Oops

The details of the scandal the Justice Department uncovered are notable not because rich people try to buy their way into higher education, but because these particular rich people went about it all wrong.

Libby Nelson, Vox

Or, as The New York Times wrote in their editorial on the subject:

But this case is not a defense of meritocracy in college admissions. What the government actually is defending is private property — the right of the colleges to make their own decisions about admissions, and collect the payments.

The key distinction here is not just the amount of money, but the recipient. A donation is made to a college, while a bribe is paid to an employee who, in effect, is stealing an admissions slot, hawking it and pocketing the proceeds. (To comply with tax laws, donors also cannot engage in an explicit quid pro quo with a college. The well-rehearsed pas de deux of donations and admissions must be made to appear as a voluntary exchange of gifts, not a binding deal.)

And Frank Bruni is as shocked as everyone else is to find gambling going on in Casablanca.

But let’s pretend for a moment that nobility, aristocracy, and meritocracy are not synonyms for plutocracy, and study for next month’s SAT.

I suddenly felt as though I’d failed a test I didn’t know I was taking. 

Rainesford Stauffer

Only the Emperor’s Clothes Change

It’s remarkable how little changes over time.

Doesn’t this 1989 complaint of Audre Lorde’s sound familiar?

“We are a territory of the most powerful country on earth, supposed to be. Why are there almost 700 families still homeless? If we do not learn the lessons of Hurricane Hugo, we are doomed to repeat them. Because Hugo will not be the last hurricane in this area.

What lessons were learned, by whom?

via JSTOR Daily

One of my nieces is visiting for a while, and, as the other children are in school, the question asked is, “But what will she do all day?”

I don’t know. What do you do when you’re left to your own devices? What do you do when all of time is yours?

Respect

One of my favorite things about the Internet is discovering kindred minds, often in unexpected places.

Cate Huston writes in Why you can’t manage humans like they’re software:

There’s a comfort for the mathematically inclined in returning to the certainty and understanding of mathematics, to think in systems and optimize for efficiency of communication between them. These things work, up to a point, but they are too static for the messiness of humans and the chaos of growth. If we leave out trust, and we leave out developing each other, we will never scale.

Some days I have great hope that the world of work will move beyond treating people as things.

RE/Search

I’ve been browsing around the Internet while sitting in this meeting that doesn’t require my attention, and became curious about whether RE/Search is still around. Looks like it is. There’s even a Twitter account.

Even more astonishing is that the copy I had on J. G. Ballard was last selling for $70. I didn’t much care for it, and discarded it while emptying the Too Big House for sale in 2014. I wonder if I still have my copy of #11: Pranks! around here….

RE/Search #8/9: J. G. Ballard

Revisions Needed

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

Anonymous

I came across, by way of a footnote on Jason Kottke’s piece on clam gardens, an interesting review of Sam Arbesman‘s work on the half-life of facts, which apparently can be described mathematically. How long will it be before the conventional wisdom is neither conventional nor wisdom?

Mr. Kottke notes,

I’m guessing most people reading this learned in school that the Americas were sparsely populated and almost pristine before Columbus showed up, but subsequent research over the past 20 years has shown that this is very much not the case.

I should ask my kids what the kids are learning these days. I’m sure Pearson has had little incentive to update the standard texts, even though William Cronon’s Changes in the Land was published 36 years ago, in 1983. Though evidence certainly abounded before then, it was news to me when I read Changes in the Land in 1990 or so.

Update: JSTOR Daily, in “Yes, Americans Owned Land Before Columbus,” notes that our understanding of the indigenous understanding of property has changed over time, and points out Allen Greer’s “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” The American Historical Review, vol. 117, no. 2, 2012, pp. 365–386.