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January 20, 2009

From Sasha Kopf:

We can has new administration

We has a new prezdent.  We has one.jpg

November 4, 2008



August 29, 2008


It's amazing how many people there are who moan about the lack of participation of younger generations, or for that matter of people in general, without lifting a finger to do anything about it. But what is more amazing is how many of them turn right around screaming "Get off my lawn!" when a few of them have the temerity to show up. Perhaps I shouldn't be so amazed, but then I was born long after the end of the Vietnam war, so obviously no one should take me seriously. The more so if I refuse to play my part and stay at home doing nothing so I can stand at ready for whenever a scapegoat for our problems is needed.

October 9, 2007

Why are you looking at us?

This is stepping on Sasha's turf, but the "it's not our job to wade into difficult legal questions or conflicts between the branches of government because doing our jobs might be construed to be judicial activism and we'd rather take a nap" Roberts Court has (not) struck again.

Update: See also the NY Times editorial board's take on this.

September 26, 2007

Verizon really is evil

About a year ago I declared that Verizon was evil in a snarky little post that had much more to do with the company's complete failure at providing us with service in a timely manner than than any grand struggle of values. But now, yup, turns out Verizon is most definitely evil in that sense, too.

Update: They caved quickly. By the way, this was never an abortion rights issue. It's a free speech issue, in that it needs to be made completely clear that Verizon is every bit as much of a common carrier when distributing text messages as when it is distributing voice calls and should have no right censor what kind of speech occurs on their network. There may be a legal loophole for text messages, but even if there is, that's just plain silly. We really need to set policy that being a common carrier means you are common carrier for any kind of data, not set policy piece by piece as new technology emerges.

September 24, 2007


Oh, boy... I just read an op-ed piece in the New York Times addressing the role of elite universities in transmitting social privilege from one privileged generation to the next. As a graduate of one of those elite universities (Sasha and I both attended Princeton and have the dubious distinction of being children of alumni as well) my problem with articles like this isn't that I dispute the problem. There is no question that the makeup of each class at each elite university does not reflect a fair sampling of all those students qualified to attend, and there is no question that we would all benefit greatly if it did. It isn't even that I feel the solutions they propose are wrong--I don't know nearly enough to be able to speak intelligently on what the best solutions are, and don't get me Sasha started on the pure evil that is the test-prep racket. My problem is that, seemingly inevitably, these articles imply, if not state right out, that this is the result of some form of spiteful hoarding of privilege by a wealthy few who do everything they can get away with to keep the poor who are storming the barricades at bay. No doubt there are some few who feel this way just as there really are those few who still regularly write in to the alumni weekly decrying how the admission of women has ruined the university, but in my experience these are the exceptions and rare ones at that.

The piece ends with what is, to me, a particularly stinging and false assessment:

Last, and not least, by undermining the dubious assumption that the applicants admitted are those with the most merit, a lottery might promote a certain measure of humility — a quality in short supply in the upper rungs of the “meritocracy” — among admission officers and students alike.

The idea that Ivy League students have an arrogantly lofty idea of their own intelligence is deeply counter to my own experience and contributes to many of the stereotypes that lead to a difficulty in getting students who don't attend elite high schools or have connected parents to consider an elite university as an option. My own experience of Princeton, and one that has been confirmed among many of my friends, was precisely one of humility. Because every Princeton student was at the top of their high school, academically, you quickly and graphically learn that you are not special. No matter how smart you think you are, someone else is smarter and smarter by a very great deal. Rare is the person with a level of arrogance so great that they can live through that demonstration and still think they are hot stuff because they got some good grades, read some difficult books, or got a degree.

On the contrary, it often seems that the assumption of Ivy League arrogance comes from everywhere but the people who attend them. Sometimes simply admitting where you went to college is interpreted as arrogance: A usual response is something along the lines of "Gee, you must be pretty smart, huh?" This can lead to a pretty ridiculous effort to downplay the affiliation. One of the biggest problems, as I see it, is that the general population views elite universities like Princeton as something foreign. As a different world. The high school I attended was generally lower-middle class, and while they prided themselves on sending a high percentage of their students to college, I witnessed not a single bit of encouragement to even the brightest students to consider elite schools. The only students who did apply to elite schools were those who had the background and resources to investigate them on their own. The elite universities of this country were simply not in the world that my high school expected it's students to live in. Similarly the reaction that my mom would usually get from other parents was to say that they could never consider Princeton because there is no way they could afford it, never mind that with their greater resources, elite schools can often provide much more generous aid, frequently with no debt, than other seemingly more affordable schools. People just don't consider them enough to even investigate them because their first reaction is that those are schools simply don't exist in their world.

As I've said a number of times now, the admissions departments of the elite universities must do more to make admissions fair and to expand access to disadvantaged students (and they are), but the problems lie on both sides of the "divide". I'm always a little disheartened when I read articles that reinforce the idea that Princeton and other elite universities exist in a different world from the one in which "normal" people live. As long as people keep on believing that, it will remain true.

July 24, 2007

If I ruled the world: Presidential debate edition

Everyone is talking about last night's youtube based presidential debate (a quick rundown of which is here at Salon). The whole thing is irking me largely because, unsurprisingly, the press is using it as yet another excuse to talk about anything other than the real issues and how the candidates differ--as if we needed another way to cover the horse race instead of the policy. At least it's better than talking about haircuts and the public reaction to them, I suppose.

But even the "novel" format being discussed isn't very interesting. Don't get me wrong, if getting people to submit questions via youtube yeilds more interesting, personal, or compelling questions, then I'm all for it, but the questions are the easy part. Holding the candidates accountable for giving true and deep answers that cover policy is the real problem. If I ran the world, here's what I'd want from my debate formats:

Forget the questions, check the answers!

How about having the first half of the debate devoted to questions and the second half to follow up. People online would have a chance to post followup questions, and more importantly, they and a panel of experts would be available to do live fact checking and would challenge assertions that the candidates make. This would reward candidates who have more to a plan than a soundbite and punish candidates who think they can get away with an optimistic over simplification that sounds better than the complicated truth.

Note: To their credit, I just heard the guests on the PRI/KCRW program To The Point make some similar complaints and suggestions. Notably one of the guests suggested that a better way to leverage the internet would be to have instant polls of satisfaction with whether the candidate answered the question or not, so the moderator could choose to follow up with a challenge like "75% of the audience feels you didn't really answer the question, would you like an opportunity to give a fuller answer?" The hope would be that it would be impossible to say no, however I worry that it would just give the candidates who like to steer their answers back to the same nice sounding platitudes a chance to utter more of the same. The polls would also be deeply vulnerable to manipulation by the campaigns. I think my idea would be a bit more robust and would be more likely to draw more out of the candidates. It would, however, make the time crunch even more of a problem when dealing with so many candidates at once.

July 9, 2007

Young and Slightly Irked

There's a common theme in discussions about political movements these days. Whether the talking heads on the radio are discussing the war, global warming, or urban poverty and race relations, there's one observation that always comes to the surface: Young people are not angry. "We can't achieve our goals, you see," say the baby boomers, "because unlike how we responded to the challenges of our day, you remain apathetic."

As a politically engaged "young person" I find this a difficult message to stomach. Don't get me wrong. I can't dispute the voting statistics, and it's a great shame that such a small percentage of people under 30 vote. But is our level of involvement really so surprising? Were the 60s and 70s really such an eden of political activity? Did the anger really lead to a lasting revolution? I'm not trying to downplay the achievements of the last 30 years--lord knows I wouldn't want to live in any earlier time--but can you blame the grandchildren of the 60s for their cynicism?

Here's one way to read the lesson: when the baby boomers had a chance to nominate presidents from their generation we got Clinton and W. Baby boomers in power have spent their time dismantling the liberal institutions set up by their parents and grandparents in favor of lower taxes, and the drug policy they've implemented has been a grand combination of "just say no" and just lock them up. The lesson that we've learned about what anger in the streets achieves in terms of real policy change is a disappointing one.

So before blaming the problems we are inheriting on our own lack of political involvement, please take a moment to recognize that these problems don't get solved because they're hard and because they take more than a few slogans shouted in the streets. And also remember that the best way to get "youth" involved probably isn't to repeat over and over "these kids today..." After a while it starts to sound like "We ran out of steam... You fix it."

March 13, 2007

One! Two! Three! Four! ... May I have my coffee cake now?

Subtitled: The military coffee cake complex.

On my way home today I stopped by the U-Store to get a book and was tempted by some coffee cake at Bulldog News on the way back down the Ave.

Just as I was starting to order I heard a man coming up the Ave toward me shouting loudly "One, Two, Three, Four! Who's against this god damn war?!?" repeatedly. He made it up level with me just as I had ordered my coffee and was starting to inquire about the cake when he paused, looked at me, and repeated his slogan. I stopped mid pointing and proceeded to adopt my full on city mode and loudly ignore him, but he wouldn't have it. "Are you against this war?"

"..." I started to try to recover myself and begin to point at the coffee cake I'd like as the Barista and I kind of look around wondering what we are supposed to do, frozen in the middle of the transaction.

"Don't buy that! Before you buy that, think! ... Are you against this war???"

"...Um... Yes, actually..."

He held his hand out and, not knowing what else to do, I shook it simultaneously looking at him for the first time and realizing that he smelled like lots and lots of really old beer. As I shook his hand he said "High five! Now... ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, Who's Against This God Damn War!" clearly expecting me to join in and then he walked away.

After a stunned moment the Barista and I laughed, decided that it was ok for me to order now as long as I promised not to tell him so she wouldn't get in trouble for selling something to me, and went back to the beginning of the whole ordering process. Of course now I realized that I'd shaken this not so clean guy's hand just before ordering coffee cake that I really wanted to eat right now, but I tried not to think about that too hard.

The strangest thing about the whole episode was where it was happening. I mean, running into a young guy in jeans with a messenger bag on the Ave in Seattle you aren't very likely to find out that he's for the war. Of course, drunk and crazy as the guy seemed, I'm not entirely sure he knew where he was much less what war he was talking about. Maybe he was trying to recruit people to his side against the war on poverty or something.

November 21, 2006

C Class Citizen

Southwest has decided that they are not interested in my business. They informed me today that there is no way, short of my coming to the airport 24 hours ahead of time, for me to get anything better than a "C" seating designation: The group of half a dozen or so people who got last minute tickets and are all guaranteed to have only middle seats available to them.

The problem is that I'm on the Watch List. Normally this is just a mild inconvenience. I've never had any extra security screening or hassles once I've got my ticket, they just tend to insist that I see an actual person to check in for my flight rather than using a computer. Seems a little silly since I'm going to show my ID anyway, but not a big deal. Sometimes this means extra delays, but the people at Continental just told me in that case to get in the 1st class line and tell them that I'm a selectee. Works for me.

Southwest, however, bases their seating on when you check in, giving priority to those who check in online ahead of time, something they will not allow me to do. Naively, I assumed that since this is a problem that has been going on for several years now, and every ticket agent that I've ever dealt with has expressed frustration and sympathy about it, helping me to navigate my way through, that the Southwest ticket agents would have a way around this obvious problem, making me an exception since I had no other choice. Not so. They even seemed a bit put out that I asked about it, telling me "You know you're on the Watch List, right?" and acting as though I should just assume that flying would be a painful experience no matter what airline I chose or what I did.

But if I really was a security risk, how would forcing me into the middle seat help anyone? Not a bit. Seat assignment is irrelevant. They just want to check my ID but don't want to take the effort to design a system that would allow me to get in line for a seat without completing the check in process. I mean how hard would it be to just give me a number when I tried to check in saying that I had started the process of checking in, but simply needed to do one more thing at the airport to finish it. Viola! Now I'm treated like a normal person except for the fact that they need to verify that no, I don't fit the profile of whoever it is that is making things suck for Michael Boyles everywhere.

I don't mind a little sensible inconvenience in the name of security, but do not force me into permanent second class status because you're too lazy to adapt on your end.

November 8, 2006

Elections that don't make me want to shoot myself...

Oh, my god. I hardly know how to deal with actually being pleased by election results. It's a whole new world for me.

November 6, 2006

Midterm Elections

From xkcd today comes this tidbit of truth and wisdom:

xkcd: Canada

Yeah, that kind of sums it up. Now I don't need to write a "pre elections angst" post.

October 14, 2006

I appear not to have been disenfranchised

I'm glad to report that my voter registration appears to be all in order. I was somewhat concerned because a while back I got a disturbing answering machine message claiming to be from Washington State Democrats informing me that my name had been taken off of the voter rolls and that I should call them to get a new registration. I was skeptical because I got the call only a day or two after voting in the primary. Because it wasn't long after the primary when I checked online it only referenced information about the primary election--and I already knew I was registered for that.

So I waited for a while to check again, and yes, I am registered for the November election. Good thing, too, because they can pry my right to vote in the election where we take back congress from (please, please, please) from my cold, dead hands. I figure the call must have been either, a) an honest mistake, b) the most despicable pfishing scam ever, or c) part of an attempt to indiscriminately make sure that all democrats check to make sure that they are properly registered. I did a reverse lookup on the phone number they gave and it seems to be registered to "Washington Victory 2006," so my bet is on option c. The only thing that a google search turned up was a donation from the firefighters union, so they are probably at least somewhat legit. If it is option c and not a, I can't say I condone lying to people about that, but on the other hand, hey, if it gets people to make sure they are registered to vote, no harm done.

September 13, 2006

Funky Fundamentalists in Seattle

I just wrote the previous post about programming in part as a distraction from writing about another Salon article. “Come as you are” by Lauren Sandler describes a mega church in Seattle where "hipster" culture mixes with religious fundamentalism and they preach a subservient role for women in order to have as many babies as possible in an attempt to repopulate Seattle with conservatives. I can't bring myself to write much about it because the whole subject horrifies me. Not because some people would find it an attractive way to live (I can actually kind of see the attraction and besides people can live as they want) but because of the brazenness and openness of the desire to make us all live as they do.

But it mostly just depresses me. First because, these evangelicals who can see their way through to worrying about corporate greed, and the Walmart-ization of the world will turn around and vote for Bush, of course, because he's so loudly a Christian who agrees with them about the things that impact only themselves like gender roles and marriage, instead of someone who might actually do something about those causes that impact other people. But even more than that, it bothers me to no end that religion and community so often go hand in hand with anti-intellectualism.

Continue reading “Funky Fundamentalists in Seattle” »

September 11, 2006

9/11, 2006

I wasn't really sure if I should write anything today. Overall I think too many people say too many things about 9/11 that they shouldn't. But I do feel that an important aspect of coming to terms with events (all evens whether traumatic or not) is to talk about them. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the people who have been talking about 9/11 have, for the most part, not been focusing on the right things.

Continue reading “9/11, 2006” »

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