Thursday, January 30, 2003

[Will, 7:13 PM]

A vaguely incoherent Jurisprudence article at Slate, in which Elise Boddie argues that those who oppose affirmative action plans because they disadvantage whites are flat-wrong.

In other words, although there is a widespread perception that masses of white students are losing their seats because of affirmative action, in reality, race-conscious policies have a negligible impact on whites.

She argues, essentially, that because whites are the overwhelming majority, that significant percentage decreases in minority admissions lead to insignificant percentage increases for whites. Well, yes. But percentages can be misleading in some cases, like this one. Assuming a relatively hard limit to the size of Michigan's incoming class (more realistic for the law school than the college), then every minority student admitted is one fewer white student admitted. It is indeed a zero sum game. I'm not always against affirmative action, expecially when employed by universities and private companies rather than police forces or Supreme Courts, but Boddie's argument, such as it is, is misleading. Even though the percentage of white students remains relatively stable while the percentage of black students fluctuates immensely, the total numbers of minorities and whites trade one to one.

Boddie rejects the analogy of "reverse discrimination" by saying that comparing affirmative action to southern segregation is not "an honest comparison." Now, I'm wary of argument by analogy to segregation (and by analogy of segregation to Hitler; if the world were as bad as analogists say it is, it would be hard to believe any human progress has been made in two centuries), but the analogy needs to be refuted, not simply dismissed. Why is it better to discriminate in favor of diversity than against it?

For much more on the topic, read this:

[Will, 1:29 PM]
Beam Me up, Scotty . . .
A long way from Star Trek, but this is just cool.

Monday, January 27, 2003

[Will, 3:59 PM]
Frankly, My Dear:

Eugene Volokh blogs on the phrase "to be honest." He rightly criticizes it for being either redundant or insulting.
...I've tried to avoid this locution, precisely because people who actually pay attention to the phrase might quite reasonably be put off -- either you're acknowledging that you might be dishonest in other contexts, or, more likely, you're trying to buttress your credibility in an unpersuasive way.

All right. But he then extends the same criticism to "frankly" which seems misguided. The OED and my own experience give "frankly" as "Without concealment, disguise, or reserve; avowedly, openly, plainly." (emphasis mine).

When I use frankly in speech (and I assume I am not alone in this) I mean to signal that I am about to say something in a less decorous or elliptical manner than the listener is prepared for. In a scholarship interview, one might say "because frankly, our student government is a battle between the dishonest and the incompetent," and in a romantic movie one might respond to one's former lover "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." In each case, the word signals useful content-- not that the speaker was being dishonest before he became "frank" but that he was being indirect. There's nothing insulting about indirectness. Quite the contrary.


I: Volokh updates his post to defend "bluntly". All the more reason that "frankly" should be taken off the hit-list.

II: I think a good defense can be mounted for "honestly" as well. Both Smith and Volokh dislike the fact that it implies that one wasn't being honest beforehand, and as an honest person, I sympathize. But even this has its place.

First off, many people are not honest much of the time-- when answering the question "how are you?," or when commenting on other people's clothing, for example. The social expectation is that these answers will be "fine, thanks, yourself?" and "it's lovely," largely independent of the truth. "To be honest," like "frankly," serves as a warning to the listener that one is about to deliver a factually correct answer rather than a socially correct answer, and thus nulls the shock a bit.

Secondly, people often exaggerate and expect others to exaggerate, so "to be honest" can be used just as "literally" can (literally is often misused, of course), and "to be honest" sounds much less pretensious than "to be accurate". So one can say "to be honest, I think Representative Dan Burton is an idiot" to distinguish this as an actual pronouncement on his intelligence rather than a more general complaint about having made bad (or badly-motivated) decisions. The second usage seems a bit of a stretch to me, and it should be avoided when possible since it invites misinterpretation, but I've knowingly done it myself, and not only when speaking extemporaneously.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

[Will, 4:05 PM]
The End of the Affair:

Amanda Butler has a great excerpt from The End of the Affair. Email her and bug her to blog more thoughts on the book. I suspect they'd be brilliant. A few quotes she didn't include (as soon as I can get my DNS configured, these will be up on my usual page)

I'm tired and I don't want any more pain. I want Maurice. I want ordinary corrupt human love. Dear God, you know I want to want Your pain, but I don't want it now. Take it away for a while and give it me another time.

You've taken her, but You haven't got me yet. I know Your cunning. It's You who take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe. You're a devil, God, tempting us to leap. But I don't want your peace and I don't want Your love. . . I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.

Two things:

1: Does anybody have other examples in literature or the bible of people using "You" to speak to God in the second person? If so, can you tell me whether or not the "y" is capitalized in these examples?

2: In my opinion, what makes The End of The Affair so interesting is that it's a great challenge to knee-jerk utilitarians (like I used to be, and often still am). Here is a coherent novel about people acting in ways that maximize what they call their "pain," and their "hate," and "jealousy." We might say that these people are acting irrationally, but they are acting coherently, and the usual definition of economic irrationality doesn't seem to apply. We could say that they are misusing the term "pain" (by "misusing" we mean "using in a non-utilitarian fashion") but that is a dangerous road. When utilitarians say that one ought to maximize one's pleasures and minimize one's pains, or when economists say that rational people simply do maximize their pleasures and minimize their pains, what counts as a pleasure and what counts as a pain? How do we explain the common tendency to mull over and rehash lost loves and the equally common tendency to refer to this as painful?

Friday, January 24, 2003

[Will, 4:34 PM]
Further Advice

How Appealing (my latest addiction) posts an interview with a Federal Judge. And on Thursday, The University of Chicago Law School is hosting a clerkship ethics panel. My father suggests that otherwise reasonable people can commit some pretty serious errors (and lose their jobs) if they don't know a few basic things. Now if I can just get one of my friends elected senator, my trajectory to the federal bench will be underway . . . .

[Will, 8:54 AM]
There is Hope:

Josh Chavetz recommends The Club Dumas, and rightly so. It's nice to see brilliant yet obscure things recommended by the relatively popular. What's next, Syrup?

That said, while I really adore the Club Dumas, and it has two of my favorite characters in any book, Reverte is no Eco. The book is a little lighter, much faster, but a little less satisfying at the end than, say, The Name of the Rose. The book jacket proclaims (accurately) that it's "Beach Reading for the Intellectual."

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

[Will, 8:54 PM]
Newcomb and Nozick:
Newcomb's paradox is nothing new to students of game theory or philosophy. Mark Kleiman has found an intriguing crack.
Sworn: I hereby agree to abide by the same resolution as Mark Kleiman, cited above.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

[Will, 11:11 AM]
And a Second Dilemma:
In writing what I wrote below, I didn't use any names, partially because of general social norms, but partially because I'm a little unclear on the state of libel and anonymous source laws. It wasn't out of respect for him. So could I have written this using his name? If sued for libel, would I be forced to disclose my sources to show that I had not published with reckless disregard for the truth? If so, isn't there something wrong with that? Oughtn't there be a place in our world for anonymous second-hand accusations? What are we afraid of?

[Will, 10:32 AM]
Frankly, a Disgrace:
A dilemma I always have: To what degree do people have a right to violate drug policies that are wrong or ridiculous (depending on whether it's the government or a private party doing it)? In the case in point, a very smarmy and dishonest boy with political ambitions who goes to my school was caught earlier in the year for drug (not marijuana) use. Pursuant to housing policy, he was to be moved out of his former residence hall (though, astonishingly, to stay within the housing system) along with all of his friends/accomplices. After waiting for all of his friends to sign papers accepting their punishments, he petitioned, bullied (some of) the other members of his house into signing for him, and is now back in his former house and residence hall. His residence head is now rumored to be resigning in protest.

Now, I have no problem with petitions as a way to get around silly regulations, but the problem is that they often ignore the more silent, or more intimidated majority who was perfectly happy to see justice done, but doesn't want to risk a fight. In this case especially, he has a history of sexual harrassment of varying shades, and plenty of prior complaints that have been swept under the rug. So even if I think that students ought to be allowed to use heroin or opium on their own time, where should I stand?

Friday, January 10, 2003

[Will, 9:48 AM]
Sex like Rain:
Nicholas Kristof has an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times about the problems of abstinence education abroad. The Bush Administration, apparently, has been less and less pro-condom (although Kristof concedes, they still donate millions of condoms to Africa, and some of the evidence he cites are merely from Christian Conservative groups) and this is responsible for part of the African AIDS problem. An average Botswanan man, for example, gets less than one condom a year from the U.S. At the end of the first Bush administration, when condom donations were 8/3 as high as they are now, he must have received nearly three? Oh, those were the days to party!

Don't get me wrong. I think condoms are terribly effective, and I think that it's lousy public policy to keep condoms away from people in order to discourage them from having sex, because I think the costs (of more unprotected sex) are greater than the public-health benefits (of less sex), even ignoring any further considerations. But this is a cost-benefit question, and neither side of the equation is empty. If condoms only very slightly reduced the transmission of disease but made people dramatically more likely to have sex (I can't think of what scientific explanation would cause this, but surely somebody can), then the answer would go the other way. Kristof seems not to realize this, or else to be caught up in his own rhetoric. He ends thus:

It's imperative that we get over our squeamishness, accept that condoms are flawed but far better than nothing, recognize that condoms no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain, and ensure that couples in places like Botswana get more than one condom per year.

Excuse me? You can't change the weather (at least not with an umbrella). But claiming that condoms don't cause sex is like claiming that sobriety doesn't cause driving. Condoms do make it more likely that people will have sex; isn't that (or at least the converse) what we're hoping for? If two people have sex, and one of them gives AIDS to the other, half of those people are substantially worse off than they were before, and if people have any shred of rationality, some of them will avoid at least some sex, at least some of the time, with some infected partners. I don't mean to doubt biological drives or hormones, but surely we aren't all so inexorably controlled by biological drives that whether or not we have sex is entirely independent of whether or not it is a good idea. If so, it's best to scrap all of sex education right now.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

[Jonathan, 11:48 PM]
Warning - you do not want to read this. You have probably either already read it (in which case, I'm sorry) or don't want to read it (makes sense). Long time ago, I figured out how to save the world. Then I redid it. And I redid it again. Here it is, in veritable speech form. It's long. It's cumbersome. It's... silly. But oh well. Such is life.

I am only one man. One boy. And, frankly, what can one boy do? How can one boy solve the world's problems? Well, I'll be honest. He can't. I can't. But I can do my best to solve the problems of our fine country, America.
What follows is a short list of the problems America faces:
Americans need gas.
Americans are overweight.
Americans are homeless.
The American government is deep in debt.
America is having a difficult time developing and flourishing in the pollution-ridden and overpopulated world.

But my proposal addresses and solves every single one of these issues.

The initial step that the government must take is to outlaw automobiles, motorcycles, and any other self-powered vehicles. For those who demand to maintain a level of dignity, Sultan- esque platforms with handles and thrones on top will be available. However, these platforms may not have any form of protective canopy, and the use of sunscreen while riding shall be explicitly prohibited. This will ensure that all those who initially wished to ride atop said platforms will either die of sunstroke or give up and resort to walking.

At this point, everyone will be walking, jogging, running, or - at the very least - riding bicycles everywhere they go. This will make parking lots and garages obsolete, and it will also eliminate the need for roughly 60 to 40 percent of most roads. It is difficult to put into words the amount of land this would provide for housing developments for the financially disadvantaged, thus substantially lowering homelessness among Americans.

Then, we will have many more satisfied, home-owning people, and they'll all be walking everywhere. That means they'll be getting healthier (perhaps you now ask yourself, ‘What if Americans aren't walking anywhere, so not getting any healthier?' If this is the case, all non- participants will be moved to the nation of Argentina - which will no doubt welcome them with open arms, seeing as its prominent beef industry would profit greatly from those persons not interested in physical exercise. This will reduce overpopulation in America, particularly of those poorly-motivated and weak-bodied individuals).

So America will take its stronger, healthier citizens and enter them in the Olympics. Then it can place discreet, high-stakes bets on the outcome with Saudi Arabia. We'll say, "We'll give you such and such if you give us a whole bunch of oil." And now, since the Americans are healthier, the Saudi Arabians will be defeated. This will only work for one or two of the Olympics, three tops. After that, they'll probably start getting suspicious.

So then, we cut out the middle man. We go directly to trading healthy people for oil. As for what Saudi Arabia will do with these new healthy people, it's difficult to say, precisely. One possibility is that they will perform the same procedure on the Hungarians, instead gaining famed Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff.

At this point, our oil supplies will be more than sufficient, but we'll still have a healthy population. The next step is to train people in riding the wild caribou that inhabit the much- desired tract of land containing even more oil. To avoid straining the caribou's backs, permission to ride them will be granted only to paraplegics, quadriplegics, or other handicapped persons. This will also provide more land for commercial areas, since they will no longer need to take up space with handicapped ramps.

Now America is free to drill for oil in Alaska, because the caribou won't be on that migration route anymore. Then, America will have even more gas. So we trade that back to the Saudi Arabians (or the highest bidder [or Hungary]) for more money. If we need even more money, we can move the Americans out of Alaska and sell it to Canada. Or we could stake claim on Antarctica, chop it up into as many small ice chunks as we can, and then monopolize the ice cube market. With the money from selling oil and healthy people, we can fund an operation to move all Saudi Arabians out of Saudi Arabia, and keep them out.

With the Saudi Arabians out, America can simply drill for oil to its heart's content. The oil can be stored in Death Valley. Now we give all our people access to it and let them use cars again, for a reasonable fee. Then we can let the Saudi Arabians back into Saudi Arabia.

While our oil reserves deplete, we can sell some of our oil to other people for supplies, and build a second level to America. It doesn't have to be that big, the size of North Carolina would be fine. This will provide even more space for housing. All the money we have left over, will go towards the construction of a spaceship made of all the guns and scrapped cars at the bottom of the East River.

When we finally contact alien life (it's only a matter of time), we'll say: "We'll give you this shiny oil if you let us have your spaceship." Then we use their spaceship, go back to their home planet, and move as many evil people there as possible. After just a couple of minutes, they'll suffocate. Then we move nice people there, and give them spacesuits.

Assuming these are kind aliens, they'll be hospitable enough to take care of us until we start using their carcasses for food, and their beautiful space gardens as landfills. Then we'll deplete their supplies. We can also sell people parts of the alien planet, making an even larger profit.

And by then, I'll be dead, so I won't have to worry about it.

[Jonathan, 5:45 PM]
I'm just wondering if we really need our names at the end of each post.

Is there that much confusion...?

[Will, 3:59 PM]
Affirmative Action at IU Law:
The Volokh Conspiracy has caught wind of an editorial written by professor Bob Heidt in the Indianapolis Star. The article puts in a nutshell the state of affirmative action at the IU Law School, and suggests that it must be stopped. Now, issues of confidence and discretion force me not to say too much, considering my parents both teach at the law school, but here is a thought.

Heidt is working under the assumption (which might well be right) that Michigan's policy is wrong and the Supremes will agree. Even if this is true, it would be much more intellectually honest to say so upfront. Indeed, remember that what IU Law is doing is complying with the previous law on the subject. Heidt is asking IU to comply with a decision, contrary to precedent, that hasn't been written yet.

Now, responses from most of Heidt's opponents (which I have mostly heard only second and third-hand) have not sounded a whole lot better, and granted I'm sure he is right that IU's affirmative action policies are particularly severe (which is to say, particularly effective), but that's no excuse for acting as if the affirmative action debate has been won-- as a matter of policy or as a matter of law.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

[Will, 10:45 AM]
Oral argument for Virginia v. Black is available. More thoughts to follow once I've read it.

[Will, 10:41 AM]
Correct me if I'm wrong:
From The New York Times last week:
The three oldest justices are Republicans, and White House officials believe that two of them, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O`Connor, would be most likely to retire, given the knowledge that a Republican president would pick their replacements.

John Paul Stevens? Republican? Measured how? He IS a Republican appointee, and given the context of the article, that may be what the author meant. But perhaps the fact that all three of the oldest justices on the court are Republican appointees but one of them does *not* seem particularly consonant with the current presidential administration is a good counter-example to Rehnquist's statement that Republican appointees retire in Republican presidencies. I'd wager the same will be true for Souter, eventually.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

[Jonathan, 3:01 PM]
All right, I don't really know the audience here. Figuring it's half of my brother's friends, then I need their help. I mean, I need my friends' help too, but they already know.


What other Monopoly variations can you think of?

Betty Boop
Elvis 25th Anniversary
I Love Lucy
Justice League of America
National Parks
Simpsons Monopoly
Wizard of Oz
Las Vegas
New England
New York City
San Diego
Boston Red Sox
Chicago Cubs
Dale Earnhardt
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
New York Yankees
NHL Original Six
Seattle Mariners
Indiana University
Kansas State University
University of Kansas
University of Washington
Star Trek
Star Wars
Monopoly Junior
Notre Dame
Toy Story
Dig'n Dinos
Pokemon Gold & Silver
University of Illinois
University of Virginia
Louisiana State University

[Jonathan, 2:59 PM]
As you're soon sure to learn, William has left for the Windy City. He left about two hours ago, so he should be there in... three more hours. Yes, well, I'm certain he'll notify you of that himself.

I'm off to the couch so I can do puzzles for a little while, then probably shower (evidently, we're supposed to shower every couple of days or whatever), and then hopefully see a movie. Oh yeah, then homework.

Keep your eye in the sky, and your foot on the ground.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

[Will, 2:32 PM]
Internet Exhibitionism:

When I originally set up my website it was mostly for my own convenience-- so I could access my files of quotes and links when away from my computer. I wasn't opposed to anybody reading it, but I didn't go out of the way to be friendly to or attract an audience. Yet I just learned that one of my friends has printed out my library of quotes for her own reading. This is a little disorienting, but extremely flattering, probably like being propositioned by somebody you find attractive.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

[Will, 1:54 PM]
Quick Dispatch:

More later when I am near a computer with an English keyboard, but just posting to say Rome updates will be coming soon. But my brother is not joking about the toothpicks. Also, if you get bored, breeze over to my friend Amanda's Blog. Ciao.

[Jonathan, 9:05 AM]
I almost feel like I'm not allowed to post, because William hasn't at all. There isn't much to say (that is, there's a lot to say, but none of it outstanding from the rest, so I'll give you just a few highlights. More to follow, I'm sure.

1. There are ruins of ancient Rome all over the place, but get this - they're down about fifteen feet, and the city is just built around them. It's so weird. You know, here are the ruins of an ancient castle, and here are the people waiting for the bus. Here are the fossils of a once vibrant, statuesque building. Here are the people who don't care.

2. Lots of restaurants will give you packaged toothpicks, and the different companies who make them put their brand names on them. So far, we have encountered Karate, Samurai, and Kendo brand toothpicks. In Italy. These are toothpicks made in Italy... and they're... yeah.

3. I am actually having a severe amount of difficulty NOT getting alcohol. Last night, I had to struggle not to get the waiter to pour one kind of wine, or this other kind of wine, or grappa, or some other random after-dinner liqueur into my glass. It's rough.

Well, greetings from Italy. Or, as they say here, greetings di Italy!

Chow! (yeah, yeah, I know)


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