Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I identified strongly with this article discussing recent research showing that Americans don't have as many friends as they used to. I can't personally testify to the notion that a decline in friendship may have occurred over the past few decades. I grew from a child to an adult during that time, and it's not very enlightening to compare the friends you have as an adult to the playground friends you had as a child.

But I strongly identify with the thesis that Americans don't have enough friends. One of the things that I've noticed, to my dismay, is that as you move into your thirties and have children, it becomes harder and harder to make or keep up with friends. To define the term: By "friends," I mean good friends -- not professional or neighborhood acquaintances, but confidants, soulmates, the sorts of friends that you would call in an emergency or would invite you to their wedding if the guest list was limited to 20 people.

Almost all of the good friends that I have ever had, I met in high school, college, or law school. I've made a few friends since leaving law school, but all of my good friends that I have live in different states than I do.

Since law school, it is much harder to make friends. The number one reason is: TIME.

When you're young and in school, you have plenty of time to hang out with friends. Want to grab some lunch? See a movie? Go to an interesting speech? Play some basketball? No problem. Even if tonight doesn't work out, tomorrow will.

But when you have a busy job, a spouse, young children, and a house with a yard, there's no free time for anything. And your peers are mostly in the same boat. So even when you meet someone new that seems like a potential friend, you can never manage to get together except maybe once every six months, if that often.

Weekdays are out, what with work and school for the kids. How about this weekend? Nope, we've got family coming from out of town. Next weekend? A soccer tournament for the youngster. The weekend after that? Well, that won't work for us, because there's an art class that my kid is going to, and then I have to catch up on some yard work. The next weekend? No, there's a church picnic, and then we're volunteering at the food bank that afternoon. The next weekend? No, we've got a weekend trip planned to this state park. The next weekend? No, our regular babysitter is out of town that weekend. Ultimately, you end up saying, "So, are you free on the third weekend in November?"

There are a few other factors as well. First, when you're in your thirties or older, there are some people who might have been potential friends, but who don't have room in their lives for more friends. They already have several good friends of their own, and whenever they get a bit of rare free time, they want to get together with their old friends. I can't blame people for this, but the fact that thirty-somethings have already pre-sorted themselves into friendship groups makes it all the harder for anyone else to break in. It's like musical chairs. Everybody's already got their friends, and you're left standing sheepishly to the side.

Second, the mere fact of being married with kids makes it vastly harder. You can't socialize as a single person anymore. It always has to be couples getting together. (Well, it doesn't literally have to be that way, but just in the normal course of events, that's the way it seems to work out most of the time.) So what if the two females like each other, but I can't get more than one or two words out of the guy? Too bad, the curtain closes on that potential friendship. Or what if we all seem to get along fine, but one of the kids ends up crying because one of the other kids got in a fight with him/her? Again, down goes the curtain.

When you're single, all you need is one other person who wants to be your friend. When you're part of a couple with kids socializing with another couple and their kids, it's not that simple. There are many more potential combinations of
people who don't get along for one reason or another. Do the math.

Third: This doesn't apply to everybody, but I can attest to the fact that when you've got four or five young kids, other people are very reluctant to invite you over to their houses. In fact, I don't think we've ever been invited over to anyone's house since we first had four kids (now it's five, with a recent adoption), even though we've had several people over to our house during that time. Even family members aren't exactly jumping at the bit to invite you over when you have that many young kids. I don't blame anyone for this: It's a fearful thing to invite several young kids into your house. Kids make a lot of noise. They break things. They need high chairs. They make messes. They argue with each other at the drop of a hat, and require adult intervention. Etc., etc., etc.

All of this is to say: I agree that Americans don't have enough friends. I'm admittedly generalizing from my own personal life, but so be it.

Anybody have a solution?

Monday, June 26, 2006

New Album by Keane

I can't use enough superlatives to describe the new Keane album, which I just got. One of the best pop singers that I've ever heard, singing some of the most melodic and can't-get-it-out-of-your-head tunes that I've ever heard.

The constant comparisons to Coldplay are infuriating: The songwriting is more varied and creative, and the lead singer's voice is incomparably better. (Chris Martin of Coldplay: Ugh. He should be lucky to be allowed to sing a special song at a Wednesday night service in the smallest Baptist church in the average Southern town.)

As I was saying: The songs on the new Keane album are wonderfully catchy. And the lead singer's voice has actually gotten higher and more powerful since the first album. (Most lead singers' voices go on a steady course downhill after the first album, because 1) they are getting older, and, more importantly, 2) they are constantly on tour straining their voices.) On Keane's first album, I couldn't help noticing that nearly every song was keyed so that the highest note was an A. If the song's melody went "2-1" at the highest point, it would be in G major, so that the highest point was A-G. If the highest point was on the 4, the song would be in E-major, so that once again the highest note was A. It was this way for literally almost every song, except for those where he didn't go quite that high. (And one song where he hit a high C but clearly in falsetto.)

But on this album, there are several songs where the singer is hitting high B-flats and Bs, and even one song where he hits a high D in what sounds pretty close to full voice (maybe a little falsetto mixed in, but not much). Now that's high.

Anyway, I can't count how many times I've bought a pop/rock album on the basis of one or more songs that were radio hits, and then found out that the rest of the album was, to put it bluntly, crap. Every Keane song is good. Every last one. Nothing disappoints.

This is especially noteworthy on a second album. Most bands peak on their first album. They've been struggling in the trenches for a few years before they get their first big break, and they've had time to write and polish some decent songs. But then with the second album, they're on tour, and they have to put together an album within a matter of months. There isn't enough time for them to think of 20 or 30 new songs, cull through them to take only the best, etc. And there's a reason for the term "one-hit wonder" -- there are some musicians who will only be able to think of one decent song in their entire lives.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pill Bottle Tip

Here's a tip that could either save you some time, or alert you to an emergency:

If you live in a house with small children, then whenever you open a new pill bottle -- doesn't matter what it is (Tylenol, antibiotics, whatever) -- then as soon as you take a pill, use a pen to make a tally mark on the label. That way you'll always have an exact count of how many pills have been taken, and how many SHOULD remain in the bottle.

I learned the hard way what can happen when you don't know how many pills should have been in the bottle. Specifically, last night, I spent a few hours in an emergency room with my two year old son. He had somehow gotten a bottle of Tylenol, had gotten it open, and was found by my six year old with a pill in his mouth. It was a 100-count bottle, and after gathering up what was spilled out, we counted 76. But my wife couldn't remember when she bought the bottle, how often she had taken a Tylenol, etc., so there wasn't any way to estimate whether there should have been 90 pills or whether 76 was just the right number.

Now adult Tylenol is extremely bitter, and I didn't think that my two year old son would have tried to chew more than one. Plus, he couldn't have had time to chew several before someone spotted him. Still, Tylenol can be surprisingly toxic in fairly low doses. So just in case, I took him to the emergency room, where they did a blood test. Turned out that his blood level of Tylenol was 11 -- far below the danger level of 150. So maybe he had ingested a minute bit of that one Tylenol.

The lesson, though, was this: If we had been able to count the checkmarks on the side of the Tylenol bottle, we could have instantly known, "Aha, someone has taken 23 pills, and if there are 76 left, that leaves only one unaccounted for, so there is really nothing to worry about." Or, hypothetically, we would have also been able to know if the two year old had somehow ingested several Tylenols.

Anyway, I thought this would be a useful tip for parents of small children. Or especially a mix of children -- as I know all too well, with older children in the house as well, it is impossible to guarantee that all potentially dangerous items -- breakable items, choking hazards, etc. -- are kept out of any infant's reach at all times. Someone else may have thought of this before, but I've never heard anyone tell parents that they should keeping a running tally of how many pills have been taken out of a bottle. Seems like very useful advice.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Justice Thomas

This was an interesting article from a liberal columnist at Findlaw. After discussing a recent Supreme Court decision, she concludes:
Whether, in the end, one agrees with Justice Thomas's position or not, it's worth noting that of all nine Justices, only Justice Thomas, truly sought to accommodate the reality that domestic violence victims - and other terrified victims - often may not give any evidence against their accusers beyond what they give in the midst, or the immediate aftermath, of the crime itself. This reality counsels in favor of allowing the admission of both 911 calls and on-the-scene affidavits, for in reality, they may be the only evidence the police can get from an intimidated victim.

For this reason, feminists ought to take another look at the Justice they typically love to hate. Fifteen years after the Anita Hill hearings, Justice Thomas provides strong evidence that he may be able to look at the world from women's perspective, after all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

McConnell on Breyer

Judge Michael McConnell review Justice Breyer's Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution in the latest issue of the Harvard Law Review, and defends textualism-originalism against Breyer's "active liberty" theory (indeed, he argues that "active liberty" would actually be better served by textualism-originalism). Well worth reading.

Monday, June 19, 2006


A while back, I suggested that liberals are on average no more empirically minded -- or shall we say, "reality-based" -- than are conservatives. It's just that liberals and conservatives tend to be empirically minded about different things.

In reading the book Stumbling On Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, I came across his description of a study on this point:
In one study, volunteers were asked to evaluate two pieces of scientific research on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent. They were shown one research study that used the "between-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of states that had capital punishment with the crime rates of states that did not) and one research study that used the "within-states technique" (which involved comparing the crime rates of a single state before and after it instituted or outlawed capital punishment).

For half the volunteers, the between-states study concluded that capital punishment was effective and the within-states study concluded it was not. For the other half of the volunteers, these conclusions were reversed. The results showed that volunteers favored whichever technique produced the conclusion that verified their own personal political ideologies. When the within-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that within-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary over time, and thus crime rates in one decade (the 1980s) can't be compared with crime rates in another decade (the 1990s). But when the between-states technique produced an unfavorable conclusion, volunteers immediately recognized that between-states comparisons are worthless because factors such as employment and income vary with geography, and thus crime rates in one place (Alabama) can't be compared with crime rates in another place (Massachusetts).

Clearly, volunteers set the methodological bar higher for studies that disconfirmed their favored conclusions.
The study is this: C. G. Lord, L. Ross, and M. R. Leper, "Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37:2098-109 (1979).

Gilbert adds this endnote: "It is no consolation that in subsequent studies, both established scientists and scientists in training showed the same tendency to favor techniques that produced favored conclusions. See J. J. Koehler, 'The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality,' Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 56: 28-55 (1993)."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sprawl and Segregation

In case you were wondering:
Urban Decentralization and Income Inequality: Is Sprawl Associated with Rising Income Segregation Across Neighborhoods?

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Research Division
May 2006

FRB of St. Louis Working Paper No. 2006-037A

Existing research has found an inverse relationship between urban density and the degree of income inequality within metropolitan areas, suggesting that, as cities spread out, they become increasingly segregated by income. This paper examines this hypothesis using data covering more than 160000 block groups within 359 US metropolitan areas over the years 1980, 1990, and 2000. The findings indicate that income inequality - defined by the variance of the log household income distribution - does indeed rise significantly as urban density declines. This increase, however, is associated with rising inequality within block groups as cities spread out. The extent of income variation exhibited between different block groups, by contrast, shows virtually no association with population density. There is, accordingly, little evidence that sprawl is systematically associated with greater residential segregation of households by income.
This too:
Land Use Regulation and Residential Segregation: Does Zoning Matter?

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

Critics of zoning have attributed to it much of the responsibility for the persistent and severe patterns of racial and economic segregation that characterize urban America. Yet, little empirical evidence has been produced to demonstrate the degree to which observed patterns of residential segregation are attributable to zoning. This article explores that question by comparing patterns of residential segregation in Houston, the nation's only unzoned large city, and Dallas, a similar zoned city. Houston's unique system of nonzoning is described. The index of dissimilarity is used to measure segregation by race, tenure, and housing type, and a variation of the index is developed to measure segregation by income. No significant differences in residential segregation are evident between the two cities. These results suggest that, absent zoning, private voluntary institutions produce nearly identical patterns of residential segregation.


I can easily hear this high-pitched ringtone that some teenagers have been using. It's unbelievably annoying.

UPDATE: Here's a very useful page that lets you test the upper limits of your hearing. There are links that let you play tones from 10,000 hertz up to 25,000 hertz. (I can hear everything, although the 25,000 tone is a little fainter than some of the others.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Interesting Paper

This paper seems to confirm what a lot of people suspect about teacher certification requirements:
What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City

Thomas J. Kane, Jonah E. Rockoff, Douglas O. Staiger

NBER Working Paper No. 12155
Issued in April 2006
NBER Program(s): ED

---- Abstract -----

We use six years of data on student test performance to evaluate the effectiveness of certified, uncertified, and alternatively certified teachers in the New York City public schools. On average, the certification status of a teacher has at most small impacts on student test performance. However, among those with the same certification status, there are large and persistent differences in teacher effectiveness. This evidence suggests that classroom performance during the first two years, rather than certification status, is a more reliable indicator of a teacher's future effectiveness. We also evaluate turnover among teachers with different certification status, and the impact on student achievement of hiring teachers with predictably high turnover. Given relatively modest estimates of experience differentials, even high turnover groups (such as Teach for America participants) would have to be only slightly more effective in their first year to offset the negative effects of their high exit rates.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Magazine Ads

You can tell a lot about a magazine's audience by the ads that appears in the back. For example, if the ads are all for $1.5 million homes in the Hamptons, you're probably reading the New York Times magazine, where the advertisers expect to reach a significant number of people who have a lot of money and are interested in that sort of conspicuous consumption.

So it was with interest that I looked at the ads in the back of the Sierra Club's magazine, which I just started receiving after joining a month ago. There are six pages in the back that are full of little ads. Some are for a variety of different products -- organic coffee, hammocks, portable water purifiers, etc.

There is one ad for "easy-to-ride bikes" that allow you to "live green." This advertiser obviously expected to reach people who are conscious about carbon emissions and who are potentially willing to make a change in their personal lifestyles.

But by far, most of the ads were for tours to exotic locations -- e.g., Antarctica, Peru, New Zealand, the Galapagos, the Alps, Malaysia, Tibet, and many more. I counted no fewer than 31 such ads in the six pages at the back of the magazine. In addition, the Sierra Club itself included a ten-page section listing probably 100+ Club-sponsored trips all around the world -- from backpacking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to hiking in Nepal to a safari in Tanzania. Both the advertisers and the Sierra Club obviously expect to reach a lot of readers who have a good bit of disposable income, the time to travel around the world for weeks at a time, and the willingness to participate in huge amounts of carbon emissions. (I'm assuming that no one is going to paddle a canoe to New Zealand to go hiking there, nor will they swim to the Galapagos with a bicycle strapped to their backs.)

It's an interesting contrast with the bicycle ad.

UPDATE: Another interesting contrast is with Back Home Magazine, to which I also subscribe. The magazine's website has a picture of the current issue, so you can get an idea of the kinds of articles it has. All of the ads are for things like gardening and farming resources, composting toilets, windmills for generating your own electricity, and the like. I could be missing something, but I can't find a single ad in that magazine that is aimed at a jet-setting adventuring crowd.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Andy McCarthy is right -- if this New York Times story about the killing of Zarqawi is true, it is absolutely unbelievable that someone at the Pentagon, as well as the Times itself, would burn a good intelligence asset that way. If (and I do emphasize that "if") it's true that someone at the Pentagon leaked that we have an informant highly placed inside Al Qaeda, that Pentagon official should go to jail for a very long time.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that this might be a disinformation campaign. I guess I agree; surely no one at the Pentagon would be so idiotic as to think he could get away with exposing a source inside Al Qaeda in this way.

Friday, June 02, 2006

History Websites

Some of my favorite websites are those that feature interviews with black people who were former slaves or who lived under segregation. For future reference, I'm going to make a list of the websites that I've come across over the past year or so.

Most fascinating of all is the Library of Congress's Voices From the Days of Slavery, which has several interviews recorded with actual former slaves. This Washington Post story gives a good idea of what the recordings are like.

The Virginia Center for Digital History sponsors what it call the "Esmont Oral History Project. No former slaves, but several interesting interviews with elderly black people about their lives during segregation.

The Hampton Roads Daily Press in Virginia does the same here.

The University of Southern Mississippi (and you can't get much more southern than that) has the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage. This website has easily more than a hundred interviews conducted from the 1970s to the 1990s -- not just with black folk, but also with some of the white folk who stood in the schoolhouse door, so to speak. Only a few of the interviews are available in audio format; most are available only as a transcript.

The Texas Council for the Humanities has a website called "Parallel and Crossover Lives: Texas Before and After Desegregation, which features quite a few transcripts of interviews with black people who went through desegregation. No audio files, unfortunately, just transcripts.

Finally, on a slightly different note: Here is a website from the University of North Carolina that contains the texts of over a hundred autobiographical books or pamphlets written by whites and blacks about their experiences in the Civil War, in slavery, etc. The website is called "First-Person Narratives of the American South." Some are very disturbing, such as "The New Slavery in the South-- An Autobiography: by A Georgia Negro Peon."

This one, by contrast, looks immensely entertaining just from the title alone, which I reproduce here in full:
The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez,

Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army.

In Which Is Given Full Descriptions of the Numerous Battles in which She Participated as a Confederate Officer; of Her Perilous Performances as a Spy, as a Bearer of Despatches, as a Secret-Service Agent, and as a Blockade-Runner; of Her Adventures Behind the Scenes at Washington, including the Bond Swindle; of her Career as a Bounty and Substitute Broker in New York; of Her Travels in Europe and South America; Her Mining Adventures on the Pacific Slope; Her Residence among the Mormons; Her Love Affairs, Courtships, Marriages, &c., &c.
Check out the picture on that webpage.

Anyone know of other websites like any of the above?

UPDATE: Here are a few more:

Duke's "Behind the Veil" project has a few audio clips. That project was discussed in this radio program.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has numerous video clips of interviews with civil rights activists, as does the Virginia Civil Rights Movement Video Initiative.

American RadioWorks sponsors the "Remembering Jim Crow" project here.

The Kentucky Oral History Commission has lots of interviews available here. This program on the anniversary of Brown was interesting.