Thursday, August 31, 2006

Justice Ginsburg on Clerks

From a recent story on the low number of female Supreme Court clerks this year:
Justice Ginsburg, who will have two women among her four clerks, declined during the conversation to comment further on the clerkship numbers. Why not ask a justice who has not hired any women for the coming term, she suggested.
Ed Whelan points out:
Ginsburg ought to have a keener understanding of the consequences of nondiscriminatory merit-based selection and random variation. In her 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it was learned, much to Ginsburg’s visible embarrassment, that in her 13 years on the D.C. Circuit she had never had a single black law clerk, intern, or secretary. Out of 57 employees, zero blacks.

Educational Lawsuit

Baseball Crank has a good post on a recent Second Circuit decision holding that it could be racially discriminatory for a state to require teachers to pass a test (the court remanded for the district court to determine whether the test could be justified or not).

This brings to mind an interesting contrast. 1. Black and Hispanic teachers often pass such tests at much lower rates. In this case, for example, "the average pass rate for white test takers ranged from 91% to 94%, while the average pass rate for African American candidates ranged from 51% to 62% , and the average pass rates for Latino candidates ranged from 47% to 55%."

2. Students tend to do better with more-qualified teachers.

3. All else being equal, students tend to do better with a teacher of the same race.

Combine those points, and what should we do? I don't know.



I had a little problem yesterday: I was messing around with the blog's template, and somehow managed to delete most of it, which had the result that the blog was basically empty. I wasn't able to recreate it other than by going back to a very old version that I had saved, and I don't have the time to try to rebuild the blogroll over on the left hand side.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Trans Fats

I wrote an email to Nina Planck about the subject of trans fats in grass-fed beef, and she pointed me to some research indicating that trans fat from natural sources is much better for you than trans fat from hydrogenated oils (i.e., margarine, or a wide variety of other foods). For example, pages 27-28 of this report state:
The epidemiological studies published to date do not permit any definite conclusions about differences in the associations between the risk of heart disease and the intake of industrially produced trans fatty acids and trans fatty acids from ruminants. However, the largest epidemiological study, the Nurses’ Health Study, showed a significant, positive association with the intake of industrially produced trans fatty acids and a non-significant, inverse association between the intake of trans fatty acids from ruminants and the risk of heart disease (6). The same pattern was found in the Finnish Alpha- Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study, in which the increased risk of cardiac death was found to be positively associated with total trans fatty acids as well as elaidic acid and trans fatty acids from hydrogenated vegetable fat, but not with trans fatty acids from ruminants, in connection with which a slightly insignificant, negative association was found (12).
See also this page.


I got quite a kick out of this rant on laptops in classrooms.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Real Food

1. I finally found a local dairy farm that was willing to sell me raw milk. It's rich stuff, even when you skim off the cream (which I did this morning to make some fresh butter). I asked the farmer if he thought the raw milk was safe to drink. His response went something like this: "Well, the government claims that there's a risk of E. coli. But you ever eat at a salad bar? The risk of E. coli is higher there, because the lettuce might not have all of the debris washed off. Plus, people are sneezing, coughing, licking their fingers, picking their noses."

A good point: I'm not positive that he's right about the relative risks here, but it's rather amazing that the government doesn't outlaw salad bars, given all of the less harmful things that it already bans.

2. I'm a bit confused about the health value of grass-fed meat. The typical article on grass-fed meat claims that the meat is lower in saturated and trans fats:
Mesquite's ground beef is 65% lower in saturated fat and its New York strips are 35% lower than conventional beef, as measured by the USDA. "Any feedlot-fattened animal has a much higher level of saturated fat than a forage-fed steer," says Atchley.
But then I found this very recent study, which claims to have found a result that's nearly the opposite:
A recent Texas Agricultural Experiment Station study indicates cattle fed longer on certain diets will produce beef with more of the "good" kind of fat.

Dr. Stephen Smith, Experiment Station professor of animal science in College Station, said the study showed the longer cattle were fed corn, the more monounsaturated – and less saturated – fat they produced. Monounsaturated fats are currently viewed as being healthier than other dietary fats, Smith said.

* * *

But what about completely grass-fed cattle? They have leaner carcasses, he said.

"The problem with (grass-fed cattle) is the U.S. consumer isn't accustomed to the flavor," Smith said. "It's very strong, and it's something we're just not accustomed to. And the other is that the fat that's produced from grass-fed cattle is higher in saturated fats and trans fatty acids."
So which is it? I don't have time to look into all of the scholarly literature that may exist on this issue. But I'd like to see a more comprehensive look at the issue.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Manual Work

I enjoyed the article "Shop Class as Soulcraft," by Matthew Crawford, who praises the manual trades.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Vegetable Soup

I made some of the best vegetable soup I've ever had the other night. It was basically a two-day operation.

First night: Cooked a whole free-range chicken that I bought at a local farmer's market from this place. I just sprinkled the chicken with olive oil, unrefined sea salt, and pepper, and cooked at 350 for a little over an hour. Simple, but delicious.

After supper, I took all the chicken bones, and made some broth. This was also simple: Just put them in a big pot, cover with water (probably half a gallon?), add a bunch of salt and pepper, and boil for 2-3 hours.

When the broth was done, I added it to a pot of left-over brown rice from supper (this came with a lot of spices added, and my wife had cooked the rice in beef broth, so it was already very flavorful).

Next night: I took the chicken broth and rice mixture, added two more cups of the rice (eyeballing to guess how much rice would work with that amount of broth). I also added: Organic baby carrots, organic diced tomatoes, an onion, more unrefined sea salt (to taste). I also chopped up a huge zucchini from my garden (I had one plant this year that produced some zucchinis that were about as big around as a baseball bat). Then I let it all simmer together for probably a couple of hours.

Absolutely delicious.

Bush and Books

Some people seem to think it implausible that President Bush really reads as many books as this list would suggest. I don't find it that implausible. A few years ago, I read a library book: Frank Bruni's Ambling Into History. Bruni was a New York Times reporter, and the book was mostly an account of the 2000 campaign. As I recalled, Bruni was very impressed with the amount of reading that Bush did, behind the scenes and without any fanfare. Not having the book immediately at hand, I found a webpage that describes Bruni's account as I remembered it:
Bruni now knows that Bush was a reader of books. He cites innumerable examples to prove this. Bush not only reads serious books like One Nation, Two Cultures and April 1865 but also many novels, detective yarns and mysteries. They have not only exchanged books of favored authors, but have had good and lengthy conversations about them. Bruni says: "Bush was, in fact, a pretty steady consumer of books." And Bruni admits that he had been wrong in discounting that possibility in articles he had written before he knew the truth.
UPDATE: Ezra Klein is a skeptic:
Reading books, particularly nonfiction books, takes a really long time. It's hard, and it's boring, and I say this all as an effete liberal intellectual who likes reading long, boring books but can't, like everyone else I know, seem to finish them. I'm pleased to get through one or two a month, and you're telling me Bush, in his time off from running the country, doing a couple hours of exercise a day, and going to bed early, has read sixty?
1. Reading non-fiction books doesn't take a "really long time," unless one is a very slow reader.

2. One or two books a month? I've read at least 180 non-fiction books over the past two years -- and those are merely the ones that I can list. I know there are quite a few more that I borrowed from the library. And while I don't read that much fiction, I'd guess that I've read maybe 40 or 50 novels in that time as well. Also, since I have a busy job and a family, that number represents what I managed to read in not-very-much spare time -- i.e., at night when everyone else is in bed, sitting in the car at stoplights or waiting at the pharmacy drive-thru, using the bathroom, holding the book in one hand while watering my garden with the other, etc. If I had an "intellectual" job at a magazine, where reading books as research would be part of my work, I'd expect to have several hours a day to read, which would roughly quadruple my book consumption.

3. Maybe Bush is able to read more books because he apparently doesn't waste much time with email or television. I've noticed that my book consumption has increased since I cancelled my cable subscription a few months ago.

4. "Like everyone else I know"?!?

 SECOND UPDATE: What's most alarming is not that Ezra Klein thinks it's reasonable for an "intellectual" to read merely one or two books a month, or to find reading boring and difficult, but that he evidently has seen no behavior from his "intellectual" colleagues that would make him embarrassed to publish such sentiments.

Time Flies?

1. Time flies when you're having fun. We can also say that if time is dragging, you're not having fun.

2. By Einstein's theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed approaches the speed of light.

3. From 1 and 2, traveling at the speed of light is probably not fun at all.

4. But as a general matter, the feeling of acceleration to a high rate of speed (as in an automobile) can be at least somewhat thrilling, i.e., fun.

5. Therefore, if acceleration can be fun at relatively low speeds, but (from 3) is less fun as you approach the speed of light, the curve depicting the relation between fun and speed is probably non-linear.

6. Why would this be the case?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Healthcare Costs

Steve Burton makes an excellent point: The amount of public per capita spending on health care in the United States (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is actually more than the amount spent by the governments of Britain, France, Canada, Sweden, and other similar countries. To be clear: That's not counting any of the billions of dollars spent privately in the United States. Burton then asks an obvious question:
So here's my question: why do we get so much less bang for our public buck than anybody else? All of these governments spend less than ours does, but somehow they manage to get virtually universal coverage out of it. Our government spends more, yet only covers the old, the poor, and veterans. What gives?

The explanations offered by Krugman and Wells are simply beside the point here. Administrative costs? They praise Medicare's efficiency. Ability to bargain with suppliers? They point out that "both Medicaid and, to an even greater extent, the Veterans' Administration, get discounts similar to or greater than those received by the Canadian health system."

Again: what gives?

+ + + + +

Krugman & Wells are not alone. Leftish discussions of healthcare often suggest that if only we would abandon the few remaining trappings of the free market that continue to plague our system, then we could enjoy French-style outcomes at French-style cost. 'Cause the main factors that are driving our costs up are the sort of market-related inefficiencies singled out in the article cited above.

But, if that were true, and the public part of the American system all that efficient, wouldn't it already cover everybody for what it is already spending?

If not, why not?

I'm looking for an honest liberal. A liberal who will admit that the high cost of American healthcare is not primarily explainable in terms of the administrative and advertising costs of the private side of our healthcare industry.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Martin and Lewis

This is a classic skit with Jerry Lewis as a butler. He has to ad lib a bit starting at about 8:30 -- the peril of live TV.

More Martin and Lewis

In this skit (I have the whole thing on DVD), Jerry is supposed to be infiltrating a prison cell where Dean is an inmate, and where the prison administrator suspects that Dean is cooking up some plot to escape. What's great is when Dean ad libs at about 2:14, and then Jerry ad libs a response.

More Lewis and Martin

This song is even funnier. Background: Jerry had evidently hurt his knee, and the song deals with the hospital, his health, etc. Dean cracks up again when Jerry hits a ridiculously high note at 2:07. Then Jerry's "special verse" is hilarious (see the ending at about 2:30).

Martin and Lewis

I like this clip of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performing a song on the Colgate Comedy Hour (this had to have been in the early 1950s). What's funny is that Dean keeps cracking up every time Jerry hits some of his signature high notes (at about 30 seconds and at about 2:05). Also, notice that they begin the song in the wrong key, and both Dean and Jerry keep craning their necks towards the band during the first 25 or 30 seconds of the song until they get on track (Jerry also cracks, "Want to go over to the band?").

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Helprin Interview

A very interesting (and long!) interview with writer Mark Helprin. I sympathized with this bit:

DT: Are there any contemporary writers whom you read, that you admire?

MH: No.

DT: You don’t read anything at all? Someone like Tom Wolfe strikes me as . . .

MH: Oh, he’s terrific, but . . . about thirty years ago, the New York Times Magazine interviewed me, and they basically asked me that same question. I usually don’t read what other people read. But I don’t read book reviews, I don’t have friends. I mean, I have friends, but I don’t go to cocktail parties. People don’t say, “Oh, did you see such and such?” And I follow my own nose. So I read things that are different. People will always say to me, “Have you read Robert S. Bosco’s latest novel?” or “Have you read so and so’s history of Peru, which is reviewed in the New York Review of Books and the New York Times and has a buzz about it?” I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m like from another planet. I’m a pygmy from the jungle. But I’ve read some books. And so I can’t stand it because I always have to say, no. But I don’t then turn to them and say, “Have you read British Intelligence in the Second World War, British Edition, by F. H. Hinsley?” I don’t do that. The thing is that in the world there are 30 million books. And I follow my nose. I don’t have a prohibition. But you look at the books I have, there just aren’t any books with buzz. Of any kind. A lot of them are sent. I usually don’t end up reading them, because I don’t have any time. I read extremely slowly. What am I reading now? Six Days of War. I read it for a course I’m teaching. I’m reading Cicero. I’m always reading Churchill. When people say, Do you read contemporary writers, I have to say no, because I don’t even know who they are. Honestly.

Two Law Review Articles

These look interesting:
Do Charter Schools Threaten Public Education? Emerging Evidence from Fifteen Years of a Quasi-Market for Schooling

Georgetown University Law Center

Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 921101
University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2007, May 2007

Supporters of public education have long feared that charter schools will threaten the public system, both by 1) creaming off the most advantaged students and 2) undermining political support for the public system.

These fears have not been borne out. Blacks are disproportionately in charters, whites are disproportionately in traditional public schools, and Hispanics are fairly evenly distributed between the two. Looking at class measures, poor students are distributed fairly equally between the two types of schools. And turning to other measures of privilege, the evidence does not point strongly in either direction.

My conclusions are not without qualification. The article identifies some domains in which cream-skimming might develop and others where more research is needed. Moreover, the evidence does not support the claims of some charter school advocates that charter schools serve an especially disadvantaged population of students.

Regarding the question of public funding, privatization in the education context may have the effect of creating an additional constituency for increased overall education funding. Charter school advocates have moved away from claims that charters will cut costs and instead now focus on securing additional public funding. I argue that the structure of education funding means that charter school efforts to obtain greater public support will likely depend on increasing per pupil spending in all public schools.
Property Rights in Spectrum: Taking the Next Step

University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado Law School
September 30, 2005

U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-20

On the views of almost all commentators, the primary obstacle to recognizing property rights in spectrum is either a lack of economic sophistication or political will by the relevant policymakers. To such commentators, the FCC (or a court) could simply enforce property rights at the geographic boundary of a coverage area as well as at the boundaries (or edges) of different frequency bands. On such a view, if a spectrum licensee did not respect such boundaries - i.e., trespassed onto a neighboring geographic area or frequency band - the FCC (or a court) should issue an injunction to prevent such conduct.

This paper explains that the transition to a property rights model for spectrum is far more complex than commonly portrayed. First, unlike real property, radio spectrum does not allow for clear boundaries, as radio waves propagate in varying ways depending on a variety of circumstances and practical filtering constraints prevent total isolation between adjacent frequency bands. Second, if property rights are granted in a manner that would allow injunctions for trespass, it is quite possible that parties could bring actions solely to threaten an injunction and obtain a license along the lines of the much-criticized patent trolls. Finally, and most significantly, any workable system of property rights will need to rely on (at least to some degree) the predictive models - i.e., statistical predictions as to how often interference is likely to occur - that generally govern how spectrum is used today. Notably, any such reliance begs the question of how such models will be integrated into an enforcement system and with the reality of whether interference is actually present.

We do not have all of the answers worked out for how a property rights system for spectrum would work in practice. We do, however, believe that the overly simple assumptions underlying the claims of most property rights advocates could lead to unfortunate results and unintended consequences. To avoid such results, commentators - particularly those integrating technological, economic, and legal expertise - need to engage on the merits of a critically important policy challenge. Although we do not yet grasp all of the particulars of the ideal model for property rights in spectrum, we do believe that it will look quite different from its real property counterpart to which it is often inaccurately compared.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Reports

Time for another round of book reports on a few of the books that I've read recently:

1. Anonymous Lawyer, by Jeremy Blachman. This book is based on the famous blog by the same name, wherein Blachman (at the time a law student) pretended to be a law firm's irascible and cynical hiring partner. Both the blog and the book are hilarious, if not always realistic, satires of law firm life, although some of the jokes might be lost on non-lawyers. Blachman also has an "anonymous law firm" website that is a parody of law firm websites and that is, if anything, funnier than the book. Worth checking out.

2. Real Food, by Nina Planck. Planck's message is simple: Avoid modern processing of any type. Real foods are better. This means, for example, avoiding processed flour and sugar, hydrogenated oils, etc. It also means eating organic vegetables and fruits, grass-fed beef and chicken (Planck is against vegetarianism, for the obvious reasons that humans evolved to eat meat and it's very hard to get the protein that your body needs from vegetables), and unpasteurized whole milk. Yes, whole milk: Planck argues -- convincingly, I think -- that the evidence against saturated fat is surprisingly weak, and moreover that the fat-soluble vitamins in milk won't even be absorbed by your body unless the milk has some fat in it. I like this idea, although I still haven't figured out a way to get unpasteurized milk (the government, in its benign wisdom, has chosen to criminalize the purchase of unpasteurized milk by consenting adults).

3. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a wide-ranging and engaging inquiry into where Americans get our food. Pollan’s discussion of how ubiquitous corn has become in the American diet is especially interesting. Here’s a bit from the first chapter, available online here:
So what exactly would an ecological detective set loose in an American supermarket discover, were he to trace the items in his shopping cart all the way back to the soil? The notion began to occupy me a few years ago, after I realized that the straightforward question “What should I eat?” could no longer be answered without first addressing two other even more straightforward questions: “What am I eating? And where in the world did it come from?” Not very long ago an eater didn’t need a journalist to answer these questions. The fact that today one so often does suggests a pretty good start on a working definition of industrial food: Any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain.

When I started trying to follow the industrial food chain—the one that now feeds most of us most of the time and typically culminates either in a supermarket or fast-food meal—I expected that my investigations would lead me to a wide variety of places. And though my journeys did take me to a great many states, and covered a great many miles, at the very end of these food chains (which is to say, at the very beginning), I invariably found myself in almost exactly the same place: a farm field in the American Corn Belt. The great edifice of variety and choice that is an American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a tiny group of plants that is dominated by a single species: Zea mays, the giant tropical grass most Americans know as corn.

Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn. The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.

Head over to the processed foods and you find ever more intricate manifestations of corn. A chicken nugget, for example, piles corn upon corn: what chicken it contains consists of corn, of course, but so do most of a nugget’s other constituents, including the modified corn starch that glues the thing together, the corn flour in the batter that coats it, and the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget “fresh” can all be derived from corn.

To wash down your chicken nuggets with virtually any soft drink in the supermarket is to have some corn with your corn. Since the 1980s virtually all the sodas and most of the fruit drinks sold in the supermarket have been sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—after water, corn sweetener is their principal ingredient. Grab a beer for your beverage instead and you’d still be drinking corn, in the form of alcohol fermented from glucose refined from corn. Read the ingredients on the label of any processed food and, provided you know the chemical names it travels under, corn is what you will find. For modified or unmodified starch, for glucose syrup and maltodextrin, for crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and HFCS, for MSG and polyols, for the caramel color and xanthan gum, read: corn. Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez Whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candies, the soups and snacks and cake mixes, the frosting and gravy and frozen waffles, the syrups and hot sauces, the mayonnaise and mustard, the hot dogs and the bologna, the margarine and shortening, the salad dressings and the relishes and even the vitamins. (Yes, it’s in the Twinkie, too.) There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn.This goes for the nonfood items as well: Everything from the toothpaste and cosmetics to the disposable diapers, trash bags, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine on he cover of the magazine that catches your eye by the checkout: corn. Even in Produce on a day when there’s ostensibly no corn for sale you’ll nevertheless find plenty of corn: in the vegetable wax that gives the cucumbers their sheen, in the pesticide responsible for the produce’s perfection, even in the coating on the cardboard it was shipped in. Indeed, the supermarket itself—the wallboard and joint compound, the linoleum and fiberglass and adhesives out of which the building itself has been built—is in no small measure a manifestation of corn.

Article on Signing Statements

This article strikes me as the best and most sensible thing I've read on signing statements:
Presidential Signing Statements and Executive Power

Duke Law School
University of Chicago - Law School
July 2006

U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 133

* * *

The critics confuse the medium and the message. The signing statement is a tool for expressing a president’s view of a statute. The fact that presidents may use signing statements to advance erroneous views about their constitutional powers or the meaning of a statute is not grounds for criticizing the tool, just as policy disagreement about the use of the veto would not be grounds for criticizing the President’s veto power. Like all tools, the signing statement can be used for good or for ill. Confusion about this point is evident in the debate about whether Bush has challenged “too many” statutory provisions in signing statements, when the appropriate but neglected question is whether Bush’s views about executive power are justified.

* * * The signing statement is no more offensive than the memorandum, the
executive order, and the proclamation, and no one seems to want to ban them. Whatever one’s views of presidential power, the president has the right and perhaps even a constitutional obligation to state his opinion about the meaning of a statute and whether it violates the constitution. If it is more convenient to state this opinion in a signing statement than in some other type of document, that is hardly an objection. Indeed, stating his views about legislation at the earliest possible point increases transparency about the executive’s intentions, which enable those who are affected by the statute to adjust their behavior accordingly, and those who disagree with the President to mobilize resources to litigate or obtain a legislative revision.

If courts do give weight to signing statements, then critics of the signing statement should more appropriately complain about judicial than about presidential practice. But to the extent that courts legitimately defer or give weight to the executive’s position on some issue, and this is very common as we have discussed, then it seems that use of the signing statement should be encouraged rather than criticized. When the president expresses his view in advance rather than in litigation, there is less of a chance that the view is opportunistic or politically biased, as courts have recognized. The signing statement should thus be preferred to the litigation position.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

9/11 Conspiracy Theory

There's one thing that I don't understand about the 9/11 conspiracy theory that seems to be surprisingly popular in some circles. I'm speaking of the theory that: 1) The WTC towers were really brought down via explosives (as in a demolition operation), and 2) therefore, the U.S. government was responsible. That's how the usual theory seems to go, but I just don't see how #2 would -- even in theory -- follow from #1. No one ever seems to offer an argument on this -- they just assume that if they put together a lengthy webpage with lots of pseudo-scientific verbiage about the temperature at which jet fuel burns, that in itself proves that the U.S. government was responsible. Non sequitur.

Moreover, let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that there was indeed a U.S. government conspiracy to blow up the WTC towers, thus generating an excuse to go to war against Afghanistan. Needless to say, I don't think that it's remotely plausible either that the government would want to do this, or that such a monumental plot could be carried off by the same people who couldn't keep Abu Ghraib a secret (or Eastern European CIA prisons, or various incidents at Guantanamo, or the NSA data-gathering operation, etc.).

Anyway, suppose that such a conspiracy really existed. Why would the conspirators feel the need to involve hijacked airplanes in the plot? After all, Muslim terrorists had already tried to use explosives to blow up the WTC in 1993. If one can imagine a government conspiracy sophisticated enough to pull off a demolition operation, why wouldn't the conspiracy also be sophisticated enough to blame the demolition on Muslims? Why bring a hijacking into it at all, let alone four hijackings? If the conspiracy could just blow up the WTC and blame it on Muslims, four hijackings would be both 1) superfluous, and 2) extremely risky, in that a much larger number of co-conspirators could be caught, or could reveal the conspiracy, or could fail to take over the planes, etc., etc.

I should add, I'm not writing this because I think that my usual readers need any assurance on these points. I'm just hoping that this post gets picked up by Google.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Education Study

The Department of Education released a study recently showing that on average, kids from similar backgrounds (race, family, and income) did almost as well in public schools as in private schools. Some people viewed this study as a blow to the voucher movement. I think that such a conclusion is illogical and misinformed.

The Department of Education study -- at most -- tells us what the nationwide average is. It tells us that if you average together the best and worst private schools (from the $20,000-a-year boarding school to the fly-by-night operation that just opened up), and the best and worst public schools (from the toniest suburb in Connecticut to the worst inner-city school in Detroit), the nationwide average is roughly similar.

But children who are likely to be eligible for vouchers do not attend schools that equal the nationwide average. To the contrary, as of the 2006 edition of The Education Gap, by William Howell and Paul Peterson, every publicly-funded voucher program in the country was aimed at 1) students from low-income families, or 2) students who attend "failing" public schools, or 3) students who have no public school in their community. [One sometimes comes across people who believe that vouchers are intended to help rich white people pay for expensive private schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.]

So: In a typical case, a poor black student attending a failing inner-city school with a 50% drop-out rate is offered a voucher. Is it any use to that student to be told that she should be satisfied with this failing public school, because, after all, if her school's performance was averaged with that of a public school in a ritzy white suburb of New York City, it would then be similar to the nationwide average of private schools? How on earth is that message relevant to her situation? The fact is, her local public school is failing her needs, and a private school (such as a Catholic school or something like this) may be far better for her.

That last point isn't necessarily true, of course. A few private schools that take voucher students sometimes turn out to be shoddy and poorly-run enterprises. But that doesn't discredit the entire notion of vouchers, any more than the occasional case of Medicare fraud proves that the entire system should be scrapped.