Friday, June 15, 2007

I'll Connect Your Cut

I wanted to make sure this blog had one post on its birthday!

I'm off to Connecticut. Posting will resume Sunday or Monday, depending on what I feel like.

Have a good weekend (and happy father's day to all the dads out there--especially mine!).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dark Humor

Great cartoon from Amp

If only it were a joke....

Dark Humor

Great cartoon from Amp

If only it were a joke....

Three Is A Wonderful Age To Be

I'm going to Connecticut tomorrow, so I probably won't be able to blog's birthday! It's tomorrow, June 15th, and it is turning three years old (in fine form, I might add).

Now, blogs can't receive presents. But authors can! If you feel the urge to express your love and devotion, there are some books I've been wishing to get my hands on....

My Wish List

But seriously, any and all well wishes are welcome in the comments.

To many more wonderful years!

D.C. Eats

There are a bunch of Carls in D.C. this summer, and I want to make sure I get to spend a few lunches or dinners with them. Some of them are locals, but not all, and I feel obligated to try and find some good candidates to eat at (vegetarian-friendly is important). Right now, Ben's Chili Bowl is topping the list. And if I can get any of the non-vegetarian out-of-towners alone, then I'll have to introduce them to Five Guys. Other suggestions are of course welcome in the comments (remember, we're poor college students, so The Palm, tragically, is out).

Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias mentions the Florida Avenue Grill as a good candidate for breakfast-lovers (I don't wake up early enough for breakfast--but any self-respecting diner will serve breakfast at any point in the day I presume). It looks promising, but this this comment will make me show up on its own: "I love how on the wall of signed celebrity pictures at Florida Ave Grill, Ludacris and Strom Thurmond are right next to each other." I'm so there.

The Massachusetts Miracle

Gay marriage is here to stay in the Bay State. A proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Goodridge decision failed after it got only 45 votes in the 200-person legislature (it needed 50).

That's rather amazing, when you think about it. Only a few years ago gay marriage was a completely absurd, untouchable idea. Now, in one (admittedly liberal) state opponents couldn't even muster a quarter of the legislature to vote to ban it. No matter how the radical right wants to spin it, this gives unimpeachable democratic sanction to the Goodridge ruling and gay marriage in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, off hand Massachusetts has been joined by Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, who have not given marriage rights to gay couples, but have enacted civil union laws which are supposedly the legal equivalents.

It's only a start. But the wheels are turning, and the momentum is in our favor. I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to win this. It's only a matter of time.

The Little Things

Life, like baseball, is a game of inches. Tiny differences in performance can have huge consequences down the line. It's nerve-wracking and frustrating--a bad break, coming up on the wrong end of a few more coin-flips than the stats say you should--it adds up.

The motivation factor for this is the more than a few grades on my transcript that fell on the wrong side of toss-up. By and large these aren't bad grades in any meaningful sense--virtually all are either an A- that could have just as easily been an A, or a B+ that could have just as easily been an A-. The problem is that there are far fewer (if any) A's that were in the A- range, or A- where it a B+ would have been just as expected. Maybe I just over-judge my talents, but this is what I mean about being on the wrong end of too many coin-flips. And so it is that I'm wondering whether my ultimate career ambitions will be thwarted because of the upper-level biology course I essentially took by accident (long story) my sophomore year of college.

I'm being silly and melodramatic, of course--a product of coming up on law and grad school applications and all the stress that entails. I'm right in the wheelhouse of all but two, maybe three law schools (and I'm not out of contention for those three either, in my estimation). And on every front but grades, I think I'm doing quite well. I haven't taken my LSATs, but I (used to) test well, so I hope that I can impress there. I've got my article coming out, and I've written a lot for various campus magazines besides. I go to a well-reputed liberal arts college where I'm on track to graduate magna cum laude and with distinction. I won a highly competitive research fellowship. I won an award for my writing. And of course, I have a, er, "world-renowned" blog (obviously, I apologize for excessively tooting my own horn, but if you haven't figured it out I'm trying to shore up some self-confidence here).

The irony is that, as I've said a dozen and a half times before, under normal circumstances I wouldn't care. I was not like this for undergraduate applications. I knew I would get into a good school. And I'm not so much of an elitist or credentialist that I particularly cared if I went to the biggest name brand (anybody--from D.C., anyway--who cares about that isn't going to Carleton, which still elicits a blank stare from most the folks I know here). And so it is with law school--there too, I have no doubt that with my grades and scores and resume I can get into a stellar law school where I will thrive and could go on to have an excellent career as a legal professional. But unfortunately, legal academia, more than any endeavor I've ever pursued, is credential-focused--almost obsessively so. And that might be the root-problem of them all--I'm being forced into a game I neither like nor am experienced at playing.

Okay, this has gone on long enough. I apologize for putting y'all through it. And in six months time, when I've settled on an undoubtedly excellent law or graduate program to attend and am very happy about it, I will let you know, and apologize doubly for all this needless agonizing.


I can't decide if Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), son of my former Senator, and currently representing a neighboring House district of mine (previously held by now-Senator Ben Cardin (D)) is a complete and utter geek or a total bad-ass. Perhaps both.

Here, you make the call (just wait until after Yarmuth stops talking):


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Boxing Blogging: 6/13/07

ESPN had somewhat of sub-standard card tonight, name-wise. What they shared in common was that in both fights, the first few rounds made me think a knockout was coming, and in both fights, the weaker fighter in those rounds rallied to make for quite interesting duels.

The lead undercard was a relatively insignificant 8-round bout between Ramon Montero and Lowell Brownfield. Montero came into this bout with 1 KO in over 16 fights. But it looked as if he was going to get one here, as he was landing at will against a game but seemingly over-matched Brownfield. However, as round five started, Brownfield made some key adjustments, switching stances and moving around, which got him back into the fight and made Montero into the frustrated fighter. Unfortunately, despite showing good adaptability, it was too little, too late, and Montero won a unanimous decision. He improved to 13-4-2 (1 KO), while Brownfield dropped to 9-4 (3 KOs).

The main event featured the solid Edner "Cherry Bomb" Cherry fighting against untested, Floyd Mayweather promoted prospect Wes Ferguson--in Cherry's backyard. Worse yet for Ferguson is that he's not a power puncher--only 4 KOs entering the fight. However, Ferguson was reputed to be a very fast and slick boxer--a similar style to Paulie Malignaggi, who dominated Cherry in his last fight a few months back.

Cherry started off hot, dominating Ferguson in the first three rounds. Cherry was able to land at will at the inside and use his superior muscle to rough up the young Ferguson along the way. Ferguson wasn't throwing all that much (unlike Malignaggi), and didn't seem to have the power to keep Cherry off him.

But as the fight continued, Ferguson showed a tremendous amount of heart. The more he got heart, the more he wanted to trade, and the more he wanted to let his hands fly. He stole a few of the middle rounds through sheer effort, and suddenly the fight was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be. But unfortunately for Ferguson, while he was able to start landing solid punches, and had the grit to trade with the bigger Cherry, his lack of power meant that he was perpetually on the losing end of their exchanges. Cherry ended up winning a close but comfortable unanimous decision. But give Ferguson credit--he never went down, and even though he isn't considered a puncher he was going for the knockout in the last couple rounds--and eating some powerful right hands for his efforts.

Cherry improved to 22-5-2 (10 KOs), while Ferguson lost his second fight, falling to 16-2-1 (4 KOs).

And before I leave y'all, I want to briefly note something about another integral part of the ESPN fight experience: the commercials. Watching them makes me painfully aware that I am not the target demographic (the breaks are dominated by Just For Men and Cialis). The JFM commercials are uniformly bad--if I were to raise all my gripes about them, it would double the length of this post. But the Cialis commercials, while normally fine, irk me when--in fine print at the bottom--they note that the drug does not protect against HIV or STDs. What could possibly motivate someone to think it did? Is Cialis really battling against a false reputation that it is the genital-wonder-drug, curing any and all ailments of the penis? I mean, I know people are dumb, but this is unbelievable. It's like wondering if Advil kills brain tumors because it works on migraines, both of which are located in the head.

The Right Man at the Right Time

I've said before that Al Gore has the distinct quality among modern politicians of being right on nearly every major issue, years before they become popular. It was true on the environment. It was true on terrorism. And it was true on Iraq, where Al Gore holds the rarefied position of being correct about both Gulf War I and II.

However, some conservatives have taken his hawkish Gulf War I words and tried to accuse Gore of "shameless political opportunism" and being a "craven opportunist". And the righties have piled on.

This is almost (a few years ago I'd have dropped the "almost", but my standards have dipped since then) unbelievably dense. It's as if they can't even conceptualize that the threat Iraq posed America could have possibly changed in the decade between Gulf War I and II. Amazingly enough, the world continues to spin, and things do change. Can you imagine hearing this argument?
"In 1918, Democrats said that Italy was an ally in our fight against Germany. But now we have a clip from 1942 where Democrats say that Italy's actually a fascist regime that threatens the free world? Which is it, you craven flip-flopping opportunists?"

Iraq, in the 1980s, was a brutal dictatorship that was actively committing genocide (with chemical weapons), with our support. Iraq, in the early 90s, was a brutal dictatorship that still had said chemical weapons and had proven itself to be an international threat by invading another country. Thus, Al Gore made the right decision, supporting the first Gulf War, while noting that much of this unpleasantness could have been avoided if Reagan/Bush hadn't decided to get cozy with Saddam Hussein in the first place. Iraq, in the 90s after the war, was contained and disarmed through the policies of the Clinton/Gore administration. And thus, as the 21st century began, Iraq, while still a brutal dictatorship, was not a threat to America or the region, nor did it have WMDs, and thus Al Gore (again) made the right decision to oppose launching an unnecessary war. Speaking as someone who was not on Gore's side on Gulf War II, this logic is not difficult to follow.

Steve Benen sets the record straight:
Gore said Saddam Hussein was dangerous in 1992. That’s true. Gore said Bush 41 looked the other way while Saddam got more dangerous. That’s true. Gore said the U.S. needed to do more to address the Iraqi threat, and then was part of the administration that disarmed Saddam’s regime. That’s true. Years later, Gore said a war against Iraq was unnecessary and would be a tragic mistake. That’s true.

It's all true, and thus we get back to the title: Al Gore was right then, and now, and throughout the last 15 years. That deserves accolades, not scorn. Unfortunately, they say that folks will forgive you for being wrong, but they'll never forgive you for being right. Al Gore's finding that out right now.

The real irony is that part of the "old" Gore speech, the one he gave in the early 90s before he got all lily-livered and flip-floppity, was that Reagan and Bush actively cooperated with Saddam Hussein, aligning themselves with a psychotic dictator who (with our support) gassed his own citizens. That, too, is true, but do these bloggers really want to make an argument of which the base premise is "Reagan supported the terrorists?" Apparently so.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Beneficiaries of Financial Aid

Carleton's financial aid setup has been on the hot seat recently. No, we haven't been caught up (as far as I know) in that massive student loan scandal that made headlines recently. But students here have been up in arms about some aspects of our aid system. For one, we are not on a system of 100% need-blind admission. The vast majority of our students are admitted need-blind. But at the very end of the process (to get the last 5% of the class, I believe), we start dividing the candidates among economic lines and chop away at the bottom strata. This is wrong. Just as I believe that no person should not be able to attend Carleton because they can't afford it, no person should not be admitted to Carleton (when they otherwise would be) because their family income is not high enough. It's regressive and it runs counter to the traditions and values of the college.

Carleton is also committed to meeting 100% of the demonstrated financial need of anybody who does get in and attends. To my knowledge (I'm not on financial aid), we do a reasonably good job at this. But we're not perfect. A big kink in the system is the work/study program. A fair amount of the financial aid we give to students is in this form. All well and good, except that we don't have enough hours to go around. So we're caught in a situation where people are told that their aid will come via working for the college, but the college doesn't have a job for them. Which, itself, is a euphemism for "you're not getting the money." This may not have the terminal impact that non-need-blind admissions does, but it makes up for that by being plain cruel. Bait-and-switch is a bad policy for a financial aid office.

However, Carleton is not all that bad. We're facing a budget crunch (our endowment took a big hit when the tech bubble burst), and the college, to its credit, has maintained an economically diverse body of students that for the most part have been able to pay for college without too much unnecessary pain or heartache. Part of the reason we are able to afford the programs we do have is because need-based financial aid is the only type of financial aid we give out. Carleton has no academic or merit based scholarship. The one exception is the National Merit Scholarship (given to high performers on the PSATs). The National Merit Foundation gives $1,000 to its recipients, and Carleton matches. That gives $2,000 towards our $40,000+ tuition, which, while appreciated, is not much of a dent. Aside from that, all of our scholarship money is need-based. As it should be, for an elite institution like Carleton (here are some stats on our economic makeup).

Unfortunately, other colleges are not necessarily replicating this commitment. A goodly portion of philanthropic and scholarship money is going to relatively affluent students--and not the one's who need it most:
In 2003, about 100 research extensive universities spent $257 million in financial aid for students from families earning over $100,000 a year, almost as much as that spent on students from families earning $20,000-40,000, and more than that spent on students from families earning less than $20,000.

And the trendline is moving in the wrong direction:
Between 1995 and 2003, flagship and other research-extensive public universities actually decreased grant aid by 13 percent for students from families with an annual income of $20,000 or less, while they increased aid to students from families who make more than $100,000 by 406 percent. In 2003, these institutions spent a combined $257 million to subsidize the tuition of students from families with annual incomes over $100,000 – a staggering increase from the $50 million they spent in 1995. At the same time, poor students were disproportionately bearing the brunt of increased college tuition and fees.

The links are via Ann Bartow, who notes that there is a fast and easy way to get colleges to increase their commitment to assisting lower-income students: make it part of the rankings. If the all-powerful US News developed metrics measuring economic diversity, or availability of need-based scholarships, you can bet your bottom dollar that colleges would respond. Economic diversity, I might add, is something that should be considered important when saying what the "best" university is (it's certainly more relevant than some of the other considerations US News uses in putting together its list).

Deadly C-X

Remarking on the proposed Senate vote of "no confidence" in Alberto Gonzalez, Senate "minority whip" Trent Lott (R-MS) made the following statement on the floor:
"This is not the British Parliament, and I hope it never will become the British Parliament," protested Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), the chamber's No. 2 Republican. "Are we going to bring the president in here and have a question period like the prime minister has in Great Britain?

Putting aside the fact that this whole "we're not a parliament" argument is dumb, is there something bad about instituting an equivalent of "Prime Minister's questions"? It will never happen, of course, but it does not strike me as a bad thing to force the President to leave Pennsylvania Avenue every once and awhile and publicly articulate and defend his agenda in front of lawmakers.

This is a fairy tale idea that will never come to be, but nonetheless I'm confused as to why Senator Lott decided to use it as a paradigmatic example of the ridiculous outcomes we might see if Congress became more "parliamentary." If voting no-confidence in Gonzalez would also mean a trend towards greater public engagement with the executive, hey, that's a hell of bonus feature.

My Perfect Girlfriend


Xkcd is an excellent cartoon in general, FYI.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hot Chili

I'm in the process of microwaving a carton of chili for dinner. Amazingly, even this supposedly easy task appears to be beyond my meager skill level. I press the reheat button, it goes for awhile, it beeps, I take it out. The carton is nice and warm. The soup is completely unaffected. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, an individual nugget of meat will heat up, but it will invariably be surrounded by an ice particle.

I'm currently on my fifth repetition of this cycle, with no progress. I'm sorely tempted to set timer for 20 minutes and just liquify the damn thing, but for the fact that I imagine it will retaliate by exploding. So, I press the reheat button once more, and hope.

Update: It was good. Obviously, it wasn't entirely heated up, but I did manage to get a pretty good hot:cold ratio. However, I'm going to find some other excuse than "not hungry" for why I only had about a dozen spoonfuls, because right now it feels like I wasted an infuriating amount of effort for something I didn't ultimately want to eat.

Finkelstein Denied Tenure

The controversial Norman Finkelstein has been denied tenure after a bruising battle by DePaul University.

I am of several minds on this. Having not read his scholarship, I register no opinion as to its quality (from the descriptions, I gather I'd disagree with it, but tenure is not contingent on me agreeing with the professor).

A significant part of the denial seems to be justified by Finkelstein's alleged intemperance, ad hominem attacks, and otherwise crude form of discourse, even in his academic works. On the one hand, I do think that treating one's intellectual adversaries with respect and civility is an important part of being an academic. Especially when one is dealing with charged topics, as Finkelstein is, where the dignity, rights, and at times the physical safety of an oppressed group is at stake, this is all the more important. I think that the failure to do so does seriously implicate one's qualifications as a scholar. There is a difference between writing a carefully written piece of scholarship, a la Richard Sander, arguing against Affirmative Action, and a screeching polemic making the same points but calling AA advocates race-baiters, charlatans, reverse-racists, or other such claims. Such incendiaries seem best kept out of the Ivory Tower. On the other hand, I am aware that calls for "civility" can be merely excuses to silence dissenters who refuse to tailor their critiques to generally acceptable norms. By and large, this will hurt minority groups, and that's something that needs to be kept in mind to.

In an ideal world, do I want Finkelstein to be tenured? Honestly, I'm not sure. It would be easy to say that I'd rather him not be teaching anywhere. But that would merely feed into his persecution complex that the big bad Zionist establishment is out to get him. So it might be better if he were to settle down to languish in obscurity at some "third-rate" institution. But this concession dies at the specific. Do I want to see Finkelstein tenured at UCLA? No. DePaul? No. Minnesota-Morris? No. Southwest State Community Technical College? Maybe.

Finally, I am more than a little distressed by the hyperbolic rhetoric from some of Finkelstein's supporters, such as this post (the author of which, like Finkelstein, is Jewish) which calls his critics "academic Brownshirts." The flippant comparison of pro-Israel Jews to Nazis is deeply hurtful and hateful, and is the type of extremist exaggeration that feels like anti-Semitism (regardless of whether the source is Jewish). Whatever Professor Dershowitz and his peers are, they are not Nazis, and it is wrong to refer to them as such. This is what, I believe, people are concerned with when dealing with folks like Finkelstein--it's not that any criticism of Israel is out of bounds, it's that they've so lost touch with reality that they are no longer engaging in academics as much as an anti-Jewish furor.

Navigating these lines is difficult, I grant that, which is why I am not officially taking a position as to whether the tenure denial was justified. I'd like just a little more recognition that many Jews view Norman Finkelstein the way Blacks might view Alan Keyes. When Finkelstein is disrespectful, the disrespect is not taken as being directed just at Alan Dershowitz or Ariel Sharon. It feels like he disrespects Jews qua Jews. And that's neither insignificant nor a footnote.

You Gotta Know When To Hold 'Em...

And when to fold 'em. In the case of the ill-advised prosecution of Genarlow Wilson, a then-17-year-old Black student with no criminal record sentenced to 10 years in prison for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl, it's time to close up shop.

For a brief moment, it looked like Wilson was going to go free. A district judge ruled that his 10 year sentence was a violation of cruel and unusual punishment. But, unbelievably, the prosecutor state has announced an appeal, thus keeping Wilson in prison for the time being. I argued from the start that this was a case about prosecutorial discretion--specifically, the misuse thereof. The prosecutor, who was White, had been extraordinarily lenient with certain similar crimes having White defendants. "Crimes" like this should never be prosecuted in the first place. But the DA's office continuing the fight up through the appellate level is crossing the line from poor judgment to what can only be described as a vendetta. Trying to hold on to Genarlow Wilson is, at this point, obscene. This is the type of prosecutor that makes Mike Nifong look like Atticus Finch (I assume we will see similar calls for public and legal sanction against him).

I hope Wilson is freed, and soon. And hope that the Georgia political establishment does take a close look at the prosecutor who is driving this travesty against justice.

Other views:

Sentencing Law & Policy

Radley Balko


UPDATE: I'm informed that the State AG, who now has jurisdiction over the case and who announced the appeal is an African-American Democrat. An intriguing fact that does not make his decision any less disgusting (and all the more inexplicable).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cynical Prediction of the Day

One day, the world is going to use up its natural resources, and the earth will no longer be able to sustain us. Undoubtedly, the rich, the wealthy, the elites will find a way to flee--to an orbiting space station or another planet, or something. The poor and down-trodden will, of course, be left here.

And on that day, I guarantee you, someone will claim justification and say "the meek have inherited the earth." And they will be proud.