S.M.B. - Logic and Rhetoric
Saturday, January 25, 2003

It's not treason that's under attack by the Bush administration, it's skepticism. Skeptics everywhere are being pitied by stupid Americans:

Craig Schaffner, 46, a Fayetteville-area computer consultant, has earned the pity of friends and acquaintances for his tragic reluctance to embrace the unverifiable, sources reported Monday... "Craig is a really great guy," [Coworker Donald] Cobb said. "It's just too bad he's chosen to cut himself off from the world of the paranormal, restricting himself to the limited universe of what can be seen and heard and verified through empirical evidence."

I don't think the Onion directly implicates the Bushies in fostering such ignorance, no no, that's not the Onion's role.


Researchers have discovered a protein that destroys 70% of cancer cells when a certain enzyme is regulated. The BBC reports the story, where has this story been in the American Press? I would bet a nickel that the pharmaceutical companies have buried it for the benefit of the scores of cancer drugs they have right now. Maybe I'm too cynical, but in any case read the story, it gives us hope... http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2669219.stm

Friday, January 24, 2003

Somebody who I love and admire very much has challenged my assessment that the Infiniti G35 Coupe is an inferior auto to the Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG Coupe. This misinformation must not stand! We must unite together and let my ill-informed friend know the truth, the way and the light. Please e-mail and let us know who is right in this argument, you can visit those two car websites (among others) on the left side of the page...


Rolling Stone Magazine claims that 25% of newly infected HIV+ gay men were "bug chasers." A bug chaser is someone who longs to become infected with HIV+; it takes a lot of reading to faze me but I seriously almost puked while reading this story, no exaggeration. If you want to risk losing some stomach lining http://www.rollingstone.com/news/newsarticle.asp?nid=17380 go ahead.
I call Rolling Stone's action stupid, hateful and irresponsible for several reasons. The article does not stand up to the critical eye. Why are there only two named people interviewed about this? Why is there no study cited? Two people and no study somehow turned into 25% of newly infected gay men. This is lazy American "journalism" at its worst. Nevertheless anti-gay propaganda is in vogue in this country, and it makes life that much harder for HIV+ gays who have to find jobs in this economy, and live the best lives they can.


Susan Cornwell of the Washington Post reports (to my delight):

Saying they feared government snooping against ordinary Americans, U.S. senators voted on Thursday to block funding for a Pentagon computer project that would scour databases for terrorist threats. By a voice vote, the Senate voted to ban funding for the Total Information Awareness program, under former national security adviser John Poindexter, until the Pentagon explains the program and assesses its impact on civil liberties.

Way to stand up to the Administration's Big Brother agenda. The rest of the story is at
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A348372003Jan23.html ... Click the "internal enemy" link at the left for more information on Total Information Awareness, it is scary. Whoever thought that government fiends would put all Americans under the eye.

I had a very interesting conversation last night with two people who were for this Total Information Awareness program. They, for reasons they could not explain coherently, saw nothing wrong with the concept of the government's spying on all Americans, they simply did not see anything wrong with the notion that all Americans are suspicious, or suspects. The doctrine of preemption (which these two individuals support) and the Big Brother tactics are a complete rejection of the American principles of justice that are based on the notion that unless there is probable cause (or hot pursuit of somebody caught red handed) all people are innocent until proven guilty. If evidence of odd, funny, perverse, or otherwise incriminating activity has to be taken (by the Government) on every American, then isn't the Government telling all of us, WE DON'T TRUST YOU? I'm so tempted to just become a tiny government libertarian, if the government can have this information (and the good will of all government people cannot be assumed now or in the future) then what is to say somebody won't use this information in the future. These are some times...

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I got an e-mail from an old friend that, while disagreeing with my pro-affirmative action premise, points out some very important points that often find themselves alienated from the typical debates on affirmative action. He says:

I know latinos do have higher drop out rates etc, but I think the lower levels of education are where we must work to get kids on the right track, not at the point when they are in applying for college...

This is a good point. It is true that public education at the primary and secondary levels is faultering, especially in urban centers. Nevertheless regimes across this country, Democrat and Republican ones, have raided public education funds in favor of jail/corrections funds. During the 1980's state spending on prisons increased 95%; spending on higher education decreased 6%. Between 1984 and 1997 California constructed 21 prisons and penitentiaries and only 1 state university. Florida spends more money per prisoner for 56,000 prisoners than it does on 203,000 public college students. According to the U.S. census bureau between 1977 and 1995 prison spending grew twice as fast as education spending. Incidentally, 1977 was the last year that either the American median middle class income or the middle class standard of living went up. Texas' prison spending grew 5.7 times as fast as their education spending. Enough with the stats, the point is that politicians of all stripes, but, yes, especially Republicans have tripped over themselves to say how bad public education is, but of course these people in Washington D.C. and our state capitals are the ones who caused the problem. They prepared jails instead of dorms for kids to be housed in. The problem is coming back to roost, there will be (soon if the cycle festers on) two entire broken generations of black and latino men who are criminalized, and therefore stigmatized.

Back to the original question of improving education at the lower levels, I believe that this has to be done with affirmative action. I don't believe that affirmative action is an entitlement in the sense that beneficiaries get it for free, because they have to work too. I tend to believe that it gives many the opportunity to compete, but I believe that incompetent candidates generally do not make it through the grind of the college admissions process. The fact is there is no scientific data that demonstrates that beneficiaries of affirmative action perform worse than non-beneficiaries at school. Nevertheless, any race neutral admissions policies that facilitate diversity are inherently superior than the current system. If you have ever checked out a hardcore Republican conservative website or even a Libertarian website, you would discover that there are conservatives who want to dismantle public education, they believe that this is not the government's arena and that the constitution does not provide for this sort of government programming. These people have floated the crazy idea that "school choice", allowing some parents take public tax dollars to fund the childrens' private education, will improve schools. This idea has gained limited popularity, while most people remain confused about the issue. I believe it's a bad idea, but that's a topic for another posting.Vouchers represents another misdirection though. The claim of its advocates is that public schools are inherently worse than private or religious schools. If you take away the luxuries that private schools enjoy, I don't believe that private schools are better just for being private. Private schools get to pick their students. Public schools have to take on anybody and everybody, Helen Keller and Albert Einstein, Geoffrey Dahmer and William Shakespeare. Private schools charge tuition and with their endowments and funds raised elsewhere, they often have plenty of cash on hand. Public schools are subject to the whims of the government; if the government decides to take money from schools and divert it to jails to feed criminals and give them libraries, cable tv and the internet, well that's the fault of the schools for not having the political will to get that money from Senator Joe Blow. Private schools do not tolerate bad teachers, while I was at private school I witnessed several teachers get fired just because they were bad. Public schools are crippled by unions, who believe it's more important to protect a child molester than to affirm the integrity of their constituency (yes, this happened in my native New York City).
What can be done to make education more workable for those who live in poor areas in cities and rural counties? The fact is that minorities are plagued by more unstable families, higher male criminalization and consequently higher drop out rates than white students. Affirmative action opportunities, as they are, truly reach only a small portion of these families. Debt is rising, real estate values are too, and it is becoming harder for single mothers to support their children. There are limited welfare and healthcare programs for the working class. This working class is often too un-poor to receive welfare but too un-wealthy to pay for college tuition or even college test preparation. The black poor has been a consistent underclass, ever since the 1930s when the Federal Government started taking statistics on African-Americans. This is the class of people in urban ghettos, failing schools and community institutions (churches, volunteers, and marriage), and who gain the least from affirmative action. Males born in the African-American underclass are more likely to go to juvenile hall or prison than go to college; are more likely to join gangs than join community volunteer organizations, and generally are not typical college OR law school applicants. If a member of this underclass surpasses these societal barriers to achieve a good score on the SATs or LSATs just good enough to meet the standards of an "average" student at some college, then hasn't he achieved at least as much as a valedictorian who has had security, stability and luxury? I believe that affirmative action at its best would acknowledge that experiences and successes gained through adversity in a hard life are at least as substantial as successes gained in a stable and temperate setting. Ultimately, I think that the argument of the plaintiffs in the anti-affirmative action case before the Supreme Court is that if the University of Michigan Law School had a black quota of one and accepted one black kid, then 1) the University should not try to bring in blacks for diversity's sake 2) since this one black kid with a X.XX gpa and a XXYY LSAT got in then that means blacks are far more likely to get into UMich Law than whites because 25 white kids with the same scores and gpa applied but only 7 got in so... 3) UMich has a discriminatory admissions policy that is slanted against whites. I'm done for now, this is a pretty strayed and overly comprehensive answer to a good question. The next affirmative action posting will likely look into why the rural white poor should benefit from affirmative action programs... KEEP THE E-MAILS COMING, A CHALLENGE IS MORE WELCOME THAN A CONCURRENCE...

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Whenever conservatives talk about affirmative action, they talk about race, race preferences, or "reverse discrimination." The U.S. Supreme Court is about to look at the case of the University of Michigan Law School, in which white students lay out the fact that with certain grade and gpa averages, they, as white students, are much less likely to get into the University of Michigan Law School than black students with the exact same scores and grade point averages. Many opponents of affirmative action like to invoke the name and uncontexted words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose legacy we celebrate tomorrow; but Dr. King of course said that he had a dream that someday a man would not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character... Opponents think that it is racial injustice against whites, for people of color at certain levels, to be more likely to gain entry into college than whites. What we have here is an obvious misunderstanding of racial fairness and justice. Opponents of affirmative action think that, despite end results, any raceless approach is good, because it gives advantage to applicants who look good on paper; proponents know that a structure that will result in disadvantage to people of color and women is a structure that is biased against them.
People get excited over this issue, people get violent, people divide themselves over racial lines and see only good and evil; good job conservatives, you've done your job well!! The main difference between conservatives and progressives when it comes to almost anything is that progressives are more likely to point to circumstance as a greater factor in someone's bad fortune than that person's personality, conservatives believe that its that person's crappy personality, lazy work ethic, and lack of motivation that accounts for failure. Consequently, conservatives imply that lazy blacks and latinos are skating into colleges they don't deserve to get into, ahead of hard working white kids. According to the Educational Testing Service's website only 9% of latinos over age 25, 13% of blacks, and 24% of whites completed 4 years of college. Anyone who was 25 years old in 1997 (when the study was completed) grew up with affirmative action. URL=http://www.ets.org/textonly/research/pic/v8n1a.html. Anyone who knows anything about education will tell you that there is a strong statistical correlation between the education of children and that of parents. The ETS also points out:

The following twelve conditions and outcomes characterizes the schooling of latino students:
low academic achievement, segregation, large high school dropout rate, inequities in school funding, language/cultural exclusion, [tracking/ability grouping], unmet needs in special education, disparate negative impact of high-stakes testing, shortage of latino teachers, unfavorable teacher-student interactions, undue school stress, low college enrollment.

The ETS concludes:

As the Latino population swells in number, for the most part, social mobility, economic improvement, and school success are elusive and becoming more so. Latino students start and stay behind on measures of academic achievement, drop out of school in scandalously high numbers, attend segregated and inadequately financed schools, are less likely to take college-preparatory courses, are hit hard by high-stakes tests . . . and more.
Further, the current socio-political environment shows an intolerance for linguistic and cultural diversity, attacks affirmative action policy, and proposes immigration and welfare reform. These all work to the detriment of Latinos.
Finally, there is a resurgent interest in "deficit thinking" that does not bode well for Latinos and other low socioeconomic status minority groups. This idea holds that poor performance in school is rooted in the students' alleged cognitive and motivational deficits, rather than in institutional structures.

In all the talk of black and white, solutions are blurred, hatreds are flamed, and people suffer because there are no discussions about ending poverty, ending racial discrimination in society, or improving education to the best system in the world. So I encourage you to get your facts straight before you have this discussion, think about the issue, don't merely rearrange your prejudices.


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