Monthly Archives: August 2013

Some Brahms

I was going to put up just the slow movement of the Brahms Violin Sonata No 1, but then I found this full version with Perlman and Ashkenazy.

If you don’t know how to download these youtube videos and extract the audio, let me know and I’ll relearn it and tell you.

Selective colleges

Yale has sent me some facts about their new Freshman class that I found interesting. It tells us something about one of our prestige colleges, but raises some even more interesting questions.

Here are nine facts about the new freshman class:

1. There are 1,360 members of the Class of 2017, chosen from a record applicant pool of 29,610.

2. 55% come from public high schools.

3. 10% are international citizens, representing 49 countries.

4. Students come from all U.S. states and territories. Broken down by region, that’s 35.5% from the Northeast; 7.1% from the Mid-Atlantic states; 10.8% from the South; 12.5% from the Midwest; 4.6% from the Southwest; and 16.8% from the West. New York and California were well represented; each is the “home state” for 12% of the class.

5. 37.1% of the freshmen are U.S. citizens or permanent residents who identify themselves as students of color.

6. 12% will be the first individuals in their families to graduate from a four-year college or university.

7. Half of the incoming students are receiving financial aid, with an average grant amount of $40,800.

8. 12.1% are interested in majoring in one of Yale’s eight engineering majors — a 42% increase in the number of prospective engineers from the Class of 2011.

9. 18.9% are interested in majoring in one of Yale’s 33 humanities majors.

With only 4.6% of applicants admitted, Yale is certainly selective. A lot more so, fortunately, than when I applied 66 years ago. Of course some of those admitted may have chosen to go to Harvard instead.

Yale seems to be doing well at providing opportunity for social advancement. They have a needs-blind policy that says they will make up the difference between the total cost of a student’s education and what Yale figures his/her parents can afford to pay. The total cost is about $60,000 per year, including tuition, room, board, books, and incidental expenses. My guess is that the cut-off for aid is somewhere around an income of about $200,000/yr.

Half the students get aid and their average aid is two thirds the total cost. That does not include loans but may require a part-time university job valued at $2700.

This looks pretty impressive at first glance but note another
conclusion. Abut half the class doesn’t need aid, by Yale’s calculation, and 45% did not need to attend a public high school. No, I don’t think they were home schooled.

So it looks like about half the class comes from the upper 10% of the family income distribution and the other half from the lower 90%. It doesn’t sound as impressive expressed that way.

A suspicious mind would suspect that this is deliberate policy, but I’m not at all sure that’s true. One contributing factor could be the tendency to favor legacies in admissions, but another could be the simple fact that wealthy parents can provide significant advantages to their children.

A few nights ago I saw a TV interview in which Larry Summers described an admissions decision at Harvard he had observed. A student was favored because he had made himself fluent in Mandarin Chinese, among other things. Summers agreed with the decision but noted qualms because the student had had a language tutor each year in high school and had been able to spend two full summer vacations in China! Another example, true more for college students, is the policy of providing students with non-salaried internships. Nice for those who don’t need the money.

Am I being too hard on Yale? They are probably doing more for educational equality now than ever before. The real problem is the excessive inequality in incomes.

A great lady

The NY times last Sunday had a remarkably candid interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s a testament to old age.

Usually, as you get to know celebrities better, it’s hard to maintain an attitude of unqualified admiration. Not true for this lady.

More Bacevich on Syria

Interview with Andrew Bacevich yesterday on Morning Edition program on NPR station WBUR in Boston.

The message from the White House is that whatever action it takes, it tends to “deter and degrade” Syria’s ability to launch any sort of chemical weapons attack. Do you think that makes a U.S. military response a certainty? And are there any likely responses that don’t involve military force?

I think the chances of U.S. military action are probably about 99 percent now. So the question is not whether we’re going to attack; I think the question is why we are attacking and what purposes we think we’re going to achieve.

The quote you just gave us really consists of weasel words.

What do you mean by weasel words?

“Degrade.” “Deter.” If indeed the crime here is the use of chemical weapons to inflict large scale casualties, how will this presumably very limited attack prevent any recurrence of that event? This will be an act of war by the United States against the government of Syria. When we go to war, we should do it only for the most serious reason. We should have very specific political purposes to be served, and I don’t see that in this particular case.

I think what we have is a president who backed himself into a corner by foolishly saying the use of chemical weapons constituted a red line. Now the red line’s been crossed, and people in Washington are concerned about American credibility or the president’s prestige being compromised. I think we’re going to have a modest, ineffective military action undertaken to try to give the impression of restoring that credibility and prestige.

Are you saying that doing nothing would be better than doing something that’s limited and maybe ineffectual?

Yes, I actually do think doing nothing is better. Politically, the Assad regime is contemptible. But politically, the forces attempting to overthrow the Assad regime are unlikely to be any better. So this is not a circumstance in which it makes any sense to choose sides.

If we are looking for humanitarian purposes that we wish to advance, we don’t have to confine ourselves to Syria, since there are plenty of other humanitarian violations occurring around the world — to include: in Egypt.

The other message from the White House is that whatever action it takes is not intended to oust Syrian President Assad or even force him to the negotiating table. Is that part of why you’re saying what you’re saying?

Yes. I think that’s indicative of how unserious this military action is. The real issue we ought to be discussing is not Syria but U.S. policy toward the Middle East more broadly. To think that anything we do vis-à-vis Syria is going to redeem the failures of U.S. policy that have occurred over the last 10, 20, 30 years is an illusion. So it’s time to step back. It’s time to evaluate how a long series of U.S. military actions in the Middle East have failed to provide stability, have failed to promote democracy, have cost us an enormous amount. It’s time for us to step back, rethink, try something different instead of this continuous reliance on military power as the preferred instrument of U.S. policy.

World War III?

The signs indicate that Obama, and the Very Serious People in Washington that he loves to consult with, have decided the time has come for a military attack on Syria. The reason appears to be to support the President’s reputation for strength, given his past unfortunate comments on “lines drawn.”

Now this would, of course, be an act of war and it is appropriate to remember that almost all wars have been started by a nation that found it led to situations it never anticipated. An old friend sent me a link to a blog that led to another blog and there I found an interesting discussion of how such a new war might diverge from expectations.

I tried to check the author out and found that he has no special background or training that qualifies him to expertise in foreign affairs and he may be something of a crank as well. Nothing wrong with that, says the author of this blog, and it seems to me that he has raised important questions. I don’t know how likely his worst case scenarios are, and I don’t think anyone else does either. That’s the point.

A long view of inequality

Peter Turchin, a Professor at UConn, has a web site called in which he tries to see history as science. He is particularly interested in dynamic processes in history, such as the processes behind the rise and fall of empires. That’s where I found a reference to an article he wrote that takes a long view of the economic inequality cycle.

One of his conclusions is provocative. He believes that the cycle from less inequality to greater, and then to less inequality again, reflects changes in the motivation of the governing economic elite. It’s an interesting read.

A Blog About Healthcare

I’ve just come upon a blog that concentrates on healthcare. It’s and describes itself as follows.

This is a blog (mostly) about the U.S. health care system and its organization, how it works, how it fails us, and what to do about it. All blog authors have professional expertise in an area relevant to the health care system. We are researchers and professors in health economics, law, or health services. By avocation and as bloggers we’re actively trying to understand our health care system and make it better. Our goal is to help you understand it too, and to empower you with research-validated information so you can be a more informed observer of or participant in the ongoing debate over how to reform our system.

I found it from a reference in Paul Krugman’s blog. He had noted that conservatives have been (erroneously) touting Singapore’s health care system as a free market alternative, but that they are now revising the system to make it more like Obamacare. Here’s the link. According to Krugman the same thing is happening in Chile.