Friday, November 28, 2014

Siskel & Ebert on Back to the Future

It's hard for me to imagine going into this movie for the first time, not knowing what to expect. (I have almost no memory of when I first saw it, since I was so young.) Interesting to hear Siskel describe how the movie "fooled" him . . .

(In case you're wondering, Siskel & Ebert split, in different directions, on Parts II and III.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The cycle of cause célèbres

This is the second time in as many years that something remarkably similar has happened, and it's starting to feel like a bad rerun. There's a national outcry over a young black man being killed by a "white man" (as he's almost invariably described). Of course, killing a person isn't always a crime; there are defenses to murder. Yet it seems as if the nation just needs to see him convicted and sent to prison. But that can only happen through a legal process. And when the case is commenced not under the usual standards, but under political pressure, it turns out to be a weak case, and there's no conviction.

All good people are supposed to understand that this is not just a tragedy, but a national tragedy. Somehow, it's supposed to be particularly tragic when a black man is killed by a white man. And many look to the legal system as if it existed to provide therapeutic relief to the whole country. When that doesn't happen, after all the talk about how the defendant symbolizes this country's problems with race, the legal result strikes some people as so outrageous that they riot, harming innocent people and casting whatever political movement they might represent in the worst possible light.

We need to think more carefully about the way we elevate a single criminal case into something that's supposed to take on larger meaning, resonate throughout the country, and resolve lingering, longstanding national wounds. This approach is highly likely not to work out, and to backfire.

I work on a lot of felony cases; many are murder cases. I regularly see cases that feel just as important to me as any case I see in the news. They feel anything but routine. They contain so much vivid detail and emotion and meaning, that it can be jarring to stop and think that this was an everyday occurrence. Only a few people paid any attention to it, and everyone else went about their business. I don't understand why the 1-in-a-million case becomes a cause célèbre, when other cases of horrible crimes don't. The fact that the alleged perpetrator was white and the alleged victim was black in the cases we care about, and there was a different racial configuration in most of the cases we don't care about, would seem to be a very poor criterion. It's certainly not a reason to reach a national consensus that a man is guilty before we've afforded him due process.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do you need to go college?

Peter Thiel writes:

Perhaps the least controversial thing that President Obama ever said was that “in the coming decades, a high school diploma is not going to be enough. Folks need a college degree.” This vision is commonplace, but it implies a bleak future where everyone must work harder just to stay in place, and it’s just not true. Nothing forces us to funnel students into a tournament that bankrupts the losers and turns the winners into conformists. But that’s what will happen until we start questioning whether college is our only option. . . .

If a college degree always means higher wages, then everyone should get a college degree: That’s the conventional wisdom encapsulated by Obama. But how can everyone win a zero-sum tournament? No single path can work for everyone, and the promise of such an easy path is a sign of a bubble.

Of course, you can’t become successful just by dropping out of college. But you can’t become successful just by going to college, either, or by following any formula. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t famous because of the similar ways in which they left school. We know their names because of what each of them did differently from everybody else.

Learning from dropouts doesn’t require closing colleges but rather questioning them carefully. Higher education holds itself out as a kind of universal church, outside of which there is no salvation. Critics are cast as heretics or schismatics endangering the flock. But our greatest danger comes from the herd instinct that drives us to competition and crowds out difference.

A Reformation is coming, and its message will be the same as it was 500 years ago: Don’t outsource your future to a big institution. You need to figure it out for yourself.
The whole article is worth reading.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Why Democrats Can’t Win Over White Working-Class Voters"

This is a pretty good Slate article, though I could have done without the accusations that people who prefer Bill Clinton's welfare reform to the previously open-ended welfare are "racist."

Also, this part of the article doesn't make sense:

in the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney ran a series of ads—concentrated in the white working-class areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania—attacking President Obama for “gutting welfare” and “cutting checks” to people who wouldn’t work.
According to that link, Romney ran ads attacking Obama for "gutting welfare reform" — not "gutting welfare," but expanding welfare.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


The illusion that you're hanging out with celebrities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Schools Implement Explicit Racial Bias in Suspensions"

Reason reports:

The good: Minneapolis Public Schools want to decrease total suspensions for non-violent infractions of school rules.

The bad: The district has pledged to do this by implementing a special review system for cases where a black or Latino student is disciplined. Only minority students will enjoy this special privilege. . . .

[P]ublic schools have gone discipline-crazy over the years, punishing students all-too-harshly for silly reasons every day. Any respite from overcriminalization is welcome. Any respite, except this one. . . .

[D]on't all students, regardless of skin color, deserve to have their disciplinary issues adjudicated under the same standards? And yet [Superintendent Bernadeia] Johnson is committed to reducing suspensions for minority students by a specific percentage, irrespective of the facts of the individual cases.
Some will defend this policy on the ground that minority students are probably more likely to be suspended without good reason. But if that's true, then reviewing all students' suspensions should be especially good for minorities. And wouldn't it be nice to have evidence of whether it's really true that suspensions of minorities are more likely to be unfounded? And wouldn't reviewing suspensions of all students be a good way to collect such evidence?