Friday, March 07, 2008

Southern Appeal

The conservative -- but lovely -- blog Southern Appeal is back online. Yet another blogger finds that retirement does not suit them.

Welcome back, Feddie!

Boxing Blogging: 3/07/08

I'm blogging tonight's FNF, but also giving notice to one of the fights showcased by GoFightLive, which is a welcome addition to the boxing universe and lets the casual fan watch a few extra fights online they wouldn't get anywhere else.

Curtis Stevens (18-2, 13 KOs) TKO8 Thomas Reid (35-22-1, 13 KOs

This was the GoFightLive bout, and it was surprisingly entertaining. Reid is one of those guys whose fought and lost to every name in his division: Librado Andrade, Jaidon Codrington, Shaun George, Prince Badi Ajamu, Montell Griffin (twice), Lou Del Valle. He's a wily veteran who gets brought in teach young guys a few good tricks. Stevens, by contrast, is a young prospect coming off a loss to fellow up-and-comer Andre Dirrell (his only other loss was a TKO to Marcos Primera which he avenged in his next fight).

Reid made the fight interesting by dropping Stevens at the end of round two. It was one of those shots where it was clear that, had the round not been over, Reid easily could have finished Stevens off. And though Stevens steadied himself and began to take control of the fight, he was hurt again in round seven, and going into the eighth and final round, I was thinking "this could be interesting to score."

It never made it to final bell. Stevens turned on the power and blasted out Reid, having him out on his feet in the corner before the ref wisely stopped the fight.

One can be of two minds about this. On the one hand, one can worry about Stevens struggling with a guy like Reid -- someone the top guys in the 168 and 175 pound picture should be able to handle with relative ease. On the other hand, Stevens showed a lot of mental fortitude. Coming off a high profile loss, knocked down and in a shootout with a journeyman -- these are how downward career spirals start. Stevens dug deep, and came up with the late knockout -- exactly how you want to see someone in his position respond.

Both fighters, I think, earned some respect in this fight. Reid will continue to do what he's always done -- make a career out of testing rising prospects. And Stevens probably could use a few more light fights to make sure he's totally back in the game, but now he knows that he can come back from adversity, and that's huge for a young fighter working his way back up.

Jose Gonzalez (11-2-1, 9 KOs) D10 Jason LeHoullier (21-0-1, 8 KOs)

Teddy was right: this was a gift draw for the New England based LeHoullier in a New England venue. But the fight was not as lopsided as he made it out to be. Gonzalez was more active, but LeHoullier was landing the harder shots, which made for some difficult rounds to score. Ultimately, I had it 97-93 Gonzalez (in comparison to Teddy's 99-91 card). But I freely admit I leaned a bit towards LeHoullier on the close rounds -- there wasn't all that much more room to push in his direction. The judge who scored it 96-94 for the Maine native was watching another fight, or engaging in a little home town cooking.

Gonzalez fights well on the inside for a tall guy, but it still probably isn't a wise tactical move. I'm also skeptical of his ability to carry power into the 154 pound division (he started his career at light welterweight). But he's likable, with a good work rate and decent skills, so he'll do alright for himself. LeHoullier needs to work better on the inside -- he did okay tonight because against a much taller opponent he was allowed to get in with ease, but he didn't seize the opportunity with the gusto that he needed. Next up for Gonzalez is a rematch of the entertaining six round majority decision loss he received against Carson Jones earlier this year. That should be fun to watch.

Cristobal Cruz (36-11-1, 23 KOs) MD12 Thomas Mashaba (20-2-4, 12 KOs)

First, can we now agree that Cruz's dreadfully boring fight with Zahir Raheem was not his fault? I remember that fight, and I remember Atlas blaming both guys for tying up. After watching the whirlwind activity of Cruz tonight against Mashaba (he set a divisional record for most punches thrown), I think it's clear that if anything is stopping the action, it's not him.

Second, what does Teddy Atlas have against Cristobal Cruz? In the last fight, he unfairly blamed him for the dullness. In this fight, he was starting to make murmurs around round 10 about how the fight should be stopped. Now, to be fair, Cruz is a guy who comes full steam ahead and leaves himself wide open to get hit. And hit he was. But he hit Mashaba more! One can make the case that Mashaba was landing the harder shots, but Cruz was landing plenty of excellent punches, and far more of them. The thing about Cruz is, even though he has no defense, he throws so much that short of getting into a hug-fest like Raheem did, it's difficult not to simply be overwhelmed.

Based on his activity during the second half of the fight, I gave Cruz the decision by one point -- an upset victory I think he earned. But you'd never know it by listening to Atlas (who I normally think is right on the money).

Cruz has been fighting since he was 14(!), and has lived the life of a tough, hard-scrabbled journeyman. This victory gave him the IBO Featherweight Title -- a great achievement for a game, hard-working fighter.

Power Resigns

Samantha Power has resigned from Obama's campaign after she called Hillary Clinton "a monster" in an interview with The Scotsman.

It's disappointing that she's leaving, but it was also the right thing to do. Hillary Clinton, though I do not support her over Obama, is no monster. These types of attacks cannot and should not be tolerated, and she had to go. MSNBC has her statement:
“With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an advisor the Obama campaign effective today,” Power said in a statement released by the campaign. “Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign. And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months.”

Hopefully, after some time in the cold and some penance, she can make her way back.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Note To Self: Don't Enroll at IUPUI

I may at some point have told the story of my self-consciousness when reading books about Critical Race Theory in public spaces. It's not as bad as it used to be, but I was always afraid that, to the uninformed observer, it will look like a racist tract. So I covered the title with my hand, and if I was asked what I was reading, I'd answer
"Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. It's kind of a cutting edge, progressive theory on ending racism in the United States.

The second part, of course, is meant to be the crucial check -- I'm assuring folks it's not the latest brochure from the Knights of the White Camellia.

But in my scariest nightmares, the worst I imagined was I'd get a glare or a hostile encounter. I never thought I might get tagged with racial harassment for reading a book opposed to racism. But Paul Secunda at Concurring Opinions tells us that it appears to be what happened at IUPUI, where an employee (and student) was disciplined for reading a book entitled Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan.
First, a shop steward told Sampson that reading a book about the KKK was like bringing pornography to work (apparently this holds true in his eyes regardless of the context in which a book discusses the KKK, the position it takes, and so on). Likewise, a co-worker who happened to be sitting across the table from Sampson in the break room remarked that she found the KKK offensive. On both occasions, Sampson tried to explain what the book was really about. Both times, the other individual refused to listen.

A few weeks later, Sampson was notified by Marguerite Watkins of the school's Affirmative Action Office (AAO) that a co-worker had filed a racial harassment complaint against him for reading the book in the break room. Once again, he attempted to explain the book's content, but Watkins too had no interest in hearing it. Despite his not being given a chance to defend himself, he subsequently received a letter from Lillian Charleston of the AAO, dated November 25, 2007, informing him that AAO had completed its investigation of the matter. The letter stated,
You demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your coworkers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black coworkers.

It went on to say that according to "the legal 'reasonable person standard,' a majority of adults are aware of and understand how repugnant the KKK is to African-Americans..." As a result of AAO's findings, Sampson was ordered to refrain from reading the book in the immediate presence of his co-workers and to sit apart from them whenever reading it.

In the comments at CC, Michael Manister notes how the particular nexus of laws in play here -- mixed with legal precedent decimating employee free speech rights -- makes a suit by the employee nearly impossible to pull off. Because of that, Howard Wasserman argues that the incentive structure of anti-discrimination law pushes the university to act in this way specifically because the sanction employee is in a weaker position and likely can't fire back.

It appears that the University has now walked its position back (sort of), but in a way that still leaves open the chance for serious abuse. Just a stupid situation by the university.

Proving the Point

Oppressive regimes are ruled by (to use an all too crude term) douchebags. One of the ways we know this is that if their charges dare call them such, they are punished and repressed for their temerity.

Right now, the 2nd Circuit is hearing a student speech case out of Connecticut, Doninger v. Niehoff. Mitchell Rubenstein summarizes the case as follows:
A Connecticut High School Student used vulgar slang on an Internet blog which was sent from her personal computer while at home. Specifically, she criticized the administration by saying "Jamfest is canceled due to douchebags in central office." The school, in turn, refused to allow plaintiff to run for re-election as class secretary. She then won with write in ballots, but was not allowed to serve.

This, of course, seems to validate the student's original assertion, but whatever. It's fantastically frightening to me that schools think they can assert this much influence over their student's private speech, in their own home. It's frankly authoritarian, and the message of disrespect it sends to the student body far exceeds what the student did in the first place.

Texans are Idiots

They made their caucus reporting scheme voluntary! Apparently, we're not likely to see any more results.

Can I bang my head on the desk, pleases?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gunner Student

In the wake of the school shootings at NIU and Virginia Tech, some states are considering laws which would allow more guns on campus, the theory being an armed populace could intercept shooters. I think anyone who's observed drunk football players at a party knows why it's a bad thing to put guns in their hands, so count me opposed.

Anyway, some of the laws would give the gun rights to just faculty, others faculty and students. However, Daniel Drezner observes that in Oklahoma, only the students will have the right to carry arms, thus giving a whole new meaning to the "gunner" in class.


For those of y'all who have been through the law and graduate school process, I have a question for you.

As you might already know, I applied to 20 programs -- 9 law, 11 Ph.D. Of those, I have as of today heard back from 12 (6 law, 6 Ph.D). We're entering March now -- getting towards the end of the process.

My thought process thus far regarding the late places has been essentially that I am, in some ways, a difficult candidate. My test scores place me a good bracket or so higher than my GPA does -- in fact, for the remaining law schools, my GPA is well below their admitted 25th percentile while my LSAT scores are comfortably above their 75th. My non-numerical profile is strong, but not invincible -- I can see how it'd be really appealing, and I can see how it'd be run of the mill. So, I assumed, the delay was simply that I'm a tough choice, and they're putting it off.

Now I'm wondering if there isn't a more mundane explanation: schools are simply not in as big of a hurry to get back to those they rejected (or, to be more charitable, they are less excited to reject folks than they are to accept them). This is, to some extent, anecdotal -- I started the process off red-hot, but four of the last six decisions I've received have been denials. That could be explained by lots of things or nothing or paranoia on my part. And I want to stress that the places I have been admitted to are fantastic programs -- I am in a great situation even if I don't get into a single other school.

But I do wonder -- do programs still admit folks this late? Or is what I see all I've got? I just don't want to put off thinking about where I should go next year in the vain hope that I still have a chance in the tardy schools.

Advice appreciated.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Heartfelt Lines, Housing, and Superobligations

Against my better judgment, I want to return to the topic of the "line through the heart" -- Mark Olson's beloved quote on what it means to be moral which I explored a bit in a post last week. Today, I want to talk about it specifically in the context of housing segregation and the effect it has on Black Americans, and generally in the context of "superobligations."

First, some background. There exists a massive wealth (net worth) disparity between Blacks and Whites in America today. Net worth is simply the value of all the things you own subtracted by all your debts. On average, Whites have 8x the net worth of Black Americans, and this disparity has actually risen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The wealth disparity holds true even for people of similar educational backgrounds, as well as for people of similar income levels. The primary cause of this is rather simple: housing. Most Americans' wealth is in their home. That's a huge nest egg for people.

Historically, the avenues of home ownership were closed to Blacks. The big influx of individual home ownership occurred after WWII with the Federal Housing Administration, which greatly reduced the barriers to buying a home and made it affordable, for the first time, for the average working family. But the FHA explicitly encouraged developers to a) forbid racial integration in the new suburban communities and b) only give out loans to White communities. "Red-lining" meant that Blacks were effectively shut out of the post-war home boom, and instead were shunted into inner city public housing. These barriers, of course, were specifically race-based -- with localized exceptions, Whites of all national backgrounds were able to partake in the bounty relatively freely.

After the FHA dropped its opposition to integration per se in the 1950s, real estate agents developed a new tactic called "block busting." As Black families moved into a neighborhood, developers preyed on racial fears to get White owners to sell their homes way below market value, then resold the homes to Black residents. This exerted significant downward pressure on real estate prices, which developers used to influence more Whites to leave, telling them that their home values were only going to plummet further if they stayed. As people observed this spectacle in the communities around them, it created a panic: even one Black family moving into a neighborhood would instigate a torrent of "for sale" signs, as every White family tried to get out before the bottom fell out of the market. "White flight" was the name of the game, and the turnover of a neighborhood from Black to White could be frighteningly quick: Law professor Patricia Williams recalls moving to a mostly White Boston suburb that -- within a year of her move -- became nearly all Black.

The upshot of this was to utterly wreck the ability of Black families to build equity through real estate. Of course, there is the simple fact that they simply haven't had the equal opportunity to own houses for as long and couldn't transfer the corresponding wealth generationally. But beyond that, as soon as a Black family was able to grab that piece of the suburban dream, they were cut off at the knees -- their home investment foundered as demand for the neighborhood plummeted and the value of their home collapsed around them. And it essentially never came back: homes which are "in demand" by, at most, 20% of the market (non-Whites) are never going to have the same value as neighborhoods in which everyone wants to live. Consequently, the cycle has been set: Homes in Black areas are worth less than those in White ones, and because of this the presence of more than a marginal population of Black families rapidly causes a neighborhood to "tip" and White families to flee (crushing the equity of Black families all over again).

This is all a preface for a broader discussion I want to have about morality and individuals. The mechanics of housing segregation, "voluntary" or not, are perhaps the element that perpetuates racial inequality in America. By placing a high wall between millions of Americans and equal opportunity, it is one of the great evils of our society. But in the aforementioned story, no individual White family is at fault. Many of the White families who engaged in White flight, when interviewed, said that they didn't have a problem with integration per se, they just couldn't afford to stay in a house whose real estate value was about to collapse. Asking people to sacrifice their own nest egg, their own financial security, their own family for the sake of others is what's known as a superobligation. A superobligation is something that we would praise someone for doing, that would unquestionably make the world a better place, but is above and beyond what we can legitimately ask of the average person (falling on a hand grenade is a good example). J.O. Urmson further explains:
If we are to exact basic duties...and censure failures, such duties must be, in ordinary circumstances, within the capacity of the ordinary man. It would be silly for us to say to ourselves, our children and our fellow men, 'this and that you and everyone else must do,' if the acts in question are such that manifestly few could bring themselves to do them, though we may ourselves resolve to try to be of that few....So, if we were to represent the heroic act of sacrificing one's life for one's comrades as a basic duty, the effect would be to lower the degree of urgency and stringency that the notion of duty does in fact posses. The basic moral code must not be in part too far beyond the capacity of the ordinary men or ordinary occasions, or a general breakdown of compliance with the moral code would be an inevitable consequence; duty would seem to be something high and unattainable, and not for 'the likes of us.' [J.O. Urmson, "Saints and Heroes," in Essays in Moral Philosophy, edited by A. Melden. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1958), 211-212.]

From my standpoint, I do not find individualism a useful lens for analyzing housing segregation. The families in question are not "evil", they are not doing anything but trying to make sure that they have a financially secure base from which to raise their families. Rather, the problem -- the evil -- is structural: it's about the systematic incentives White people have to live in predominantly White neighborhoods. The problem is systemic, and the solution should similarly be systemic -- we should switch the structure so that Whites have an incentive to live with people of color. One solution I've heard which I don't like would be to eliminate the tax write-off for mortgages for any homes that are not in neighborhoods with at least a 30% population of color. Another solution I've heard which I like a lot better is for universities to start offering affirmative action to students of all racial backgrounds who attend diverse schools (or at least schools that are not overwhelmingly White).

But these solutions only make sense because they separate the evil of housing segregation from individual action. If we're talking solely about the "line through the heart", the case becomes murkier, and we have two options. On the one hand, we can say that because each family is individually innocent, there is no moral question here. The line through their heart was not implicated, they bear no guilt. Under this paradigm, the question of housing segregation is rendered beyond the pale of moral discourse entirely. Convenient for the people who are comfortable in the current arrangement, perhaps, but hardly satisfactory for those who are trapped outside the gates of wealth. I simply don't accept that there is no moral element to a system which consigns millions of Americans to never experience true financial security.

The second option is to swing wildly in the other direction. All this stuff about "reasonable expectations" and "I had to protect my family" -- these are irrelevant. You had a choice. The line is through your heart, and you chose to live in predominantly White areas, and you chose to move if the neighborhood got too Black for you. Would staying in Roosevelt, NY have creamed you financially? Well, guess what -- that's the prospect Black Americans face every day. Under this view, we essentially demand the superobligation. And hence, any White person who lives in a predominantly White community -- regardless of the motive, reason, or circumstance -- by contributing to problem, is to be regarded as consciously choosing the evil. The line is through their heart, after all, and they made choices which perpetuate the evil of racial inequality indefinitely.

As I said, I don't find either scenario compelling, because I don't think we should force ourselves into the individualism box at all costs. But if we do so, if we can only conceptualize evil as running through the hearts of men and having no other arteries or thoroughfares, this is the choice we're left with: Total absolution, or complete damnation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Distinctively David

It's been a tumultuous few months, and we're not quite out of the woods yet, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Most notably, today I presented and defended my senior thesis (you might be familiar with it). As of today, I will officially graduate Carleton College with distinction in Political Science.*

This was a big time commitment. And while I still have the normal coursework and final papers for this term to do, getting this done will free up a lot of mental energy. Hopefully, you'll see me back around these parts soon enough -- at least until I dedicate myself full time to visiting grad programs.

* Carleton gives the typical Latin honors based on cumulative GPA, and individual departments have the discretion to award "distinction" to their denizens based on criteria which vary from department to department.