declaring: "Anybody doubt that we should start this Monday or Tuesday?"

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld eventually convinced Bush that planning was incomplete and the bombing should not begin for another week. Bush said he was intentionally prodding his aides.

"One of my jobs is to be provocative," he said. "Seriously, to provoke people into -- to force decisions, and to make sure it's clear in everybody's mind where we're headed. There was a certain rhythm and flow to this, and I was beginning to get a little frustrated. . . . It was just not coming together as quickly as we had hoped. And I was trying to force the issue without compromising safety."

Did he ever explain what he was doing?

"Of course not," he said. "I'm the commander -- see, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
One can still disagree with this "manager-as-provocateur" approach on pragmatic or attitudinal grounds. On the other hand, the quote isn't all that shocking, given that many managers or bosses, if speaking frankly, would probably admit that they don't feel the need to justify themselves to their subordinates.

Marketing Errors

This beats even the famous (and apocryphal) story of why the "Nova" didn't sell in Spanish-speaking countries:
Microsoft has also managed to upset women and entire countries. A Spanish-language version of Windows XP, destined for Latin American markets, asked users to select their gender between "not specified," "male" or "bitch," because of an unfortunate error in translation.
(Hat tip: GeekPress.)

Monday, August 23, 2004

Baby Names

What does it mean for a name to "mean" something?

This question has bothered me for a long time. We have several books of baby names, and you can find plenty of websites that purport to tell the "meaning" of all conceivable names.

Thus, this site says that "Gertrude" means "Adored warrior."

But what does that mean? You see, in English, we have two general types of names: Those names that can have meanings as other words, and those that are purely used as names. "Grant" is a name; but "grant" also means a transfer of money, or an argumentative concession, etc. "Mark" is a name; but it also is a scratch, or a signature, etc. But then there are words that are solely used as names: Michael, or Jennifer, or Harold, etc. It seems totally arbitrary to assert that those kinds of names have meanings, as far as English is concerned.

So when we say that "Gertrude" means "adored warrior," we must be referring to some originating language, here German. But did the Germans ever really use "gertrude" to mean "adored warrior," just as we use "grant" as a regular word in modern English? Was there ever a time when a German speaker might properly have said, "So-and-so is so well-liked and such a great fighter -- why, he is a gertrude"?

If so, how do we know? Baby name books are almost completely lacking in etymological background.

What's more, if all modern English names originated as regular words, does that imply that there was a time when older languages didn't have a separate class of words that were used solely as names?

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Gendered Pronouns

This from Crooked Timber:
Gender-Neutral Pronouns
Posted by Brian

I had always thought there was a dialect of English where he could be used as a gender-neutral pronoun. That is, I always thought there was a dialect of English where one could say (1) without presupposing that the person we hire next will be male.

(1) The person we hire next will be able to teach whatever courses he wants.

Now I always (or at least as long as I can remember) thought it was a bad idea to speak such a dialect, because there was the obvious possibility for confusion between the gender-neutral pronoun and the gender-biased pronoun. And since the effects of such confusion could easily be to reinforce stereotypes and assumptions that shouldn’t be reinforced, I thought it was politically [sic] bad idea as well as being an inefficient means of communication. But as I said, I thought there was such a dialect.

Geoff Pullum has convinced me otherwise. There is no such dialect of English. If there was, there would be a dialct [sic] of English where the following sentences would be acceptable.
  • *Either the husband or the wife has perjured himself.

  • *Was it your father or your mother who broke his leg on a ski trip?

And clearly neither of these is acceptable in any dialect of English. So I now think that using ‘he’ as a purportedly gender-neutral pronoun doesn’t involve speaking a dialect I’d rather wasn’t used, it is just a mistake. As Geoff points out, English has a perfectly adequate gender-neutral pronoun - they - and it should be used instead of he in these contexts.
As a logical matter, is this analysis correct? I don't know that it is.

Here's how the argument seems to run:

Premise 1: If a pronoun is gender-neutral, it should be capable of use in all settings where gender is indeterminate.

Premise 2: There are, in fact, at least two examples where the word "he" is inappropriate, even though gender is indeterminate.

Conclusion: "He" is never a gender-neutral pronoun.

But is Premise 1 valid? Perhaps not. Perhaps it should be supplemented as follows: If a pronoun is gender-neutral, it should be capable of use in all settings where gender is indeterminate, except where the pronoun seems to imply the contradictory notion that gender is determinate after all.

In other words, it seems logically possible that "he" could have two meanings: Male, or gender-neutral. (This is also logically possible for "she" or any other combination of letters.) If "he" did have those two meanings, then what makes Pullum's examples wrong is that "he" is confusing where there is a definite male person who could serve as the referent. In other words, if someone says, "Was it your father or your mother who broke his leg on a ski trip?," this might be wrong not because "he" is never gender-neutral, but because "he" is also a male pronoun; and this makes things very confusing where "he" could then be taken as referring solely to the "father," which would make the entire question pointless and contradictory.

Now it's clearer -- at the least -- if a language avoids using a single word as capable of being either a gendered pronoun or a gender-neutral pronoun. That's not the issue here. The issue is whether it is logically possible for such a combination word to exist even when it doesn't fit into all conceivable gender-neutral sentences. It is.

Friday, August 20, 2004


A thrilling story of a lawyer who beat the INS.

Income Preferences

Another interesting article:

Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government


This paper investigates whether individuals feel worse off when others around them earn more. In other words, do people care about relative position and does "lagging behind the Joneses" diminish well-being? To answer this question, I match individual-level panel data containing a number of indicators of well-being to information about local average earnings. I find that, controlling for an individual's own income, higher earnings of neighbors are associated with lower levels of self-reported happiness. The data's panel nature and rich set of measures of well-being and behavior indicate that this association is not driven by selection or by changes in the way people define happiness. There is suggestive evidence that the negative effect of increases in neighbors' earnings on own well-being is most likely caused by interpersonal preferences, i.e. people having utility functions that depend on relative consumption in addition to absolute consumption.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


An interesting find:
Grading Exams: 100, 99, ..., 1, or A, B, C?

State University of New York, Stony Brook
Yale University - Cowles Foundation

July 2004

Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 1467

We show that if students care primarily about their status (relative rank) in class, they are best motivated to work not by revealing their exact numerical exam scores (100, 99, ..., 1), but instead by clumping them in broad categories (A, B, C). * * *

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Charter Schools

The New York Times has been giving a bit of publicity to a study by the American Federation of Teachers, which purports to show that charter schools actually do worse than public schools at all levels. The Times had a typical editorial announcing that the study was a "devastating setback" for the "Bush administration's education program." (Just the day before, a "news" story was phrased in similar terms, stating that the study "dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.")

The problem is that the AFT study is misleading. The sad fact that we still have vast racial disparities in education in this country. It looks as if those disparities virtually completely explain the overall results.

The AFT study itself notes on page 10 that charter schools contain nearly twice the proportion of black students, and that this might affect the overall results:
In the NAEP sample, charter schools were approximately twice as likely as other public schools to enroll black students (33 percent compared to 18 percent) . . . . The question we turn to next is whether charter schools' disproportionate enrollment of minority students, whose achievement is generally low, may explain the low average performance of charter schools.
The study then states on page 11 that "[a]chievement gaps based on race/ethnicity in grade 4 are about the same in charter schools as in other public schools."

These gaps are substantial. For example, the AFT study's Table 6 shows that in public schools, 74% of white 4th-graders are reading competently but only 40% of black 4th-graders.

Thus, there is a straightforward reason that almost completely explains1 why charter schools have slight lower scores on standarized tests than do public schools. It is unfortunate indeed that such racial disparities exist, but it is misleading to blame charter schools for the problem.

* * *

1Indeed, a little bit of math demonstrates that the racial disparity may completely explain the end results.

Step 1: Look at Table 1. Notice that the overall difference between charter schools and public schools is 6 or 7 points for 4th graders.

Step 2: Look at Table 6. Notice that the charter schools have fewer whites and more blacks.

Step 3: Figure out the average score of a charter and a public school that has exactly the percentages of each minority shown.

I.e., multiply 47.1 by 241; multiply 33.4 by 213; multiply 14.6 by 219; then for the "other" column, assume that they had an average score of 220, and multiply 4.9 by 220. Add the results. Then divide by 100. The end result: An average math score of 227.

Repeat the same process for the public school figures. The end result: An average math score of 233.75.

In other words, if you look at the average scores of various racial groups, and combine that with the average demographics, it turns out that the predicted 4th grade math score for public schools is 6.75 points higher than the predicted score for charter schools. This is the more than the 6 point overall difference that was shown in Table 1 (as if it demonstrated a deficiency in charter schools per se).

Now try 4th grade reading:

Average charter school with racial proportions shown in Table 6: Average score of 210.72 (assuming that unknown students had score of 200)

Average public school with racial proportions shown in Table 6: Average score of: 216.12

Predicted disparity based on demographics: 5.4 points.

Actual disparity as shown in Table 1: 7 points.

So that nearly explains the entire overall reading disparity as well.



I've experimented with three aggregators: SharpReader, SauceReader, and EasyFeed. What they all have in common is that I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to get any of them to connect to the Internet. Every time that I try to get SauceReader, let's say, to access any page whatsoever, I get an error message: "SauceReader cannot connect to the Internet. Please check your Internet Settings." Then, the window for my cable connection comes up. But I have no idea what, if anything, needs to be changed there. Or when I try to use EasyFeed, it says, "The underlying connection was closed. Cannot connect to the remote server."

Anyone have any ideas?

Monday, August 16, 2004

New Stroke Treatment

Exciting news for stroke victims:
WASHINGTON -- The first device to remove blood clots from the brains of people suffering strokes — a new treatment option that could save lives and shave the $53 billion annual bill to treat strokes, has been approved by the government.

In 80 percent of strokes, a blood vessel in the brain becomes clogged by a blood clot, increasing the chance of severe disability or death.

The Merci Retriever, a tiny corkscrew threaded through an artery to remove the clot and restore blood flow, is produced by Mountain View, Calif.-based Concentric Medical.

The device, approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration, was tested at 25 medical centers around the nation in 141 patients ineligible for a drug that clears clots but must be used within three hours of suffering a stroke.

* * *

Duckwiler said the recovery included instantly regaining the ability to move or speak — while the patient was still in the emergency room.

"I've had patients who have had dramatic recovery on the table," he said. "Our neurologists there, and in the study, were convinced this is going to save lives and save brain function in many patients."

* * *

As part of the patient assessment, a catheter must be inserted through the groin and snaked up the artery for descriptive dye to outline blood vessels and point to obstruction, Goldstein said. The task requires skilled medical workers.

"It's not the kind of thing that is capable of being done in any hospital anywhere," Goldstein said. "The patient has to have a clot that is not only visible, but accessible. That is a major, major limitation to begin with."

Duckwiler agreed. But many patients don't qualify for the current treatment — a clot-busting drug — because too many hours pass before they recognize they've had a stroke. Some can't qualify because they're taking drugs that impact blood clotting.
* * *
Now for some skepticism.

As noted above, 80% of strokes are caused by clots. But the other 20% are caused by hemorrhages. I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet that this corkscrew treatment is absolutely contraindicated for hemorrhagic strokes, as it would probably increase the risk of a fatal bleed. (This is the same reason that hemorrhagic strokes are not treated with the "clot-busting" drug -- TPA, or tissue plasminogen activator.)

In fact, I'd bet that this treatment is contraindicated for the condition that I had -- a vertebral artery dissection. Recall that this means the inner wall of an artery has gotten a slight tear, peeling up slightly (forming a site where blood can clot). I'm not a doctor, but I have a pretty good guess that you don't want to be sticking a corkscrew into an artery that is already torn.

So the emergency room doctor would have to be sure that the stroke isn't hemorrhagic. How to be sure of that? A CT scan is absolutely necessary, for one thing, but even those aren't completely accurate. The doctor might need to order an MRA or lumbar puncture test to be sure.

Then, it appears that the corkscrew procedure will require a four-vessel angiogram, which is what the article talks about when it mentions a catheter "inserted through the groin and snaked up the artery for descriptive dye to outline blood vessels and point to obstruction." I've had this surgery, and it requires full anesthesia.

Now think about it: The stroke victim has to get to the hospital in the first place; and then be admitted; and then have one or more tests done to determine the nature of the stroke; then surgeons have to arrive to perform a four-vessel angiogram to determine where the clot is; and only then can the corkscrew procedure be done (assuming that the surgeons know how to do that procedure in the first place).

And the procedure can only be done within 3 hours of a stroke. I doubt that this is going to be logistically possible in most cases.

UPDATE: Apparently, the corkscrew procedure can be used up to eight hours after a stroke. This is good news, although I still think that it will be a long time before this procedure is any use to most stroke patients. (My own doctors didn't know that I had a dissection, for example, even after all the tests. It was only weeks later when I consulted a professor of stroke research in another state that this fact was revealed.).

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Speed of Light

An interesting book about the genesis of the theory that light might have traveled much faster when the universe was young: Joao Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation.

Magueijo has some humorous bits, as well as some scathing observations on the scientific establishment:
Footnote *, page 70:

I first came across the concept of ether during my precocious reading of The Evolution of Physics. When I questioned my physics teacher about it, he told me not to be stupid, stating that "if everything were pervaded by ether we would all be anaesthetized."

From page 137:

Galaxy catalogues still remain controversial. In fact, an Italian team has been analyzing these maps to claim that for all we know the universe is not homogeneous at all, but is a fractal. If this is true, burn this book, forget about Big Bang cosmology, and start crying convulsively.
He also quotes from an essay he wrote titled "Electronic Archives and the Death of Journals." Here's a quote from that essay itself:
Peer review is an unpaid, and usually anonymous activity. Perhaps for this reason the average referee is sloppy and sleazy. Reports usually reveal that the referee has not read the paper. Acceptance or rejection often reflects the personal relationships between author and referee. Publishers have always been reluctant to open their files to historians of science and sociologists. Clearly they are embarrassed to reveal how little science, and how much sociology, there is in their files. The addition of moronic editors does not help this situation. I and quite a few of my colleagues have been collecting responses from one of the editors of a top scientific journal. We hope to publish a critical edition of these responses in due time. We understand that editors are not required to be scientific experts, but we do intend questioning the value of a low IQ.

Against this background it is no wonder that scientists regard the publication process cynically. You still have to publish in journals because that is imposed by the status quo, but it has become a non-scientific chore, not dissimilar to flushing the toilet.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Acting White


After wondering about "acting white" in the original post back in 2004, I spent the subsequent several years writing a book on "acting white." It has just been published by Yale University Press. Go here to purchase it.

I've been wondering where the whole idea of criticizing academic success as "acting white" came from in the first place. I'm particular curious, because having read several books on black education under segregation, I can't find a single trace of black schoolchildren anywhere taking that attitude towards education in, say, 1920 or 1950. Whereas it is now commonplace to read about such criticisms. I asked my old professor and mentor Randy Kennedy at Harvard what he thought about the origins of this phrase, but he didn't have any leads.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to read this account of the phrase being used by whites. Here's a quote from a book I just read, discussing white attitudes toward black education under Jim Crow:
Some White southerners suggests that schools for African Americans were dangerous because they created hot-beds of arrogance and aggression, and tended to make African Americans idle and vicious and enabled them to compete with Whites. Furthermore, when African Americans insisted on establishing classical liberal courses of study in their schools, they were hungry for prestige and merely "imitating Whites" or "acting White" (Anderson 1988).
Vivian Gunn Morris & Curtis L. Morris, The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African American Community 21 (2002) (citing J.D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South: 1860-1935 (1988)).

Of course, that makes perfect sense: Southern whites commonly forbade blacks to become educated, to learn to read, etc., etc. It is entirely consistent that some of them would criticize academic achievement as trying to "act white." So that may be where the phrase came from after all.

But if that is indeed the phrase's origin, the real question is this: How on earth did an instrument of segregationist oppression become transformed into something that many black school-children now say to each other??



Unlike John Kerry, I'm open-minded on the subject of reparations to American blacks.

The thing that most affects my thinking is this will written by Enoch Deason in the early 1800s. The first portion says this:

Bedford County, Tennessee

I, Enoch Deason, considering the uncertainty of this natural life and being of sound mind and memory, blessed be to Almighty God for the same, do make and publish this my last will and testament in mind and form following:

First: I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife, Rebecca Deason, for her lifetime; if she should be the longest living, all my property perishable and unperishable, to wit: ten negroes, household and kitchen furniture and stocks of various kinds and that the clear profits shall be approprated for the maintenance of my beloved wife Rebecca aforesaid entirley no trading or trafficating of any of the above property without the lieve of my term and legal assign.
Enoch Deason was an ancestor of mine. A distant ancestor, to be sure, but still an ancestor. And he obviously owned at least "ten negroes."

I'll never know who those slaves were. But what if I were to come across one of their descendants today? What would I say? Well, perhaps the descendant would turn out to be Michael Jordan, in which case I would politely demur that I could do nothing to improve his worldly circumstances.

But Michael Jordan is the exception. Statistics from the U.S. Census still show that the median white family is worth $67,000, while the median black family is worth merely $6,166.

That kind of thing matters. My grandparents, for example, owned a small farm in Arkansas, one that they had bought from my great-grandfather. They were poor by my standards. But then a lot of blacks in my great-grandfather's time period (not to mention before that) didn't even have the chance to own farms. As a result, they couldn't pass on property to their children and grandchildren. Nor did they have the opportunity to mortgage the farm to provide the capital for starting a business, or to give a kid a college education.

So I'm open-minded when it comes to reparations. The main problems are (1) How to identify who should pay; (2) How to identify who should receive payment; and (3) What form the payment should take. These problems may be insuperable, of course. I'm just saying that in principle, I'm open to reparations, particularly if I came across someone who could say, "Your great-great-great-great grandfather enslaved mine, and as a result could provide more opportunities and property to your great-great-great grandfather, who in turn could provide much more resources to your great-great grandfather, and so on down the line."

A Chesterton Quote

Here's a Chesterton quote on an anti-religious writer who said that all we need is love:
The message of Christ was perfectly "simple": that the cure of everything is Love; but since He was killed (I do not quite know why) for making this remark, great temples have been put up to Him and horrid people called priests have given the world nothing but "stones, amulets, formulas, shibboleths." They also "quarrel eternally among themselves as to the placing of a button or the bending of a knee." All this gives no comfort to the unhappy Christian, who apparently wishes to be comforted only by being told that he has a duty to his neighbour. "How many men in the time of their passing get comfort out of the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Predestination, Transubstantiation, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the belief that Christ will return on the Seventh Day?"

The items make a curious catalogue; and the last item I find especially mysterious. But I can only say that, if Christ was the giver of the original and really comforting message of love, I should have thought it did make a difference whether He returned on the Seventh Day. For the rest of that singular list, I should probably find it necessary to distinguish. I certainly never gained any deep and heartfelt consolation from the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles. I never heard of anybody in particular who did. Of the idea of Predestination there are broadly two views; the Calvinist and the Catholic; and it would make a most uncommon difference to my comfort, if I held the former instead of the latter. It is the difference between believing that God knows, as a fact, that I choose to go to the devil; and believing that God has given me to the devil, without my having any choice at all. . . .

But I touch rapidly and reluctantly on these examples, because they exemplify a much wider question of this interminable way of talking. It consists of talking as if the moral problem of man were perfectly simple, as everyone knows it is not; and then depreciating attempts to solve it by quoting long technical words, and talking about senseless ceremonies without enquiring about their sense.

In other words, it is exactly as if somebody were to say about the science of medicine: "All I ask is Health; what could be simpler than the beautiful gift of Health? Why not be content to enjoy for ever the glow of youth and the fresh enjoyment of being fit? Why study dry and dismal sciences of anatomy and physiology; why enquire about the whereabouts of obscure organs of the human body? Why pedantically distinguish between what is labelled a poison and what is labelled an antidote, when it is so simple to enjoy Health? Why worry with a minute exactitude about the number of drops of laudanum or the strength of a dose of chloral, when it is so nice to be healthy? Away with your priestly apparatus of stethoscopes and clinical thermometers; with your ritualistic mummery of feeling pulses, putting out tongues, examining teeth, and the rest! The god Esculapius came on earth solely to inform us that Life is on the whole preferable to Death; and this thought will console many dying persons unattended by doctors."

In other words, the Usual Article, which is now some ten thousand issues old, was always stuff and nonsense even when it was new. There may be, and there has been, pedantry in the medical profession. There may be, and there has been, theology that was thin or dry or without consolation for men. But to talk as if it were possible for any science to attack any problem, without developing a technical language, and a method always methodical and often minute, merely means that you are a fool and have never really attacked a problem at all. Quite apart from the theory of a Church, if Christ had remained on earth for an indefinite time, trying to induce men to love one another, He would have found it necessary to have some tests, some methods, some way of dividing true love from false love, some way of distinguishing between tendencies that would ruin love and tendencies that would restore it. You cannot make a success of anything, even loving, entirely without thinking.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The "Ab Homine" Fallacy

We've all heard of the "ad hominem" ("to the person") fallacy, which involves insulting the person who made an argument rather than refuting the argument itself. (This should be familiar to anyone who has followed the debates over Kerry's Vietnam service.)

For all I know, the fallacy I'm about to discuss already has a name somewhere, but I'd like to call it the "ab homine" fallacy. If I'm correct in dusting off my old Latin skills, that means "from the person." The fallacy consists in saying, in effect, "My argument is particularly valid because I used to belong to the other side."

How is this different from the argument to authority? Because the person making the argument doesn't claim any expertise or authority. Rather, he or she claims to be credible based on his or her own decision-making process and history.

Examples abound. You can hardly read anything about politics without running into the person who says, "As a lifelong Republican, I can't vote for Bush," or, "As a former environmentalist, I see the irrational nature of that movement's demands," or the like. (See this New York Times article, or this recent op-ed, for example.)

Why is this a fallacy? Because the person expects his or her argument to be taken as more credible than the run-of-the-mill argument -- not because the argument is more well-constructed or well-informed, but simply because of the identity (or rather, the former identity) of the person making the argument. It is invalid to treat arguments made by people-who-changed-their-minds as possessing some sort of extra credibility over the same arguments made by someone else.

Of course, like many logical fallacies, the "ab homine" is a fallacy only in the strictest sense. In the real world, what authors of the "ab homine" fallacy typically intend to imply is this: "The arguments for my current position are so overwhelmingly convincing that even I -- a former opponent -- was forced to switch sides." That might have some inferential weight. Or it might be quite interesting and relevant for other reasons if Bush or Kerry somehow fail to get the support of their own party's stalwarts.

But you can always find people changing their minds in any direction, many of whom do so for illogical reasons -- self-interest, peer pressure, misinformation, irrationality, whims. The mere fact that someone reached his position by changing his mind, in and of itself, shouldn't make his argument any more credible.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Anti-Tank Missile Found At Georgia Home

Three guesses as to which offense was simply thrown in for good measure:
Savannah, Georgia:
An anti-tank missile was found under the home of two men who recently were arrested while wandering on a gunnery range used by military helicopters.

Police said officers found the AT-4 anti-tank missile Monday while investigating a report of a burglary at the home of Broderick Dass, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Brandon. A two-block radius around the home was briefly evacuated until the missile was taken to a nearby fairground and detonated.

The Dasses were arrested July 17 on the gunnery range used by helicopters from Fort Stewart. The charges included illegally possessing automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as harassing an endangered gopher tortoise with a Rottweiler, said Steve Hart, spokesman for Hunter Army Airfield.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


I'm dubious of this thought experiment on the subject of happiness:
Imagine that you could go back a few hundred years and ask people if they are 'very happy,' 'fairly happy,' or 'not happy.' Suppose that this survey showed that happiness was approximately the same back then as it is today. Would it be fair to conclude that the tangible goods that we have today contribute nothing to happiness? People a few hundred years ago had no idea what it was like to live with indoor plumbing, abundant food, and antibiotics. People today have no idea what it was like to live without them. How can a 'happiness survey' provide a meaningful comparison of the two eras?

In Frank's view, what the surveys show is that consumers have been behaving myopically, striving for more tangible goods without increasing their happiness. An alternative hypothesis is that in answering the surveys the consumers are behaving myopically, reporting on their happiness relative to a near-term baseline. That is, when you ask a consumer in 2004 if she is happy, she instinctively makes a relative comparison to how she remembers 2003. If she could remember how she felt in 1974, and she were focused on that as a baseline, she might answer the question differently.
I'm not so sure. We have to separate out two reactions that could easily be confused: (1) How happy, in fact, was I in 1974?, versus (2) How happy would I be if the I who exists today were transported back to 1974?

These are two very different questions. Take 1980 (I don't remember 1974, having been born that year). Would I be happy if the 2004 me could time travel back to 1980, and had to make do without a computer, a cell phone, etc., etc.? Well, maybe not, because the 2004 me would know what I was missing from not having modern technology, medicine, etc. But was the real me happy in 1980? As happy as any six-year old could be, from what I remember.

And even if I was transported back to 1980, any unhappiness wouldn't last for long. Happiness is like the sense of smell. If you walk into a room where there is a bad odor, you smell it most strongly at first. But if you remain in the room for even a short period of time, you find that the odor fades into non-existence. What is actually happening is that your sense of smell adapts. The odor is no longer new, and hence your nose doesn't detect it any longer.

Same with happiness, as most research tends to show (to my knowledge). Once you're past a certain minimal threshold (i.e., not starving, not dying of cancer, not homeless in the streets), material goods don't really produce any lasting happiness. No matter how much or how little you have, you quickly adjust to it.

Indeed, I've known blissfully happy people who were rather poor, and deeply unhappy people who were multi-millionaires. What's more, I observed that the multi-millionaires were unhappy precisely because they had spent their lives in pursuit of material advantage and had ignored friends and family along the way. What made an inestimably greater difference was their attitudes and character.

Look again at these two lines:
People a few hundred years ago had no idea what it was like to live with indoor plumbing, abundant food, and antibiotics. People today have no idea what it was like to live without them.
Right -- but so what? This passage seems to imply that the true measure of whether an invention causes happiness is whether people who have experienced it would miss it if it were gone. I think that's not true. For any useful invention, people who have experienced it would miss it (at least initially) if it were taken away, because their sense of happiness would have to adjust. But even then, when they had time to adjust, they might be just as happy as before. And as for people who never experienced the invention (indoor plumbing, for example), they would just view that fact as a necessary part of life.

Put it this way: People today have no idea what it is to live without the luxuries that might exist in 2150. And the people in 2150 will have no idea what they're missing by not living in 2500. You can continue these sorts of comparisons infinitely. At every stage of human existence -- assuming continuing material progress -- no one can really imagine what humans will come to experience as normal in 50 or 100 years. For all we know, there might be a trillion different inventions that will occur at some future date that will (seem to) improve happiness. The logical conclusion is that almost no one can really be happy right now, because the inventions they own are so outnumbered by the inventions that might occur at any future date.

This obviously makes no sense. People can experience happiness right now. And they do.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Jamal Khan

UPDATE: See this latest update on Graham's death.

Original post:

Remember this story from June?
A dentist who claims he met three of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Shreveport one year before the attacks has mysteriously fallen ill and is on life support.

Dr. David Graham was driving back to Shreveport from Houston on Saturday night when he became sick. A friend said Graham began suffering organ failure and medical tests show possible poisoning. He is hospitalized in Houston.

Graham is trying to publish a book that claims meetings with the hijackers and another Middle Eastern man who is a federal fugitive here.

Mike Sledge, a friend of Graham, has a manuscript of Graham's book, "The Graham Report: The true story of three 9-11 hijackers who were reported to the FBI 10 months before 9-11." In it, Graham claims he met the hijackers at a home in Shreveport in September 2000 and thought they were plotting an attack on Barksdale Air Force Base. He said he reported them to the FBI.

* * *

Graham also knew Jamal Khan, a Bossier City man who was convicted of trying to hide his wiring of $9,999 to his native Pakistan.
* * *
Graham was scheduled to testify against Khan at a deportation hearing that was postponed because of a crowded docket. That hearing had not been held when Khan skipped town after federal authorities moved to put him back in jail for violating probation on the financial crime conviction.
I looked around for info on what ever happened to David Graham, and found only this:
Shreveport dentist who claims meeting 9-11 hijackers moves out of office
posted: 08-02-2004

A Shreveport dentist who mysteriously fell ill while trying to publish claims about the 9-11-hijackers in Shreveport is moving out.

Friends and family hauled furniture from the practice Dr. David Graham ran on Kings Highway and the apartment he rented upstairs. Graham's son told us only that Dr. Graham is doing better in physical re-hab at an undisclosed location.

Dr. Graham was possibly poisoned three months ago, after writing a manuscript, claiming he met three of the 9-11 hijackers in Shreveport and warned the F.B.I they might've been planning an attack on Barksdale Air Force Base.

The F.B.I. says Graham contacted them only after the 9-11 attacks.
Interesting . . .

More Khans

Another Khan is in the news: Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al Qaeda agent who was captured in Pakistan, and who has reportedly been helping America by sending false emails to other al Qaeda agents. It was reportedly Khan's information that, in part, led to the latest terror alert. In brief:
The revelation that a mole within Al Qaeda was exposed after Washington launched its "orange alert" this month has shocked security experts, who say the outing of the source may have set back the war on terror.

Reuters learned from Pakistani intelligence sources on Friday that computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, arrested July 13, was working under cover to help the authorities track down Al Qaeda militants in Britain and the United States when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

Canada's foreign affairs department is investigating the as-yet unconfirmed reports that Khan, 25, is a Canadian citizen, says CTV.

"After his capture he admitted being an Al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," said a Pakistani intelligence source.

"He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the U.S. agents said he was a computer whiz."

A kerfuffle has arisen among Bush's critics, because the latter Khan's name (as should be obvious) has already found its way into the press. The critique is that the Bush administration "blew Khan's cover." (See here, for example, or here.) As Juan Cole says:
Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don't deserve to be in power either way.
Not so fast. How do we know that it was the Bush administration that initially leaked Khan's name to the press? To quote from the above story:
The New York Times obtained Khan's name independently, and U.S. officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.
It sounds as if the New York Times got Khan's name "independently," whatever that means, and the U.S. involvement was just to confirm his name after the damage had already been done.

Moreover, this story implies (on what basis, I don't know) that Khan may have already been spotted as a double agent anyway:
Kahn was captured on July 13th. His capture was kept quiet initially. This was apparently so that information captured with Kahn could be used to round up other al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Once these arrests were made, al Qaeda members began to suspect that their guy Kahn was working for the other side. The New York Times identified Kahn as captured on August 2nd, thus confirming for all al Qaeda operatives that the communications network Kahn operated was no longer safe.
If that story is accurate, Khan may have outlasted his usefulness as a double agent anyway, and once the New York Times story leaked the information, the Bush administration saw no problem with confirming his name. Perhaps they thought it would strike a psychological blow, if nothing else, for al Qaeda to have confirmation that they had been penetrated.

P.S. A while ago, I posted about two suspicious characters, both with the last name of Khan. There was Niaz Khan, who lives in Britain and who claims to have been offered a part in the 9/11 attacks. Then there was Jamal Khan, who was indicted for wiring money to Pakistan, and whose plea agreement stipulated that he could still be prosecuted for any involvement with 9/11.

Is Khan that common of a name? I'd like to know.

UPDATE: Two interesting comments from this post:
Folks, I suspect you haven't read enough spy novels, because there's an entirely different explanation that (AFAIK) fits the facts and makes sense: we might be playing with Al Qaeda's heads by making them think that one of their guys was a double agent. Hitler's spies did this to great effect in the late '30s, when they let Soviet spies gather faked and semi-faked evidence that Soviet officers were spying for the Germans. This played to Stalin's natural paranoia and helped induce him to execute a huge percent of his own officer corps, just before the war.

Remember that we are in the middle of a war fought largely in shadows, and won't know the full story for years to come, if ever. It's stupid and unhelpful to jump on every bit of news as if it were evidence of Bush incompetence or perfidity.

Comment by: PapayaSF at August 7, 2004 01:31 PM
And this:
We have no idea what's really going on here. Perhaps there is a real mole deep in al-Qaida, and the administration used Noor as a plausible explanation for how they got the information about the attacks to protect the other mole. Or maybe they had gotten all the use out of the man that they could get, and they announced his name just before the attacks were suspected of happening so that fear of being compromised in other ways might disrupt them.

Or maybe they never got anything useful out of the computer guy at all, but they want al-Qaida to think they did, thereby casting doubt on any operation that the computer guy ever had knowledge of or details of stored on his computer.

This is just armchair quarterbacking by all participants. We're not in a position to be fair judges. And Howard Dean should be ashamed of himself.

Comment by: Dan H. at August 7, 2004 03:29 PM

Neuroscience and Church

A very interesting article on the intersection of neuroscience and church architecture:
Why is it that the arches and open spaces of a cathedral inspire faith, yet so does the comfort and familiarity of a small country chapel?

The connection between design and devotion is under study by a group of clerics, neuroscientists and architects who are trying to understand how the mind reacts to the sensations of entering a house of worship. The result, they hope, will be better designs that enhance the meeting of the sacred and earthly.

* * *
The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, an institute affiliate based in San Diego, also is building on the work of psychiatrist Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania. His experiments with Franciscan nuns and Buddhist monks deep in meditation showed him that they could attain states in which they felt united with a greater spirit or force.

* * *

When the setting is a synagogue or a cathedral, the way it looks or sounds can enhance or diminish the worship experience.

Columbus architect Nolan Bingham told the meeting how tears had welled in the eyes of a Jewish woman as she walked into a house of prayer outside her own tradition, the city's landmark North Christian Church. Built by Eero Saarinen, better known for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, it conveys "sacred space" as few other places can, with a roof that appears to float on air and a spire that soars 192 feet.

When Bingham asked why she was crying, the woman could not explain it, he said.

"That's what I want to know," Bingham said. "There is not an easy answer for that. How do you find that thing?"
An Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. One is reminded of Tocqueville's observation that "[i]n no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America."

Flat Tax

Once again, National Review is publishing a flat tax article that totally ignores the fact that the payroll tax applies only to the first $87,000 of income, which means that a flat income tax would make the overall federal tax take a greater percentage of the middle class's income.

Worse, it contains this sentence:
Conservatives are split on whether to replace the current, hopelessly broken tax code with a flat tax that would allow tax returns to be filed on a post card, or a national sales tax that would replace the income tax.
Why would a flat tax necessarily allow returns to be filed on a post card? The main thing that would be different is the lack of tax brackets, but tax brackets are simple to apply. In either the current system or a flat tax system, you simply have to look up the "tax owed" for your adjusted gross income. Whether there are several tax brackets or one makes no difference here.

Now, if a flat tax didn't allow any deductions or exclusions for anything, that might result in a small savings in paperwork. After all, the difference between the 1040EZ form and the regular 1040 is one page.

As for the simplicity (or complexity) of the tax code, many of the hardest problems arise when you try to define what "income" is. Does income include what your employer pays for health insurance? For parking places? For meals? If you win the Nobel Prize and donate the money to charity, do you have to include the winnings as income? What about inheritances between husband and wife? Between other family members? How do you calculate capital gains? What about alimony? What about gifts to minor children? What about the assignment of income? What about business income? What costs count as business expenses and what costs don't? What about self-employment income? What about life insurance proceeds? What about interest?

Under either a flat tax or the current tax system, these sorts of questions would arise.

Friday, August 06, 2004

New Law Review Article

This looks very interesting indeed, as one might expect from these particular authors:
Let's Mess With Texas

University of Minnesota Law School

Texas Law Review, Vol. 82, pp. 1587-1620, 2004

Texas Republicans have been thinking waaaaay too small. The redistricting battles of 2003-2004 are nothing compared to the powerful political potential posed by Texas's prerogative, confererred by an Act of Congress, to divide itself into five states. A relatively obscure provision of the 1845 Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States provides that [n]ew States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution. This Essay argues, building on our earlier work concerning the constitutionality of the creation of West Virginia, that Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution permits new states to be carved out of existing ones, with the consent of Congress and the states involved. The New States language of the 1845 Joint Resolution, the Texas Tots provision, constitutes the still-operative, legally-valid grant of Congress's consent to Texas's subdivision into five states. All that remains is for Texas to take up Congress's standing offer.

Pickering and Racial Relations

This should make the news. The Fifth Circuit issued a decision today in a racial desegregation case -- and the opinion was written by Charles Pickering.

Quick recall: Pickering was placed on the 5th Circuit via a recess appointment by Bush. He had been blocked by Senate Democrats, who alleged that he had supported a "cross-burner" in a particular case, even though his conduct merely amounted to inquiring why the prosecution had treated the defendants inequitably: They made a deal with the real cross-burner that involved no jail time at all, but sought 7.5 years for an less-culpable accomplice.

Back to today's opinion, the history of which is long. It began with a lawsuit filed in 1965. When Louisiana public schools were desegregated, a private segregated school (Bowling Green) was set up in their place. (Shame!) As is apparently the custom in Louisiana, the state provided support to the Bowling Green school in the form of equipment, books, etc. The court ultimately forbade any state assistance to Bowling Green.

In a parallel case -- called Brumfield -- the court forbade all state defendants from supporting private segregated schools. It also set up a process whereby private schools could prove that they were not segregated, thus becoming eligible for state assistance. This is called Brumfield certification.

Back to Bowling Green. It never tried to become Brumfield-certified until 1999. That was when Louisiana changed a college scholarship program so that students had to come from a Brumfield-certified school in order to qualify. Bowling Green suddenly decided that it was no longer interested in being segregated. It didn't succeed until 2003, when it had enrolled its first black student and applied to the court to have the injunction against state aid lifted.

The district court held against Bowling Green, noting that it was still basically segregated even if it had somehow became Brumfield-certified. So the issue before the Fifth Circuit was this: Is it enough to be Brumfield-certified to get state aid?

The Fifth Circuit said no. Here are some quotes from Pickering's opinion, which upheld the district court:
This case demonstrates the progress we have made, yet the distance we have to go to eliminate the vestiges of past racial discrimination.

* * *
In a perfect society all of the vestiges of discrimination and segregation would disappear and all people would be treated equally without regard to race, color of skin, or ethnicity. We do not live in a perfect world. Therefore, we must deal with the facts as presented. This Court is committed to enforcing Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

* * *

We note Bowling Green’s argument that it cannot compel African Americans to join its faculty or enroll as students. It could be that an African American teacher might be reluctant to teach in a private academy, previously all white and created to preserve segregation, for less money than a teacher can make in the public school sector. Nevertheless, Bowling Green must make a good faith effort to attract African American faculty.

* * *

Before the injunction is dissolved or modified, Bowling Green is required to demonstrate that its efforts are not just to get its graduates qualified for the TOPS program. Bowling Green cannot change the past, but it must do what it can, in good faith, to eliminate the past vestiges of discrimination. Bowling Green must demonstrate over a reasonable period of time, a good faith commitment to eliminating the vestiges of past discrimination and to make meaningful progress toward becoming a fully integrated non-discriminatory school with respect to all facets of its operation.
So there you go, Pickering's first school desegregation case as a federal judge.

Health Care

I recently read William W. Lewis's The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability. A fascinating book by a long-time McKinsey consultant and the founder of the McKinsey Global Institute, who has also served in the World Bank and the Department of Energy. This part interested me, because it so contradicts the received wisdom:
The crudest measure of health care performance suggests the United States is not getting its money's worth. Average life expectancy in the United States is below that of many advanced countries, most notably Japan. However, life expectancy depends not only on the interventions of the health care system but also on the shape of the population it has to work on. Lifestyles in Japan are healthier than in the United States. The proper way to measure the performance of health care is to measure the difference it makes in the quality of life of people who come for help. We simply do not know how to do this. No government agency, university, or hospital systematically measures the results of health care. Thus, we have no nationwide accounting for the products and services delivered by health care. We can't tell by how much those products and services grow each year nor can we tell how the total compares with other countries. All we know is how much we spend. What we need to know is whether the higher level of spending means the United States is much less productive in health care than other countries.

In an attempt to test the limits of knowledge here, we studied the treatment of four diseases -- diabetes, cholelithiasis (gallstones), breast cancer, and lung cancer -- in three countries: Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These three countries were the only countries for which comparable data existed for these diseases, either nationwide or for large regions. Even then we could not get data for diabetes in Germany. For the cancer cases we used an output measure of life expectancy after treatment. For diabetes and cholelithiasis, which have low mortality rates, we used a complex index developed by others to measure the quality of life after treatment. None of these measures of the products and services of health care are very good. However, they are a lot better than nothing, and good enough to tell us whether the United States is much less productive in these diseases than other countries. For the resources used in health care, we counted the "real" operational resources devoted to disease treatment. We counted such things as doctor and nurse hours, pharmaceutical consumption, hospital capital costs, etc.

The results were counterintuitive. The United States is more productive in all these diseases except for diabetes in the United Kingdom. The reasons for this result can be traced directly to the huge differences in the way the health care sector is organized and governed across these three countries. The UK health care system is almost entirely government owned and run. The government has maintained very tight budget control of the system, and doctors are mostly government employees on the salaries. The result has been that the United Kingdom has not invested as quickly in technologies that have dramatically improved the diagnostic capabilities of medicine and significantly reduced recovery time. For instance, the United Kingdom was slower than the United States in adopting laparoscopic surgery. (Laparoscopic surgery is done with tiny surgical instruments and a tiny flexible scope with a light, all inserted through a small incision to minimize tissue damage.) As a result, the United Kingdom had to keep cholelithiasis patients in the hospital considerably longer than the United States. The United Kingdom did not invest as much in CT scanning of lung cancer patients. * * *
The study goes on to state that administrative costs here are indeed about a third higher, but that the main difference is that the United States "pays its doctors twice as much as Germany and the United Kingdom."

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Misleading Article

This Legal Times article has a misleading headline: "The Bombshell in the Clarence Thomas Biography." What's the "bombshell"?
It's a comment from Justice Antonin Scalia, whom critics have suggested is Thomas' ideological guide on the high court.

Thomas, says Scalia, "doesn't believe in stare decisis, period."

"If a constitutional line of authority is wrong, he would say let's get it right," says Scalia. "I wouldn't do that."
Any reader of the Supreme Court's opinions couldn't have missed the fact that for over a decade, Thomas has routinely written separate opinions suggesting that the Court should reconsider old precedents that may be wrong. Perhaps the record is held by Thomas's concurrence in Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, where he suggested that the Court should revisit a 1798 case by which the Ex Post Facto Clause has been limited to criminal cases for the past 200 years.

UPDATE: The author of the new biography has a website devoted to the book.

Live More Musically

A thought-provoking article from Andy Crouch:
[W]hen was the last time the fans, rather than Beyonce Knowles or a barbershop quartet, sang the national anthem at a professional baseball game? The last time that Christmas carolers came to your door? The last time you invited friends to take turns playing the piano and singing after dinner? Only a few decades ago these experiences were not uncommon. Now they seem, especially to the young and the urban, faintly absurd. To be sure, music still matters to us. It's just that we have forgotten how to sing.

The great irony is that music itself has made us forget. Professionally produced music, in all its Starbucks-counter abundance, offers an effortless fidelity that our own music can never achieve. There is a big difference between playing a CD and playing a fugue. One is instantly rewarding, the other takes time and patience. One satisfies, the other requires a sacrifice. One is godlike -- Yo-Yo Ma or Radiohead play flawlessly at your command -- while the other reminds you just how small a creature you are. One is a purchase, the other is a practice.

For a musician, to live more musically means to embrace practices -- disciplines, rewarding only in the long run, that no one would pay for in the short run. But the core doctrine of consumer culture, reinforced a thousand times a day, is the belief that we can satisfy our deepest longings with purchases instead. Want to live more musically? Buy a CD. Want to 'live strong'? Nike has a pair of sneakers for you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Back from Montana

So I'm back from Montana, after a long ordeal getting our Honda fixed after the check engine light came on outside of Denver. (Lucky it happened there, rather than practically anywhere else on the trip!)

Some scattered thoughts:
  • When you spend most of your life in a city/town, it is easy to start thinking that everywhere is developed, that we're running out of room, etc. A drive through Oklahoma, Kansas, eastern Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana will cure one of that belief. I've made that drive three times before, but I always forget how many thousands of square miles of empty land that this country contains.

  • When I was one-and-twenty, as Housman said, I thought nothing of driving 14 hours in a day, as I did several dozen times between Arkansas and the University of Georgia. (I even drove for 17 hours on one occasion, which is frankly more than I would prefer.) I like driving and seeing the country.

    But now, when I'm traveling with a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and a newborn, I seem to wear out after a mere 8 hours on the road. My wife too. It will be a long time before I can convince her to take another road trip.

  • In a nice boost to my self-esteem, an undergraduate guitar student from Georgia told me that I'm a "legend" there because I could play scales more quickly than any other guitarist. My teacher remembered something that I had forgotten -- that I once played the entire 24 major and minor scales in 81 seconds, which works out to over 11 notes per second. In all modesty, I don't know of another guitarist in the world who can play scales that quickly, except perhaps for Pepe Romero.

    By the way, I mentioned in a previous post that I didn't think I am quite "up to speed" on the guitar as of yet. My wife thinks I should clarify: Given my perfectionist standards, I'm not up to being one of the top players in America. But by most standards, I'm doing pretty darn well at present.

  • Did I mention that Wyoming has a lot of empty space? A lot of it.

  • In a Subway in Billings, Montana, we had a sub made from bison meat. It was very much like roast beef.

  • We ran across another inter-racial family in a Cracker Barrel outside of Denver. We were eating breakfast, when by our table there walked an older white woman with a white girl and three black children, all between the ages of 6 and 12 or so. Naturally, we went up to them and introduced ourselves and Jonathan. It turned out that the three black children were originally from New York City, Ethiopia, and Kenya. The woman's husband is a pastor at a small church in Wyoming, and they are homeschoolers. We had a very nice conversation.