Steve Coon Blog

College admission–to consider race or not

Steve Blog College admission decisions by universities are fraught with considerable angst—especially at America’s elite institutions.

And President Trump is making the process more uncertain as he challenges the protocol established by his predecessor Barack Obama that argued for race as a consideration in college admission.

The Supreme Court upheld that Obama doctrine three years ago in Fisher v University of Texas at Austin

With so many equally qualified applicants of all sex, gender, race, creed and national origin, it is nearly impossible to decide who to invite and who to reject.

Of course, consideration should be given to persons whose backgrounds differ from the traditional college student. But how to do it fairly is the challenge admission officers confront with.

I would give zero advantage to legacy applicants (whose relatives graduated from the same college) and more weight to those who will be the first in their families to attend college.

However, a greater problem is the unacknowledged truth. All universities have a poor record of helping students of diverse backgrounds succeed on campus. They too often lack necessary support systems, have too few similar peers, and feel isolated or lost in the institutional bureaucracy that is strong on public relation promises but week on actual performance.

In the end how you support all students at your university is equally important as whom you admit.

Singapore Summit 2018

Caricature of SteveThere are two possible outcomes from the Singapore Summit between the United States and North Korea as the two countries work to reduce the threat of nuclear conflict.

One, North Korean President Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump reach an acceptable accord for further negotiations between their respective diplomatic aides.

This would involve a framework for future talks focused on a number of key points that appear to be negotiable at the moment.

Second scenario, both sides end their discussion in a stalemate that precludes any immediate progress toward solving the key issues that divide the two nations. Neither North Korea nor the U.S. wants to appear weak in the eyes of the world.

This second possibility would, of course, generate the most headlines despite likely continued behind-the-scenes talks among all interesting parties including South Korea and China.

Either way there will be more negotiations. Neither Kim Jong-un or Trump would have traveled this far diplomatically without hopes of eventual change.

Joy in England; Sadness in America

Caricature of SteveMillions of persons around the world watched and celebrated the Royal Wedding of American Meghan Markle and British Prince Harry.

The coverage of this spectacle was as expected—focusing on the joy of the moment, the attraction of celebrity and the extravagance that only centuries of royal opulence and tradition can realize.

On this side of the pond, however, there was another deadly shooting at an American school. This time it a student at Santa Fe High School in Texas where a student killed classmates and at least one teacher.

The year isn’t half over and already we’ve recorded 20 school shootings that either killed or injured someone.

The story is too familiar. He (almost always males) was a loner, didn’t have many friends, and started posting strange thoughts on social media.  The family will express shock and surprise.

But of course the warning signs were there long before the rampage.  People close to him weren’t really close to him.  Didn’t intrude his life (take an interest) to see how he was doing.  And they either ignored or refused to see the festering trouble.

In other words, they didn’t fulfill their parental responsibility of grooming him for the time when he was to leave home as a good person.  Everyone had their own rooms, own space, separated from each other (both physically and psychologically).

This weekend we have witness both the joyous and saddest of times. The pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding and the terrible, senseless of massacre at another American school.

We should celebrate good moments and wish the Duke and Duchess of Sussex all the best.

But we should also mourn the loss of the latest number of Americans who have perished at the hands of a gun-wielding killer as our elected leaders lack the courage to confront this reality.

This is the reality of our lives in 2018—a world of euphoria and evil.

National Security vs Civil Rights: China and America

Caricature of SteveChina has dramatically increased its domestic surveillance by investing heavily in new technology.

The effort is promoted as a means to beef up national security. But it also accurately reflects the hunger of President Xi jinping to consolidate his power and is a significant move toward a more authoritarian regime.

This might prove effective but we are reluctant do this in the United States.  The opposition to a “1984” scenario of Big Brother infringing on our civil rights still is too great.

There is no greater recent evidence of such reluctance than the failure of local and national law enforcement to stop Nikolas Cruz from massacring 17 persons  at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida February 14.  Police and FBI surveillance has indicated that Cruz was potentially dangerous.  But no action was taken.

Subsequent calls for increased surveillance following this tragedy will be countered by civil libertarians such as the ACLU who fear uncontrolled secret use of China-like technology by American law enforcement.

We in the United States value our constitutional rights and are willing to sacrifice shooting victims in order to prevent unconstitutional intrusion into and surveillance of our daily lives.

China’s President Xi obviously has no such concerns.  But then again China is no democracy.

The question is how is America to balance the constitutional rights of individual citizens with the equal right of persons to be safe in public places?

Democratic republics struggle to find an answer.  Totalitarian states do not.

China under President Xi is prepared to sacrifice individual freedoms to increase state security.  We in the United States are not.  At least not yet.


The Winter Olympic Games could be better if…

Steve Blog I always try to be helpful in words and actions. Often this fails because of the incompetence of the other persons. I just wanted to make that clear.

My latest contribution to betterment of society is how NBC can improve its coverage of the Winter Olympic Games.

Let’s take curling for example. I’ve watched several hours and I can tell you NBC is not explaining the competition well. The point of the game is to push a 42-pound circular stone that has a handle on top down a 150-foot path of pebbled ice (pebbles are important and more on that later) that is 16.5 feet wide. The odd foot width measurement is based on 5 meters. But the length of the playing surface is a precise 150 feet (45.7 meters). Go figure.

At each end of the playing surface is a series of 4 concentric circles. This is called the house. The inner circle (smallest) is a tee. I could give you the dimensions but I won’t.

The players push off from what is called a hack and looks like the starting blocks in track. The players must release their grip on the handle before the front edge of the stone  touches the hog line. This is just a boundary so you don’t cross it and make an illegal release. I prefer foul line but no one is asking me.

There are other details about the play but we only give a damn about scoring, right?

But it’s complicated. Instead of points you are awarded victories based on a shooting percentage. This of course involves math.  Which is one reason why it’s not as popular in America where public school students annually rank far below their peers in Europe and Asia in anything having to do with numbers.

Think of shooting percentage as similar to a professional quarterback’s rating. That’s a number, too. It’s a complicated formula that football fans cite when evaluating players in fantasy football competition but have no idea what the number means. Seriously, admit it. You really don’t!

Sweeping. This is the oddest aspect about curling. But it does have a scientific legitimacy. Apparently rapid sweeping of the ice in front of the stone increases the temperature of the ice, causing it to melt and thus allowing the stone to travel a little bit farther but not faster.

I said I would mention the pebbled ice but since I started writing this yesterday and am finishing it today, I’ve changed my mine. Just take my word for it. The ice is pebbled not smooth.

Biathlon This may have its origins in historical Norwegian countries when persons who were confined to rural regions and prolonged periods of snow-covered tundra had to take to their skis with rifles to hunt game. Well, at least it’s the story I’m sticking with.

The Olympic competitors ski a designated circular route twice then shoot at small targets. The first time the skiers grab their rifles they plop to the ground (prone position) and fire five times at a target the size of CDs. Are people still using CDs any more? Would young viewers even know what they are?

The skiers jump up and circle the route again. They return to the target area and this time–while standing–they shoot five more times at the same targets then race to the finish line.

Here’s the complaint: If you miss a target, you have to ski a penalty lap. That seems appropriate.  People should be held responsibility for their mistakes. According to the NBC commentators this detour takes about 20 seconds. Who knows? We never see the competitors actually do this. We don’t know where this alleged penalty lap is or if it truly exists.

Why? Because before the biathlon competition or any other long distance ski competition begins we see an aerial shot of the route. But unlike the network’s coverage of the Summer Olympic Games, we don’t actually see what path the competitors race.

A nice colored arrow tracing the precise path—including the penalty lap if there actually is one—would be nice. We saw that magic arrow prior to the Rio Olympic marathon competition and it helped. Where is that arrow now! NBC must have left it on Copacabana Beach.

I could write more but instead I’m going to refill my coffee, get two more cookies and salvage something before enduring the next TV chapter of the Winter Olympic Games.

White House immigration proposal should be a victory for everyone

Caricature of StevePresident Trump proposes an immigration measure that would clear the path to U.S. citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” but stiffen border security to prevent the arrival of more undocumented residents.

The idea makes sense.  It contains suggestions that should please virtually every interested advocate for meaningful immigration reform—a win-win to use the contemporary parlance.

But it inevitably will become embroiled in the boneheaded political posturing on Capitol Hill that stops too many good ideas.

Democrats–still smarting from their failed effort to halt a short-term budget compromise–will resist any discussion of a border wall.

Republicans–who strongly oppose what they term amnesty for undocumented children–will insist on greater border security measures.

Although this measure proposes answers to several of our most contentious immigration issues, those who should most fervently embrace the suggestions will–inexplicably–voice the strongest dissent.

Add to this the reality of mid-term election politics, and the prospect of an actual bill signed into law appears remote.

That’s too bad.  Because this is a good beginning to what could be meaningful reform.

What is the tipping point?

I am puzzled all year long by one American tradition. But this time of year I find it especially challenging. Who to tip and how much?Caricature of Steve
Yes, I know that should be “Whom to tip…” but we’re friends so we don’t have be so formal, right?
Recently we had dinner with friends at a popular Ames restaurant. And as always we gave a nice tip to our waitress. Well, I think it was a nice gratuity. But how do I know anymore. It’s difficult to tell from the expressions on the faces of employees.
But my real question is this. Why do we give some folks extra money for service but not others?
I always let the worker at one of my favorite coffee shops or restaurant keep a few coins or a dollar or two from my change to show my appreciation for good service. But why don’t we give that money to the cook or chef working away in the kitchen? I don’t know if the folk out front share their gratuities with the staff laboring to make sure that the food is worth the price.
My barber usually deserves a little extra cash—at least for trimming my beard. But the few strands of hair remaining atop my head take little time and effort to cut and therefore don’t merit additional remuneration.
But why don’t we tip other folks who provide good service? I don’t think to extend monetary thanks to my auto mechanic for making sure my car is operating well for the winter ahead. But I’m grateful he took care of it.
When we had some electrical work, furnace inspection and plumbing repairs recently, it never occurred to me to part with my money in addition to the bills they presented to us. All those tasks were necessary but should have I volunteered a few extra coins in appreciation?
Yes, we thank the postal carrier with a card and some money tucked inside for delivering our mail reliably throughout the year. But that’s a one time offering; we certainly don’t make it a daily habit.
Our homeowners association contracts for snow removal and lawn care. Although I see the workers frequently and chat with them occasionally, I never consider handing them a dollar or two in addition to letting them know we appreciate their work.
I often ask the staff at the grocery store for suggestions on selecting the best cut of meat (ok, the truth is my wife does that), but still when I can’t find something and they assist me. I don’t automatically reach for my wallet in response.
Lots of people I see help me through the day. But only a few get any monetary thank yous for their help. Why not?
They certainly are as worthy of a tip as our waiters, barbers, mechanics and grocery workers. However, we don’t extend that type of thank you to everyone.
In fact, no student ever came up to after a class and said, “Wow, professor Coon! That was a really good lecture. Here’s two dollars for expanding my knowledge and helping me plan my future!”
There may be a reason why that never happened.
Still I wonder why our reward system differs depending on the type of service or product they provide? I don’t think I’ll solve this question, but it’s one of several thoughts to occupy my mind during the coming Iowa winter.