Friday, September 28, 2007


For the past few weeks, I've been running in the Vibram Five-Fingers shoes, which are rather weird-looking:

It's an experience that is very close to going barefoot. There's no padding at all; just a thin layer of rubber between your foot and the ground.

Things I notice:

1) You're forced to land more on the balls of your feet, rather than your heels. This is one of the alleged benefits of running barefoot or close-to-barefoot. That is, you weren't meant to land on your heel when running, since it jars all of your joints. Almost all running shoes have thickly-cushioned heels that essentially force you to land on the heel whether you want to or not. But when you run near-barefoot, you just can't land on your heel because it is too painful to the heel.

Landing on the balls of your feet is much harder your calves at first, but once the calves adapt (so the theory goes), running is much less jarring, given that the shock is absorbed by the springy arch of your foot, the muscles on the bottom of your foot, and your calves. This seems to be true so far.

2) After just a few weeks, I seem to notice that I'm a lot faster. Not that I'm a very fast runner, but just a month ago, I ran a 3.44 mile route whose halfway mark is at the top of this long and steep hill (the top is about 100 yards further than is visible in this photo):

The time was 25:56, and at that point, it was my best run on that route by 6 seconds or so, but I had been stuck at about 26:00 (or slower) on that route since last November.

Yesterday, after three weeks running in the Vibram shoes (most for sprints and shorter intervals), I ran that 3.44 mile route in 24:53, cutting more than a minute off my previous best time. This feels like a quantum leap forward. Also, I ran the first mile in 6:31 (my pace always slows down after the huge hill), and that mile felt very comfortable, whereas every other time I've run a mile at that pace it's been close to an all-out effort.

Of course, the weather has also been getting cooler, and I notice every year that after a summer getting acclimated to running in 90-95 degree weather, running suddenly starts getting easier and faster in the fall. So maybe that's happening a bit too. Still, even last fall on that same route, the most that I had cut off a previous best time was 35 seconds, not 63 seconds.

3) The first couple of weeks, my feet were very sore and blistered from the lack of padding in the shoe. This week that's not a problem at all. I also notice the darndest thing, something that I would never have imagined. After I run 3 or 4 miles in the Vibram shoes, pounding the pavement on close-to-bare feet, and I then come inside the house and peel the shoes off, my hardwood floor actually feels cushiony to the bottoms of my feet, like one of those rubber mats in a gymnasium. Literally. Of course, the hardwood floor hasn't gotten any softer. It's that my feet have developed some natural padding at least for the duration of the run -- maybe it's just some extra fluid or something, and the effect disappears after a minute or two. I never knew the human body could do that.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Paleo Diet

I'm intrigued by the Paleo Diet phenomenon (if it can be called that) -- I have this book, for example. But here's one thing that troubles me: One central message that you see, over and over, is that we humans are best off if we eat the same diet that we evolved to eat, that is, the diet that we would have had before the invention of agriculture a few thousand years ago. Thus, no grains, beans, dairy, sugar, or salt. Instead, just meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts.

Now I agree, this is probably a very good way to eat. But is it a real "paleo" diet? Most discussion of this diet doesn't really deal with the fact that most humans lived in an era before refrigeration or good canning methods, and many humans also lived in climates that don't offer year-round fruits/vegetables.

So a real "paleo" diet (I'm just guessing here, but I think it's a good guess) would be more like this: fruits and vegetables when in season (for a few months out of the year), and then just wild game, fish, and maybe a few nuts for the rest of the year. Also occasionally go for a month without eating at all, just to simulate the effect of winter-time starvation when no wild game is available.

History and Dissenters

George Orwell once said, "History is written by the winners." Rod Dreher intriguingly points out, however, that cultural history is often written by the dissenters (see also this).

The way I might put it is this: History is written by the literate. In any era, the most literate segment of the population is, for obvious reasons, far more likely to be writing things down. From the 1960s onwards, that segment of the population may have been skewed towards cultural dissenters. But what about earlier times?

A La Carte Cable

A good analysis of a la carte cable proposals.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Deck-Stacking Bias

One of the great intellectual challenges is to be consistent in the way that you approach evidence. What most people do, however, is hold one side of a debate to a much higher standard of proof than the other. That is, if Side A and Side B are fighting about something, then Side A will trumpet to the heavens every study and report and news story and anecdote and sheer speculation that supports Side A, whereas even the most meticulous study supporting Side B will be nitpicked to death and then ignored.

Consistent with what Taber and Lodge found, I think this may be most often true of professors and intellectuals -- they're smart enough to come up with a post hoc rationalization for any prior belief, they love to nitpick any contrary evidence, and they can walk away from any debate more convinced than ever that they are right, regardless of the evidence or arguments brought to bear on the other side.

Most recently, I've seen it in a new book by Greg Anrig, "The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing. But I could give many more examples if I wished; this pattern of intellectual behavior shows up everywhere, in every public policy debate.

It's a real struggle to try to avoid this bias in your own thinking. Not that many intellectuals try, for all that I can tell.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Interesting Paper

The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth

Rajeev Dehejia, Thomas DeLeire, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, Joshua Mitchell

NBER Working Paper No. 13369
Issued in September 2007

--- Abstract -----

This paper examines whether participation in religious or other social organizations can help offset the negative effects of growing up in a disadvantaged environment. Using the National Survey of Families and Households, we collect measures of disadvantage as well as parental involvement with religious and other social organizations when the youth were ages 3 to 19 and we observe their outcomes 13 to 15 years later. We consider a range of definitions of disadvantage in childhood (family income and poverty measures, family characteristics including parental education, and child characteristics including parental assessments of the child) and a range of outcome measures in adulthood (including education, income, and measures of health and psychological wellbeing). Overall, we find strong evidence that youth with religiously active parents are less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage than youth whose parents did not frequently attend religious services. These buffering effects of religious organizations are most pronounced when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also find buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantage pairs. We generally find much weaker buffering effects for other social organizations.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Soccer > Jogging

Arthur De Vany would like this study:
Soccer burns more fat than jogging
Soccer is not just a game of fun. A new research project from Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences shows that a game of soccer two to three times a week is profoundly health-improving. As a matter of fact, the beneficial effects are so massive that it can even be considered more healthy to kick the ball than to put on your jogging shoes and go for a run.

The experiment
Sports scientist Peter Krustrup and his colleagues have followed a soccer team consisting of 14 untrained men aged 20 to 40 years. For a period of 3 months, the players have been subjected to a number of tests such as fitness ratings, total mass of muscles, percentage of fat, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance.

In parallel with the soccer-experiment, the research group did the same tests on a group of joggers as well as on a passive control group.

Surprising results
- 2-3 weekly rounds of soccer practise, of the duration of app. 1 hour, released massive health and training benefits. Their percentage of fat went down, the total mass of muscle went up, their blood pressure fell and their fitness ratings improved significantly. Everything we tested improved, says Peter Krustrup.

The joggers also trained 2-3 times a week, but their efforts showed smaller effect than that of the soccer players.

After 12 weeks, the soccer players had lost 3.5 kilos of fat and gained more than 2 kilos of extra muscle mass, whereas the joggers had lost 2 kilos of fat and showed no change in total muscle mass. Both groups showed significant improvements in blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance. The sports scientist believes that it is the shifts between walking, running and sprinting that causes the soccer players to experience better health improvements.

- Soccer is an all-round form of practise because it both keeps the pulse up and has many high-intensity actions. When you sprint, jump and tackle your opponents, you use all the fibres in your muscles. When you jog at a moderate pace, you only use the slow fibres, says Peter Krustrup.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Arkansas and Integration

When you think of "Arkansas" and "integration," you probably think of the vivid images from the Little Rock crisis in 1957 -- hateful people protesting, the 101st Airborne being called in by Eisenhower, etc.

What fewer people know is that a few Arkansas towns (including Fayetteville, a few miles from where I grew up) peacefully integrated before 1957. In fact, Fayetteville was the first city in the old Confederacy to vote to allow integration, and the first to have blacks graduate from its public high school (in 1956).

As a local news story puts it:
Public schools in Fayetteville and Charleston, in Franklin County, integrated shortly after the U. S. Supreme Court issued its 1954 decision declaring racial segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Public schools in Hoxie, in Lawrence County, integrated in 1955.

* * *

“Little Rock pretty much stole the story in 1957 and set the tone for how people look at Arkansas and integration history,” Dillard said. “But the tone it set is one-dimensional. It doesn’t tell the whole story.”
I attended both of these events this past week:
Documentary films on the integration of Charleston and Hoxie public schools will be shown at 7 p. m. Thursday in Giffels Auditorium in Old Main. A second panel discussion will focus on the integration of Fayetteville High School at 6 p. m. Saturday in its auditorium.
Now Hoxie, Arkansas was an interesting case. Desegregation was peaceful at first, but then Life Magazine did a profile on Hoxie that showed several pictures of black and white students arm-in-arm. After that article came out, outside agitators started to descend on Hoxie to try to reverse the decision and to promote segregation. A White Citizen's Council was set up, and a lawsuit ensued (with the ultimate result that integration was upheld).

At the event the other night, the audience watched an excellent documentary on Hoxie.
Then, during a Q&A period, an elderly woman stood up and said that when she was growing up in Hoxie during that time period, she was a Catholic. At the local church, the priest -- a Rev. Joseph King -- told the parishioners that "if he caught anyone going to the White Citizen's Council meetings, it would be a matter for confession and they wouldn't be able to come to communion." You know how those Catholics are always up to some sort of theocratic meddling in the political process . . . . [By the way, so far as I can tell, this incident has never been publicly reported before now.]

The event last night about Fayetteville integration featured 7 panelists -- 2 blacks who were part of that first graduating class in 1956, 3 whites from that same class, 1 white female who had been the PE teacher, and 1 white man who had been the football coach (now 87 years old). Their comments were consistent with what they told the newspaper in the article that previewed the event:

[In 1954], Peggy Taylor Lewis and six other black students — five sophomores and two juniors — integrated Fayetteville High School.

Fayetteville resident Andrew Brill researched Fayetteville High School’s integration while completing his bachelor’s degree in history and English at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Fayetteville had an elementary school for black pupils but no high school. That meant the state paid for black students to live in cities like Fort Smith or Hot Springs, away from their families, to go to school after eighth grade.

Lewis lived in Fort Smith for a year before entering Fayetteville High School as a junior. The first day in 1954, the black students were met by a “welcoming committee” that showed them to their classrooms.

“We didn’t have any problems,” Lewis said.

Nancy Cole Mays was a junior at Fayetteville High during integration. A white student, Mays remembers a few black girls in choir with her, but no one discussed integration much.

“I don’t remember there being any big deal,” she said.

Harry Vandergriff, 87, was a history teacher and football coach at Fayetteville High at the time.

“The first I knew about [the integration ] was when I read about it in the newspaper,” Vandergriff said. “It was OK with me. I didn’t really have a reaction.”

The following year, a few black students joined the football team. That year, one long-term booster refused to buy tickets. “He was irate that we integrated and absolutely refused to buy tickets,” Vandergriff said. “He said he would never set foot at a high school football game again.” That same year, high schools in Fort Smith, Russellville and Harrison refused to play Fayetteville if they brought their black players to the field, Vandergriff said. Principal Louise Bell called a meeting of faculty and student leaders, and all agreed the team would play together or not at all. “We had a short season that year,” Mays said.

REACTION TO LITTLE ROCK The integration of Fayetteville High School received no fanfare. There were no federal troops and no national media, Brill said. “It’s unfortunate that Little Rock gets so much attention, because people get the perception that the way desegregation happened at Little Rock is the way desegregation happened everywhere in the South,” he said.
Both of the black former students from Fayetteville said that they don't recall any incidents of discrimination at all, whether from other high school students or the teachers. I found that a pleasant surprise, considering how many desegregation stories are quite the opposite.

Also, two of the white men said that after they graduated from high school in 1956, they were part of the Arkansas National Guard in 1957, and found out much to their dismay that Orval Faubus was going to try to call them up to block desegregation in Little Rock. Said one fellow, "It was a terrible dilemma. If Eisenhower hadn't federalized us, I don't know what we would have done."


Superfluous Images

One development that I don't understand amongst certain law-professor blogs is the use of superfluous images to accompany blog posts. Money Law is one of the worst offenders; among many examples, this brief post merely links to another blog post about law schools, but is accompanied by a picture of a man in a checkered shirt, and this post about law school rankings is accompanied by a large picture of a tennis visor (all for no apparent reason). Why such an incessant drive to add irrelevant images, or even marginally relevant ones? It clutters up the page, and makes the page take longer to load. Apparently some people have the notion that a webpage is more eye-catching if it has a bunch of colorful images rather than unadorned text, but I would imagine that law professor blogs draw a readership that may find such images more distracting than anything else. At least that's the case for me.

Friday, September 14, 2007


How I wish I could have seen some of the meetings of the Inklings.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Me on Guitar Again

After I found (and was so impressed by) the videos of Kazuhito Yamashita playing Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" on classical guitar, I was inspired to buy the sheet music of Yamashita's transcription. Some of it is just incredibly difficult -- the most technically challenging music I've ever seen.

I've been working up one little movement -- "The Tuileries" -- and can play it passably well, I think. It's still pretty hard; nothing about it is very idiomatic on the guitar. Lots of fast right-hand scales that are hard to pull off cleanly (e.g., at 8-10 seconds, or at 59 seconds). Lots of left-hand shifts that are devilishly hard (e.g., 27-28 seconds, 37-38 seconds, and 1:03-1:06). Then there are effects that are very difficult for both the right and left hand. At 33-34 seconds there's a difficult left hand passage that has two right-hand harmonics that Yamashita throws in, apparently just to make it harder. The arpeggiated chord at 40 seconds is very, very difficult. It's a very awkward left-hand position in and of itself; the left-hand shifts to and from that position make it harder to do without buzzing; and then the backwards arpeggio is very hard for the right hand to perform cleanly and with a light sound.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jack Goldsmith Book

The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith looks very interesting. On the one hand, parts of the book (as portrayed here) seem to portray Goldsmith (and probably rightly so) as having had to push back against those within the Bush administration who had a narrow view of civil liberties. (The account of the Ashcroft hospital scene is rather stunning.)

On the other hand, Ed Whelan describes one chapter that seems a bit more sympathetic to the other side of the story:
In chapter 2 — “The Commander in Chief Ensnared by Law” — Jack contrasts the “permissive legal culture” in which FDR conducted World War II with the “hornet’s nest of complex [domestic] criminal restrictions” and the “lawfare” of international laws and foreign courts that have hampered the Bush administration . . . .

As an illustration of the transformation of the legal culture, Jack presents a remarkable account of the military trial and execution of eight Nazi saboteurs (one of whom was an American citizen) captured in the United States in late June 1942. With the Nation and the New York Times supporting the need for secrecy, the military trial of the saboteurs began days later—on July 8, 1942—in a room in the Justice Department (the very space that, in a later configuration, was to become Jack’s office and my own). When the Supreme Court announced three weeks into the trial that it would entertain the saboteurs’ habeas corpus petitions, FDR told Attorney General Biddle that he wouldn’t hand the saboteurs over, no matter what the Court decided. Learning of this threatened non-compliance, Chief Justice Stone commented that it “would be a dreadful thing”—and within a few days the Court upheld the legality of the military trial. The Washington Post and the New Republic applauded the ruling, and six of the eight saboteurs were executed less than a week after the guilty verdicts. Whereas “Roosevelt had issued a one-page order and his commission was up and running a few days later,” in the aftermath of 9/11 “it took a half dozen or so Department of Defense lawyers years to craft, clear in the bureaucracy, and publish the many hundreds of pages of rules, procedures, and definitions that international and domestic law, and broader notions of societal justice, demanded for military commission trials in the twenty-first century.”

Good Education Post

A great post from the Quick and Ed that summarizes a recent Harper's Magazine article on education (this could probably be done without even reading the Harper's article):
1) The public schools are doing a pretty good job; many critiques are over-blown.


2) They need a lot more money.


3) We can't expect [them to] do much better than they're doing now (which, to be clear, is pretty good), and so we shouldn't subject them to accountability regimes like NCLB.

This is neither logically coherent nor particularly compelling, which is why the left has been marginalized in a lot of contemporary education debates and decisions.