June 30, 2003
This time it's personal
PG, a little vexed by the law school application process, wonders what he'll think of affirmative action if/when it adversely affects his admittance decisions. It's interesting that even though I've long supported affirmative action, I've never been comfortable telling institutions about my racial composition. For one thing, it's often not even clear to me going in whether race will help or hurt me - it seems to have done both in the past depending on circumstances (eg the government was on an Asian hiring rampage when I applied 4 years ago, but being part Asian can be pretty harsh if you're trying to get into grad school). And as I've explained in the past, I think the unfairness affirmative action creates for the individual is pretty hard to take, even in light of the broader goal (which I support) of changing the perception of historically opressed groups as historically oppressed groups. So I avoid the questions and prefer telephone interviews. Does this make me a hypocrite?
At any rate, it's my experience that the rationality of admittance decisions is pretty obscure, if it's even there to begin with. You get in here, you don't get in there - who knows why? I'm always amazed by these people who are suing the university because they didn't get in - how did they find out about the mechanics of the admissions process? Did they start asking around campus? And did they target their investigations with an eye to race? Call me lazy, call me stupid... this is something I would never do.
BigOldGeek was practically an eyewitness to the porch collapse here in Chicago that made national news yesterday. His fiance is a doctor, so he has a somewhat unique perspective.
Matthew Yglesias, blogging from Florence, is complaining about the price differential in museum entrance fees for EU citizens vs the rest of us.
In all seriousness, though, I do wonder what the rationale for this policy is supposed to be. The economic logic behind age-based price discrimination is pretty clear, but I can't see any logic behind citizenship-based discrimination.
He goes on to say it's some kind of attempt to create an EU dientity of some kind. But I think this is actually a lot simpler, and very similar to the age based discrimination he mentions. Non-EU-citizens are probably tourists, which means they have money to spend on museum entrances and it's pretty much a given that they're going to spend it. I've seen this before - the extreme case being the Taj Mahal, which charged something like $20 per foreign tourist and maybe 1/100 of that price for Indian nationals.
June 26, 2003
Better than painpill
Would you take a polypill? According to this article, British scientists want to combine five drugs (aspirin, folic acid, and three blood pressure and cholseterol medications) into one pill that would help protect those at risk from heart attacks and strokes. The projected benefits are incredible:
The researchers estimated that one-third of those taking the pill would get some benefit, gaining on average about 11 extra years without a heart attack or stroke.
I wonder if these results would apply in countries where there is a smaller incidence of heart attack and stroke. The article mentions some concern that taking a prophylactic like this would make individuals complacent about changing their lifestyle - certainly a problem one could imagine in the United States. On the other hand, are people really working to change their habits now?
MORE: Here is the editorial from the British Medical Journal. Apparently there is an "epidemic of cardiovascular disease" in the developing world, raising the question of how to provide the polypill to those countries.
Working out the kinks
Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday - Blogger was down, but I was a little preoccupied anyway, reinventing Szechuan chicken and learning the Soviet national anthem (you can learn it too, here).
I did want to say a few words about the so-called MoveOn primary yesterday. I know it was essentially an internal thing for MoveOn, but it was also much-hyped as the wave of the future, the first real crack at internet voting, etc. I myself wasn't even planning on voting, even though I am a member of MoveOn, because I'm still not sure who I support nin the race, but then Ruminate This pointed out that they were using approval voting, which made more sense for poor, undecided me, and I decided to check it out. On the other hand, given the parameters of the primary approval voting seemed like an awfully strange system to use, since dividing individual votes makes it much harder to reach 50% - the agreed threshhold for a MoveOn endoresment.
But when I got to the voting page, there were two questions on the ballot - one asking me to pick a single candidate, the other asking me to approve of all those candidates I would support against Bush. The catch: only the first question was accompanied by an explanation of what the vote would be used for, namely it would cound toward the 50% needed by an individual candidate to win MoveOn's endorsement. It's still not clear to me what they're going to do with the other information, but it was somewhat unsettling. As a voter, I want to know just what it is I'm voting for. This is not the NYTimes registration page we're talking about - it's presented and publicized as a legitimate voting process.
When I got back to my email account, I found something even more disturbing - they had emailed me a confirmation, including the names of the candidates I voted for. I know this is a PAC, and I'm therefore supposed to be some kind of activist, but it still seems a little strange to be sending out messages like this. It demonstrates not only the clear documentation of of my vote in their database, but a willingness to use that information for (at a minimum) practical ends. I found myself wishing I hadn't voted in the first place, wondering about how they would use my voting record.
June 24, 2003
Apostropher links to this fascinating story (also here) about Incan Khipus and the strong possibility that they may be a form of recorded language, not written, but woven and knotted. This is of great interest to me beacuse of my nascent study of Aymara - it looks like many of these khipu are found among the Aymara, which may be provocative. I'll be investigating this further - for one thing there's a book at Amazon, although maybe it's a little dated?
Scrimp and save
Nathan Newman has a post demonizing the 401(k) program; basically his argument is that allowing these savings to exist tax-free not only takes away a huge chunk of potential government revenue, but it encourages the savers to lobby congress for tax cuts so that when the accounts mature, they won't have to pay as much. I've never thought about this second problem before - I suppose you could solve it by passing a law the freezes the tax rate at levels from the deposit year, but that would add a lot of complexity to the system. I guess I don't have a satisfactory answer, but I will say that we don't need skewed incentives like these for citizens to be gaming the tax system.
But the first complaint - the idea that tax-deferred savings is taking a huge chunk of government revenues - seems a little short-sighted. Americans have a serious savings problem - we don't save nearly as much as the Japanese or even the Europeans. On a macroeconomic level, this means a huge current account deficit, because as a country we spend more than we make, which forces us to borrow from other countries to finance our spending. The 401(k) program doesn't just serve individual savings needs - it also creates huge incentives for Americans to save, which helps keep that current account deficit down. Yes, the deficit is already enormous, but think how much bigger it would be without a 401(k) program! So, yes the government might have more revenues and less debt if there were no program, but there would also be substantially more foreign ownership of American assets.
Let's see some ID
Indianapolis is going to start accepting the Mexican matricula consular as a valid form of ID, tremendous news for the numerous Mexican immigrants in the area. Even more than other cities in the midwest, Indianapolis has experienced a massive wave of Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants in the past few years, and this is a sign that the city is finding creative/assertive ways to serve that new population. The fact that these Mexican ID cards are not accepted by federal and most state agencies makes life that much more difficult for Mexican immigrants, who have to find some way of establishing their identity before there's any hope of legal resident status or citizenship. This obviously won't change residency requirements, but it will create an environment where immigrants are more likely to seek social services or deal with the authorities - a huge problem for illegal immigrants without valid identification.
June 23, 2003
Atalji makes his move
Is this more of Vajpayee's legacy-making? I had thought he was an outgoing PM, but now that I look at the Indian press I'm totally confused on the issue - apparently he's referred obliquely to his own retirement on a couple of different occasions, but there doesn't seem to be any consensus about what's next for the old man.
Suman Palit's concerns aside, I think this can only be a good thing for stability in the region. Indo-Pak relations are getting cozier by the day, and bringing China (a far less interested party) to the table will introduce new negotating avenues for India and Pakistan - it will no longer be a zero sum game.
This is a little bit frightening:
US military forces crossed into Syria and engaged in a shooting match with border guards last Wednesday after destroying a caravan that was suspected of carrying Saddam Hussein or members of his family, Defense officials said Monday.
The incident occurred near Qaim, a town close to the Iraqi-Syrian border, when U.S. ground troops sought to examine a string of vehicles that had been attacked by an AC-130 gunship and Army helicopters. Five Syrian soldiers were injured in the confrontation after the air attack, the officials said. It was unclear who fired first or how the confrontation developed.
I don't think the Bush admin really wants a war in Syria, and it's true that they've expressed their willingness to pursue Saddam into Syrian territory. Still, engaging Syrian troops doesn't seem like a very good PR move. I wonder what kind of play this got in the Arab press. The article continues:
The hunt for Saddam has grown more urgent lately with growing unrest in Iraq. Since May 1, 19 American servicemembers have been killed by enemy fire, including nine this month. Some U.S. officials have said the fact that Saddam may be alive has emboldened attackers and made other Iraqis fearful of cooperating with rebuilding efforts.
This is some pretty classic rationalization - they can't honestly believe that Iraqis are still afraid of Saddam two months after his regime collapsed, with American forces swarming all over the country, can they? If Iraqis are irrational enough to be running a resistance on Saddam's behalf now, would they really stop if he were found dead? The fact of the matter is, Iraqis aren't resisting American troops because of Saddam; they have their own motivations.
Does anybody have some good advice about cooking tofu? Mostly I want to put together some simple Asian sauces and stir frys, but I can't stand tofu when it breaks into little pieces. I was thinking of lightly frying it beforehand, but maybe there's a better way?
Do it for the children
BigOldGeek apparently took almost 20 hours to finish the new Harry Potter, which isn't as fast as some I've heard about, but still demands... admiration? As someone who hasn't read any of the books or been to any of the movies (and he writes children's opera? you say) I can't really speak to this particular obsession. But I will mention a children's book I have been obsessed with, and which I read even more quickly. The book is Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien, which entered my mind recently and stayed there until I picked up a copy and read it - cover to cover - last night. What a beautiful little story, and at the same time how bizarre for a children's book! I won't spoil the plot for you, but it's an existential masterpiece that I highly recommend. So if you're one of the children not fortunate enough to get a copy of the new Harry Potter this wk (and it sounds like you can blame BigOldGeek for this...) then go pick up a copy of Mrs Frisby - it certainly can't be any less imaginative.
Anything but French
Just finished with my first day of intensive Aymara - should be a pretty interesting way to spend my mornings this summer. There's nothing quite like the giddiness that comes with learning the first few words in a new language, with all the crazy sounds you didn't know you could make and the obscene politeness of all the little dialogues. I'm not sure how useful Aymara will be for my study of public policy, but maybe I can at least squeeze a trip to Bolivia out of it. We'll see.
Aymara is an agglutinated language, which means words are built on the spot from different particles that change meaning, depending on the grammatical context. The vocabulary is of course totally unrelated to anything I've ever studied, except for the occasional Spanish borrowing. The phonology doesn't seem too difficult - the hardest thing is this class of plosive/glottalized consonants, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.
I was actually hoping to find a way to study Uzbek, which is probably a little more justifiable given my career path, but unfortunately it seems to be a little late to find a good program. Getting to Uzbekistan as an English teacher seems even more difficult, since there are usually classes you have to take. Maybe next year!
June 20, 2003
Now they've found a way to make you smarter by magnetizing your brain. The phenomenon is apparently related to the condition of savants, who are able to perform incredible tasks but have significant social or lingustic limitations. It sounds like a step forward (especially for autism research), but I have to say the idea of magnetically enhanced painters and novelists gives me the creeps.
On a related note, Dwight Meredith at PLA is using this study as an excuse to promote bridge. It's pretty clear from the article that the study only dealt with aged subjects, so it's probably a bit rash to conclude that playing bridge now will save you from Alzheimers. On the other hand, playing when you're young may make playing when you're old more fun (ie you'll be able to beat everybody). And then there's my grandmother - she played bridge all her life and then gave it up a few years back for Scrabble, which doesn't appear in the article but seems to have kept her in good stead.
Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful
The new documentary about They Might Be Giants opens in Chicago today at the Music Box. The film is called Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, and it's getting pretty good reviews so far. I'll let you know.
Speaking of documentaries, does anybody know what happened to Alexandra Pelosi's documentary Journeys with George? A Google search took me to the defunct webpage and a few smalltime reviews. I guess it appeared on HBO a couple times, but I haven't seen anything about it since. Was it swept under the rug? And if so, whose interests were served, the Bush admin's or Alexandra's mom's?
June 19, 2003
Two American ragazze
Terrific news: my sister Jackie Goyette and her friend Corrie Cook have a new weblog. Jackie's been in Italy for the past year, and the weblog is about her experiences - so far it looks like she's playing with different travel writing styles, and I'm impressed. If you're interested in travel writing, make sure to check out her online magazine, The Long Trip Home - I think I still have a piece up there myself about Ecuador.
Interestingly enough, Jackie went to a restaurant the other morning to watch them make their batch of ravioli for the day. Meanwhile here in Chicago, my friend John and I threw a little dinner party last night with ravioli as the main course, but the pasta at least was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe next time I can enlist some help from her - although I guess she'll have to come home, first!
June 17, 2003
A new kind of therapy
Someone over at Metafilter links to this odd article from Utne on the Sopranos and ecopsychology (I say odd beacuse the connection between the two is awfully tenuous/contrived, but obviously kept me reading anyway). I'm not sure how I feel about these ecopsychologists, who for one thing have some pretty strange intellectual roots, but I've always felt that modern psychology leaves something out of the equation when it comes to culture. That is, aren't our parameters for normal or healthy culturally determined, so that psychologists are looking only at the part of a patient's psyche above some preexisting cultural foundation? This is interesting because we live in a culture that pushes the envelope with increasingly abstracted pressures on the individual, yet for some reason psychologists control for this.
It seems a little strange that these ecopsychologists combine cultural and natural environmental stimuli in their study. I guess they're both outside the realm of what vanilla psychologists are doing now, but don't they come from opposing critiques? That's probably why their reading suggestions are so incoherent.
Dereliction of duty
Am I the only left-leaning blogger who isn't gaga over Paul Krugman? It's not that I don't agree with him (I almost always do); but unless he's talking about economics, he hardly ever says anything new, and he never does any research. In today's column he makes generalization after generaliztion, finally bringing us to the bizarre conclusion (or does he call it a suspicion?) that Donald Rumsfeld "just didn't feel like dealing with the problem." I'm not one to defend Mr Rumsfeld, but that's hardly a probable explanation for any policy decision in the power-hungry Pentagon. The argument is simplistic, and as always Krugman wows us with research he didn't do - "according to Fred Kaplan in Slate..." and "yesterday The Washington Post printed an interview..." - did he even double-check with these sources? His journalistic instincts seem to be about as developed as mine - and I think the comparison with bloggers is pretty apt, given his sensibilities. Maybe they should do the right thing and set him up at nytimes.com?
By the way, I don't feel the same way about his economic writing - a couple of his books are excellent for the non-economist: The Age of Diminishing Expectations is a great primer on the state of the economy in the 90s, and Pop Internationalism should be required reading for anyone who's talking about globalization.
June 16, 2003
Well the career advice isn't exactly pouring in, but PG (who btw couldn't resist that mini-melon story either) tells me I should join one of the political campaigns. But I've got a pretty bad attitude toward ths sort of thing after getting screwed by the Hart campaign - Ezra Klein (who's now blogging over at Not Geniuses, if you're interested) and Kevin Thurman had their gracious post-operative Hart eulogies, but I don't really share the sentiment. This is a guy who was working a pretty optimistic vibe to get elected, and he brought the house down in the end over this cynicism/nostalgia about the unfavorable political environment. But this was also a guy who was dead politically and was nevertheless getting pretty good press - in the same political environment.
As far as other campaigns, I don't know... I'm pretty depressed about the other options - I think my interest in the Democratic primary was pretty localized around Hart. Most of the diaspora seems to have ended up in the Dean camp, but I can't convince myself he has anything substantive to say about foreign policy, which in my view is where the election will be won or lost in 04 (Hart's sophistication on this point was the main reason I supported him). I have been thinking of throwing some of my time into Illinois politics, where Barack Obama may have a chance to take Fitzgerald's senate seat. We'll see.
June 15, 2003
Truth in advertising
I'm thinking of getting broadband soon... I'm sick of waiting for this phoneline to connect all the time, and the university's connection speed isn't exactly convenient. I'll have to wait to see if I'm even going to be in town for the summer, but I'll probably go for this SBC/Yahoo! broadband unless anybody writes to put me off of it. I saw the commercial today where Yahoo! reveals to the old fella (not sure what this has to do with broadband) that he likes salsa, when even his wife didn't know he liked salsa, and I used his case as a plea (!) with my girlfriend, who doesn't need to be convinced really since I'll be paying for it. But it occurs to me that it's awfully strange to be pleading the case on the basis of a totally fictional story, one which I knew full well was fictional but which was clearly recreated via advertisment to echo a real-life testimonial. How did I know it was fictional when it didn't say so? How long have we been able to decipher this kind of code? Aesthetically, I find it absolutely thrilling that neither we nor the advertisers realy care whether the story is true or not, although I guess it's kind of shocking if you're concerned about consumers' rights and all that.
The world of children's opera
The Chicago Opera Theatre's production of Brundibar was good, although I have to say that the Indianapolis Children's Choir was able to muster just as much talent and heart from within their own ranks. Also, I think it was a little strange to double bill it with Martinu's Comedy on the Bridge, which isn't really a children's story at all. Sendak's sets for Brundibar were very characteristic, and they fit much better than those for Comedy, which seemed very out of place to me.
It turns out this was the last production to take place at the Atheneum here in Chicago - it turns out the COT will be moving downtown to the new Music and Dance Theatre in Millenium Park. The Atheneum is a nice little space though... I have to wonder who will be taking up there next year.
By the way, I didn't mean to suggest that Brundibar was the only Children's opera out there, just that it was the only one with which I was familiar before we set out to do Trio. And even that was untrue - I forgot about Mr Marimba, the Polish opera by Marta Ptazinska, who gave us a lot of wonderful advice about our project.
The other interesting production running now - which unfortunately I'll be unable to make - is Rachel Portman's version of The Little Prince at the Houston Grand Opera. They've actually imported a star treble/boy soprano from Milwalukee to play the part, and the reviews I've read made the music sound very accessible. Personally I was amused to hear about the production because originally, when we set out to do Trio, we wanted to write an opera on The Little Prince. My friend is very attached to the story, and he was devastated when our quest to get the copyrights dead-ended with some washed-up American composer who had always wanted to do a version but just never got around to it. In any case, Rachel Portman's version was apparently written before the rights were obtained, for performace in London (which I guess is a different set of rights than you need for the US), but when the producers in London declined to produce it, the opera ended up over here. I suppose the composer who had the American rights was paid off, but it probably wasn't civil - after all, Rachel Portman is big stuff, and there are big guns behind this production (opera houses across the country are already lined up). My friend was pretty crestfallen to read this, but I don't really care - even then I thought The Little Prince would make a lousy opera, and building our own story from the ground up was a lot of fun.
So it's been 2 wks since I've written an entry here, amazingly enough I survived all my finals, even the group work, but I still haven't figured out what I'm doing with my summer. Possibilities at the moment range from obscure language study to a couple of rather dry sounding Washington policy internships. If anybody has any ideas, I'm all ears. I fully expect to be posting on a daily basis now, so I'll keep you updated.
In the meantime, it looks like I've missed some of the biggest news weeks of the year, besides maybe the buildup and the Iraq conflict. I'll just point out one bit that particularly interested me - the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire has gone and elected an openly homosexual bishop, although I understand the House of Bishops still has to agree if it's actually going to happen. I'm excited about the prospect of a serious debate hitting the upper reaches of a major denomination (plus I have a special interest because the Episocpal Church is my alma mater, so to speak). I don't know anything about the fellow in question - reading the article leads me to suspect their main reason for selecting him was his homosexuality, but I suppose that's not such a bad thing. I'll be posting more on this story as the debate comes to a boil...
June 1, 2003
The rest is opera
I heard Maurice Sendak speak today about the upcoming production of Brundibar here in Chicago. I'm familiar with Brundibar because it's the only opera I know of (besides The Trio of Minuet) written to be performed by children. And of course Mr Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are - both the children's book and the opera libretto. In recent years he has moved to production design.
Brundibar is one of the most powerful pieces of musical theatre in existence because of its origins - it was written by Hans Krasa while he was interned at Terezin during the Nazi occupation. Krasa himself was murdered at Auschwitz, but the 25-minute opera was perfomed at Terezin fifty-five times, and incredibly, one of the children performers in that original production was present at the discussion I attended today. Ela Stein Weissberger played the role of the cat.
In any case, let me highly recommend Brundibar to anyone who is in the Chicago area from June 4-14. It's a wonderful story, and Sendak's production seems sure to delight.
I think the Chinese may have Mr Putin beat with this iffy plan to turn the Yangtze into a reservoir the size of Lake Superior.