Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bob Beamon

Another cool find: I'd always wanted to see Bob Beamon's famous 1968 world record in the long jump. Here are three different views:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Quote for the Day

This is long, but amusing. It's from Richard Mitchell's The Gift of Fire:
I WENT TO TALK TO THE MENSANS. The members of Mensa are the smartest people in America, and I was intimidated. I was afraid that they might catch me in a circular argument or a lexigraphical fallacy. I was afraid that they would rise up, right in the middle of the pathetic little lecture I had thought up for them, and demolish my silly little premises, and then go, not storming, but laughing, from the room, to hold high converse among themselves, not even offering me any coffee and doughnuts.

The speech was meant to be the opener of a small convention, and scheduled to take place right after breakfast. I got there early, and was sent to join the Mensans in a room on the fourth floor, in an upper room, where they were standing around having coffee and doughnuts. I was relieved of at least one of my fears. But they were all watching television, and no one said anything to me. I stood around for a while and went back downstairs, where the brisk young woman who had sent me upstairs told me that I would have to understand that Mensans never did anything on schedule, and that I would have to wait till they came down, Soon, maybe.

I sat in the lobby and read some of the Mensan handouts that I found on the floor near the sofa. One of them was a sample test. To become a Mensan, you have to get high grades on some tests, and what I was reading was a kind of prep for those tests. It had some very interesting questions. One of them asked which diagram of a group of six would be generated by taking diagram C and subjecting it to whatever operations had transformed diagram A into diagram B. Or maybe it was the other way around.

There was a very good train question, whose details I can’t recall, but it had all the classical attributes of train questions—train A and train B leaving at different times from points C and D, moving at rates E and F, and meeting, at last, at the mysterious point X where ships also, I suppose, pass in the night. It really took me back. But the question I liked best of all went something like this:
Bob and Carol and Alice and Ted all took the Mensa test. Bob scored higher than Alice, who scored ten points lower than Ted. Ted’s score added to Carol’s score and then divided by the difference between Bob’s score and Alice’s score was either twenty points more or twelve points less than the average of all four scores. Which of the four made it into Mensa?
Well, I may have forgotten some of the less important details. But it was a great question.

I had planned to start my talk to the Mensans with some mention of Prometheus, and to quote a little from Aeschylus. It was the passage in which Prometheus, about to be chained down for quite a long time, makes a little recitation of the things he has done for humanity, and in which he does not mention at all what we usually think of—the gift of fire. He speaks instead of such powers as those of language and number, and, most important of all, the mind’s grasp of itself, in Locke’s words. It is the ability not only to think, but to think about thinking. Before humanity had that, Prometheus says, humans lived a random and aimless life, “all blindly floundering on from day to day.” I knew that the Mensans were people interested in their minds, as people should be, and I thought that I might encourage them in that interest, and, at the same time, give due praise to the great minds of the past who understood long ago that the mind’s grasp of itself is what alone makes possible the examined life, and thus the good life.

So I imagined myself in conversation with Prometheus, who had come back to find out what we mortals had managed to do with the astounding powers that he had given to us alone of all creatures.

"How fortunate I am to run into you," he began, "for I see by your rumpled clothing and your knitted brow that you must be in the mind business."

"I’m honored to meet you, Sir," I replied, "and I will confess that I am in the mind business, for I do no heavy lifting. Would you care to have some coffee and doughnuts with the Mensans?"

"Not just now, thank you. I have come, I must admit, not for social reasons, but on business. Long, long ago I gave you all the power of the mind’s grasp of itself, the fire by which you may burn and glow like no other mortal creature. That got me into a lot of trouble at first, of course, but since my release I’ve had long, long ages of time in which to wonder whether or not I had done the right thing. I have grown so curious, in fact, that I have now undertaken, as you see, a journey whose enormousness you can not imagine, and only for the purpose of finding out to what good uses you have put my gift."

"Aha," I said, "you have come not only to the right man, but to the right place, and also at the right time. There must be something to that Divine Guidance business. As it happens, I hold here in my hand the answer that you seek.

"What have we done, you ask. Just listen to this. Imagine a train leaving point A and moving toward point B at the rate of C. Imagine now another train moving from B to A at rate D, having set forth on its journey E minutes after the departure of the first train. Would you believe it if I told you that we -- well, some of us -- are able to figure out where and when those trains will meet? So how’s that for mind business?"

He looks at me steadily for a moment. He clears his throat. I begin to feel that I have not yet fully stated our case. I rush into the silence with six diagrams.
"And look at this, just look at this. You see these diagrams? Now this little one over here was made by doing something or other, maybe a little twisting or turning this way or that, to this other little diagram. Now, and this is the beauty part, one of these six diagrams down here got to be the way it is because the very same things, the twisting and turning stuff, you know, were done to this little diagram. Pretty neat, eh? Now suppose I were to tell you that we -- well, some of us -- by the power of the mind alone, can say exactly which of these little..."

At this point, Prometheus silently rises and begins to walk off. I get the impression, probably through Divine Guidance, that he is going to go back and chain himself to the rock for another long sentence.

"Wait, wait," I call after him, now heading through the door and out into the street. "Let me tell you about Bob and Carol and Alice and Ted! They all took this test, you see, and... and..."

But Prometheus is gone. I begin to wonder whether the nature of his gift is such that he can take it back.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cool Videos

YouTube has a lot of junk, but there are some amazing finds. Such as a 1967 video of Jim Ryun setting the world record in the mile:

Bill Rodgers winning the 1979 Boston marathon:

Hicham El Guerrouj setting the current mile world record:

Wilma Rudolph running the 200 meters in 1960:

Edwin Moses running the 400 meter hurdles in 1983:

And Michael Johnson was so fast in the 1996 Olympics:

Quote for the Day

This is pretty harsh. Again, it's from Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say.

Education as now constituted will never do more than the least it can do. The reason for that is easy to see. Of all of the elaborate corporate institutions in our civilization, education is the only one in which there is no important incentive to success. Educators do not even have to bother their heads about getting reelected. The prosperity of the schools does not depend on successful schooling. Indeed, in the current hysteria over the obvious failures of the schools, we have chosen to send good money after bad and enrich our schools in direct proportion to their failures. This further makes it seem likely that should the schools actually succeed, all they could expect would be the withdrawal of the enrichment that comes with failure. That must be what is meant by a “disincentive.”

For the individuals in public education, there are incentives to success, but they have almost nothing to do with the teaching of students. The successful members of the system are those who can escape the tedious demands of the classroom. From that escape, talented and effective teachers are generally debarred, partly because they are little likely to seek it and partly because of a reasonable institutional bias against removing a good teacher from the classroom. As a result, and in spite of the sentimental folklore of the trade, there are in fact no significant rewards available to the good teacher. Nor are there any significant punishments for the bad teacher. Indeed, it is the bad teacher who is the more inclined and encouraged to escape the classroom and thus achieve what is recognized as a success in public education, an administrative position. The making of policy, therefore, is ultimately given over to the least competent individuals in the system.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Richard Mitchell

From Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say.
Here is a most appropriate example of naming disguised as telling. These are the unconsciously ironic words of some people who imagine that they are going to do something about the writing skills of schoolchildren:
It is necessary that schools and school districts emphasize the importance of imparting to students the skills and attitudes which are the underpinnings of a comfortable, confident, successful producer of all forms of written matter, including prose, poetry, and practical narrative and descriptive and interrogatory writing (e.g., letters, applications, requests for information, reports, etc.).
This, after many months of deliberation, was one of the most important conclusions of an advisory committee of experts on reading and writing. They have, in effect, decided that the schools should teach the students how to write. The elevator man, of course, could have told you that. If you don’t have an elevator, you could have gotten the same information from the taxi driver or the man who reads the meter. This is by no means to denigrate the achievement of the committee; what has always been perfectly obvious to all the rest of us actually is a tremendous breakthrough for educators, and they are much to be congratulated for having so largely transcended their training. However, they have still a little more transcending to do. * * *

Prose that clouds responsibility also diminishes humanity. When Churchill said, “We shall fight on the beaches,” his grammar said for him, and to all of us who share that grammar: “I, a man, speak these words out of the thoughts of my mind, and I mean them.” * * * The writer of our passage would probably have said: “It may become necessary that we emphasize the importance of imparting to ourselves the skills and attitudes which are the necessary underpinnings of successful engagers in all forms of combat on the beaches.” Englishmen are plucky, but not that plucky. After such words they would simply have surrendered.

Naming without telling is equally an evasion of responsibility. We can talk about components, elements, factors, sets, subsets, translations, and transformations only because we do not expect to be called to account for our words. The more of these words we use, the better we can bewilder the reader or even bamboozle him into the conviction that we must know what we are talking about, thus putting off, perhaps forever, the day of reckoning.

Notice how that happens in the passage just cited. What should the schools—and the school districts—actually do? They should emphasize. That’s what it says—that’s the verb that goes with the schools and the school districts. And what should they emphasize? They should emphasize importance. Importance? What importance should they emphasize? They should emphasize the importance of imparting! Can we ask “imparting what?”? No, not yet. First we must ask “imparting to whom?” So we ask it. We are answered that they should emphasize the importance of imparting to students. Ah! All of a sudden some human beings appear. Unfortunately, however, they will turn out to be superfluous, because there just isn’t anyone around in the schools and school districts except students to whom to do that imparting whose importance is to be emphasized. So we go on. Now we can ask “imparting what?” Imparting skills and attitudes, of course. What skills and attitudes? Skills and attitudes which are underpinnings, naturally. Underpinnings of a producer. What else did you expect? What kind of a producer? A comfortable, confident, successful producer. And so on. The thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth words of this sentence are “written matter.”

Someone here has taken great pains not to say something. Even “writing” is avoided. We hear, instead, about “written matter,” which presumably includes clay tablets and the “Hot” and “Cold” labels on faucets.


Monday, July 23, 2007


1. From Virginia: "The suspicious device blown up by a State Police Bomb Squad Thursday evening turned out to be a weather station."

2. Coyote Blog has an interesting find, although I quibble a bit in the comments.

Quote of the Day

From Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say. Although this was originally published in 1979, it seems remarkably applicable to events in the wake of No Child Left Behind:

Politicians begin to notice that the citizens have been worked up about declining literacy. After asking around, they discover that there’s hardly anyone who will come out against literacy, so they decide to do the virtuous thing however difficult and politically dangerous. They say: Enough! Our high schools must prepare every citizen and voter to cope with the world. No more social promotion! No more functional illiterates! Freedom of opportunity for all! And the people applaud.

What next? Tests, of course. We will give tests to those students, and those who can’t pass can’t graduate. What could be more logical? And how will we make those tests? We’ll go to the professionals, the educators, the people who have been sending all of those illiterates out into the world, the people who caused this problem in the first place. They have by now surely mended their ways; even they have come out in favor of literacy. It’s a great new day for education and freedom and politics in general.

* * *

Obviously, any system of schooling in which there are tests and passing grades is a sort of minimum competence system—if you pass, you pass; but that’s not exactly how the minimum competence system is now construed. Now we try to find out just how little we can get by with and pronounce it enough. The current crisis is simply the result of a disagreement as to how little is enough. The school people want it to be as little as possible, and the politicians want it to be just enough to convince the citizens that something has been done, and somewhere in the middle they will meet and compromise. In some states now it is enough if high school seniors can read and write like the eighth graders of another age, but in other more demanding states it is necessary for high school seniors to read and write like the tenth graders of another age. States’ rights, you know.

* * *

That’s not all. The educationist establishment will wax fat with the addition of diagnosticians and remediationalists and devisers of instruments and coordinators of curricula and directors of programs and all of the supporting services and paraphernalia that must go with all of those things. The teacher corps will grow, and teachers will demand and get more money for the arduous increased labor involved in teaching the advanced skills of fourth-grade reading and writing to sixth-grade students. Everyone will profit. Well, perhaps not everyone.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quote for the Day

From Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say:
Those few things that we do seem to have asked of public education are remarkably possible to teach. It is faddish nonsense to say that we don’t know how, for instance, to teach reading and writing to the ignorant and must spend lots of money on studies and experiments before we can begin. All children are ignorant. All children who have ever learned to read and write have begun that task in ignorance. We know how to teach reading and writing—it’s been done successfully millions and millions of times. It does require exactitude and discipline, and somewhat more of those things in the teacher than in the learners. It requires drill and recitation and memorization and practice, but these things can be made to happen. In one way, it is easy to teach reading and writing and arithmetic because it’s possible to achieve concrete and measurable results through regular and practicable methods. In that respect, it is very difficult to teach the brotherhood of all mankind because we don’t know exactly what that is or how we would measure it. In another way, however, it’s much harder to teach reading and writing and arithmetic because we do have to know those things if we are to teach them, and we do have to be continuously rigorous and exact. To teach the brotherhood of mankind seems to be mostly the presentation of attractive but untestable assertions and the reiteration of pious slogans and generalizations. If you’d like to be a teacher, but you don’t want to work too hard, by all means set up as a teacher of the brotherhood of mankind rather than as a teacher of reading and writing and arithmetic. Such a career has the further advantage that no one knows how to decide whether you have actually taught anyone anything, whereas teachers of reading and writing and arithmetic are always being embarrassed when their students are shown not to have learned those things.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Worth Reading

These caught my eye:

1. A sociologist writes a post titled "Credential Society vs. Babies.

2. Jan Crawford Greenburg writes a level-headed assessment of the Supreme Court's recent Term, in which she takes certain law professors to task for their "tabloid-style, Jerry Springer-esque tone."


Friday, July 20, 2007

Coleman's Adolescent Society

Close to 50 years ago, the eminent sociologist James Coleman’s book The Adolescent Society studied several high schools in Illinois. Coleman made some pungent observations that still apply today, I think. He found that even back then, the peer culture in high school was a poisonous mix in which boys were prized most highly for their cars or athletic ability, while girls were prized most highly for “physical beauty, nice clothes, and an enticing manner.” He then observes that in no respectable area of adult life are these qualities “as important for performing successfully as they are in high school,” and that the typical high school might as well be designed to turn girls into “chorus girls” or “call girls” who exist only to “serve as objects of attention for men.”

James S. Coleman, The Adolescent Society: The Social Life of the Teenager and its Impact on Education (New York: Free Press, 1961), pp. 50-51.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Two things worth checking out:

1. The video of the American Enterprise Institute's symposium on a recent article showing that No Child Left Behind probably doesn't benefit either the lowest-performing students or the highest-performing students.

2. This article by Martin Haberman, which includes this scathing passage on education textbooks:
The interminable advocacies are not based on or derived from any psychological theory… none.

Each of the four volumes did have separate sections with a few pages devoted to various "theories" of learning. These included the following six "theories" with very pretentious names: radical constructivism, information processing, cognitive connectivism, social constructivism, situated cognition and socioculturalism. I read these descriptions carefully. They are not theories of learning that explain and predict learning and its causes. * * *

* * *
Following are the most typical behaviors teachers pursue in classrooms.

-give information

-ask questions

-give directions

-make assignment

-monitor seatwork

-review assignments

-give tests

-review tests,

-assign homework

-review homework

-settle disputes

-punish noncompliance

-mark papers and

-give grades.

(M.Haberman, The Pedagogy of Poverty vs. Good Teaching KAPPAN.Dec., 1991)

Which of these teacher behaviors implement radical constructivism, information processing theory, cognitive constuctivism, social constuctivism, situated cognition, or socioculturalism?

Two thirds of what happens in classrooms is talk, two thirds of the time it is the teacher talking and two thirds of the teacher's talk is giving directions. Which of these six "theories of learning" explains this talk?

Following are some of the most typical teacher comments one can hear in a classroom. These are comments made by star teachers as well as by average teachers and quitter/failure teachers. Which of these comments indicates that the teacher is implementing one of the six "theories" of learning textbook writers of the texts in learning claim exist?

-"George, for the last three days you haven't handed in any work. What's going on?"

-"OK. When you finish p. 65 answer the questions and put your papers on my desk.

-Whatever isn't finished is your homework for tonight."

-Laticia, we've spoken about this before. I'm going to have to call home.

-"Don't interrupt Kyle. Let her figure it out for herself."

-"I'm not calling on anyone out of their seat or anyone who has already had a turn."

-"Today we are going to pick up the story from where Robin wakes up in the woods. Who remembers what he was doing in the woods?"

-"Who knows the difference between ensure and insure?"

-"OK. That's how it's done. I want you to do the next three examples just like I did mine. I will be coming around and helping anyone who needs help."

-"We're not leaving the room until everyone shows me they are ready."

-"What did you find the most exciting part of the story? Alexandra?"

-"Who would like to read next?"

-"This was a good piece of writing. Please copy it over, include my corrections and hand it back."

-"On your blank map of Africa fill in as many countries and rivers as you can."

-"That's a good idea, is it your idea or your team's suggestion?"

-"If you don't have a book look on with Eric."

-"You've been sitting here for five minutes. Why don't you get started?"

-"When you come back tomorrow we'll pick up with p. 32. I will ask you the causes of the war."

"If you've finished please check your work before you hand it in."

Do these statements and the literally thousands more just like them show that a teacher is implementing the learning theory of radical constructivism? information processing theory? cognitive constructivism? social constructivism? situated cognition? socioculturalism? Can any of these theories provide other sentences that would take the place of these sentences or any other teacher talk? Can these theories ever be specified into teacher talk? The fact that they cannot is a powerful indication that they are the constructs of textbook writers and "scholars" unable to apply their supposed "theories" to the real world of schools.


Lawrence Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow recently posted the following on National Review:

Markets Give Bush a Thumbs Up [Larry Kudlow]

Despite all the criticism President Bush has received over his administration’s Iraq war policies, isn’t it interesting that stock markets have been booming during the whole period from early 2003 onward?

In fact, after the president admonished congress last Thursday to toss aside troop withdrawal timetables and to give General Petraeus’ new counter insurgency plan time to work, the Dow Jones soared 300 points on Thursday and Friday reaching new record highs.

The stock market boom is part of a global phenomenon as the spread of market capitalism marches worldwide. Record wealth gains and growth are occurring in all corners of the globe. I have long believed that stock markets are the best barometer of the health and wealth of a nation. This market indicator reflects economic growth and business conditions, in addition to overall safety and security.

My strong suspicion here is that the message of the American and global stock market boom is one of support for the Iraq war and a steadfast US commitment to stop terrorism. If the U.S. doesn’t do it, no one else will.

My take here is that Mr. Bush’s steadfastness on the war late last week was well received by U.S. and global markets.

Stocks are giving the president a vote of confidence.
Among the things that I identify as wrong with this post:

1. Why anthropomorphize "stocks" and the "market"? Stock purchasers are the ones driving up prices for some reason. But if you put it that way, what reason is there to think that the average stock purchaser knows more about the effects of the Bush Iraq policy than, say, the intelligence community? (Not that the latter group is likely to make successful predictions either.)

I'm familiar with the efficient market hypothesis, which states that the market instantaneously incorporates all information about a given company into that company's stock price. The strong form of that hypothesis has always struck me as somewhat ludicrous, at least as to many individual cases. But what Kudlow seems to believe is something far stronger, something more like an efficient world hypothesis, whereby the stock market (as a whole) instantaneously reflects not just information about world events that are not directly tied to any company, but can also successfully predict the future outcome of such intractable dilemmas as Middle Eastern foreign policy.

If Kudlow has any evidence that the stock market has such magical powers, he should bring it forth.

2. Having just read Nassim Taleb's excellent books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, I'm baffled that anyone thinks it possible to identify the cause for week-by-week fluctuations in the stock market. There is probably no such single cause in the first place, and even if there were, neither Kudlow nor anyone else is likely to figure it out: there are too many unidentifiable forces and randomness at work here.

* * *

So what Kudlow has done is propose a simple equation: "Rising stock market = future success for U.S. policy in Iraq." Everything about this equation is fundamentally unknowable. No one knows the cause for why the stock market rose over the past week, and there may be no "cause" at all (it could be part of the random walk of stock prices). And no one (including mere investors) can conceivably know what the future of Iraq will be over the next few years.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Divorce Study

This study seems fairly plausible to me:
Does Divorce Law Affect the Divorce Rate? A Review of Empirical Research, 1995-2006

Executive Summary:

Did the introduction of no-divorce law affect the divorce rate? This study looks at all the empirical research since 1995 that examines the impact of no-fault divorce laws on divorce rates both in the United States and in other nations, 24 studies in all, and concludes:

  • No-fault divorce did increase the divorce rate. Seventeen of 24 recent empirical studies find that the introduction of no-fault divorce laws increased the divorce rate, by one estimate as much as 88 percent. More typically, studies estimate no-fault divorce increased divorce rates on the order of 10 percent.
  • Divorce law, however, is not the major cause of the increase in divorce over the last 50 years. Clearly many other factors besides divorce law influence the divorce rate.
  • The effect of no-fault divorce laws on the overall divorce rate appears to fade with time; couples respond to the increased divorce risk from no-fault divorce law by delaying or forgoing marriages at higher risk of divorce, and states adopt related legal reforms that mitigate some of no-fault’s consequences.
  • For couples of a given match quality, no-fault divorce may have resulted in a permanent increase in divorce risk. Studies which take into consideration age at marriage tend to show a permanent increase in divorce risk after no-fault divorce.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Larry Solum

Larry Solum has been on quite a roll lately, with several fascinating and perceptive posts. There was this post on foxes vs. hedgehogs in the legal academy. Then this post on the prospects for peer-reviewed legal journals. Finally, this post handily exposes a non sequitur in Jack Balkin's notion that because there could be a split between the original public meaning of the Constitution and original expected applications, therefore the original public meaning can be used to support contemporary applications that are much further removed from (or even contrary to) original expected applications.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Webber for NJ State Assembly

I don't normally have any interest in New Jersey Assembly races, but this one I do: One of my very best friends from law school -- Jay Webber -- is a Republican candidate there. He's a brilliant young conservative, and the nicest guy you could ever meet. I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a Senator or governor one day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good Articles

Good Quote on Homeschooling

Well, it's not specifically about homeschooling, but it might as well be. The quote is from Marvin Minsky, one of the preeminent scholars in the artificial intelligence field:
The evidence is that many of our foremost achievers developed under conditions that are not much like those of present-day mass education. Robert Lawler just showed me a paper by Harold McCurdy on the child pattern of genius. McCurdy reviews the early education of many eminent people from the last couple of centuries and concludes (1) that most of them had an enormous amount of attention paid to them by one or both parents and (2) that generally they were relatively isolated from other children. This is very different from what most people today consider an ideal school. It seems to me that much of what we call education is really socialization. Consider what we do to our kids. Is it really a good idea to send your 6-year-old into a room full of 6-year-olds, and then, the next year, to put your 7-year-old in with 7-year-olds, and so on? A simple recursive argument suggests this exposes them to a real danger of all growing up with the minds of 6-year-olds. And, so far as I can see, that's exactly what happens.

Our present culture may be largely shaped by this strange idea of isolating children's thought from adult thought. Perhaps the way our culture educates its children better explains why most of us come out as dumb as they do, than it explains how some of us come out as smart as they do.
Here's a page that purports to quote from that McCurdy paper:
"In summary, the present survey of biographical information on a sample of twenty men of genius suggests that the typical developmental pattern includes as important aspects: (1) a high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in the intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation from other children, especially outside the family; and (3) a rich efflorescence of fantasy as a reaction to the preceding conditions. It might be remarked that the mass education of our public school system is, in its way, a vast experiment on the effect of reducing all three factors to a minimum: accordingly, it should tend to suppress the occurrence of genius." (McCurdy, May 1960. p. 38.)


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

George Michael

This is a really good performance by George Michael of the classic Wham song "A Different Corner." I've said it before, but I can't think of any pop/rock singer who has a better quality voice when singing live. An interesting comparison: George Michael lip-syncing the same song over twenty years ago on British television.

UPDATE: Yes, I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek in referring to a Wham song as "classic."

UPDATE 2: OK, here's a real Wham classic: Careless Whisper, sung live in Rio in 1991 (somehow he got through the song without whatever it is that Andrew Ridgeley used to do). "Guilty feet have got no rhythm" -- truer words have never been sung. (Guilty feet = all thumbs.)

Again, if you compare to his 1980s TV appearances, he was lip-syncing there too (look for the obvious double-tracking on the chorus, just as on the recording). I don't know why George Michael ever did this -- unlike most pop/rock singers, he really could sing live.

UPDATE 3: Unfortunately, I can't find a video or live performance of George Michael singing one of his best all-time songs: Mother's Pride. (You can hear the audio here). In all seriousness, what an incredible voice.

Interesting Paper

Worth checking out:
Should Property or Liability Rules Govern Information?

Stanford Law School
University of Colorado Law School

Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 341
U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-18
Texas Law Review, Vol. 85, p. 783, 2007

This Article focuses on an unappreciated and significant aspect of the debate over property rules in the technology law context. In particular, it argues that the classic justification for legal entitlements protected by a property rule - i.e., a right to injunctive relief - depends on the ability to define and enforce property rights effectively. In the case of many technology markets, the inability to tailor injunctive relief so that it protects only the underlying right rather than also enjoining noninfringing conduct provides a powerful basis for using a liability rule (i.e., awarding the relevant damages to the plaintiff) instead of a property rule. Notably, where injunctive relief cannot be confined to protecting the underlying right, the availability of such relief can give rise to a “holdup strategy,” whereby a firm threatens or uses litigation to obtain a settlement significantly in excess of any harm it suffers. Such strategies, as the Article explains, arise in a variety of technology law contexts, including patent law, digital copyright cases, and spectrum regulation. Depending on the particulars of the context, either courts or agencies should superintend the relevant liability regime and, in some cases, the administrative challenges may undermine the case for a liability rule at all. Unfortunately, legal scholars have generally focused on the substantive debate as to the proper scope of property rights - often arguing for an all or nothing solution - at the expense of evaluating the institutional considerations as to whether and when courts or agencies can superintend a liability regime in lieu of a property right.

Split the Ninth Circuit

My friend Brian Fitzpatrick argues for this in the Los Angeles Times today:
Over the last six years, many members of the Senate have expressed their desire to reduce the number of "extreme" (as opposed to "mainstream") judicial decisions. If they mean what they say, they should also want to complete the work of the last Congress and split the 9th Circuit.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Peak Oil and Global Warming

Future Pundit points to analysis that makes a good point: If fossil fuels are running out (which may be true of coal as well as oil), then global warming scenarios that assume drastic rises in fossil fuel emissions over the next hundred years are likely to be overstated. Even so, you often see someone complaining both about global warming and about peak oil in the same breath (e.g., Bill Clinton).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Richard Mitchell

I've just discovered -- and heartily recommend -- the scathingly witty works of Richard Mitchell, also known as the Underground Grammarian. (That first link has pretty much all his writings available for free). In the words of Time magazine, Mitchell "makes H.L. Mencken sound like a waffler." He wrote a newsletter and several books that took square aim at facile and unclear language -- and hence at facile and unclear thinking. Here's a typical example from an interview:
I can give a very convenient example of that because it was terribly striking to me at the time. This was already many years ago, and I was working on a commentary on a piece by some very silly boob, a professor of some kind of education. . . and he had written the following sentence: "The childhood years may be perceived as formulative."

Now I suppose he meant "formative," unless he was thinking of babies, you know, sucking on formula; I don't know, but probably he meant formative and that may even have been a typo, and it's not important, so I'm willing to concede him formative. Now he says then, "The childhood years may be perceived as being formative." Now, one would not think that there is a grammatical problem here, and unless one is paying a certain kind of attention to it, you go right by, but I was for some reason trapped by that modal auxiliary "may."

In the first place, what is the man saying, that we are formed in early childhood in some way? Well, that is not exactly a revolutionary notion. That, as a matter of fact, is a little bit too obvious to bother saying. Now that being so, having said such a banal and obvious thing, why does the man take great pains to say it as though he really hadn't said it?

Notice he doesn't say the childhood years are formative--they may, but it isn't even that they may be formative--they "may be perceived as being." He moves this perception away from himself.

It's almost as though he fears that later on someone will discover that they're not, and he can then say, Well, I didn't say they were, I said "they may be perceived as being formative." There is in this . . ., well, there is nothing else to call it -- mendacity.

Yes, this is a way of lying, and this is a way of doing another thing that seems to me very important in all considerations of literacy. This is another way of shrugging off responsibility.

When you and I speak to one another, of course, we take some responsibility, but when we write to one another, especially when we write in general to our fellows, we take on a tremendous responsibility, and if I write an article that I expect you to read, in effect I say, "Now just a minute, you sit down, don't do anything except listen to me; I am going to tell you something."

This is audacious; nevertheless, we do it all the time, and we must never forget its audacity because when I do ask that of you, I also now owe you something. I owe you, first of all, the best truth that I can tell you; I owe you also the courage out of which to tell it.

I do not really serve you properly when I give you mealy-mouthed mendacity, and when I myself try to evade responsibility even for the mildest of generalizations. It seems to me here there was an inescapable moral quality.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

School Names

An interesting study from my friend Jay Greene and his colleagues. It's about trends in the naming of schools. An excerpt:
Last year, the Fayetteville, Arkansas, public school district closed its aging Jefferson Elementary School, replacing it with a shiny new building on the other side of the highway. The new building needed a name; the school board could have transferred the Jefferson name along with the students but did not do so. Or they could have chosen the name of another president; for example, they could have honored Bill Clinton, who had been a law professor at the university in Fayetteville and later became governor and then president. But if Clinton was thought inappropriate for a school name, the board could have honored the late J. William Fulbright, who hailed from Fayetteville, graduated from its university, and was the university’s president before serving five terms in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, there is no shortage of people the board could have chosen to honor. Instead, they chose to name the school “Owl Creek,” after a small ditch with a trickle of water that runs by the school.

According to our analysis of trends in school names, the same story is playing out all over the country. It is increasingly rare for schools to be named after presidents—or people, in general—and increasingly common to name schools after natural features. In the case of presidents, this trend runs contrary to what one might expect to find. We continuously add to the list of available options every four to eight years when we elect new presidents, while new schools that need names are built every day. Yet today, the number of schools in America that are named after presidents has declined to fewer than 5 percent, and currently an overwhelming majority of America’s school districts do not have a single school named after a president.

This shift from naming schools after people worthy of emulation to naming schools after hills, trees, or animals raises questions about the civic mission of public education and the role that school names play in that civic mission. The names that school boards give to schools both reflect and shape civic values. They reflect values because naming a school after someone or something provides at least an implicit endorsement of the values that the name represents. And school names can shape values by providing educators with a teaching opportunity: teachers at a Lincoln Elementary, for example, can reference the school name to spark discussions of the evils of slavery and the benefits of preserving our union.
Unfortunately, there's no dataset that goes back to 1900 on school names, but I'd bet anything that other interesting trends happened over that time period. For example, there used to be a ton of black schools named after black educators or other admired figures in the black community -- Paul Laurence Dunbar, Robert Russa Moton, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald, and Lincoln were among the most common names for black schools. But many or even most of these schools were closed in the 1960s and 1970s -- the casualties of desegregation. (Here are eight examples of schools named Douglass that closed, and here's the alumni website for one of them.) Indeed, there used to be a Lincoln School in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but no more. Conversely, the number of Martin Luther King schools has surely risen.

UPDATE: Jay Greene writes to say, "Interestingly, there are only 121 schools honoring MLK out of almost 100,000 public schools nationwide. Even MLK can’t compete with a manatee, hill, or tree."


Monday, July 02, 2007

Good Albums

I was looking for some good recordings of old spirituals and the like. In my initial searches, I kept finding albums by the likes of Jessye Norman or Leontyne Price or various choirs -- all of which are nice in their own way, but the sound is so polished and professional and classical. I wanted to find something that was rawer, more authentic, more earthy, more like how those songs would have originally sounded.

Well, I found some great recordings that were all made close to 50 or more years ago.

First was Southern Journey, Vol. 12: Georgia Sea Islands - Biblical Songs And Spirituals, one of many field recordings made by folklorist Alan Lomax. This one was made in 1959-60 on St. Simon's Island, off the coast of Georgia. Here's a liner note typical of what is provided about each of the songs:
The Sea Islanders' "Moses" was improvised in a performance that arose momentarily, in response to a query. It was one of those lucky recordings, when everyone present felt completely relaxed, the mike was in just the right place, and the song emerged gently out of a mood of contemplative silence. Its powerful simplicity takes the listener back to the days when slaves sat in their dark cabins in the evenings and sang for consolation, brooding over the despair of their lives, thinking of the dangers that threatened them, and identifying their fate with Moses and the Children is Israel fleeing Pharaoh's armies. Bessie Jones said that her grandparents in North Georgia also sang "Moses" with slightly different words. When asked if he knew "Go Down Moses," John Davis replied, scornfully, "Why, everybody know that. Here's one everybody don't know." He looked down. The silence gathered. Then he began to sing in a hoarse whisper, as if he were talking in a graveyard hideout of runaway slaves.
The next was a fascinating find; I never knew that such recordings existed: Black Appalachia: String Bands, Songsters And Hoedowns. This is a recording of bluegrass-style banjo and stringband music, played by black people across the South in the 1930s and 1940s. The playing is often a bit rough, as is the recording itself, but it's still enjoyable. There are a couple of songs that even have a traditional blues chord progression.

Finally, I really enjoy Been In The Storm So Long: A Collection Of Spirituals, Folk Tales And Children's Games From Johns Island, South Carolina. The liner notes say, "This collection of spirituals and shouts, prayers, folk tales, and children's games, was recorded on Johns Island, South Carolina, in the early 1960s. . . . These islands hold in common a Gullah folk culture with survivals that are among the oldest forms of African American folk life to be found in the United States today. . . . Some of the recordings were made in Moving Star Hall, built in the 1913 as a 'praise house' for the community. Worship patterns continue here that evolved during slavery times on the plantations. A distinctive example is the religious 'shout' in which complex hand and foot rhythms are added to the singing as the spirit mounts."

The liner notes contains a great deal more information and pictures. One singer says, "All these songs go way back yonder in slavery time, when them old people didn't have nothing to do but grow sweet potatoes and corn and grind corn grits, and then they sat down and taught us these old songs. Always it was families together, we sit down by the old chimney fire and were taught these old songs. . . . We sing these old songs because we made our daddy a promise. He tell us that one of these days he gonna leave us, but though he leave us he still be with us as long as we keep these old songs up."

And another singer says this:
When I were growing up, I must have seen one White man in my life. And I was so scared of that White man I never see his face. You might see but two White man in the whole Johns Island then. But now the Island is full of White people. There so many White people it seem like they always one now. Before then you wouldn't see no White people there in six or seven months. But now, the world is nothing but White people. White people!

The Bible says you must love your fellow mans, 'gardless of what color you are, you must love em. Ain't no need for I love my color, hate you. Cause God don't please with it. Cause we all is God's children. We must love one another. Cause He don't care for ugly, and very little care for pretty. . . .

The church doesn't do a thing for you no more than preach a sermon. That's all the preacher do for you. But you got to live a life living right here. The way you walk and the way you talk, the way your action -- there's your sermon right there. You preaching your sermon before you die.

The way you treat people that's your heaven right there. Now if you born dumb, you just dumb. If you're a mean person all your life, you're just a mean person; people can't say good for you. If you're a good person all your life, that's all people will say is he's a good person. Got to first have heaven here before you have Heaven. If you have speck in your heart, you cannot get in God's kingdom. I never been up there yet, but I feel about it.

Here are some more that I intend to get eventually, many of them also recorded by Alan Lomax:

A recording of black cowboys from Texas: Black Texicans: Balladeers And Songsters Of The Texas Frontier.

Deep River of Song: Georgia.

Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia.

The Deep River of Song: Alabama.

Got the Keys to the Kingdom: South Carolina.

Deep River of Song: Virginia and the Piedmont.

Deep River of Song: Louisiana - Catch That Train and Testify!