Posts tagged ‘Princeton’

Teach for America

One of the charities my family supports is Teach for America.  Among other things, we sponsor a local teacher in the program.  A bunch of our friends were kind enough to chip in with gifts for the kids in her class and my wife and I delivered them last week at the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school in South Phoenix for 5-8 graders.

The fun of delivering the presents was reduced later on finding out that at almost that same moment, another group of kids was being killed in Connecticut.  But through a strange series of articles that seemed to have used the Sandy Hook massacre as an argument for teacher unionization and against charter schools (yeah, I don't get the connection either), I found out that teachers unions hate Teach for America.  Which means that I will likely double my contribution next year.

Postscript:  Teach for America began as a senior thesis at Princeton.  Its key idea is to make teaching a viable job option, as least for a few years, for top college grads.  The program is quite selective, and combines talented highly motivated young people with a proven teaching approach.  They then drop these teachers into the public school system, often in classrooms with a high percentage of kids who qualify for school lunch programs (ie low income).

It's clear from the article that teachers union and education establishment types hate these teachers.  Since they make a contrast by calling themselves "professionals", the presumed implication is that these young people are unprofessional.  Its amazing to me that anyone who has spent even ten minutes in a room with a group of TFA teachers could be so hostile to them.  I have met many of them, and they are a consistently amazing bunch who are both smart and genuinely love their kids.

I was skeptical, and still am a bit, of the notion of throwing great teachers into a failing public school system.  They clearly help individual kids, which is why I am still behind it, but they do nothing to help the overall system.  It's like sending great engineers into Solyndra  -- at some level, it seems like a waste (though I am impressed with this particular charter school, which seems to be doing a good job with the limited resources it has -- it gets far less money per pupil than the average public school in Phoenix but does a better job given the demographic of its students).

Loved This

This will only really be compelling to Princeton grads out there, but I loved this video (HT Maggies Farm).

Almost certainly the only rap video ever that uses video from the P-rade.

College Baseball Recruiting, Part 2

Back in August, when I wrote the first section of this guide, I was sitting in Long Island at a baseball recruiting camp.  Now that my son has completed the process, I want to share the rest of our experience for others who, like myself, have an athletic kid but no idea how the college sports recruiting process works.

Some reminders.  First, this is baseball-specific -- other sports work differently, I presume.  Second, this is the experience of a kid with good baseball skills but not good enough to have been scouted by a Division I baseball power like Texas or Arizona State.  Third, my son was not looking for scholarship money.  He was looking to play baseball in college, and to parlay his baseball talent into admission in a top academic school.  We were looking at division III (DIII from now on) schools like Williams, Amherst, Haverford, Pomona and a few DI Ivies.  Finally, our experience is heavily colored by the fact that he plays for one of the smallest high schools in the state, so getting attention and recruiting advice was much harder than if he had played for a baseball powerhouse.

Here were some of the lessons from our first episode:

  • The DIII baseball recruiting process does not really even begin until the summer between Junior and Senior year.  My son landed a good spot without a single coach even knowing he existed as of June 1 before his Senior year of high school.  As late as January of his senior year he was still getting emails from coaches asking him if he might be interested in their school.
  • In baseball, coaches mostly ignore high school stats and records unless it is a school with which they are very familiar.  They use their eyes to pick talent - ie from video or watching kids play at recruiting camps  (more on the video and camps in our first episode)
  • As we will see in a minute, only about three things my son did in recruiting really mattered -- see the first episode for more detail on what we did
    • He proactively contacted coaches to tell them he was interested
    • He sent coaches a 5-10 minute video of himself pitching and hitting.  We made it from game film but I think most of the videos are just taken in a cage (you can see a bunch of these on YouTube, or email me and I will give you a link to ours)
    • He went to several camps, which fell into two categories:  School camps, at schools he was really interested in; and multi-school camps run by third parties.  Of the latter, I am convinced the Headfirst Honor Roll camps are the best if you are interested in DIII or DI "smart schools" (e.g. Ivies, Duke, UVA, Stanford).

OK, so we left off with my son at a two-day baseball camp.  My son sent out emails afterwards to the coaches that were at the camp and from schools in which he was interested.  Basically he said "nice to have met you, still really interested in your school; now that you have seen me, I'd like to know what you think."  He had a few good conversations with coaches at the camp, but after that we really did not hear much until after Labor Day.  In retrospect, this delay is probably because the coaches have lots of camps and they want to synthesize their prospect list after all the camps before talking in earnest with players.

We really did not know what to expect.  Would coaches call, and if they did, what were the next steps?  It was only later that we learned what outcome we should be hoping to hear:  Basically, each coach is given some spots by the admissions office (the average seems to be 5 for the baseball guys).  If your kid can make that list, then two good things happen:  a) it means the coach wants the kid on the team. And b) it generally means the kid will get a good shove to help him through the admissions process, not an inconsequential thing at a school like Princeton or Amherst.

Here is what happened next.  This was just our experience, but since it was repeated at five or six schools, almost identically, its a good bet this is a fairly standard process at colleges with high admission requirements:

  • The coach asks my son to send his transcript and SAT scores early to the Admissions office.
  • The Admissions office vets these, and gives the coach a reading -- for us, that reading was generally "if you put this kid on your short list, coach, he very likely will get in."
  • The coach then passed this message to my kid, saying there are no guarantees (etc. etc.) but all the kids with this same read from the admissions office who have been on his list have gotten in in the past.

BUT, there is a bit of a catch.  The coach will say that he can only put my kid on his list if we will commit to applying early decision.  Early decision (ED) means that one applies in November and hears in December (so well earlier than the April 1 regular admit date), but it is a binding commitment to attend if admitted.  This means that one can only apply to one school early decision.  Coaches aren't dumb.  They can't afford to waste the few recruiting spots they have on kids who aren't going to come.  So there is a quid pro quo - the coach will commit to the kid and help him through admissions, but the kid has to commit to the program.

But we only learned this later.  When coaches started calling, we weren't sure what to expect.   A couple called early to say that my son would not be on their list.  I have to give kudos to Coach Bradley from Princeton -- he called and told my son he wouldn't make the list.  It was not the news we wanted to hear, but he was up front and honest with us so we did not waste our time.  He was also the one who really explained all the stuff I wrote above, so we were more knowledgeable when other coaches called.

Soon, however, we were getting floods of interested contacts.  Many were from the coaches he had proactively contacted.  Some were from schools we never had heard of, and some were from very good schools but in parts of the country that weren't in his college search area (e.g. Kenyon, Grinnell, Carlton in the midwest).  Many of these coaches asked for him to come to campus (on our own dime, they were not paying) for a visit, including an overnight stay with someone on the team.  Eventually my son scheduled visits at Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Vassar, and Haverford.  He chose these in some cases for the school and in some cases because he really liked the coach.  All four of these offered him a spot on the short list for admissions if he was willing to go ED.

It was at this point that we hit the highlight of the whole process.  Like many parents, I just want to see my kid gain life skills.   My son will never be a good sales person.  He is really, really hesitant to cold call adults to ask them for something.  This process was good for him in that sense, because he began to see the fruits of having proactively cold-called these coaches earlier in the process.  But I still had to poke and prod him to do it.

However, with these other visits set up, my son was apparently thinking "these would all be good schools, but they are not in the top tier of my aspirations."  He was thinking about skipping ED, and trusting his grades and resume to the regular admissions process so he could still take a shot at his top choices (places like Princeton and Stanford).

He decided that the ideal choice for him would be Amherst - he loved the school, it was top-notch academically, had a great baseball tradition and an engaging coach.  That was the school he would be willing to go ED for.  He had met the Amherst coach on a school visit and at camp and Coach Hamm had been very nice.  But in the Fall,we had not heard anything from him.  (I have to insert a story here -- way back in March my son was on the Amherst campus and dropped by without an appointment at Coach Hamm's office.  At that point, Hamm did not know who my son was -- for all he knew he might have been the strikeout leader in T-ball.  But he spent a whole hour with Nic showing him around the facility and later at practice.)

This is where the breakthrough came.  Without my prodding or even involvement, my son contacted Coach Hamm one more time, to say he had not heard from Amherst but he was still really interested and he would be touring other nearby colleges in a week or so and would still love to meet with him.

We will never know exactly what happened.  Perhaps the coach was late in kicking off his recruiting.  Perhaps another kid on his list dropped out.  Perhaps he just wanted to sit back and see which kids were the hungriest.  Whatever the case, Coach Hamm wrote back immediately and said he would love to meet my son on campus  (he actually changed around a trip to be there).  The process described above played out (grades to the Admissions office, offer to be on the "list", ED application) and long story short, Nic will be at Amherst next year.

As I mentioned earlier, there was no money offered for baseball (nor could there be in leagues like the Ivies or the NESCAC which ban athletic scholarships).  Amherst has a great financial aid program, and there are great possibilities for scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts -- but these are offered to all admits, not just to athletes.

I hope this is helpful to some folks who are just starting this process -- I know it would have been a huge help to us to understand in advance.

Postscript:  One of the hardest things in the world is to get a good honest reading on your son's talent, particularly if he does not play for a top high school team.  People have told my son that he should not have gone DIII, he could be playing DI or he should be in front of pro scouts.  You have to take all this stuff with a grain of salt.  Sure, you don't want to cut off an opportunity, but on the flip side, sort of like the fox and the cheese, you don't want to lose a good thing chasing the illusion of something better (we know folks this happened to in other sports).

I don't know how to solve this, maybe people have experiences they can put in the comments.  For us, being from a small school, several summers playing club ball in a wood bat leagues with the big school kids finally convinced us our son could play at a high level (I say convinced us as parents, our son does not lack confidence so he always knew).

PS#2:  Fun Amherst facts

Resonance in My Feed Reader

My feed reader today had a series of oddly-related articles stacked right in a row.

First, I watched bits from the 1903 Princeton-Yale football game, the oldest surviving college football film  (apparently it is just barely old enough not to have Keith Jackson doing the play-by-play).  It is amazing how much more this looked like rugby than modern football.  The formations look just like rugby scrums except that the players are not locked together.  Note there are no huddles, just power scrum after power scrum.  Sort of like a missing link between the two games, and oddly less interesting than either.

I then was met with this post from Zero Hedge, discussing the current Greek bailouts in terms of a Nash Equilibrium, the game-theory concept developed by Princeton grad / professor John Nash (who was famously profiled in A Beautiful Mind).

It's not often I run into John Nash even once in a month, but two articles later I found this really interesting early letter, recently de-classified, from John Nash to the NSA, wherein he apparently anticipated many of the foundation of modern cryptography 10-20 years ahead of his time.

And its only a short walk from John Nash and cryptography to Alan Turing, and from Princeton to tiger stripes, so the next article I ran into was this one discussing a group of scientists who apparently have proved a Turing hypothesis for how tiger stripes (and other recurring patterns in animals) are formed.

Outsourcing the HR Department

I thought this was an interesting hypothesis, that the inability of coporations to use aptitude tests on potential hires (something that has been effectively killed by civil rights suits) has led to the increased reliance on college credentials as a screening mechanism.

I think there is an element of truth to this, but I suspect this would have happened anyway as the presure to cut costs caused companies to push their candidate evaluation and screening onto other institutions.  As I wrote a while back

There is some rationality in this approach [to hiring mainly from the Ivies] – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

I don't know if these percentages are entirely correct - I would argue the education / skills component of my mechanical engineering degree was higher than 10%, but that may be just my personal bias - but the basic approach seems sound

Peter Thiel describes higher education as a "giant selection mechanism" and estimates that only 10% of the value of a college degree comes from actual learning, and 50% of the value comes from selection (getting into a selective university) and 40% comes from signalling (graduating from a selective college becomes known to employers).  If employers could use intelligence tests instead of college degrees as measures of aptitude, it might be a lot more efficient and more cost-effective than the current practice of using very expensive four-year college degrees that add very little in terms of educational value (at least according to Thiel).

Student Loan Bubble

Via Zero Hedge:

A key reason why a preponderance of the population is fascinated with the student loan market is that as USA Today reported in a landmark piece last year, it is now bigger than ever the credit card market. And as the monthly consumer debt update from the Fed reminds us, the primary source of funding is none other than the US government. To many, this market has become the biggest credit bubble in America. Why do we make a big deal out of this? Because as Bloomberg reported last night, we now have prima facie evidence that the student loan market is not only an epic bubble, but it is also the next subprime! To wit: "Vince Sampson, president, Education Finance Council, said during a panel at the IMN ABS East Conference in Miami Monday that lenders are no longer pushing loans to people who can’t afford them." Re-read the last sentence as many times as necessary for it to sink in. Yes: just like before lenders were "pushing loans to people who can't afford them" which became the reason for the subprime bubble which has since spread to prime, but was missing the actual confirmation from authorities of just this action, this time around we have actual confirmation that student loans are being actually peddled to people who can not afford them. And with the government a primary source of lending, we will be lucky if tears is all this ends in.

When you mess with pricing signals and resource allocation, you get bubbles.  And one could easily argue that OWS is as much about the student loan bubble bursting as about Wall Street.

I must say that I never had a ton of sympathy for home buyers who were supposedly "lured" into taking on loans they could not afford.  The ultimate cost for most of them was the loss of a home that, if the credit had not been extended, they would never have had anyway.  US law protects our other assets from home purchase failures, and while we have to sit in the credit penalty box for a while after mortgage default or bankruptcy, most people are able to recover in a few years.

Student loans are entirely different.  In large part because the government is the largest lender via Sallie Mae, student loans cannot be discharged via bankruptcy.  You can be 80 years old and still have your social security checks garnished to pay back your student loans.   You can more easily discharge credit card debt run up buying lap dances in topless bars than you can student loans. There is absolutely no way to escape a mistake, which is all the more draconian given that most folks who are borrowing are in their early twenties or even their teens.

I can see it now, the pious folks in power trying to foist this bubble off on some nameless loan originators.  Well, this is a problem we all caused.  The government, as a long-standing policy, has pushed college and student lending.  Private lenders have marketed these loans aggressively.  Colleges have jacked costs up into the stratosphere, in large part because student loans disconnected consumers from the immediate true costs.  And nearly everyone in any leadership position have pushed kids to go to college, irregardless of whether their course of study made even a lick of sense vis a vis their ability to earn back the costs later in the job market.

Public service note:  Their are, to my knowledge, five colleges that will provide up to 100% financial aid in the form of grants, such that a student can graduate debt free:  Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Amherst.  These are obviously really hard schools to get into.   I don't think a single one has a double digit percentage admissions rate.  But these are the top schools that hopefully establish trends.

I am thrilled my alma mater is on the list.  For years I have argued that they were approach severe diminishing returns from spending tens of millions of dollars to improve educational quality another 0.25%.   If an institution is really going to live by the liberal arts college philosophy -- that a liberal arts education makes one a better human being irregardless of whether the course of study is easily monetized after graduation -- then it better have a way for students who want to join the Peace Corp or run for the state legislature to graduate without a debt load than only a Wall Street job can pay off.

By the way, my other proposal for Princeton has been this:  rather than increasing the educational quality 1% more to the existing students, why not bring Ivy League education to 3x as many students.  I have always wondered why a school like Princeton doesn't buy a bunch of cheap land in Arizona and build a western campus for another 10,000 kids.

My son and I spent the last year touring colleges.  One common denominator of all the good and great private colleges:  they are all over 100 years old.  Rice was probably the newest, when a rich guy toured the great colleges of the world and thought he could do as well, and started Rice  (Stanford is older but has a sort of similar origin story).  Where are the new schools?  The number of kids with the qualifications and desire to go to a top private college have skyrocketed, and tuition have risen far more than inflation, but there is no new supply coming on the market.  Why is that?

College Baseball Recruiting (part 1)

Update:  This is part 1.  Part 2 is here.

I sit here near Brookhaven on Long Island hiding in my hotel room as I don't want to make my son any more nervous in performing the skill evaluations at the baseball showcase camp he is attending.  Two hundred nervous kids and four hundred nervous parents is something I can avoid  (though for parental hyperactive competitive frenzy, nothing in my life has yet topped an elementary school chess tournament in Seattle).  Later today the format shifts to playing games and I will go over and watch that.

As I sit here, I might as well share with you some of the lessons we have learned in trying to land a spot playing college baseball.  I am not sure you should even listen to me, as I knew nothing about this 5 months ago and we still don't know if our son will be successful, though we are gaining confidence.

First, if your kid is a total stud, he may be scouted in high school, either on his school team or on summer and fall teams built for that purpose.  If so, great.   But just because your kid has never been seen by a college scout, or goes to a school that is not a traditional baseball powerhouse, he is not somehow doomed.  Our son certainly has never seen a scout and goes to a school that almost never produces college baseball players.  Worse, he plays varsity soccer and basketball so he can't even join a fall scouting team.  This probably rules him out for high-powered division 1 programs like ASU or Texas.  But there are a ton of schools out there who are likely not going to get even one scouted player.

My son is looking at small liberal arts colleges that tend to play division III (Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Pomona) and a few smart-school division I teams (e.g. Princeton).   He has a different equation than the top division 1 athletes.  They are hoping their skills will get them a scholarship and acceptance at a school that can offer them exposure to the pros.  My son is hoping his skills will put him over the top at a very selective school that is brutally hard to get accepted at, even with good grades.  And of course, he just loves to play baseball.

NCAA recruiting is a morass of sometimes non-intuitive rules.  And the rules are different for different size schools (e.g. div III vs. div I).  But the most important thing I can tell you is that your kid has to take the initiative to get in front of the schools.   You cannot rely on your coach or school or anyone else.   You can begin earlier, but we started around the middle of his Junior year:

2nd Semester Junior Year

Through much of his junior year, I video'd Nic's games, and then he spliced together a 5 minute highlight video.  We put that on YouTube, and sent coaches a letter and a copy of the video.

Most schools have an online prospect form they want you to fill out, and you need to do that.  You also need your kid to register with the NCAA clearing house -- it takes a few bucks and they want transcripts and test scores.

During spring break, when we visited schools, in addition to the admissions office tour, we tried also to either schedule a visit with or drop by the baseball coach.  Some said hi for 5 minutes, some gave him nearly an hour, but its important to show them you are interested.   In all of this, it is very important to have your son take the lead.  Yes, I know teenage boys and mine is no different than yours, so you may have to poke and prod in the background, but they need to make the contact.  In fact, whenever we meet a coach, I introduce myself, and then I leave my son alone with him.

If you take any message away, I would say this, and I have heard this from many people now:  The #1 mistake your kid can make is not being proactive enough in contacting coaches.  The #1 mistake you as a parent can make is being too involved with the coach -- they want to see what your kid will be like, at college, out from under your parental umbrella.  They do not want to deal with your hopes and fears and anxieties as the overbearing sports parent.

Summer between Junior and Senior year

By NCAA or conference rules, at least atthe div III schools we visited, the coaches cannot give your son a tryout at school.  We thought we might obtain something like this when we visited, but it is against the rules.  So you need to find a forum to play in front of the coach.  The best is if that school has a showcase camp.  A lot of schools do -- check their athletics web site.  The other great choice are camps held by third parties that have coaches from many schools attending.  Nic wrote the coaches at the schools he was interested in and asked them, by email, which camps they were attending so he could get in front of them.  If they don't answer, try emailing the assistant coaches (many times the head coach has delegated most of the summer scouting to the assistants).

There are a lot of camps nowadays, because certain groups have found they can be money makers.  In fact, I would say baseball camp folks fall into two categories -- there are ones run by baseball guys who really care about the kids and the game, but who can't organize their way out of a paper bag.  And there are the commercial ones, that may run well, but tend to have way too many boys for the number of coaches and don't seem to care much about the boys.  The exception I found was a group called  Headfirst, which runs a series of Honor Roll Camps, so named, I think, because they have coaches from a lot of "smart" schools.  These guys really care about the boys and run a fabulous camp.  If the schools you are interested attend these camps, I would highly recommend them.  Sign up early, they always sell out.

Here is how this camp runs, as an example.  In the first morning, the boys will do a number of skills workouts for the coaches (who are all on the field in folding chairs taking notes).  Outfielders will field four balls and make a few long throws to the plate.  Infielders will do the same from shortstop.  Catchers will be timed popping up and making the throw to second.  Everyone gets timed in the 60-yard dash.  Everyone gets to hit 9 balls in batting practice in front of all the coaches.  The rest of the two days the boys are organized into teams and play games, which are as much about pitcher evaluations as anything else. At this camp, all of the games are coached by the college coaches who are there recruiting. The coaches rotate so they see everyone.

These are weird events.  I have a ton of respect for all the kids.  Imagine hitting in a batting cage with one hundred coaches in folding chairs writing in notebooks all around the sides of the cage.  Or pitching when there is a net right behind the catcher, and right behind that are 50 guys taking notes, ten of whom are holding radar guns.

The kids get nervous, but one thing we have learned is that coaches are looking at something different than laymen might expect. What the kids may consider to be a screw-up may actually be a success.   You and I are impressed by the guy who lines a couple into the gap, vs. the guy who grounds out to the pitcher.   But the coaches are not even looking where the ball goes -- they are locked on the batter and his swing.  That is why they do the hitting showcase in the cage now instead of on the field like they used to -- the coaches just want to see the kid's form.  Ditto the other stuff.   In the last camp, my son put himself down as an outfielder rather than pitcher (though he plays both in high school) because he felt like his hitting was his best path to college.  But in one of the early drills they put a radar gun on him, saw he threw 88mph, and asked him to pitch.  And then the second day the head coach wanted to see him pitch again.

By the way, before each camp, My son looked at the list of coaches attending the camp and sent them emails, and called a favored few, to tell them that he would be at the camp, that he is really interested in their school, and could they please look out for him.  At the camp, the kids really need to take the lead in walking up to coaches (who are all wearing their school's gear) and introducing themselves.   No, your kid is not different from mine -- it is hard to get them to do this.  To their credit, the Headfirst camps actually work with the kids to encourage them in this. The camp leaders are constantly walking up to kids and saying "have you introduced yourself to a coach yet?"

The Fall of Senior Year

The rules vary by sport, but apparently the kids cannot be called at their home by baseball coaches until July 1 (again, this is in div III, rules may vary by sport).  This reinforces the need for kids to be proactive.  Most coaches will wait until the summer camps are over and develop their short list of kids to call and recruit.  That is all Div III schools can do.  Div I schools can bring a few kids in for a university-paid campus visit.  If you get one of those (they only have a few to give out) that is the best sign of all that the coach is truly interested and not just blowing smoke to be nice.

We expect this to be our fall challenge -- how do you figure out if the school is really interested?  In the common application era, it is absolutely critical to tell a college you are really interested and not just hitting the send button to the 29th school.  The best way to do this is by applying early admission, but you only get one of these.  We are hoping to match the school we pick for early admit with Nic's interests as well as baseball coaches' interest.  We'll see how it goes.

Mind of the Coach

The following could be completely wrong.  It is put together not by someone who has experience with baseball or who has been a coach and player, but as someone acting as sort of a baseball anthropologist trying to figure out what is going on.  The following applies mainly to smaller schools not in the top 20 or 30 national programs -- they have a completely different situation.

  • The camps seem intimidating, because there are so many good kids playing.  Coaches seem like these Olympian figures deciding everyone's fate based on inscrutable criteria.  But never forget this -- coaches are just as desperate as you are.  As much as your son is desperately trying to land a spot, coaches are desperately trying to get good players.  Remember, someone probably needs your son.  And smaller school coaches have to sit back and wait for ASU and Texas to skim the cream before they can even get started with the task.
  • They have to make decisions on very little data, or what you and I would consider little data.  Over and over again I hear that unless you are in a school or league with which they are familiar, your kid's ERA or batting average and stats means almost nothing to them.  They will make most of their evaluation from looking at him for what seems a really brief time.  If your son is being encouraged to rework his swing, but he is worried that his stats will drop for a while as he makes the changes, remember that his form, not his stats, will likely get him a spot at a school
  • Most schools allow the baseball coach to send a list of kids -3,5, maybe 7 names - to the admission office for special consideration.  Most of these kids will get in.  Being on that list at a school like Princeton or Amherst that have 8% admit rates is therefore a huge boost.   But, having a limited number of spots, the coach is not going to put a kid's name on that list unless he is pretty sure that kid is going to come.  Getting five studs through admissions is useless if they all are headed to Duke or Stanford instead.  My son has picked a few schools and has really worked to make sure the coach understands he is likely to accept an admission.
  • This is just a guess based on how organizations work, but my sense is that coaches have a certain "budget" as to how much they can ask the admissions office to bend their standards for their recruits.   This means that for selective schools, it still helps a LOT for your kid to have good academics and test scores.   The Headfirst camp we are at now actually asks for grades and scores in advance, and puts those on the cheat sheet every coach gets.   I can guarantee you that before a guy from Harvard falls in love with your kid's swing, he looks down at those academics to see if he can afford to.
  • Most medium and small school coaches have no idea on June 1 who they will be recruiting for the next class.  So if it is June 1 and your son is a rising senior, it is not at all too late.
To be continued, part 2 is here.

Great (Princeton '84) Minds Think Alike

Coyote, Jan 2011

For many, low wage jobs are the first rung on the ladder to success and prosperity.  Raising the minimum wage is putting the first rung of the ladder out of reach of many low-skilled Americans.

My classmate Henry Payne, saying it better in pictures (via Carpe Diem)

Outsourcing Hiring Decisions to Colleges

A while back I wrote this as part of a response saying that the only way to get into a top consultancy was to got to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford.  Having joined a top consulting firm from Princeton and Harvard, I thought some of their observations to be BS, but there is a certain core of truth.  As I wrote then:

There is some rationality in this approach – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

Matthew Shaffer, via Glen Reynolds, write something similar about all college degrees:

Those of us who question the price and value of higher education don’t disagree that people with B.A.s do much better in life, especially in employment. We disagree about the source of that advantage: The B.A. may mostlycorrelate with and signal for, rather than impart important qualities. (Really we all agree it’s some mix of the three factors — our differences are of emphasis.)...

We skeptics think this: Since employers can no longer measure job applicants’ IQs nor put them through long apprenticeships, graduating college is the way job-searchers signal an intelligence and diligence that college itself may have contributed little toward. Employers are (to use a little economic jargon) partially outsourcing their employee search to colleges. This is a good deal for employers, because college costs them nothing, and the social pressure to get a BA means they won’t miss too many good prospective recruits by limiting their search to college grads.

I think this has a lot of truth to it, but it can't entirely be true -- if it were, your degree would not matter but we know engineering and economics majors get hired more than poetry majors.  Though one could still stick with the strong skeptical position by arguing that degree choice is again merely a signal as to interests and outlook and a potentially even a proxy for other characteristics (to the latter point, what is your mental picture of an engineering major? a women's studies major? a politics major?  an econ major?)

Out This Week

On a college visit trip in New England with my son.  We will be at Cornell, Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, Colby, Bates, Brown, Yale, Princeton.  If your best friend is admissions director or the baseball coach at any of these schools and is desperately searching for smart kids from Arizona who blog and hit for power, you are welcome to email me :=)

The NCAA and Worker Exploitation

I took my blog post from earlier this week and expanded it to a full-blown column on the NCAA and its efforts to never, ever let its athletes make a dime from their skills.  An excerpt:

University presidents with lucrative athletic programs will do about anything to distract attention from just how much money their Universities are making off of essentially unpaid labor.  Their favorite mantra is to claim they are holding up an ideal of “amateurism.”

The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true “gentleman” did not actually work for a living but sponged off the local gentry while perfecting his golf or polo game.  These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges.  Even the Olympics, though,  finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.

In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of “amateurism” in any other part of society, or even any other corner of University life, it would be considered absurd.  Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers?  Economists?  Poets?

When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she still was able to perform in the “amateur” school shows despite the fact she had already been paid as an actress.   Engineering students are still allowed to study engineering at a University even if a private party pays them for their labor over the summer.  Students don’t get kicked out of the school glee club just because they make money at night singing in a bar.  The student council president isn’t going to be suspended by her school if she makes money over the summer at a policy think tank.

In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics.  I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.

Princeton Loses in Final Seconds :=(

Princeton continues its designated role in the universe of scaring the crap out of high NCAA tournament seeds, but fell just short when Kentucky took the lead with 2 seconds left.   I engaged in emotional diversification by picking against them in my brackets, so I would have both joy and pain either way.

Who Picked Whom

We have 122 backets entered in our competition this year.  Here is the pick report by game

Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6
East
1 Ohio St. 122
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
1 Ohio St. 117
8 George Mason 3
9 Villanova 2
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
1 Ohio St. 102
4 Kentucky 14
5 West Virginia 3
12 UAB/Clemson 1
8 George Mason 1
13 Princeton 1
9 Villanova 0
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
1 Ohio St. 80
2 North Carolina 18
4 Kentucky 8
3 Syracuse 7
6 Xavier 5
5 West Virginia 2
7 Washington 1
14 Indiana St. 1
10 Georgia 0
15 Long Island 0
13 Princeton 0
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
8 George Mason 0
9 Villanova 0
12 UAB/Clemson 0
11 Marquette 0
1 Ohio St. 51
1 Duke 29
2 San Diego St. 7
3 Connecticut 7
4 Texas 5
2 North Carolina 5
3 Syracuse 5
8 Michigan 4
5 West Virginia 2
4 Kentucky 2
7 Washington 1
10 Penn St. 1
14 Indiana St. 1
6 Xavier 1
5 Arizona 1
6 Cincinnati 0
13 Oakland 0
11 Missouri 0
7 Temple 0
14 Bucknell 0
15 Northern-Colo 0
15 Long Island 0
12 UAB/Clemson 0
9 Villanova 0
8 George Mason 0
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
13 Princeton 0
11 Marquette 0
9 Tennessee 0
16 Hampton 0
10 Georgia 0
12 Memphis 0
1 Ohio St. 36
1 Kansas 24
1 Duke 17
1 Pittsburgh 7
3 Connecticut 5
2 Notre Dame 4
2 San Diego St. 3
3 Purdue 3
2 Florida 3
8 Michigan 2
4 Texas 2
2 North Carolina 2
4 Wisconsin 2
4 Kentucky 2
3 Syracuse 2
7 UCLA 2
5 Kansas St. 1
5 West Virginia 1
7 Washington 1
6 Xavier 1
14 Indiana St. 1
15 Akron 1
10 Michigan St. 0
14 St.Peters NJ 0
6 Georgetown 0
11 USC/VCU 0
15 Santa Barbara 0
7 Texas A&M 0
10 Florida State 0
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 0
13 Morehead St 0
13 Belmont 0
6 St. Johns 0
12 Utah St. 0
3 BYU 0
11 Gonzaga 0
8 Butler 0
9 Old Dominion 0
14 Wofford 0
15 Northern-Colo 0
15 Long Island 0
10 Georgia 0
16 Hampton 0
9 Tennessee 0
5 Arizona 0
11 Marquette 0
13 Princeton 0
16 TexasSA/AlaSt 0
8 George Mason 0
9 Villanova 0
12 UAB/Clemson 0
12 Memphis 0
13 Oakland 0
8 UNLV 0
9 Illinois 0
5 Vanderbilt 0
12 Richmond 0
16 Boston U. 0
10 Penn St. 0
6 Cincinnati 0
11 Missouri 0
14 Bucknell 0
7 Temple 0
4 Louisville 0
9 Villanova 63
8 George Mason 59
5 West Virginia 91
12 UAB/Clemson 31
4 Kentucky 73
5 West Virginia 36
12 UAB/Clemson 8
13 Princeton 5
4 Kentucky 103
13 Princeton 19
6 Xavier 74
11 Marquette 48
3 Syracuse 78
6 Xavier 29
11 Marquette 10
14 Indiana St. 5
2 North Carolina 56
3 Syracuse 41
7 Washington 10
6 Xavier 10
11 Marquette 3
14 Indiana St. 1
10 Georgia 1
15 Long Island 0
3 Syracuse 114
14 Indiana St. 8
7 Washington 78
10 Georgia 44
2 North Carolina 95
7 Washington 20
10 Georgia 7
15 Long Island 0
2 North Carolina 121
15 Long Island 1
West
1 Duke 122
16 Hampton 0
1 Duke 110
8 Michigan 8
9 Tennessee 4
16 Hampton 0
1 Duke 83
4 Texas 22
5 Arizona 8
8 Michigan 7
9 Tennessee 2
13 Oakland 0
16 Hampton 0
12 Memphis 0
1 Duke 60
2 San Diego St. 20
3 Connecticut 18
4 Texas 10
5 Arizona 5
8 Michigan 4
6 Cincinnati 2
9 Tennessee 2
10 Penn St. 1
15 Northern-Colo 0
7 Temple 0
13 Oakland 0
16 Hampton 0
12 Memphis 0
11 Missouri 0
14 Bucknell 0
8 Michigan 65
9 Tennessee 57
5 Arizona 95
12 Memphis 27
4 Texas 74
5 Arizona 32
12 Memphis 9
13 Oakland 7
4 Texas 106
13 Oakland 16
6 Cincinnati 73
11 Missouri 49
3 Connecticut 89
11 Missouri 17
6 Cincinnati 14
14 Bucknell 2
2 San Diego St. 51
3 Connecticut 51
10 Penn St. 7
6 Cincinnati 7
11 Missouri 3
7 Temple 2
14 Bucknell 1
15 Northern-Colo 0
3 Connecticut 114
14 Bucknell 8
7 Temple 68
10 Penn St. 54
2 San Diego St. 92
10 Penn St. 17
7 Temple 13
15 Northern-Colo 0
2 San Diego St. 121
15 Northern-Colo 1
Southwest
1 Kansas 121
16 Boston U. 1
1 Kansas 116
9 Illinois 4
8 UNLV 2
16 Boston U. 0
1 Kansas 105
4 Louisville 10
5 Vanderbilt 3
9 Illinois 2
8 UNLV 1
12 Richmond 1
13 Morehead St 0
16 Boston U. 0
1 Kansas 74
3 Purdue 25
2 Notre Dame 14
4 Louisville 4
6 Georgetown 1
12 Richmond 1
15 Akron 1
9 Illinois 1
5 Vanderbilt 1
10 Florida State 0
7 Texas A&M 0
13 Morehead St 0
16 Boston U. 0
8 UNLV 0
11 USC/VCU 0
14 St.Peters NJ 0
1 Kansas 59
1 Pittsburgh 22
2 Notre Dame 10
3 Purdue 9
2 Florida 5
4 Wisconsin 4
7 UCLA 3
5 Kansas St. 3
4 Louisville 3
3 BYU 2
15 Akron 1
9 Illinois 1
11 Gonzaga 0
6 St. Johns 0
13 Belmont 0
14 Wofford 0
8 UNLV 0
15 Santa Barbara 0
16 Boston U. 0
10 Michigan St. 0
5 Vanderbilt 0
12 Utah St. 0
6 Georgetown 0
11 USC/VCU 0
10 Florida State 0
7 Texas A&M 0
13 Morehead St 0
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 0
12 Richmond 0
9 Old Dominion 0
8 Butler 0
14 St.Peters NJ 0
9 Illinois 61
8 UNLV 61
5 Vanderbilt 71
12 Richmond 51
4 Louisville 78
5 Vanderbilt 27
12 Richmond 14
13 Morehead St 3
4 Louisville 112
13 Morehead St 10
6 Georgetown 99
11 USC/VCU 23
3 Purdue 98
6 Georgetown 19
11 USC/VCU 3
14 St.Peters NJ 2
3 Purdue 61
2 Notre Dame 45
6 Georgetown 6
7 Texas A&M 5
10 Florida State 3
11 USC/VCU 1
15 Akron 1
14 St.Peters NJ 0
3 Purdue 116
14 St.Peters NJ 6
10 Florida State 61
7 Texas A&M 61
2 Notre Dame 97
7 Texas A&M 16
10 Florida State 8
15 Akron 1
2 Notre Dame 117
15 Akron 5
Southeast
1 Pittsburgh 121
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 1
1 Pittsburgh 109
8 Butler 11
9 Old Dominion 2
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 0
1 Pittsburgh 83
4 Wisconsin 19
5 Kansas St. 13
8 Butler 3
12 Utah St. 2
13 Belmont 1
9 Old Dominion 1
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 0
1 Pittsburgh 60
2 Florida 14
4 Wisconsin 13
3 BYU 12
5 Kansas St. 10
7 UCLA 4
6 St. Johns 2
10 Michigan St. 2
8 Butler 2
13 Belmont 1
11 Gonzaga 1
12 Utah St. 1
15 Santa Barbara 0
16 UNCAsh/ArkLR 0
9 Old Dominion 0
14 Wofford 0
8 Butler 75
9 Old Dominion 47
5 Kansas St. 77
12 Utah St. 45
4 Wisconsin 62
5 Kansas St. 37
12 Utah St. 16
13 Belmont 7
4 Wisconsin 96
13 Belmont 26
6 St. Johns 75
11 Gonzaga 47
3 BYU 66
6 St. Johns 34
11 Gonzaga 17
14 Wofford 5
2 Florida 48
3 BYU 29
6 St. Johns 18
10 Michigan St. 11
7 UCLA 10
11 Gonzaga 6
15 Santa Barbara 0
14 Wofford 0
3 BYU 110
14 Wofford 12
10 Michigan St. 66
7 UCLA 56
2 Florida 83
10 Michigan St. 24
7 UCLA 15
15 Santa Barbara 0
2 Florida 118
15 Santa Barbara 4

Credentialism: A Problem that Cuts Both Ways

From the Chronicle of Higher Education via TaxProf Blog

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places. ... That’s the upshot of an enlightening/depressing study about the ridiculously narrow-minded people who make hiring decisions at the aforementioned elite companies. ... These firms pour resources into recruiting students from “target schools” (i.e., Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and then more or less ignore everybody else. Here’s a manager from a top investment bank describing what happens to the resume of someone who went to, say, Rutgers: “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole.”

Being, I suppose, an insider to this process (Princeton - Harvard Business School - McKinsey & Company) I'd like to make a few comments

  • First and foremost, this problem cuts both ways.  I can imagine outsiders are frustrated with the lack of access.  But as an insider I can tell you  (cue Admiral Akbar) It's a Trap!  You go to Princeton, think, wow, I did well at Princeton, it would be a waste not to do something with that.   You are a competitive sole, so getting into a top grad school is an honor to be pursued just like good grades.   So you go to Harvard Business School (it could have been Harvard Law) and do well.  And what is the mark of achievement there? -- getting a job at a top consultancy or top investment bank.  So you take the McKinsey job, have your first kid, and what do you find out?  Wow, I hate this job!  In fact, the only thing I would have hated more is if I had taken that Wall Street job.   Eventually you find happiness running your own company, only to discover your Ivy League degrees are a liability since they intimidate your employees from sharing their ideas and most of the other guys you know successfully running businesses went to Kansas State or Rutgers.
  • My only data point inside this hiring process is from McKinsey about 15-20 years ago, so it may be out of date.    But at that time, the above statement would be BS.  Certainly hiring was heavily tilted to the top Ivies and a few top business schools.  But we had people with undergrad degrees from all over - in fact most of our office in Texas had undergrad degrees from the Texas state schools  (at lot from BYU too -- McKinsey loved the Mormons).  At the time, McKinsey was hiring hundreds of people out of business school around the world each year.  No way this could have come from only a few schools.
  • My hypothesis is that this may be more a regional than an industry bias, limited to Boston/New York/East Coast.  Since many top law firms and consultancies and investment banks are in NYC, they reflect this local bias.  But I would bet these same firms and industries hire differently outside of the East Coast.
  • There is some rationality in this approach - it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

Raising Better College Students

Two great takes on the Amy Chua article on the superiority of Chinese moms.  I will begin by saying that I went to an Ivy League school and would love to see my kids go there as well.  But the be-all end-all drive to get into such a school, combined with 6% admissions rates, seems to be a recipe for a lot of unhappiness.  Especially since the vast, vast  (did I say vast?) majority of the most successful people I have met in my life went to non-name-branded schools.

The first take is from the Last Psychiatrist:

I'll explain what's wrong with her thinking by asking you one simple question, and when I ask it you will know the answer immediately.  Then, if you are a parent, in the very next instant  your mind will rebel against this answer, it will defend itself against it-- "well, no, it's not so simple--" but I want to you to ignore this counterattack and focus on how readily, reflexively, instinctively you knew the answer to my question.  Are you ready to test your soul?  Here's the question: what is the point of all this? Making the kids play violin, of being an A student, all the discipline, all of this?  Why is she working her kids so hard?  You know the answer: college.

She is raising future college students.

Oh, I know that these things will make them better people in the long run, but silently agree that her singular purpose is to get the kids into college.  Afterwards she'll want other things for them, sure, but for 18 years she has exactly one goal for them: early decision.

The second take is from TJIC:

Professor Amy Chua is part of two broken credentialist mindsets: the Chinese Confucian admissions-to-the-imperial bureacracy memset, and the American academic admissions-to-the-Ivy-League memeset. (But perhaps I repeat myself).

Heck, she’s risen to a top spot in the American conformist system – she’s a PhD and a professor at a top university. Of course she buys into the implied social hierarchy.

I climbed much of the way up that particular hierarchy, and then decided towards the end of the process to bag on a PhD. Why? Because I looked around and realized that PhDs, even professors at Ivy League schools, weren’t really accomplishing much, and weren’t really happy.

I do interviews for Princeton as part of the admissions process.  I am not sure that the admissions office would agree with my approach, but I spend time in the interviews trying to figure out if a high achieving student has succeeded by grimly jumping through hoops under his or her parents' lash, or if they have real passion and interest in the things they do.  I tend not to be impressed by the former.

Seriously, are we really celebrating the creation of a whole generation of our brightest kids who get all their motivation externally?  What happens when the motivation prosthetic they have been using goes away?

Postscript: From the first article

That's why it's in the WSJ.  The Journal has no place for, "How a Fender Strat Changed My Life."  It wants piano and violin, it wants Chua's college-resume worldview.

Oh how I wish my parents had forced me to play electric guitar rather than piano.

I'm Not Crazy! Update on Electric Vehicle MPG

I will tell you that no matter how confidence in one has in his own intellectual ability, it's hard not to experience an "am I crazy?" moment when one reaches a conclusion different from everybody else's.  Case in point is my critique of the EPA's mpg numbers for electric vehicles.   The EPA's methodology strikes me as complete BS, but everyone, even folks like Popular Mechanics, keep treating the number like it is a serious representation of the fossil fuel use of vehicles like the Volt and Leaf.

Sot it was therefore nice to see a mechanical engineering professor independently make the same points I did in this Pajamas Media article. Also, my Princeton classmate Henry Payne, who often writes on automotive issues, linked my article at the Michigan View.

Permanently Bonded Leisure Suit

A Marginal Revolution reader asks:

How would you pick a tattoo, if you decided you were going to get one? How would you pick something that your future self is most likely to be glad to have? A favorite piece of art? Follow Leeson's lead and get an economics-related tattoo? Names of family members are off-limits, as are answers like "get a small dot in my armpit that nobody would see."

I could argue that it is impossible to make a political, religious, or personal statement one is 100% sure will still be relevant 30 years hence.  Here is the solution I teach to my kids -- never, ever make a fashion you can't remove (e.g. piercing OK, tattoos not OK).   I have lived through leisure suits and grunge, wide ties and narrow, short skirts and long, tie dye and soft pastels.  Think of tattooing as having a leisure suit permanently bonded to your body.

Some will say this is evading the question, so I will actually provide an answer.  The only thing I might have conceivably chosen to ink my body with at 20 that I could probably still live with today at 48 would be something having to do with my undergrad college (Princeton).   Call it the George Shultz rule.

Fermat's Last Theorum

I second Alex's nomination - this is one of my favorite documentaries as well.  The book by the same name is very good as well and covers more of the math history.  I actually watched it just the other day in a home double feature with a A Beautiful Mind, mainly showing my kids the scenes shot at Princeton**  but it turned out to be a great essay on math and the human mind.

** I suppose I could have thrown in Transformers 2 as a Princeton triple feature but it seemed somehow out of place in terms of tone.  Also, seeing all the ASU girls walking around the Princeton campus was almost weirder than the hallucinations in A Beautiful Mind.

One Lab Left Out

Glen Reynolds linked this gallery of 30 awesome college labs.  My favorite at Princeton was our Junior year mechanical engineering course which was basically interfacing micro computers to mechanical devices  (which was a non-trivial task in 1983).  There were two one-semester courses.  The first was mostly software, and involved programming an s-100 bus computer in assembly language to do various things, like control an elevator.  My final project was a put one of the first sonic rangefinders from a Polaroid camera on a stepper motor and built a radar that painted a blocky view of its surroundings on a computer monitor.

But the really cool part for me was the second semester, when it was software + hardware.  We had to build a complete electronics and mechanical package to perform an automated function on ... a very large n-scale model railroad.  Well, readers of my blog will know that model railroading is my hobby anyway.  My team built a coal loading facility where the train was stepped forward one car at a time and a hopper filled each successive car to the right level with coal (or actually little black pellets).  We had sensors to be able to handle certain problems the professor might throw at us, like a car that was already full, cars of different sizes and lengths, etc.  That lab with the big model railroad was easily my favorite.

In retrospect, I almost miss programming in assembler code, trying to cram the code into 4K EPROMS, etching my own circuit boards....  Almost.   Now my only use for circuit boards is to shear them into strips to act as railroad ties when I hand-solder track work and my only use for etchant is weathering scale sheet metal to make it naturally rusty.  Pictures of the latter in a few weeks.

But I Was Not One of Them

I liked this bit from Megan McArdle on Elena Kagan because it fit so well with a category of people I saw all the time at Princeton (Kagan and I overlapped somewhat though I did not know her).

But I do think that David Brooks is onto something when he notes that her relentless careerism, her pitch-perfect blandness, are a little creepy. Not in themselves, but because they're a symptom of a culture that increasingly values what Brooks calls Organization Kids: the driven, hyperachieving spawn of the Ivy League meritocracy who began practicing Supreme Court nomination acceptances and CEO profile photo poses long before they took notice of the opposite sex.

The discussion of late is whether these Ivy Leaguers really are representative of the broader country, but I would add that these folks really were not liked even within Princeton.  A great example is Eliot Spitzer.  His treatment of Princeton and its student government as a sort of minor league tryout for future political ambitions drove everyone nuts, to the point that he even triggered an outlandish opposition party, the Antarctic Liberation Front.

Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further.  After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

(Don't miss Virginia Postrel's take on the whole episode, occasioned by Spitzer whining about the episode 20 years later in the New Yorker.)

One other data point:  Two years later, after drinking a few adult beverages, it came into my head that it would be a really good idea to moon the USG meeting being held nearby.  I asked for volunteers, expecting a handful, and got over 40.  The episode saddens me only because I did not think of it soon enough to have mooned Spitzer.

Update: Hilarious

Where's the Love For Princeton Law School?

From David Bernstein

The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency. And once Elena Kagan gets confirmed, every Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools.

I know that Harvard and Yale attract a disproportionate percentage of America's talented youth, but still, isn't this a bit much? Are there no similarly talented individuals who attended other Ivy League schools, other private universities or (gasp!) even state law schools?

For what its worth, I have a Princeton undergrad degree and an MBA from Harvard and the number of Harvard-Yale-Princeton employees working for me in our 420-employee firm is ... zero.

A Few More Thoughts on Citizen's United

A friend of mine from Princeton days writes:

... and you seem in favor of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs the FEC, I was wondering how you feel about being a customer or supplier or competitor of large businesses who can spend far more than your business to influence the rules of the game.

From what I read, I am sure you have a compelling answer, but I would be scared to death. (Maybe that's why I work for a large corporation [Target] instead of attempting to run my own business.)

I thought this was a pretty good question, and I answered:

  1. I try hard not to make utilitarian arguments to Constitutional and rights issues.  As an example, I am sure we might have less crime if the police were empowered to incarcerate anyone they wanted without trial, but we don't do it that way.
  2. I worry most about corporate lobbying (e.g. by Immelt at GE) and this is unaffected by this ruling - it was legal before and after.   This decision allows corporate advertising, which is public and visible, which I can at least see and react to, as opposed to back room deal making.
  3. Libertarians certainly worry about your question, and why many of us fear that what we are creating in this country is a European-style corporate state, rather than socialism.  To a libertarian, the answer is not less speech, but less government power to pick winners and losers in commerce.

Trial By Ordeal

Peter Leeson has an article on Medieval trial by ordeal that is getting a lot of attention.

Modern observers have roundly condemned ordeals for being cruel and arbitrary. Ordeals seem to reflect everything that was wrong with the Dark Ages. They're an icon of medieval barbarism and backwardness.

But a closer look suggests something very different: The ordeal system worked surprisingly well. It accurately determined who was guilty and who was innocent, sorting genuine criminals from those who had been wrongly accused. Stranger still, the ordeal system suggests that pervasive superstition can be good for society. Medieval legal systems leveraged citizens' superstitious beliefs through ordeals, making it possible to secure criminal justice where it would have otherwise been impossible to do so. Some superstitions, at least, may evolve and persist for a good reason: They help us accomplish goals we couldn't otherwise accomplish, or accomplish them more cheaply.

I guess I agree with the proposition that pervasive shared superstitions allow the populace to be more easily governed, or more rightly, make it easier for rulers to exercise power over the masses through leverage of shared superstition.  Whether it improves our well-being is an entirely different matter, but for a certain type of intellectual (I have no idea if Leeson is among them) more government power = well-being.  The author cites oath-swearing as a modern superstition that allows us to be governed more easily, but I am not sure that is correct as I think the power of oaths today are driven by peer-pressure and mass response to publicly broken oaths as well as perjury laws.  A better example of modern superstitions that allow easier exercise of power include things like global warming catastrophism.

I am not a medievelist, except as a hobby, but I would offer a couple of rebuttals to specific points he makes:

  • I think he overstates the cost savings of ordeals.  There were prominent folks in the Catholic Church that had doubts about ordeals long before they were banned, and ordeals were typically used as a last result when fact-finding and other methods didn't work.  We have to be careful comparing costs.  One lord gathering evidence for a few days might be, as a percentage of the government's resources, as costly then as a 1-year OJ trial is today.
  • Trials were not broken because they were too costly, they were broken because the law was bad.  There was no such thing as a state prosecutor, so all criminal actions were basically private actions, and they tended to have a rough version of loser pays.  For example, if one accused his neighbor of a capital offense, and the neighbor was acquitted, then the accuser suffered the punishment - ie death.   As a result, the state was left without an effective tool to prosecute crime, and in fact most justice was private justice (ie vengeance of family and friends) and never saw a court, ordeal or other sort.
  • I had a great Medievalist professor at Princeton that I am totally blanking on his name right now [update:  William Jordan, now apparently department head at Princeton].  He used to argue, I think compellingly, that all ordeals had an element of discretion.  Sure, you had to grab the rock in the boiling water, but the real test was that your wounds would be bound and then several days later inspected by the clergy to see if it was festering or not.   This is obviously a judgment call, and thus 1. gave the priests the power to be the effective jury for these actions and 2.  gave the priests a substantial amount of power  (as well as money, since they made good coin charging for ordeals).  [update:  A better summary of Leeson's work says that Leeson is arguing the same thing.  See here]

Update: Intriguingly, from a review of Jordan's book  "the Great Famine," a story I also discuss in my climate videos

The early 1300s must have seemed like the end of the world to the unfortunate inhabitants of Europe: brutally severe winters gave way to lightning storms and torrential, crop-destroying rains in spring, followed by cold summers and then bitter winters again. "The whole world was troubled," wrote one Austrian chronicler; yet that was only the beginning. Princeton University historian William Chester Jordan reconstructs the terrible decades when climatological change led to famine, disease, rampant inflation, and social breakdown across the European continent, a time when every prayer for relief was met by even crueler turns of fate.

Damn those 14th century oil companies!

Walter Olson on the FTC vs. Bloggers

Olson has a series of posts on the new FTC rules.  They are here and here.

The scariest part for me is not just the rules, but the frank admission that they will be enforced unequally as the FTC says it will apply discretion as to who to prosecute for picayune violations and who they won't.  As I often say to folks, even if you trust this administration   (e.g. "your guys") to not abuse this power, what about the next administration (ie "the other guys")?

Olson has a priceless picture a medical blogger snapped at a recent trade show showing that there is reason to fear that rules aimed at ridiculously small conflicts of interest will be enforced even when they are dumb:

Anyone who has been involved in NCAA recruiting can tell you the absurd results that flow from defining even tiny freebies as violations.  For example, when I interview high school students for Princeton, I have to be careful not to buy them lunch or coffee on the off-chance they turn out to be athletes where such a purchase could trigger a recruiting violation.

Movie Review: Transformers 2

The original was a sort of surprise -- one expected a movie based on a toy franchise to suck, but it was actually OK.  It had a bit of wit, probably Spielberg's influence.  The new movie is not nearly as good.  I give it about 2.5 stars, with that being an average of 1.5 stars when Megan Fox is off the screen and 5 stars when she is on the screen.   The director avoids doing anything to advance the plot when she is on the screen, which is good because it is hard to concentrate during those moments.

The one highlight for me was that most of the college scenes were filmed at my old alma mater Princeton.  With all due appologies to my friends, there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to seeing 40 or 50 consistently smoking hot college girls wandering around the Princeton campus.  We had a name for women like that when I was there -- we called them "visitors."

One bit of credit -- unlike a lot action movie sequels, the plot was mostly coherant.   The humor was strained, more sophomoric and less witty than the original.  Thedogs having sex in the beginning was gratuitous, for example.

Anyway, my kids enjoyed it, and it was a decent way to spend a summer afternoon when it was 107 outside.  Air conditioning always adds at least 1 star to every movie during a Phoenix summer.