A Moment of Punk Rock

I don't know Gentleman Jesse, but I went to college with his wife so we know each other on Facebook. She's proud of him and wanted everyone to hear his new single, which is part of a larger recording to be released on Third Man Records. (I don't know of them either, but I get the reference.)

We don't do a lot of punk rock around here, but I like the genre. This has something of the CBGBs era sound, which is later than I usually like; but the subject matter is a little more mature than you often get. It's a song about how your life will turn out to be meaningless if you don't spend it protecting something or someone that matters, because then at the end you won't matter to anyone either.

It doesn't seem to be on YouTube, but if you click through the first link you can listen on SoundCloud or in your browser. [UPDATE: Soundcloud has an embed option, so you can hear it below as well.]

Fear of the WHO

Following James' suggestion at AVI's place, when this wild-eyed letter came across my desk today I looked up the actual treaty they're freaking out over. There really are some worrisome aspects to it, just not the one the out-freakers identified. Actually-worrisome things include Article V, Surveillance, which authorizes the WHO to engage in direct surveillance operations inside member countries if they determine that the member country isn't spying enough on its own. Surely the last thing we need is even more surveillance by spies on ordinary people.

Likewise Article VI, which demands the submission of "wherever possible, genetic sequence data" to the WHO. You can understand exactly why they'd want that information as, you know, the World Health Organization. Genetic sequencing is a highly useful technology for disease control. It's also excellent for developing advanced biological warfare weapons that can target populations based on genetic data. 

Yet the parts the letter says to worry about are anodyne. They call out by name Article XII, sections 2, 3, and 5. Article 3 has already been struck. Article 2 authorizes the WHO's Director-General to "notify," "seek the views of the Committee," and then, if a public health emergency is identified, "seek the views of the Emergency Committee." There's nothing stopping them from doing that now. Everyone has a right to talk to people, notify them and/or seek their views on things. 

All this ultimately refers to Article 49, which lays out a procedure for determining if there is a public health emergency or not. This procedure explicitly permits dissenting views, and requires that all such views -- majority and dissent -- be made available to member states. Then the procedure allows for the collection of even more views, this time from the member state governments. 

The only muscular part of this comes at the very end, where the member states are obligated to enact these regulations into their own domestic laws within five years. Unless they don't: "If a State is not able to adjust its domestic legislative and administrative arrangements fully with these Regulations or amendments thereto within the periods set out in paragraph 2 of this Article, as applicable, that State shall submit within the period specified in paragraph 1 of this Article a declaration to the Director-General regarding the outstanding adjustments and achieve them no later than 12 months after the entry into force of these Regulations or the amendments thereto for that State Party."

So if you don't comply, you are required to send a letter explaining why you won't.

The UN isn't the threat people sometimes imagine it to be. It is, and always will be, a completely useless organization made of of rent-seeking bureaucrats with no actual power. 

News to me

Did Steny Hoyer mean to blurt out that the U.S. is at war in Ukraine?

Sanity outbreak at MIT

Yikes. Did you know MIT students' mean math SAT score is 790? I guess if you can't hit a solid 800 there you're chopped liver. Now for the sanity outbreak: schools all over the country are engaging in the suicide pact of ceasing to require SAT scores in the admissions process. MIT tried it at the beginning of the pandemic, then noticed it was having an awful retention problem with students who had been admitted to a program beyond their reach, so it's reverted to requiring SAT scores. Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but since the school isn't willing to water down its standards, it faced a choice between eliminating students before they arrived or after.

Regardless of how unfair anyone may think it is, SAT scores are a fantastic predictor of academic success, particularly in the elite STEM fields. MIT requires a solid core of STEM courses no matter the students' major, so there's basically no escape from the horsepower requirement. I suppose the next step is to argue that the core STEM curriculum is colonialist and patriarchal.

Choosing a college

This link looked like classic click-bait, but I hit the bait like an eager fish. It turns out to be a fairly interesting list of the "worst" college for your money in each of the 50 states.

On the one hand, the approach of ranking the schools according to average cost per year, average total student debt, average earnings several years after graduation, and default rate on student loans is a helpful organizational and analytical tool. The article largely avoided the subject of the quality of education by focusing instead on whether a student could expect to earn a living sufficient to pay off his student debt. The odd thing was the comments section for each school, which dwelt almost exclusively on students' complaints about how non-nurturing the staff was and how un-fun the extracurricular life was, with a minor emphasis on how dilapidated the buildings were.

I was also surprised by the statistics on admission and graduation. The commentary assumed that a high admission rate was a good thing but a low graduation rate was a bad one. Maybe, and it certainly would interest me to find that schools sucked students dry after a couple of years then kicked them out once they couldn't qualify for any more student debt. When it comes to turning a degree into a job, however, it seems that a low graduation rate might easily result from a school's unexpected adherence to standards for graduation, especially if the admission rate is very high: admit 'em all and let the failure rate sort 'em out. But graduation rates in the neighborhood of 16%? Yikes. That's really testing an approach that encourages everyone to give it a shot, no matter unpromising a match there might be between their backgrounds and the prospects for higher education.

In general, neither the article nor the students interviewed showed much interest in anything that would occupy my attention in evaluating a college. Besides wanting to understand how much academic excellence could be encountered, I'd want to know whether including the degree on a resume would be likely to increase my chances in landing a job in a particular field and whether, once I'd landed it, the content of the coursework would be likely to improve my chances of demonstrating excellence in my new position. There may have been career counselors at my university (no life coaches, I feel sure), but I don't recall meeting any. Our sports programs were barely detectable. Campus party life did exist, but few of us had a lot of leisure for it, and to the extent we did, I suppose we mostly made our own fun. Catapult-propelled water balloon wars between dorms were popular. Parties tended to be private and impromptu. There were some bars and restaurants near the campus, but the supply of students was too small, too cash-strapped, too car-less, and too frantically busy to support the kind of off-campus student scene you might find at, for instance, UT Austin.

We did mostly manage to become gainfully employed. Student debt was not such a thing back then. Only the most determined Peter Pans among us were likely to experience serious difficulty in avoiding a student loan default.

All this made me curious to see how my alma mater's statistics compared to the nation's "worst" schools. The admission rate today is 11%, below any on that list, I think. The on-time graduation rate is 83%, high for the list. The average graduating salary is much higher, especially if you take the easiest path to riches: computer science. (When I graduated in 1978, that was an exotic new choice.) The loan default rate is extremely low, about 1%. I notice that the male/female admissions split is now 50/50. In my time, men outnumbered women about 4 to 1. I'd be interested to see what that ratio looks like today in the STEM majors.

The Two Best Days of My Life

I've just had them, and I can't tell you about them. I didn't get rich, and I very pointedly didn't hurt anybody. There's a convicted felon up on fresh assault charges right now who'll never understand how happy it made me to protect him... from me.

I did the right thing, spoke the truth, hurt no one and I'm a better and happier man than I was two days ago. It's always the morning of the world; every day you can suddenly wake up in it.

No questions.

God Hears You, Boys

Lots of people think they aren’t religious. If you talk to God, you know you’re talking to someone. If you believe enough to pray, I think you believe enough. 

Why Jews are persecuted

Since I was a child and learned about the Holocaust, I've wondered what it is about Jews that makes so many cultures lose their minds. The best theory I ever came up with was something about their alien insularity, which triggers xenophobia and envy as long as they remain differentiated, cohesive, and successful. This canary-in-the-coalmine explanation rings more true for me, though, than anything I ever came up with:
“Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds.”
In other words, where liberty thrives, Jews thrive. But where liberty is under siege, Jews will inevitably be, too.
Beware any culture that celebrates antisemitism.

That's some deep bench

The darkest of dark horses just won the Kentucky Derby at 73-to-1 odds after filling in for a scratched horse just before the race.

The overhead video shows absolute nobody Rich Strike starting way back in the pack, then apparently deciding, "I don't like all these horses in front of me. Is this supposed to be a race or something? Is this the best the rest of you guys can do?"