The world gets less funny

Mitch Hedberg is dead. Two of my favorites from his act:

1) I wrote a letter to my dad - I was writing, "I really enjoy being here," but I accidentally wrote rarely instead of really. But I still wanted to use it so I wrote, "I rarely drive steamboats, dad - there's a lot of shit you don't know about me. Quit trying to act like I'm a steamboat operator." This letter took a harsh turn right away...

...and then at the end of the letter I like to write "P.S. - this is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated.

2) On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it's just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the fuck did you get that banana at...

I also liked how'd he explain why his eyes were closed by mentioning that he has an audience enjoying the show more drawn on the inside of his eyelids.

(via Apostropher)




We've got a live one I report, you decide

In his concurring opinion for today's judgment denying an en banc rehearing of the amended Schiavo claims, Judge Stanley F. Birch challenges the constitutionality of Public Law 109-3, Terri's Law. He argues that it violates the structural constitutional requirement of separation of powers. Now, I'm sure I wasn't the only person who this occurred to when I first heard that Congress was going to pass a law because they wouldn't accept the results of the Florida court proceedings. But it's hard to argue that the constitution prohibits Congress's grant of Jurisdiction when it's specifically authorized to grant jurisdiction to inferior federal courts.

Cleverly, Birch argues that the grant of jurisdiction by itself would have been fine, but the four parts of the law which require the Court to ignore previous state court judgments make the whole thing unconstitutional. In the first part he cites to a concurring opinion in INS v. Chadha which cites to the Federalist Papers for the proposition that the Framers enshrined in the constitution separation of powers principles because of past legislative interference with the judiciary and their desire to avoid it in the future. Then he argues the following: The Supreme Court held in the 1871 case of United States v. Klein that Congress couldn't legislate the rule of decision for a particular case. Terri's law set the standard of review for a particular case, as well as denying the applicability use of several other judicial doctrines to that case. The standard of review often determines the rule of decision and the 11th Circuit had held last year in Florida Progress Corporation v. Commissioner that the standard of review is for the court to decide. He then discusses other ways in which "Congress direct[s] what particular steps shall be taken in the progress of a judicial inquiry," which was held to be unconstitutional in the Plaut case.

In his second section he argues that the unconstitutional part of the act isn't severable from the constitutional grant of jurisdiction because severability isn't applicable if the severed statute wouldn't operate in the manner intended by Congress. This section is remarkably unpersuasive, since it assumes that given a choice between passing no law at all and one which only granted jurisdiction without any other changes, Congress would have chosen no law at all.

In case anyone is wondering, I don't know anything about any of the cited cases and am simply summarizing Birch's argument.


Thought Experiment

The last sentence of Matt Y's most recent post at Tapped makes a key, if fairly obvious, point about democracy promotion. He says, "It would be much, much better if people who wanted to curb American influence in the Middle East did so by winning elections and denying us flyover and basing rights than by launching terrorist attacks on our soil."
This is clearly correct, though it may not prove as much as Matt (and I) would hope. There is no empirical evidence that I know of about how a radically Islamic democracy would behave (is there some period in Iranian history where people want to claim it was a plausible democracy? I don't see how this would be done, even at the late-90's height of the reform movement). It could be that such a democracy wouldn't think it's nearly sufficient that the United States powers to dominate in the Middle East are substantially reduced, and that they also desire to reduce the United States standard of living at home. Now, that last clause sounds a lot like, "They hate us for our freedom!" Since that's a position I don't hold (I think it's a joke), I should be clear that what I mean is that even if the United States influence in the Middle East waned quite seriously, there could still be a lot of anger at the United States over old wrongs, real or perceived.





The last paragraph of this New York Times story on the scientology stress testing operation in Times Square station is an egregious example of media bias. The paragraph reads, in full:"Even if the guy doesn't buy a book, we've gotten him to take a look at his life and see what's troubling him," Mr. Davis said. "That's a service in itself. "We've had guys sit down who are thinking of committing suicide. I've had people who killed other people. Just by doing the stress test they realize, 'Hey, this is something I need to handle.' "

When people say things that are absolutely idiotic, such as that someone who has killed other people or is considering suicide needs to see the results of an essentially meaningless electrical resistance test (United States v. Article or Device, etc., 333 F. Supp. 357 (D.D.C., 1971)) to realize "this is something I need to handle," it is patently unfair of the Times to let them make a fool of themself in public. Rather, the reporter should pat him on the head, thank him for the interview, and then run away before he cracks up laughing. Science fiction author worshipping cultists are people too, you know.

The main thing I learned from this story is that I regret having never stopped at the scientology table, since it sounds like it would have made a good anecdote.


Best argument ever

As part of an ongoing anti-Evolution argument some wacko is trying to make against P.Z. Myers, the wacko has exactly quantified the present level of knowledge which mankind as a whole has about "the origins of life and diversity."

This pretty much speaks for itself, but it's too much fun to let it. First of all, the quantification of knowledge itself is so funny. Also, why is the present year set to year zero for the purposes of this, rather than making year zero say one thousand years or two thousand years ago? Oh, because this would show that knowledge has increased greatly over time, and make it absurd to set out present "knowledge-units," at near zero, which is a key rhetorical point. Overall, this is an argument for thorough going skepticism about anything. If "we will know more in the future about area of knowledge X" counts as an argument for "all current beliefs about X are false," then it counts as an argument for "all current beliefs about everything are false".





2006 US News & World Report Law School Rankings are out. There are no changes that I particularly want to discuss (the first shift is last year's tie between Michigan and UPenn at #7 being broken). It's a pretty sure bet that Leiter will mock the rankings in the next couple of days, which is always fun. Since I haven't heard anything about changes in methodology, all the standard complaints about them are probably still valid. see Leiter, The U.S. News Law School Rankins: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Update: Unsurprisingly, Leiter has weighed in, and it's fairly clever. See the first update.


Please, no

Another tsunami level disaster would be extraordinarily, almost unthinkably, horrid. Maybe things will turn out all right, the warning system is clearly functioning much better than it did last time.


Unreliable sources

Since Daniel Pipes is coming to speak at my school this Thursday, here's some helpful background on the prominent Middle East/ anti-terrorism scholar. This background can be subtitled: Two examples of Daniel Pipes' intellectual dishonesty.

They're really both about him distorting the language of others. In one, he complains about the media's refusal to use the word terrorism in describing the Chechen attack and basically, massacre, at the school in Beslan. He cites to twenty articles, most of which to describe the attacks as terrorism, but also use other words like hostage-takers or attackers, or what have you. So his complaint isn't that they don't use the word terrorism, it's that they sometimes use other words. Basically he wants everyone discussing terrorism to turn into a really bad writer. To be specific, the problem here isn't that every news agency clearly has the right approach to referring to terrorism, but rather that the examples which Pipes adduces do not support his point, and in fact run contrary to it.

In the other, he distorts Tariq Ramadan's language while arguing in support of the denial of Ramadan's visa. Ramadan was going to come teach at Notre Dame, but then had his visa denied because of some remarks he'd made. As the opening paragraph shows, the source linked to here is very far from neutral about Pipes in general, but his argument on this particular issue is solid independent of his other views on Pipes.

So, as far as I know, Daniel Pipes is not to be trusted.




Transferred intent

I was just skimming through Umberto Eco's Serendipities: Language and Lunacy at Shakespeare & Co. The book looked like a great compendium of anecdotes to read through, especially the one mentioned on the back cover which talks about Leibniz and the I Ching. As I was putting it down, I noticed that it was translated by Umberto Eco. Translation is notoriously tricky, both as a concept and in practice, so I'm not sure there is a good answer to this question, but I'm wondering what it means to translate one's own book.

It seems to me that what's actually happened is that there are two versions of the book, an English one and an Italian one, rather than one being a translation of the other. Of course, one of the two is chronologically prior. But is that all it takes for one to be a translation of the other? I don't think the distinction between Italian original/ English and Italian version/ English version is a distinction without a difference. The difference is that in the things which I want to call proper translations, the translator is limited to the source text in order to determine how the original author would have expressed his or herself in the new language. But when an author is writing their own work in a second language, there is no such constraint. They have direct access to their intentions, rather than being limited to a secondary source.

I'm pretty sure Nabokov has written an essay on this topic, but I can't remember what he said. Any thoughts from readers are also much appreciated.

Update: Either haloscan is screwed up, or my computer is, or both. At least for me, this post shows up with Comment (0) under it. In fact, there is a thoughtful comment which I recommend reading if you found this post interesting.




Borrowed Social Security Wonkery

DeLong demonstrates that if the Social Security trustees were using the same methodology to project productivity growth that they had been using from 1995-2003, the estimate would have been 1.9% average growth per year, rather than the 1.6% which was actually projected. While this might not sound like much of a difference, the effects are dramatic. The commenters at the site suggest, rather convincingly, that if the prediction was 1.9% there would no funding gap at all. That is, Social Security would end the next 75 years with a substantial surplus if productivity increased at 1.9% per year, and that would have been the estimate under the old methodology. I have nothing to add to this, other than to note that nothing at the site suggests that the old methodolgy is better or worse than the current one, just that the change is under explained.

Oh, and I might as well add that one lesson which we might want to draw from this is that, given the uncertainty about whether or not there is a social security problem at all, it really may be better to wait and see if there is a problem before making any changes, even minor ones. Unless the changes make sense independent of any funding gap, but thats not the situation being argued about.


Shout outs and a complaint

Hey Nick, that site isn't going to write itself you know. Now if my site could learn to write itself while accurately expressing my thoughts, that would be damn cool.

Help fight John Bolton's nomination for U.N. ambassador, and see what Scott P. is up to. Scotty, I assume you caught Holbrooke's statements this week?

Yesterday's Times crossword involved, in four different locations, writing three letters in one square. Is this wholly novel, or have they pulled that kind of crap before?


Oh the Places You'll Go...

I'm gonna join in today's blog game and post a map of the countries I've been to, as well as one of the U.S. states which I've been in outside of airport stopovers or driving through without getting out of the car. It's rather hard to discern the Bahamas from Puerto Rico on the map, and as far as I can tell Bermuda is literally invisible. Also, it's difficult to distinghuish Jordan from Israel. I've been to Jordan to see these sights, some of which you may remember from such films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As Matt Y. also points out, some countries are really big. This, combined with getting credit for having visited all of a country for having been to part of it makes it look like one has visited more of the world, by several orders of magnitude, than one actually has.


On the United States, I'm being very literal about the not getting out of the car part. So New Hampshire counts because I got out of the car at the State Liquor Store, and Delaware because I've bought gas there on the way to D.C. I'm not sure if I've bought gas in Alabama on the way to Atlanta, so I'm not counting that:

Also, due to the lack of geographical continguity, it's rather odd to me that the World map claims I've been to Hawaii, while the U.S. map correctly notes that I have not.


The Jackal

I haven't gotten around to writing my review of the most recent West Wing, (it was really good) but I'd like to take the time to note how awesome Allison Janney's work as C.J. is. They're showing 1.09, The Short List, on Bravo right now. Wait, the rule is show titles in italics, episode titles in quotes. So it's "The Short List." Would it have been better to just change the way I wrote it rather than writing in stream of conscioussness like this?

Anyway, there's a scene where Timothy Busfield, as Danny, comes into C.J.'s office to give her a goldfish. But he had muisunderstood Josh's advice, because Josh recommend (vaguely) that Danny give her goldfish crackers, not an actual fish. Her facial expressions as she goes from perplexed to surprised to laughing are just outstanding, and her laugh is just wonderful, uplifting but a little jaded sounding.




The kind of brainteaser I'm less good at it

Part III of answers to questions that only I was wondering about: What is the meaning conveyed by this form of protest? The meaning I take is, "Life is being silenced." But how could anyone think that is what's happening in this situation, when they're getting more media attention that I could possibly imagine. Is there some meaning of taping things over your mouth that doesn't have to do with being silenced? Maybe it's something like, "Terri's life is ended." But I don't see how taping "life" over your mouth communicates that.

Now, having googled it, the organization behind the protest explains it as, "...identify[ing] with those like Terri who cannot cry out on their own behalf." Which is a meaningful message and I suppose putting tape over your mouth communicates that. Though writing "Life" on the tape implies that they are mind readers (or they deny that anyone ever wants to die), and identifying themselves as being the victim has a lot of hubris to it.


Things you'll never need to know how to do

Two brainteasers, one easy and one not so much. The easy one is: Start with the numbers 5, 5, 5, and 1. Using any of the four basic operators, get the result of 24.

The more interesting one: You have twelve indistinguishable objects and a two sided balance. Eleven of them way exactly the same amount, one of them is either heavier or lighter than the other eleven. Given three weighs, explain how to determine which of the twelve it is, and whether it's heavier or lighter.

I'm sure the answers to both of these are googleable, but that wouldn't be much fun now, would it?




Republican Propaganda

I just saw a commercial on CNN sponsored by the Progress for America Voter Fund. This commercial was designed to build support for President Bush's Social Security plans, whatever they happen to be. The commercial first states that "President Bush wants to rescue Social Security". This must be an idiosyncratic meaning of rescue, since Bush's short-term goals are to reduce guaranteed benefits, and his long term goals are to replace social security with a defined-contribution system that has no guaranteed benefits.

Next, the ad says that, "He asked for all ideas to be put on the table." This is a reference to his 2005 State of the Union speech, in which he did use very similar language to that. But in the next minute or so, he listed what was non-negotiable, including, "We must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes." So any plan which is made up entirely of benefit cuts is acceptable. Also, while he did not specifically state that private accounts were a non-negotiable aspect of reform, he strongly suggested this. While I object to these first two parts of the commercial, the next part is much worse.

Progress for America then asks, rhetorically? "Can you think of any ideas the national Democrats have offered?" They then show a stopwatch ticking off ten seconds, and don't say anything. The final message is to tell Congress to stop playing partisan games with Social Security. Like the man said, I agree with the second part. As for the first part, there are a host of problems. The first is that the ad doesn't make the claim that Democrats have nothing to contribute to the Social Security debate, which would be easily refuted. Instead, they just strongly imply that Democrats are engaging in partisan games.

The second problem is that use of the qualifier "national." For any particular Democrat one were to bring up, this propaganda organization can claim they aren't national. For instance, if I site to the Diamond-Orszag proposal from the Brookings institute, which is a plan to keep social security fully funded forever, I would probably be told that I have to cite to someone holding a national political office, even though Brookings is a nationally recognized think tank and the ideas coming out of it tend to garner far more support from liberals than conservatives. Obviously, many other Democrats in journalism and the academy have proposed reforms for social security in the future. Also obviously, many Democrats don't believe there is a social security crisis, just a future funding shortfall which can be fixed without drastic measures.

But to actually answer the question, here are plans by Harry Reid and Howard Dean, and John Kerry (the Kerry plan is pretty weak, I have to say) for Social Security reform. So there are some contributions from national Democrats. Also, George W. Bush has refused repeatedly to announce what his Social Security plan is, so it's absurd to ask for other plans to counter it. Finally, the obvious reason that Democrats aren't being far more vocal about advocating for small reforms which they are in favor of is that once the bill is in a reconciliation committee, they have every reason to believe the bill would be changed into one they oppose. This is what happened with the Medicare drug benefit. So, who's playing partisan games?




Round up

Apostropher nearly makes me choke (knowing his sense of humor, I should clarify that. Choke with laughter.) with this headline: Police Say Sex Was Being Sold At Colon-Cleansing Clinic (key sentence: "Police became suspicious because they saw only men entering the back door of the clinic.") Follow the link for some more news excerpts which will appeal to your inner child. If your inner child really enjoys penis jokes.

Edward at Obsidian Wings is keeping an eye on unrest in Kyrgyzstan. This is one of the many important stories being overshadowed by the fiactacle. I'm not sure that the substance of his post supports the notion which I take from his title that democracy is on the rise, if unstably so. Rather it supports the idea of a democratic crisis with the possibility of things heading towards either massive instability, further autocracy, or further democracy. Actually, I take it back, I think his title isn't particularly optimistic, though it is hard to ascertain quite what the meaning is of Democracy Hiccing Up* in Kyrgyzstan , even with the asterisk explaining that Hiccing Up is: the present continuous form of "to hiccup," in some circles anyway.

Greg at Belgravia Dispatch picks a fight with Matt Y over what our future plans should be for troop levels in Iraq. I'm rooting for Matt, but Greg seems to me to have gotten the better of him for now.

Ogged links to a solid Stephanie Zacharek article on the phenomenon of celebrity blogs. The best bit was: The grandfather may have said it better in "A Hard Day's Night" -- "I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, and so far I've been in a train and a room, a car and a room and a room and a room" -- but the essence of the musician-on-tour experience (and, presumably, its isolation) isn't lost on Moby.

David Brooks gets himself dis-invited to some Republican dinners, or congratulated at the same dinners for being able to convince liberals that he's really a reasonable guy just by writing one column condemning blatantly corrupt Republican practices. I haven't decided which yet.





I have a far more visceral reaction to school shootings than I do to the vast majority of other crimes. I am not certain if this was true pre-Columbine, as I cannot accurately remember my emotional reactions to previous killings. But this is just horrifying and outrageous.


Grand Ethicist

I was ready to open this post with what I thought was a very cutting description of this weekend's Ethicist column (the problem I had in past weeks where I wanted to provide alternative sources to the NYTimes version of the article to avoid their paywall has been solved. Thank you Aaron Swartz!) I was going to call it a "bizarre form of argument by authority in which the author appeals to his own authority as conclusive." The reason I was going to do this is because the first line of his response to a rather complex question is, "Ethically, yes. Legally, it's debatable." Since Randy spends the rest of the column talking about what lawyers told him, I at first thought that the rest of the column addresses the legal issues and that his entire ethical argument consisted of the word "Yes." Since I didn't see him providing any support for that argument, I reasoned that the purported support must be that he is the Ethicist and is therefore able to pronounce authoritative ethical rulings. However, having re-read the column with an eye to this idea, I realized that the attorneys he dicusses the issue with are all talking about ethics and not at all about the law.

So, if one takes the sentence "Legally, it's debatable" to mean that the law may or may not prohibit whatever the referent of "it" is, there is no support at all for that in the article, nor in any law I've ever learned. Now obviously the law isn't going to prohibit idiosyncratic grand jury assessments in the sense of punishing them with incarceration or even fines, but one might imagine that the law would provide some procedural safeguards such as allowing the evidence to be resubmitted to another grand jury or otherwise protected from the personal policy preferences of grand jury members. Now there could in fact be such procedural safeguards that I've never heard of, but the balance of what I've seen suggests that there aren't. Maybe I'll ask my Crim. professor tomorrow. As far as I can tell, both upon the evidence in the article and my limited research, there is no legal debate.

As for the ethical question at hand, it is in fact a tough one. One relevant piece of information which isn't addressed is the process one goes through before ending up on a grand jury. What if anything is a grand juror required to agree to in order to be placed on the grand jury? If they enter into an agreement such as, "Uphold and apply the law as written," or anything like that, they would have an affirmative obligation to do so. My check of the Arizona Revised Statues on Juries reveals no such obligation. The closest the statutes come is 21-413 which reads: The grand jury shall return an indictment charging the person under investigation with the commission of a public offense if, from all the evidence taken together, it is convinced that there is probable cause to believe the person under investigation is guilty of such public offense.But it doesn't provide a remedy if the grand jury fails to do this, and there is no mention that the grand jurors actually have to agree to this in order to be on the grand jury. There is a mention of a questionaire, but the statute doesn't cover what sort of questions are asked. If the questionaire asked something like, "Would you be willing to indict someone under a law which you think is bad policy or too harsh?" and the grand juror in question answered yes to that, this would suggest to me that he is obligated to indict under the conditions mentioned in the column. Finally, the grand jury may have recieved an instruction like the one at issue in US v. Navarro-Vargas (.pdf file), which stated that the grand jury may not "consider the wisdom of the laws enacted by Congress." The 7th Circuit upheld such an instruction, over vigorous dissent by Judge Kozinski.

Without any affirmative agreement, the grand juror in question has no obligation to ignore his own opinion of the validity of laws. The system is certainly not dependent on jurors checking their intuitions at the door. As Randy notes, one of the functions of a grand jury is as a check on prosecutorial discretion. This requires not only that the grand jurors prevent prosecutors from bringing a case where they don't perceive probable cuase, but also to stand in for the sense of the community in whether or not the limited resources of the prosecutor's office should be deployed in a particular matter. Finally, there is one safeguard against truly idiosyncratic grand jurors which mitigates the harm of sticking with personal preferences. Grand juries don't need to be unanimous, under Arizona law grand juries consist of between twelve and sixteen people. Only nine of them must vote to indict. This further suggests that there isn't a presumption of an ethical duty for grand jurors to adhere to existing law, since the system can function even when they don't.

I know this is really long, but I have two final points. Randy flatly contradicts himself when he says in the first paragraph, "petit jurors...must convict if the evidence warrants" and then later says, "Employing the more radical tactic of jury nullification in criminal trials, for example..." By acknowledging that jury nullification exists, Randy shows that the earlier claim is false. Whether or not jury nullification should exist or not is a very difficult issue, but it does exist. The other is that I think an argument that what the grand juror wants to do here is ethically praise-worthy because laws making viewing of pornography and possession of marijuana felonies are bad policy, while if the grand juror were to to do the same thing in refusing to indict under a law that I think is good policy, such as date rape laws, he'd be doing something wrong, can't really get off the ground. One can argue that the jurors policy preferences are pernicious, but not that he or she can't apply them.


Persistence of Memories

Another answer to a question no one but me was curious about: Is the Salvador Dali exhibition that Tyler Cowen is travelling to Philadelphia to see the same one I saw at the Reina Sofia in Madrid this summer? Having skimmed through a listing of the included objects, it appears not, though there are significant overlaps. I was very impressed by the exhibition, but I'm not nearly the art expert that Prof. Cowen is. In fact, I'm not even sure if I qualify as a layperson. So I thought it was great, having all of the work together provided some insight into a couple of Dali's obsessions, most of which I have now forgotten. But I do want to link to a couple of my favorite images from the show.


At least point 3 is original

I have some more thoughts on the exceedingly sad case of Terry Schiavo, most of which I'm copying from what I've said in comments at other sites.

1) On the legal issues, I can't understand why someone would think that "federal government intervention will lead to swift resolution." The entire point of the Federal government intervention is to avoid the relatively swift (two weeks maximum) resolution (Terry's death) which was about to take place. Now, rather than this definetly being resolved within two weeks, the Schiavos have 30-days to file with the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Florida, though they will move for a preliminary injunction immediately, since the feeding is presently disconnected. I think it's extremely likely that the Federal Court will grant the injunction, a standard formula for injunctions is based on the severity of the harm if there is delay and the probability of winning on the merits. If the courts thinks there is some small chance of deciding for her parents later on, they will grant the injunction as soon as possible, since she is certain to die without it in two weeks.

2) On the ethical issue, I'm going to assume that everyone reading here thinks that there are some cases where autonomy trumps the life (living will cases, at least). So the question is what do we know in hard cases where we lack clear intent. The principle proposed by Alameida and others to "err on the side of life" has some intuitive appeal, but it's in danger of swallowing the rule. (I think the point I'm about to make is stolen from Hilzoy, not certain though. Update: Sadly, yes) What if the living will provides for the future self being brain dead, but not in a PVS? What if it specifies removing ventilation, but not removing nutrition and hydration? If we err on the side of life there, we're at risk of ignoring the general intent behind a great number of living wills. The odd thing about this case from my perspective, besides the separation of powers issues, is how well the proceedings worked. The parents had numerous oppurtunities to appeal, the husband gave up his ability to make the determination himself and instead gave the state court the ability to use its discretion, and still we have the current mess. So despite what appears to me to be a remarkably well designed system in Florida for adjudicating end of life decisions, we still have this mess. I'm not really sure what improvements can be made to avoid this in the future, other than everyone having living wills. Maybe make filling out a living will part of some process that most people go through, like registering for a drivers license, though that strikes me absurd.

3) Most morbidly, this whole situation keeps reminding me of the Seinfeld episode "The Comeback." It's probably most well known for the line, "The jerk store called and they're running out of you," but one of the subplots is about Kramer watching a made for TV film called Coma. He makes a living will which gives Elaine the power to decide to unplug him from assistance, but then it turns out that he only watched the first half of the film and didn't know that one could recover from a coma. He then wants to change the will, but goes into a coma after being hit by a tennis ball and wakes up thinking that Elaine is about to kill him. Funny stuff, that.





At least on it's face, congressional action today re: Terry Schiavo seems unconstitutional. Unless I misunderstood subject matter jurisdiction while taking civil procedure, Congress can't grant Federal Court jurisdiction over matters which Congress can't legislate. So in order to pass the bill they did today, Congress would have to have the Article I power to legislate about matters like Schiavo's case. So I assume congress has to invent something about the commerce clause, like patients will choose to receive medical care in different states based upon the way they treat the decision to stop transmitting nutrition and hydration, and therefore it affects interstate commerce in health care. This seems like a stretch to me, but otherwise Congress's grant of Federal Court review is probably not permissible. Of course, since the only goal is delay, even if the passage was unconstitutional, waiting until it was actually ruled so could be enough to achieve the goals of the people who passed this.




Studies in the Obvious

Speaking of the Economist, they have a shocking exposé about how the Bush White House economic policy is not being set by economists. Really? Who knew that Karl Rove and other non-economists was in charge of a lot of the economic policy? Oh, right, anyone who can read. Maybe this will push the Economist away from their traditional position of, "We approve of Bush policy proposal X (Social Security reform, for instance). However, we only approve if it's done properly, and by properly we mean A, B, & C, which it's quite clear that the Bush White House has no intention of doing nor the ability to do even if they wanted to." But probably not, because their coverage of United States politics and policy is clearly written by a high-functioning Schizophrenic.

Update: DeLong points out that the portion of the article referring to the Clintion health-care plan as "economist packed" is also inaccurate, based on his perspective as a Clinton administration economist.


Baby Steps

While studiously ignoring the Schiavo fiasco/spectacle (fiactacle? spiasco? the second, probably), I just ran across an interesting piece of news. Condoleeza Rice (and therefore I assume the U.S. government, since she can't make such announcments in her capacity as a private person) is endorsing a permanent seat on the UN Security council for Japan. I don't really see how the U.S. is going to get a nation onto the council which tends to side with U.S. interests in most disputes without giving up some other bargaining chip. Also, is this a deliberate snub of India, which wants to be on the security counsel and which will, in the not too far future, be a more important world power than Japan? I've seen plans for full fledged reform of the council with something like India, Germany, Brazil and I believe South Africa (it was in the Economist last fall, I'm not going to look up the issue right now) all coming on, though South Africa strikes me as a "one of these things is not like the others," in that group. Of course, having an African nation in a permanent seat would possibly lead to more attention being paid to African problems, which would be a good thing if it led to intervention in Darfuf and Darfur-like events. Actually, attention isn't really the problem, the problem is the attention just leads to more passivitity.

But back to my main point, it seems odd to me that there would be an attempt at piecemeal, rather than whole-cloth, reform of the security coucil. If one new permanent seat is being added, and there's enough energy for reform there, isn't it a good time to do all the work?


Old hat

I was just watching some new show on Adult Swim called Robot Chicken. This show leads me to ask: How could anyone who has seen Meet the Feebles think it is clever or funny to parody the band from the Muppet Show? Every possible joke about it was done in Meet the Feebles. Given the sensibility of this show, I can essentially guarantee that its creators have seen Meet the Feebles. So screw them. And if you haven't, see Meet the Feebles.




A cruel and very unusual post

Yesterday, right after his post which I previously responded to, Volokh expressed a very high-level of bloodlust and argued that there is nothing wrong with it. Today, there are some interesting discussions about his post are going on (which he deserves some credit for creating, though I find the ideas behind his post truly awful) at unfogged and Yglesias. See especially my comments, though they aren't really the best ones at either site, they should suffice if you're reading this blog because you actually want some of my viewpoint on particular issues. There is a lot more to be said about this topic, but it's St. Partick's Day and I haven't had a drink yet. Also, a lot of people are making noises about how nothing Volokh says can be accepted anymore, as this post has moved him out of "reasonable discourse." That's wrong, and I'll explain why later.


This week, kind words for Randy

This is really late, but I don't have any issues with Randy's advice from last weekend (I'm using multiple sources because I don't know who moves the article to a pay-archive when). I'm both impressed and confused by the medical doctor who is worried he is unethical if he accepts a reward for medical care from an airline which is having financial trobule. Since that last sentence reads like he provided medical care to the airline (Help! We need to perform an appendectomy on our pre-flight safety check policy), I'll clarify that the doctor was on a flight and responded when there was a call for help. Now, while I find his desire to be ethical very impressive, I don't understand what wrong he is worried about committing. He is in the business of receiving financial compensation for providing care to sick or injured people. He provided care to a sick or injured person. Someone else voluntarily offered to provide him with compensation. What could be wrong with that? In fact, accepting a reward is a way to allow someone who is "in your debt" to feel as if things are now even. So it may be better for all parties involved.

As far as question two goes, I again agree with Randy. Charging high school students for recommendation letters is a) just icky and b) means there is no reason to believe a word of the recommendation letter, since the teachers incentive is now to be asked by as many people as s/he feels s/he can handle writing for to write letters. A good way to do this is to spread the information around the high school that the teacher writes very positive and helpful letters, irrelevant of the quality of the student. As for ways to solve the problem which the teacher said led to the policy of charging $20/ letter, namely students asking for more letters than they plan on using and then "letter shopping" to get the most beneficial package of recommendations, there are other ways of doing that. The most obvious, which Randy hits on, is asking the student to provide postage, and addressed envelopes to the teacher directly, and taking the student out of the recommendation sending process. But I can imagine colleges not liking this, since it would be more convenient for them to have all of their submissions from a given student in as few communications as possible.

In that case, I would suggest a fairly elaborate system in which the school announces a policy of having every teacher include, as the first and last line of each recommendation: If the sealed envelope containing this recommendation has been tampered with in anyway, please assume that the student in question is undeserving of attending your fine institution. Then bring back wax seals for envelopes, or some other interesting way of indicating they've been tampered with. Or charge the students money per recommendation, but make all funds payable to the school itself or another charity. Though that still gives an advantage to wealthier students in "letter shopping."

Finally, on the third letter, I think the letter-writer could win a judgment in civil court over the person who was parasitic off of their advertisements. The judgement would probably be less than the cost of makingthe case, so it will never happen, but on the facts of the letter, the other party fraudulently and knowingly misrepresented their garage sale as the one which was advertised, and caused economic harm to the letter-writer by doing so. Maybe they'll settle the law suit.




Violence Avoision

Volokh, in a discussion of a court case holding that a high school student could not be prohibited from wearing a "T-shirt [which] depicted the Marine seal and a large picture of an M16 rifle (the standard weapon of the Marines)" and contained the Marine creed in full, says, "Seems to me that the court got it right, and that the school officials got it wrong. And they got it wrong because they made a basic error that's unfortunately far too common: They confused violence with wrongful violence." I think Volokh is right on the merits of the case, but wrong about the reasoning he attributes to the school officials. This is pure speculation, but since I'm only arguing against other speculation, I don't think that really hurts my position. It seems to me that it's far more likely that the school officials are perfectly capable of differentiating between violence and wrongful violence, but believe that their students are not going to be able to draw that line, or will draw it incorrectly. I would then contend that they need some actual evidence that wearing t-shirts like this one has, in their particular school, in fact lead to violence or come very close to it. Otherwise, their vague concern shouldn't trump the student's expressive rights, and they shouldn't be able to prohibit such shirts. But it does seem like the officials have a more tenable position then the one Volokh ascribes to them.

In fact, given that Volokh has just written an article on crime-facilitating speech and other related issues, I'm surprised he didn't move his analysis to that level, discussing what the officials should do if they really think the shirt will lead to crime.


Rotational Symmetry

I've been away from blogging for a little while and appear to have lost most of small cadre of readers. Hopefully my return will bring them back. This post may be part of a new feature of this blog, called "Now You Know (in which I answer questions only I was wondering about). Actually, there are a couple of old posts in that style as well, but now that it has an official name, they'll much better. For this entry in the series, I was going to just post a question which I've been vaguely curious about for a couple of years: Why are all New York Times crossword puzzles, and every other puzzle I've checked, symmetrical over the the line Y=X? But I decided to go crazy and research the answer. So, according to a Straight Dope column from 1984 , the answer is that it's a tradition with no rational basis, but the Amateur Crossword Puzzle League adopted it as a rule in 1924, and it has been in force ever since. Cecil goes a little bit more in depth in to where the tradition came from (the word squares of ancient greek oracles, apparently), but I stand by my summary.




See, that wasn't so hard

In selecting the new NASA chief, the Bush Administration violated what has lately appeared to be their standard operating procedure and appointed someone qualified. This is in marked contrast to its normal practice of appointing people who believe that the President's power in dealing with terrorism is unconstrained by any law to Attorney General, people who want to destroy the U.N. as an Ambassador to it, and judges who are just amazingly undeserving of their appointment. I of course don't have the expertise to evaluate whether this person is actually qualified, but I haven't heard otherwise and he has seven degrees, which is enough for a credentialist like me.


Wonders of the Internet

Three clues that someone has too much time on their hands:
1) They maintain a blog.
2) They post re-mixes of Jesse Jackson campaign speeches on their blog.
3) They link to other people who have re-mixed Jesse Jackson campaign speeches on their blog.




Daily Show on Lebanon

I'm in the mood to just post some gut reactions to television rather than anything I might want to reflect on. On that note, I'm usually a pretty big Daily Show fan, and I don't tend to assign to much substantive political value to any of their statements. But I was a little bothered by parts of tonight's episode. I'm talking about them making fun of the very serious feud between 50 Cent and Game. Wait, that was hilarious. The part that bothered me was that Stewart and Samantha Bee seemed a little bit too enthusiastic about the huge Hezbollah rally just because it made Bush look bad. It's true, it did make Bush look bad, and I'd rather have a democratic Lebanon with Hezbollah in power than a non-Democratic Lebanon, but the rally really isn't a positive event and just because it makes Bush and over-enthused Bush supporters look bad doesn't make it a good thing.
Oh, and the bit on the schism in the Anglican church was great, especially the joke eliding the difference between Anglican Bishops and Chess Bishops. Watch it when they repeat this episode tomorrow.




Fake politics are less depressing than the real thing

Tonight's West Wing (6.18: La Palabra) teaches us the very useful lesson that building dramatic tension where the payoff is an out of left field deus ex machina leads to unsatisfied viewers. It was pretty predictable that once Donna was out of Josh's shadow she'd demonstrate a good deal of strength as a character, but it's still nice to see. Other than Donna as a strong person with a good grasp on the issues, she's in some ways too strait-laced now. Though her dressing down of the chicken two weeks ago was good. I'm not really clear on what her goals are besides from demonstrating her independent worth, though maybe that's enough.

What the show needs now is for Santos to do something that he thinks is right morally but will hurt him politically and have it actually hurt him politically. So far, every political risk he takes to go with what he thinks is right has paid off. That's boring. Same general idea, but going in the opposite direction, one of the campaigns should do something unambiguously unethical to the other campaign, and it should work.

Finally, had Santos better hold it against Josh that Josh lost confidence in the campaign's chances to succeed.

Oh, and are Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen and the rest of the regulars happy working half schedules?



Neologism watch

Crotocozomg: Based upon the context, this word, which one might think was simply the result of trying to type "criticizing" with your right hand slightly misplaced on the keyboard, actually means: "Discussing a positive false impression of something; this false impression having been generated because you assumed your first encounter with it was prototypical, rather than atypical."
I'm sure Will will fix the neologism at some point, so let me assure that you at 6:25 the combination of characters which starts this post does appear in the linked post.


Comments on West Wing 6.17

I meant to rewatch last week's West Wing before I blogged about it, but I haven't done that, and I should get my thoughts up before this week's episode airs.

Upon reflection, I don't think the Canada border dispute plotline worked that well. Because the situation was so absurd, the best way to play it would have been the characters to take it really seriously, rather than have the characters constantly talking about how the situation was so absurd and that they can't really take it seriously. Maybe if the military dispute with Canada plotline hadn't been used in both South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and in Canadian Bacon it would have worked the way it was used in this episode. But the way it was played ended up being unsatisfying. However, Kate's resolution of it was both clever and in character.

The main plotline with the Congressional scheming was really fun. It did a good job of developing Santos and Cliff, and the new guy Congressman they introduced who lives in his office was pretty good for a one shot character. Also, the Democratic House members having a slumber party in that office was a much better variety of absurd then the Canada material. It also sets up Cliff as a future White House staffer under the Santos administration.

Jed's quarrel with his co-Nobel prize winner was done pretty well, but they should have brought out more of Jed's extremely nerdy side from the early episodes. A little of it came out, but this would have been a great oppurtunity for some of Jed's patented pointless trivia.

As for the final plotline, I will be adding something about voting rights for people under 18 to the hypothetical political platform I have in my head, which is mostly made up of redistricting reform and some changes in criminal law and civil procedure. It seems like one good solution is to keep the categorical inclusion of anyone over eighteen while dropping the categorical exclusion of all of those who are under. Then create some kind of test so that under eighteen year olds who are interested can gain the right to vote, though I'm not sure at what age we would want people to become eligible for testing. While some might find this problematic, I would be happy if most voters gained access to their voting rights earlier and had to engage in some civic republicanism. The main difficulty I foresee is getting consensus that the content of the test is non-partisan.





Mark Kleiman's last two posts have been great. Monday's reviewed the race for L.A. mayor, which I enjoyed mostly because I don't read many bloggers who talk about politics on the sub-Federal level. I'd like to find some blogs with in depth discussions of New York City politics, but the only issues I ever see discussed are the West Side Stadium, the MTA, and Education. Those can't be the only issues in New York City politics. Also, I never see the first two discussed in a particularly substantive manner. I'm pretty sure there is no substance to the West Side Stadium stuff, since it's pure rent-seeking. But I'd certainly be interested in an in-depth look at transportation policy vis-a-vis the MTA.

But it's his most recent post that I expect will soon be getting quite a bit of attention. In it, he discusses how the Democrats can retaliate if the Republicans use their "Nuclear Option." Briefly, the nuclear option for the Republicans is to change the Senate cloture rules for ending a filibuster of a judicial nominee. This would allow the Senate to pass all of Bush's judicial nominee's on a party-line vote, and the change can be made by a simple majority and the approval of Vice-President Cheney. While many people have discussed ways the Democrats can retaliate by severely hampering the ability of the Senate to do anything, Mark has a modest proposal (except he actually uses the term "modest proposal" to describe it, which creates some doubt that it may be a satire) for how the Democrats should respond.

He wants to utilize California's initiative system to change the way Representatives are elected in California. In particular, he wants them elected by party slate. In order to avoid certain legal/constitutional problems with not having representatives divided up by discrete districts, there would be district level primaries with a Democrat and a Republican winner for each district. Then, the state as a whole would vote for either the Dem or Repub slate, which in current California would certainly be the Democrats, despite their Republican governor.

This left me wondering: What is the game theoretic term for "Move that only makes sense if it is the last move so that your opponent cannot retaliate?" Actually, I'm not sure that having every state adopt this system would be a net negative for the Democrats. The recent election indicates that there are more states right now which are over 50% Republican than there are states which are over 50% Democrat. But that doesn't mean there are more Representatives from such states, since the Senators count for a disproportionate number of electoral votes in the small states. So it turns out the number of Representatives from states which voted for W. in the 2004 election is: 224, while there are 211 reps from Kerry states. This would be better for Democrats than the current 232-201 balance but is quite likely to pose new obstacles for becoming the majority again in the near future. The numbers don't sum up because of a vacant seat and one independent.


Kozinski and Neuborne on the death penalty

Today, I saw 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinkski have a debate/discussion with Prof. Burt Neuborne on the topic of the death penalty in general and Roper in particular today, though actually very little discussion was focused on Roper. I don't have any notes from it, so I just want to make a couple of brief comments.
They didn't disagree with the result in Roper, and Neuborne also approved of the reasoning. After Neuborne gave a litany of important cases which he thinks the Judges decided based upon their personal moral beliefs (but were not inconsistent with the text), Kozinski said something along the lines, "Sure you're fine with it now, but how are you going to feel when the Thomas Court starts doing that?" Neuborne seemed remarkably sanguine about the idea. I'm not, which is the main appeal some variety of textualism has for me. I want to constrain the power of judges, because my fear of judges who disagree with my policy preferences doing evil is greater than my hope of judges who agree with me doing good.

While I've written about my issues with Roper, I don't understand at all the objection that Kozinski raised about Kennedy counting the states which don't have any capital punishment as being against capital punishment for juveniles. Kennedy is counting to determine the "evolving standards of decency," and wants to know how many states consider capital punishment of juveniles to be indecent or otherwise bad policy. The answer to that question has to include the states banning capital punishment all together, they clearly think capital punishment of juveniles is indecent, even if they don't think it's more indecent than capital punishment of adults. Excluding them, and then finding that a majority of the states which approve of the death penalty also approve it for juveniles is clearly the wrong answer.

Kozinski also tried to make a lot out of, "How do you deter people from committing crimes after they've already been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole?" That's a hard question, though of course solitary confinement is one alternative. Also, this problem doesn't go away with a wide ranging death penalty, because how do you deter people who are currently appealing their death sentence? You can put them in solitary confinement, or you can kill them the minute they're convicted in the first trial, but otherwise the problem repeats itself at a lower level.
Also, Kozinski wasn't as funny as I've seen him be in writing or in reports of other speeches. Maybe it was just the topic though.


At least the Black Helicopters won't be a problem

Reasonable people object to the faith that some liberals put in the UN because the UN is an inefficient, scandal-ridden, bureaucracy. The UN has shown itself unable to prevent genocide in Darfur and other terrible turns of events. According to Yglesias, John Bolton, the Bush Administration nominee for UN Ambassador, objects to the UN for the opposite reason. He's worried it might work, and thinks that a functioning system of international law is a net negative for the United States, the world's only super power. So he will represent the U.S. interests in trying to make the UN as inefficient, bureaucratic, and scandal-ridden as possible.

This is a remarkably short sighted view, since it's premised on the idea that we'll always remain the world's only super power (also that there are no ethics in international relations, only realpolitik). Many intelligent people seem to think that China and India will be quite powerful in the course of the coming century, and the United States might want a robust system of international law to constrain their actions. But apparently Bolton isn't one of those people.




More fun with contrarian argument

I've given some more thought to the affirmative action matter discussed below, and rather than revising that post even more, I'm going to elaborate here and partially reverse my view from below. Also, I hope you find this topic really interesting, because it's a long post.

1.The student writing to the Ethicist may be a strict Kantian. In that case she would probably will as a universal maxim, "One should not participate in Affirmative Action." If she is a Kantian, it would fully explain how her belief that affirmative action shouldn't exist entails an obligation to not take part in affirmative action. The rest of this post assumes that she is some variety of consequentialist on the topic of affirmative action.

2. Opposing the existence of an institution isn't a sufficient to create a moral obligation to not take part in that institution.

Example: Suppose that a person (call her Marie Antoinette) believes that democracy is wrong and that no one should have the right to vote. Marie no more obligation to not vote than anyone else does. Rather, they should make use of legitimate means within the system to try to have the their policy-preferences made law.

3. Point two isn't enough to argue for my position below re: affirmative action. The particular reasons that one wants the institution to not exist come into play. For instance, if Marie believed that each act of voting caused harm to/ violated the rights of some person or persons other than herself, it would appear that she has an obligation not to vote.

4. It is possible that the student who wrote to the Ethicist does think that each time an individual makes use of affirmative action they are causing a harm to and/or violating the rights of some other person or persons. If the school she is applying to is using a quota system (which is illegal) or something which functions like a quota system (which is possible), the student is simply wrong that her taking advantage of affirmative action unjustly harms anyone, regardless of her belief that affirmative action is wrong.

Example: Assume that affirmative action is unjust, and that in a just world a strictly "merit" based system would be used, and that merit is fairly detectable. The student might therefore assume that by making use of affirmative action, she is causing one person to unjustly not get in on merit, or causing a group of non-affirmative action eligible people to have their chance of getting in on merit unjustly decrease. But this belief is false. In a quota or quota-like system, her use of affirmative action would exclude someone else from getting in who would have gotten in due to affirmative action, not someone who would get in due to merit. On the other hand, her getting in based on merit leaves the number of people getting in under the quota-like system constant. So now she is in, one more person who would not have gotten in has gotten in due to affirmative action, and one person who would have been accepted in the merit world has been excluded. So, under a quota, if you are an affirmative action opponent, you should absolutely make use of affirmative action in order to reduce the harm on those who would get in under a merit based system.

5. The example in four depends on the quota like system. In a system which does not include any element of a quota, the student does have a moral obligation based upon her hypothetical belief that each occasion of participation in affirmative action unjustly harms some person or class of people. It's important that I qualify what I mean by having no elements of a quota. Imagine a system of affirmative action for redheads. If it is totally un-quota like, this system would allow for the possibility of there being zero redheads among the admitted class despite the affirmative action. It would allow for this in the case where all redheaded applicants, with whatever affirmative action factor is added on to their merit level, still have a lower total score than enough non-red headed applicants to fill the entering class. Any system which won't allow for this has a quota of "greater than zero." Under a system with a quota of "greater than zero," people who are opposed to affirmative action should still take advantage of it, since they are crowding out other people who would benefit from the affirmative action, not people who would get in on merit.

6. I think there is an error in the reasoning in point five. Point four is correct.


Monitoring the Ethicist

My old post, Ethicist on oaths, got linked to by Inside Higher Ed. I think they may have been confused and thought it was a response to this week's Ethicist column, when in fact I hadn't written anything about that one yet. That piece had to do with law students and issues of discrimination - and so does this week's Ethicist - but they're separate topics. Since I've been deficient in my Ethicist responses lately and I feel obligated to say something about topics I'm linked to on:

The issue Randy is dealing with is the obligations of a minority applicant who is opposed to the existence of affirmative action. The applicant refused to disclose her race in the portion of the application which explicitly asks about it. But in her personal statement she wants to discuss race and experiences in which race is inherently bound up. The applicant is worried that doing so is hypocritical because she doesn't want to take advantage of affirmative action while disagreeing with its existence. I want to dispute that there is any obligation for even the most ardent opponent of affirmative action to avoid using it. I'll argue this by analogy.

Let's say there's someone who doesn't think rent control should exist. This person thinks rent control violates the rights of land owners and gives
renters an undeserved windfall gain. Let's call this hypothetical person Robert Nozick. Is he under some obligation to not take advantage of the existence of rent control? I would suggest that he is not obliged to. Of course, he is going to look bad making use of a practice which he says is unjust. But really, he thinks the whole system of laws should be changed in such wholesale ways that his position is best understood as saying "In an ideal world rent control wouldn't exist." Now even if he is completely right about that, the bare fact tells you very little about how he should behave in the world of the second-best where we actually live. In particular, unjust rent control may function in opposition to other systematic injustice in the real world or it may be that the owners who rent control is being imposed upon aren't the rightful owners in a Nozickian sense and therefore don't have the moral standing to object to rent control. In short, it can be perfectly ethical to take part in an institution while simultaneously acting in a sincere manner to eliminate it.

Similarly, the bare fact that this student opposes the existence of affirmative action places no obligation on her to avoid the existing program. Other students are going to benefit from the practice, so by opting out she risks making herself worse off than she would be in the ideal world of no affirmative action. The main reason I see for her decision to opt out is that the contrary position makes her rhetoric less effective.

As for Randy's advice, it's not terrible. Telling the student they may want to rethink affirmative action isn't crazy, though Michigan's diversity rationale certainly isn't the only one behind the program. Rather, it's the only reason courts like to hear as justification. On the other hand, someone who bothers to write to Cohen about affirmative action probably does care a good deal about the issue and has given it a lot of thought. So it's sort of condescending to say that she should rethink her belief. His joke about not robbing banks because he doesn't know how to divvy up the loot is moronic, but he tends to say things like that every once and a while and I've come to accept it.

Oh, in case I was being too subtle or you didn't follow the link, Nozick really did take extreme advantage of rent control laws.

Update (2:00): This post has been revised. Also, to clarify my view: As I said, I think the belief that something shouldn't exist doesn't tell you how to behave in the world where it exists. It does create an ethical obligation to act towards a world where it doesn't exist. If, and only if, her mentioning her race made affirmative action more likely to continue existing, then she would have a very real obligation not to mention her race. Since I doubt the truth of the antecedent clause, I doubt that she has any such obligation.


Now is the Time on Sprockets When We Dance!

An excellent post by Michael Berube, the web's foremost Dieter look-a-like, has me nostalgic about St. Louis for the first time in nine months. The context of the post is going to visit his son at Wash U and walked down Del Mar with him. The best graf is probably:

And as we talked, I remembered all the reasons I’m so fond of St. Louis, and why I’m glad Nick is going to college there, and even more glad that he’s not staying on the carefully manicured lawns of Wash. U., but actually getting out and canvassing the city– not just for John Kerry (or Chuck Berry), but as part of his architecture program, one course of which required him to propose and design an urban-renewal project for a section of the urb that needs serious renewing. These days, though, my fondness for St. Louis is tinged by pity, and pity is among the cheapest and most insulting of emotions. May’s Department Stores, the third largest public company in town, is folding its tent; American Airlines, having ingested the sorry remains of TWA, has cut its St. Louis flights by fifty percent, leaving behind a giant sucking sound at Lambert International Airport; and the historic downtown area– which has, alas, fallen prey to the kind of fools who think you can revive a downtown area by building more stadiums and parking lots, and who don’t realize that after the Blues and Rams games let out, everyone heads straight to their cars because there isn’t a single index of ordinary life (like grocery stores) within ten miles– is a study in depression, economic and affective.

If you care about St. Louis, read the whole thing. It's really good.

On a separate note, I saw Gunner Palace. It's good, I recommend it, but it's not what I was expecting. In particular, it's much less intense than I thought it would be. I'll put togehter some comments about it tomorrow. Of course, a running theme on this blog has been that every post I say in writing that I am going to write in the future does not get written.




Understanding Statistics

With the Yankees now at an impressive 0-3-1 record, and losing to a bunch of terrible teams, I decided it was time to look for a study on the correlation between spring training record and regular season record. I've frequently heard that there is almost no relationship, and my observations agree with that, but I was hoping to find some good numbers on it. All I could find was this pretty useless chart from 2001:
The Balance Sheet
A look at how the past 20 World Series champs fared
in spring training games compared to the regular season:


World Series Winner
Winning Pct.
Reg. Season
Winning Pct.
2000 New York Yankees 13-21 .382 .540
1999 New York Yankees 14-19 .424 .605
1998 New York Yankees 15-12 .556 .704
1997 Florida Marlins 26-5 .839 .568
1996 New York Yankees 16-15 .516 .568
1995 Atlanta Braves 17-21 .447 .625
1993 Toronto Blue Jays 11-19 .367 .586
1992 Toronto Blue Jays 13-18 .419 .593
1991 Minnesota Twins 21-10 .677 .586
1990 Cincinnati Reds 9-7 .563 .562
1989 Oakland Athletics 19-13 .594 .611
1988 Los Angeles Dodgers 21-11 .676 .584
1987 Minnesota Twins 14-10 .583 .525
1986 New York Mets 13-13 .500 .667
1985 Kansas City Royals 12-15 .444 .562
1984 Detroit Tigers 11-17 .393 .642
1983 Baltimore Orioles 15-11 .577 .605
1982 St. Louis Cardinals 13-11 .542 .568
1981 Los Angeles Dodgers 12-14 .462 .573
1980 Philadelphia Phillies 10-9 .526 .562
If anyone knows where I can find better information on this, or wants to run the comparisons themselves, thanks!