Friday morning at nine o'clock she is far away

I know people need topics for blog posts, cable tv shows, and all that other jazz, and that saying the same thing over and over doesn't entertain your “audience” which is purportedly important for having a “good” blog which makes you “money,” but to my mind the card check/ Employee Free Choice Act debate was settled by this post, or more accurately the study linked in it, two and a third years ago, at least until someone shows me actual data (not just anecdata) pointing in the other direction. Pretty much every post about card check should just be a link to it. Any argument against card check has to start by explaining why that study is wrong, otherwise it's just not an argument.

Also, since as a matter of policy I almost never watch any speeches or otherwise take in news via the TV (the Daily Show, while possibly a better source for news than news shows, isn't a news show), I find Bobby Jindal's strange new prominence to be, well, strange. In my mind he's less important now then he was last summer when we thought he was going to be McCain's VP nominee, whatever people want to tell you about his national debut.




RJ + D, the sequel

Fact: for the past 12 months, the popularity of “donkey” as a google search time has been two hundred and ten times greater than that of “Richard Jenkins.” Google trends is not sensitive enough to low search volumes to show the popularity of “Richard Jenkins + Donkey.”




Richard Jenkins + Donkey

No, I don't have anything to say on the titular topic, but I am curious how many people are going to google it after Jon Stewart specifically told us not to.

Updated (2/24 3:15 PM) because it turns out the answer to how many people are going to google it was “a lot”:
In other Richard Jenkins plus a donkey news, the best film Richard Jenkins has been in was The Man Who Wasn't There, followed close behind by Hannah and Her Sisters. I don't think donekys appear in either of those films, but I haven't seen them for a while. Jenkins was in three movies in 1994. Two of them starred Nicholas Cage. Three of them sucked. In particular, I'm still mad at teenage me for wasting my time seeing Wolf in theatres.

This article (which I found because it mentions donkeys), pinned to the release of It Could Happen To You, is important evidence in trying to understand the strange and horrifying evolution of Nick Cage's career. But that doesn't involve Jenkins or donkeys, so probably does not belong in this post.




Bravely opposing oath breaking

It's unjust that the 588,292 people living in Washington, D.C. (2007 estimate) are governed by laws made in a legislature in which they have no voting representation. And it's particularly unjust because when it comes to the District, the Congress on which D.C. has no representation has the power to intervene, and frequently does intervene (as someone who doesn't follow the D.C. home rule debate that closely, the two examples I'm familiar with are school vouchers and gun laws), in what would be matters for purely local law in any other state or municipality. So I favor D.C. having representation. Plus, I'm slightly obsessed with the idea of expanding the House of Representatives, so I should really favor the bill to add two seats to the House and giving D.C. one of them.

Unfortunately, it's constitutionally prohibited. The House of Representatives is made up of “Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States” and the Member chosen shall “be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” Art. I, Sec. 2, Cl. 1-2. D.C. is not a state, as recognized by Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 17, linked above, and as reinforced by the 23rd Amendment, which gave D.C. its Presidential electors. The Constitutionally proper solution to the D.C. problem is either a constitutional amendment specifically giving them a rep., or, whether by amendment or simple statute, ceding all of D.C. which isn't office buildings back to one of Maryland and Virginia and giving that state another seat in the House, covering a voting district roughly shaped like the land ceded back to that state. That would simultaneously solve the problem of D.C. having no Senators either.

I've heard rumors that there are non-terrible arguments in favor of the constitutionality of such a law, but I don't know what they are what they are and I'm not looking them up right now. The argument the N.Y. Times editorial board gives in favor is terrible: “The better argument, as respected constitutional scholars argue, is that Article I’s ‘District Clause’ gives Congress sweeping authority over the District of Columbia. That authority includes the right to award it Congressional representation.” This is nonsense, a clause granting Congress power over D.C. can't be the source of Congress's power to give D.C. additional power.




Backwaters swirling

Maybe I'm just being weird, but isn't it strange the there's a special election for the House of Representatives happening in New York state (NY-20, Kristen Gillibrand's former sea) on March 31 and if you got your news entirely from the New York Times you wouldn't know the election is happening (that link is meant to provide evidence for my claim because it shows that the only mention in the Times this year of Jim Tedisco, the Republican running for the seat, was a blog comment. Searching for “Gillibrand” also fails to bring up any mention of the election) in the, the name of, or anything about, either candidate? I understand it's an upstate race and the Times isn't an upstate paper, but it's little more than a month from election day and the candidates for both parties were announced by Feb. 1, surely it merits some coverage.

Here's the nickel summary of what you need to know about Scott Murphy, unless you live in 20th, in which case you should be telling me what I need to know about Murphy: while he'd probably be a better Representative than Tedisco, he won't be that much better, so don't bother caring about this race, and certainly don't donate money for it. While adding one Republican to Congress moves the median vote more to the right than adding a conservative Democrat does, with the current margins in the House that just isn't much of a concern. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't non-endorsing someone based entirely one blog post, so I also looked for pro-Murphy material but didn't find anything which would dissuade me from going with what Bowers says, even on Murphy's own website.




Needless categorization

Prompted by an off-hand comment I just made that one of these people is among my ten favorite Times writers, I present an unranked list:

Top Ten New York Times Employees
Mark Bittman
Paul Krugman
Manohla Dargis
Jeffrey Gettleman
Sewell Chan
Adam Liptak
David Leonhardt
Dexter Filkins
Eric Lichtblau
Will Shortz

Runners up:
Frank Bruni
John Burns
Charlie Savage
Harvey Araton
Clyde Haberman
Janet Maslin

David Cay Johnston would've made the list, except that he left the Times last year. I wish more of the people I'd picked were women, but other than Manohla I couldn't think of anyone who was a good candidate.
Janet Maslin and Gail Collins came closest, and I'm not much of a fan of either of them. I also would have liked to include editors and non-writers other than Will Shortz, maybe a photographer, but it's hard for members of the public to know what editor's contributions are, and I don't pay much attention to the photo credit on Times images, I guess. I'm certainly interested in good people that I may have missed, or reasons that the people I picked aren't as worthy as I thought, so leave'em in comments. Though I should note that exclusion of all the columnists other than Krugman is quite intentional.




President's Day weekend reading

Almost entirely not about Presidents:

  • Miles O'Brien explains the likely cause of last night's Buffalo plane crash. This is the kind of specialist knowledge which blogs are great at and television and newspapers are less good at providing, due to structural and audience constraints. By which I mean word/time limits and that it's not clear that enough people want this sort of material that it makes sense to put it on tv or in a newspaper. Then again, it's not clear that enough people want the material that actually is in a newspaper to put it in a newspaper.
  • Price Fishback argues that neither the Depression nor WWII count as evidence for the effectiveness of stimulus.
  • In other economic news, DeLong explains how the current crisis discredits Milton Freidman's monetarist response to the possibility of depressions.
  • Zadie Smith gave a speech. You should read it (or listen to it if you want, though I haven't done that yet). Though I haven't decided yet if it's a really interesting speech about Barack Obama, or a really interesting
    speech about how she sees Barack Obama. Via Hendrik Hertzberg, who supports the former interpretation.

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    Short and Punchy

    Via Old Jews Telling Jokes, of course.




    Prude, Lewd collude; views eschewed

    Earlier this week, John Holbo posted about Amartya Sen's paradox of Lewd and Prude (and reminded me of why Crooked Timber was at one time my favorite blog, but that's not the point of this post). To briefly restate it, Lewd likes reading pornographic novels (apparently Lady Chatterley's Lover in the original example) and also likes for other people to read them. He'd especially like Prude to read it, because Prude needs some loosening up. Prude doesn't like like reading pornographic novels, wants no one to read them, and especially doesn't want Lewd to read it because in Lewd's degenerate state god only knows where it would lead. So the two of them come to an agreement and exchange Prude's reading of the novel for Lewd's promise never to read the novel, each getting their most preferred option. This outcome is supposed to optimal for utilitarians (because its maximally preference satisfying) but problematic for liberals because these people are giving up their right to read what they want.

    Holbo finds this purported paradox non-paradoxical, as did Brad DeLong when he discussed it years ago. Daniel Davies (commenting as dsquared, as is his wont) claims in both the Holbo and the DeLong threads that it is a paradox (the paradox of the liberal state being unwilling to enforce all contracts), and Leo Katz appears to agree, though the most relevant pages of his book aren't included in the free sample (I'd find out, but the book isn't available for kindle and I'm not tracking down a hard copy of an out of print book. If anyone wants to buy me a copy, I will read it, it looks really good).
    The Holbo thread, by the way, is hilariously funny, especially once Rich Puchlasky starts actually writing stories about Lewd and Prude.

    Anyways, what I wanted to do is discuss the agreement between Lewd and Prude as an actual contract, and consider what would happen in the event of breach.
    Say that Prude breaches the contract by refusing to read the book. If Lewd sues for this breach, what results? The answer is probably that a court would find it void as against public policy, but that's boring, I want to consider the issue of measure of damages and remedy, because I think it mostly solves the problem (and generally solves a bunch of problems involving contracts which conflict with other liberal values).

    Specific performance (a court order telling Prude to read the book)will almost certainly not be awarded as a remedy, because this is a personal services contract and specific performance is not generally awarded for personal services contract. Expectation damages are going to be essentially impossible to measure. In theory, they're the dollar Lewd assigns to his enjoyment of Prude reading the book less the dollar value Lewd assigns to his own reading of the book. But that's going to be subject to serious issues of proof, so another way to go is a cost of cover remedy, where the court awards Lewd whatever it would cost him to pay someone with similar preferences to Prude to read the book, though again the amount that Lewd values his ability to read the book needs to be deducted from this. So I don't think expectation damages are going to work. There are no reliance damages, Lewd didn't any additional costs because of his belief that Prude would read the book. So Lewd is stuck with nominal damages, and we get the question: what's so bad about a court telling Prude to pay Lewd a buck or two for breaching his agreement to give up certain rights, even though that agreement was in conflict with liberal values? If this solution generalizes to other problematic contracts (it kinda does, though not completely), maybe the conflict between utilitarianism and a liberal regime of values is overstated.

    I apologize if this post was so boring, over-long, or poorly written that it made your eyes bleed. My next post will be short and punchy, I promise.


    judd great

    The text below is mostly my response to an e-mail about Judd Gregg's withdrawal and what it shows about Pres. Obama's management abilities. I thought it might make an informative post, thought it doesn't include anything you don't know if you're a regular reader of either Talking Points Memo or Yglesias.

    Poor choice with Gregg in a number of ways. For starters, Gregg voted to abolish the Department of Commerce in 1995 (also, this might still be a good idea, just need to spin off the census bureau, patent and trademark office, and NOAA as either independent agencies or into other departments, Commerce doesn't do anything important besides those). When I first heard about it, I assumed it was because they wanted the Democratic governor of NH to replace him with a Democratic Senator. But then everyone (Barack, Judd, the governor) agreed that wasn't happening. Which is good as a matter of (small-d) democratic theory: if the people of NH voted for a Republican Senator, they should have a Republican Senator. But if Obama and the Dems weren't getting a senator out of it (or even Gregg's vote on anything while he was a Senator), it's not clear what the motivation was, except to make a bipartisan gesture. And then it seemed like Obama hadn't given any thought to the issues regarding the Census which the Black and Hispanic caucuses in the House raised soon after Gregg was announced, and then over-reacted to those.

    Also there are rumors the withdrawal isn't about the census or stimulus, but rather pressure from back in N.H.

    As some support for the idea that there shouldn't be a cabinet level Secretary of Commerce, I recommend looking through the wikipedia entries for the last five of them. You'll find exactly zero mentions of anything they did while they held the office. That's not to say they didn't do anything, just that they didn't do anything notable enough to get the attention of people who were already going to the trouble of creating a wikipedia page for them.




    Loose ends

    For anyone else who has been desperately curious since this morning (I know, it's probably just me) what the legal authority was for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB, and no, I don't know why that's the initialism for it) to stop Six Point Brewery from making any more of their “Hop Obama” beer, I've got the answer: 27 C.F.R. §7.29(6). That regulation provides that the labels on containers of malt beverages, or other branding materials which accompany the malt beverage for sale, cannot make use of the name of a famous person if there is a likelihood of confusion about whether that person has endorsed or is otherwise affiliated with the malt beverage. So that's a load off my back. As a blogger, I believe I'm supposed to express opinions: it's probably good that this regulation exists, I hope it's not enforced capriciously and don't know of any evidence that it is, Hop Obama is not one of my favorite Six Point beers (I like Sweet Action and Brownstone better).




    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

    Marc Ambinder talks to an unnamed Obama administration member (or possibly multiple officials, they're unnamed, so it's unclear) about the Obama/Holder DOJ's continued assertion of a broad and dangerous version of the state secret privilege, referenced in the post immediately below (the part about "there oughta be a law"). I'd really like to believe that what the administration is doing in Jeppesen Dataplan is ok, but a large part of the argument made by the administration member Ambinder talks to seems wrong as a matter of law, and so far I can't help but think that what they're doing is just covering up for evil and further harming the people (the plaintiffs) that evil was done to.

    Ambinder summarizes what he's going to say in the rest of the post, when in the third paragraph, he says, “Officials decided that it would be imprudent to reverse course so abruptly because they realized they didn't yet have a full picture of the intelligence methods and secrets that underlay the privilege's assertions, because the privilege might correctly protect a state secret, and because the domino effect of retracting it could harm legitimate cases, both civil and criminal, that are already in progress.” Maybe I'm confused, but I'm pretty sure this last part, about the domino effect, is false. How could deciding that the privilege was improperly asserted in one case prejudice the DOJ's ability to decide that it was properly asserted in other cases, or to assert it in the future? One of the main things lawyers do is distinguish the ways in which different cases are relevantly different, it just seems crazy to say that a retraction here has any consequences for other cases. The reason not to retract in Jeppesen Dataplan has to be that privilege is proper in that case, not that it might be proper in other cases.




    In which I fail to alternate between long and short posts, or stay on topic, or write a real title

    Chart of the day, nearly unreadable but very informative edition:
    One important piece of information which isn't part of the chart (because it doesn't have to do with employment) is: interest rates are at the zero lower bound, and it hasn't helped. And that's the truly scary part.

    Video of the day, CNBC sucks edition. Via Josh Marshall.

    There oughta be a law restricting the use of this evidentiary privilege, as the fact that Pres. Obama apparently can't resist the urge to grievously abuse it demonstrates. In fact, there ought to be this law. Somewhat relatedly, I should write a post about U.S. v. Progressive one day, it's a really interesting case which hasn't gotten the attention it merits. It's not about the state secrets privilege, but is about the dangers of government appeals to national security in order to control what information is and isn't public.

    I wanted to write about this site discussing the issue of the House of Representatives having far too few representatives for all the people it's supposed to represent, but I'm not sure what to say because it's not a very good site, yet it supports a goal I agree with. This should be a lesson to me on political coalition formation: even when you share a goal with someone, it doesn't mean you share all that much else.

    These were good posts responding to bad anti-stimulus arguments. Marginal Revolution is, on the other hand, your source for good stimulus-skeptical arguments. I haven't read all of von's six part series arguing against the stimulus, but it also looks to be engaging in real arguments instead of just saying crazy things.

    People have been talking about micropayments as a way of saving the newspaper business. There are plenty of reasons this won't work, but Clay Shirky explained the most important ones over eight years ago (which is over a century in internet time).

    I strongly recommend this movie. Don't worry about Art Garfunkel acting. It was considered scandalously sexual when released, which is now funny in itself.




    Stir it up

    I don't talk about feminism much (the last time I can think of was when I linked in early October to a post defending Sarah Palin from a misogynist attack) , and I should, because feminist issues are important. In particular, it remains somewhat shocking to me when I'm reminded of the different experiences and perceptions men and women have in terms of safety when traveling or walking alone and/or at night, and gender expectations (about sex, division of responsibility within the family, and other things) which presently exist in the U.S. (not just the U.S., of course, but that's where I am and that's the culture I know something about) systematically hurt women more severely and in different ways than they hurt men. Also, the Larry Summers comments about the explanatory role of different gender variances in math and science ability were stupid (read the whole post I'm linking to here, it's better and more interesting than anything I'm going to write. The comments to it are good as well, including the ones which disagree).

    Yeah, so with all that throat-clearing about my feminist credentials, obviously I'm about to say something which goes against them.

    Complaints that differential pricing of dry cleaning (and haircuts) for men and women are unjust gender discrimination are not well founded and are likely to be wrong. I'm tempted to say something stronger than “not well founded and likely to be wrong” but as a guy addressing an issue where women are bearing additional costs, there's a better than usual chance that I'm not seeing something relevant and am wrong. Here's how I understand this:
    1. Some shirts cost dry cleaners more to clean than other shirts (most of what I'm about to say applies to hair by analogy, I'm only going to discuss the dry cleaning case in detail), because of the materials they're made with, being designed to fit different body types (and fit those body types in different ways), and because, as discussed in the N.Y. Times article, the machine most dry cleaners have for pressing shirts is designed with men's shirts in mind.
    2. It's not the case that all men's shirts cost more to clean than all women's shirts.
    3. It is the case that whether a shirt is a man's or woman's is a good, but imperfect, proxy
    * for how much it costs** to clean.
    4. Dry-cleaning is a low-margin business, owners of dry-cleaning businesses aren't making much money per unit dry cleaned.
    5. In a low-margin situation like this, it could easily cost dry-cleaners enough extra to individually assess items based on the attributes which contribute to cost-of-cleaning, rather than the gender of the person the shirt was made for, that it would eat up all of the potential gains to women who have less costly-to-clean shirts.
    6. The are about 80*** dry cleaners on every block in New York, if none of them are actually offering the service of pricing based on difficulty of cleaning in order to better compete with the other 79 dry cleaners on the same block, this might be because such a tactic is not competitively viable.
    7. Access to dry-cleaning on equal terms is not a sufficiently important part of people's life-chances that some users whose needs impose lesser costs on the dry-cleaning system should subsidize users whose needs impose greater costs on the dry-cleaning system.

    On the other hand, gender based pricing differences are illegal in California, and this law seems to be enforced against dry cleaners. If the dry cleaners there have been able to deal with it easily enough, a lot of my objections fall apart. Does anyone know how dry cleaners structure their pricing in California?

    Next post will be a link roundup, probably coming later this evening.

    *I'm totally unsympathetic to similar argument in other contexts. For instance, the Virginia Military Institute argued that it shouldn't have to admit women in part because being a woman is a good proxy for not having certain physical capabilities that VMI cared about, even though some women did have those capabilities. VMI didn't have a good argument ; what schools you're able to apply to has more of an impact on your overall life-chances than the costs of dry cleaning or haircuts do, and the increased difficulties in administering a rule which actually tested for the capabilities VMI cared about weren't nearly enough to justify the burden the then current rule imposed.

    ** There's a possible sub-argument about the relationship between cost and price in a market economy, whether in the presence of perfect competition and extremely low informational costs among consumers, or in reality, but I don't think it ends up being relevant here.





    Some fine nitpicking

    Yglesias: [B]ut just note that there’s a big difference between rounding 85 cents up to one dollar and rounding $850 billion up to $1 trillion. Nobody would call a candy bar that costs $1 a “$150 billion candy bar.” And yet $1 is, in absolute terms, closer to $150 billion than $850 billion is to $1 trillion.


    Just to clarify

    “Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin responded Friday to a European official’s criticism of what appeared to be several contract killings here by saying rights abuses occurred in Western Europe, too, citing the ill treatment of migrant workers.”

    Really? José Manuel Barosso says, basically, “Your government should stop murdering its political opponents,” and Putin says, “Yeah, well no one's perfect, you guys aren't treating migrating workers well enough, let's call it a draw.”




    Two great tastes that go great together

    Coffee and brownies. One link makes you larger, and one link makes you small laugh.




    This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather

    Normally I'd agree with the advice in the title of this post (the name of the linked blog is not safe for work if you want to avoid four letter curse words starting with 'f'), but if Staten Island Chuck is any indication, groundhogs have some good ideas. Whether or not it's right about groundhogs though, that blog is terrific. This post may be my favorite, though this is up there too, and really they all crack me up.


    As I pledged allegiance to the wall

  • “In 1989, someone raped a 72-year-old woman in Pensacola, Fla. Joe Sullivan was 13 at the time, and he admitted that he and two older friends had burglarized the woman’s home earlier that day. But he denied that he had returned to commit the rape.” Adam Liptak writes about Joe Sullivan, a thirty-three year old who was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of thirteen that rape, and the current status of the appellate work on the case by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute.

    As a former student of Stevenson's, I wish him the best of luck. Micro-level decisions on punishment and sentencing are something I frequently have trouble coming to conclusions about, but the macro issue is clear, or at least clearer: U.S. sentences are generally both too harsh and poorly designed as cost-effective crime reduction measures. The Cert. Petition to the Supreme Court is available if you're interested in more details about Sullivan's case. There is no discussion of the case which I could find from a source in favor of Sullivan's sentence (like the court which sentenced him, the appellate courts upholding the sentence, or the prosecution) which is unfortunate, because I wanted to know what if anything relevant is being left out by the EJI.

  • “Erik and Shannon Gustafson heeded that call. The couple were living in Chicago, where Mr. Gustafson was a part-time commodities trader, when they heard about Braddock last winter. They settled on a two-bedroom house whose owner warned them that it had black mold and was probably a tear-down. Her price: $4,750. The Gustafsons paid the money and discovered that the mold problem was overstated.” Only related by the fact it's also from a good New York Times article which I read today.

  • Paul Krugman's blog is a treasure. These posts, on the cases for and against the Buy American provisions in the stimulus bill, were especially worthwhile. As was DeLong's post on the same topic, though note JRoth's criticism in comments. I'm not sure who has the better of the empirical issue between those last two.

  • Since I've been praising N.Y. Times articles (and an N.Y. Times affiliated blog) throughout this post, I thought I'd throw a little bit of criticism into the mix: For the love of all that's holy, stop publishing Ben Stein. It seems that as long as he is willing to put words to the page, they're willing to print it.

    Finally, as a side note, writing post titles before you have an idea for a post, and then finding a post idea which to works with the title is harder than I'd imagined. I think I failed this time, but the two previous posts worked out nicely.

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