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June 2007 Archives

Supreme Court rules that schools can't use race to decide on placement

The Supreme Court has ruled that schools can't use race to place students in 5-4 decisions on Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County (Ky.) Board of Education. In both cases, the school districts limited the number of white students who could attend various schools in efforts toward racial integration.

The Court was divided along ideological lines, with Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion, arguing that any use of race as a factor is discrimination, and Justice Breyer writing the minority opinion, arguing that this ruling will damage the progress made by Brown v. Board of Education. The "swing" Justice, Kennedy, sided with Roberts, but he agreed with portions of the majority statement, saying that he still thinks race can be used as a consideration in implementing systems, if not directly for student placement.

This case is of particular interest to me because race-based admissions was a hot topic at my high school, Lowell High School in San Francisco. In 1983, San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified School District resulted in race-based admissions requirements in an effort to allow more underrepresented minorities to attend the school, while lowering the number of Chinese students in particular. In 1999, after I had already graduated, Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District resulted in modifying the strictly race-based system to one based on socioeconomic background and other factors for diversification.

So now there is a federal ruling for this issue that has already been locally settled in the case of Lowell.

More related trivia: Justice Breyer graduated from the same Lowell High School in 1955, one year after the decision of Brown v. Board of Education.

* * *

P.S.: The more astute among you may notice that I have carefully avoided making any mention of how I feel about this issue. I'm not trying to be coy. It's because I have very mixed feelings about it all, so I've tried to report the above as objectively as possible.

I suppose it's always been easier for me to relate to Chinese kids who couldn't get into Lowell with scores that were enough to let black or even white kids get in. It just seemed wrong to me to make such decisions solely on the basis of race.

On the other hand, I definitely lived a very sheltered life while at Lowell. I remember counting the races of people at my senior year birthday party and being kind of proud of the fact that less than 50% of my invitees were Chinese. But to this day I've never had even a single black friend. So more integration is probably a good thing, too.

The problem with that, though, is that I'm also kind of skeptical of how well these policies really work. Even when they do integrate students, the students still end up self-segregating anyway. There are deep social issues here that can't be solved by plopping a few kids around. I suppose it's better than nothing, though.

But see? Do I support race-based admissions or not? Much of this is a classic case of individual rights vs the greater social good, and I just really have no idea where to place that slider.

* * *

Update: Previously, I wrote that "I've never had even a token black friend". EC pointed out in the comments that "token black friend" was racist, and she has convinced me, so I've replaced it with "I've never had even a single black friend". Also, I realized it's not even technically true.

I did briefly have a black friend in elementary school, but we grew apart in middle school. In fact, he started hanging out mostly with black kids, and I started hanging out mostly with Asian kids. And I remember, even back then, in 6th grade, that I felt kind of sad about that. I felt sad that we started finding these more racially-based identities, and that I no longer had any black friends.

I suppose that even back then, I did have this mental concept of a "token black friend", and I agree that it's racist to think of him that way, instead of thinking of it as just losing "a friend". It would certainly be racist to want someone as a friend just for their race. I don't think I befriended him just for his race, but it might have been a factor, and if it was, that was probably a bad thing. But I also think it would've been a good thing if we had been able to stay friends, partly because we were of different races.

My conflict about how to think about my friends is similar to the conflict at hand in the recent court cases. When is "reverse racism" good, and when is it bad? I think I might agree most with Justice Kennedy on this, that direct use of race to determine things like admissions is probably bad, but it is probably reasonable to use it as a factor in some less direct decisions, as in drawing up school district boundaries and such. Similarly, it's probably bad to befriend someone just for their race, but it's probably good to put yourself in situations where you might meet more people of different races, and then befriend people who happen to be of different races for their individual characteristics. Of course, the boundaries are never totally clear.

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

Cthulhu the Wifi Hub

(Project 365 Day 251)

I went to watch Live Free or Die Hard tonight. The bad guys essentially hack the computer infrastructure of the north-eastern US. (I've heard someone call it "Die Hard... in a country!") I actually found it kinda freaky because, well, I bet the security of our critical services really is pretty crappy and hackable.

On the other hand, computer hacking just doesn't present the kind of visceral sense of danger that an action movie really needs. (And the movie does supply its villains with guns and kung fu, to supplement the hacking.)

So here I present to you my attempt to depict my computer networking infrastructure with a sense of menace. :P

(Btw I went into the movie with extremely low expectations due to reading a bunch of negative reviews, and I ended up enjoying the movie. I enjoyed it as a summer action flick, but it definitely felt kinda light, and it certainly didn't feel like anyone was dying particularly hard. I did like, though, how Bruce Willis played it with a sort of "not this again" feel. Some of the biggest laughs of the movie were his subtle, weary sighs. Oh, and Mac Guy wasn't as annoying as I expected him to be.)




(I just got a haircut that was a bit too short, and I'm missing my messy hair. :P)

Warning! Fart Detected!

So way back in 1998, my second internship was at Andros, a company that made gas analyzers. This one contractor who worked there came in one day with something he got at the hardware store: A fart detector! And it really worked, too. It was an actual methane gas detector (thus the relevance to our work), which he proved by flicking his lighter by the nozzle. The result can be seen here, if you click "Try Me".

Sadly, it looks like they're pretty much out of production. The above flash animation comes from this site. I just emailed them to see if they're still in business and have any.

Do not enter room 6

Do not enter room 6

(Project 365 Day 246)

I went to watch 1408 last night. It's about an evil hotel room with that number. It was pretty mediocre, with John Cusack being the saving grace. But it did inspire this picture of my neighbor's door. I hope my neighbor is able to emerge safely in the morning!

Lonely Car

Lonely Car

(Project 365 Day 237)

My car seemed very lonely when I went to get it.

Toast Wars is now close-captioned

So I was reading this Ask Slashdot article by someone who can't distinguish between conversation and background noise. They were complaining that TV shows are all captioned due to gov't regulations, but web videos generally aren't. I looked around, and it seems that YouTube doesn't have nice captioning support yet, but Google Video does, as announced nine months ago.

Unfortunately, content providers still need to actually apply captions. Well, I figured I'd do my part, and so went ahead and added captions to the Google Video version of Toast Wars. :) You can click the CC icon at the bottom right to toggle the captions.

(Sadly, the higher quality original version of the movie is still uncaptioned, because there's no easy way to close-caption QuickTime movies.)

How best to harness the placebo effect?

Here are some thoughts inspired by seeing a new-agey motivational video at a friend's house. Some comments on the video and a screenshot here.

Placebos can sometimes work quite well. Sometimes, there might not be any medicine that's better than the placebo. I mean, when I see a study that says, "This treatment was no better than placebo," I think, "But dude! It still worked to some degree, as did the placebo!"

So there could be some real medical benefit to giving a patient a placebo. But doctors can't ethically do that. It'd be kinda wrong to lie about what the patient is getting, but if you tell them it's a placebo, it probably wouldn't work.

So maybe this is where quack medicine can come in. They wrap placebos with a story that people can believe. That way, the people can honestly think it's gonna work, and so that triggers the placebo effect. The quack doctors thus provide a service that real doctors can't. Now, obviously, this can be bad when people use quack medicine in place of real working medicine, but how bad is it, really, in cases where the real medicine can't do much?

You might argue that the patient is getting ripped off, but if the patient is happier because they got the quack medicine, and they believe in its power, thus triggering the placebo effect, then are they really getting ripped off? Or have they made a fair transaction? The way I see it, they aren't so much paying for the quack medicine as they're paying for the story behind the fake medicine that allows it to have a real medical effect.

P.S.: Now that I think about it, I bet doctors do often lie to patients to varying degrees, prescribing relatively harmless and useless treatments for things like colds that might not have any real medical cure. But in that case, they are effectively acting as quack doctors, so my above argument still holds.

P.P.S.: Saheli sent me a link to this blog post by a New Mexico doctor who talks about how the placebo effect can cure diseases 30-40% of the time! And so he's trying inexpensive "alternative" cures as a first line before moving on to drugs and other therapies. I guess there's an example of a real doctor harnessing the placebo effect in his practice. Maybe proper use of the placebo effect will just have to be something that is as much art as science. (Of course, modern medicine is also probably more art than we'd like to think!)

Darth in the Jungle

Darth in the Jungle

(Project 365 Day 235)

Lord Vader waddles through the rain forest.

P.S.: The background is this plant.

Hang Gliders at Fort Funston

I went to hang out with Jesse over at Fort Funston, where he was checking on his hang glider. He didn't actually fly, but I got some nice pictures of other people! :P Here's a glider at sunset:

Glider at Sunset

(Project 365 Day 233)

Hang glider over the Pacific Ocean.

I like this one, too:

Thermonuclear Explosion

I was thinking, "Man, this totally looks like there's a thermonuclear explosion in the distance." And then I thought, "Oh wait, that's exactly what it really is! Lots and lots of thermonuclear explosions all the time, too, not just a single one!" :D

Here's the rest of the set.

Twilight BBQ and Dog

Twilight BBQ and Dog.jpg

(Project 365 Day 232)

Went over to my friends' house for a BBQ for no reason. Well, just because it's Friday, I guess. :) That's their really cute dog Lucy.

Bocce Ball Dogs

(Project 365 Day 228)

I was taking pictures of my friends playing Bocce Ball, and I thought it kinda looked like the Reservoir Dogs cover, so I made this silly thing. :P

At one point when they were walking across the grass, it kinda reminded me of the Abbey Road cover, but I didn't get a picture of that. Who knew Bocce Ball could reproduce so many famous photographs!

Here it is large and on black.

I used these splatter brushes for the blood.

Affective annoyance of the day

English language annoyance of the day: You do not affect something to produce an affect on it. You instead affect something to produce an effect on it. On the other hand, you do not effect something to produce an effect on it. So confusing.

Federal appeals court rules that fleeting expletives are not a big fuckin' deal

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that blurted swear words on TV should not be against FCC rules [WaPo]. The major example here is when Bono won an award a few years back and said, "This is really really fucking brilliant." At first the FCC said the "fleeting" expletive was okay because it didn't really refer to sex, but then they changed their minds and decided that it wasn't okay, and that it did refer to sex. Now the Appeals Court said that's silly. There's a good chance the FCC is going to bump this up to the Supreme Court. Here's Ars Technica's take. Here's the full text of the decision.

And yes, I'm mentioning this just to get a chance to swear in my post title and claim that it's for journalistic reasons. :P No, actually, I've been following this. I blogged about the Bono thing a while back.

Falkirk Wheel video

The Falkirk Wheel is an insane contraption that connects two rivers at different heights. Here's a video of it in operation.

About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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