First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say

Monday, January 31st, 2005

From First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say:

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.
Three in four students said flag burning is illegal. It’s not. About half the students said the government can restrict any indecent material on the Internet. It can’t.

When you consider how many students can’t find the US on a map, those stats don’t look so bad.

About the study:

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.

Despite Violence, Iraqis Head to Polls In Large Numbers

Monday, January 31st, 2005

Wow. Despite Violence, Iraqis Head to Polls In Large Numbers:

Former Gen. Uday Abdullah, a 50-year-old Sunni Muslim who commanded an Iraqi battalion until the fall of Baghdad, said he saw streams of neighbors walking to polling stations when he woke up yesterday morning. He lives in a Baghdad neighborhood with many former regime officers, and as he stood in line for an hour to vote, he bumped into former colleagues who had also come to vote.

“It felt great to vote,” he said. “Like I was free.”

Many Iraqi voters wore their best clothes, with whole families navigating past rolls of barbed wire and security checkpoints dressed in suits and ties, long skirts and flowery shirts, escorting children in party dresses. Handicapped voters rolled into the voting centers in wheelchairs. Children played soccer; women passed out candy and sweets to passersby. Many departed from election centers with the Arab cheer of “halhulah,” traditionally shouted at weddings.

The Importance of Brad and Jennifer… and Maureen Dowd

Monday, January 31st, 2005

In The Importance of Brad and Jennifer… and Maureen Dowd, James D. Miller has a few words to say about work-life balance and gender differences:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd complains that men with high-powered jobs would rather marry secretaries than their career equals. She further laments that the more a woman achieves in her career the less desirable she becomes to men. Dowd, of course, blames this situation entirely on men. But Dowd is wrong because it’s women, not men, who are at fault here.

Although children are a blessing, they’re also time sinks. Two married people can’t both work jobs for 60 hours a week and have enough time to raise a few kids properly. Realizing this, many men who intend to have several children and time-intensive jobs often seek women who are more child- than career-oriented. But what about ambitious women? What do they need to do?
The majority of working parents can find enough time to spend with their children, but only because most of us have jobs that don’t require 60+ hours of work each week. But the few who intend to climb to the very tops of their career ladders and are therefore willing to devote nearly every waking hour to their jobs face a choice of (A) not having children, (B) having neglected children, or (C) having a spouse who is willing to devote little time to his or her job. Dowd shouldn’t attack ambitious men who have chosen option (C). Rather, she should convince career-oriented college women that they should stop dreaming of marrying investment bankers and start looking for men who don’t want high-status, time-intensive jobs.

Tool for Thought

Sunday, January 30th, 2005

In Tool for Thought, writer Steven Johnson explains how he uses computer tools to aid his writing and thinking — not by simply searching, but by “riffing, or brainstorming, or exploring”:

Consider how I used the tool in writing my last book, which revolved around the latest developments in brain science. I would write a paragraph that addressed the human brain’s remarkable facility for interpreting facial expressions. I’d then plug that paragraph into the software, and ask it to find other, similar passages in my archive. Instantly, a list of quotes would be returned: some on the neural architecture that triggers facial expressions, others on the evolutionary history of the smile, still others that dealt with the expressiveness of our near relatives, the chimpanzees. Invariably, one or two of these would trigger a new association in my head — I’d forgotten about the chimpanzee connection — elect that quote, and ask the software to find a new batch of documents similar to it. Before long a larger idea had taken shape in my head, built out of the trail of associations the machine had assembled for me.

Unionization’s Decline, a Human Capital Story

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

In Unionization’s Decline, a Human Capital Story, Arnold Kling explains why unions haven’t spread (much) outside of manufacturing:

In manufacturing, workers develop specific human capital. As someone who actually worked in a factory for a couple of summers, I can attest to this. You learn to operate the particular machinery in the plant, but that knowledge is of no value in a different plant.

In the service sector, skills are often transferable. You may have a license (to be a teacher, a nurse, or what have you) that makes you transferable. Or you may have a skill set (sales, general management, computer programming) that is transferable.

With specific human capital, there is mutual bargaining power. The company values your experience, but your opportunity cost is low, so they could try to keep your pay low and exploit you. So a union helps you out.

With generic human capital, you do not need bargaining muscle. If you are way underpaid, you simply take another job. So a union helps less.

Higher Ed, Inc.

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Higher Ed, Inc. looks at the business of higher education:

Counting everything but its huge endowment holdings, Higher Ed, Inc., is a $250 to $270 billion business — bigger than religion, much bigger than art. And though no one in the business will openly admit it, getting into college is a cinch. The problem, of course, is that too many students want to get into the same handful of nameplate colleges, making it seem that the entire market is tight. It most certainly is not. Here?s the crucial statistic: There are about 2,500 four-year colleges in this country, and only about 100 of them refuse more applicants than they accept. Most schools accept 80 percent or more of those who apply. It?s the rare student who can?t get in somewhere.

An amusing analogy:

Another growth market? Foreign students. No one talks about it much, but this market has been profoundly affected by 9/11. Foreign students have stopped coming. There are enough rabbits still in the python that universities haven?t been affected yet. But they will be.

University funding in a nutshell:

Development is both PR and fundraising, the intersection of getting the brand out and the contributions in, and daily it becomes more crucial. That?s because schools like mine have four basic revenue streams: student tuition, research funding, public (state) support, and private giving. The least important is tuition; the most prestigious is external research dollars; the most fickle is state support; and the most remunerative is what passes through the development office.

Competition at the top of the pyramid has become intense:

Until 1991, the Ivy League schools and the Massachusetts Institute of Tecnology met around a conference table each April to fix financial aid packages for students who had been admitted to more than one school. That year, after the Justice Department sued the schools, accusing them of antitrust violations, the universities agreed to stop the practice. As happened with Major League Baseball after television contracts made the teams rich, bidding pandemonium broke out. Finite number of players + almost infinite cash = market bubble. Here?s the staggering result. Over the past three decades, tuition at the most select schools has increased fivefold, nearly double the rate of inflation. Yet precious few students pay the full fare. The war is fought over who gets in and how much they?re going to have to be paid to attend.

The top schools are largely indistinguishable:

?Diversity is the hallmark of the Harvard/Radcliffe experience,? the first sentence in the Harvard University register declares. ?Diversity is the virtual core of University life,? the University of Michigan bulletin announces. ?Diversity is rooted deeply in the liberal arts tradition and is key to our educational philosophy,? Connecticut College insists. ?Duke?s 5,800 undergraduates come from regions which are truly diverse,? the Duke University bulletin declares. ?Stanford values a class that is both ethnically and economically diverse,? the Stanford University bulletin notes. Brown University says, ?When asked to describe the undergraduate life at The College — and particularly their first strongest impression of Brown as freshmen — students consistently bring up the same topic: the diversity of the student body.?

Read the whole article.

How to kick someone’s ass with an umbrella

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Boing Boing recently discovered How to kick someone’s ass with an umbrella, or, as Pearson’s Magazine titled it (in 1901), Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions (PartI). It’s just one of the many fascinating articles in the Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives, edited by Joseph R. Svinth. My favorite quote, from the intro:

In this way blows can be made so formidable that with an ordinary malacca cane it is possible to sever a man’s jugular vein through the collar of his overcoat.

The walking-stick article, by the way, is the work of E.W. Barton-Wright, creator of bartitsu — a collection of jiu-jitsu “tricks” with a hokey pseudo-Japanese name. Bartitsu has a claim to fame though: Sherlock Holmes relies on his training in bartitsu (misspelled baritsu, which is at least conceivably Japanese, in Doyle’s story) to throw Moriarty off a waterfall in Switzerland. This is how he survives what was originally supposed to be his final story.

John Stossel Takes on Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

John Stossel’s latest ABC News special covers a mix of topics. John Stossel Takes on Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior:

No. 10 – NASTY BEHAVIOR – Littering
No. 9 – NASTY BEHAVIOR – Extra Cell Phone Fees
No. 8 – NASTY BEHAVIOR – Noise
No. 7 – MYTH – Gas Prices Are Higher Than Ever
No. 6 – NASTY BEHAVIOR – Congress’ Pork Barrel Spending
No. 5 – NASTY BEHAVIOR – Welfare for Farmers
No. 4 – MYTH – Outsourcing Is Bad for American Workers
No. 3 – MYTH – Public Schools for Poor Kids, Not Politicians’ Kids
No. 2 – MYTH – Urban Sprawl Is Ruining America
MYTH No. 1 – Sharing Would Make the World a Better Place

Software Engineering Proverbs

Friday, January 28th, 2005

GeekPress led me to some Software Engineering Proverbs, including this one:

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said that, given eight hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend six sharpening his axe.

TidBITS 654, quoted by Derek K. Miller, via Art Evans

People Against People

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Most people do not think like economists and look at all of the tradeoffs involved in a “moral” decision. From People Against People:

In January, Greenpeace launched coordinated campaigns in Hong Kong and Thailand against power companies for causing global warming by generating electricity from coal. Greenpeace Hong Kong claimed global warming had killed 150,000 people. This is deeply misguided thinking. Nicola Mahncke, from Chung Hom Kok in Hong Kong hit the nail on the head in a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Morning Post, pointing out the money the anti-global warming treaty Kyoto Protocol would waste would be better spent ‘saving the lives of nearly 1 billion people who do not have access to clean water’.

She might have added that electricity generated by coal saved millions in poor countries from early death from respiratory diseases caused by cooking with wood and coal.

Where Have All the Children Gone?

Friday, January 28th, 2005

In Where Have All the Children Gone?, Pavel Kohou colorfully addresses declining birthrates:

In the third century AD there was a prophet called Mani. He preached a doctrine of conflict between Good and Evil. He saw the material world as the devil’s creation. Marriage and motherhood was a grave sin in his view, since by bearing children people multiply the works of Satan. The Manichean ideal was to move mankind to a superterrestrial realm of Good by way of gradual extinction.

In the course of history, Manichaeism was ruthlessly eradicated as an heretical, ungodly doctrine. When looking at demographic statistics, however, one might think that the populations in developed countries have converted en masse to Manichaeism and decided to become extinct. The birth rate in most western countries has fallen bellow replacement level.

Children have shifted from being a valuable investment to being…pets:

To put it straightforwardly, and perhaps a little cynically, in the past children used to be regarded as investments that provided their parents with means of subsistence in old age. In Czech the word “vejminek” (a place in a farmhouse reserved for the farmer’s old parents) is actually derived from a verb meaning “to stipulate”: in the deed of transfer, the old farmer stipulated the conditions on which the farm was to be transferred to his son. Instead of an “intergenerational” policy, there used to be direct dependence of parents on their children. This meant that people had immediate economic motivation to have a sufficiently numerous and well-bred offspring — whereas today’s anonymous system makes all workers pay for the pensions of all retirees in an utterly depersonalized manner.
Today, children no longer represent investments; instead, they have become pets — objects of luxury consumption. However, the pet market segment is very competitive. It is characteristic that the birth rate decline in the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s, was accompanied by soaring numbers of dog-owners in cities. While in the past dog-owners were predominantly retirees, today there are many young couples that have consciously decided to have a dog instead of a baby. These are mainly young professionals who have come to a conclusion (whether right or wrong) that they lack either time or money to have a child. Thus, they invest their emotional surpluses into animals.

Colors to the Mast

Friday, January 28th, 2005

In Colors to the Mast, Wretchard notes that politicians and leaders have to stand by their statements, now that everything gets recorded and indexed on-line:

The emergence of the Internet has closed down the ‘memory hole’ within which the former apologists of Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein could hide their bad advance and from which they could emerge at whiles to offer new sage advice. The term ‘memory hole’ itself was coined by George Orwell who used it to describe the mechanism through which the media manipulated historical memory. One of the tenets of the Party in Orwell’s 1984 was that ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past’, and the key to achieving mastery over history was the liberal use of the ‘memory hole’.

Religious War: East and West

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Religious War: East and West opens by citing “the underground diplomats” at the New Sisyphus:

One of the most common observations about World War II was that if only Western leaders had heeded what the National Socialist Worker’s Party and its leader Adolf Hitler were saying, they would have known of the grave danger facing the world. After all, it’s not as if the Nazi Party or its frenzied Führer tried to hide what they were about. On the contrary, in speech after speech, newspaper after newspaper and book after book, Hitler and other senior Nazis laid out in some detail their plans for European domination, the destruction of parliamentary democracy and the elimination of the Jewish people.

And what do America’s enemies say today?

In an audiotape released on January 23, 2005, Zarqawi puts forth a view which he has repeated many times in the past, but which, like Mein Kampf, some are determined never to hear. In the audio Zarqawi cursed democracy because it promoted such un-Islamic behavior as freedom of religion, rule of the people, freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, forming political parties and majority rule. Freedom of speech was particularly evil because it allowed “even cursing God. This means that there is nothing sacred in democracy.”

A Strangely Important Figure

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Andrew Stuttaford sees Ayn Rand as A Strangely Important Figure:

To call Ayn Rand, the high priestess of the human will, a mere force of nature would to her have been an insult as well as a cliche. But how else to describe this extraordinary, maddening, and indestructible individual? Born a century ago this year into the flourishing bourgeoisie of glittering, doomed St. Petersburg, Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum was to triumph over revolution, civil war, Lenin’s dictatorship, an impoverished immigrant existence, and bad reviews in the New York Times to become a strangely important figure in the history of American ideas.

Even the smaller details of Rand’s life come with the sort of epic implausibility found in — oh, an Ayn Rand novel. On her first day of looking for work in Hollywood, who gives her a lift in his car? Cecil B. DeMille. Of course he does. Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for her. Years later, when she’s famous, the sage of selfishness, ensconced in her Murray Hill eyrie, a young fellow by the name of Alan Greenspan becomes a member of the slightly creepy set that sits at the great woman’s feet. Apparently he went on to achieve some prominence in later life.

This rings true, in a darkly comic way:

The establishment always disapproved. Critics sneered. Academics jeered. The publishers Macmillan turned down “Anthem” (1938), saying that Rand, a refugee from the Soviet Union, “did not understand socialism.”

Righting Copyrights

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Robert S. Boynton, director of New York University’s magazine journalism program, tackles copyrights in Righting Copyrights:

Who owns the words you’re reading right now? if you’re holding a copy of Bookforum in your hands, the law permits you to lend or sell it to whomever you like. If you’re reading this article on the Internet, you are allowed to link to it, but are prohibited from duplicating it on your web site or chat room without permission. You are free to make copies of it for teaching purposes, but aren’t allowed to sell those copies to your students without permission. A critic who misrepresents my ideas or uses some of my words to attack me in an article of his own is well within his rights to do so. But were I to fashion these pages into a work of collage art and sell it, my customer would be breaking the law if he altered it. Furthermore, were I to set these words to music, I’d receive royalties when it was played on the radio; the band performing it, however, would get nothing. In the end, the copyright to these words belongs to me, and I’ve given Bookforum the right to publish them. But even my ownership is limited. Unlike a house, which I may pass on to my heirs (and they to theirs), my copyright will expire seventy years after my death, and these words will enter the public domain, where anyone is free to use them. But those doodles you’re drawing in the margins of this page? Have no fear: They belong entirely to you.

Ah, irony:

The line between science fiction and reality is often difficult to discern, as exhibited by the case of the college student who received trademark #2,127,381 for the phrase “freedom of expression.” Fortunately, the student was Kembrew McLeod, who applied for it in order to make a point. McLeod, now professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, is no stranger to using media pranks to exploit the absurdities of the system. In fact, he even once sold his soul in a glass jar on eBay.