Friday, September 30, 2011


Race-based admission to universities

This morning (Friday, September 30, 2011) I listened to a part of the Larry Mantle AirTalk program on KPCC in Pasadena. The topic was using race as a factor in admitting applicants to public universities. When I turned on the program one caller was arguing that admitting an applicant on the basis of race means denying another applicant who may be (or probably is) better qualified. A few minutes later Larry’s guest, Ward Connerly came on to state his position and personal history. Mr. Connerly has been a vocal critic of any use of race in choosing applicants to public universities.

I’m not prepared to argue for or against using race in choosing applicants to public universities, such as the University of California. Instead, after thinking about the caller who argued against any race-based criterion for admission because it would entail qualified candidates being excluded, I concluded that the argument is pointless. Whether or not race is a factor in choosing whom to admit and whom not to admit, the mere fact that university facilities are limited implies that some qualified applicants are going to be denied admission. The only way to make sure that no qualified applicant is turned down is to admit all applicants, and do whatever is necessary to create places for them.

I have heard Mr. Connerly express his dislike for race-based criteria for admission to public universities many times. I don’t recall that he has used the argument about the qualified student being excluded to make room for the minority applicant. He has argued that admitting a student simply because of his race tends to reinforce any feeling the student might have about his or her own inadequacy. That is, a minority student can’t be proud of being admitted just because he or she is a minority. A student likes to believe that he or she really has a superior intellect and rightfully deserves a place in the university student body.  At least that's one argument Mr. Connerly has used.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Death Penalty

Many bloggers are writing about the death penalty today.  A man was put to death in Georgia yesterday.  There were doubts expressed about his actual guilt and several important people urged the State of Georgia not to execute him.  The State of Georgia decided that the question of executing this convict was not any one's business except the State of Georgia and the execution proceeded on schedule.

One of the persuasive arguments in favor of continuing our practice of putting convicted murderers to death is that it acts as a deterrent.  It is believed that the possibility of being executed for the crime makes many would-be murderers think again and spare the lives of their victims.  This thought was once expressed very clearly by a former Chief of Police of Los Angeles.  Even if there is an occasional mistake and an innocent person is executed, on balance the existence and enforcement of the death penalty saves lives.  Balance the lives of those who are not killed by their criminal attackers against the innocent people killed by the State of California.  The net loss of innocent lives is reduced where the death penalty exists and is carried out.

That Police Chief's argument is an example of "the way things ought to be."  It is reasonable and ought to be the case that the fear of being executed deters many murderers.  Statistics in which murder rates in States with the death penalty, such as California and Texas, are compared with similar data in States that don't have it, such as Michigan, do not show that the murder rate is less in the death penalty States than in those that don't have it.  If anything, non-death-penalty States show lower murder rates than death-penalty States.

Is there a reasonable explanation of this seemingly counter-intuitive result?  Why isn't the murder rate lower in California than in Michigan?  Perhaps California doesn't execute people often enough.  Then compare Texas with Michigan.  Why isn't the murder rate a lot lower in Texas than in Michigan?  A possible explanation is that we should put the argument the other way around.  The death penalty is popular in places where murder is fairly common.  In countries in which murder rarely occurs, there is no strong sentiment for the death penalty.

In spite of statistical evidence to the contrary, Americans continue to believe that the death penalty deters murder and are in favor of keeping it, by a majority of about sixty percent.  This majority declines a bit when a case of mistaken conviction and execution of an innocent person is widely publicized.  Such mistakes are usually not publicized, for two reasons.  First, the authorities don't want to air the fact that they have made a mistake.  Second, the work of proving the innocence of a convict depends mostly on dedicated volunteers, including lawyers and investigators and forensic experts.  One the convict, innocent or not, has been put to death, there is no point of continuing the effort.  Resources must then be allocated to another convict who is still alive as well as probably innocent.


Saturday, September 17, 2011


Palestinian Statehood

I don't recall that there ever was a State of Palestine during my lifetime.  After World War I the part of the old Turkish Empire that now includes Israel and Jordan was assigned to the UK as the British Mandate.  The part east of the Jordan River was called Trans-Jordan.  The part between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was called - what?  I don't remember any special name except British Mandate.  The name Palestine may have been used to refer to that part of the mandate.

Eventually, somehow, the mandate was split into two parts, Jordan and Palestine.  A member of the Hashemite family (or tribe?) took upon himself the obligation of being the King of Jordan.  A cleric, known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, became the ruler, in a sense, of the "West Bank" part of the British Mandate.

As we know, after WWI the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the King of Saudi Arabia agreed to create in the British Mandate a "homeland" for the Jews.  Saudi Arabia agreeing to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine was a bit like the Canarsie Indians of Brooklyn selling Manhattan Island to the Dutch for $24 in the early 1600's, since they had no more claim to Manhattan than Saudi Arabia had to Palestine.  The Manhattan Indian tribes didn't like the deal; neither did the Palestinians.  In particular, the Grand Mufti didn't like it.  In WWII he sided with Hitler and was ready to get rid of the Jews who had settled in Palestine following the deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia.

After WWII the horrible tragedy of Hitler's "final solution" became known.  Americans felt guilty about refusing to admit German Jews before and during the war who had tried unsuccessfully to escape Hitler's gas ovens.  We enthusiastically supported the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine, where those Jews who wanted to practice their religion and be free from various pogroms and other annoyances could live and create a small religious state.  In 1948 the United Nations created the State of Israel.

Immediately the Grand Mufti and other Palestinians attacked and tried to crush the new state.  They didn't succeed.  With American support, the new state defeated the "invaders" (actually, natives trying to expel immigrants) and established Israel as a potent military presence in the region.  Another war, in 1967, allowed Israel to claim additional territory, including a section of Egypt east of the Suez Canal as well as control of all of the territory of Biblical Israel.  Part of this new territory was ceded to the control of Jordan.  A small piece was offered to Egypt, who refused to take it.  The rest was claimed as territory into which Jews from all over the world could come and settle.  Of course, in order for Jews to settle in Israel the former inhabitants had to be removed.  They were chased out and forced to live in refugee camps in the West Bank territory controlled by Jordan.  Many of them moved to the small territory that Egypt had refused, called Gaza.

Enough history.  I have summarized my view of it just for background.

At present we have the following situation:
The United Nations will vote on the question of recognizing Palestine as a member State.  The United States will veto the motion in the Security Council.  The General Assembly may vote to grant Palestine a non-member observer status.  In spite of talk about achieving peace through negotiation between the Palestinian Authority and the Likud government of Israel, negotiations will drag on and on and nothing will be agreed to.  More settlements will be constructed.  Eventually all Palestinians will be squeezed out, unable to reach their own farm land to grow and harvest their crops.  In the course of time, the Palestinian people will either die of starvation or move to other countries and establish new lives for themselves.

I do not know of any country that will take them.  They will be in the same position as the German Jews who tried to escape Hitler's gas ovens during WWII.  Should we call this Netanyahu's Final Solution?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


The Wisdom of Tom Friedman

A friend records things on the TV for me to watch later.  The other day I watched a recording of the program "Face the Nation."  One of the guests was Thomas Friedman, who has written many books about important events that are transforming the modern world.  The host posed the question of what should Obama do and say next Thursday in his address to Congress about the recession.  There were several answers.  Maxine Waters, the Congresswoman from Los Angeles, hoped that Mr. Obama would propose a program of jobs to put people to work right away.  Paul Gigot, who manages the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, argued against a repetition of the WPA of Franklin Roosevelt that didn't, in his opinion, do much to cure the depression of the 1930's.  Other guests had their opinions.  A labor leader, James Hoffa, agreed with Ms Waters and said the country needs more jobs now.

Tom Friedman tried to justify the long view.  He argued that simply spending money now to provide "temporary work" for the unemployed wouldn't do anything to fix the long-term problem facing the country.  He argued in favor of such things as more education so that people could be trained to do the high tech jobs that are available in some of the new industries.  He didn't say anything about the number of persons that these new industries would hire.

On a related subject I learned a few days ago that the firm "Facebook" is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars and has millions of subscribers all over the planet.  (Yes, I have a facebook page.)  However, providing this service requires only ab out 2,500 employees.  A similar situation exists with other new giants, such as Google and Twitter.  Companies that manufacture and sell computers and fancy telephones similarly can provide products and services for millions of people with relatively small staffs.  It's true that the employees of these firms are well educated, with college degrees in electrical or computer engineering.  Unfortunately, it's also true that their total employment is well under a million.  Mr. Friedman has not explained how the others are going to find work even with their degrees in various branches of engineering.

We are approaching a situation predicted many years ago in which a relatively small portion of the adult population will be able, through the use of computers and other machines, to provide all the food, other goods, housing, entertainment, and other services for the entire population.  This condition is inevitable.  Already fewer than five percent of the workers in this country operate farms and provide more food than the rest of us can consume.  The United States is a big food exporter.

There are several ways to approach the problem of mass unemployment coupled with a surfeit of goods and services.  The Conservative approach is to do nothing.  Let things develop naturally and don't try to undertake "social engineering."  I believe that the end result of that approach is a society in which a relatively small number of well-educated workers provide nearly all the goods and services we want.  Everyone else will be forced to work at low-paying, menial jobs.  We now use illegal immigrants to do these jobs.  "Real" Americans have not yet realized that low-pay jobs with no hope of advancement is the likely future for most Americans.

I tend to favor a socialist approach.  Let each person do what he or she can do well and provide what is necessary for everyone.  In this approach wages would have to be coupled to need and not to the character of the work done.  If everyone can be guaranteed an adequate living standard during retirement - and we already have all the goods and services available to achieve that goal - then what one is paid relates to his or her needs and not to whether the person is a gardener or a brain surgeon.  I don't know whether this approach can work.  The Russians tried it, but their system collapsed due to corruption and greed.

Perhaps we need a blend.  Pay for work should provide an incentive for work of original nature and high quality.  Perhaps the common needs of everyone could be met with a subsidy, like food stamps for all.  We might be able to provide an adequate living for everyone, even those persons who are unemployed or unemployable.  The brain surgeon would command a higher salary than the gardener, but both would be entitled to food stamps, housing vouchers, and annual vacation trips.

My ideas are not very good.  I haven't done any calculations to determine how big the common subsidy should be.  There is no political will in this country at present to do anything remotely like what I have just suggested.  If any of you readers of this blog (Virge, Steve, Pat, Charley, Roy, etc.) have any ideas, write them down below or send me an e-mail.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, September 01, 2011


The Slowness of Memory

Perhaps that should be "the sloth of memory," on the ground that "sloth" is an old word that means "slowness", formed by affixing the suffix -th to the word slo(w).  Thus, grow > growth; slow > slowth or sloth; etc.  I like to think about old words and former versions of the English Language.  I have acquired, for example, a copy of "Beowolf" in tenth century English, a language which is virtually incomprehensible to me.

Anyway, ancient or obsolete English is not the subject of this essay.  I write this because I just remembered a name.  I have a slow memory.  The other day I was trying to recall the name of the man who has so intimidated the Republican party that any candidate for any public office who wants to run as a Republican must sign a "no taxes" pledge.  This pledge states that the candidate, if elected, will never, never, ever vote to increase any tax or any tax modification that may result in an increase in government revenue.  This intimidating man has said publicly that his goal is to shrink government down to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub.

I couldn't recall his name the other day, although I've thought about him and his tax pledge and his drowning baby government in the bath tub for many years.  All I could remember was that the name is Scandinavian, something like Oskar Carlsson or Sven Ostrom, but not either of those.  A few minutes ago the name came to me, loud and clear: Grover Norquist.  The name Norquist is clearly Scandinavian and probably Swedish.  I grew up in a part of Michigan that had been populated in earlier times by Swedish and Dutch immigrants.  In addition to members of my own familiy, there were people with names like Ostrom, Lundquist, Carlson, Peterson, Nyblad, and Trofast, whose ancestors had come from Sweden.  There were also many Dutch names such as Van Single, Van Dyke, Vandenberg, Dykstra, Hoekstra, Jonkman, Meijer, Van Zant, and others.  These immigrants and descendants of immigrants were farmers and brought with them habits of thrift and hard work.  They were also mostly Republicans.  My Swedish grandfather was the only Democrat in the family.  His brothers, sister, and cousins were Republicans.  It is not surprising to me, therefore, that Grover Norquist is a Republican.

The surprising thing is that he's got all the Republican politicians in the country terrified and intimidated.  I don't know the source of his power but I believe money is a big part of it.  He must control a major source of campaign contribution money that he can grant to or withhold from selected candidates.  If you are an aspiring Republican and running for office as a State legislator, Mr. Norquist is, I presume, a source of much-needed funding.  Funds are available to you in return for the "no tax" pledge.

However, money for campaigns isn't the whole story.  Republican candidates are nominated at primary elections.  In most States these elections attract only voters with rather extreme political views.  In particular, the promise of "no new taxes" is one that these voters cherish.

When I ramble on and on about "skinflint Republicans" who insist that necessary government services can be provided without additional revenue in spite of increased population density and increased longevity, my conservative friends tell me that they just don't understand my thinking.  What is there not to like about low taxes?  I have no luck trying to explain that some of the consequences of "low taxes" bother me.  Low taxes imply the curtailment or end of benevolent and merciful public services, such as:
I invite you to add to the list.

I don't know why I wanted to remember Grover Norquist.  Thinking about him makes me nervous.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?