Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sacramento, we have a problem.

Xeney has gone away before, but this time it looks like she's not coming back.


Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger:
Hamdan is simply the most important decision on presidential power and the rule of law ever. Ever.

The court has rejected the central constitutional claim of this presidency: that no president is bound to comply with laws passed by the United States Congress if those laws limit any exercise of an astonishingly broad category they call "inherent Presidential power."

Bad Hair Days.

The Guardian has a run-down on some of the worst hair in the World Cup's history. I miss Carlos Valderama.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sneak preview.

Kevin Klein as Lear?

Even Ann Coulter's pets find her odious.

George Gurley interviews her for the New York Observer:
So why can’t liberals stop attacking her?

“Actually, they can’t help themselves,” she said. “They’re like my pets.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Swift thinking.

Is it not obvious that Bush criticized the New York Times as an election-year gambit to mau-mau the press and get the conservative base riled up? Why does everyone pretend that there's some principle involved?

Blogofascism, explained.

Coming late to the Kos/TNR slugfest? Michael Bérubé out-Siegels Lee Siegel, and The Editors explain further.

W. is for "Jackass."

At Harvard Business School in the mid-1970s, George W. Bush
distinguished himself in intramural sports and became de facto captain of his class's winning basketball team, which played against a winning team from the class below, the class of 1976. The game was tight. The other team's captain, Gary Engle . . . went up for a shot. Bush slugged him -- an elbow to the mouth, knocking him to the parquet. "What the hell are you doing?" Engle remembers saying. "What, you want to get into a fistfight and both of us end up in the fucking emergency room?" Bush just smiled.

Moments later, at the other end of the court, Engle went up high for a rebound and felt someone chop his legs out from under him. Bush again. Engle jumped up threw the ball in Bush's face. The two went at it until two teams of future business leaders leapt on their captains, pulling them apart. . . .

A few years later, Engle . . . bumped into Jeb Bush. . . . This was his chance to get a little insight about it. He told the story. Jeb kind of laughed, Engle recalled. "In Texas, they call guys like George 'a hard case.' It wasn't easy being his brother, either. He truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under."
Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine 215 (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Teaching old dogs new tricks.

K. directs me to "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage." Frustrated by some of her husband's habits, Amy Sutherland began to apply the tricks and techniques of animal trainers to modify his behavior.
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

* * * * *

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

For a more extended treatment of the same basic insight -- and lots of emphasis on the how-to angle -- I recommend Don't Shoot The Dog!, by Karen Pryor. Pryor has trained dolphins, among other animals, and is a strong advocate for positive reinforcement. It's hard to punish a dolphin, so much of the challenge of training dolphins is in figuring out how to structure things so that positive reinforcement will work. And as Sutherland would agree, that's also true when the behaviors you are modifying are those of animals with whom you cohabit.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Thomas Pynchon reportedly will have a new novel out in December. Edward Champion has more.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Who benefits from statism?

In a comment thread at the Volokh Conspiracy, Anthony Sanders writes:

Just finished Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government by Robert Higgs. The book came out in 1987, but it is oh-so relevant today. It details the story about how in the twentieth century the federal government grew in response to crises, and how the government never would "retreat" (if at all) from its crisis-impossed size after the crisis was over.

The most interesting story in the book is how this (with a few exceptions) didn't happen in the 19th century, even when crises occured. Higgs says this was because the dominant ideology of those times was reflexive (classical) liberalism, whereas in the 20th century it was reflexive statism. The message I take from it is the only hope we have of cutting modern government is to have people (however crudely) become reflexively anti-government. Kind of depressing, but unsurprising at the same time.

Sounds like an interesting book, but my immediate thought is to look for an economic explanation. Having just read Charles Royster's The Fabulous History of the Great Dismal Swamp Company, about wealthy Virginians in the mid-eighteenth century, let me suggest that for most of this country's history, wealthy people could use the government to get wealthier through land grants -- the Great Dismal Swamp in eighteenth-century Virginia, railroad land grants in the nineteenth century -- but these same people opposed larger government because they would pay for it. With the advent of the income tax and the closing of the frontier at the start of this century, wealthy people then found that they could get wealthier by doing business with the government. So you have a Republican Congress happy to increase the size of government, and Republican Congressmen spending all their time grabbing pieces of this spending and diverting it to supporters. From this perspective, the amazing thing is that this "anti-government" ideology has survived at all. Perhaps it is merely a legacy of the long period during which the GOP was the minority party in Congress.


When Dier opened the door to the Animal Services workers on Tuesday, he told them that he had only seven cats, but added that he did own "a lot of rats," Tavares said.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The shortest night of the year.

Happy solstice, everyone. Come back in six months to help drive the dark away.*

* Offer does not apply to residents of the Southern Hemisphere.

Going on as we are is madness.

Nicholas Von Hoffman writes (link may not be good for more than a week) that Haditha happened because we do not have enough soldiers in Iraq:
These men were on their second tour of duty in a land that apparently has about six wars going at the same time. They cannot speak the language, and at this point, one wonders what good it would do if they did. They are in a foreign land fighting God knows who for God knows why for God knows how long and how many times. In fear, anger and confusion, they killed a bunch of people—murdered them even—but at the bottom, it happened because there are not enough troops in Iraq and the troops that are there are increasingly badgered, bewildered and bedeviled by murderous enemies who cannot be seen or identified most of the time. The number of enemies increases daily even as the population in which our troops must operate becomes more hostile and unforgiving. Iraq has become an anarchic bloodbath. Our natural allies, the professional and business classes, are fleeing the place before they are all assassinated.

Regardless of how well disciplined they are, how much firepower they have, 150,000 troops cannot contain this situation, much less dominate it and extinguish the killings. To continue with the present force levels is to contribute to a disgusting and indefensible slaughter of human beings. Going on as we are is madness, and it’s criminal. There were not enough troops in Iraq three years ago, and there still are not enough troops.

Needed: A hammer, or some other tool.

If the only tool you have is the death tax, every problem starts to look like a huge pile of money.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Coalition of the shilling.

Japan is the latest country to withdraw its forces from Iraq. Fear not for our soldiers over there, though, since the Japanese haven't been doing much fighting:
Analysts say only the UK provided a sizeable military force that actually made a difference in operational capability. Contributions from most other countries had more meaning in terms of political support for the US when the Bush administration failed to win enough backing for a second resolution at the UN.
Guy Dinmore and David Pilling, "Iraq gets 'coalition of the reluctant' as allies retreat," Financial Times 7 (June 20, 2006).

Annals of National Defense.

Barton Gellman relates an anecdote from the start of Ron Suskind's new book, One Percent Doctrine:
[A]n unnamed CIA briefer . . . flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
Via Brad DeLong. Suskind's last book is indispensable for understanding the Bush administration.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Fish heads.

Olivia Wu is eating fish heads in Shanghai.

Open wide for some soccer.

Since I'm spending most of my waking, non-working hours watching soccer, it stands to reason that it's all I can blog about, too. In honor of the forthcoming game between Mexico and Portugal, here is The Simpsons:

Via Braves & Birds (sorry about that weekend series, fellas).

Speaking of which.

"In case you have never attended the World Cup in snug tights and a cape, let me sum up the experience." An American in Kaiserslautern yesterday....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The World Cup in brief.

To protect Budweiser, FIFA made more than a thousand Dutch fans watch the match against the Ivory Coast in their underwear.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Happy Bloomsday! You can celebrate by reading this week's New Yorker story about the author's grandson, Stephen Joyce, who holds his literary rights, thanks to the Disney Protection Act of A Few Years Ago. As the article explains, Stephen Joyce takes a dim view of much academic writing about his grandfather, and has not been shy in attempting to curtail access to and republication of published and unpublished works. This week Stanford professor Larry Lessig filed a suit against Joyce relating to the "fair use" doctrine.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

This calls for a convention.

Kos saves a life.

Darth Vader calls the Emperor.

Via HobNobBlog.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What a waste of electrons.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent, and he seems to be doing his level best to drag Slate down to the worst of its print competitors. Today's column is subtitled, "Bush's brilliant new Iraq strategy," from which one might think that it would contain some hint that the White House has a new idea about how to turn the tide there. One would be wrong. The entire piece is notable for being completely devoid of any content about Iraq policy. Rather, Dickerson marvels that Bush has found a new "tone and . . . energy." He's "energized." "He moved off the talking points to emote about his gut instincts . . . ."

One of the ground rules of contemporary politics is that while journalists like Dickerson and politicians like Bush have no interest in policy, they believe they must at least talk about it a little, if only as a vehicle for the Dickersons of the world to write about the "tone" and "energy" of the Bushes of the world. In this piece, Dickerson doesn't bother to hide his complete disinterest for the tedious subject of what our government actually is doing:
[T]he substance of what Bush had to say was unusually boring. He talked about the Iraqi ministries, energy policy, the "new rule of law initiative," "reconciliation committee," "hydrocarbon law," "public finance system," and an "economic framework that promotes growth and job creation and opportunity"—were we suddenly in Brussels? Parts of the press conference felt like a tedious ministerial meeting at the European Commission. The president was this close to talking about plenary sessions. To make matters worse, then the president went on to delineate all the different Cabinet agency officials who will be making field trips to Iraq. Throughout the summer and fall we're going to have to hear about Commerce, State, Energy, and Agriculture teams slogging over there to meet with their Iraqi counterparts. The only thing more boring than bureaucrats visiting bureaucrats is hearing plans about how bureaucrats are going to interface and dialogue with bureaucrats.
Bush and Dickerson together -- at least I hope Dickerson is in on the conceit, because the alternative is even more depressing -- have figured out that you can pretend to be saying something wonky without saying anything at all if simply say it without any verbs. Just nouns. That way, it sounds like policy wonkery, but there is no hint that anyone is actually doing anything.

Americans and Iraqis are getting killed every day in Iraq. Apparently their deaths are not germane to what a "chief political correspondent" does.

Unhappy single people, unhappy in their own ways.

If these people without children are so happy that way, shouldn't they have something better to do than write cranky letters?

Regurgitated talking points.

Henry Farrell catches the Washington Post's editorial board purveying bogus telecom talking points against net neutrality.

The implicit references weren't enough?

From a review of John Gattorna's Living Supply Chains: How to Mobilise the Enterprise Around Delivering What Your Customers Want:
This may be the first supply chain management texbook to make explicit reference to Jungian psychology, and it is none the worse for that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Frankfurt: The Rough Guide.

Know this if you're in town for the World Cup:
The Waldstadion in Frankfurt is in the clearing of a suburban forest, the sort of area that does not exist in London, and in Paris would be entirely overrun by Brazilian transvestites.
Matthew Engel, "An air of unreality before things really hot up," Financial Times 11 (June 12, 2006).

Monday, June 12, 2006

Czech Republic 3, USA 0.

Well, that sucked.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

On second thought, I'll take the soccer without the side of geopolitics.

One of the features of the Disney (ABC and ESPN) World Cup coverage is the announcers' occasional efforts to lend some context to the games by telling you a little about the countries involved. If I've got the formula right, earlier in the second half they like to put up a couple of graphics that tell you the countries' populations and capitals, and the form of government (Holland is a monarchy, it turns out) and the language spoken. As long as they stick to these basics, it's not particularly obtrusive -- certainly nothing like the Olympics coverage, which is nearly unwatchable.

And then there was the match last night between the Ivory Coast and Argentina, a compelling pairing purely from a soccer perspective. The announcers could not stop talking about the civil war in the Ivory Coast, and how the nation had come together over football, at least for the moment. Unfortunately, they did not have a whole lot to say about it. The low point was the suggestion that the rebels had holed up in the north "without water" for six months. Um, right. Stick to soccer, guys.

For soccer's power to cause conflict instead of dispel it, I commend Ryszard Kapucincki's The Soccer War, about a brief war in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras triggered by a soccer game.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


No matter what the reviews might say, I loved Cars -- my favorite Pixar film yet, which is high praise.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Why soccer balls will forever be black and white, with hexagons.

Today's NYT has an article about Teamgeist, the new Adidas soccer ball made especially for the 2006 World Cup. The article talks about the balls developed for World Cups past:
At its headquarters in this Bavarian town, Adidas displays the balls that will be used in all 64 matches, stamped with the names of the teams and cities. It keeps famous balls from years past under glass.

The Telstar, used in the World Cup in Mexico, introduced the familiar pattern of 32 alternating black and white pentagons and hexagons, designed to make it easier to see on TV (the old ones were brown).
Interesting that the iconic soccer ball is the one developed for TV, not a more traditional variant, which reminded me of this passage:
Tradition, in its old meaning, has fallen victim to flux and dispersal, and to the broadening, homogenization, and scattering effects of the electronical media. On the other hand, these media have assisted in the perpetuation of another stream of tradition, one which is often lumped under the rubric of nostalgia. . . .

. . . [I]n the late 1920s and thirties, when the United States was just beginning to subject its culture to a truly national media network, when the influence of radio and the movies was beginning to erode regional characteristics in speech, music, customs, and mores. Leading writers, artists, and filmmakers who had been young in the 1890s looked back at that decade with fondness and disbelief across a gulf of technological change . . . . These works, particularly those on film, were disseminated to subsequent generations, who retained images from them even if they were totally ignorant of their historical context. Such images stand as archetypes in the popular imagination even today: the bartender with his handlebar mustache and spit curls; the crook with his striped sweater, cloth cap, and domino mask; the soubrette with her petticoats and rouged cheeks; the bohemian with his beret and flowing necktie; the poker player with his sleeve garters and green eyeshade; the cop with his twirling nightstick and Irish accent. They appear in cartoons, on menu covers, on the musical comedy stage, in the public domain of clip art -- places where the shorthand of conventional imagery requires a jocular turn, as well as contexts in which imagery is least examined by viewers, and thus is most involuntarily absorbed.
Luc Sante, Low Life xi-xiii (Vintage, 1992).

Scorn as argumentation.

Every so often I go over to The Corner, just to see what the wingers are saying, and I am often struck by how poor the posting is. For example, take this post by Mac Owens:
A wag once observed that Clausewitz's On War is little read but often quoted. Over at Salon, Sidney von Blumenthal confirms this observation as he tries his hand at military affairs. The title is:
George Bush Sr. asked retired general to replace Rumsfeld

The former president's secret campaign to oust the secretary of defense was rebuffed by President Bush, a source says.
But the piece is much broader than that. Did you know that von Blumenthal is an expert on counterinsurgency? Neither did I, but apparently he is. His article oozes with CI jargon. Anyone can criticize the administration for its approach to Iraq, but it takes a real expert to assure us that our approach in Iraq is too "kinetic," i.e. we focus too much on trying to kill the terrorists. Of course, no criticism can stray too far from Bush. According to von Blumenthal, Bush knew that all of the bad things that have happened in Iraq were gong to occur, but went ahead anyway because he lives in a parallel universe. Indeed, Hadithah stemmed from Bush's inability to transcend that parallel reality. Blah, blah, blah. What we have here is von Blumenthal's first effort to use a new vocabulary with some really cool words like "kinetic" to convince the average reader that he actually knows something about this issue.
Note that there is not a word here to suggest that Blumenthal misapprehends von Clausewitz, counterinsurgency, or Bush. It is just assumed. So convinced is Owens of Blumenthal's ignorance, and so sure is he that his readers will think the same, that merely repeating what he says -- if you can call it that -- suffices as a form of argument. Preaching to the choir indeed. If everyone is singing with you, you won't notice if you're out of tune.

In case you can't wait another day.

Japan against Brazil in the Ant World Cup.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

C'mon man, it's gotta be the shoes.

If you haven't seen Ronaldinho's spot, then Ronaldo's response won't make sense . . . .

Via 'stina.

Days of Thunder.

Today's news from the intersection of sports and religion is that the Church of Scientology is going to sponsor a NASCAR team:

Kenton Gray, a 35-year-old Californian, will attempt to make the field for a late model race Saturday night at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. His No. 27 Ford Taurus will be sponsored by Bridge Publications, which publishes Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's bestseller "Dianetics."

The hood of the car will say "Dianetics" on it, along with a volcano to mimic the book cover.

Reached for comment, NASCAR said, "Is their money green?"

A Prairie Home Companion companion.

Garrison Keillor relates to his co-star in A Prairie Home Companion, Lindsey Lohan:
She was well trained at the Disney College of Film and Art. . . . Her tabloid life is a separate thing. It’s a whole game that she plays with the tabloids, and it goes back and forth. It’s valuable for her up to a point—but I think she’s now past that point.
And so one fears for someone who continues a game beyond where it ought to go. She understands that at the age of 19, she has to be thinking about the next 10 years. It’s time for her to do some other things, and make a very treacherous turn. And this picture was part of that turn—it wasn’t perfect, but it was something where she was able to show that she could do a small, specific job well. She exploited a teen attitude that she does very well. But she can’t play that character any longer. She needs to find other things.
I like her. I wish her well. . . . She’s very shy, and very attached to her family.
Just in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Agonized wriggling about abortion.

Reviewing Ramesh Ponnuru's The Party of Death (which I found via Matt Yglesias), John Derbyshire mentions that Ponnuru
gives a mordant account of the contortions engaged in by politicians seeking to straddle the issue, or to hold together coalitions whose components are fundamentally at odds on RTL [Right to Life] topics — old-school white Roman Catholics plus feminist intellectuals, for example. Democratic office-seekers who are themselves Roman Catholic are in a particularly nasty bind here, and Ponnuru’s scathing exposure of their agonized wrigglings and tongue-forkings left me almost—almost—feeling sorry for Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, and (later in the book) John Kerry.
Now I understand that before Derbyshire can say critical things about his NRO-bedfellow Ponnuru, he needs to show common cause with some obligatory bashing of feminists and Democrats. At times like these, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry will make particularly good targets. And one can tell that Derbyshire isn't particularly interested in said wrigglings and tongue-forkings, since he's happy to move on. Presumably the sin of Kennedy, Kerry and others is that they advocate a middle ground, personal opposition to abortion combined with support for laws to let others decide differently.

One could ignore this as so much throat-clearing, except that Derbyshire later stakes out his own contorted straddle:
Even cults have a right to be heard. I would not like to see RTL views prevail; but I would rather see them prevail than see them stifled.
So Derbyshire believes that it would be wrong for the right-to-life crowd to have their way -- for reasons he puts well -- but so committed is he to the notion of political speech that he would forego living in "a happier and freer nation" to make sure they get their say. Or so he says -- I cannot shake the suspicion that these sentences are another nod towards his compatriots on the right, rather than a belief he has examined.

But let us take him at his word. When a Democratic politician takes a nuanced position, it is wriggling and tongue-forking, but when a conservative intellectual says it, we are meant to be impressed with his intellectual independence and original conviction.

Conservatives make it hard to be treated as intellectuals when they insist on tipping their hats to their fellow travelers before disagreeing with them.

The law is like a chick.

Dan Kahan, speaking last month at Yale Law School's commencement:
Do you know what this is? Yes, it’s a baby chick. But do you know its gender? Of course, not. But you would if you were a professional chick sexer.

In the poultry industry, it is very important to separate out male and female chicks almost immediately after birth: the males are less valuable – they can’t lay eggs and their meat isn’t nearly so tender – and they end up competing with the female chicks for food. So you need to pick the males out and get rid of them. This job falls to the professionally trained chick sexer, who turning the chicks over gently in his or her hand is able to sort out male from female at a rate of 1,000 per hour and at an accuracy rate of 99%.

What makes this feat so astonishing, though, is that there just isn’t any readily discernable, or at least articulable, difference in the anatomy of newborn chicks. All zoologists agree that this is so. If you ask a professionally trained chick sexer what he is looking for, don’t expect a satisfying answer. Either he’ll confabulate, telling you some fantastic and silly story about the inability of the male chick to look him straight in the eye. Or more candidly, he’ll just shrug his shoulders.

But while the nature of the chicksexer’s skill may be inexplicable, how he acquired it isn’t. To become chicksexers, individuals go off for an extended period of study with a chick sexing grandmaster. He doesn’t give lectures or assign texts. Instead he exposes his pupils to slides– “male,” “female,” “male,” “male,” “female,” “female,” “male” – continuing on in this way until the students acquire the same special power to intuitively perceive the gender of a newborn chick, even without being able to cogently explain how.

What in the world does this have to do with law, you are asking yourself of a professor’s lecture, once again. Well, what I want to suggest is that what’s going on in the chick-sexing profession is the very same thing that goes on in the legal profession. The formal doctrines and rules that make up the law – unconscionability, proximate causation, character propensity, unreasonable restraints of trade – are just as fuzzy and indeterminate as the genetalia of day-old chicks. And yet just as the trained chick sexer can accurately distinguish female from male, so the trained lawyer can accurately distinguish good decision from bad, persuasive argument from weak. Ask the lawyer for an explanation, and in his case too you’ll get nothing but confabulation – “plain meaning,” “congressional intent,” “efficiency” – or what have you.

In addition, the lawyer attains her skill – to recognize what she can’t cogently explain – in much the same way that the chick sexer does: through exposure to a professional slideshow, this one conducted by law grandmasters, including law professors but also other socialized lawyers, who authoritatively certify what count as good and bad decisions, sound and unsound arguments, thereby inculcating in students and young practitioners the power of intuitive perception distinctive of the legal craft.
Read the whole thing, as they say. Rather than point out that learning to become a chicken sexer would have been much cheaper than going to Yale Law School, Kahan works his way around to the legal apologies for torture. Via Orin Kerr.

Six days to a better Gulf Coast.

The New Urbanists plan a better coastal Mississippi:
It took six days for the Congress for the New Urbanism to come up with a rough set of recommendations for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast -- six exhausting and exhilarating days spent hashing out everything from highway relocations to affordable housing. To add local flavor, the architects scoured old books of photographs and put together a "pattern book" for builders, portraying traditional Gulf Coast architecture: Creole cottages with gabled roofs and louvered windows, Victorian houses with dormers and narrow-columned porches.

When it was done, the plan for Biloxi showed a picturesque little city, with graceful boulevards and pretty streets flanked by neat houses and stately mansions and even the casinos concealed in stylish towers. The Back Bay harbor, where shrimpers moored their boats, had been augmented with a seafood market and a waterside promenade for tourists. A rail line had been moved, and so had one of the bridges. There were parks and squares everywhere and, according to the architects' elegant renderings, tall trees lining almost every road (though, in fact, the hurricane had destroyed many of the city's trees, and it would take decades to grow new ones). It looked like a quintessential sleepy Southern city, or perhaps a parody of one.
Jim Lewis, "Battle for Biloxi," The New York Times Magazine 100, 102 (May 21, 2006).

eta: Winterspeak links to the article, and to a piece about New Urbanism in Glen View, Illinois.

Monday, June 05, 2006

But Baghdad is Detroit.

Christopher Hitchens: Haditha is not My Lai. Coming soon: Nagasaki was no Hiroshima.

How to talk, politically.

Tristero finds a lot to say about the way Grover Norquist and Sen. Dianne Feinstein communicate about the President's Article II power grab. This should be required reading for every Democratic politician and their press secretaries, and it reminds us once again why Senators should not run for President.

For the graduating seniors and their families, some truthiness.

Editor & Publisher describes Stephen Colbert's graduation speech at Knox College on Saturday in Galesburg, Illinois.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ukranian piranhas.

Continuing the theme of animals out of their natural habitats:
Fishermen at Kasyanka lake in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine recently reported that they had been "attacked" by piranhas. After fishermen caught five of the fish, authorities netted three more. They ranged in size from 2.7 to 5 inches. The piranhas, native to the Amazon, were likely pets abandoned by their owner.
Boing Boing and Agence France-Press.

Viral marketing for the new Samuel Jackson movie?

Snake on a plane.


A new post up a Words, Words, Words, about John Banville's Prague Pictures.

Ninjas and pirates.

The ninjas and pirates are feuding at Stanford:
It all centers on what happened several decades ago. The Pirates and the Ninjas had an altercation that they to this day, are still fighting about. Something about a pirate wench they both claimed, I dunno. She’s pretty old now, bruised and rough. But they are still fighting over her.

No, instead of flipping out and killing everyone as an unstoppable partnership that would leave robots, chickens, and robot chickens in fear, they remain divided. Unfortunately, despite our progressive-minded university’s best intentions, no one has curbed this hatred. While both groups speak of “pride” for their group and claim that they want “peace,” such statements always prelude bashing the other group. Being pro-Ninja means that you condone Ninja killings of Pirates, or that you are Anti-Piratical. It’s them or us. You can’t show pride in being a Pirate or a Ninja without then saying how “the Ninjas are yellow-bellied bastards” or “the Pirates lack honor or good hygiene.”

I’m tired of the scare tactics, too. Both sides try to play to our sympathies by depicting the horror of the other side. Posters and ads about ritualistic seppuku and walking the plank get grim after a while. As I walked around campus this last week, I felt really irritated. Both were claiming the others were saying hate-speech, but they turned a blind eye, or eye-patch, to their own group’s hateful words.


Hat-tip to Majikthese, who has a useful -- if pirate-friendly -- take.

Unpaid interns.

Anya Kamenetz's NYT op-ed about internships has been much-discussed in the blogosphere, perhaps because if there's anything bloggers are well qualified to discuss, it is work without pay. What I can't figure out is why Kamenetz thinks labor markets are failing. She argues:
Internships have opportunity costs, including lost wages and the sorts of experiences that come from real jobs (since "internships are not jobs, only simulations," and "fake jobs are not the best preparation for real jobs").
OK, but is there any reason to think that prospective interns aren't evaluating the costs and benefits well?
"[I]nternships promote overidentification with employers," since interns persuade themselves that they're happy to justify to themselves their lack of pay.
If so, what's the harm? Most internships don't last long, and then the interns go on to other things.
Interns "create an oversupply of people willing to work for low wages, or in the case of interns, literally nothing."
Since Kamenetz previously argued that internships are "fake jobs," not "real jobs," this doesn't follow. From my limited experience, I happen to agree that most interns can't do the work that other employees will do. They aren't around long enough, and they don't have the experience. This suggests that they're being paid what they're worth. Indeed, if employers could use interns to generate more revenue, one would expect employers to offer to pay them commensurately. This is how wages are usually set, and Kamenetz offers no reason to think that the labor market is failing here.

As an example, think of summer associates at large law firms, who are paid extravagently even though firms struggle -- to say the least -- to bill clients for the work they generate. Summer associates simply cannot substitute for young lawyers, for several reasons. Firms pay summer associates under these circumstances in the hopes that they'll return after they graduate.

There are paid interns, and unpaid interns. Why do some employers decline to pay their interns? Because they can. Why can they?
Internships fly in the face of meritocracy — you must be rich enough to work without pay to get your foot in the door.
If interns don't warrant wages because they don't generate economic returns, then it's harder to argue that they merit pay. As with education generally, it costs something to prepare people to enter the workforce, and there is pervasive inequality in how people get prepared. Fighting this fight over internships seems like an odd choice to me, like closing the barn door on the horse's tail.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Judicial activism, big-business style.

Financial Times legal columnist Patti Waldmeir writes a completely obtuse piece about limits on punitive damages and the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in a case involving a $80 million award of punitive damages against Phillip Morris. In recent years, a slim majority on the Supreme Court has fashioned a new rule, in ostensible application of the Due Process Clause, limiting awards of punitive damages to a multiple of a plaintiff's actual damages. Waldmeir: "The court said, in a 2003 ruling, that in most cases punitive damages would not be more than four times compensatory damages, and that the ratio should almost never exceed single digits." Business loves the rule, for obvious reasons, but principled conservatives should object, since there is no plausible argument that the Constitution's framers had any such thing in mind. It's judicial activism, pure and simple, of a distinctly (lower-case "f") anti-federalist flavor, since most punitive damages are awarded in state courts under state law. Justices Scalia and Thomas have not joined in these decisions for these reasons, and the Chamber of Commerce might reasonably fear that Justices Roberts and Alito will stand on principle here, unlike the Justices whom they replace, O'Connor and Rehnquist, who were open to a certain expediency.

What is wrong with Waldmeir's column? To start with, it is overblown. She writes, "The future of the American economic model -- light on government regulation, heavy on private litigation -- could be profoundly affected by the outcome [of the Williams case]." This is malarkey. The American economic model did quite well for years without constitutional limits on punitive damages. If the Supreme Court were to ease the limits it has recently created, and the American economy were to shudder and slow in response, nothing would stop Congress from creating such limits by enacting a federal law.

But more essentially, relying on Waldmeir's column will actually make you dumber about the issues involved. It misinforms. The question in the Williams case arises under the Due Process Clause. And yet here is how she characterizes what is at issue:
The questions facing the justices are ones they have faced before: is it fair to let juries impose huge punitive damages awards against companies that make things that hurt people -- damages that are out of all proportion to the harm caused to the person bringing the lawsuit? Should jurors be allowed to punish defendants for harm they may cause to people who are not party to the suit? Is that necessary to deter corporate wrongdoing? Or is it economically counter-productive -- and constitutionally unconscionable -- to hit corporate defendants with damages in three-figure millions for each case of wrongdoing?
Set aside that juries certainly are not hitting corporate defendants with nine-digit awards for "each" case of wrongdoing. Waldmeir acknowledges here that the issues in the case are constitutional, but "unconscionability" is not a constitutional doctrine. Indeed, calling her obtuse is probably too kind in this instance, since the choice of words suggests that she has decided not to explain how punitives limits have been grafted onto the Due Process Clause, lest it sound jurisprudentially ridiculous.

I have no idea whether Waldmeir is the sort of conservative who would happily abandon her principles in this for a result that seems right, but what's the point in writing a column about the law that ignores and obfuscates the law?

Waldmeir says, "it is normally a very bad idea to punish defendants for hypothetical wrongdoing that has not been tried in court." And later she suggests that juries have been "award[ing] huge sumes in punitive damages for alleged wrongdoing that has never been proved in court." But punitive damages are not about hypothetical wrongdoing -- there are other legal doctrines to take care of that problem. Juries make these awards on the basis of actual evidence, not allegations.

Punitive damages are -- of course -- designed to punish, not to compensate, two concepts that Waldmeir cannot seem to untangle. The address the situation in which the actions of the defendant seem incommensurate to the harm suffered by the plaintiff, the situation in which something more than compensation seems called for. The question in these Supreme Court cases is, does the Constitution permit states to have laws permitting these sorts of awards?

But you wouldn't know it from Waldmeir's column. She concludes:
Courts should punish companies that engage in wrongdoing. But public policy should be made by legislatures and regulators, not individual juries trying individual cases: juries should stick to the facts before them, and keep punitive damages within single-digit limits. To do anything else puts them on the wrong side of justice . . . .
Public policy should be made by legislatures, and not by courts, as Waldmeir favors. Legislatures and regulators should not be in the business of punishment; indeed, Article I, Sections 9 and 10, of the Constitution forbids federal and state legislatures from enacting bills of attainder. And shouldn't punishment be considered in "individual cases?"

Waldmeir's argument is incoherent, but for her public-policy preference that federal courts prevent the states from allowing juries to award punitive damages of more than nine times compensatory damages. You can check the Due Process Clause, and the rest of the Constitution, but you won't find that limit in there.

The interesting question that the Williams case will help answer is what kind of justices Roberts and Alito will be. Waldmeir discusses a punitives decision upholding a ration of 37:1 written by Judge Posner, who is notorious for law-and-economics-inspired judicial activism. But notwithstanding that case, you don't need to stray from the Constitution's text to think that the Court's recent decisions on punitives are misguided. If Roberts and Alito halt the development of this doctrine, big business may be unhappy, but movement conservatives will have reason to be pleased.

Rescued before they go extinct, or even after.

You've probably heard of heirloom vegetables -- if you've been to a restaurant in San Francisco in the last five years, you've surely seen the ubiquitous heirloom tomato salad -- and even heirloom meats, but heirloom brands? The Financial Times' Alicia Clegg writes today (registration required) about the resuscitation of moribund brands, meeting consumer desires for tradition and niche products. In Britain, Eldon Robson "is re-energising Fentimans, his family's soft-drinks business after a winter sleep that lasted a quarter of a century."
The business went into cold storage in 1970 after its fermented ginger beers and shadies lost out to mass-produced colas and fizzy drinks. But by the mid-1990s people were searching for more distinctive alternatives. Mr Robson saw his opportunity and resurrected his family's 90-year-old company in 1994. . . . [F]irm was his faith in the public's taste for "old British classics" such as ginger beer, and dandelion and burdock. . . .

Uniting modern commercial discipline with a brand steeped in tradition is a fine balancing act. Mr Robson treads the tightrope with some skill. His drinks, which also include Victorian Lemonade, Seville Orange Jigger and Curiosity Cola, contain natural ingredients, herbs, crushed roots and fruit juices. But the picturesque stone jars in which the beverages were once fermented and sold door-to-door have given way to pasteurisation and brewing on-site.
Fentimans' site has more. The FT article also talks about the Sleeman Brewing and Malting Company in Canada, which sold out during Prohibition and has not been revived as Sleeman Breweries, and a new line of watches to be unveiled in England on September 1 under the brand of J&T Windmills, "a celebrated English watchmaker that folded in 1737 when the founder died without heirs." It's been a while, but I guess they found some old DNA.

Early wineglasses.

From their invention until the beginning of the nineteenth century, [wine] glasses were used mainly by royalty and principally on special occasions. The purchase of a single wineglass was considered a serious investment, and at the most prestigious banquets, one glass might be shared by several dinner guests. If the host was especially wealthy, the banquet glasses might include some intentionally designed with a rounded bottom and no stem. Such glasses made a party livelier since only cups that had been drained of their contents could be put down lest the liquid tumble out.
Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible 367 (Workman Publishing, 2001).

A sort of biological Dead Sea scroll.

An Israeli teenager has discovered new waterborne and terrestrial animal species in a cave system at the back of a limestone quarry:
The sealed cavern, dubbed the Ayalon Cave by the scientists, is impermeable to rainwater because of a thick layer of chalk above the roof.

Scientists believe that the cave has been isolated from the outside world for millions of years, creating a unique ecosystem. The temperature of the water inside the cave is 87.8 degrees, 12.6 warmer than surface water, suggesting it was fed by sources deep inside the Earth, scientists said.

"This is the first discovery of terrestrial animals found only in a cave and not on the surface. Ecologically, this is a unique cave unparalleled anywhere else in the world," said Hanan Dimentman of the Hebrew University Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. "Water, nutrients and animals cannot enter from above. It has been isolated from above for millennia."

Dimentman said there were no plants in the cavern because a lack of sunlight rules out photosynthesis, but he identified several bacteria that serve as the basic food supporting the unique life system.

Colson's Apex.

The Washington Post's Bob Thompson profiles Colson Whitehead, whose most recent novel is Apex Hides The Hurt. There's much about how Whitehead got started, and then there's also this aside about what he did with his genius grant:
In 2002, he won one of the so-called "genius awards" from the MacArthur Foundation. "It gave us this ability to say, 'Oh, maybe we should have a kid,' " he says gratefully. His daughter, Madeleine, is now a year and a half old.
Is there a better way to use a MacArthur award?

Making the Dean's list.

If Kevin Drum hadn't previously arrived, he has now.

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