Say no to outrage fatigue

Maybe I missed this in previous news, but part of our extraordinary rendition policy is to send prisoners to Uzbekistan? I'm not trying to imply that other countries we've rendered prisoners to, like Syria and Egypt, are pleasant places to go. But Uzbekistan? They've boiled people to death, and the U.S. State Department has repeatedly pointed out their human rights abuses. But apparently brutally interrogating suspected terrorists is so important that no other principle can possibly constrain our actions. At this point, I would only be a little surprised to find out that we were rendering prisoners to North Korea for interrogation. Sure, they're a despotic regime run by a lunatic who hates us. But if we some suspicion that someone is a terrorist, but not enough to go after them under U.S. law, why should we let that stop us?

I haven't seen her post much recently, but Katherine at Obsidian Wings was the place to go for extraordinary rendition related information, since she's actively engaged in research on the topic. I don't see any mention of her on the Obsidian front page, so I don't know if she's gone inactive or changed sites or neither of the above but she's clearly still commenting there. I thought she had more of a formal role in the past, but maybe I'm wrong.

Update: I'm glad I couldn't get Crooked Timber to load earlier today, because if I could I would have seen a post remarkably similar to this one and not been motivated to write mine. And the aforementioned Katherine is in comments there, providing suggestions about contacting one's Representative or Senator. Also, at least one commenter there endorses torture as smart policy, and I don't know what the proper combination of fury and fear is towards such a person.


Nice work, Randy

While I frequently go after his work as the Ethicist, Randy Cohen does have some good ideas. Like creating a literary map of Manhattan. This will be a map showing Manhattan with its real layout, and the locations of the homes and assorted haunts of fictional characters overlaid on that. If there home is in an actual building, it will be marked as such, otherwise the place the building would be will be marked. Some of this requires deducing the precise location of a vaguely defined building from clues in the text, which is a large part of the fun. Oh, and he wants reader submissions, so if you have Manhattan based fiction lying around, read it over and send it in. I haven't sent in anything yet, but I plan on doing so shortly. I'm thinking the hotel where Nick and Nora are staying in The Thin Man, but I can't find my copy right now.




Mr. Heldman Goes to One First Street

I wanted to post something earlier today about how long it's taking for an opinion to be issued in Raich v. Ashcroft. That's the case Randy Barnett argued before the Supreme Court on whether or not Congress's Commerce Clause power extends to overruling state laws permitting medical marijuana. Probably the most interesting aspect of this case is that the Justices who are most in favor of placing a meaningful limit on the Commerce Clause are also the most anti-drug Justices. Many people, including myself, are quite curious to see how this will be resolved. But I wasn't going to blog about this, because it's a just a rehash of old material.

But now I have something new to add on a vaguely related topic: There's soon to another blogger
(other than the SCOTUSblog crew, who I know had at least one cert. petition granted recently), Sam Heldman, appearing before the Supreme Court. And he's appearing on something even more interesting than core issues of limited federal power and the drug war: When lawyer's fees for cases removed to Federal Court and then remanded because the removal was improper should be shifted to the moving party. This is good news, because I find Heldman's political views far more reasonable than Prof. Barnett's, who is a crazed liberterian (NB: I use crazed as a modifier to liberterian in a respectful manner).





Finals are hard. Studying for finals is time-consuming. Therefore, expect less blogging, though there may be more if I need a lot of breaks.

Also, Spitzer is suing some spyware company. The facts presented underdetermine any questions about how politically motivated this is. Further, Spitzer is going to win the governors election easily, though I suppose it's still important for him to keep his name in the news. I'm sure this case will be settled in a week or two, that tends to be the result in these "Spitzer sues major corporation case."

And my captioning game was a massive failure, maybe that picture isn't as amusing as I think.

Finally, I'm going to put up two Randy Cohen related posts sometime soon, the non-ethicist response one of which I learned about from Gothamist.

Update: This post has been changed in a couple of ways since it was originally posted; I can't imagine anyone cares.




It bears repeating

Michelle Malkin is quite mad. The Poorman is quite funny. Enough said. Everytime you see Michelle on television, and she's on the cable news channels a good bit, just remember who you're watching.


Losing touch

Volokh has a good, long post up on how first amendment issues interact with laws that prohibit threats to kill the President. His analysis seems sound to me, but since he's a 1st Amendment scholar and I haven't studied it all, that's rather unsurprising. What I want to do is apply that analysis to a very similar (but fictional) example. Namely, the episode of West Wing (1.03 "A Proportional Response") where Congressman Bertram Coles (sp?) goes on the radio and says the following, "Folks down here are patriotic, fiercely patriotic. The President better not be planning on making any visits to this base, if he does he may not get out alive." Coles is the congressperson from a fictional district containing a fictional Air Force base, to which some funding has just been cut. According to Volokh, this statement would also be constitutionally protected. The speech has to have been both understood by the listeners to be "a true threat rather than hyperbole," and it must have been intended to place the victim in fear of harm. Coles' speech does not have either of these properties. It is inconsistent with the idea that it's a true threat that he made the statement on the radio and non-anonymously, since if he had any intention of acting on it and getting away with it, he wouldn't have done that. On the second prong, he wasn't even addressing the speech to the President, though he could be fairly certain he'd hear it. It seems that is not the kind of speech which is intended to make someone believe that the other person plans to harm them, and it certainly didn't have that effect on Pres. Bartlett.




Quintuples, anyone?

Time to steal Roxanne's game. Provide your own caption.

Update: Maybe this was unclear to all but one of you, but I meant "Provide your own caption in comments." Not, "Think of your own caption and don't tell anyone else about it." That game is less fun.


Not a book review

I don't want to/ know how to write a book review, so I'm simply going to recommend Shadow of the Wind. It's a great read, despite the fact that the blurb which convinced me to read it ("Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges") is largely wrong. It's not nearly surreal enough for Marquez, metaphysical enough for Borges, or historical enough for Eco. Now one might be tempted to say that it could still attain some kind of middle ground between those three, but trust me that it doesn't. It's Borgesian element is that it's largely concerned with the author of a fictional book (like Pierre Menard), it takes from both Eco and Borges a concern with libraries and labyrinths, and I suppose it has something of the detective fiction which Borges aped. I have no idea what it's supposed to share with Marquez other than being good and originally written in Spanish. But read it. I think I've missed some of it's humor on my first read through, perhaps subsequent experiences will tell.


Mutually Assured Destruction?

Kevin Drum and Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings have already posted about the nine bills which Senate Democrats will force floor discussion on if the nuclear option is exercised, which means if you're a regular blog reader, you've already heard about it. If not, I recommend reading about it at Obsidian Wings, since the commenters there are far more informative than the nuts who hang out at Washington Monthly.

I especially like this comment (scroll up one, their comment links are weird):
In the long run, our best hope of getting back to a functioning multi-party democracy, instead of a one-party dictatorship, is for the minority party to realize that these are not normal times.

I think the comment is properly read as saying that the long-term trend is going to be in one of those two directions, not that the current state of our government is a one-party dictatorship. Read in that manner, it's quite right.


I read Bierce, II

Dependent, adj. Reliant upon another's genoristy for the support which you are not in a position to extract from his fears.

Insurrection, n. An unsuccessful revolution. Disaffection's failure to substitute misrule for bad government.

For readers who are in my class (by my count, there are around two of you), this last is especially apt in light of some of the more inflammatory comments from Crim. today.


What's the matter with your Yankees?

I was visiting family this weekend, and heard the titular question quite a bit. I didn't have much of an answer then other than, "I'm not that worried, so many of them are playing below their true talent that I think things will turn around." I just found a better answer: I'm not really paying much attention to Boston much right now, or the standings. I just checked them for the first time in a while today. I didn't know the Yankees were in last place, but they're 8-11, which is exactly the same record they had after getting swept by Boston at home almost exactly a year ago.

They were four and a half back then, and they're four back now, so big deal. It took them about a week to get back into first place last season.

That's from Larry Mahken discussing the current state of the Yankees at the Hardball Times. Read the whole thing, if you care. It's quite good.




Reliance and predictability

Will wonders why, when "a majority of justices can all be convinced that the Constitution requires something different than some old justices did, ... they should stand by error." In order to sustain this as an argument against a strong presumption of Stare Decisis one has to address the issue of retrospective versus prospective judicial decision making. This is especially a problem because, while previous courts showed some willingness to engage in prospective decision making, the current court is quite loathe to use it. In order to make this more concrete, let's look at the same example Will brings up, Roe v. Wade.

Many states (I don't know how many) still have their pre-Roe anti-abortion statutes on the books. If Casey had found that Roe was wrongly decided and that there is no Constitutional right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, all abortions that took place in those states between the time of Roe and the time of Casey would be criminal acts, and prosecutable if the statute of limitations had not yet run. This is because, without prospective decision making, Casey would have had to hold that their was never a Constitutional right to abortion and those statutes were always in effect. The interest in reliability is a reason for a strong presumption of Stare Decisis or for increased prospective decision making, but I don't see how you can weaken the presumption and leave retrospectivity in place as strongly as it currently is.


Know your audience

If your idea of fun is mocking celebrities for their poorly thought out political views, especially on environmental issues, you'll love this story. The money quote is, "Barrymore, apparently enthralled by the lack of a modern sanitary facilities, gleefully bragged, "I took a poo in the woods hunched over like an animal. It was awesome." Personally, I already knew that a lot of celebrities don't have deeply considered views on the interaction between environmental issues and global poverty.

The thing I found interesting is a quote from one Paul Drissen, who's apparently an anti-environmentalist. His quote accuses the MTV show which the article is about of trying to create "
ventriloquest's dummies for the sustainable development movement." This makes some very strange assumptions about the audience being written for, in particular that they've not only heard of the sustainable development movement but also have a sharply negative view of it. Actually, having just looked at the other headlines on the site that article is from, it's pretty clear who the audience is. Still, I hadn't realized "sustainable development" had such cachet as a demonization.




Superficial research ruins my point

A terse post at Crescat Sententia refers to the "extortion" practiced by the proprietor of Save Toby. Save Toby is of course, completely fake. It's not real. There is no real rabbit, and it doesn't seem that people are even really donating money.

At least, that's the Snopes version of the story, the version I believed when I started writing this post. But I just read the NBC news story which the Crescateer mentions, and that article treats Save Toby as real. The basis on the word of the sites creators, without the reporter actually being shown the rabbit in question. I still find the Snopes debunking to be persuasive, but the NBC story is more recent, and brings some "facts" to light which Snopes doesn't address.

On the off chance that the site is real, my quick ethical take is that I don't think there's a moral obligation to be a vegetarian, I think the people running the site (if real) are people I wouldn't want to associate with, though I can't really articulate what they're doing wrong. As the Snopes entry notes, anyone donating money is behaving pretty stupidly, since even if it's real the same money could save far more non-Toby rabbits.




Santorum the Europhile

There are plenty of reasons to loathe Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.). But somehow he always manages to come up with new ones. With that in mind, I'd like to prevent two news stories to compare and contrast.

Going chronologically, Alex at Marginal Revolution* linked, back in February to a Financial Times article on differences in the way government generated information is controlled and distributed in the United States versus Europe. Counter-intuitively, the United States system is described as "a benign form of informational socialism," while the European nations have a tightly controlled system of copyrights and user fees. The article focuses in particular on the free distribution of weather information by U.S. agencies It finds that the money invested by the U.S. government in weather information generates thirty-nine times its cost in social wealth, while the money invested by European governments only generates seven times its cost. So it seems from this article that the United States system is a better way to deal with this particular industry than the European one.

The new article (via Josh Marshall) is about how Santorum wants to ban government agencies from providing this information for free to the public (the government agencies are of course funded by taxes). If the public can't get it for free, AccuWeather will make more money. AccuWeather is based in Pennsylvania and is a Santorum contributor (albeit a small one). Despite the fact that the current system seems to be providing a large benefit to the U.S. overall, Santorum wants to scrap it. The bill is counterproductive and asinine; hopefully this is the last we'll hear of it.

*Unlike some people (the title of the linked post referred to the wrong one for approx. the first 24 hours it was up) I can keep their contributors straight.


For all you poker fans

As a followup to a recent discussion about running into famous people (esp. athletes) in everyday life, I submit the following story about one person who, while not famous, is at least renowned in his profession, meeting with another who frequently competes on ESPN despite not being an athlete.

The cast of characters:

Mike D'Angelo - currently reviewing films for Esquire and, he's previously worked for Time Out New York, maintained an extensive compendium of his web based criticism since 1996 or so, and demonstrated his skill as one of the great haiku authors of our time (scroll down to Men with Guns). See also his classic review of The Rock, as well as many others. He does not frequent an underground poker club in New York.

Phil Hellmuth, Jr. - Has won as many World Series of Poker titles as anyone else in history. Not someone you want to see sit down across from you at a Poker table.

The setting:
Early one Saturday morning at the underground Poker club which Mike does not regularly attend.

For the rest of the story, including extensive notes on Hellmuth's drunken playing style, see Mike's blog.


Poetry Month

The start of a new series in which I post excerpts from Ambrose Bierce. While walking to class today, I passed by one of the bookseller's stalls which are frequently set up on the outskirts of Washington Square Park. I was promptly persuaded to purchase a copy of The Devil's Dictionary:

n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

O, what's the loud uproar assailing
Mine ears without cease?
'Tis the voice of the hopeful, all-hailing
The Horrors of peace

Ah, Peace Universal ; they woo it--
Would marry it, too.
If only they knew how to do it
'Twere Easy to do.

They're working by night and by day
On their problem, like moles.
Have mercy, O Heaven, I pray,
On their meddlesome souls




No, I am

For those of you who aren't already Unfogged readers, and think that what this site needs is more in depth discussion of relatively minor ethical issues (I do in fact think this, though I'm probably the only one), head over to FL's post, "I am Randy Cohen." It's about a "hypothetical" dilemma on whether to turn in a student who cheated in a different Prof's class. I'd rather not reproduce my comments here, my concerns in brief were whether or not there's enough evidence to make the charge stick, whether there's enough discretion to avoid too extreme a punishment, and possible problems for the student who inadvertently informed FL.


Shortest distance between any two points

Bashing Tom Friedman is a venerable tradition on certain blogs, and with good reason. I like him more than many, because he was the commencement speaker at my college graduation, and did a pretty good job with the speech. Or maybe I was just in a non-critical mood that day and didn't notice the many glaring errors. Either way, the cover of this weeks' New York Press mocks him, and it's very funny. Matt Taibbi's review, on the other hand, is hyper-critical, calling Friedman out on everything that is even conceivably an error and on certain things that plainly aren't.

The best point the review makes is a geometric one, that if the world were flat, things would be further apart than they are in a spherical world. I find it difficult to believe that Friedman wrote a ≅ 500 page book on the theme of the world moving closer together, called it The World is Flat and didn't think of this, but if that really is the case he should be quite embarrassed.

Update: I should probably edit this post so that rather than showing whatever is on the the cover of the current issue of the New York Press, it shows the cover of the particular issue with the Thomas Friedman cartoons. But I can't find the full cover anywhere on the internet. So here's a link to the cartoonist.

Update 2: I got it.


Get off the fence

Senator Chafee seems to want credit for being open minded on the John Bolton nomination. But one really good way to get credit is to actually be open minded. Since it turned out to be Voinovich who kept the nomination from going to the floor two days ago, Chafee so far hasn't done much other than made some noises about his lack of confidence, but how he really wants to give Bush the nominees Bush wants. This WaPo story has a strange take on it, the only news in it is that Chafee says he is, "less likely" to vote for confirming Bolton right now, though it doesn't say less likely than what. So it commits him to nothing at all. On the other hand it sounds negative, and he's saying it in public, so he might also be sending a signal about the chances of the nomination. Finally, the article gives Voinovich strangely little credit for what he actually did. Oh, and the White House acting like no one could have a substantive reason for disliking Bolton is infuriating.


College of cardinals and me

Rome Day ? + 5 (I think):

We had to come to Roma because the College of Cardinals called me to ask me to consult with them about a new pope. That was pretty neat. Roma is also very cool. It smelly and dirty and loud, sort of like NYC but older and prettier and you can drink on the street. Being able to speak to people is also nice. And the keyboards are normal, except the one I using which has all the letters rubbed off.
One thing that bugs me about Europe in general is that you´ve got to pay to piss. You´d except bathrooms to be immaculate when it costs $0.50 or $1 to go pee, not so.
Anyway, back to Roma...Weŕe staying in a dope hostel here, flat screen TVś, free internet. It´s pretty schwanky. Weŕe off to the beach on a night train tonight. I´m stocked.




Treating variables as constants

The case for zoning laws which prohibit building entirely because they aren't aesthetically pleasing is parallel to the case against anti-discrimination laws. The reasons to support one are structurally the same as the reason to oppose the others. The major justification for not allowing a house to built because it is ugly is that it will lower the property values of the surrounding houses, imposing an illegitimate externality. But this takes market valuations of property values as constant, something which won't be changed as a house previously considered ugly becomes neutral, or even attractive. But since such laws don't allow the houses to be built, they never have a chance to become prevalent and the market valuation doesn't change.

The case for allowing employment discrimination in (for instance) law firms. The major justification would be that it would lower the rates your firm could charge to others, even for the employees who aren't members of a discriminated against class. If the marketplace values the work less, your firm is losing value by being forced to not discriminate. Again, this treats the valuation of the market place as a constant, rather than something that can be changed. So employing lawyers who are members of a discriminated against class may well cause the market to become neutral or positive towards these workers

Which isn't to see these zoning laws are as invidious as employment discrimination, since that hurts a more valuable interest, but just that zoning laws based purely on aesthetics are dangerously unjustified.



Coalition for Darfur has another post up comparing the indifference to Rwandan genocide ten years ago to the indifference to Darfur today. It goes over the timeline of what events dominated news coverage while each of these tragedies were taking place.

For instance:
In mid May, the International Red Cross estimated that 500,000 Rwandans had been killed.

On June 17, OJ Simpson led police on a slow speed chase in a White Ford Bronco.

On July 4, the rebel army took control of the Rwandan capitol of Kigali and the genocide came to an end in a country littered with nearly one million corpses.

Read the whole thing, and try to figure out what can be done to bring this to a halt.




Rules for Thee, no Rules for Me

There's a bunch of strange procedural maneuvering, relating to the John Bolton U.N. nomination, taking place on the floor of the Senate right now. I don't quite understand it, but it seems to involve everyone in the Senate except the Foreign Relations Committee going into a recess, and different Senators calling for votes to block different moves. You can read about it at The Washington Note and try to figure out what's going on. Scroll down three posts or so from the top.



It's too nice out to write something of any extent write now, so I'm just going to link to the bizarre New Yorker profile of Ellen Barkin and her life as billionaire Ronald Perelman's wife. The odd thing about the profile is that while reading, I kept wondering if it was going anywhere. The last line is then so felicitous and self-referential to the article as a whole that I'm slightly skeptical the author of the piece didn't tell her to say it. Either that or Barkin is shockingly self-aware and knew how the piece would read. But it can't just be a coincidince.

The article on the Brooklyn Borough President is good too, and I haven't gotten any further than that in this week's issue.




Raz for Chief Justice

This post may eventually become answers to questions only I was wondering about, part IV. While reading a post at Volokh Conspiracy on dark horse Supreme Court nominees, the name Joseph Raz popped into my head. But Raz isn't a U.S. citizen. I thought this would be the end of it, but I couldn't remember ever having seen a source for a rule preventing non-Citizens from becoming Judges. To be on the safe side, I checked. The Constitution, while imposing citizenship requirements for the House, Senate, and Presidency, is silent on the matter for Judges. I looked in both Article III and the appointments clause, and I can't think of where else such a requirement would be found. I must be missing something obvious, but if this requirement isn't in the Constitution, it seems to me there is no such requirement. I'm fairly certain any statute on point would be an unconstitutional violation of the Appointments clause, and the same would have to apply to case law, I think. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated, though I expect to be embarrassed when I hear the answer.

Update: I should note that I know essentially nothing about Joseph Raz, and as such have no opinion on his qualifications for any judgeship, or complete lack thereof. I just think this foreign citizen issue is very odd. Also, I'm quite anxious to hear an answer, though not quite enough so to do real research.


Another Kerr(e)y Campaign

I somehow missed this over the weekend, but Bob Kerrey is thinking about entering the New York mayoral election. See the Times here and here. This post will be updated, and this sentence will vanish, after I actually read those articles.


Generalizations about 2 Germanic countries

Day ? + 3: Salzburg, Austria

After spending 2 nights in Austria (following almost 2 weeks in Germany) I am fully prepared to make and stand by the gross generalization that Austrian are simply more friendly and animated than Germans.
First the evidence: 1) I my experiences with tourist offices in Germany I found the people working there entirely preoccupied with whatever else the were doing to be helpful AT ALL. We all know I am in full support of being in deriliction of duty but give me a freaking break. All your job entails is smiling and handing out maps, maybe answering a question or two. Is that so hard to accomplish? I felt as though I was doing something wrong everytime I asked a tourist information person a question.
2) Not once, not twice, probably about 6 times I went up to someone (at a bakery, train station desk, restuarant) and before asking a question or ordering said "wie gets" (sp), which means how are you. Each time I got blank stares. Worried I was saying the wrong thing a consulted a taxi driver. He confirmed I was in fact saying it correctly and understandably. So what gives.

In two nights in Austria I have had countless conversations with randoms at bars, coffee shops, on the street, etc. Everybody seems excited and willing to talk and help. My first night, just 10km or so across the border in Wiessenbach, in Triol, in the foothills of the Alps (gorgeous, by the way, Langer your mountains ain't shit). I stopped in at a restaraunt for some grub. Unfortunately I was too late so I just had a beer.
Within 10 minutes, 8 guys from the town were talking to me asking questions, offering to take me skiing, buying me drinks, I couldn't get out of there.

Lexi proposed a reason for this difference. Seems right to me. Here it goes: All living Germans have lived through continuous hell, begining with WWI, every 20 years or so things go to shit. Maybe we wouldn't be so willing to answer "how's it going" if we had been the battleground for 2 wars and the Cold War.


As promised

Jumping right in to this week's Ethicist, Randy botches the first question by missing who was in danger of being wronged. He worries about the baseball player having been the victim of unfair dealings on the part Ms. Robel's son. I think there is more of a problem with that deal then Randy does. If it becomes well known that 11 year olds will resell baseballs immediately, players will decrease their practice of giving out baseballs for free, raising the cost of baseballs and harming everyone in the market for authentic Major League baseballs. But that's not even the most serious issue in these facts. The serious issue is whether the son's consent to the deal is genuine at all, or whether Mr. Robel (assuming she's taken her husband's last name) telling him that it was a good idea led to badly formed preferences. Basically, the fact that the son is in fact happy with the deal isn't nearly enough in my book to figure out if the father and the other person who offered to pay did something wrong to either the child or his future self. The child might find the ball incommensurable with any monetary value, or his future self might find the memory of the ball incommensurable. I just worry that he's presently happy because his father basically told him that it was a good deal and should make him happy. Also, most of Randy's answer is irrelevant.

On the second question, I recommend ignoring the second and third paragraphs in which Randy suggests that maybe Doctor Martin can pretend "learning disability" is so vague as to be meaningless, before noting that he can't actually do that. I do agree with Randy's point that it's bizarre to characterize passive-aggressive behavior which is designed to not be noticed as "civil disobedience."

On the third question, I can't immediately find the Pennsylvania Penal Code, but I have the New York one in front of me. Depending on New York case law on how the term "knowingly" is interpreted vis-à-vis willful ignorance, the actions described in the letter would be a crime in New York. In particular, if Ms. Ramond meets the knowledge requirement, it's Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree (165.40), a Class A misdemeanor. That crime sets no lower boundary of the value of the thing possessed, though I imagine that would be taken into account in assessing the level of punishment. So my answer is that once her suspicious are aroused that she might have received something stolen, she had damn well better take some positive steps to ensure that it isn't. Calling the university would be a good one. As a final note, I wouldn't hold myself to the standard in this answer, but that just makes means I'm willing to commit crimes, not that the answer is wrong. I'm also assuming without any support that the legal rule is co-extensive with the ethical obligation to not encourage theft.


Zoom In

Cool pictures, I recommend stealing them and turning them into desktops. Not that I'm doing that.

Via Pratlike guest-blogging at Washington Monthly. Speaking of which, I was under the impression that Kevin's gig over there is paid. Do his guest-bloggers get a share, or just say thanks for the exposure? Not there would be something wrong the wsecond, just curious.




Watch this space

Ethicist reponse forthcoming in a hour or two. My verdict is mixed, certainly less positive than last week.

Update: If there is one thing reading this blog should teach you, it's that when I say a post is coming soon, I am lying. It'll be up before 11:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. The previous sentence is true and the rule from the first sentence does not apply to it.


Crowding out

My "Sites I Read," is either hovering on the brink of uselessness, or has just fallen off the edge and into it. I'm somewhat confident that the previous sentence wasn't a mixed metaphor. If you count each writer at tapped individually, the roll just got a lot more liberal. If you count tapped as one unit of liberalism, the roll still got more liberal, but only slightly (two of the four new links are to sites that are unambiguously not liberal). It also just got more significantly more feminist, unless John Cole has some anti-feminism positions that I don't know about.




Bitch. Ph. D. speaks, I link

Her post is primarily about what it means to be pro-choice and the value of civility, but see Laws as Fairness and comments therein for some more context and another application for at least the civility part.


Cass speaks, I link

Cass Sunstien writes an Op-Ed on the terrifying assault on judicial independence. In the past, I believe I've called this, "deciding individual cases by which side yells the loudest." Maybe it would be better to call it, "deciding individual cases however they want whenever the Republicans yell loudly."

I don't fully understand the last paragraph of the Op-Ed about how this plays into judicial confirmation battles, since it seems to me who a judge is should be totally irrelevant under this view.




Economics of Begging

Alternate title for this post: How callous can I be?

It's a fairly common observation, similar to the bystander effect*, that if there are too many people begging for money in any particular area, people will feel far less of an impulse to give money to any of them. The thinking that I'm fairly certain takes place is: I have no better reason to give money to one of these people than I do to any other. So if I give money to one of them, I should give money to all of them. But I don't want to/ don't have enough to give to all of them.

While this is not sound reasoning, I do think it takes place in a lot of people's minds. I conclude this by extrapolating from the sample of minds I have access to. I think this phenomenon is fairly well recognized, though I have no data to back that up. If the above theory is true, it's tempting to say that people begging for money optimize their expected revenue by dispersing as far as possible.

Tonight, I noticed a countervailing trend. Usually, I'm walking fairly quickly. I won't notice someone begging until I am almost by them, and it doesn't register that I should consider giving them money until I've passedthem by. But at that point, I sometimes feel qualms about having not given that person any money. So I think to myself, "Self, you should give money to the next person you see begging." And then I pay more attention, so I'm less likely to walk by someone without noticing them. If this second phenomenon can also be extrapolated beyond me, it means that any individual person looking for money on the street wants to be in an area where there is at least one other person begging in close proximity. However, if there are too many more than one, no one gets anything. I'm not sure exactly where the threshold is.

Tyler has an old post on whether or not people should give to beggars (versus non-begging homeless people) that is far more succinct than mine, and better in a host of other ways.

*The bystander effect is where many people in an area all see an evil taking place (one person savagely beating another, say) and all decide not to intervene because they expect one of the many other people in the area to do it. The fewer people there are in the area, the more likely it is that one of them will intervene.


Laws as Fairness?

I've tried to explain my view on the incident between one of my fellow students and Scalia below, and in comments both at this site and elsewhere. But I don't think I've done that great a job, since other people still think I'm wrong and I think I'm right.

Will posted his take earlier today, which I think gets it pretty much right. In response to a defense of the questioner's actions, he says,
"This is clever, but confused. There's no particular reason that the notion of "privacy" for purposes of academic and social etiquette should perfectly track the notion of "privacy" for purposes of constitutional law. Etiquette is a bottom-up institution determined by the evolving standards of society. Law (at least written constitutional law and statutory law, if not common law) is laid down in written rules set forth in large books. It would be passing strange if the legal standards devised by the 39th Congress and ratified by mid 19th-century citizens rose or fell with the evolving standards of etiquette."

I say pretty much right because I think his argument here is overly dependent on his general textualism, and I'd like to persuade people who aren't textualists that my classmate was wrong. Also, etiquette seems like a weak term. I want to say more than that it was bad etiquette. That is, I don't see how the ethical standards for what it is proper to ask someone have to do with legal standards, even if one believes that the law is a brooding omnipresence in the sky. So I don't see how the question has anything to do with Scalia's position in general.

Finally, I don't find the argument that Scalia just deserves to be insulted in general to be very persuasive. There are two reasons for this. First, granting that Scalia holds bigoted, anti-homosexual views, does it really mean that people should go out of their way to offend him in all of his public appearances? Given that he was in some sense doing the community a courtesy by being available for public questioning by any interested party, wasn't this a uniquely poor situation to mock him? Tied into this, he is one of the prime expositors of a view of the law which is important both academically and in actual practice. It seems that it is worth hearing him speak to hear this even if he also holds disgusting views about gay rights. This second reason probably isn't as strong as the first. But I do want to be clear that my position isn't that "civility is so important that no one should ever be insulted, no matter how heinous their view."

Somehow, Wonkette has gotten hold of the student's defense of his own actions. It was circulating on NYU listservs, but I don't know if he sent it to Wonkette himself or if some other person with access to the listservs sent it to her.



The following is almost certainly the best thing NYTimes film critic A.O. Scott has ever written: The reasons to avoid "House of D," David Duchovny's earnest, unwatchable coming-of-age drama, can best be summarized in a simple declarative sentence. Robin Williams plays a retarded janitor.

Yes, I am reviewing film reviews. Why do you ask?


Bier ein mass = Me on my ass

Munich: Day ?

Boy oh boy lots has happened since my last blog...
Left Berlin, after partying till the sun came up over the Spree. That was fun.
The next day there was a huge flea market, one of the sellers was from Peru. Finally someone who I could understand, I got to haggle in Spanish.
Next stop was Bacharach, this place defined touristy cheese. A quaint little village on the Rhine. Absolutely gorgeous but painfully touristy. I slept in a castle.
The state of the town made me wonder, what comes first the tourists or the guidebook.
After exploring Bacharach and St. Goar, 2 obscenely touristy towns on the Rhine filled with grandparents, both of which were highly recommended by the Rick Steve's Guidebook, I stopped in Oberwessel (or something like that) for a glass of riesling trocken and spatenburgen (Rhineland's pinot noir). Equally as pretty and as charming, yet was actually a German town rather than somehting out of Disney World (also with better food). Why is it that the 2 other town's that really have nothing to offer that isn't available in Oberwessel are packed full of Americans and Brits. Is it because of Ricky Steve's or is that why he writes about them?

On a related note Bacharach, I think, raises important philosophical questions about the nature of reality and fakeness. What makes it more authentic than Solvang, CA or Helen, GA. They look the same, act the same, you see the same types of people. Comments and opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Finally, Munich. Much prettier city than Berlin but it's sort of boring and sterile. I feel like im in a museum when I go to the Metro, everybody whispering. However, biergartens are so cool. In the Enligsh Gardens yesterday we were drinking beer...ein mass. That's a freaking liter of beer, and that's what everybody's drinking. Crazy. Needless to say, by 3pm I was loaded.

By the way, I heard somebody say Achtung das ist mien Fus yesterday. I almost peed my pants.




Normally this sentence isn't funny

And the startup cots are more than the market will bear. - Bitch. Ph.D. on why she won't buy fish for her son. The more amusing part is about why she won't buy him mice.


What I would blog about if I were six

Answers to questions only I was asking Part III: How do road work crews cut those very thin, deep (6-12 inches, I would) lines in asphalt to section off one area where they're going to dig? They shoot a “blade” of really high pressure water into the road. I tried to find a picture of the machine used, but all I can really find are a couple of .pdfs on the topic. Yes, this whole post is because I saw a work crew using the machine earlier today and it looked really cool.


The first thing we do, let's kill...

So Mark R. Levin, author of New York Times bestseller Men in Black decided to actually defend James Dobson's comment implying that the Supreme Court is the modern day equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan. His argument is that the court has gotten things wrong in the past, including decisions that were clearly racist. Which is true and totally besides the point. He also claims that liberals are unwilling to critique the Supreme Court because we love "government by the Judiciary" so much. Mr. Levin seems to be confused by the difference between "critiquing" and "think that all Judges who issue rulings which go against our policy preferences should be impeached and then imprisoned." I hope it's just self-evidently false to everyone that don't liberals frequently critique courts, Supreme and otherwise, for getting the decision wrong in a particular case. We just don't tend to go beyond that to deciding that the whole institution of an independent judiciary is wrong and that all cases should be decided by which ever side yells the loudest. For more on Levin and his bestseller, see Dahlia Lithwick. It's a worthwhile read.




Just following orders

Since he provides interesting blog posts everyday, has always been willing to answer my e-mail questions, and asked for all of his readers to do so, here is a link to Tyler Cowen's new single-issue blog on The Avian Flu. I wasn't sure why Prof. Cowen thought the Avian Flu was an important enough issue to focus his attention on it, so I read the entire site archive. I think this must be what has gotten his attention: But it's not a death count that has scientists spooked. About 70 percent of people infected with avian flu die from it. The mortality rate for the Spanish flu, by comparison, was less than 3 percent. The fear is that if natural genetic mutations make the virus more capable of being transmitted from person to person, it could ravage the globe.

Probably combined with: The fact that two viruses — one with a proven track record of transmitting easily into people and another with a mortality rate of between 50 and 80 percent — are circulating in Asia at the same time is something to keep a very close eye on," William L. Aldis, the World Health Organization representative in Thailand, told The Associated Press.

If H7 and H5N1 came into contact and exchanged genetic material, it could create an "organism with H5 lethality and H7 transmissibility," said Aldis.

If you're interested, they're linking to a couple of Avian Flu related stories per day, including interesting ones about vaccine testing.



I've been pretty busy from Sunday on this week, and haven't had much time to spend on the blog. This explains the higher than usual rate of "Repeating what I read in the Times today" blog entries. In that spirit (pun intended), I learned today that many California Wines have higher proofs (though no one really refers to the amount of alcohol in Wine as a proof) than French Wines. Traditionally, wines were 12.5% alcohol. While the story isn't clear about what percentage of new California wines are above that, (and by "isn't clear" I mean provides no information at all), it does say, "'s the rare bottle from California, red or white, that doesn't reach 14 percent alcohol. Many now hit 15, even 16 percent..." The best way to get a grasp on these numbers is to realize that four glasses of 15% wine are equivalent to five glasses of 12% wine.



I missed seeing Justice Scalia speak here today, but I'm bothered by some things I heard about how he was treated. Apparently, during the Q & A, he was asked at least one question which wasn't designed to disagree with his judicial opinions, but rather to pretty seriously personally insult him. I think the school made a good choice to invite him, because an academic institution is a place to hear from people who you vehemently disagree with. This is especially true for someone like Scalia, where the deep and acute disagreements with him are about his incorrect understanding of what the Constitution mandates. I also think that it was a good idea for student groups which opposed his decisions to protest him. It is surely worthwhile to make a public statement about how wrong a lot of people think Scalia's opinions have been. But personal attacks should be out of bounds. They cast a negative light on the school and make it less likely that both Scalia and other people with controversial views will be willing to speak at this school.

Update: Since the most offensive "question" asked of Scalia was published in the NYU student newspaper today, I can quit being needlessly coy about it. He was asked, "Do you sodomize your wife?"




News Summary (sorry)

A couple of the big shot blogs have linked to the NYTimes article about how video evidence showed that members of the NYPD were lying on the witness stand. This was in relation to testimony about the circumstances of the arrests for the protesters at the Republican convention. Basically, in many of the cases the police claimed they were being resisted by the protesters, and the video evidence showed calm compliance. In one of the cases, the police edited the video such that it didn't show the part where the defendant followed orders, and a civilian archivist gave an unedited video to the defense. It was the first story I read today too, and if my cynicism project was further along, I would have written something about how Bloomberg arranged this to make liberal activists look bad and scare the country away from the Democratic party. The fact that this even occurred to me probably means that the real explanation is worse, but I can't figure out what the really evil version is. Probably make the Times reporter complicit somehow, but I'm not creative enough to do that.

While that was a disturbing story, I want to shift focus to good news. With a headline I'm sure they've been waiting to use for a while, the online version of the paper announces, "N.Y. Legislators Kill Death Penalty Bill." Excellent.

Also, check out Yglesias on why reporting on health care problems gets things badly wrong. It's a nice piece about which I have nothing to say.


Fair Elections

Getting Mugabe out of power in Zimbabwe, while clearly not a national security priority, should be a goal of current United States policy as long as we believe that promoting democratic self-rule is a good idea. A recent Economist article discusses South Africa's complicity and discusses possible reasons for it, most worryingly: Perhaps Mr Mbeki believes that backing ZANU is the lesser of two evils, since an opposition victory might prompt Mr Mugabe's generals to mount a coup. Perhaps he believes that, by befriending Mr Mugabe, he can persuade him to rule more wisely—though he has so far failed. Perhaps. But some observers fear that Mr Mbeki just doesn't like to see a fellow liberation leader lose power.

One reason I find this so worrisome is something a thread that the Economist started covering quite a while ago; that Zimbabwe's power supply is entirely dependent on the good will of South Africa. Zimbabwe stopped paying its electricity bills sometimes in late 2002 or early 2003, at that point its other supplies get them off, but South Africa chose to continue supplying it. It's commonly thought that even with Mugabe's extensive control of the state apparatus, if South Africa just cut off the power to Zimbabwe, there would be enough unrest to get him out of office. That's no guarantee of who would come into office next, but it still seems like a good option.

So now the question should be what the United States can do to persuade South Africa that it's in their best interest to turn against Zimbabwe. And I don't know the answer, but there probably is one, and it might not even be that costly.




Everyone Loves to Say "I Told You So"

A while back I posted a fairly obvious complaint about how calling yourself "Liberals Against Terrorism" implies that other liberals aren't opposed to terrorism. Today, while skimming one of the better Republican blogs, I noticed the author snidely taking advantage of the rhetorical opening that title gave him. I know the good people over there were considering a name change at one point, independent of my facetious suggestions for new monikers. Any progress on that? Have you considered Famous Original Democracy's Arsenal?


Time Horizon

Today's Metro section features a fascinating Joyce Purnick piece on the NYC Mayoral elections. It theorizes that the reason that frontrunner Fernando Ferrer is starting to have problems with black voters is that black leaders, in particular Charles Rangel and Al Sharpton, want Bloomberg to win. They want Bloomberg to win, not because they think he'll do a good job as mayor for the next four years. Rather, they want city comptroller William C. Thompson to become mayor in the election after this one. They think he'll have an easier time winning against a non-incumbent Republican than of upsetting the incumbent Democratic Mayor (Ferrer in this scenario) in the primary, and then defeating whichever Republican comes up against a Republican party wracked by discord.

For me, this article brought back a couple of issues I've been thinking about in the last week or two. They're united by me having a short time horizon and frequently missing the politics of an issue, as opposed to the policy. If I thought Fernando Ferrer was going to do a better job as Mayor for the next four years than Bloomberg, I'd be quite likely to do what I can to cause Ferrer to win. Some of it would depend on whether or not I thought Bloomberg's next term as mayor would be outright harmful as opposed to just less beneficial than Ferrer's. If they were both on the good side of the ledger, I could understand accepting the less good option for now in exchange for the best option four years now. (NB: I really think harmful and beneficial are meaningful terms in this context. That is, they are placeholders for substantively detailed pictures of the policies candidates are going to enact, which will be one or the other on balance.)

This post is intended to be the pay off to the "more cynical" comment below, which may make it the first time on this blog that I said I was going to talk about something later and then actually did so.


Spitzer screws up?

Maybe my ethical intuitions aren't as robust as I think they are, but I have no idea why it's considered wrong or shady for the Spitzer for Governor campaign to pay Google for an ad for Spitzer to come up in a sidebar when someone runs a search on AIG. AIG, was of course the recent target of a law suit from the Attorney General's office, so maybe the idea is that Spitzer shouldn't be able to benefit personally from filing law suits as a state agent. But his whole campaign is based on his aggressive pursuit of corporate wrong-doers, and if they really are wrong-doers, why can't the campaign point that out via the method used above.

The campaign obviously did think that it was disreputable, since they blamed it on a junior staffer. But I honestly don't get it. When I run a search on Disney, a sidebar advertisement link comes up for discount tickets. When I run a search on George Bush, a sidebar ad comes up for NPR's election 2004 coverage. It's not as if the sidebar ads are fraudulently passing themselves off as being the results of the search, they appear under the words "Sponsored Links."

So why should someone who doesn't already have negative feelings about Spitzer think that something is wrong here?

Finally, since I'm trying to become more cynical about politics (more on this later), maybe this is exactly the result the Spitzer campaign intended. That is, they felt that Spitzer's takedown of AIG had faded from the public eye, and thought that it would get another surge of attention if there was a story about arguably shady campaign tactics which focused on the connection. Since their actions are actually ethically fine, this ends up reflecting positively on Spitzer overall, though I don't find blaming subordinates for the campaign's action to be very admirable.

Update: I'm still trying to get a better understanding of this, as both an ethical and a public relations matter. Right now, my position is simply to deny the existence of an ethical problem at all, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone can explain what's actually wrong with Spitzer's behavior. On the public relations front, I recognize that it is a problem, but I have no idea why. I think the blind-spot I have on the ethical issue reinforces the PR one. I would assume that it's a larger ethical problem that a google search for Fernando Ferrer includes a sponsored link for Anthony Weiner, one of his competitors for the Democratic Mayoral nomination. I'm not sure I see a problem with that either, I'll have to think about it more.

Update, the Second: For whatever reason, I find this issue disturbingly interesting and have been talking to other people about it for a chunk of the day. The sense I'm getting is that two categorical rules are being conflated. One is that a politician, especially one with the duties of an Attorney General, shouldn't do something merely because it's popular and will advance their career. This is a good principle. The other is that a politician, especially one with the duties of an Attorney General, shouldn't point out things they've done which happen to be popular. This second principle is bizarre. But as far as I can tell, people are seeing an instance which violates the second, and thinking it violates the first. Which is why there's a public relations problem.




A different kind of Ethicist response

Dear this week's Ethicist letter writers: In the future, please face more compelling dilemmas.

Dear L. Eriksen: Where did you get your diagnostic training?

Dear Sarah Richards: The fact that you have motivations for writing the words "gay rights!" other than the advancment of the status of homosexuals in our society isn't any kind of conundrum, though it may turn out to be a clever solution to your problem.

Dear Ming Luke: It's not good policy to increase your institution's entanglement with child-abusing (I am not trying to be glib about child abuse, which is extraordinarily serious, but about the idea that maybe the school should have taken the deal) attempted bribers. I'm sure $10,000 would really help the school, but if film and television have taught me anything, it's that situations like this spiral out of control beyond anyone's intentions.

Dear Randy: When you say, "but even if your assumption is correct, there's nothing discreditable about your polyester plan," don't you mean, "whether or not your assumption is correct?" How could it be worse if her assumption is correct?

Besides that, I have no qualms about his answers this week.



Daniel Okrent has a great article in the NYTimes Week in Review, decrying the culture of scoops which is one of the causes of bad journalism in the United States today. The best part of the article is: Some newspaper people seem to regard beating the competition as the opposable thumb of journalism, an essential characteristic that distinguishes winners from losers. I think it's more like the tailbone, a vestigial remnant from the era when reporters were still swinging from the trees - that distant time when New York had eight daily papers, and newsboys in knickers prowled the streets shouting "Extra!" whenever their papers had something the other guys didn't.

Presumably, the incentive for scoops is created because of a connection papers and magazines perceive between breaking a story a day or two ahead of their competitors, and increased readership. This is most likely the case even when the competitors will have a more fleshed-out version of the story. Given that the behavior of readers is unlikely to change, how can the incentive to get a story out first, even if it's inaccurate or unjustly one-sided, be removed?

I would hope that one benefit of the incessant crowing from blogs about errors in other news and news analysis sources is to create exactly such an incentive, such that it's seen as more valuable to get a story slightly later but more accurately; that this will have more of a positive affect on readership than just being first. Cutting against this is a tendency among some blogs to denounce reporting as inaccurate because it is contrary to one's beliefs about how things should be. This pollutes the signal of a sources quality and makes it less likely that they'll be incentivized to take the time to get things right, since they are guaranteed to be denounced when they get things right which certain people find inconvenient. But I can still hope that the over all signal to noise ratio from blogs is good enough that there will be some improvement in incentives for accuracy over speed.




Public goods

I'm not sure what I think about the extensive presence of the NYPD at Yankee stadium. It seems like a subsidy from the city to the team, since otherwise the stadium would have to hire private security. Since I don't think highly profitable corporations have a great claim on the tax revenues used to pay the NYPD, it seems like it's a bad idea. On the other hand, the 50,000+ fans in attendance probably are entitled to some police protection. On the third hand, the density of police per civilian at the stadium is far, far higher than it is in the normal world. Couldn't these police may be better used in other parts of the city, preventing more serious problems? Finally, I don't know if the Yankee organization does in some way pay their fair share for the services they recieve, in which case I don't really have anything to complain about. The line between public and private with major sporting events is a thin one indeed.

Update: Hypothetically, let's say I have a private party where I invite 1,000 people, all of whom are expected to attend. I'm supplying the guests with large quantities of alcohol, and have reason to think that they'll be in an agitated and/or aggressive mood. Can I reasonably expect the police to provide me with free preventive services, rather than wait for the party to actually get out of control, arrest the people who are out of control, possibly disperse the rest depending on how bad it is, and hold me liable for some amount of the damages caused by my out of control party goers? If I could expect the former, it seems like people wouldn't hire private security services. Does the answer change if rather than inviting 1,000 people, the first 1,000 people to purchase tickets get to come? If I hold the party 81 times per year? Finally, what might actually be the important variation, if I get the city to lease me, say, Washington Square Park, for far below market rents, for the 81 parties per year? In this last situation, I apparently no longer need to hire security, because I don't see the difference between it and the Yankee situation. Except that there is probably a non-linear relationship between number of people present and amount of police needed, so it's not clear whether I would be entitled to one fiftieth of the police the Yankees get, less, or more.


Institutional Competence

We read a case (United States v. Schoon) the other day where a group of protesters were tried with vandalism and other offenses for going into an IRS office, throwing fake blood on the walls, and interfering with their ability of the office to function. They attempted to use a necessity defense, arguing that United States military operations in El Salvador, which they were protesting against, was a greater evil and that their actions were therefore justified. The necessity defense works by saying that a lesser evil (the crime which the defendant is tried with) is necessary to avoid a greater one. For instance, prisoners have successfully used the necessity defense for a prison escape when they were threatened with being raped or killed (after having previously been raped at least once) by other prisoners and escaped to prevent it, provided that they report to the authorities once they have reached safety (or claim during trial that they were planning on reporting into the police).

The 9th Circuit goes through some rather complex reasoning to explain why the necessity defense isn't usable in indirect civil disobedience cases, and is rather persuasive. But I thought they could have dealt with it far more easily simply by holding that Courts don't have the institutional competence to think of the United States foreign policy, as an evil, if it is one. It seems to me that particular thought should be non-cognizable by United States courts. Whether or not the court thinks a particular foreign policy is wise or is, in reality, evil, I don't see how it can hold that foreign policy originating from the same government it is a part of is an evil which can be balanced against.


East meets West

This probably goes without saying but in Berlin, more than anywhere in the world maybe, the struggle between the soviets and America has been played out. I thought it ended when the Wall came down. But I was dead wrong.

Take this for example: Last night while out at a bar, talking to 2 new German friends I mentioned that I was surprised more people in Berlin didn't speak English. I have had one hell of a time trying to communicate for the most part, which surprised me. Our English speaking friend, Martin, explained it as such. Those from the East grow up learning Russian, not English.

It's obvious, but what a revelation, no wonder i've been flailing around so helplessly. There's a full generation of people in Berlin who are bilinugal in German and Russian. If only Pollock were here.




Die Berliners liken der laws

Day 2: Berlin

Today I J walked. I do that all the time. You look both ways, there's no cars coming, you cross the street. Not in Berlin.
Immediately after crossing the street the Polizei swarmed yelling in Germany...I stared blankly at the guy. "No sprechan Deuschte" "I'm very disappointed youn crossed the street when it said don't walk.'

He let me off with a warning. But it served as a good lesson. Don't break the law in Germany.



Do you ever read something and just think, "I've never met that person, yet they seem to know me so well. How do they do it?" Sam Rosenfeld, for some bizarre reason (probably having something to do with being a reporter) decided to attend the Conference Against an Indepdent Judiciary and Rule of Law in General (aka Confronting the Judicial War on Faith). He transcribed a portion of what one the speakers said, and I really think the speakers description of me and most of my associates is shockingly accurate:

My job is stand in the breach between the left and the president’s judicial nominations . . . You know who they are. You’ve seen them. The pro-abortion fanatics and the radical feminists, the atheists who file lawsuits attacking the pledge of allegiance and the ten commandments, the environmentalist tree-hugging animal-rights extremists, the one-world globalists who worship at the altar of the United Nations and international law, the militant homosexuals and the anti-military hippie pieceniks, the racial agitators who believe we are all created equal but some are a little more equal than others, the union bosses and the socialists posing as journalists and college professors, the government bureaucrats and the tax-and-spend junkies, the Hollywood elitists, the air-headed actors and singers who think that we actually care what they think, the pornographers who fund the leftists and who won’t be happy until every Bible in every child’s hands is replaced with the latest copy of Hustler magazine, and of course the gun-grabbing trial lawyers and their willing accomplices in the United States Senate who won’t be happy until they disarm every last citizen down to the last bee bee and paintball gun.



UPDATE: This post contains really really vague spoilers for the entire run of the series West Wing to date. I don't think reading it will damage anyone's enjoyment of any episode of West Wing, but I suppose it's not impossible.

UPDATE 2 (4/13): I somehow missed that there is no "next week's West Wing," since the one on the night I originally wrote this post was the last episode of the season.

Who is going to die or have an act of violence directed against them in next weeks' West Wing? Every season has ended that way (season two had its death in the second to last ep. and the funeral in the last, but it still counts), and I don't see why this will be an exception. My first instinct is that it's Leo, and that naming him as Vice-President is misdirection. However, I'm goin to go for a more off beat pick and say Mrs. Santos, though I have no idea how or why. I also see Will Bailey as a possibility, though I assume they'll want to bring him back into the Santos White House in some manner.





When I was at Washington University in St. Louis, one popular and recurring conversation was about differences in dialect between different parts of the United States. This makes sense, as one of the main features of the school was that many people from the Northeast were living with many people from the Midwest, and there were large populations from the rest of the country as well. While there were a couple forms of this conversation, the most popular was, "What do you call carbonated sugary beverages, frequently served in aluminum containers, in your hometown?" Since this conversation was sort of annoying the first time I ever had it and was asinine the second through fiftieth time, I was happy to find this map which answers the question for all time. Also, the Missouri/Illinois border region is an island of "soda" in a sea of "coke" and "pop. Florida is interesting as well, possibly reflecting retirees.

If you want the numbers behind this map, follow the link under "map" above, I didn't steal all of their source. (Via Marginal Revolution, via Rasmusen.)


Feedback systems

I'm not sure I completely understand the argument made by my guest. That said, if I'm reading it right, it relies on either the strong assumption that the President, his advisers, and the people who wrote the Patriot Act have a good understanding of the Constitutional limits of their power and when a court will determine that these limits have been overstepped or the weak assumption that the people who are actually making use of the Patriot Act on the ground have that understanding. I also think both of these assumptions are false. I can think of a few occasions (and hopefully another) where the administration has asserted a near total lack of constitutional limits on its power and been stopped by the courts. I don't know why the Patriot Act would be different, and I'm not quite sure where the bit about, "guards the act so jealously" comes from, which if it were true might be a reason to believe that this is a different case. As for the on the ground actors, while some of them may be well trained in constitutional discretion, it's doubtful that all of them are. And it's even more doubtful to me that in the moment, when they're really trying to use the act to stop what they (rightly or wrongly) perceive as a terrorist threat they're going to pause to consider the constitutional implications.

If the people who actually created and are administering the Patriot Act don't think there is anything wrong with it, the case for self-regulation collapses, and all the abuses which even according to his case it makes possible must be considered as likely consequences.


Media complicity or giving the people what they want?

I've had a new "Coalition for Darfur" button in the corner for a couple of days, though I haven't mentioned it yet. The coalition blog just put up a rather damning new post. It quantifies the lack of media attention to Darfur by comparing the amount of network news coverage its recieved to that received by "important" events like the Martha Stewart trial and her release. The coalition is trying to cut across partisan lines among blogs, which would certainly be nice, though the coaltion only makes a very small dent in the divisiveness rending the world of blogs. I guess the underlying argument is supposed to be that if Darfur got more major media attention, there would be a higher level of demand by the American people for an intervention of some kind to stop the death there. But it's not clear to me that the causation goes in that direction, rather than in reverse. If Darfur were the sort of thing that a large (or a very vocal) number Americans were likely to demand government action about, the media would probably be covering it more. I'm not saying this is certainly the right direction to draw the link in, but the way the piece implies it goes doesn't have to the case either

The titular question is a false choice, the answer could be both, or neither.



You may have noticed the first guest blogger in the short history of Provisionally Titled earlier today. That may have been a mistake, we'll soon see. Either way, there's going to be another one shortly, who has promised a, "pretty controversial" post which "defen[ds] the Patriot Act on the grounds that it's wildly unconstitutional." I might post a rebuttal afterwards, depending on what he actually says.

UPDATE: I have just discovered, via the above guest, that the font I write in looks the same to him as the font he wrote in. This is because I use Firefox, while he uses Explorer. While I always knew that my page wasn't particularly well-designed, I only now know how bad it looks in explorer. For a less-bad viewing experience, I strongly recommend Firefox. Or maybe I should learn something about web-design so it doesn't look so bad in either.




I'd vote for him

Yglesias was wondering why the Democrats on West Wing are afraid of an atheist, pro-choice Republican candidate.

I answered: If you started watching this season tonight, I'm assuming someone filled you in on everything you say about Vinick, since it was all mentioned in the past couple of weeks, and not once tonight. The easy answer to your question is: West Wing world diverged from the world we live in at least eight years ago, and possibly longer (they've never said who was President prior to Bartlett, I'm not even sure who the last previous President to have been acknowledged was. So the coalitions behind the various parties may be somewhat different, though not that much, since that world's Republicans still oppose stem cell research.

Vinick is also a tax cutter who is quite strong on foreign policy. His atheism wasn't really on the table until after he got the nomination (and even still isn't something he's clear about with the press), though I suppose it strains plausibility that none of his opponents would have found a way to bring it out and use it against him. Also, I think your reaction is partially because you haven't seen how Vinick was developed throughout the season, before the campaigns even started Leo was praising Vinick's speaking ability and charisma to Donna. Finally, one could argue based on the events thorughout the life of the show that partisan rancor isn't quite as big a problem in their world as ours. I think that may be related to why they're really worried about Vinick in some unspecified way.

[Note this a cross-post of my answer in his comments, which I hate doing, but I don't want a zero post day and I've been away from my computer until about now.]


The Takeover

Day 0:

Today is the first of my hopefully semi-regular guest blogs here with the laundry man. I'll be bringing you delicious anecdotes and musing from the other side of pond. Next stop, Berlin.


A learning experience

Last Friday, I posted a reaction to Sam Rosenfeld's query about why Democrats would be trying to get DeLay out of office rather than save his complete soullessness for a midterm election issue. I characterized my post as "naïve," but apparently I'm even more of a neophyte in these matters than I thought. Today, the always astute hilzoy notices two articles about DeLay's failings as an ethical person. One is in the NYTimes, the other in the Washington Post. Based on the particular sources and timing used for these articles, hilzoy asserts that it must be someone in the Republican party who is going after DeLay. This, if true, would strongly support Rosenfeld's point, since it means that at least some Republicans perceive DeLay as enough of a liability that they're willing to go after him even if slightly weakens their party in the short term. Given that my main lesson from this is how little I know, I'm not going to speculate any further.




It's the feel good post of the season

I have nothing in particular to add to this quite long Brad DeLong post, but I find it inspirational and hope others might. Some people read it as being condescending to struggling academics, I don't.