Thursday, May 11, 2006

The College Application Death Spiral

The College Application Death Spiral
The frenzy that is today's college application process seems to be a train wreck that has gotten out of control. Here is an exchange I had with an old friend, who worked as an Ivy League admissions officer for 20 years, and is still active as a college counselor:

ME: My pet theory on the increasing selectivity of elite institutions is that there is a dangerous feedback loop which has spiraled out of control in the past decade.

There are only so many slots at elite schools. To maximize their chances at getting into one, applicants started applying to more schools (I only applied to four schools when I was in high school...that would mark me as a lazy madman today). This meant that elite schools had to get more selective (more applications). This drove applicants to increase the number of schools applied to. And so on. Yet the students dare not opt out of this death spiral for fear of missing out.

Do you think this is an accurate analysis? I'm sure it's oversimplified, but it has the ring of truth to me.

HIM: I think you are right. If I were your counselor today, leaving aside Early Action/Decision, I would never let you apply to just four schools, unless one of them was very easy and a sure thing.

Your analogy to a death spiral is very apt. It is driving us crazy. I am caught in it too as a counselor, but I have to be my students' advocate, so to tell them to cut down their applications too severely is a big risk. Be glad that you are an old person and don't have to go through this, until and unless your children confront it.

So when confronted with a situation where something is obviously wrong, and it's getting worse, what can you do as an individual to fix it? Any thoughts?

The World Of The Free

The World Of The Free

"The permanent revolution of the free market denies any authority to the past. It nullifies precedent, it snaps the threads of memory and scatters local knowledge. By privileging individual choice over any common good it tends to make relationships revocable and provisional. In a culture in which choice is the only undisputed value and wants are held to be insatiable, what is the difference between initiating a divorce and trading in a used car? The logic of the free market, which is that all relationships become consumer goods, is denied indignantly by its ideologues. However, it is all too clearly evident in the daily life of societies in which the free market is dominant."

John Gray, "False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism"

As a supported of free markets, I disagree with Gray's analysis. It is certainly possible for free market societies to focus solely on consumerism, and I won't deny that our current culture has moved further in that direction, but I believe that 1) if this is the cost of our freedom, I'm willing to pay it, and that 2) society will break through and be able to value the past with open eyes, rather than blindly pining for the good old days.

What do you think?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Do Something

Quote of the day:

"In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing"
--Teddy Roosevelt

Sunday, May 07, 2006

We're All Only Human

We're All Only Human
My thoughts on the Lakers' playoff loss, cross-posted from the Lakers blog

When I watched the game, I was disappointed. I was disappointed that the Hallway Series was not to be, that the team played poorly, and that the playoffs that began with such promise ended so bitterly.

But most of all, I was disappointed that it seemed like Kobe wasn't trying.

Kobe has always wanted to win. That burning competitive fire always set him apart from Shaq. And yet, in this game, with matters still within reach of an 81-style second-half detonation, Kobe kept his six-shooters in the holster.

As I expected, Charles Barkley tore into Kobe afterwards, calling him selfish for refusing to bail out his teammates to prove that criticism of his FGA volume in Game 6 and during the season was unwarranted.

I expect that more columnists and sports writers will pile on.

But we need to have some perspective.

This team, which less than 1 in 10 picked to make the playoffs, won 45 and could have won more.

This team, which no one picked to make this series close, stretched it to 7 games, and were less than 7 seconds from closing it out in Game 6.

I'm still disappointed that Kobe went quietly in the second half. But I'm not in his shoes.

I'm not the most talked-about and abused player in the league. I'm not subject to endless "you shoot too much/you don't shoot enough" diatribes from reporters and broadcasters. I didn't have to see a Game 6 victory, which I gift-wrapped for the Lakers with my clutch shooting in the 4th quarter, stolen away by a last-second 3.

Kobe is the most talented player in the league. But he is far from perfect. A greater player might have found a way to win yesterday, even with all his teammates flailing (every single other Laker had an off game). But you know what? Magic got swept out of the playoffs by a Phoenix Suns team, in a series in which the Lakers were favored. Michael Jordan got sent packing repeatedly by the Pistons. Tim Duncan has had his heart broken many times.
I would have liked Kobe to respond with greater grace. To have tried one last time to pull out a miracle with a scoring barrage over the last 18 minutes of the game.

Heck, every basketball fan would have liked to have seen that. And after the Lakers still lost, the Kobe-haters would have criticized him for shooting too much, and said that his domination of the offense had stunted the other Lakers.

We expect so much of Kobe. Thrilling performances. Miraculous wins. And we constantly compare him to Michael Jordan. Not the Jordan that actually was, but the mythical Jordan we've constructed in our minds out of commercials, ESPN Classic specials, and the memory of his final shot against the Bulls in 1998.

And today Kobe came up short. Maybe he was selfishly proving a point, damaging the psyches of his teammates forever. Or maybe he was a new dad, operating on little sleep, in a hostile arena, under unimaginable pressure, with teammates who were nervous and off their games, against a team that was scoring at will so that even after a near-perfect first half the Lakers were down by 15, and he was simply...tired. Tired of carrying the burden.

Maybe it's not how a champion should act, whatever that means, but it is human.

Haven't you ever felt the urge to pack it in? How many of us can say that we've always given our maximum effort in our personal Game 7s?

Next year, the youngest team in the league will be a year older. Kobe and Lamar are still improving. Kwame Brown is finally getting it. Sasha and Brian Cook have grown up a lot. And who knows what we might end up getting out of Socks and Turiaf next year?

Two weeks ago, if we had been told that the Lakers would be able to push the Suns to seven games, most people would have been overjoyed.

We should be disappointed that the season is over. We should be disappointed in how it ended.

But we need to remember that we are all human in the end, even the great and mighty Kobe Bryant, and that graciousness in defeat and compassion for others are important virtues as well.