Twilight of the Idols

...Or how one blogs with a hammer: an undergrad's views on education, cuisine, and more.

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Thursday, November 27

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mmmm, turkey.

I'm back in Evansville for the break - as always, it's sorta good to be home. Heh. Posting wil be light (or possibly non-existant) until Sunday or Monday, since most of the computers here at the family homestead don't work very well or often.

And besides, we all know that relatives are more fun that blogs. Don't we? Anyone? Aww, never mind.

Monday, November 24

Just One Of The Problems With Plagiarism

While reading over EducationNews.org, I saw a Straits-Times Asia article about the ever-growing problems with internet plagiarism.

Chances are if you're reading this, you're familiar with the concept of internet plagiarism. It's not hard to find sites offering essays on any number of topics; sometimes they're free, and sometimes they cost money, but in any case, they're everywhere. The article gives an overview of the issues.

So here's my issue with the article: It starts out with a story about a neophyte teacher who catches five (FIVE!) students in one of her classes using material copypasted off the 'net. What happens next?

After she told her mentor about it, the students received a stern warning and almost scored zero for the assignment, which accounted for 20 per cent of their continuous assessment grades.

But she pleaded on their behalf and they were given five out of 20 marks for handing in their work.

'My heart went out to those kids because I don't think they realised how serious a crime plagiarism is,' she said.

Guess what: they still don't realize how serious a crime it is. Sure, they lost 15% of their final grade, but unless the grading scales in Singapore are significantly different than they are here (which could be the case), then that's not too awful much. Not enough to keep them from doing it again - merely enough to encourage them not to get caught doing it again.

Basically, the problem is that (according to the article, anyway) these kids didn't learn why what they did was wrong; they just learned that they weren't supposed to do it - not an awfully effective lesson, as I said. And of course, this story just happens to be about Singaporean students and teachers. This scenario plays out daily in US classrooms, too - and chances are that students here face even fewer consequences.

Saturday, November 22

"Free" College Tuition? Yeah, Right.

An editorial in the Indiana Daily Student on Thursday asked students to call for free college tuition. Now, we all know that if the government pays for something, it's not free. Well - not all of us, I guess, since this fact eludes the author.

Anyway, I wrote a couple posts about this over at Hoosier Review, my home away from home. If the permalinks still don't work, just scroll down till you see (or search for) "Nick Blesch" - you'll find 'em.

On a side note, I forgot to point out in those posts that although Mr. Bartet calls for the government to pay tuition, he ignores housing, meal plans, activity fees, etc. Here at IU (and at most universities, I would guess), tuition is often far less than half of the cost of attendance. Thus, I don't think that government-funded tuition would make a significant difference in the number of people who could attend college anyway - but that might just be because I'm part "of the elite in society." Sure. Heh.

Wednesday, November 19

Forecast: Heavy Paper-Writing With Intermittent Blogging

This week has been killing me - I've got one paper down and another to go. On the bright side, the paper is due tomorrow, which means that I'll get it finished sometime today. Heh.

Tuesday, November 18

Why Are We Here? (In College, That Is)

An excellent editorial from the Indiana Daily Student basically poses this question. The editorial staff asks one of the same questions I've often asked here:

Has the very meaning of college become so focused on socialization, sporting events and parties that it has lost sight of its true purpose of higher learning? Have we sacrificed our right to a quality education for the sanctity of sport?

And, of course, you don't want to hear their answer:

Well … yes.

It seems like college has been redefined in the context of the basketball court rather than the lecture hall, and while we wholeheartedly support every athletic squad, we need to take issue with how much attention we devote to campus sports.

I do find it heartening to learn that I'm not the only person on campus who's here for an education, and not good seats at basketball games. Go read the rest of it - it's short and well worth your time.

Sunday, November 16

A Positive View On Homeschooling In The NY Times

Of course, the person talking about how great homeschooling is says such in a letter to the editor, but that's something, right? The best part, you ask - she thinks organized sports are a waste of time, too!

Now, before you get mad at me in the comments, note that her letter comes in response to an article in last Wednesday's NYT that described the high-pressure world of young kids and traveling sports teams.

Personally, I'm no fan of organized sports, but I realize that they present a lot of good opportunities for kids, etc, etc, etc - you don't have to convince me that just because I didn't like them means that no one does. However, I will say that nine-year-old kids simply ought to have better things to do with their time than play on sports teams organized by parents who are more interested in their own vicarious glory than whether or not the kids are having fun.

Her letter: It has turned out to be a blessing that my children had no interest in organized sports. Skiing, sledding, hiking, biking and swimming have provided them ample opportunities to exercise and practice social skills — at times of our choosing.

The entire family has benefited from our relaxed schedule, and since we parents often participate (instead of simply chauffeuring and watching from the sidelines), it's helped us to stay fit and active as well.

While I'm happy for families who enjoy having their kids on teams, my suggestion to my children when they have their own families will be this: Consider keeping your children barely aware that organized sports even exist!

If they choose to home-school, the way I did, this won't be so difficult to do.

Music to my ears...

Friday, November 14

What If He'd Worn A Kilt?

From the New York Times:

Even now, no one is entirely sure why Kevin Dougherty, 15, showed up for school one day last month wearing a floral skirt and matching scarf tied jauntily around his neck. Pantyhose, eye shadow and lipstick completed the look.

When administrators at the high school sent him home for refusing to change clothes, he left, but also called the local newspapers and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. Now, nearly two weeks later, the town is still buzzing, though there is no consensus whether it was simply a defiant Halloween costume, as school officials and their lawyers maintain, or a constitutionally protected act of protest, as Kevin says.

I certainly believe that the only way the state can be neutral in its acceptance of people's lifestyles is by taking no stand - in this case, that either means letting people wear what they want or (better yet) just getting rid of public schools in the first place.

The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union told the school in a letter dated Nov. 3 that Kevin's "expressive conduct" was "squarely within the protection of the First Amendment." It also asked the school to "allow both girls and boys the option of wearing a dress to school."

Well, news flash for the CCLU: you're not going to win this one. Good fight, good night. In the unlikely event that they do, to those of you who think that cross-dressing is abhorrent: this is why I support full privatization. Then your kids can go to a private school where they can avoid all the stuff you want them to, and you won't even be wasting your tax money to subsidize the public schools you don't use. Bonus points for that, right?

Side note: I've never understood why Republicans/conservatives, who are allegedly for small government, individual (or at least states') rights, and so on argue just as vehemently against privatization as the left does.

Anyway: Don't forget that in the end no one cares anyway:

There is no indication that other high school students are either riveted by Kevin's act or sympathetic to it.

"This whole entire thing was done for attention," said Vince Ducibella, a sophomore, barely looking up from his homework.

But none of this answers the question I posed in the title - and it's something that I think would have been a better test of the policy - what if he had worn a kilt? It's a traditionally male garment, but let's face it: as cool as kilts are, they are basically skirts.

Thursday, November 13

The Discussion After The Town Hall Meeting

To recap: On Wednesday, Nov. 11, there was an Affirmative Action Bake Sale here at IU. I attended both the bake sale and the Town Hall meeting which was called in response.

After the meeting wrapped up - which took quite some time - I walked over to speak with someone who had asked me a question during the meeting. I felt that I had given an incomplete answer due to time constraints, and I wanted to make myself more clear. He remained unconvinced.

Following this, a woman who had been at the bake sale came up to me and she (basically) wanted to yell at me some more. While trying to deal with her, this guy comes up and informs me that I am "ignorant" and that I have a "one track mind" and that I "need to watch talking like that or [I] might get hurt." Barring the typical school-bully stuff in middle school, never in my life have I been threatened with physical violence; on top of being a bit surprised, I was pretty ticked off. So I did what works best: I stopped slouching, so that I was actually 6'5" tall, and asked him if he was threatening me. He walked off, came back a couple minutes later; of all people, Yelling Girl chased him off, apologizing for him as she did. I guess she hates my guts, but doesn't want to see me get jumped - for that, I am grateful.

Anyway, after she left, I found myself talking with a couple people who were pro-AA but were willing to listen to what I had to say (one of them was mentioned in my first post as having been worried that he would have to physically defend me). As I spoke with them, several other people came up, and it pretty much turned into an open discussion about my thoughts on AA.

I fielded questions from everyone; while other people occasionally answered questions, I was the de facto focus because I was the odd man out as far as viewpoints went. (Although my girlfriend, Tina, did arrive pretty early on, and she helped back me up - thanks!) The discussion naturally started out with questions about my opinions on AA, why I thought it was a Very Bad Thing, etc. I provided the best answers I could, and because of the situation - a small group of people who were all open-minded enough to hear me out - things went very smoothly. (For instance, unlike earlier in the afternoon, no one was calling me a racist.)

Then, after making the point that the primary/secondary schools are the problem and that AA covers up that deficiency, one of the women asked me what I would do to fix the school system. (She didn't know what she was getting herself into, did she? Heh.) So I did what I could to make Hayek and von Mises proud, and I explained in detail why I thought full privatization is the only way to go.

Now, I didn't change any minds right off. However, everyone seemed pretty interested in what I had to say about it; the girl who had initially expressed her disgust with the public school system even requested links to a couple articles I had mentioned. And even if she doesn't ever agree with me completely - I realize that my views on school privatization are pretty radical - she's at least going to sit down and think about what I said. That's all I can ask out of anyone, really.

To say the least, out of all the day's events, I got the most pleasure out of the opportunity to explain libertarianism and free-market economies to a group of people.

So, what's left to talk about?

I have one question that's still nagging at me: IU doesn't have an undergraduate AA program, but I had more than one undergrad come up and assert that AA was how they got into IU... Why? Is it the self-esteem aspect? Did these students really think that they couldn't have gotten into IU on their own (even though there was no other way they could have)? Or did they think that institutional racism was so completely embedded in IU's fabric that only a (non-existent!) government policy could get them into IU?

Is there another reason I'm missing here? Or does someone have a better analysis of the situation? Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, November 12

Today Was A Busy Day!

Classes, meetings, and a discussion about Professor Rasmusen's weblog kept me pretty busy today - regularly scheduled blogging (including my post about the discussion after the town hall meeting) will resume this afternoon!

Tuesday, November 11

I've Got A New Job! Well, Sort Of

Good news of the day: I've been invited to blog with the crew at Hoosier Review!

Check out my inaugural post here, and Editor-in-Chief Zach Wendling's welcome here.

I'll continue to post here, of course - not only do both blogs have a different focus, but I'll be writing in completely different styles, to boot. So check out Hoosier Review for "rapid-fire punditish stuff" loosely focused on higher education and south-central Indiana issues, and keep coming back here for long-winded rants about all levels of education, the evils of government, and (I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but) Star Wars.

Monday, November 10

Geek Alert: Why The Star Wars Sequels Don't Measure Up

Okay, I haven't yet been a real geek on this blog. It's high time I started, so here's a post about - of all things - Star Wars. Paul has a post up in which he (tokenly) compares Joel Silver's sellout of the Matrix series to Lucas' sellout of the Star Wars franchise. I would assert that Lucas committed the larger error.

The Matrix sequels did not, in my opinion, measure up to the original. In fact, I think they're almost parodies of it - in the four years between the release of the original and the sequels, dozens of films came out using the same devices. The slick black leather, the cool shades, and so help me, the bullet-time special effects simply aren't new anymore. Since the sequels seemed to concentrate more on special effects that cool plotline, they suffered.

This isn't to say that the special effects weren't still cool - the epic car chase in Reloaded was worth the price of admission. What it does mean is that all the stuff that made the first movie so cool is now a cliche. What the Matrix did right was stay fairly true to its roots from a plot perspective. The scope of the plot expanded, sure - but the sequels retained the same small-band-of-good-guys (and a messiah) against the huge-band-of-bad-guys (and an anti-messiah) plot perspective that the first movie had.

So, what about Star Wars? No doubt, the original movies were cliches in the first place - they were the sci-fi embodiment of the classic good vs. evil fairy tale. Luke was the (Jedi) knight in shining armor who gallantly rode his horse/X-wing into battle against Evil. The thing is, this is a great story. We've all heard it before, sure - but Star Wars 4-6 did a great job of retelling it in a different light.

Why is it, then, that Star Wars 1-2 (and probably 3) just don't measure up? Because they not only change the story being told (that whole good vs. evil thing went right out the window), they also change the way in which the storytelling itself occurs.

Star Wars 4-6 were great movies because they told a HUGE story from a few small and insignificant (but interesting) characters' points of view. Luke was a nobdy in the first movie, remember? He was Red 5 - not Red Leader - when they went to blow up that first Death Star. He would have remained a nobody if it hadn't been for that "one in a million" shot. (Well, actually, I guess he would have been dead, but you see my point.) Han Solo was just some random smuggler who could fly pretty well; Leia was an insignificant diplomat.

These characters only mattered because of the roles that they ended up playing in the story, not because of who they were in the first place. You learned to care about them because of their individual, heroic actions. And through them, we see a world - no, an entire galaxy - changing. Impressive.

So, the Star Wars prequels are already suffering: by Lucas' definition, they will be telling us where these small, insignificant characters in 4-6 came from. Guess what: nobody cares about the origins of small, insignificant characters. If they're small and insignificant, then the story's going to be boring, and so Lucas makes an even bigger mistake: he pretends that these characters have always been important, and that every trivial event that happened in the past that led to their birth, etc, is Ridiculously Important.

That is to say, the Star Wars prequels are bad because they do precisely the opposite of episodes 4-6: they tell small, insignificant stories from larger-than-life, self-important characters' points of view. We wouldn't know that anything in these first three movies mattered at all if we hadn't already seen episodes 4-6.

Anakin raced a fast car? Who cares? The Trade Federation is blockading Naboo? Who cares? Some random people are tied to sticks, gonna get killed, and the entire Jedi Army (all what, 15 of them?) show up and get mowed down? Who cares? It's assumed that because you know what these characters will eventually do one day, you'll care about what they do now; the fact is, you don't.

So, to wrap up: Lucas screwed up because he took a great idea (epic space opera) and morphed it into a terrible idea (contrived, whiny, special-effectsravaganza), while Silver didn't screw up nearly as bad because he merely took a great idea (slick, stylized, post-modern action thriller) and beat it into the ground.

Okay, okay: Geek Mode is now off. Heh.

Binge Drinking And Diversity

To be honest, I have avoided commenting on the latest release from Henry Wechsler and the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study that showed that diversity lowers the rate of binge drinking. (The Indiana Daily Student article is here, and here's the website for the College Alcohol Study.) Why, you might ask?

Two reasons: First, other bloggers have written excellent posts about it already. And second, anyone with half an ounce of common sense should know the difference between correlative and causative relationships. Of course, since this study keeps popping up everywhere (and at the behest of my friend Paul), I'll write a bit here; if I might be forgiven, though, I'll mostly just sum up what others have said.

For my part, I want to point out that the definition of binge drinking used by Dr. Wechsler and the CAS: five drinks or more for men, and four drinks or more for women at any time in the past two weeks. (From the University of Virginia Cavalier Daily.) Keep that not-so-strict definition in mind as you peruse what follows...

As for the correlative/causative issue, Erin O'Connor says it far better than I could:

Correlation is not causation, but you wouldn't know it from this write-up. If the article accurately represents the study, there seems to be a major logical problem here with the interpretation of cause and effect, and that problem seems to be licensed by the researchers' evident desire to rationalize demographic social engineering on campus by depicting young white men as collectively incapable of making intelligent behavioral decisions and by suggesting that as such they are in need of the moral example of racial and sexual others who possess more discipline and self-restraint. If the racial roles in this study were reversed, people would be screaming racism. But since the racial profiling of the study conforms to the reverse racism built into the logic of diversity, it's able to present itself as both good science and good samaritanism.

A commenter from John's post at Discriminations says:

There is no way that anyone would a priori believe that there was a relationship between diversity and binge drinking. This is equivalent to studies done by so-called "creation scientists". They know what the answer is and they just look for data to prove it. If the data does not support their conclusions they simply ignore it. In other words they only publish results that are consistent with their biases.

Commenters on Joanne Jacobs' post note that:

"Five drinks in a row" may mean 5 shooters lined up, it may mean nursing 5 beers over 5 hours.


I wonder what the reaction would be to a study that showed that Blacks were less prone to drug abuse if they lived around Whites, Asians, and Latinos.

Perhaps after calling everyone a racist, a second study would be undertaken?

So, given the wealth of posts out there already, I don't have much to say - other than how patently ridiculous this study is.

Sunday, November 9

How Valuable Is A Harvard Education?

Also from today's NY Times, here's an article about distribution of federal funds and how "richer" colleges receive a larger share of funds.

Similar discrepancies emerge across the nation, adhering to a somewhat counterintuitive underlying theme: The federal government typically gives the wealthiest private universities, which often serve the smallest percentage of low-income students, significantly more financial aid money than their struggling counterparts with much greater shares of poor students.

Brown, for example, got $169.23 for every student who merely applied for financial aid in order to run its low-interest Perkins loan program in the 2000-1 academic year. Dartmouth got $174.88; Stanford, $211.80. But most universities did not get nearly that much: the median for the nation's colleges was $14.38, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data on the more than 4,000 colleges and universities that receive some form of federal aid.

Nearly 200 colleges received less than $3 per applicant for financial aid. The University of Wisconsin at Madison got 21 cents.

Interesting. First, I don't think the history of the situation is that important. The article goes to great lengths to explain that a significant portion of this funding was set in stone decades ago, but chances are there were probably even fewer low-income students at these top-tier universities than there are now. Assuming that this is the case, then it means that the number of low-income students never had a bearing on how much federal financial aid a school received to distrbute among its students.

Also, take this into account:

At first glance, it may seem that some universities receive more money simply because they cost more to attend. But try telling that to Heather McDonnell, director of financial aid at Sarah Lawrence College, which costs just as much as its Ivy League competitors, yet in one category received only a sixth as much money as any of them.

My guess is that the government values a Harvard (Princeton, Yale, whatever) education more than one from a state school like UW-Madison or an expensive (but not elite) private school like Sarah Lawrence. This seems even more likely once it's noted that the government gives Stanford:

about 7 times as much money to help each one of them through college under one program, 28 times as much in another and almost 100 times as much in a third...

The article doesn't say what these programs are, but one could guess that they would be hard-science majors, maybe Arabic (or Farsi, Mandarin, Korean, etc) language majors. If that's the case, then I can't particularly argue with the way the government is handling the situation - the government needs more hard-science majors and more people able to speak languages spoken in the world's hot spots.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Think Before You Write

There was a letter about illegal immigration printed in today's New York Times:

Adding resources to border interception singles out certain kinds of immigrants (those coming from Mexico and as far south as Ecuador), causes them to take increasing risks in crossing through the desert...

Well, yeah. Just as police officers cause bank robbers to take increasing risks in robbing banks, so do border patrol officers cause those seeking to illegally cross our border to take increasing risks in doing so. Assuming that the goal is to stop people from crossing the border, this is one possible solution (although perhaps not the best).

I mean, would this guy advocate decreasing the number of police on beat so as to protect bank robbers from being shot while plying their trade?

Friday, November 7

AA Bake Sale: The Town Hall Meeting

In response to the AA Bake Sale, a black fraternity preempted the meeting they had originally planned (about black men's experiences on a predominantly white campus) in order to hold a town hall meeting in conjunction with other black student organizations (NAACP, Black Student Union, several fraternities, etc). Stephen Jerabek, the president of the Committee for Freedom and organizer of the bake sale had been invited; I decided to attend as well, figuring that he'd probably need all the help he could get. I was right.

I arrived just before 7:00, to a small crowd of about 30-40; by the time the meeting actually started a few minutes later, I'd guess that there were about 125 people in attendance. One of the moderators asked Stephen to sit up front, assuming (correctly) that many questions would be directed towards him. And after a few short introductions, the railroading began.

To say that Stephen got creamed would be a severe understatement; people were angry, and he was the obvious target. Unfortunately, I don't think Stephen was any better prepared for the town hall meeting than he had been for the sale itself. It wasn't that he handled himself poorly - I think anyone would get nervous in his position - but he was very unpersuasive and vague when he responded to statements. The crowd smelled the blood in the water.

To the ability that they could, the moderators kept the situation in control - the questions mostly came in an orderly manner, and (with the exception of one overly loquacious professor who attended) no one spoke more than what could have been deemed a fair amount. The moderators, as well as most of the leaders of the organizations represented, were open-minded and willing to give Stephen a chance to speak; unfortunately, the format of the discussion combined with the emotional level and Stephen's unpersuasive answers meant that he really didn't get much across, and he certainly didn't change anyone's mind.

The problems with the comments and questions themselves were numerous:

Commenters offered four (or five, I forget) different definitions of Affirmative Action; they can criticize Stehpen all they want (it is a free country), but they can't even agree on what it is they're supporting.

One commenter wanted to "call out" Stephen's supporters in the crowd (there were probably 6-7 of us at most), and wanted to know why we weren't up there backing him up. A moderator was kind enough to point out that he had asked Stephen to come up front, not anyone else.

Several (black of mixed gender) commenters claimed that "the real benefactors" from AA are white women, and that further, black men receive the fewest benefits from AA. I can't say I know whether or not this is the case, but there are issues with this assertion either way. I mean, if that's the case, then shouldn't these people be against AA in the first place? If black people are being kept down by the white establishment because of their race (as was repeatedly asserted, in so many words), then shouldn't blacks be against programs that benefit white women and offer few (if any) benefits to blacks (especially black men)?

The aforementioned, overly verbose professor used sports analogies to try and make his points. The first of these was related to IU men's basketball: he was trying to show that IU had only looked at white coaches to replace former head coach Bobby Knight, and that IU had overlooked a black assistant coach who had been with the team for quite some time. Sounds pretty cut and dried, right? Well, all except for the fact that the man they hired - Mike Davis - is black. And his point was what?

Not everything expressed was inaccurate or contradictory, however:

The same professor, much to his credit, made two points that can't be stressed enough: First, that he had spent his college career (in the 60s) in the streets demonstrating for equal rights and that he was very disappointed in many of the students he had in his classes today; they were lazy, didn't do work when they bothered to show up, and quite generally didn't seem to appreciate the opportunities they'd been given. (Note that this is not meant to imply that either he or I think all black people or students are lazy; I interpreted him to be expressing the same concerns John Ogbu did.) Second, he made the infinitely important point that just because someone's skin color is black doesn't mean that they automatically support causes like AA; his point of reference was the new president of IU, Adam Herbert, who is both black and a Republican (he served on Jeb Bush's re-election team while president of the University of Florida).

I tried to help Stephen as much as possible; I asked a couple leading questions and responded to a couple questions near the end, but there wasn't much anyone could have done by that point.

Wow, what a long post. I ended up staying for another two hours after the meeting talking with a small group that included both students and staff (all of whom save for my wonderful girlfriend Tina were pro-AA), and it was a very productive discussion on all sides. In fact, I would say that the small discussion after the meeting was probably the best thing to come out of all this - but in the interest of ending this post, I'll write about that (along with some other, more general thoughts on the subject) later.

Thursday, November 6

OT: If Ignorance Is Bliss...

...then Barbara Streisand must be one of the happiest people in the world. She has a post on her blog titled "A Sad Day for Artistic Freedom" - you'd think the piece would be about the government supressing something, right? Well, you'd be wrong.

The post is about how CBS decided not to show the movie The Reagans; this was a decision made by a private company based on the fact that they were about to severely alienate their core audience. (Full disclosure: I haven't followed this very much, so I could be a bit off here - feel free to email me if I am.) My interpretation of the story (not Babs' post) is that the movie painted the Ronald & Nancy in a pretty bad light, and since CBS' biggest demographic happens to overlap with a lot of Reagan supporters, it only makes sense that they pulled it. So what did Streisand have to say?

I don't believe Democrats often, if ever, try to muscle the First Amendment like this. For example, in 1983, no one stopped NBC from airing Kennedy, a biopic that portrayed President Kennedy and other members of his family and administration as deeply flawed, even though the movie could have potentially been hurtful to Jackie Kennedy, who was still alive to see it, as well as to her children.

Hrm? Muscle the First Amendment? I won't deny that CBS has a right to make terribly ignorant business decisions, but come on - they didn't have to pull it, they chose to. CBS was not obligated to listen, nor should they have been, but I think they were pretty smart to do so.

If the Kennedy movie made her so mad that she felt obligated to do something, she should have gotten together all those Democrats who were upset about it and did what the Republicans just did to CBS. They were free to do so, which is one of the many benefits of living in the US. Simply because she chose not to express her views as given to her by the First Amendment does not mean that other people should be prevented from expressing theirs - referring, of course, to CBS' detractors, not CBS itself. It gets worse:

This is censorship, pure and simple. Well, maybe not all that pure. Censorship never is. Due to their experience with the restrictive English government, the framers of our constitution specifically included a ban on prior restraint in the First Amendment, which is an attempt to stop information from getting out there before the public has a chance to see it at all - exactly what is going on in this case.

I feel bad dignifying this with a response, but suffice to say that someone here has absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the definition of the term "prior restraint." Here's a hint: that person is not me. (I won't even go into the fact that the movie will be aired - just on Showtime instead of CBS.)

Of course, CBS as a company has the legal right to make decisions about what they do and do not air.

Oh, so it's not censorship? They have a right to choose what they air? Really? No, of course not:

However, these important decisions should be based on artistic integrity rather than an attempt to appease a small group of vocal dissidents. Indeed, today marks a sad day for artistic freedom - one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society.

...That's it, I've lost it. How the heck can someone like Barbara Streisand talk about artistic integrity? She doesn't write most (if any) of her own music, she can't sing (she bellows), she's a terrible actress, and further, she's washed up anyway. Even people who would disagree with me as to her artistic virtues would probably agree that she's well past her prime (which would have been sometime in the mid-1970s, I would say). Geesh.

That all notwithstanding, if the artists aren't willing to be at least as vocal as the "small group of vocal dissents," then CBS has no reason to listen to them. If there was a significant number of people writing CBS, clamoring to see this series even though it portrayed Reagan in a poor light, you can bet that it'd be on the air in a heartbeat. Here's the thing, though: nobody's doing that, so CBS pulled the show.

I don't mind people who criticize things - even if I disagree with them. What I do mind, however, is when people make ignorant, ill-informed critiques of subjects on which they lack even the most basic understanding. Grrr.

Indiana University's Affirmative Action Bake Sale

I certainly had no clue when I woke up that my day was going to be even half as interesting as it turned out being. Wow.

I clicked on over to Hoosier Review a bit before noon today, and found this post:

The Committee for Freedom will be holding an Affirmative Action Bakesale tomorrow, Wednesday, November 5th in Dunn Meadow from 12:30 pm until 2:00 pm. According to the press release, "Cookies will be sold at different prices based on race and gender. White males will pay $1 per cookie, white females will pay 75 cents, Hispanics will pay 50 cents, and cookies will cost 25 cents for blacks."

To think that I almost missed it! I got cleaned up, grabbed a bus, and hustled over to Dunn Meadow as fast as possible and arrived just before 12:30. Let's just say that it wasn't hard to find the bake sale - due to an article in the Indiana Daily Student there was a moderate crowd already gathered, and the shouting had already begun.

I could write for a good hour or two about all the craziness that ensued, but I think anyone familiar with the AA bake sale concept can safely envision what it was like. The pro-AA arguments varied somewhat, but all were typical; AA prevents racism, AA is to make up for what happened in history, etc. I responded as best as I could - it was often difficult to even get a word in, with several people yelling at me from different sides (and of course, all of them complaining that I wasn't listening to them). The best part was that I did meet several students who were open-minded and willing to listen to what I had to say (even if we did disagree).

These students even went so far as to defend my right to speak; speaking to one of them later, he even noted that he had been worried about having to defend me physically. At no point did I feel physically threatened - the discussions were loud and heated, but basically as civil as things like this can be - but I appreciate the sentiment, to say the least. These people were actually willing to tell some of the "screamers" to shut up and listen to my answers - or to stop asking questions! I think this, combined with the fact that IU didn't try to shut the sale down, speaks very highly of the University.

Bonus points: I was on TV! Well, sort of. I'm not actually interviewed, but that tall guy in the olive polo shirt (getting yelled at, natch) in the photo is me; if you watch the video, you can also see me condescendingly adjusting my glasses as I make a point. Heh.

At some point during the action, a town hall meeting was announced for 7:00 PM; it was sponsored by almost all of the major black-student organizations. I attended this meeting (as did Stephen and several other members of the Committee for Freedom), and I'll blog about it tomorrow.

Final thought for the day: At 2:00, things had calmed down a fair bit, and they closed up shop. In a humorous turn of events, Stephen turned and handed me the leftover cookies - I believe that he said they had sold three (all $1 cookies). Here's the thing: I heard the words "white privilege" more times than I could count. And they had this bake sale about how it's easier for minorities to get cookies, right? But in the end, the white guy who had almost all the cookies gave another white guy all of them, free of charge. Maybe white privilege does exist, after all. Heh.

Blogroll Update

I've added two new blogs to the list today:

First up is Josh Claybourn's blog. Josh went to the same high school I did and was a couple years behind me; in a cruel twist of fate, he managed to graduate from college on time and is now in law school while I've still got three semesters left to finish my undergrad. C'est la vie. He's an excellent writer, and just so happens to be the Editor-at-Large of my other addition, Hoosier Review.

Hoosier Review is a group-blog that offers a (mostly) conservative take on happenings here at IU. (Ivory Tower is the liberal side of Hoosier Review - it's also worth taking a look at, as it's well-written, but as I'm sure regular readers know that's not particularly my cup of tea.) While I realize that most of my readers aren't from Indiana, don't let that stop you from dropping by; many of the issues they discuss may deal with Bloomington and IU in particular, but they're familiar to cities and universities all over the country.

Wednesday, November 5

More On HOPE Scholoarships In Georgia

Cynthia Tucker can always be counted on to see things as they are, and her op-ed this week about HOPE Scholarships is certainly no exception. If you've missed the rest of the discussion on the scholoarships, here's the background:

Faced with soaring demand, Georgia officials predict that HOPE funds will start to run short by 2005. The state's Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, and others have recommended that HOPE eligibility be tied to SATs, rather than grades, which are affected by teachers' subjectivity (and inability to resist parental pressure). Perdue wants HOPE scholarships to be awarded to students who score at least 1000.

But that recommendation has run smack into the reality of the achievement gap. Sixty-seven percent of the state's black HOPE scholars score below 1000, while only 32 percent of white HOPE scholars do that poorly.

So Democrats -- black and white -- have lined up to resist any move to tie HOPE to SATs. Black lawmaker Vincent Fort dismissed the governor's proposal as "racist."

Where do these kids end up at? Berkeley?

Seriously, though, the real issue here is not about testing. It's not, repeat not racist to judge applicants for a scholarship based on their scholarship. The issues to be examined are: why do black students do significantly worse on the SAT than their white counterparts, and why do so many students do so poorly on the SAT at all? Tucker addresses both issues:

Overall, nearly 40 percent of Georgia's HOPE scholars score below 1000 on the SATs -- which is, as much as anything, a stunning indictment of the state's educational system. The perfect score is 1600; most of the nation's competitive colleges and universities require at least 1200. How can students have "B" averages and score less than 1000?

Georgia has an obligation to improve its pathetic school system, which has suffered from low expectations for generations. In rural school systems, few white students score above 1000 on the SATs, as Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor has noted. It would be quite unfair for the state of Georgia to suddenly change the rules for HOPE when it has not spent the money nor instituted the standards to teach students what they need to know.

But it is black parents who are responsible for insisting that their own children hit the books and take school seriously. Too many black children are dismissive of scholarship as "a white thing." That has to end. Surely it is more embarrassing to be considered dumb than to be considered "white."

I do disagree with her that it's "unfair" for Georgia to change the rules. If anything, I think the state would be doing kids a favor by doing so, in that they'd suddenly be expecting kids to do something other than show up and warm a seat. Nonetheless, she's spot-on with everything else and (as always) worth a read.

Monday, November 3

USA Today Reports On Campus Free Speech

USA Today's article about the speech code / free speech debate hits the nail squarely on the head.

I'm glad to see FIRE and NoIndoctrination getting the publicity they need, and I'm even gladder that a widely-read daily is reporting about the regular supression of free speech on campuses nationwide - campuses like Indiana University.

Hat tip: Erin O'Connor


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