Bias in Education

I’ve recently been involved in two discussions about the alleged problem of college professors being too liberal, and the move in Ohio to implement ideological affirmative action. The more tedious of the two discussions is on Whistle Stopper, while the more informative is on Left2Right. (Side note: why is it that the conversation on the unmoderated site is about 10x more mature than what one of the moderators on the other is putting forth?)

Here’s what just seems weird about the whole thing. Conservatives love to bray about self-reliance, and about how the government cannot be involved in anything without harming it. How is it, then, that they’re the ones trying to get the government involved in something they have heretofore left alone, to keep a few students’ feelings from being hurt? Is this really about diversity, or about trying to extend their current political power into other domains for its own sake? Bashing open one door (in academe) while slamming shut another (in Washington) seems to be the only “principle” involved here.

Time’s Up

I guess I just had my fifteen minutes of fame. “Jane Galt” apparently decided that my response to Will Wilkinson was worth a response on her front page. I responded there, because even a comment on her site will get about 100x more hits than something on the front page here, and I’m not a traffic whore so I don’t care whose page-view statistics are affected (in fact I kind of prefer that the bandwidth not be consumed here). Thanks for the opportunity to speak to a broader audience, Jane/Megan.

That was pretty much the only interesting thing about the whole affair. The original article by Jonathan Chait was really pretty tedious, and Wilkinson’s response even more so. I’m not afraid to say that the same is probably true of my response to Wilkinson, and Jane’s response to me, and most of all the various JV players’ attempts to jump on Jane’s bandwagon. What I do find amusing about it, though, is how this whole non-event supports Chait’s original claim. Wilkinson, Galt/McArdle et al did seem inclined to let herd instinct override the empirical evidence (regarding the quality of various essays) in front of them. Any strongly worded article written by an anti-liberal will be greeted with a predictable chorus of praise from the choir, while the same from a liberal will often lead to other liberals bickering amongst themselves – the same kind of uniformity vs. “incoherence” that Chait talked about. To some people, “brilliant” or “stinging” means nothing more than “I agree” just as “unreadable” or “self-refuting” means “I disagree.” Those of us who care about debate as a craft and a way to increase understanding will just have to keep working on those who see it only as a way to get points from one’s friends at the expense of one’s enemies.

Yo, Flappy

I don’t know exactly why, but this comic (local copy in case the link breaks) just keeps cracking me up. Trash-talking penguins just rock, I guess.

Brilliantly Sickening

Will Wilkinson, whom Jane Galt refers to as sickeningly brilliant, attempted a rebuttal of Jonathan Chait’s Fact Finders. He failed. Chait’s article wasn’t exactly a marvel of intelligent discourse, and I’m not going to defend its conclusions, but it was still far better than Wilkinson’s response. Let’s see what’s wrong with the latter.

Still Alive

Yeah, I know it has been a while. Mostly it’s because I’ve been incredibly busy at work and exhausted when I’m home, but there’s not much to say about that. It’s life in a small company at a critical stage of its development (first product out the door). Instead of talking about me, let’s talk about Amy.

There are some new pictures, mostly of Amy, here. She’s still growing (approaching 20 pounds), still generally good-natured and happy and a joy to be around. She has two bottom teeth now, which she has – much to Cindy’s chagrin – started to use. She’s eating so-called solid food, and generally cooperates well. Adding plain yogurt to pears or banana might not seem that strange, but I don’t think “brocco-pea-gurt” will be appearing at your local grocery store any time soon. No matter; Amy seems to enjoy a bit of yogurt in just about everything. Cheerios also make her happy.

Amy’s not quite crawling yet, but she has developed some mobility going sideways and backward. This has made a significant difference in her ability to keep herself entertained without requiring parental help on a minute-by-minute basis (though obviously we still keep an eye on her). She can move from toy to toy, and she loves taking stuff out of her toy box herself. A couple of days ago she even picked up a block and quite deliberately handed it to me. It doesn’t sound like much but I thought it was pretty special.

In the speech department it’s still babble but with some new twists. She has learned to say “da-da” but doesn’t particularly associate the sound with me. She has also learned the idea that sounds have meaning; she quite clearly uses a “nga-nga-nga” kind of sound to denote negative or unhappy feelings. Her latest trick is whistling. Just today, she started pursing her lips while breathing through her mouth, and her rapid breathing created quite a distinct whistle. Maybe I’d better get a recording before she moves on to whatever’s next, because a lot of these things only seem to last a day or two.

OOP Considered Harmful

I’m pretty sure I had seen this before, but it still cracked me up.

Two Points About Social Security

It just seems like a lot of people miss these, so I’ll try to state them as clearly as I can.

  1. Privatization and private accounts are two separate ideas. It would be entirely possible to invest social security funds in the stock market without private accounts, just as it would be entirely possible to have private accounts without changing how the money is invested.
  2. It doesn’t matter how the piper gets paid. If the benefits to current retirees remain the same (as Bush and others have explicitly said would be the case) and the worker-to-retiree ratio remains the same, each worker will pay the same amount. It doesn’t matter which line on your W-2 shows the amount, as long as the bottom line remains the same. The only reform that actually changes something besides the cost of administration is reform of expenditure, not revenue.

If the changes currently being proposed are so pointless, it would be natural to wonder why they’re being proposed. I think it comes down to basic psychology. Psychologists have known for decades that people feel better about something if they feel some measure of control. It doesn’t matter whether their feeling is correct; their choice might actually be meaningless, or even lead to a worse actual outcome than letting someone else choose, and people will still feel better. The people who want to change social security are applying this lesson. Meaningful reform isn’t their goal; the feeling of reform is. They want to make people feel good about reform, and thus about the reformers, even if the reform achieves nothing or even makes things worse. If they can give younger and middle-age voters that feeling, without alienating more canny elderly voters by actually doing anything substantial, it’s a win all around for them.

This is exactly the same approach the right has taken with other “wedge” issues such as gay marriage and abortion. The right-wing leadership doesn’t actually want to win on any of these issues; they want to keep fighting forever. They are defined by enmity. Without an enemy they’d be lost, and they’ve discovered that fighting strawmen or paper tigers gives them much more bang for the buck in elections than trying to deal with the truly pressing problems of our times in meaningful ways. There are real issues involving social security, but its position at the top of the agenda is more the result of political expediency than of genuine concern or rational prioritization.

Nice Site

Think Progress looks like a pretty decent left-leaning political news/opinion site, but what really struck me about it was its simple yet highly appealing visual design. I just wish they could have made it work in a wider format, though I understand how they have to cater to the small-screen crowd and it would be hard to maintain the same effect in a width-independent way.

Bottom 50 Blogs

Some people would probably consider this site a #42. Then again, most of the people who just nodded with glee are #11 (or sometimes #7) so they shouldn’t be laughing.