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I have too many friends to see and errands to run to keep up a 4 post/day pace. The buildings series will continue, but please consider the blog to be on a bit of a holiday break.

China wrecked the Copenhagen deal?

If this is true:
Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was "the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility", said Christian Aid. "Rich countries have bullied developing nations," fumed Friends of the Earth International.
I don't trust the Chinese; I don't care how offensive or shameful it is, but the idea that a regime can block out history as if it never occurred runs counter to EVERYTHING I believe abotu government. I think this is possible, and shameful. While the US should realize that the entire world can't have our standard of living, the Chinese played politics, because unlike in other countries, they aren't accountable to elections.

That's a pity.

Businesswest features Williamstown

An article about the wonderfulness of Williamstown:
“This is one of the easiest towns in Massachusetts to live in,” said Town Manager Peter Fohlin. “We don’t have choking traffic, there’s lots of outdoor recreation space, and we have a great variety of restaurants and entertainment. The college provides a great deal of opportunity for people to take part in cultural events, music, and drama, and we are centrally located — just a few hours from Boston, New York and Montreal. Where else would you want to live?”
I'm not quite convinced. Decatur is where it's greater.

Ephs top Learfield Sports Directors' Cup competition after fall season

CLEVELAND, OH -- The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) announced today that the Williams College Ephs lead the NCAA Division III Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings at the conclusion of the 2009 fall championship season.
Points are awarded in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup competition based on an institution’s finish at NCAA Championship events. This fall the Ephs scored in five of the seven NCAA team championship events.

Williams, winners of the last 11 consecutive Directors’ Cups and 13 of the 14 awarded in NCAA Division III, tallied 367 points to post an 18 -point lead over runner-up Calvin College (MI), which has accumulated 349 points. Washington University (MO) holds down third place with 319 points. Messiah College is in fourth place with 290 points and Johns Hopkins University is fifth with 278 points

Archrival Amherst and Middlebury are the other two NESCAC teams in the top 10. The Amherst Lord Jeffs are sixth (225), while the Panthers of Middlebury are in 10th with 197 points.

Leading the five Eph scoring teams was men’s cross country, which accumulated 90 points based on its second place finish at the NCAA Championship Race. Men’s soccer’s third place finish added 83 points, while the women’s cross country team contributed 66 points with an 8th place finish.

Women’s cross country is the only Eph fall team to score in all fifteen years of the competition. The Eph women harriers have finished in the top 10 every year except 1997 when they came in 14th. Additionally the women’s team has finished in the top five nine times and won the NCAA title in 2002 and 2004.

Women’s soccer and women’s volleyball both chipped in 64 points with 9th place finishes.

This marks the seventh time in the 15 years that Williams has led at the end of the fall season and it is the first time since 2004 the Ephs held the lead this early in the academic year.

The Ephs 367 points is just nine short of their all-time fall best of 376 posted in 2002.

Top 10 NCAA Div. III Teams – Fall 2009
1.   -- Williams -- 367
2.   -- Calvin  (MI) -- 349
3.   -- Washingtion U. (MO) -- 319
4.   -- Messiah (PA) -- 290
5.   -- Johns Hopkins -- 278
6.   -- Amherst -- 225
7.   -- Christopher Newport (VA) -- 224
8.   -- Salisbury (MD) -- 214
9.   -- Lynchburg (VA) -- 200
10. -- Middlebury -- 197

Left: Volleyball 9th at NCAA

Right: Women's Soccer 9th at NCAAs

Women's Cross Country 8th at NCAAs


Journalism and "The Media" are not the same thing

I honestly don't know if I could reason with John Bolton

Markos Molitas essentially thought I was naive. Bolton would seem to miss the point entirely, based on this:
Perhaps most importantly of all, Cheney knows that the personal attacks on him, as offensive as they are, in reality constitute stark evidence that Obama and his supporters are simply unable to match him in the substantive policy debate. An old lawyers’ cliché says: “If the law is against you, pound on the facts; if the facts are against you, pound on the law; if the law and the facts are against you, pound on the table.” Obama and his supporters are doing the political equivalent of continuous table-pounding, because that’s basically all they have to offer.

I see nothing but policy criticism of Cheney, with personal attacks to boot. The difference is that Cheney's response seems to be that anything short of what he wants will risk American lives. That's a personal attack, nothing more or less.

I do think Cheney has good motivations. I just don't understand how he thinks we'll have anything close to decent intelligence capabilities with a consensus that we're the bad guys. Public diplomacy matters; it's the difference between a tip and a car bomb.

Don't trust the capitalists...

Adam Smith used to say that landowners were ignorant about the economy, but benefited from its success, and that laborers didn't have time to learn about the economy, but were even more tied to a strong economy, because of the need of employment. He warned against trusting the owners of capital, for they would look out first for their particular industry, and would not specifically profit with the general economy.

It's a simplification, but it's definitely how I feel at the moment. I read story after story about how much those of wealth and power pursue policies that ignore the needs of those who can't advocate for themselves (though others seek to), and I get discouraged. Is it even possible to work a real job and to learn enough for change?

I don't know, and while I know I'll feel better later, the world's not looking up at the moment. It makes me want to withdraw to steadfast friends, but I still feel like I can, in some small way, help the world, and I'll keep trying to learn how best to do that.

Because I definitely don't get it yet. It's not a matter of ego or attention, either: I don't need or want either. I would appreciate a little trust, though.

What Google thinks about "Open"

From the Google blog:
There are two components to our definition of open: open technology and open information. Open technology includes open source, meaning we release and actively support code that helps grow the Internet, and open standards, meaning we adhere to accepted standards and, if none exist, work to create standards that improve the entire Internet (and not just benefit Google). Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information. These are the things we should be doing. In many cases we aren't there, but I hope that with this note we can start working to close the gap between reality and aspiration.

It's a long, interesting essay.

Obama's Campaign Pledge

From Ezra Klein:
But whether you love the Senate bill or loathe it, whether you're impressed by Obama's effort or disappointed, it is very hard to argue that the bill Congress looks likely to pass is fundamentally different from the approach Obama initially advocated. "The Obama-Biden plan both builds on and improves our current insurance system," the campaign promised, and on that, for better or for worse, they've delivered. You can debate whether Obama should have lashed himself to such an incremental and status-quo oriented approach, but you cannot argue that he kept it a secret.
I have a hard time believing that Obama was aiming for this the whole time. Then again, I should really do a little research and figure out what "this" is. It's hard to be informed about a policy debate without knowing the policy. I'm just assuming that liberals are trying to solve a problem with more gov't intervention while conservatives resist - makes me wonder what happened to the value of Occam's Razor. Why can't we just expand Medicare, again?

Or, why can't we fix the underlying problems? As long as healthcare costs rise, someone will have to pay.

Another take on healthcare

Analysis from Ambinder:
(3) Both sides bemoan the lack of a bipartisan consensus on health care reform, but keep in mind that politics has changed over the past 20 years: it is virtually impossible, given the way interests have aggregated themselves in Congress, to build bipartisan coalitions on issues like these. And, truth be told, when President Obama laid down the marker that, rather than blowing up the system, he wanted to preserve and expand upon the current system, he made a significant concession to Republicans. When his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, insisted on bringing in the hospital, insurance and pharma lobbies, the administration effectively incorporated ideas that were anathema to its party. The White House worked for months with a variety of Republican senators, often successfully persuading House and Senate Democrats to incorporate their concerns.

I sense a little spin here. Obama didn't make these concessions because he wanted "bipartisanship;" he wanted votes and political power. I don't doubt for a moment that the White House wouldn't have gone to a more liberal policy if they didn't think this was possible.


Kristol's advice to the GOP

Besides the fact that Kristol cites Wikipedia as a factual source, I have a few other problems with this article:
2. But don't fight only on health care. Republicans need to expand the battlefield. The rest of the past week's news--some Gitmo prisoners being released back to the battlefield, while others are to be brought to the U.S.; the Copenhagen farce and the EPA CO2 regulation; an Obama-appointed "safe schools czar" who's more interested in safe sex than safe schools--reminds us that there are many fronts for conservatives and Republicans to fight on, ranging from economic policy to social issues to national security. The criticism of the Obama administration needs to be broad-based, because you never know just what issue is going to take off, and because the opposition needs to knit together all those who object to the Europeanization of America.

I know I'm agreeing with the Dish here, but you make your critique on issues that are important, not everything. This column is entirely political & about how to get into political power, but it says nothing about the impending policy disasters that neither side seems really capable of confronting. This applies just as much to leftist people who seem to think that Obama should do what they want, ramrodding legislation through. That's also ridiculous.

Please, please: show me the policy first. Doing nothing is not an option: we are experiencing MARKET FAILURE.

When you don't fact-check....

From the Dish:
"The editorial ‘Sonograms, child porn’ ” which ran in (a recent) opinions section was completely inaccurate and based on false sources. No bill has been passed in North Dakota that states a picture of a fertilized egg is now considered child pornography … We wrote an editorial based on what we later learned was a satirical piece. … We at the Targum deeply regret the error…please accept our deepest apologies for not checking our sources," - The Daily Targum, Rutgers. From Regret The Error's annual list.


Sen. Arlen Specter has declared that the Senate has lost its title as the world's greatest deliberative body, and I entirely agree. In fact, such a thing occured many years ago. The 60-40 partisan line vote conclusively showed that what happens on the Senate floor doesn't matter, since everything has been pre-decided through negotiations and not debate. Politics is too big a business - no longer is a Senator expected to understand policy - there's a Legitlative Assistant to recommend votes in each policy area and a Legislative Correspondent that justifies whatever view the Senator holds, not withstanding all of the lobbyists. This is what gov't gets for regulating - everyone affected shows up to Washington and starts asking to increase their pie. No wonder Smith said trust capital owners was a bad idea. :D

Politics is a formula now. I could have predicted this result 6 months ago; no matter how many negociations took place, all that ultimately mattered was getting to 60. Nelson effectively controlled this bill, and while I don't understand it all, I do know that we haev to do something. Insurance is not a regular market, and it needs special regulation.

There's something wrong with the 60 rule too, because as political rules currently stand, neither side in a 50-50 senate will want to give on anything unless it's the subject of lots of attention and impatience. The bases are kingmakers and breakers in politics today, and they do not value weakness, of what they see as weakness.

Personally, I find that absurd. Members of Congress worry more about fund-raising numbers than policy; campaigning is now a full-time job, and there is no more room to discover a new perspective. Evey side is already locked and loaded, and has no interest in negotiating. I don't think my reps actually represent me anymore, except in getting jobs and federal money for Georgia. They represent the 50% + 1 who elected them, and that's just sad.

The good news is that there's widespread recognition of these trends. All we need now is the leadership that can stare the parties down. Of course, it might be that this is a simplification, and that I'm missing the ball one way or the other. But, I really don't think so. Obama is too much of a politician to risk choking on this, but I hope someone will step up and be recognized. There is far too much at stake for us to get lost in our polarization.

PS - I would welcome an interesting facts or stories about President Truman, in preparation for an upcoming interview.

Administrative Announcement

To the Williams Community,

Greetings from Baltimore. As the fall term winds down and April 1 approaches, I’m eager to be with you more regularly. As the next step, I’ll be focused on Williams matters generally one day a week, often in Williamstown, from January through March.

In other transition news, I’m pleased to update you on the terms of service of the faculty’s senior administrators.

Karen Merrill has decided that her term as Dean of the College should end as planned this June 30th. I’m impressed by the dedication and care that she’s brought to this position. She certainly can return to fulltime teaching and research with a deep sense of satisfaction. I’ll be consulting with the Faculty Steering Committee on selecting her successor.

Following consultation with the Committee, I’ve asked Bill Wagner and Bill Lenhart to serve as Dean of the Faculty and Provost, respectively, through the 2010-11 academic year, and they have agreed. I hope you’ll join me in thanking them for the distinguished service they’ll continue to provide to the Williams community in these roles, and in the case of Bill Wagner for his exceptional and ongoing responsibilities as Interim President.

Andrea Danyluk will remain Acting Dean of the Faculty until Bill Wagner resumes those duties April 1. To her, as well, we are all grateful.

Williams is fortunate to have faculty willing and able to fill these important and demanding roles. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m so looking forward to joining this remarkable community.

Adam Falk


Travel has to be, by far, the worst thing about coming to Williams from so far away. I live outside of the one-day car radius, and therefore must often fly. ALB-ATL isn't exactly cheap, so I've often gone through Boston. In fact, this post is being written in the Boston airport, as I hopefully wait to get bumped to a later flight with a >$100 flight coupon. I actually MADE money on a trip two summers ago because the bumping compensation was greater than the rest of my expenses, including the round trip ticket.

Operating this blog for a week has been a little crazy. While I'm exploring other options to blog, the fact remains that the only author is yours truly, and that I chose to start this project during finals week. That was, perhaps, not my wisest move, but I've enjoyed every bit.

Now home for break. I've got lots of people to see, and counsel to seek, before heading back up. TSA has added security on our flight; how odd?


Spot the American!

Over the Christmas break, I'll be posting the report I wrote about my month this summer in France. I was in the little town of Taize, France, which is home to an ecumenical monastic community of about 100 brothers (monks wouldn't be a inapplicable descriptive word). The community hosts thousands of youth from numerous countries during the summer who come to meet and pray, and I had the privilege of staying there for a month both as a regular pilgrim and as a long-term volunteer, which are called "permanents" in Taize's odd version of English. Many of those permanents are in the photo to the right, though this group is more Euro-dominated than most pictures I have. More postings on this subject to come.

There's something about having a physical letter in your hand....

...that makes it all the sweeter. I won't get one of my presents, a letter from Germany, until I get back to Williams. There are amazing people all around the world.

My Neighborhood Proposal

I'm not wedded to this idea; it ignores the social component, but I do think its the best way to allocate housing. Here goes:

"It is highly significant that satisfaction with NGB programming does not translate into neighborhood desirability. Housing trumps all else, and it is conclusive that the neighborhoods are not equal in what they offer. It is also folly to renovate with the specific idea of improving neighborhood equality, as this implies an opportunity cost of not making the most needed renovations overall.

Having visited the campus of Rice and read about similar housing situations, I now understand much better what the 2005 CUL was trying to achieve with the Williams "House System." Residential colleges are a staple at Rice; my brother's first-year orientation was essentially an indoctrination to Brown College (Motto: We're the ____ ), and he loves his college, its faculty master, and his fellow residents, who live and eat together in the Brown Commons. Williams does not possess the needed physical plant to facilitate this sort of system, and building such a plant has a prohibitive cost, at least in the short and mid-term view.

The statements by minorities are incredibly important. Even as someone who went to a 50/50 black/white high school, with plenty of cross-racial interaction, I've yet to really meet or talk with the two black women who live tow floors below me. I've only had meaningful interactions with the people in my suite, one of whom has said somethings that might have made a person of color uncomfortable. While we don't want a return to theme housing, there may be an incentive to make it such that people of different clusters can live in proximity without taking over a house.

Thus, I submit a compromise suggestion for the committee's consideration. In this compromise, 4 groups of housing remain, but each one consists of a roughly equal portion of the Williams Housing Pie. I took the dorms and split them up into 6 clusters - the Greylock Quad, the Berkshire Quad, the far houses, the Row Houses, the most central houses, and houses of some quality very near a dining hall. I have also split Morgan and Prospect into two halves.

The undesirability of Lehman compared to Morgan or West has led me to stipulate that Spencer must be including in the Lehman group, but otherwise, dorms in the below set-up can be switched around for whatever numerical mix desired without making neighborhoods unequal. In addition, this allows for a 50% expansion in the number of co-op beds, though this number can be raised or lowered by moving the Dodd Row Houses in and out of co-op status.

What does this mean?

Teams and groups will not be able to take over one house, because they are still split between clusters. However, clusters of houses could attain "party status," such as the Row Houses and and Far Houses. This allows for students interested in that sort of thing to pick into those houses such that we have limited segregation by interest, but without making any particular house attain a definite status or dominance. It means that social groups can arrange to live on the same quad (if they give up better housing options), but that interactions with their house can still remain free.

This is a compromise, and will not solve many of the problems that students have with residential life, but it does not exacerbate those problems, will probably reduce some of them, and will eliminate housing inequality.

Summary of Compromise:

Pluses -
  • Eliminates extreme isolation that some students feel by allowing students of different clusters to live near each other.
  • Allows all students to live near where they have many classes/activities
    • Berkshire Quad for Griffin,
    • Greylock for Theatre/Dance kids, who have been known to sleep in the '62 Center).
  • Eliminates neighborhood inequality
  • Up to 50% increase in highly desired Co-Op housing
  • Allows for limited themes, hopefully such that all students have a quieter living option.
  • Maintains NGBs and CC Representation.
  • Maintains current event planning, which is becoming more successful.
  • Keeps student groups split, avoiding explicitly themed houses.
  • Low administrative costs of switching, can be done through current lottery process.
Negatives -
  • Housing groups still not completely equal as compared to free-agency.
  • Students may have to choose between a better room and a "theme they disagree with"
  • It could be difficult for students to coordinate picks in the same housing cluster.
  • Students still don't have free choice in housing.
  • Does not seek to solve many intrinsic issues the Neighborhood system sought to fix. (might be a plus?)
  • Eliminates group/neighborhood housing in the same area of campus
An arbitrary set-up, specific mixes to further review


Far, far away
T. Annex
Near food

Row Houses

Morgan 1





New Co-ops

Goodrich -11
Hubbell - 21
Parsons - 9
Sewall - 11

A good thought on Free Will

From a Daily Dish reader:
Imagine for a moment, a six-sided dice. Since time immemorial, dice have been used in games of "chance" to simulate randomness. Yet consider the fact that if we knew every minuscule factor that could possibly affect the outcome of a die roll, from the angle that it falls from your hand, to the barometric pressure of the room, to the hardness of the surface it hits, to the moisture or trace skin oil reside left on the die by the palm of your hand (and so on), we could predict with 100% accuracy what the outcome of that roll would be. Everytime. We could measure velocity, acceleration, centripetal force, friction, run parametric equations, find vectors, etc. But there is such an unimaginably large amount of physical variables involved in the possible outcome of that dice roll, that attempting to measure them all for purposes of a 100% accurate prediction would require a meticulous and painstaking effort so monumental in its scope that the effort becomes practically impossible for human beings to undertake fruitfully. So for all intensive purposes, we tend to accept the outcome of any die roll as a random event, because the immense difficulty involved in trying to predict its outcome is for all practical purposes, impossible given the extreme number of metrics and near infinite number of variables involved in predicting its outcome.

Weston Renovation to begin ASAP

From the Berkshire Eagle:
There should be a new football facility under the tree at Williams College.

The long-awaited renovation to Weston Field should begin as soon as possible, perhaps as soon as the college can unwrap the gift.

A lighted turf football facility could bring Super Bowl or playoff games to Williamstown, and will be great for the football Ephs, for students to play intramurals on, and for the local high school teams to practice and play.


Adam Smith

1. Because the division of labor is born from the power of market exchange, it is also limited by market exchange's limits. For example, a very small market offers little incentive to specialize, and some industries can only be in cities. In some rural areas, each farmer has to be butcher and baker. Those who specialize do so broadly: carpenter is also "joiner, a cabinet maker, carver, wheelwright, ploughwright, a cart and wagon maker." Thus industry complicates near areas of easy transport: waterways make it cheaper, and land travel is can prohibitively expensive. The division of labor is splitting different types of work so that people can specialize in a specific kind of work, and allows production technologies to only be needed once than for everyone. However, mental mutilation is a factor, though Smith recommends education as a rectifying formula. Human propensity to truck, barter, and exchange. Better to create one good, though this isn't possible in small markets.

So goes my study guide, through #40 and beyond. I'm ready for you, POEC final.